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Title: The Alaskan
Author: Curwood, James Oliver, 1879-1927
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Alaskan" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE ALASKAN

A Novel of the North

By JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD

With Illustrations by Walt Louderback



To the strong-hearted men and women of Alaska, the new empire rising
in the North, it is for me an honor and a privilege to dedicate
this work.

JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD

Owosso, Michigan August 1, 1923



THE ILLUSTRATIONS

It was as if the man was deliberately insulting her (Frontispiece).

The long, black launch nosed its way out to sea.

The man wore a gun ... within reach of his hand.

Mary sobbed as the man she loved faced winged death.



CHAPTER I

Captain Rifle, gray and old in the Alaskan Steamship service, had not
lost the spirit of his youth along with his years. Romance was not dead
in him, and the fire which is built up of clean adventure and the
association of strong men and a mighty country had not died out of his
veins. He could still see the picturesque, feel the thrill of the
unusual, and--at times--warm memories crowded upon him so closely that
yesterday seemed today, and Alaska was young again, thrilling the world
with her wild call to those who had courage to come and fight for her
treasures, and live--or die.

Tonight, with the softly musical throb of his ship under his feet, and
the yellow moon climbing up from behind the ramparts of the Alaskan
mountains, something of loneliness seized upon him, and he said simply:

"That is Alaska."

The girl standing beside him at the rail did not turn, nor for a moment
did she answer. He could see her profile clear-cut as a cameo in the
almost vivid light, and in that light her eyes were wide and filled
with a dusky fire, and her lips were parted a little, and her slim body
was tense as she looked at the wonder of the moon silhouetting the
cragged castles of the peaks, up where the soft, gray clouds lay like
shimmering draperies.

Then she turned her face a little and nodded. "Yes, Alaska," she said,
and the old captain fancied there was the slightest ripple of a tremor
in her voice. "Your Alaska, Captain Rifle."

Out of the clearness of the night came to them a distant sound like the
low moan of thunder. Twice before, Mary Standish had heard it, and now
she asked: "What was that? Surely it can not be a storm, with the moon
like that, and the stars so clear above!"

"It is ice breaking from the glaciers and falling into the sea. We are
in the Wrangel Narrows, and very near the shore, Miss Standish. If it
were day you could hear the birds singing. This is what we call the
Inside Passage. I have always called it the water-wonderland of the
world, and yet, if you will observe, I must be mistaken--for we are
almost alone on this side of the ship. Is it not proof? If I were right,
the men and women in there--dancing, playing cards, chattering--would be
crowding this rail. Can you imagine humans like that? But they can't see
what I see, for I am a ridiculous old fool who remembers things. Ah, do
you catch that in the air, Miss Standish--the perfume of flowers, of
forests, of green things ashore? It is faint, but I catch it."

"And so do I."

She breathed in deeply of the sweet air, and turned then, so that she
stood with her back to the rail, facing the flaming lights of the ship.

The mellow cadence of the music came to her, soft-stringed and sleepy;
she could hear the shuffle of dancing feet. Laughter rippled with the
rhythmic thrum of the ship, voices rose and fell beyond the lighted
windows, and as the old captain looked at her, there was something in
her face which he could not understand.

She had come aboard strangely at Seattle, alone and almost at the last
minute--defying the necessity of making reservation where half a
thousand others had been turned away--and chance had brought her under
his eyes. In desperation she had appealed to him, and he had discovered
a strange terror under the forced calm of her appearance. Since then he
had fathered her with his attentions, watching closely with the wisdom
of years. And more than once he had observed that questing, defiant
poise of her head with which she was regarding the cabin windows now.

She had told him she was twenty-three and on her way to meet relatives
in Nome. She had named certain people. And he had believed her. It was
impossible not to believe her, and he admired her pluck in breaking all
official regulations in coming aboard.

In many ways she was companionable and sweet. Yet out of his experience,
he gathered the fact that she was under a tension. He knew that in some
way she was making a fight, but, influenced by the wisdom of three and
sixty years, he did not let her know he had guessed the truth.

He watched her closely now, without seeming to do so. She was very
pretty in a quiet and unusual way. There was something irresistibly
attractive about her, appealing to old memories which were painted
clearly in his heart. She was girlishly slim. He had observed that her
eyes were beautifully clear and gray in the sunlight, and her
exquisitely smooth dark hair, neatly coiled and luxuriant crown of
beauty, reminded him of puritanism in its simplicity. At times he
doubted that she was twenty-three. If she had said nineteen or twenty he
would have been better satisfied. She puzzled him and roused speculation
in him. But it was a part of his business to see many things which
others might not see--and hold his tongue.

"We are not quite alone," she was saying. "There are others," and she
made a little gesture toward two figures farther up the rail.

"Old Donald Hardwick, of Skagway," he said. "And the other is Alan
Holt."

"Oh, yes."

She was facing the mountains again, her eyes shining in the light of the
moon. Gently her hand touched the old captain's arm. "Listen," she
whispered.

"Another berg breaking away from Old Thunder. We are very near the
shore, and there are glaciers all the way up."

"And that other sound, like low wind--on a night so still and calm! What
is it?"

"You always hear that when very close to the big mountains, Miss
Standish. It is made by the water of a thousand streams and rivulets
rushing down to the sea. Wherever there is melting snow in the
mountains, you hear that song."

"And this man, Alan Holt," she reminded him. "He is a part of these
things?"

"Possibly more than any other man, Miss Standish. He was born in Alaska
before Nome or Fairbanks or Dawson City were thought of. It was in
Eighty-four, I think. Let me see, that would make him--"

"Thirty-eight," she said, so quickly that for a moment he was
astonished.

Then he chuckled. "You are very good at figures."

He felt an almost imperceptible tightening of her fingers on his arm.

"This evening, just after dinner, old Donald found me sitting alone. He
said he was lonely and wanted to talk with someone--like me. He almost
frightened me, with his great, gray beard and shaggy hair. I thought of
ghosts as we talked there in the dusk."

"Old Donald belongs to the days when the Chilkoot and the White Horse
ate up men's lives, and a trail of living dead led from the Summit to
Klondike, Miss Standish," said Captain Rifle. "You will meet many like
him in Alaska. And they remember. You can see it in their faces--always
the memory of those days that are gone."

She bowed her head a little, looking to the sea. "And Alan Holt? You
know him well?"

"Few men know him well. He is a part of Alaska itself, and I have
sometimes thought him more aloof than the mountains. But I know him. All
northern Alaska knows Alan Holt. He has a reindeer range up beyond the
Endicott Mountains and is always seeking the last frontier."

"He must be very brave."

"Alaska breeds heroic men, Miss Standish."

"And honorable men--men you can trust and believe in?"

"Yes."

"It is odd," she said, with a trembling little laugh that was like a
bird-note in her throat. "I have never seen Alaska before, and yet
something about these mountains makes me feel that I have known them a
long time ago. I seem to feel they are welcoming me and that I am going
home. Alan Holt is a fortunate man. I should like to be an Alaskan."

"And you are--"

"An American," she finished for him, a sudden, swift irony in her voice.
"A poor product out of the melting-pot, Captain Rifle. I am going
north--to learn."

"Only that, Miss Standish?"

His question, quietly spoken and without emphasis, demanded an answer.
His kindly face, seamed by the suns and winds of many years at sea, was
filled with honest anxiety as she turned to look straight into his eyes.

"I must press the question," he said. "As the captain of this ship, and
as a father, it is my duty. Is there not something you would like to
tell me--in confidence, if you will have it so?"

For an instant she hesitated, then slowly she shook her head. "There is
nothing, Captain Rifle."

"And yet--you came aboard very strangely," he urged. "You will recall
that it was most unusual--without reservation, without baggage--"

"You forget the hand-bag," she reminded him.

"Yes, but one does not start for northern Alaska with only a hand-bag
scarcely large enough to contain a change of linen, Miss Standish."

"But I did, Captain Rifle."

"True. And I saw you fighting past the guards like a little wildcat. It
was without precedent."

"I am sorry. But they were stupid and difficult to pass."

"Only by chance did I happen to see it all, my child. Otherwise the
ship's regulations would have compelled me to send you ashore. You were
frightened. You can not deny that. You were running away from
something!"

He was amazed at the childish simplicity with which she answered him.

"Yes, I was running away--from something."

Her eyes were beautifully clear and unafraid, and yet again he sensed
the thrill of the fight she was making.

"And you will not tell me why--or from what you were escaping?"

"I can not--tonight. I may do so before we reach Nome. But--it is
possible--"

"What?"

"That I shall never reach Nome."

Suddenly she caught one of his hands in both her own. Her fingers clung
to him, and with a little note of fierceness in her voice she hugged the
hand to her breast. "I know just how good you have been to me," she
cried. "I should like to tell you why I came aboard--like that. But I
can not. Look! Look at those wonderful mountains!" With one free hand
she pointed.

"Behind them and beyond them lie the romance and adventure and mystery
of centuries, and for nearly thirty years you have been very near those
things, Captain Rifle. No man will ever see again what you have seen or
feel what you have felt, or forget what you have had to forget. I know
it. And after all that, can't you--won't you--forget the strange manner
in which I came aboard this ship? It is such a simple, little thing to
put out of your mind, so trivial, so unimportant when you look
back--and think. Please Captain Rifle--please!"

So quickly that he scarcely sensed the happening of it she pressed his
hand to her lips. Their warm thrill came and went in an instant, leaving
him speechless, his resolution gone.

"I love you because you have been so good to me," she whispered, and as
suddenly as she had kissed his hand, she was gone, leaving him alone
at the rail.



CHAPTER II

Alan Holt saw the slim figure of the girl silhouetted against the vivid
light of the open doorway of the upper-deck salon. He was not watching
her, nor did he look closely at the exceedingly attractive picture which
she made as she paused there for an instant after leaving Captain Rifle.
To him she was only one of the five hundred human atoms that went to
make up the tremendously interesting life of one of the first ships of
the season going north. Fate, through the suave agency of the purser,
had brought him into a bit closer proximity to her than the others; that
was all. For two days her seat in the dining-salon had been at the same
table, not quite opposite him. As she had missed both breakfast hours,
and he had skipped two luncheons, the requirements of neighborliness and
of courtesy had not imposed more than a dozen words of speech upon them.
This was very satisfactory to Alan. He was not talkative or
communicative of his own free will. There was a certain cynicism back of
his love of silence. He was a good listener and a first-rate analyst.
Some people, he knew, were born to talk; and others, to trim the
balance, were burdened with the necessity of holding their tongues. For
him silence was not a burden.

In his cool and causal way he admired Mary Standish. She was very
quiet, and he liked her because of that. He could not, of course, escape
the beauty of her eyes or the shimmering luster of the long lashes that
darkened them. But these were details which did not thrill him, but
merely pleased him. And her hair pleased him possibly even more than her
gray eyes, though he was not sufficiently concerned to discuss the
matter with himself. But if he had pointed out any one thing, it would
have been her hair--not so much the color of it as the care she
evidently gave it, and the manner in which she dressed it. He noted that
it was dark, with varying flashes of luster in it under the dinner
lights. But what he approved of most of all were the smooth, silky coils
in which she fastened it to her pretty head. It was an intense relief
after looking on so many frowsy heads, bobbed and marcelled, during his
six months' visit in the States. So he liked her, generally speaking,
because there was not a thing about her that he might dislike.

He did not, of course, wonder what the girl might be thinking of
him--with his quiet, stern face, his cold indifference, his rather
Indian-like litheness, and the single patch of gray that streaked his
thick, blond hair. His interest had not reached anywhere near
that point.

Tonight it was probable that no woman in the world could have interested
him, except as the always casual observer of humanity. Another and
greater thing gripped him and had thrilled him since he first felt the
throbbing pulse of the engines of the new steamship _Nome_ under his
feet at Seattle. He was going _home_. And home meant Alaska. It meant
the mountains, the vast tundras, the immeasurable spaces into which
civilization had not yet come with its clang and clamor. It meant
friends, the stars he knew, his herds, everything he loved. Such was his
reaction after six months of exile, six months of loneliness and
desolation in cities which he had learned to hate.

"I'll not make the trip again--not for a whole winter--unless I'm sent
at the point of a gun," he said to Captain Rifle, a few moments after
Mary Standish had left the deck. "An Eskimo winter is long enough, but
one in Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York is longer--for me."

"I understand they had you up before the Committee on Ways and Means at
Washington."

"Yes, along with Carl Lomen, of Nome. But Lomen was the real man. He has
forty thousand head of reindeer in the Seward Peninsula, and they had to
listen to him. We may get action."

"May!" Captain Rifle grunted his doubt. "Alaska has been waiting ten
years for a new deck and a new deal. I doubt if you'll get anything.
When politicians from Iowa and south Texas tell us what we can have and
what we need north of Fifty-eight--why, what's the use? Alaska might as
well shut up shop!"

"But she isn't going to do that," said Alan Holt, his face grimly set in
the moonlight. "They've tried hard to get us, and they've made us shut
up a lot of our doors. In 1910 we were thirty-six thousand whites in the
Territory. Since then the politicians at Washington have driven out nine
thousand, a quarter of the population. But those that are left are
hard-boiled. We're not going to quit, Captain. A lot of us are Alaskans,
and we are not afraid to fight."

"You mean--"

"That we'll have a square deal within another five years, or know the
reason why. And another five years after that, we'll he shipping a
million reindeer carcasses down into the States each year. Within twenty
years we'll be shipping five million. Nice thought for the beef barons,
eh? But rather fortunate, I think, for the hundred million Americans who
are turning their grazing lands into farms and irrigation systems."

One of Alan Holt's hands was clenched at the rail. "Until I went down
this winter, I didn't realize just how bad it was," he said, a note hard
as iron in his voice. "Lomen is a diplomat, but I'm not. I want to fight
when I see such things--fight with a gun. Because we happened to find
gold up here, they think Alaska is an orange to be sucked as quickly as
possible, and that when the sucking process is over, the skin will be
worthless. That's modern, dollar-chasing Americanism for you!"

"And are you not an American, Mr. Holt?"

So soft and near was the voice that both men started. Then both turned
and stared. Close behind them, her quiet, beautiful face flooded with
the moon-glow, stood Mary Standish.

"You ask me a question, madam," said Alan Holt, bowing courteously. "No,
I am not an American. I am an Alaskan."

The girl's lips were parted. Her eyes were very bright and clear.
"Please pardon me for listening," she said. "I couldn't help it. I am an
American. I love America. I think I love it more than anything else in
the world--more than my religion, even. _America,_ Mr. Holt. And America
doesn't necessarily mean a great many of America's people. I love to
think that I first came ashore in the _Mayflower_. That is why my name
is Standish. And I just wanted to remind you that Alaska _is_ America."

Alan Holt was a bit amazed. The girl's face was no longer placidly
quiet. Her eyes were radiant. He sensed the repressed thrill in her
voice, and he knew that in the light of day he would have seen fire in
her cheeks. He smiled, and in that smile he could not quite keep back
the cynicism of his thought.

"And what do you know about Alaska, Miss Standish?"

"Nothing," she said. "And yet I love it." She pointed to the mountains.
"I wish I might have been born among them. You are fortunate. You should
love America."

"Alaska, you mean!"

"No, America." There was a flashing challenge in her eyes. She was not
speaking apologetically. Her meaning was direct.

The irony on Alan's lips died away. With a little laugh he bowed again.
"If I am speaking to a daughter of Captain Miles Standish, who came over
in the _Mayflower_, I stand reproved," he said. "You should be an
authority on Americanism, if I am correct in surmising your
relationship."

"You are correct," she replied with a proud, little tilt of her glossy
head, "though I think that only lately have I come to an understanding
of its significance--and its responsibility. I ask your pardon again for
interrupting you. It was not premeditated. It just happened."

She did not wait for either of them to speak, but flashed the two a
swift smile and passed down the promenade.

The music had ceased and the cabins at last were emptying themselves of
life.

"A remarkable young woman," Alan remarked. "I imagine that the spirit of
Captain Miles Standish may be a little proud of this particular
olive-branch. A chip off the old block, you might say. One would almost
suppose he had married Priscilla and this young lady was a definite
though rather indirect result."

He had a curious way of laughing without any more visible manifestation
of humor than spoken words. It was a quality in his voice which one
could not miss, and at times, when ironically amused, it carried a
sting which he did not altogether intend.

In another moment Mary Standish was forgotten, and he was asking the
captain a question which was in his mind.

"The itinerary of this ship is rather confused, is it not?"

"Yes--rather," acknowledged Captain Rifle. "Hereafter she will ply
directly between Seattle and Nome. But this time we're doing the Inside
Passage to Juneau and Skagway and will make the Aleutian Passage via
Cordova and Seward. A whim of the owners, which they haven't seen fit to
explain to me. Possibly the Canadian junket aboard may have something to
do with it. We're landing them at Skagway, where they make the Yukon by
way of White Horse Pass. A pleasure trip for flabby people nowadays,
Holt. I can remember--"

"So can I," nodded Alan Holt, looking at the mountains beyond which lay
the dead-strewn trails of the gold stampede of a generation before. "I
remember. And old Donald is dreaming of that hell of death back there.
He was all choked up tonight. I wish he might forget."

"Men don't forget such women as Jane Hope," said the captain softly.

"You knew her?"

"Yes. She came up with her father on my ship. That was twenty-five years
ago last autumn, Alan. A long time, isn't it? And when I look at Mary
Standish and hear her voice--" He hesitated, as if betraying a secret,
and then he added: "--I can't help thinking of the girl Donald Hardwick
fought for and won in that death-hole at White Horse. It's too bad she
had to die."

"She isn't dead," said Alan. The hardness was gone from his voice. "She
isn't dead," he repeated. "That's the pity of it. She is as much a
living thing to him today as she was twenty years ago."

After a moment the captain said, "She was talking with him early this
evening, Alan."

"Miss Captain Miles Standish, you mean?"

"Yes. There seems to be something about her that amuses you."

Alan shrugged his shoulders. "Not at all. I think she is a most
admirable young person. Will you have a cigar, Captain? I'm going to
promenade a bit. It does me good to mix in with the sour-doughs."

The two lighted their cigars from a single match, and Alan went his way,
while the captain turned in the direction of his cabin.

To Alan, on this particular night, the steamship _Nome_ was more than a
thing of wood and steel. It was a living, pulsating being, throbbing
with the very heart-beat of Alaska. The purr of the mighty engines was a
human intelligence crooning a song of joy. For him the crowded passenger
list held a significance that was almost epic, and its names represented
more than mere men and women. They were the vital fiber of the land he
loved, its heart's blood, its very element--"giving in." He knew that
with the throb of those engines romance, adventure, tragedy, and hope
were on their way north--and with these things also arrogance and greed.
On board were a hundred conflicting elements--some that had fought for
Alaska, others that would make her, and others that would destroy.

He puffed at his cigar and walked alone, brushing sleeves with men and
women whom he scarcely seemed to notice. But he was observant. He knew
the tourists almost without looking at them. The spirit of the north had
not yet seized upon them. They were voluble and rather excitedly
enthusiastic in the face of beauty and awesomeness. The sour-doughs were
tucked away here and there in shadowy nooks, watching in silence, or
they walked the deck slowly and quietly, smoking their cigars or pipes,
and seeing things beyond the mountains. Between these two, the newcomers
and the old-timers, ran the gamut of all human thrill for Alan, the
flesh-and-blood fiber of everything that went to make up life north of
Fifty-four. And he could have gone from man to man and picked out those
who belonged north of Fifty-eight.

Aft of the smoking-room he paused, tipping the ash of his cigar over the
edge of the rail. A little group of three stood near him, and he
recognized them as the young engineers, fresh from college, going up to
work on the government railroad running from Seward to Tanana. One of
them was talking, filled with the enthusiasm of his first adventure.

"I tell you," he said, "people don't know what they ought to know about
Alaska. In school they teach us that it's an eternal icebox full of
gold, and is headquarters for Santa Claus, because that's where reindeer
come from. And grown-ups think about the same thing. Why"--he drew in a
deep breath--"it's nine times as large as the state of Washington,
twelve times as big as the state of New York, and we bought it from
Russia for less than two cents an acre. If you put it down on the face
of the United States, the city of Juneau would be in St. Augustine,
Florida, and Unalaska would be in Los Angeles. That's how big it is, and
the geographical center of our country isn't Omaha or Sioux City, but
exactly San Francisco, California."

"Good for you, sonny," came a quiet voice from beyond the group. "Your
geography is correct. And you might add for the education of your people
that Alaska is only thirty-seven miles from Bolshevik Siberia, and
wireless messages are sent into Alaska by the Bolsheviks urging our
people to rise against the Washington government. We've asked Washington
for a few guns and a few men to guard Nome, but they laugh at us. Do you
see a moral?"

From half-amused interest Alan jerked himself to alert tension. He
caught a glimpse of the gaunt, old graybeard who had spoken, but did not
know him. And as this man turned away, a shadowy hulk in the moonlight,
the same deep, quiet voice came back very clearly:

"And if you ever care for Alaska, you might tell your government to hang
a few such men as John Graham, sonny."

At the sound of that name Alan felt the blood in him run suddenly hot.
Only one man on the face of the earth did he hate with undying hatred,
and that man was John Graham. He would have followed, seeking the
identity of the stranger whose words had temporarily stunned the young
engineers, when he saw a slim figure standing between him and the light
of the smoking-room windows. It was Mary Standish. He knew by her
attitude that she had heard the words of the young engineer and the old
graybeard, but she was looking at _him_. And he could not remember that
he had ever seen quite that same look in a woman's face before. It was
not fright. It was more an expression of horror which comes from thought
and mental vision rather than physical things. Instantly it annoyed Alan
Holt. This was the second time she had betrayed a too susceptible
reaction in matters which did not concern her. So he said, speaking to
the silent young men a few steps away:

"He was mistaken, gentlemen. John Graham should not be hung. That would
be too merciful."

He resumed his way then, nodding at them as he passed. But he had
scarcely gone out of their vision when quick footsteps pattered behind
him, and the girl's hand touched his arm lightly.

"Mr. Holt, please--"

He stopped, sensing the fact that the soft pressure of her fingers was
not altogether unpleasant. She hesitated, and when she spoke again, only
her finger-tips touched his arm. She was looking shoreward, so that for
a moment he could see only the lustrous richness of her smooth hair.
Then she was meeting his eyes squarely, a flash of challenge in the gray
depths of her own.

"I am alone on the ship," she said. "I have no friends here. I want to
see things and ask questions. Will you ... help me a little?"

"You mean ... escort you?"

"Yes, if you will. I should feel more comfortable."

Nettled at first, the humor of the situation began to appeal to him, and
he wondered at the intense seriousness of the girl. She did not smile.
Her eyes were very steady and very businesslike, and at the same time
very lovely.

"The way you put it, I don't see how I can refuse," he said. "As for the
questions--probably Captain Rifle can answer them better than I."

"I don't like to trouble him," she replied. "He has much to think about.
And you are alone."

"Yes, quite alone. And with very little to think about."

"You know what I mean, Mr. Holt. Possibly you can not understand me, or
won't try. But I'm going into a new country, and I have a passionate
desire to learn as much about that country as I can before I get there.
I want to know about many things. For instance--"

"Yes."

"Why did you say what you did about John Graham? What did the other man
mean when he said he should be hung?"

There was an intense directness in her question which for a moment
astonished him. She had withdrawn her fingers from his arm, and her slim
figure seemed possessed of a sudden throbbing suspense as she waited for
an answer. They had turned a little, so that in the light of the moon
the almost flowerlike whiteness of her face was clear to him. With her
smooth, shining hair, the pallor of her face under its lustrous
darkness, and the clearness of her eyes she held Alan speechless for a
moment, while his brain struggled to seize upon and understand the
something about her which made him interested in spite of himself. Then
he smiled and there was a sudden glitter in his eyes.

"Did you ever see a dog fight?" he asked.

She hesitated, as if trying to remember, and shuddered slightly. "Once."

"What happened?"

"It was my dog--a little dog. His throat was torn--"

He nodded. "Exactly. And that is just what John Graham is doing to
Alaska, Miss Standish. He's the dog--a monster. Imagine a man with a
colossal financial power behind him, setting out to strip the wealth
from a new land and enslave it to his own desires and political
ambitions. That is what John Graham is doing from his money-throne down
there in the States. It's the financial support he represents, curse
him! Money--and a man without conscience. A man who would starve
thousands or millions to achieve his ends. A man who, in every sense of
the word, is a murderer--"

The sharpness of her cry stopped him. If possible, her face had gone
whiter, and he saw her hands clutched suddenly at her breast. And the
look in her eyes brought the old, cynical twist back to his lips.

"There, I've hurt your puritanism again, Miss Standish," he said, bowing
a little. "In order to appeal to your finer sensibilities I suppose I
must apologize for swearing and calling another man a murderer. Well, I
do. And now--if you care to stroll about the ship--"

From a respectful distance the three young engineers watched Alan and
Mary Standish as they walked forward.

"A corking pretty girl," said one of them, drawing a deep breath. "I
never saw such hair and eyes--"

"I'm at the same table with them," interrupted another. "I'm second on
her left, and she hasn't spoken three words to me. And that fellow she
is with is like an icicle out of Labrador."

And Mary Standish was saying: "Do you know, Mr. Holt, I envy those young
engineers. I wish I were a man."

"I wish you were," agreed Alan amiably.

Whereupon Mary Standish's pretty mouth lost its softness for an instant.
But Alan did not observe this. He was enjoying his cigar and the
sweet air.



CHAPTER III

Alan Holt was a man whom other men looked at twice. With women it was
different. He was, in no solitary sense of the word, a woman's man. He
admired them in an abstract way, and he was ready to fight for them, or
die for them, at any time such a course became necessary. But his
sentiment was entirely a matter of common sense. His chivalry was born
and bred of the mountains and the open and had nothing in common with
the insincere brand which develops in the softer and more luxurious laps
of civilization. Years of aloneness had put their mark upon him. Men of
the north, reading the lines, understood what they meant. But only now
and then could a woman possibly understand. Yet if in any given moment a
supreme physical crisis had come, women would have turned instinctively
in their helplessness to such a man as Alan Holt.

He possessed a vein of humor which few had been privileged to discover.
The mountains had taught him to laugh in silence. With him a chuckle
meant as much as a riotous outburst of merriment from another, and he
could enjoy greatly without any noticeable muscular disturbance of his
face. And not always was his smile a reflection of humorous thought.
There were times when it betrayed another kind of thought more
forcefully than speech.

Because he understood fairly well and knew what he was, the present
situation amused him. He could not but see what an error in judgment
Miss Standish had made in selecting him, when compared with the
intoxicating thrill she could easily have aroused by choosing one of the
young engineers as a companion in her evening adventure. He chuckled.
And Mary Standish, hearing the smothered note of amusement, gave to her
head that swift little birdlike tilt which he had observed once before,
in the presence of Captain Rifle. But she said nothing. As if
challenged, she calmly took possession of his arm.

Halfway round the deck, Alan began to sense the fact that there was a
decidedly pleasant flavor to the whole thing. The girl's hand did not
merely touch his arm; it was snuggled there confidently, and she was
necessarily so close to him that when he looked down, the glossy coils
of her hair were within a few inches of his face. His nearness to her,
together with the soft pressure of her hand on his arm, was a jolt to
his stoicism.

"It's not half bad," he expressed himself frankly. "I really believe I
am going to enjoy answering your questions, Miss Standish."

"Oh!" He felt the slim, little figure stiffen for an instant. "You
thought--possibly--I might be dangerous?"

"A little. I don't understand women. Collectively I think they are God's
most wonderful handiwork. Individually I don't care much about them.
But you--"

She nodded approvingly. "That is very nice of you. But you needn't say I
am different from the others. I am not. All women are alike."

"Possibly--except in the way they dress their hair."

"You like mine?"

"Very much."

He was amazed at the admission, so much so that he puffed out a huge
cloud of smoke from his cigar in mental protest.

They had come to the smoking-room again. This was an innovation aboard
the _Nome_. There was no other like it in the Alaskan service, with its
luxurious space, its comfortable hospitality, and the observation parlor
built at one end for those ladies who cared to sit with their husbands
while they smoked their after-dinner cigars.

"If you want to hear about Alaska and see some of its human make-up,
let's go in," he suggested. "I know; of no better place. Are you afraid
of smoke?"

"No. If I were a man, I would smoke."

"Perhaps you do?"

"I do not. When I begin that, if you please, I shall bob my hair."

"Which would be a crime," he replied so earnestly that again he was
surprised at himself.

Two or three ladies, with their escorts, were in the parlor when they
entered. The huge main room, covering a third of the aft deck, was blue
with smoke. A score of men were playing cards at round tables. Twice as
many were gathered in groups, talking, while others walked aimlessly up
and down the carpeted floor. Here and there were men who sat alone. A
few were asleep, which made Alan look at his watch. Then he observed
Mary Standish studying the innumerable bundles of neatly rolled blankets
that lay about. One of them was at her feet. She touched it with
her toe.

"What do they mean?" she asked.

"We are overloaded," he explained. "Alaskan steam-ships have no steerage
passengers as we generally know them. It isn't poverty that rides
steerage when you go north. You can always find a millionaire or two on
the lower deck. When they get sleepy, most of the men you see in there
will unroll blankets and sleep on the floor. Did you ever see an earl?"

He felt it his duty to make explanations now that he had brought her in,
and directed her attention to the third table on their left. Three men
were seated at this table.

"The man facing us, the one with a flabby face and pale mustache, is an
earl--I forget his name," he said. "He doesn't look it, but he is a real
sport. He is going up to shoot Kadiak bears, and sleeps on the floor.
The group beyond them, at the fifth table, are Treadwell mining men,
and that fellow you see slouched against the wall, half asleep, with
whiskers nearly to his waist, is Stampede Smith, an old-time partner of
George Carmack, who discovered gold on Bonanza Creek in Ninety-six. The
thud of Carmack's spade, as it hit first pay, was the 'sound heard round
the world,' Miss Standish. And the gentleman with crumpled whiskers was
the second-best man at Bonanza, excepting Skookum Jim and Taglish
Charlie, two Siwah Indians who were with Carmack when the strike was
made. Also, if you care for the romantic, he was in love with Belinda
Mulrooney, the most courageous woman who ever came into the north."

"Why was she courageous?"

"Because she came alone into a man's land, without a soul to fight for
her, determined to make a fortune along with the others. And she did. As
long as there is a Dawson sour-dough alive, he will remember Belinda
Mulrooney."

"She proved what a woman could do, Mr. Holt."

"Yes, and a little later she proved how foolish a woman can be, Miss
Standish. She became the richest woman in Dawson. Then came a man who
posed as a count, Belinda married him, and they went to Paris. _Finis_,
I think. Now, if she had married Stampede Smith over there, with his big
whiskers--"

He did not finish. Half a dozen paces from them a man had risen from a
table and was facing them. There was nothing unusual about him, except
his boldness as he looked at Mary Standish. It was as if he knew her and
was deliberately insulting her in a stare that was more than impudent in
its directness. Then a sudden twist came to his lips; he shrugged his
shoulders slightly and turned away.

Alan glanced swiftly at his companion. Her lips were compressed, and her
cheeks were flaming hotly. Even then, as his own blood boiled, he could
not but observe how beautiful anger made her.

"If you will pardon me a moment," he said quietly, "I shall demand an
explanation."

Her hand linked itself quickly through his arm.

"Please don't," she entreated. "It is kind of you, and you are just the
sort of man I should expect to resent a thing like that. But it would be
absurd to notice it. Don't you think so?"

In spite of her effort to speak calmly, there was a tremble in her
voice, and Alan was puzzled at the quickness with which the color went
from her face, leaving it strangely white.

"I am at your service," he replied with a rather cold inclination of his
head. "But if you were my sister, Miss Standish, I would not allow
anything like that to go unchallenged."

He watched the stranger until he disappeared through a door out upon the
deck.

"One of John Graham's men," he said. "A fellow named Rossland, going up
to get a final grip on the salmon fishing, I understand. They'll choke
the life out of it in another two years. Funny what this filthy stuff we
call money can do, isn't it? Two winters ago I saw whole Indian villages
starving, and women and little children dying by the score because of
this John Graham's money. Over-fishing did it, you understand. If you
could have seen some of those poor little devils, just skin and bones,
crying for a rag to eat--"

Her hand clutched at his arm. "How could John Graham--do that?" she
whispered.

He laughed unpleasantly. "When you have been a year in Alaska you won't
ask that question, Miss Standish. _How_? Why, simply by glutting his
canneries and taking from the streams the food supply which the natives
have depended upon for generations. In other words, the money he handles
represents the fish trust--and many other things. Please don't
misunderstand me. Alaska needs capital for its development. Without it
we will not only cease to progress; we will die. No territory on the
face of the earth offers greater opportunities for capital than Alaska
does today. Ten thousand fortunes are waiting to be made here by men who
have money to invest.

"But John Graham does not represent the type we want. He is a despoiler,
one of those whose only desire is to turn original resource into dollars
as fast as he can, even though those operations make both land and water
barren. You must remember until recently the government of Alaska as
manipulated by Washington politicians was little better than that
against which the American colonies rebelled in 1776. A hard thing for
one to say about the country he loves, isn't it? And John Graham stands
for the worst--he and the money which guarantees his power.

"As a matter of fact, big and legitimate capital is fighting shy of
Alaska. Conditions are such, thanks to red-tapeism and bad politics,
that capital, big and little, looks askance at Alaska and cannot be
interested. Think of it, Miss Standish! There are thirty-eight separate
bureaus at Washington operating on Alaska, five thousand miles away. Is
it a wonder the patient is sick? And is it a wonder that a man like John
Graham, dishonest and corrupt to the soul, has a fertile field to
work in?

"But we are progressing. We are slowly coming out from under the shadow
which has so long clouded Alaska's interests. There is now a growing
concentration of authority and responsibility. Both the Department of
the Interior and the Department of Agriculture now realize that Alaska
is a mighty empire in itself, and with their help we are bound to go
ahead in spite of all our handicaps. It is men like John Graham I fear.
Some day--"

Suddenly he caught himself. "There--I'm talking politics, and I should
entertain you with pleasanter and more interesting things," he
apologized. "Shall we go to the lower decks?"

"Or the open air," she suggested. "I am afraid this smoke is upsetting
me."

He could feel the change in her and did not attribute it entirely to the
thickness of the air. Rossland's inexplicable rudeness had disturbed her
more deeply than she had admitted, he believed.

"There are a number of Thlinkit Indians and a tame bear down in what we
should ordinarily call the steerage. Would you like to see them?" he
asked, when they were outside. "The Thlinkit girls are the prettiest
Indian women in the world, and there are two among those below who
are--well--unusually good-looking, the Captain says."

"And he has already made me acquainted with them," she laughed softly.
"Kolo and Haidah are the girls. They are sweet, and I love them. I had
breakfast with them this morning long before you were awake."

"The deuce you say! And that is why you were not at table? And the
morning before--"

"You noticed my absence?" she asked demurely.

"It was difficult for me not to see an empty chair. On second thought, I
think the young engineer called my attention to it by wondering if you
were ill."

"Oh!"

"He is very much interested in you, Miss Standish. It amuses me to see
him torture the corners of his eyes to look at you. I have thought it
would be only charity and good-will to change seats with him."

"In which event, of course, your eyes would not suffer."

"Probably not."

"Have they ever suffered?"

"I think not."

"When looking at the Thlinkit girls, for instance?"

"I haven't seen them."

She gave her shoulders a little shrug.

"Ordinarily I would think you most uninteresting, Mr. Holt. As it is I
think you unusual. And I rather like you for it. Would you mind taking
me to my cabin? It is number sixteen, on this deck."

She walked with her fingers touching his arm again. "What is your room?"
she asked.

"Twenty-seven, Miss Standish."

"This deck?"

"Yes."

Not until she had said good night, quietly and without offering him her
hand, did the intimacy of her last questions strike him. He grunted and
lighted a fresh cigar. A number of things occurred to him all at once,
as he slowly made a final round or two of the deck. Then he went to his
cabin and looked over papers which were going ashore at Juneau. These
were memoranda giving an account of his appearance with Carl Lomen
before the Ways and Means Committee at Washington.

It was nearly midnight when he had finished. He wondered if Mary
Standish was asleep. He was a little irritated, and slightly amused, by
the recurring insistency with which his mind turned to her. She was a
clever girl, he admitted. He had asked her nothing about herself, and
she had told him nothing, while he had been quite garrulous. He was a
little ashamed when he recalled how he had unburdened his mind to a girl
who could not possibly be interested in the political affairs of John
Graham and Alaska. Well, it was not entirely his fault. She had fairly
catapulted herself upon him, and he had been decent under the
circumstances, he thought.

He put out his light and stood with his face at the open port-hole. Only
the soft throbbing of the vessel as she made her way slowly through the
last of the Narrows into Frederick Sound came to his ears. The ship, at
last, was asleep. The moon was straight overhead, no longer silhouetting
the mountains, and beyond its misty rim of light the world was dark. Out
of this darkness, rising like a deeper shadow, Alan could make out
faintly the huge mass of Kupreanof Island. And he wondered, knowing the
perils of the Narrows in places scarcely wider than the length of the
ship, why Captain Rifle had chosen this course instead of going around
by Cape Decision. He could feel that the land was more distant now, but
the _Nome_ was still pushing ahead under slow bell, and he could smell
the fresh odor of kelp, and breathe deeply of the scent of forests that
came from both east and west.

Suddenly his ears became attentive to slowly approaching footsteps.
They seemed to hesitate and then advanced; he heard a subdued voice, a
man's voice--and in answer to it a woman's. Instinctively he drew a step
back and stood unseen in the gloom. There was no longer a sound of
voices. In silence they walked past his window, clearly revealed to him
in the moonlight. One of the two was Mary Standish. The man was
Rossland, who had stared at her so boldly in the smoking-room.

Amazement gripped Alan. He switched on his light and made his final
arrangements for bed. He had no inclination to spy upon either Mary
Standish or Graham's agent, but he possessed an inborn hatred of fraud
and humbug, and what he had seen convinced him that Mary Standish knew
more about Rossland than she had allowed him to believe. She had not
lied to him. She had said nothing at all--except to restrain him from
demanding an apology. Evidently she had taken advantage of him, but
beyond that fact her affairs had nothing to do with his own business in
life. Possibly she and Rossland had quarreled, and now they were making
up. Quite probable, he thought. Silly of him to think over the matter
at all.

So he put out his light again and went to bed. But he had no great
desire to sleep. It was pleasant to lie there, flat on his back, with
the soothing movement of the ship under him, listening to the musical
thrum of it. And it was pleasant to think of the fact that he was going
home. How infernally long those seven months had been, down in the
States! And how he had missed everyone he had ever known--even
his enemies!

He closed his eyes and visualized the home that was still thousands of
miles away--the endless tundras, the blue and purple foothills of the
Endicott Mountains, and "Alan's Range" at the beginning of them. Spring
was breaking up there, and it was warm on the tundras and the southern
slopes, and the pussy-willow buds were popping out of their coats like
corn from a hopper.

He prayed God the months had been kind to his people--the people of the
range. It was a long time to be away from them, when one loved them as
he did. He was sure that Tautuk and Amuk Toolik, his two chief herdsmen,
would care for things as well as himself. But much could happen in seven
months. Nawadlook, the little beauty of his distant kingdom, was not
looking well when he left. He was worried about her. The pneumonia of
the previous winters had left its mark. And Keok, her rival in
prettiness! He smiled in the darkness, wondering how Tautuk's sometimes
hopeless love affair had progressed. For Keok was a little heart-breaker
and had long reveled in Tautuk's sufferings. An archangel of iniquity,
Alan thought, as he grinned--but worth any man's risk of life, if he had
but a drop of brown blood in him! As for his herds, they had undoubtedly
fared well. Ten thousand head was something to be proud of--

Suddenly he drew in his breath and listened. Someone was at his door
and had paused there. Twice he had heard footsteps outside, but each
time they had passed. He sat up, and the springs of his berth made a
sound under him. He heard movement then, a swift, running movement--and
he switched on his light. A moment later he opened the door. No one was
there. The long corridor was empty. And then--a distance away--he heard
the soft opening and closing of another door.

It was then that his eyes saw a white, crumpled object on the floor. He
picked it up and reentered his room. It was a woman's handkerchief. And
he had seen it before. He had admired the pretty laciness of it that
evening in the smoking-room. Rather curious, he thought, that he should
now find it at his door.



CHAPTER IV

For a few minutes after finding the handkerchief at his door, Alan
experienced a feeling of mingled curiosity and disappointment--also a
certain resentment. The suspicion that he was becoming involved in spite
of himself was not altogether pleasant. The evening, up to a certain
point, had been fairly entertaining. It was true he might have passed a
pleasanter hour recalling old times with Stampede Smith, or discussing
Kadiak bears with the English earl, or striking up an acquaintance with
the unknown graybeard who had voiced an opinion about John Graham. But
he was not regretting lost hours, nor was he holding Mary Standish
accountable for them. It was, last of all, the handkerchief that
momentarily upset him.

Why had she dropped it at his door? It was not a dangerous-looking
affair, to be sure, with its filmy lace edging and ridiculous
diminutiveness. As the question came to him, he was wondering how even
as dainty a nose as that possessed by Mary Standish could be much
comforted by it. But it was pretty. And, like Mary Standish, there was
something exquisitely quiet and perfect about it, like the simplicity of
her hair. He was not analyzing the matter. It was a thought that came to
him almost unconsciously, as he tossed the annoying bit of fabric on
the little table at the head of his berth. Undoubtedly the dropping of
it had been entirely unpremeditated and accidental. At least he told
himself so. And he also assured himself, with an involuntary shrug of
his shoulders, that any woman or girl had the right to pass his door if
she so desired, and that he was an idiot for thinking otherwise. The
argument was only slightly adequate. But Alan was not interested in
mysteries, especially when they had to do with woman--and such an
absurdly inconsequential thing as a handkerchief.

A second time he went to bed. He fell asleep thinking about Keok and
Nawadlook and the people of his range. From somewhere he had been given
the priceless heritage of dreaming pleasantly, and Keok was very real,
with her swift smile and mischievous face, and Nawadlook's big, soft
eyes were brighter than when he had gone away. He saw Tautuk, gloomy as
usual over the heartlessness of Keok. He was beating a tom-tom that gave
out the peculiar sound of bells, and to this Amuk Toolik was dancing the
Bear Dance, while Keok clapped her hands in exaggerated admiration. Even
in his dreams Alan chuckled. He knew what was happening, and that out of
the corners of her laughing eyes Keok was enjoying Tautuk's jealousy.
Tautuk was so stupid he would never understand. That was the funny part
of it. And he beat his drum savagely, scowling so that he almost shut
his eyes, while Keok laughed outright.

It was then that Alan opened his eyes and heard the last of the ship's
bells. It was still dark. He turned on the light and looked at his
watch. Tautuk's drum had tolled eight bells, aboard the ship, and it was
four o'clock in the morning.

Through the open port came the smell of sea and land, and with it a
chill air which Alan drank in deeply as he stretched himself for a few
minutes after awakening. The tang of it was like wine in his blood, and
he got up quietly and dressed while he smoked the stub-end of a cigar he
had laid aside at midnight. Not until he had finished dressing did he
notice the handkerchief on the table. If its presence had suggested a
significance a few hours before, he no longer disturbed himself by
thinking about it. A bit of carelessness on the girl's part, that was
all. He would return it. Mechanically he put the crumpled bit of cambric
in his coat pocket before going on deck.

He had guessed that he would be alone. The promenade was deserted.
Through the ghost-white mist of morning he saw the rows of empty chairs,
and lights burning dully in the wheel-house. Asian monsoon and the
drifting warmth of the Japan current had brought an early spring to the
Alexander Archipelago, and May had stolen much of the flowering softness
of June. But the dawns of these days were chilly and gray. Mists and
fogs settled in the valleys, and like thin smoke rolled down the sides
of the mountains to the sea, so that a ship traveling the inner waters
felt its way like a child creeping in darkness.

Alan loved this idiosyncrasy of the Alaskan coast. The phantom mystery
of it was stimulating, and in the peril of it was a challenging lure. He
could feel the care with which the _Nome_ was picking her way northward.
Her engines were thrumming softly, and her movement was a slow and
cautious glide, catlike and slightly trembling, as if every pound of
steel in her were a living nerve widely alert. He knew Captain Rifle
would not be asleep and that straining eyes were peering into the white
gloom from the wheel-house. Somewhere west of them, hazardously near,
must lie the rocks of Admiralty Island; eastward were the still more
pitiless glacial sandstones and granites of the coast, with that deadly
finger of sea-washed reef between, along the lip of which they must
creep to Juneau. And Juneau could not be far ahead.

He leaned over the rail, puffing at the stub of his cigar. He was eager
for his work. Juneau, Skagway, and Cordova meant nothing to him, except
that they were Alaska. He yearned for the still farther north, the wide
tundras, and the mighty achievement that lay ahead of him there. His
blood sang to the surety of it now, and for that reason he was not sorry
he had spent seven months of loneliness in the States. He had proved
with his own eyes that the day was near when Alaska would come into her
own. Gold! He laughed. Gold had its lure, its romance, its thrill, but
what was all the gold the mountains might possess compared with this
greater thing he was helping to build! It seemed to him the people he
had met in the south had thought only of gold when they learned he was
from Alaska. Always gold--that first, and then ice, snow, endless
nights, desolate barrens, and craggy mountains frowning everlastingly
upon a blasted land in which men fought against odds and only the
fittest survived. It was gold that had been Alaska's doom. When people
thought of it, they visioned nothing beyond the old stampede days, the
Chilkoot, White Horse, Dawson, and Circle City. Romance and glamor and
the tragedies of dead men clung to their ribs. But they were beginning
to believe now. Their eyes were opening. Even the Government was waking
up, after proving there was something besides graft in railroad building
north of Mount St. Elias. Senators and Congressmen at Washington had
listened to him seriously, and especially to Carl Lomen. And the beef
barons, wisest of all, had tried to buy him off and had offered a
fortune for Lomen's forty thousand head of reindeer in the Seward
Peninsula! That was proof of the awakening. Absolute proof.

He lighted a fresh cigar, and his mind shot through the dissolving mist
into the vast land ahead of him. Some Alaskans had cursed Theodore
Roosevelt for putting what they called "the conservation shackles" on
their country. But he, for one, did not. Roosevelt's far-sightedness had
kept the body-snatchers at bay, and because he had foreseen what
money-power and greed would do, Alaska was not entirely stripped today,
but lay ready to serve with all her mighty resources the mother who had
neglected her for a generation. But it was going to be a struggle, this
opening up of a great land. It must be done resourcefully and with
intelligence. Once the bars were down, Roosevelt's shadow-hand could not
hold back such desecrating forces as John Graham and the syndicate he
represented.

Thought of Graham was an unpleasant reminder, and his face grew hard in
the sea-mist. Alaskans themselves must fight against the licensed
plunderers. And it would be a hard fight. He had seen the pillaging work
of these financial brigands in a dozen states during the past
winter--states raped of their forests, their lakes and streams robbed
and polluted, their resources hewn down to naked skeletons. He had been
horrified and a little frightened when he looked over the desolation of
Michigan, once the richest timber state in America. What if the
Government at Washington made it possible for such a thing to happen in
Alaska? Politics--and money--were already fighting for just that thing.

He no longer heard the throb of the ship under his feet. It was _his_
fight, and brain and muscle reacted to it almost as if it had been a
physical thing. And his end of that fight he was determined to win, if
it took every year of his life. He, with a few others, would prove to
the world that the millions of acres of treeless tundras of the north
were not the cast-off ends of the earth. They would populate them, and
the so-called "barrens" would thunder to the innumerable hoofs of
reindeer herds as the American plains had never thundered to the beat of
cattle. He was not thinking of the treasure he would find at the end of
this rainbow of success which he visioned. Money, simply as money, he
hated. It was the achievement of the thing that gripped him; the passion
to hew a trail through which his beloved land might come into its own,
and the desire to see it achieve a final triumph by feeding a half of
that America which had laughed at it and kicked it when it was down.

The tolling of the ship's bell roused him from the subconscious struggle
into which he had allowed himself to be drawn. Ordinarily he had no
sympathy with himself when he fell into one of these mental spasms, as
he called them. Without knowing it, he was a little proud of a certain
dispassionate tolerance which he possessed--a philosophical mastery of
his emotions which at times was almost cold-blooded, and which made some
people think he was a thing of stone instead of flesh and blood. His
thrills he kept to himself. And a mildly disturbing sensation passed
through him now, when he found that unconsciously his fingers had twined
themselves about the little handkerchief in his pocket. He drew it out
and made a sudden movement as if to toss it overboard. Then, with a
grunt expressive of the absurdity of the thing, he replaced it in his
pocket and began to walk slowly toward the bow of the ship.

He wondered, as he noted the lifting of the fog, what he would have been
had he possessed a sister like Mary Standish. Or any family at all, for
that matter--even an uncle or two who might have been interested in him.
He remembered his father vividly, his mother a little less so, because
his mother had died when he was six and his father when he was twenty.
It was his father who stood out above everything else, like the
mountains he loved. The father would remain with him always, inspiring
him, urging him, encouraging him to live like a gentleman, fight like a
man, and die at last unafraid. In that fashion the older Alan Holt had
lived and died. But his mother, her face and voice scarcely remembered
in the passing of many years, was more a hallowed memory to him than a
thing of flesh and blood. And there had been no sisters or brothers.
Often he had regretted this lack of brotherhood. But a sister.... He
grunted his disapprobation of the thought. A sister would have meant
enchainment to civilization. Cities, probably. Even the States. And
slavery to a life he detested. He appreciated the immensity of his
freedom. A Mary Standish, even though she were his sister, would be a
catastrophe. He could not conceive of her, or any other woman like her,
living with Keok and Nawadlook and the rest of his people in the heart
of the tundras. And the tundras would always be his home, because his
heart was there.

He had passed round the wheel-house and came suddenly upon an odd figure
crumpled in a chair. It was Stampede Smith. In the clearer light that
came with the dissolution of the sea-mist Alan saw that he was not
asleep. He paused, unseen by the other. Stampede stretched himself,
groaned, and stood up. He was a little man, and his fiercely bristling
red whiskers, wet with dew, were luxuriant enough for a giant. His head
of tawny hair, bristling like his whiskers, added to the piratical
effect of him above the neck, but below that part of his anatomy there
was little to strike fear into the hearts of humanity. Some people
smiled when they looked at him. Others, not knowing their man, laughed
outright. Whiskers could be funny. And they were undoubtedly funny on
Stampede Smith. But Alan neither smiled nor laughed, for in his heart
was something very near to the missing love of brotherhood for this
little man who had written his name across so many pages of
Alaskan history.

This morning, as Alan saw him, Stampede Smith was no longer the swiftest
gunman between White Horse and Dawson City. He was a pathetic reminder
of the old days when, single-handed, he had run down Soapy Smith and his
gang--days when the going of Stampede Smith to new fields meant a
stampede behind him, and when his name was mentioned in the same breath
with those of George Carmack, and Alex McDonald, and Jerome Chute, and
a hundred men like Curley Monroe and Joe Barret set their compasses by
his. To Alan there was tragedy in his aloneness as he stood in the gray
of the morning. Twenty times a millionaire, he knew that Stampede Smith
was broke again.

"Good morning," he said so unexpectedly that the little man jerked
himself round like the lash of a whip, a trick of the old gun days. "Why
so much loneliness, Stampede?"

Stampede grinned wryly. He had humorous, blue eyes, buried like an
Airedale's under brows which bristled even more fiercely than his
whiskers. "I'm thinkin'," said he, "what a fool thing is money. Good
mornin', Alan!"

He nodded and chuckled, and continued to chuckle in the face of the
lifting fog, and Alan saw the old humor which had always been Stampede's
last asset when in trouble. He drew nearer and stood beside him, so that
their shoulders touched as they leaned over the rail.

"Alan," said Stampede, "it ain't often I have a big thought, but I've
been having one all night. Ain't forgot Bonanza, have you?"

Alan shook his head. "As long as there is an Alaska, we won't forget
Bonanza, Stampede."

"I took a million out of it, next to Carmack's Discovery--an' went
busted afterward, didn't I?"

Alan nodded without speaking.

"But that wasn't a circumstance to Gold Run Creek, over the Divide,"
Stampede continued ruminatively. "Ain't forgot old Aleck McDonald, the
Scotchman, have you, Alan? In the 'wash' of Ninety-eight we took up
seventy sacks to bring our gold back in and we lacked thirty of doin'
the job. Nine hundred thousand dollars in a single clean-up, and that
was only the beginning. Well, I went busted again. And old Aleck went
busted later on. But he had a pretty wife left. A girl from Seattle. I
had to grub-stake."

He was silent for a moment, caressing his damp whiskers, as he noted the
first rose-flush of the sun breaking through the mist between them and
the unseen mountain tops.

"Five times after that I made strikes and went busted," he said a little
proudly. "And I'm busted again!"

"I know it," sympathized Alan.

"They took every cent away from me down in Seattle an' Frisco," chuckled
Stampede, rubbing his hands together cheerfully, "an' then bought me a
ticket to Nome. Mighty fine of them, don't you think? Couldn't have been
more decent. I knew that fellow Kopf had a heart. That's why I trusted
him with my money. It wasn't his fault he lost it."

"Of course not," agreed Alan.

"And I'm sort of sorry I shot him up for it. I am, for a fact."

"You killed him?"

"Not quite. I clipped one ear off as a reminder, down in Chink
Holleran's place. Mighty sorry. Didn't think then how decent it was of
him to buy me a ticket to Nome. I just let go in the heat of the moment.
He did me a favor in cleanin' me, Alan. He did, so help me! You don't
realize how free an' easy an' beautiful everything is until
you're busted."

Smiling, his odd face almost boyish behind its ambush of hair, he saw
the grim look in Alan's eyes and about his jaws. He caught hold of the
other's arm and shook it.

"Alan, I mean it!" he declared. "That's why I think money is a fool
thing. It ain't _spendin'_ money that makes me happy. It's _findin'_
it--the gold in the mountains--that makes the blood run fast through my
gizzard. After I've found it, I can't find any use for it in particular.
I want to go broke. If I didn't, I'd get lazy and fat, an' some
newfangled doctor would operate on me, and I'd die. They're doing a lot
of that operatin' down in Frisco, Alan. One day I had a pain, and they
wanted to cut out something from inside me. Think what can happen to a
man when he's got money!"

"You mean all that, Stampede?"

"On my life, I do. I'm just aching for the open skies, Alan. The
mountains. And the yellow stuff that's going to be my playmate till I
die. Somebody'll grub-stake me in Nome."

"They won't," said Alan suddenly. "Not if I can help it. Stampede, I
want you. I want you with me up under the Endicott Mountains. I've got
ten thousand reindeer up there. It's No Man's Land, and we can do as we
please in it. I'm not after gold. I want another sort of thing. But I've
fancied the Endicott ranges are full of that yellow playmate of yours.
It's a new country. You've never seen it. God only knows what you may
find. Will you come?"

The humorous twinkle had gone out of Stampede's eyes. He was staring at
Alan.

"Will I _come?_ Alan, will a cub nurse its mother? Try me. Ask me. Say
it all over ag'in."

The two men gripped hands. Smiling, Alan nodded to the east. The last of
the fog was clearing swiftly. The tips of the cragged Alaskan ranges
rose up against the blue of a cloudless sky, and the morning sun was
flashing in rose and gold at their snowy peaks. Stampede also nodded.
Speech was unnecessary. They both understood, and the thrill of the life
they loved passed from one to the other in the grip of their hands.



CHAPTER V

Breakfast hour was half over when Alan went into the dining-room. There
were only two empty chairs at his table. One was his own. The other
belonged to Mary Standish. There was something almost aggressively
suggestive in their simultaneous vacancy, it struck him at first. He
nodded as he sat down, a flash of amusement in his eyes when he observed
the look in the young engineer's face. It was both envious and accusing,
and yet Alan was sure the young man was unconscious of betraying an
emotion. The fact lent to the eating of his grapefruit an accompaniment
of pleasing and amusing thought. He recalled the young man's name. It
was Tucker. He was a clean-faced, athletic, likable-looking chap. And an
idiot would have guessed the truth, Alan told himself. The young
engineer was more than casually interested in Mary Standish; he was in
love. It was not a discovery which Alan made. It was a decision, and as
soon as possible he would remedy the unfortunate omission of a general
introduction at their table by bringing the two together. Such an
introduction would undoubtedly relieve him of a certain responsibility
which had persisted in attaching itself to him.

So he tried to think. But in spite of his resolution he could not get
the empty chair opposite him out of his mind. It refused to be
obliterated, and when other chairs became vacant as their owners left
the table, this one straight across from him continued to thrust itself
upon him. Until this morning it had been like other empty chairs. Now it
was persistently annoying, inasmuch as he had no desire to be so
constantly reminded of last night, and the twelve o'clock tryst of Mary
Standish with Graham's agent, Rossland.

He was the last at the table. Tucker, remaining until his final hope of
seeing Mary Standish was gone, rose with two others. The first two had
made their exit through the door leading from the dining salon when the
young engineer paused. Alan, watching him, saw a sudden change in his
face. In a moment it was explained. Mary Standish came in. She passed
Tucker without appearing to notice him, and gave Alan a cool little nod
as she seated herself at the table. She was very pale. He could see
nothing of the flush of color that had been in her cheeks last night. As
she bowed her head a little, arranging her dress, a pool of sunlight
played in her hair, and Alan was staring at it when she raised her eyes.
They were coolly beautiful, very direct, and without embarrassment.
Something inside him challenged their loveliness. It seemed
inconceivable that such eyes could play a part in fraud and deception,
yet he was in possession of quite conclusive proof of it. If they had
lowered themselves an instant, if they had in any way betrayed a shadow
of regret, he would have found an apology. Instead of that, his fingers
touched the handkerchief in his pocket.

"Did you sleep well, Miss Standish?" he asked politely.

"Not at all," she replied, so frankly that his conviction was a bit
unsettled. "I tried to powder away the dark rings under my eyes, but I
am afraid I have failed. Is that why you ask?"

He was holding the handkerchief in his hand. "This is the first morning
I have seen you at breakfast. I accepted it for granted you must have
slept well. Is this yours, Miss Standish?"

He watched her face as she took the crumpled bit of cambric from his
fingers. In a moment she was smiling. The smile was not forced. It was
the quick response to a feminine instinct of pleasure, and he was
disappointed not to catch in her face a betrayal of embarrassment.

"It is my handkerchief, Mr. Holt. Where did you find it?"

"In front of my cabin door a little after midnight."

He was almost brutal in the definiteness of detail. He expected some
kind of result. But there was none, except that the smile remained on
her lips a moment longer, and there was a laughing flash back in the
clear depths of her eyes. Her level glance was as innocent as a child's
and as he looked at her, he thought of a child--a most beautiful
child--and so utterly did he feel the discomfiture of his mental
analysis of her that he rose to his feet with a frigid bow.

"I thank you, Mr. Holt," she said. "You can imagine my sense of
obligation when I tell you I have only three handkerchiefs aboard the
ship with me. And this is my favorite."

She busied herself with the breakfast card, and as Alan left, he heard
her give the waiter an order for fruit and cereal. His blood was hot,
but the flush of it did not show in his face. He felt the uncomfortable
sensation of her eyes following him as he stalked through the door. He
did not look back. Something was wrong with him, and he knew it. This
chit of a girl with her smooth hair and clear eyes had thrown a grain of
dust into the satisfactory mechanism of his normal self, and the grind
of it was upsetting certain specific formulae which made up his life. He
was a fool. He lighted a cigar and called himself names.

Someone brushed against him, jarring the hand that held the burning
match. He looked up. It was Rossland. The man had a mere twist of a
smile on his lips. In his eyes was a coolly appraising look as
he nodded.

"Beg pardon." The words were condescending, carelessly flung at him over
Rossland's shoulder. He might as well have said, "I'm sorry, Boy, but
you must keep out of my way."

Alan smiled back and returned the nod. Once, in a spirit of sauciness,
Keok had told him his eyes were like purring cats when he was in a humor
to kill. They were like that now as they flashed their smile at
Rossland. The sneering twist left Rossland's lips as he entered the
dining-room.

A rather obvious prearrangement between Mary Standish and John Graham's
agent, Alan thought. There were not half a dozen people left at the
tables, and the scheme was that Rossland should be served tête-à-tête
with Miss Standish, of course. That, apparently, was why she had greeted
him with such cool civility. Her anxiety for him to leave the table
before Rossland appeared upon the scene was evident, now that he
understood the situation.

He puffed at his cigar. Rossland's interference had spoiled a perfect
lighting of it, and he struck another match. This time he was
successful, and he was about to extinguish the burning end when he
hesitated and held it until the fire touched his flesh. Mary Standish
was coming through the door. Amazed by the suddenness of her appearance,
he made no movement except to drop the match. Her eyes were flaming, and
two vivid spots burned in her cheeks. She saw him and gave the slightest
inclination to her head as she passed. When she had gone, he could not
resist looking into the salon. As he expected, Rossland was seated in a
chair next to the one she had occupied, and was calmly engaged in
looking over the breakfast card.

All this was rather interesting, Alan conceded, if one liked puzzles.
Personally he had no desire to become an answerer of conundrums, and he
was a little ashamed of the curiosity that had urged him to look in upon
Rossland. At the same time he was mildly elated at the freezing
reception which Miss Standish had evidently given to the dislikable
individual who had jostled him in passing.

He went on deck. The sun was pouring in an iridescent splendor over the
snowy peaks of the mountains, and it seemed as if he could almost reach
out his arms and touch them. The _Nome_ appeared to be drifting in the
heart of a paradise of mountains. Eastward, very near, was the mainland;
so close on the other hand that he could hear the shout of a man was
Douglas Island, and ahead, reaching out like a silver-blue ribbon was
Gastineau Channel. The mining towns of Treadwell and Douglas were
in sight.

Someone nudged him, and he found Stampede Smith at his side.

"That's Bill Treadwell's place," he said. "Once the richest gold mines
in Alaska. They're flooded now. I knew Bill when he was worrying about
the price of a pair of boots. Had to buy a second-hand pair an' patched
'em himself. Then he struck it lucky, got four hundred dollars
somewhere, and bought some claims over there from a man named French
Pete. They called it Glory Hole. An' there was a time when there were
nine hundred stamps at work. Take a look, Alan. It's worth it."

Somehow Stampede's voice and information lacked appeal. The decks were
crowded with passengers as the ship picked her way into Juneau, and Alan
wandered among them with a gathering sense of disillusionment pressing
upon him. He knew that he was looking with more than casual interest for
Mary Standish, and he was glad when Stampede bumped into an old
acquaintance and permitted him to be alone. He was not pleased with the
discovery, and yet he was compelled to acknowledge the truth of it. The
grain of dust had become more than annoying. It did not wear away, as he
had supposed it would, but was becoming an obsessive factor in his
thoughts. And the half-desire it built up in him, while aggravatingly
persistent, was less disturbing than before. The little drama in the
dining-room had had its effect upon him in spite of himself. He liked
fighters. And Mary Standish, intensely feminine in her quiet prettiness,
had shown her mettle in those few moments when he had seen her flashing
eyes and blazing cheeks after leaving Rossland. He began to look for
Rossland, too. He was in a humor to meet him.

Not until Juneau hung before him in all its picturesque beauty,
literally terraced against the green sweep of Mount Juneau, did he go
down to the lower deck. The few passengers ready to leave the ship
gathered near the gangway with their luggage. Alan was about to pass
them when he suddenly stopped. A short distance from him, where he could
see every person who disembarked, stood Rossland. There was something
grimly unpleasant in his attitude as he fumbled his watch-fob and eyed
the stair from above. His watchfulness sent an unexpected thrill through
Alan. Like a shot his mind jumped to a conclusion. He stepped to
Rossland's side and touched his arm.

"Watching for Miss Standish?" he asked.

"I am." There was no evasion in Rossland's words. They possessed the
hard and definite quality of one who had an incontestable authority
behind him.

"And if she goes ashore?"

"I am going too. Is it any affair of yours, Mr. Holt? Has she asked you
to discuss the matter with me? If so--"

"No, Miss Standish hasn't done that."

"Then please attend to your own business. If you haven't enough to take
up your time, I'll lend you some books. I have several in my cabin."

Without waiting for an answer Rossland coolly moved away. Alan did not
follow. There was nothing for him to resent, nothing for him to
imprecate but his own folly. Rossland's words were not an insult. They
were truth. He had deliberately intruded in an affair which was
undoubtedly of a highly private nature. Possibly it was a domestic
tangle. He shuddered. A sense of humiliation swept over him, and he was
glad that Rossland did not even look back at him. He tried to whistle as
he climbed back to the main-deck; Rossland, even though he detested the
man, had set him right. And he would lend him books, if he wanted to be
amused! Egad, but the fellow had turned the trick nicely. And it was
something to be remembered. He stiffened his shoulders and found old
Donald Hardwick and Stampede Smith. He did not leave them until the
_Nome_ had landed her passengers and freight and was churning her way
out of Gastineau Channel toward Skagway. Then he went to the
smoking-room and remained there until luncheon hour.

Today Mary Standish was ahead of him at the table. She was seated with
her back toward him as he entered, so she did not see him as he came up
behind her, so near that his coat brushed her chair. He looked across at
her and smiled as he seated himself. She returned the smile, but it
seemed to him an apologetic little effort. She did not look well, and
her presence at the table struck him as being a brave front to hide
something from someone. Casually he looked over his left shoulder.
Rossland was there, in his seat at the opposite side of the room.
Indirect as his glance had been, Alan saw the girl understood the
significance of it. She bowed her head a little, and her long lashes
shaded her eyes for a moment. He wondered why he always looked at her
hair first. It had a peculiarly pleasing effect on him. He had been
observant enough to know that she had rearranged it since breakfast, and
the smooth coils twisted in mysterious intricacy at the crown of her
head were like softly glowing velvet. The ridiculous thought came to
him that he would like to see them tumbling down about her. They must be
even more beautiful when freed from their bondage.

The pallor of her face was unusual. Possibly it was the way the light
fell upon her through the window. But when she looked across at him
again, he caught for an instant the tiniest quiver about her mouth. He
began telling her something about Skagway, quite carelessly, as if he
had seen nothing which she might want to conceal. The light in her eyes
changed, and it was almost a glow of gratitude he caught in them. He had
broken a tension, relieved her of some unaccountable strain she was
under. He noticed that her ordering of food was merely a pretense. She
scarcely touched it, and yet he was sure no other person at the table
had discovered the insincerity of her effort, not even Tucker, the
enamored engineer. It was likely Tucker placed a delicate halo about her
lack of appetite, accepting daintiness of that sort as an
angelic virtue.

Only Alan, sitting opposite her, guessed the truth. She was making a
splendid effort, but he felt that every nerve in her body was at the
breaking-point. When she arose from her seat, he thrust back his own
chair. At the same time he saw Rossland get up and advance rather
hurriedly from the opposite side of the room. The girl passed through
the door first, Rossland followed a dozen steps behind, and Alan came
last, almost shoulder to shoulder with Tucker. It was amusing in a way,
yet beyond the humor of it was something that drew a grim line about the
corners of his mouth.

At the foot of the luxuriously carpeted stair leading from the dining
salon to the main deck Miss Standish suddenly stopped and turned upon
Rossland. For only an instant her eyes were leveled at him. Then they
flashed past him, and with a swift movement she came toward Alan. A
flush had leaped into her cheeks, but there was no excitement in her
voice when she spoke. Yet it was distinct, and clearly heard
by Rossland.

"I understand we are approaching Skagway, Mr. Holt," she said. "Will you
take me on deck, and tell me about it?"

Graham's agent had paused at the foot of the stair and was slowly
preparing to light a cigarette. Recalling his humiliation of a few hours
before at Juneau, when the other had very clearly proved him a meddler,
words refused to form quickly on Alan's lips. Before he was ready with
an answer Mary Standish had confidently taken his arm. He could see the
red flush deepening in her upturned face. She was amazingly unexpected,
bewilderingly pretty, and as cool as ice except for the softly glowing
fire in her cheeks. He saw Rossland staring with his cigarette half
poised. It was instinctive for him to smile in the face of danger, and
he smiled now, without speaking. The girl laughed softly. She gave his
arm a gentle tug, and he found himself moving past Rossland, amazed but
obedient, her eyes looking at him in a way that sent a gentle thrill
through him.

At the head of the wide stair she whispered, with her lips close to his
shoulder: "You are splendid! I thank you, Mr. Holt."

Her words, along with the decisive relaxing of her hand upon his arm,
were like a dash of cold water in his face. Rossland could no longer see
them, unless he had followed. The girl had played her part, and a second
time he had accepted the role of a slow-witted fool. But the thought did
not anger him. There was a remarkable element of humor about it for him,
viewing himself in the matter, and Mary Standish heard him chuckling as
they came out on deck.

Her fingers tightened resentfully upon his arm. "It isn't funny," she
reproved. "It is tragic to be bored by a man like that."

He knew she was politely lying to anticipate the question he might ask,
and he wondered what would happen if he embarrassed her by letting her
know he had seen her alone with Rossland at midnight. He looked down at
her, and she met his scrutiny unflinchingly. She even smiled at him, and
her eyes, he thought, were the loveliest liars he had ever looked into.
He felt the stir of an unusual sentiment--a sort of pride in her, and he
made up his mind to say nothing about Rossland. He was still absurdly
convinced that he had not the smallest interest in affairs which were
not entirely his own. Mary Standish evidently believed he was blind,
and he would make no effort to spoil her illusion. Such a course would
undoubtedly be most satisfactory in the end.

Even now she seemed to have forgotten the incident at the foot of the
stair. A softer light was in her eyes when they came to the bow of the
ship, and Alan fancied he heard a strange little cry on her lips as she
looked about her upon the paradise of Taiya Inlet. Straight ahead, like
a lilac ribbon, ran the narrow waterway to Skagway's door, while on both
sides rose high mountains, covered with green forests to the snowy
crests that gleamed like white blankets near the clouds. In this melting
season there came to them above the slow throb of the ship's engines the
liquid music of innumerable cascades, and from a mountain that seemed to
float almost directly over their heads fell a stream of water a sheer
thousand feet to the sea, smoking and twisting in the sunshine like a
living thing at play. And then a miracle happened which even Alan
wondered at, for the ship seemed to stand still and the mountain to
swing slowly, as if some unseen and mighty force were opening a guarded
door, and green foothills with glistening white cottages floated into
the picture, and Skagway, heart of romance, monument to brave men and
thrilling deeds, drifted out slowly from its hiding-place. Alan turned
to speak, but what he saw in the girl's face held him silent. Her lips
were parted, and she was staring as if an unexpected thing had risen
before her eyes, something that bewildered her and even startled her.

And then, as if speaking to herself and not to Alan Holt, she said in a
tense whisper: "I have seen this place before. It was a long time ago.
Maybe it was a hundred years or a thousand. But I have been here. I have
lived under that mountain with the waterfall creeping down it--"

A tremor ran through her, and she remembered Alan. She looked up at him,
and he was puzzled. A weirdly beautiful mystery lay in her eyes.

"I must go ashore here," she said. "I didn't know I would find it so
soon. Please--"

With her hand touching his arm she turned. He was looking at her and saw
the strange light fade swiftly out of her eyes. Following her glance he
saw Rossland standing half a dozen paces behind them.

In another moment Mary Standish was facing the sea, and again her hand
was resting confidently in the crook of Alan's arm. "Did you ever feel
like killing a man, Mr. Holt?" she asked with an icy little laugh.

"Yes," he answered rather unexpectedly. "And some day, if the right
opportunity comes, I am going to kill a certain man--the man who
murdered my father."

She gave a little gasp of horror. "Your father--was--murdered--"

"Indirectly--yes. It wasn't done with knife or gun, Miss Standish. Money
was the weapon. Somebody's money. And John Graham was the man who
struck the blow. Some day, if there is justice, I shall kill him. And
right now, if you will allow me to demand an explanation of this man
Rossland--"

"_No_." Her hand tightened on his arm. Then, slowly, she drew it away.
"I don't want you to ask an explanation of him," she said. "If he should
make it, you would hate me. Tell me about Skagway, Mr. Holt. That will
be pleasanter."



CHAPTER VI

Not until early twilight came with the deep shadows of the western
mountains, and the _Nome_ was churning slowly back through the narrow
water-trails to the open Pacific, did the significance of that afternoon
fully impress itself upon Alan. For hours he had surrendered himself to
an impulse which he could not understand, and which in ordinary moments
he would not have excused. He had taken Mary Standish ashore. For two
hours she had walked at his side, asking him questions and listening to
him as no other had ever questioned him or listened to him before. He
had shown her Skagway. Between the mountains he pictured the wind-racked
cañon where Skagway grew from one tent to hundreds in a day, from
hundreds to thousands in a week; he visioned for her the old days of
romance, adventure, and death; he told her of Soapy Smith and his gang
of outlaws, and side by side they stood over Soapy's sunken grave as the
first somber shadows of the mountains grew upon them.

But among it all, and through it all, she had asked him about _himself_.
And he had responded. Until now he did not realize how much he had
confided in her. It seemed to him that the very soul of this slim and
beautiful girl who had walked at his side had urged him on to the
indiscretion of personal confidence. He had seemed to feel her heart
beating with his own as he described his beloved land under the Endicott
Mountains, with its vast tundras, his herds, and his people. There, he
had told her, a new world was in the making, and the glow in her eyes
and the thrilling something in her voice had urged him on until he
forgot that Rossland was waiting at the ship's gangway to see when they
returned. He had built up for her his castles in the air, and the
miracle of it was that she had helped him to build them. He had
described for her the change that was creeping slowly over Alaska, the
replacement of mountain trails by stage and automobile highways, the
building of railroads, the growth of cities where tents had stood a few
years before. It was then, when he had pictured progress and
civilization and the breaking down of nature's last barriers before
science and invention, that he had seen a cloud of doubt in her
gray eyes.

And now, as they stood on the deck of the _Nome_ looking at the white
peaks of the mountains dissolving into the lavender mist of twilight,
doubt and perplexity were still deeper in her eyes, and she said:

"I would always love tents and old trails and nature's barriers. I envy
Belinda Mulrooney, whom you told me about this afternoon. I hate cities
and railroads and automobiles, and all that goes with them, and I am
sorry to see those things come to Alaska. And I, too, hate this
man--John Graham!"

Her words startled him.

"And I want you to tell me what he is doing--with his money--now." Her
voice was cold, and one little hand, he noticed, was clenched at the
edge of the rail.

"He has stripped Alaskan waters of fish resources which will never be
replaced, Miss Standish. But that is not all. I believe I state the case
well within fact when I say he has killed many women and little children
by robbing the inland waters of the food supplies upon which the natives
have subsisted for centuries. I know. I have seen them die."

It seemed to him that she swayed against him for an instant.

"And that--is all?"

He laughed grimly. "Possibly some people would think it enough, Miss
Standish. But the tentacles of his power are reaching everywhere in
Alaska. His agents swarm throughout the territory, and Soapy Smith was a
gentleman outlaw compared with these men and their master. If men like
John Graham are allowed to have their way, in ten years greed and graft
will despoil what two hundred years of Rooseveltian conservation would
not be able to replace."

She raised her head, and in the dusk her pale face looked up at the
ghost-peaks of the mountains still visible through the thickening gloom
of evening. "I am glad you told me about Belinda Mulrooney," she said.
"I am beginning to understand, and it gives me courage to think of a
woman like her. She could fight, couldn't she? She could make a
man's fight?"

"Yes, and did make it."

"And she had no money to give her power. Her last dollar, you told me,
she flung into the Yukon for luck."

"Yes, at Dawson. It was the one thing between her and hunger."

She raised her hand, and on it he saw gleaming faintly the single ring
which she wore. Slowly she drew it from her finger.

"Then this, too, for luck--the luck of Mary Standish," she laughed
softly, and flung the ring into the sea.

She faced him, as if expecting the necessity of defending what she had
done. "It isn't melodrama," she said. "I mean it. And I believe in it. I
want something of mine to lie at the bottom of the sea in this gateway
to Skagway, just as Belinda Mulrooney wanted her dollar to rest forever
at the bottom of the Yukon."

She gave him the hand from which she had taken the ring, and for a
moment the warm thrill of it lay in his own. "Thank you for the
wonderful afternoon you have given me, Mr. Holt. I shall never forget
it. It is dinner time. I must say good night."

He followed her slim figure with his eyes until she disappeared. In
returning to his cabin he almost bumped into Rossland. The incident was
irritating. Neither of the men spoke or nodded, but Rossland met Alan's
look squarely, his face rock-like in its repression of emotion. Alan's
impression of the man was changing in spite of his prejudice. There was
a growing something about him which commanded attention, a certainty of
poise which could not be mistaken for sham. A scoundrel he might be, but
a cool brain was at work inside his head--a brain not easily disturbed
by unimportant things, he decided. He disliked the man. As an agent of
John Graham Alan looked upon him as an enemy, and as an acquaintance of
Mary Standish he was as much of a mystery as the girl herself. And only
now, in his cabin, was Alan beginning to sense the presence of a real
authority behind Rossland's attitude.

He was not curious. All his life he had lived too near the raw edge of
practical things to dissipate in gossipy conjecture. He cared nothing
about the relationship between Mary Standish and Rossland except as it
involved himself, and the situation had become a trifle too delicate to
please him. He could see no sport in an adventure of the kind it
suggested, and the possibility that he had been misjudged by both
Rossland and Mary Standish sent a flush of anger into his cheeks. He
cared nothing for Rossland, except that he would like to wipe him out of
existence with all other Graham agents. And he persisted in the
conviction that he thought of the girl only in a most casual sort of
way. He had made no effort to discover her history. He had not
questioned her. At no time had he intimated a desire to intrude upon her
personal affairs, and at no time had she offered information about
herself, or an explanation of the singular espionage which Rossland had
presumed to take upon himself. He grimaced as he reflected how
dangerously near that hazard he had been--and he admired her for the
splendid judgment she had shown in the matter. She had saved him the
possible alternative of apologizing to Rossland or throwing him
overboard!

There was a certain bellicose twist to his mind as he went down to the
dining salon, an obstinate determination to hold himself aloof from any
increasing intimacy with Mary Standish. No matter how pleasing his
experience had been, he resented the idea of being commandeered at
unexpected moments. Had Mary Standish read his thoughts, her bearing
toward him during the dinner hour could not have been more satisfying.
There was, in a way, something seductively provocative about it. She
greeted him with the slightest inclination of her head and a cool little
smile. Her attitude did not invite spoken words, either from him or from
his neighbors, yet no one would have accused her of deliberate reserve.

Her demure unapproachableness was a growing revelation to him, and he
found himself interested in spite of the new law of self-preservation he
had set down for himself. He could not keep his eyes from stealing
glimpses at her hair when her head was bowed a little. She had smoothed
it tonight until it was like softest velvet, with rich glints in it, and
the amazing thought came to him that it would be sweetly pleasant to
touch with one's hand. The discovery was almost a shock. Keok and
Nawadlook had beautiful hair, but he had never thought of it in this
way. And he had never thought of Keok's pretty mouth as he was thinking
of the girl's opposite him. He shifted uneasily and was glad Mary
Standish did not look at him in these moments of mental unbalance.

When he left the table, the girl scarcely noticed his going. It was as
if she had used him and then calmly shuttled him out of the way. He
tried to laugh as he hunted up Stampede Smith. He found him, half an
hour later, feeding a captive bear on the lower deck. It was odd, he
thought, that a captive bear should be going north. Stampede explained.
The animal was a pet and belonged to the Thlinkit Indians. There were
seven, getting off at Cordova. Alan observed that the two girls watched
him closely and whispered together. They were very pretty, with large,
dark eyes and pink in their cheeks. One of the men did not look at him
at all, but sat cross-legged on the deck, with his face turned away.

With Stampede he went to the smoking-room, and until a late hour they
discussed the big range up under the Endicott Mountains, and Alan's
plans for the future. Once, early in the evening, Alan went to his cabin
to get maps and photographs. Stampede's eyes glistened as his mind
seized upon the possibilities of the new adventure. It was a vast land.
An unknown country. And Alan was its first pioneer. The old thrill ran
in Stampede's blood, and its infectiousness caught Alan, so that he
forgot Mary Standish, and all else but the miles that lay between them
and the mighty tundras beyond the Seward Peninsula. It was midnight when
Alan went to his cabin.

He was happy. Love of life swept in an irresistible surge through his
body, and he breathed in deeply of the soft sea air that came in through
his open port from the west. In Stampede Smith he had at last found the
comradeship which he had missed, and the responsive note to the wild and
half-savage desires always smoldering in his heart. He looked out at the
stars and smiled up at them, and his soul was filled with an unspoken
thankfulness that he was not born too late. Another generation and there
would be no last frontier. Twenty-five years more and the world would
lie utterly in the shackles of science and invention and what the human
race called progress.

So God had been good to him. He was helping to write the last page in
that history which would go down through the eons of time, written in
the red blood of men who had cut the first trails into the unknown.
After him, there would be no more frontiers. No more mysteries of
unknown lands to solve. No more pioneering hazards to make. The earth
would be tamed. And suddenly he thought of Mary Standish and of what
she had said to him in the dusk of evening. Strange that it had been
_her_ thought, too--that she would always love tents and old trails and
nature's barriers, and hated to see cities and railroads and automobiles
come to Alaska. He shrugged his shoulders. Probably she had guessed what
was in his own mind, for she was clever, very clever.

A tap at his door drew his eyes from the open watch in his hand. It was
a quarter after twelve o'clock, an unusual hour for someone to be
tapping at his door.

It was repeated--a bit hesitatingly, he thought. Then it came again,
quick and decisive. Replacing his watch in his pocket, he opened
the door.

It was Mary Standish who stood facing him.

He saw only her eyes at first, wide-open, strange, frightened eyes. And
then he saw the pallor of her face as she came slowly in, without
waiting for him to speak or give her permission to enter. And it was
Mary Standish herself who closed the door, while he stared at her in
stupid wonderment--and stood there with her back against it, straight
and slim and deathly pale.

"May I come in?" she asked.

"My God, you're in!" gasped Alan. "_You're in_."



CHAPTER VII

That it was past midnight, and Mary Standish had deliberately come to
his room, entering it and closing the door without a word or a nod of
invitation from him, seemed incredible to Alan. After his first
explosion of astonishment he stood mute, while the girl looked at him
steadily and her breath came a little quickly. But she was not excited.
Even in his amazement he could see that. What he had thought was fright
had gone out of her eyes. But he had never seen her so white, and never
had she appeared quite so slim and childish-looking as while she stood
there in these astounding moments with her back against the door.

The pallor of her face accentuated the rich darkness of her hair. Even
her lips were pale. But she was not embarrassed. Her eyes were clear and
unafraid now, and in the poise of her head and body was a sureness of
purpose that staggered him. A feeling of anger, almost of personal
resentment, began to possess him as he waited for her to speak. This, at
last, was the cost of his courtesies to her, The advantage she was
taking of him was an indignity and an outrage, and his mind flashed to
the suspicion that Rossland was standing just outside the door.

In another moment he would have brushed her aside and opened it, but her
quiet face held him. The tenseness was fading out of it. He saw her lips
tremble, and then a miracle happened. In her wide-open, beautiful eyes
tears were gathering. Even then she did not lower her glance or bury her
face in her hands, but looked at him bravely while the tear-drops
glistened like diamonds on her cheeks. He felt his heart give way. She
read his thoughts, had guessed his suspicion, and he was wrong.

"You--you will have a seat, Miss Standish?" he asked lamely, inclining
his head toward the cabin chair.

"No. Please let me stand." She drew in a deep breath. "It is late, Mr.
Holt?"

"Rather an irregular hour for a visit such as this," he assured her.
"Half an hour after midnight, to be exact. It must be very important
business that has urged you to make such a hazard aboard ship, Miss
Standish."

For a moment she did not answer him, and he saw the little heart-throb
in her white throat.

"Would Belinda Mulrooney have considered this a very great hazard, Mr.
Holt? In a matter of life and death, do you not think she would have
come to your cabin at midnight--even aboard ship? And it is that with
me--a matter of life and death. Less than an hour ago I came to that
decision. I could not wait until morning. I had to see you tonight."

"And why me?" he asked. "Why not Rossland, or Captain Rifle, or some
other? Is it because--"

He did not finish. He saw the shadow of something gather in her eyes, as
if for an instant she had felt a stab of humiliation or of pain, but it
was gone as quickly as it came. And very quietly, almost without
emotion, she answered him.

"I know how you feel. I have tried to place myself in your position. It
is all very irregular, as you say. But I am not ashamed. I have come to
you as I would want anyone to come to me under similar circumstances, if
I were a man. If watching you, thinking about you, making up my mind
about you is taking an advantage--then I have been unfair, Mr. Holt. But
I am not sorry. I trust you. I know you will believe me good until I am
proved bad. I have come to ask you to help me. Would you make it
possible for another human being to avert a great tragedy if you found
it in your power to do so?"

He felt his sense of judgment wavering. Had he been coolly analyzing
such a situation in the detached environment of the smoking-room, he
would have called any man a fool who hesitated to open his cabin door
and show his visitor out. But such a thought did not occur to him now.
He was thinking of the handkerchief he had found the preceding midnight.
Twice she had come to his cabin at a late hour.

"It would be my inclination to make such a thing possible," he said,
answering her question. "Tragedy is a nasty thing."

She caught the hint of irony in his voice. If anything, it added to her
calmness. He was to suffer no weeping entreaties, no feminine play of
helplessness and beauty. Her pretty mouth was a little firmer and the
tilt of her dainty chin a bit higher.

"Of course, I can't pay you," she said. "You are the sort of man who
would resent an offer of payment for what I am about to ask you to do.
But I must have help. If I don't have it, and quickly"--she shuddered
slightly and tried to smile--"something very unpleasant will happen, Mr.
Holt," she finished.

"If you will permit me to take you to Captain Rifle--"

"No. Captain Rifle would question me. He would demand explanations. You
will understand when I tell you what I want. And I will do that if I may
have your word of honor to hold in confidence what I tell you, whether
you help me or not. Will you give me that pledge?"

"Yes, if such a pledge will relieve your mind, Miss Standish."

He was almost brutally incurious. As he reached for a cigar, he did not
see the sudden movement she made, as if about to fly from his room, or
the quicker throb that came in her throat. When he turned, a faint flush
was gathering in her cheeks.

"I want to leave the ship," she said.

The simplicity of her desire held him silent.

"And I must leave it tonight, or tomorrow night--before we reach
Cordova."

"Is that--your problem?" he demanded, astonished.

"No. I must leave it in such a way that the world will believe I am
dead. I can not reach Cordova alive."

At last she struck home and he stared at her, wondering if she were
insane. Her quiet, beautiful eyes met his own with unflinching
steadiness. His brain all at once was crowded with questioning, but no
word of it came to his lips.

"You can help me," he heard her saying in the same quiet, calm voice,
softened so that one could not have heard it beyond the cabin door. "I
haven't a plan. But I know you can arrange one--if you will. It must
appear to be an accident. I must disappear, fall overboard, anything,
just so the world will believe I am dead. It is necessary. And I can not
tell you why. I can not. Oh, I _can not_."

A note of passion crept into her voice, but it was gone in an instant,
leaving it cold and steady again. A second time she tried to smile. He
could see courage, and a bit of defiance, shining in her eyes.

"I know what you are thinking, Mr. Holt. You are asking yourself if I am
mad, if I am a criminal, what my reason can be, and why I haven't gone
to Rossland, or Captain Rifle, or some one else. And the only answer I
can make is that I have come to you because you are the only man in the
world--in this hour--that I have faith in. Some day you will understand,
if you help me. If you do not care to help me--"

She stopped, and he made a gesture.

"Yes, if I don't? What will happen then?"

"I shall be forced to the inevitable," she said. "It is rather unusual,
isn't it, to be asking for one's life? But that is what I mean."

"I'm afraid--I don't quite understand."

"Isn't it clear, Mr. Holt? I don't like to appear spectacular, and I
don't want you to think of me as theatrical--even now. I hate that sort
of thing. You must simply believe me when I tell you it is impossible
for me to reach Cordova alive. If you do not help me to disappear, help
me to live--and at the same time give all others the impression that I
am dead--then I must do the other thing. I must really die."

For a moment his eyes blazed angrily. He felt like taking her by the
shoulders and shaking her, as he would have shaken the truth out of
a child.

"You come to me with a silly threat like that, Miss Standish? A threat
of suicide?"

"If you want to call it that--yes."

"And you expect me to believe you?"

"I had hoped you would."

She had his nerves going. There was no doubt of that. He half believed
her and half disbelieved. If she had cried, if she had made the smallest
effort to work upon his sentiment, he would have disbelieved utterly.
But he was not blind to the fact that she was making a brave fight, even
though a lie was behind it, and with a consciousness of pride that
bewildered him.

She was not humiliating herself. Even when she saw the struggle going on
within him she made no effort to turn the balance in her favor. She had
stated the facts, as she claimed them to be. Now she waited. Her long
lashes glistened a little. But her eyes were clear, and her hair glowed
softly, so softly that he would never forget it, as she stood there with
her back against the door, nor the strange desire that came to him--even
then--to touch it with his hand.

He nipped off the end of his cigar and lighted a match. "It is
Rossland," he said. "You're afraid of Rossland?"

"In a way, yes; in a large way, no. I would laugh at Rossland if it were
not for the other."

The _other_! Why the deuce was she so provokingly ambiguous? And she had
no intention of explaining. She simply waited for him to decide.

"What other?" he demanded.

"I can not tell you. I don't want you to hate me. And you would hate me
if I told you the truth."

"Then you confess you are lying," he suggested brutally.

Even this did not stir her as he had expected it might. It did not anger
her or shame her. But she raised a pale hand and a little handkerchief
to her eyes, and he turned toward the open port, puffing at his cigar,
knowing she was fighting to keep the tears back. And she succeeded.

"No, I am not lying. What I have told you is true. It is because I will
not lie that I have not told you more. And I thank you for the time you
have given me, Mr. Holt. That you have not driven me from your cabin is
a kindness which I appreciate. I have made a mistake, that is all. I
thought--"

"How could I bring about what you ask?" he interrupted.

"I don't know. You are a man. I believed you could plan a way, but I see
now how foolish I have been. It is impossible." Her hand reached slowly
for the knob of the door.

"Yes, you are foolish," he agreed, and his voice was softer. "Don't let
such thoughts overcome you, Miss Standish. Go back to your cabin and get
a night's sleep. Don't let Rossland worry you. If you want me to settle
with that man--"

"Good night, Mr. Holt."

She was opening the door. And as she went out she turned a little and
looked at him, and now she was smiling, and there were tears in
her eyes.

"Good night."

"Good night."

The door closed behind her. He heard her retreating footsteps. In half a
minute he would have called her back. But it was too late.



CHAPTER VIII

For half an hour Alan sat smoking his cigar. Mentally he was not at
ease. Mary Standish had come to him like a soldier, and she had left him
like a soldier. But in that last glimpse of her face he had caught for
an instant something which she had not betrayed in his cabin--a stab of
what he thought was pain in her tear-wet eyes as she smiled, a proud
regret, possibly a shadow of humiliation at last--or it may have been a
pity for him. He was not sure. But it was not despair. Not once had she
whimpered in look or word, even when the tears were in her eyes, and the
thought was beginning to impress itself upon him that it was he--and not
Mary Standish--who had shown a yellow streak this night. A half shame
fell upon him as he smoked. For it was clear he had not come up to her
judgment of him, or else he was not so big a fool as she had hoped he
might be. In his own mind, for a time, he was at a loss to decide.

It was possibly the first time he had ever deeply absorbed himself in
the analysis of a woman. It was outside his business. But, born and bred
of the open country, it was as natural for him to recognize courage as
it was for him to breathe. And the girl's courage was unusual, now that
he had time to think about it. It was this thought of her coolness and
her calm refusal to impose her case upon him with greater warmth that
comforted him after a little. A young and beautiful woman who was
actually facing death would have urged her necessity with more
enthusiasm, it seemed to him. Her threat, when he debated it
intelligently, was merely thrown in, possibly on the spur of the moment,
to give impetus to his decision. She had not meant it. The idea of a
girl like Mary Standish committing suicide was stupendously impossible.
Her quiet and wonderful eyes, her beauty and the exquisite care which
she gave to herself emphasized the absurdity of such a supposition. She
had come to him bravely. There was no doubt of that. She had merely
exaggerated the importance of her visit.

Even after he had turned many things over in his mind to bolster up this
conclusion, he was still not at ease. Against his will he recalled
certain unpleasant things which had happened within his knowledge under
sudden and unexpected stress of emotion. He tried to laugh the absurd
stuff out of his thoughts and to the end that he might add a new color
to his visionings he exchanged his half-burned cigar for a black-bowled
pipe, which he filled and lighted. Then he began walking back and forth
in his cabin, like a big animal in a small cage, until at last he stood
with his head half out of the open port, looking at the clear stars and
setting the perfume of his tobacco adrift with the soft sea wind.

He felt himself growing comforted. Reason seated itself within him
again, with sentiment shuttled under his feet. If he had been a little
harsh with Miss Standish tonight, he would make up for it by apologizing
tomorrow. She would probably have recovered her balance by that time,
and they would laugh over her excitement and their little adventure.
That is, he would. "I'm not at all curious in the matter," some
persistent voice kept telling him, "and I haven't any interest in
knowing what irrational whim drove her to my cabin." But he smoked
viciously and smiled grimly as the voice kept at him. He would have
liked to obliterate Rossland from his mind. But Rossland persisted in
bobbing up, and with him Mary Standish's words, "If I should make an
explanation, you would hate me," or something to that effect. He
couldn't remember exactly. And he didn't want to remember exactly, for
it was none of his business.

In this humor, with half of his thoughts on one side of the fence and
half on the other, he put out his light and went to bed. And he began
thinking of the Range. That was pleasanter. For the tenth time he
figured out how long it would be before the glacial-twisted ramparts of
the Endicott Mountains rose up in first welcome to his home-coming. Carl
Lomen, following on the next ship, would join him at Unalaska. They
would go on to Nome together. After that he would spend a week or so in
the Peninsula, then go up the Kobuk, across the big portage to the
Koyukuk and the far headwaters of the north, and still farther--beyond
the last trails of civilized men--to his herds and his people. And
Stampede Smith would be with him. After a long winter of homesickness it
was all a comforting inducement to sleep and pleasant dreams. But
somewhere there was a wrong note in his anticipations tonight. Stampede
Smith slipped away from him, and Rossland took his place. And Keok,
laughing, changed into Mary Standish with tantalizing deviltry. It was
like Keok, Alan thought drowsily--she was always tormenting someone.

He felt better in the morning. The sun was up, flooding the wall of his
cabin, when he awoke, and under him he could feel the roll of the open
sea. Eastward the Alaskan coast was a deep blue haze, but the white
peaks of the St. Elias Range flung themselves high up against the
sun-filled sky behind it, like snowy banners. The _Nome_ was pounding
ahead at full speed, and Alan's blood responded suddenly to the
impelling thrill of her engines, beating like twin hearts with the
mighty force that was speeding them on. This was business. It meant
miles foaming away behind them and a swift biting off of space between
him and Unalaska, midway of the Aleutians. He was sorry they were losing
time by making the swing up the coast to Cordova. And with Cordova he
thought of Mary Standish.

He dressed and shaved and went down to breakfast, still thinking of her.
The thought of meeting her again was rather discomforting, now that the
time of that possibility was actually at hand, for he dreaded moments of
embarrassment even when he was not directly accountable for them. But
Mary Standish saved him any qualms of conscience which he might have had
because of his lack of chivalry the preceding night. She was at the
table. And she was not at all disturbed when he seated himself opposite
her. There was color in her cheeks, a fragile touch of that warm glow in
the heart of the wild rose of the tundras. And it seemed to him there
was a deeper, more beautiful light in her eyes than he had ever
seen before.

She nodded, smiled at him, and resumed a conversation which she had
evidently broken for a moment with a lady who sat next to her. It was
the first time Alan had seen her interested in this way. He had no
intention of listening, but something perverse and compelling overcame
his will. He discovered the lady was going up to teach in a native
school at Noorvik, on the Kobuk River, and that for many years she had
taught in Dawson and knew well the story of Belinda Mulrooney. He
gathered that Mary Standish had shown a great interest, for Miss Robson,
the teacher, was offering to send her a photograph she possessed of
Belinda Mulrooney; if Miss Standish would give her an address. The girl
hesitated, then said she was not certain of her destination, but would
write Miss Robson at Noorvik.

"You will surely keep your promise?" urged Miss Robson.

"Yes, I will keep my promise."

A sense of relief swept over Alan. The words were spoken so softly that
he thought she had not wanted him to hear. It was evident that a few
hours' sleep and the beauty of the morning had completely changed her
mental attitude, and he no longer felt the suspicion of responsibility
which had persisted in attaching itself to him. Only a fool, he assured
himself, could possibly see a note of tragedy in her appearance now. Nor
was she different at luncheon or at dinner. During the day he saw
nothing of her, and he was growing conscious of the fact that she was
purposely avoiding contact with him. This did not displease him. It
allowed him to pick up the threads of other interests in a normal sort
of way. He discussed Alaskan politics in the smoking-room, smoked his
black pipe without fear of giving offense, and listened to the talk of
the ship with a freedom of mind which he had not experienced since his
first meeting with Miss Standish. Yet, as night drew on, and he walked
his two-mile promenade about the deck, he felt gathering about him a
peculiar impression of aloneness. Something was missing. He did not
acknowledge to himself what it was until, as if to convict him, he saw
Mary Standish come out of the door leading from her cabin passageway,
and stand alone at the rail of the ship. For a moment he hesitated,
then quietly he came up beside her.

"It has been a wonderful day, Miss Standish," he said, "and Cordova is
only a few hours ahead of us."

She scarcely turned her face and continued to look off into the
shrouding darkness of the sea. "Yes, a wonderful day, Mr. Holt," she
repeated after him, "and Cordova is only a few hours ahead." Then, in
the same soft, unemotional voice, she added: "I want to thank you for
last night. You brought me to a great decision."

"I fear I did not help you."

It may have been fancy of the gathering dusk, that made him believe he
caught a shuddering movement of her slim shoulders.

"I thought there were two ways," she said, "but you made me see there
was only _one_." She emphasized that word. It seemed to come with a
little tremble in her voice. "I was foolish. But please let us forget. I
want to think of pleasanter things. I am about to make a great
experiment, and it takes all my courage."

"You will win, Miss Standish," he said in a sure voice. "In whatever you
undertake you will win. I know it. If this experiment you speak of is
the adventure of coming to Alaska--seeking your fortune--finding your
life here--it will be glorious. I can assure you of that."

She was quiet for a moment, and then said:

"The unknown has always held a fascination for me. When we were under
the mountains in Skagway yesterday, I almost told you of an odd faith
which I have. I believe I have lived before, a long time ago, when
America was very young. At times the feeling is so strong that I must
have faith in it. Possibly I am foolish. But when the mountain swung
back, like a great door, and we saw Skagway, I knew that
sometime--somewhere--I had seen a thing like that before. And I have had
strange visions of it. Maybe it is a touch of madness in me. But it is
that faith which gives me courage to go on with my experiment.
That--and _you_!"

Suddenly she faced him, her eyes flaming.

"You--and your suspicions and your brutality," she went on, her voice
trembling a little as she drew herself up straight and tense before him.
"I wasn't going to tell you, Mr. Holt. But you have given me the
opportunity, and it may do you good--after tomorrow. I came to you
because I foolishly misjudged you. I thought you were different, like
your mountains. I made a great gamble, and set you up on a pedestal as
clean and unafraid and believing all things good until you found them
bad--and I lost. I was terribly mistaken. Your first thoughts of me when
I came to your cabin were suspicious. You were angry and afraid. Yes,
_afraid_--fearful of something happening which you didn't want to
happen. You thought, almost, that I was unclean. And you believed I was
a liar, and told me so. It wasn't fair, Mr. Holt. It wasn't _fair_.
There were things which I couldn't explain to you, but I told you
Rossland knew. I didn't keep everything back. And I believed you were
big enough to think that I was not dishonoring you with my--friendship,
even though I came to your cabin. Oh, I had that much faith in myself--I
didn't think I would be mistaken for something unclean and lying!"

"Good God!" he cried. "Listen to me--Miss Standish--"

She was gone, so suddenly that his movement to intercept her was futile,
and she passed through the door before he could reach her. Again he
called her name, but her footsteps were almost running up the
passageway. He dropped back, his blood cold, his hands clenched in the
darkness, and his face as white as the girl's had been. Her words had
held him stunned and mute. He saw himself stripped naked, as she
believed him to be, and the thing gripped him with a sort of horror. And
she was wrong. He had followed what he believed to be good judgment and
common sense. If, in doing that, he had been an accursed fool--

Determinedly he started for her cabin, his mind set upon correcting her
malformed judgment of him. There was no light coming under her door.
When he knocked, there was no answer from within. He waited, and tried
again, listening for a sound of movement. And each moment he waited he
was readjusting himself. He was half glad, in the end, that the door
did not open. He believed Miss Standish was inside, and she would
undoubtedly accept the reason for his coming without an apology
in words.

He went to his cabin, and his mind became increasingly persistent in its
disapproval of the wrong viewpoint she had taken of him. He was not
comfortable, no matter how he looked at the thing. For her clear eyes,
her smoothly glorious hair, and the pride and courage with which she had
faced him remained with him overpoweringly. He could not get away from
the vision of her as she had stood against the door with tears like
diamonds on her cheeks. Somewhere he had missed fire. He knew it.
Something had escaped him which he could not understand. And she was
holding him accountable.

The talk of the smoking-room did not interest him tonight. His efforts
to become a part of it were forced. A jazzy concert of piano and string
music in the social hall annoyed him, and a little later he watched the
dancing with such grimness that someone remarked about it. He saw
Rossland whirling round the floor with a handsome, young blonde in his
arms. The girl was looking up into his eyes, smiling, and her cheek lay
unashamed against his shoulder, while Rossland's face rested against her
fluffy hair when they mingled closely with the other dancers. Alan
turned away, an unpleasant thought of Rossland's association with Mary
Standish in his mind. He strolled down into the steerage. The Thlinkit
people had shut themselves in with a curtain of blankets, and from the
stillness he judged they were asleep. The evening passed slowly for him
after that, until at last he went to his cabin and tried to interest
himself in a book. It was something he had anticipated reading, but
after a little he wondered if the writing was stupid, or if it was
himself. The thrill he had always experienced with this particular
writer was missing. There was no inspiration. The words were dead. Even
the tobacco in his pipe seemed to lack something, and he changed it for
a cigar--and chose another book. The result was the same. His mind
refused to function, and there was no comfort in his cigar.

He knew he was fighting against a new thing, even as he subconsciously
lied to himself. And he was obstinately determined to win. It was a
fight between himself and Mary Standish as she had stood against his
door. Mary Standish--the slim beauty of her--her courage--a score of
things that had never touched his life before. He undressed and put on
his smoking-gown and slippers, repudiating the honesty of the emotions
that were struggling for acknowledgment within him. He was a bit mad and
entirely a fool, he told himself. But the assurance did him no good.

He went to bed, propped himself up against his pillows, and made another
effort to read. He half-heartedly succeeded. At ten o'clock music and
dancing ceased, and stillness fell over the ship. After that he found
himself becoming more interested in the first book he had started to
read. His old satisfaction slowly returned to him. He relighted his
cigar and enjoyed it. Distantly he heard the ship's bells, eleven
o'clock, and after that the half-hour and midnight. The printed pages
were growing dim, and drowsily he marked his book, placed it on the
table, and yawned. They must be nearing Cordova. He could feel the
slackened speed of the _Nome_ and the softer throb of her engines.
Probably they had passed Cape St. Elias and were drawing inshore.

And then, sudden and thrilling, came a woman's scream. A piercing cry of
terror, of agony--and of something else that froze the blood in his
veins as he sprang from his berth. Twice it came, the second time ending
in a moaning wail and a man's husky shout. Feet ran swiftly past his
window. He heard another shout and then a voice of command. He could not
distinguish the words, but the ship herself seemed to respond. There
came the sudden smoothness of dead engines, followed by the pounding
shock of reverse and the clanging alarm of a bell calling boats' crews
to quarters.

Alan faced his cabin door. He knew what had happened. Someone was
overboard. And in this moment all life and strength were gone out of his
body, for the pale face of Mary Standish seemed to rise for an instant
before him, and in her quiet voice she was telling him again that _this
was the other way._ His face went white as he caught up his
smoking-gown, flung open his door, and ran down the dimly
lighted corridor.



CHAPTER IX

The reversing of the engines had not stopped the momentum of the ship
when Alan reached the open deck. She was fighting, but still swept
slowly ahead against the force struggling to hold her back. He heard
running feet, voices, and the rattle of davit blocks, and came up as the
starboard boat aft began swinging over the smooth sea. Captain Rifle was
ahead of him, half-dressed, and the second officer was giving swift
commands. A dozen passengers had come from the smoking-room. There was
only one woman. She stood a little back, partly supported in a man's
arms, her face buried in her hands. Alan looked at the man, and he knew
from his appearance that she was the woman who had screamed.

He heard the splash of the boat as it struck water, and the rattle of
oars, but the sound seemed a long distance away. Only one thing came to
him distinctly in the sudden sickness that gripped him, and that was the
terrible sobbing of the woman. He went to them, and the deck seemed to
sway under his feet. He was conscious of a crowd gathering about the
empty davits, but he had eyes only for these two.

"Was it a man--or a woman?" he asked.

It did not seem to him it was his voice speaking. The words were forced
from his lips. And the other man, with the woman's head crumpled against
his shoulder, looked into a face as emotionless as stone.

"A woman," he replied. "This is my wife. We were sitting here when she
climbed upon the rail and leaped in. My wife screamed when she saw
her going."

The woman raised her head. She was still sobbing, with no tears in her
eyes, but only horror. Her hands were clenched about her husband's arm.
She struggled to speak and failed, and the man bowed his head to comfort
her. And then Captain Rifle stood at their side. His face was haggard,
and a glance told Alan that he knew.

"Who was it?" he demanded.

"This lady thinks it was Miss Standish."

Alan did not move or speak. Something seemed to have gone wrong for a
moment in his head. He could not hear distinctly the excitement behind
him, and before him things were a blur. The sensation came and passed
swiftly, with no sign of it in the immobility of his pale face.

"Yes, the girl at your table. The pretty girl. I saw her clearly, and
then--then--"

It was the woman. The captain broke in, as she caught herself with a
choking breath:

"It is possible you are mistaken. I can not believe Miss Standish would
do that. We shall soon know. Two boats are gone, and a third lowering."
He was hurrying away, throwing the last words over his shoulder.

Alan made no movement to follow. His brain cleared itself of shock, and
a strange calmness began to possess him. "You are quite sure it was the
girl at my table?" he found himself saying. "Is it possible you might be
mistaken?"

"No," said the woman. "She was so quiet and pretty that I have noticed
her often. I saw her clearly in the starlight. And she saw me just
before she climbed to the rail and jumped. I'm almost sure she smiled at
me and was going to speak. And then--then--she was gone!"

"I didn't know until my wife screamed," added the man. "I was seated
facing her at the time. I ran to the rail and could see nothing behind
but the wash of the ship. I think she went down instantly."

Alan turned. He thrust himself silently through a crowd of excited and
questioning people, but he did not hear their questions and scarcely
sensed the presence of their voices. His desire to make great haste had
left him, and he walked calmly and deliberately to the cabin where Mary
Standish would be if the woman was mistaken, and it was not she who had
leaped into the sea. He knocked at the door only once. Then he opened
it. There was no cry of fear or protest from within, and he knew the
room was empty before he turned on the electric light. He had known it
from the beginning, from the moment he heard the woman's scream. Mary
Standish was gone.

He looked at her bed. There was the depression made by her head in the
pillow. A little handkerchief lay on the coverlet, crumpled and twisted.
Her few possessions were arranged neatly on the reading table. Then he
saw her shoes and her stockings, and a dress on the bed, and he picked
up one of the shoes and held it in a cold, steady hand. It was a little
shoe. His fingers closed about it until it crushed like paper.

He was holding it when he heard someone behind him, and he turned slowly
to confront Captain Rifle. The little man's face was like gray wax. For
a moment neither of them spoke. Captain Rifle looked at the shoe
crumpled in Alan's hand.

"The boats got away quickly," he said in a husky voice. "We stopped
inside the third-mile. If she can swim--there is a chance."

"She won't swim," replied Alan. "She didn't jump in for that. She is
gone."

In a vague and detached sort of way he was surprised at the calmness of
his own voice. Captain Rifle saw the veins standing out on his clenched
hands and in his forehead. Through many years he had witnessed tragedy
of one kind and another. It was not strange to him. But a look of
wonderment shot into his eyes at Alan's words. It took only a few
seconds to tell what had happened the preceding night, without going
into details. The captain's hand was on Alan's arm when he finished,
and the flesh under his fingers was rigid and hard as steel.

"We'll talk with Rossland after the boats return," he said.

He drew Alan from the room and closed the door.

Not until he had reentered his own cabin did Alan realize he still held
the crushed shoe in his hand. He placed it on his bed and dressed. It
took him only a few minutes. Then he went aft and found the captain.
Half an hour later the first boat returned. Five minutes after that, a
second came in. And then a third. Alan stood back, alone, while the
passengers crowded the rail. He knew what to expect. And the murmur of
it came to him--failure! It was like a sob rising softly out of the
throats of many people. He drew away. He did not want to meet their
eyes, or talk with them, or hear the things they would be saying. And as
he went, a moan came to his lips, a strangled cry filled with an agony
which told him he was breaking down. He dreaded that. It was the first
law of his kind to stand up under blows, and he fought against the
desire to reach out his arms to the sea and entreat Mary Standish to
rise up out of it and forgive him.

He drove himself on like a mechanical thing. His white face was a mask
through which burned no sign of his grief, and in his eyes was a deadly
coldness. Heartless, the woman who had screamed might have said. And she
would have been right. His heart was gone.

Two people were at Rossland's door when he came up. One was Captain
Rifle, the other Marston, the ship's doctor. The captain was knocking
when Alan joined them. He tried the door. It was locked.

"I can't rouse him," he said. "And I did not see him among the
passengers."

"Nor did I," said Alan.

Captain Rifle fumbled with his master key.

"I think the circumstances permit," he explained. In a moment he looked
up, puzzled. "The door is locked on the inside, and the key is in
the lock."

He pounded with his fist on the panel. He continued to pound until his
knuckles were red. There was still no response.

"Odd," he muttered.

"Very odd," agreed Alan.

His shoulder was against the door. He drew back and with a single crash
sent it in. A pale light filtered into the room from a corridor lamp,
and the men stared. Rossland was in bed. They could see his face dimly,
upturned, as if staring at the ceiling. But even now he made no movement
and spoke no word. Marston entered and turned on the light.

After that, for ten seconds, no man moved. Then Alan heard Captain Rifle
close the door behind them, and from Marston's lips came a
startled whisper:

"Good God!"

Rossland was not covered. He was undressed and flat on his back. His
arms were stretched out, his head thrown back, his mouth agape. And the
white sheet under him was red with blood. It had trickled over the edges
and to the floor. His eyes were loosely closed. After the first shock
Doctor Marston reacted swiftly. He bent over Rossland, and in that
moment, when his back was toward them, Captain Rifle's eyes met Alan's.
The same thought--and in another instant disbelief--flashed from one to
the other.

Marston was speaking, professionally cool now. "A knife stab, close to
the right lung, if not in it. And an ugly bruise over his eye. He is not
dead. Let him lie as he is until I return with instruments and
dressing."

"The door was locked on the inside," said Alan, as soon as the doctor
was gone. "And the window is closed. It looks like--suicide. It is
possible--there was an understanding between them--and Rossland chose
this way instead of the sea?"

Captain Rifle was on his knees. He looked under the berth, peered into
the corners, and pulled back the blanket and sheet. "There is no knife,"
he said stonily. And in a moment he added: "There are red stains on the
window. It was not attempted suicide. It was--"

"Murder."

"Yes, if Rossland dies. It was done through the open window. Someone
called Rossland to the window, struck him, and then closed the window.
Or it is possible, if he were sitting or standing here, that a
long-armed man might have reached him. It was a man, Alan. We've got to
believe that. It was a _man_."

"Of course, a man," Alan nodded.

They could hear Marston returning, and he was not alone. Captain Rifle
made a gesture toward the door. "Better go," he advised. "This is a
ship's matter, and you won't want to be unnecessarily mixed up in it.
Come to my cabin in half an hour. I shall want to see you."

The second officer and the purser were with Doctor Marston when Alan
passed them, and he heard the door of Rossland's room close behind him.
The ship was trembling under his feet again. They were moving away. He
went to Mary Standish's cabin and deliberately gathered her belongings
and put them in the small hand-bag with which she had come aboard.
Without any effort at concealment he carried the bag to his room and
packed his own dunnage. After that he hunted up Stampede Smith and
explained to him that an unexpected change in his plans compelled them
to stop at Cordova. He was five minutes late in his appointment with
the captain.

Captain Rifle was seated at his desk when Alan entered his cabin. He
nodded toward a chair.

"We'll reach Cordova inside of an hour," he said. "Doctor Marston says
Rossland will live, but of course we can not hold the _Nome_ in port
until he is able to talk. He was struck through the window. I will make
oath to that. Have you anything--in mind?"

"Only one thing," replied Alan, "a determination to go ashore as soon as
I can. If it is possible, I shall recover her body and care for it. As
for Rossland, it is not a matter of importance to me whether he lives or
dies. Mary Standish had nothing to do with the assault upon him. It was
merely coincident with her own act and nothing more. Will you tell me
our location when she leaped into the sea."

He was fighting to retain his calmness, his resolution not to let
Captain Rifle see clearly what the tragedy of her death had meant
to him.

"We were seven miles off the Eyak River coast, a little south and west.
If her body goes ashore, it will be on the island, or the mainland east
of Eyak River. I am glad you are going to make an effort. There is a
chance. And I hope you will find her."

Captain Rifle rose from his chair and walked nervously back and forth.
"It's a bad blow for the ship--her first trip," he said. "But I'm not
thinking of the _Nome_. I'm thinking of Mary Standish. My God, it is
terrible! If it had been anyone else--_anyone_--" His words seemed to
choke him, and he made a despairing gesture with his hands. "It is hard
to believe--almost impossible to believe she would deliberately kill
herself. Tell me again what happened in your cabin."

Crushing all emotion out of his voice, Alan repeated briefly certain
details of the girl's visit. But a number of things which she had
trusted to his confidence he did not betray. He did not dwell upon
Rossland's influence or her fear of him. Captain Rifle saw his effort,
and when he had finished, he gripped his hand, understanding in
his eyes.

"You're not responsible--not so much as you believe," he said. "Don't
take it too much to heart, Alan. But find her. Find her if you can, and
let me know. You will do that--you will let me know?"

"Yes, I shall let you know."

"And Rossland. He is a man with many enemies. I am positive his
assailant is still on board."

"Undoubtedly."

The captain hesitated. He did not look at Alan as he said: "There is
nothing in Miss Standish's room. Even her bag is gone. I thought I saw
things in there when I was with you. I thought I saw something in your
hand. But I must have been mistaken. She probably flung everything into
the sea--before she went."

"Such a thought is possible," agreed Alan evasively.

Captain Rifle drummed the top of his desk with his finger-tips. His face
looked haggard and old in the shaded light of the cabin. "That's all,
Alan. God knows I'd give this old life of mine to bring her back if I
could. To me she was much like--someone--a long time dead. That's why I
broke ship's regulations when she came aboard so strangely at Seattle,
without reservation. I'm sorry now. I should have sent her ashore. But
she is gone, and it is best that you and I keep to ourselves a little of
what we guess. I hope you will find her, and if you do--"

"I shall send you word."

They shook hands, and Captain Rifle's fingers still held to Alan's as
they went to the door and opened it. A swift change had come in the sky.
The stars were gone, and a moaning whisper hovered over the
darkened sea.

"A thunder-storm," said the captain.

His mastery was gone, his shoulders bent, and there was a tremulous note
in his voice that compelled Alan to look straight out into darkness. And
then he said,

"Rossland will be sent to the hospital in Cordova, if he lives."

Alan made no answer. The door closed softly behind him, and slowly he
went through gloom to the rail of the ship, and stood there, with the
whispered moaning of the sea coming to him out of a pit of darkness. A
vast distance away he heard a low intonation of thunder.

He struggled to keep hold of himself as he returned to his cabin.
Stampede Smith was waiting for him, his dunnage packed in an oilskin
bag. Alan explained the unexpected change in his plans. Business in
Cordova would make him miss a boat and would delay him at least a month
in reaching the tundras. It was necessary for Stampede to go on to the
range alone. He could make a quick trip by way of the Government
railroad to Tanana. After that he would go to Allakakat, and thence
still farther north into the Endicott country. It would be easy for a
man like Stampede to find the range. He drew a map, gave him certain
written instructions, money, and a final warning not to lose his head
and take up gold-hunting on the way. While it was necessary for him to
go ashore at once, he advised Stampede not to leave the ship until
morning. And Stampede swore on oath he would not fail him.

Alan did not explain his own haste and was glad Captain Rifle had not
questioned him too closely. He was not analyzing the reasonableness of
his action. He only knew that every muscle in his body was aching for
physical action and that he must have it immediately or break. The
desire was a touch of madness in his blood, a thing which he was holding
back by sheer force of will. He tried to shut out the vision of a pale
face floating in the sea; he fought to keep a grip on the dispassionate
calmness which was a part of him. But the ship itself was battering down
his stoic resistance. In an hour--since he had heard the scream of the
woman--he had come to hate it. He wanted the feel of solid earth under
his feet. He wanted, with all his soul, to reach that narrow strip of
coast where Mary Standish was drifting in.

But even Stampede saw no sign of the fire that was consuming him. And
not until Alan's feet touched land, and Cordova lay before him like a
great hole in the mountains, did the strain give way within him. After
he had left the wharf, he stood alone in the darkness, breathing deeply
of the mountain smell and getting his bearings. It was more than
darkness about him. An occasional light burning dimly here and there
gave to it the appearance of a sea of ink threatening to inundate him.
The storm had not broken, but it was close, and the air was filled with
a creeping warning. The moaning of thunder was low, and yet very near,
as if smothered by the hand of a mighty force preparing to take the
earth unaware.

Through the pit of gloom Alan made his way. He was not lost. Three years
ago he had walked a score of times to the cabin of old Olaf Ericksen,
half a mile up the shore, and he knew Ericksen would still be there,
where he had squatted for twenty years, and where he had sworn to stay
until the sea itself was ready to claim him. So he felt his way
instinctively, while a crash of thunder broke over his head. The forces
of the night were unleashing. He could hear a gathering tumult in the
mountains hidden beyond the wall of blackness, and there came a sudden
glare of lightning that illumined his way. It helped him. He saw a white
reach of sand ahead and quickened his steps. And out of the sea he heard
more distinctly an increasing sound. It was as if he walked between two
great armies that were setting earth and sea atremble as they advanced
to deadly combat.

The lightning came again, and after it followed a discharge of thunder
that gave to the ground under his feet a shuddering tremor. It rolled
away, echo upon echo, through the mountains, like the booming of
signal-guns, each more distant than the other. A cold breath of air
struck Alan in the face, and something inside him rose up to meet the
thrill of storm.

He had always loved the rolling echoes of thunder in the mountains and
the fire of lightning among their peaks. On such a night, with the crash
of the elements about his father's cabin and the roaring voices of the
ranges filling the darkness with tumult, his mother had brought him into
the world. Love of it was in his blood, a part of his soul, and there
were times when he yearned for this "talk of the mountains" as others
yearn for the coming of spring. He welcomed it now as his eyes sought
through the darkness for a glimmer of the light that always burned from
dusk until dawn in Olaf Ericksen's cabin.

He saw it at last, a yellow eye peering at him through a slit in an inky
wall. A moment later the darker shadow of the cabin rose up in his face,
and a flash of lightning showed him the door. In a moment of silence he
could hear the patter of huge raindrops on the roof as he dropped his
bags and began hammering with his fist to arouse the Swede. Then he
flung open the unlocked door and entered, tossing his dunnage to the
floor, and shouted the old greeting that Ericksen would not have
forgotten, though nearly a quarter of a century had passed since he and
Alan's father had tramped the mountains together.

He had turned up the wick of the oil lamp on the table when into the
frame of an inner door came Ericksen himself, with his huge, bent
shoulders, his massive head, his fierce eyes, and a great gray beard
streaming over his naked chest. He stared for a moment, and Alan flung
off his hat, and as the storm broke, beating upon the cabin in a mighty
shock of thunder and wind and rain, a bellow of recognition came from
Ericksen. They gripped hands.

The Swede's voice rose above wind and rain and the rattle of loose
windows, and he was saying something about three years ago and rubbing
the sleep from his eyes, when the strange look in Alan's face made him
pause to hear other words than his own.

Five minutes later he opened a door looking out over the black sea,
bracing his arm against it. The wind tore in, beating his whitening
beard over his shoulders, and with it came a deluge of rain that
drenched him as he stood there. He forced the door shut and faced Alan,
a great, gray ghost of a man in the yellow glow of the oil lamp.

From then until dawn they waited. And in the first break of that dawn
the long, black launch of Olaf, the Swede, nosed its way steadily out
to sea.



CHAPTER X

The wind had died away, but the rain continued, torrential in its
downpour, and the mountains grumbled with dying thunder. The town was
blotted out, and fifty feet ahead of the hissing nose of the launch Alan
could see only a gray wall. Water ran in streams from his rubber
slicker, and Olaf's great beard was dripping like a wet rag. He was like
a huge gargoyle at the wheel, and in the face of impenetrable gloom he
opened speed until the _Norden_ was shooting with the swiftness of a
torpedo through the sea.

In Olaf's cabin Alan had listened to the folly of expecting to find Mary
Standish. Between Eyak River and Katalla was a mainland of battered
reefs and rocks and an archipelago of islands in which a pirate fleet
might have found a hundred hiding-places. In his experience of twenty
years Ericksen had never known of the finding of a body washed ashore,
and he stated firmly his belief that the girl was at the bottom of the
sea. But the impulse to go on grew no less in Alan. It quickened with
the straining eagerness of the _Norden_ as the slim craft leaped through
the water.

Even the drone of thunder and the beat of rain urged him on. To him
there was nothing absurd in the quest he was about to make. It was the
least he could do, and the only honest thing he could do, he kept
telling himself. And there was a chance that he would find her. All
through his life had run that element of chance; usually it was against
odds he had won, and there rode with him in the gray dawn a conviction
he was going to win now--that he would find Mary Standish somewhere in
the sea or along the coast between Eyak River and the first of the
islands against which the shoreward current drifted. And when he
found her--

He had not gone beyond that. But it pressed upon him now, and in moments
it overcame him, and he saw her in a way which he was fighting to keep
out of his mind. Death had given a vivid clearness to his mental
pictures of her. A strip of white beach persisted in his mind, and
waiting for him on this beach was the slim body of the girl, her pale
face turned up to the morning sun, her long hair streaming over the
sand. It was a vision that choked him, and he struggled to keep away
from it. If he found her like that, he knew, at last, what he would do.
It was the final crumbling away of something inside him, the breaking
down of that other Alan Holt whose negative laws and self-imposed
blindness had sent Mary Standish to her death.

Truth seemed to mock at him, flaying him for that invulnerable poise in
which he had taken such an egotistical pride. For she had come to _him_
in her hour of trouble, and there were five hundred others aboard the
_Nome_. She had believed in him, had given him her friendship and her
confidence, and at the last had placed her life in his hands. And when
he had failed her, she had not gone to another. She had kept her word,
proving to him she was not a liar and a fraud, and he knew at last the
courage of womanhood and the truth of her words, "You will
understand--tomorrow."

He kept the fight within himself. Olaf did not see it as the dawn
lightened swiftly into the beginning of day. There was no change in the
tense lines of his face and the grim resolution in his eyes. And Olaf
did not press his folly upon him, but kept the _Norden_ pointed seaward,
adding still greater speed as the huge shadow of the headland loomed up
in the direction of Hinchinbrook Island. With increasing day the rain
subsided; it fell in a drizzle for a time and then stopped. Alan threw
off his slicker and wiped the water from his eyes and hair. White mists
began to rise, and through them shot faint rose-gleams of light. Olaf
grunted approbation as he wrung water from his beard. The sun was
breaking through over the mountain tops, and straight above, as the mist
dissolved, was radiant blue sky.

The miracle of change came swiftly in the next half-hour. Storm had
washed the air until it was like tonic; a salty perfume rose from the
sea; and Olaf stood up and stretched himself and shook the wet from his
body as he drank the sweetness into his lungs. Shoreward Alan saw the
mountains taking form, and one after another they rose up like living
things, their crests catching the fire of the sun. Dark inundations of
forest took up the shimmering gleam, green slopes rolled out from behind
veils of smoking vapor, and suddenly--in a final triumph of the sun--the
Alaskan coast lay before him in all its glory.

The Swede made a great gesture of exultation with his free arm, grinning
at his companion, pride and the joy of living in his bearded face. But
in Alan's there was no change. Dully he sensed the wonder of day and of
sunlight breaking over the mighty ranges to the sea, but something was
missing. The soul of it was gone, and the old thrill was dead. He felt
the tragedy of it, and his lips tightened even as he met the other's
smile, for he no longer made an effort to blind himself to the truth.

Olaf began to guess deeply at that truth, now that he could see Alan's
face in the pitiless light of the day, and after a little the thing lay
naked in his mind. The quest was not a matter of duty, nor was it
inspired by the captain of the _Nome_, as Alan had given him reason to
believe. There was more than grimness in the other's face, and a strange
sort of sickness lay in his eyes. A little later he observed the
straining eagerness with which those eyes scanned the softly undulating
surface of the sea.

At last he said, "If Captain Rifle was right, the girl went overboard
_out there_," and he pointed.

Alan stood up.

"But she wouldn't be there now," Olaf added.

In his heart he believed she was, straight down--at the bottom. He
turned his boat shoreward. Creeping out from the shadow of the mountains
was the white sand of the beach three or four miles away. A quarter of
an hour later a spiral of smoke detached itself from the rocks and
timber that came down close to the sea.

"That's McCormick's," he said.

Alan made no answer. Through Olaf's binoculars he picked out the
Scotchman's cabin. It was Sandy McCormick, Olaf had assured him, who
knew every eddy and drift in fifty miles of coast, and with his eyes
shut could find Mary Standish if she came ashore. And it was Sandy who
came down to greet them when Ericksen dropped his anchor in
shallow water.

They leaped out, thigh-deep, and waded to the beach, and in the door of
the cabin beyond Alan saw a woman looking down at them wonderingly.
Sandy himself was young and ruddy-faced, more like a boy than a man.
They shook hands. Then Alan told of the tragedy aboard the _Nome_ and
what his mission was. He made a great effort to speak calmly, and
believed that he succeeded. Certainly there was no break of emotion in
his cold, even voice, and at the same time no possibility of evading its
deadly earnestness. McCormick, whose means of livelihood were
frequently more unsubstantial than real, listened to the offer of
pecuniary reward for his services with something like shock. Fifty
dollars a day for his time, and an additional five thousand dollars if
he found the girl's body.

To Alan the sums meant nothing. He was not measuring dollars, and if he
had said ten thousand or twenty thousand, the detail of price would not
have impressed him as important. He possessed as much money as that in
the Nome banks, and a little more, and had the thing been practicable he
would as willingly have offered his reindeer herds could they have
guaranteed him the possession of what he sought. In Olaf's face
McCormick caught a look which explained the situation a little. Alan
Holt was not mad. He was as any other man might be who had lost the most
precious thing in the world. And unconsciously, as he pledged his
services in acceptance of the offer, he glanced in the direction of the
little woman standing in the doorway of the cabin.

Alan met her. She was a quiet, sweet-looking girl-woman. She smiled
gravely at Olaf, gave her hand to Alan, and her blue eyes dilated when
she heard what had happened aboard the _Nome_. Alan left the three
together and returned to the beach, while between the loading and the
lighting of his pipe the Swede told what he had guessed--that this girl
whose body would never be washed ashore was the beginning and the end of
the world to Alan Holt.

For many miles they searched the beach that day, while Sandy McCormick
skirmished among the islands south and eastward in a light shore-launch.
He was, in a way, a Paul Revere spreading intelligence, and with Scotch
canniness made a good bargain for himself. In a dozen cabins he left
details of the drowning and offered a reward of five hundred dollars for
the finding of the body, so that twenty men and boys and half as many
women were seeking before nightfall.

"And remember," Sandy told each of them, "the chances are she'll wash
ashore sometime between tomorrow and three days later, if she comes
ashore at all."

In the dusk of that first day Alan found himself ten miles up the coast.
He was alone, for Olaf Ericksen had gone in the opposite direction. It
was a different Alan who watched the setting sun dipping into the
western sea, with the golden slopes of the mountains reflecting its
glory behind him. It was as if he had passed through a great sickness,
and up from the earth of his own beloved land had crept slowly into his
body and soul a new understanding of life. There was despair in his
face, but it was a gentler thing now. The harsh lines of an obstinate
will were gone from about his mouth, his eyes no longer concealed their
grief, and there was something in his attitude of a man chastened by a
consuming fire. He retraced his steps through deepening twilight, and
with each mile of his questing return there grew in him that something
which had come to him out of death, and which he knew would never leave
him. And with this change the droning softness of the night itself
seemed to whisper that the sea would not give up its dead.

Olaf and Sandy McCormick and Sandy's wife were in the cabin when he
returned at midnight. He was exhausted. Seven months in the States had
softened him, he explained. He did not inquire how successful the others
had been. He knew. The woman's eyes told him, the almost mothering
eagerness in them when he came through the door. She had coffee and food
ready for him, and he forced himself to eat. Sandy gave a report of what
he had done, and Olaf smoked his pipe and tried to speak cheerfully of
the splendid weather that was coming tomorrow. Not one of them spoke of
Mary Standish.

Alan felt the strain they were under and knew his presence was the cause
of it, so he lighted his own pipe after eating and talked to Ellen
McCormick about the splendor of the mountains back of Eyak River, and
how fortunate she was to have her home in this little corner of
paradise. He caught a flash of something unspoken in her eyes. It was a
lonely place for a woman, alone, without children, and he spoke about
children to Sandy, smiling. They should have children--a lot of them.
Sandy blushed, and Olaf let out a boom of laughter. But the woman's face
was unflushed and serious; only her eyes betrayed her, something
wistful and appealing in them as she looked at Sandy.

"We're building a new cabin," he said, "and there's two rooms in it
specially for kids."

There was pride in his voice as he made pretense to light a pipe that
was already lighted, and pride in the look he gave his young wife. A
moment later Ellen McCormick deftly covered with her apron something
which lay on a little table near the door through which Alan had to pass
to enter his sleeping-room. Olaf's eyes twinkled. But Alan did not see.
Only he knew there should be children here, where there was surely love.
It did not occur to him as being strange that he, Alan Holt, should
think of such a matter at all.

The next morning the search was resumed. Sandy drew a crude map of
certain hidden places up the east coast where drifts and cross-currents
tossed the flotsam of the sea, and Alan set out for these shores with
Olaf at the wheel of the _Norden_. It was sunset when they returned, and
in the calm of a wonderful evening, with the comforting peace of the
mountains smiling down at them, Olaf believed the time had come to speak
what was in his mind. He spoke first of the weird tricks of the Alaskan
waters, and of strange forces deep down under the surface which he had
never had explained to him, and of how he had lost a cask once upon a
time, and a week later had run upon it well upon its way to Japan. He
emphasized the hide-and-seek playfulness of the undertows and the
treachery of them.

Then he came bluntly to the point of the matter. It would be better if
Mary Standish never did come ashore. It would be days--probably
weeks--if it ever happened at all, and there would be nothing about her
for Alan to recognize. Better a peaceful resting-place at the bottom of
the sea. That was what he called it--"a peaceful resting-place"--and in
his earnestness to soothe another's grief he blundered still more deeply
into the horror of it all, describing certain details of what flesh and
bone could and could not stand, until Alan felt like clubbing him beyond
the power of speech. He was glad when he saw the McCormick cabin.

Sandy was waiting for them when they waded ashore. Something unusual was
in his face, Alan thought, and for a moment his heart waited in
suspense. But the Scotchman shook his head negatively and went close to
Olaf Ericksen. Alan did not see the look that passed between them. He
went to the cabin, and Ellen McCormick put a hand on his arm when he
entered. It was an unusual thing for her to do. And there was a glow in
her eyes which had not been there last night, and a flush in her cheeks,
and a new, strange note in her voice when she spoke to him. It was
almost exultation, something she was trying to keep back.

"You--you didn't find her?" she asked.

"No." His voice was tired and a little old. "Do you think I shall ever
find her?"

"Not as you have expected," she answered quietly. "She will never come
like that." She seemed to be making an effort. "You--you would give a
great deal to have her back, Mr. Holt?"

Her question was childish in its absurdity, and she was like a child
looking at him as she did in this moment. He forced a smile to his lips
and nodded.

"Of course. Everything I possess."

"You--you--loved her--"

Her voice trembled. It was odd she should ask these questions. But the
probing did not sting him; it was not a woman's curiosity that inspired
them, and the comforting softness in her voice did him good. He had not
realized before how much he wanted to answer that question, not only for
himself, but for someone else--aloud.

"Yes, I did."

The confession almost startled him. It seemed an amazing confidence to
be making under any circumstances, and especially upon such brief
acquaintance. But he said no more, though in Ellen McCormick's face and
eyes was a tremulous expectancy. He stepped into the little room which
had been his sleeping place, and returned with his dunnage-sack. Out of
this he took the bag in which were Mary Standish's belongings, and gave
it to Sandy's wife. It was a matter of business now, and he tried to
speak in a businesslike way.

"Her things are inside. I got them in her cabin. If you find her, after
I am gone, you will need them. You understand, of course. And if you
don't find her, keep them for me. I shall return some day." It seemed
hard for him to give his simple instructions. He went on: "I don't think
I shall stay any longer, but I will leave a certified check at Cordova,
and it will be turned over to your husband when she is found. And if you
do find her, you will look after her yourself, won't you, Mrs.
McCormick?"

Ellen McCormick choked a little as she answered him, promising to do
what he asked. He would always remember her as a sympathetic little
thing, and half an hour later, after he had explained everything to
Sandy, he wished her happiness when he took her hand in saying good-by.
Her hand was trembling. He wondered at it and said something to Sandy
about the priceless value of a happiness such as his, as they went down
to the beach.

The velvety darkness of the sky was athrob with the heart-beat of stars,
when the _Norden's_ shimmering trail led once more out to sea. Alan
looked up at them, and his mind groped strangely in the infinity that
lay above him. He had never measured it before. Life had been too full.
But now it seemed so vast, and his range in the tundras so far away,
that a great loneliness seized upon him as he turned his eyes to look
back at the dimly white shore-line dissolving swiftly in the gloom that
lay beneath the mountains.



CHAPTER XI

That night, in Olaf's cabin, Alan put himself back on the old track
again. He made no effort to minimize the tragedy that had come into his
life, and he knew its effect upon him would never be wiped away, and
that Mary Standish would always live in his thoughts, no matter what
happened in the years to come. But he was not the sort to let any part
of himself wither up and die because of a blow that had darkened his
mental visions of things. His plans lay ahead of him, his old ambitions
and his dreams of achievement. They seemed pulseless and dead now, but
he knew it was because his own fire had temporarily burned out. And he
realized the vital necessity of building it up again. So he first wrote
a letter to Ellen McCormick, and in this placed a second
letter--carefully sealed--which was not to be opened unless they found
Mary Standish, and which contained something he had found impossible to
put into words in Sandy's cabin. It was trivial and embarrassing when
spoken to others, but it meant a great deal to him. Then he made the
final arrangements for Olaf to carry him to Seward in the _Norden_, for
Captain Rifle's ship was well on her way to Unalaska. Thought of
Captain Rifle urged him to write another letter in which he told
briefly the disappointing details of his search.

He was rather surprised the next morning to find he had entirely
forgotten Rossland. While he was attending to his affairs at the bank,
Olaf secured information that Rossland was resting comfortably in the
hospital and had not one chance in ten of dying. It was not Alan's
intention to see him. He wanted to hear nothing he might have to say
about Mary Standish. To associate them in any way, as he thought of her
now, was little short of sacrilege. He was conscious of the change in
himself, for it was rather an amazing upsetting of the original Alan
Holt. That person would have gone to Rossland with the deliberate and
businesslike intention of sifting the matter to the bottom that he might
disprove his own responsibility and set himself right in his own eyes.
In self-defense he would have given Rossland an opportunity to break
down with cold facts the disturbing something which his mind had
unconsciously built up. But the new Alan revolted. He wanted to carry
the thing away with him, he wanted it to live, and so it went with him,
uncontaminated by any truths or lies which Rossland might have told him.

They left Cordova early in the afternoon, and at sunset that evening
camped on the tip of a wooded island a mile or two from the mainland.
Olaf knew the island and had chosen it for reasons of his own. It was
primitive and alive with birds. Olaf loved the birds, and the cheer of
their vesper song and bedtime twitter comforted Alan. He seized an ax,
and for the first time in seven months his muscles responded to the
swing of it. And Ericksen, old as his years in the way of the north,
whistled loudly and rumbled a bit of crude song through his beard as he
lighted a fire, knowing the medicine of the big open was getting its
hold on Alan again. To Alan it was like coming to the edge of home once
more. It seemed an age, an infinity, since he had heard the sputtering
of bacon in an open skillet and the bubbling of coffee over a bed of
coals with the mysterious darkness of the timber gathering in about him.
He loaded his pipe after his chopping, and sat watching Olaf as he
mothered the half-baked bannock loaf. It made him think of his father. A
thousand times the two must have camped like this in the days when
Alaska was new and there were no maps to tell them what lay beyond the
next range.

Olaf felt resting upon him something of the responsibility of a doctor,
and after supper he sat with his back to a tree and talked of the old
days as if they were yesterday and the day before, with tomorrow always
the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow which he had pursued for
thirty years. He was sixty just a week ago this evening, he said, and he
was beginning to doubt if he would remain on the beach at Cordova much
longer. Siberia was dragging him--that forbidden world of adventure and
mystery and monumental opportunity which lay only a few miles across the
strait from the Seward Peninsula. In his enthusiasm he forgot Alan's
tragedy. He cursed Cossack law and the prohibitory measures to keep
Americans out. More gold was over there than had ever been dreamed of in
Alaska; even the mountains and rivers were unnamed; and he was going if
he lived another year or two--going to find his fortune or his end in
the Stanovoi Mountains and among the Chukchi tribes. Twice he had tried
it since his old comrade had died, and twice he had been driven out. The
next time he would know how to go about it, and he invited Alan to
go with him.

There was a thrill in this talk of a land so near, scarcely a night ride
across the neck of Bering Sea, and yet as proscribed as the sacred
plains of Tibet. It stirred old desires in Alan's blood, for he knew
that of all frontiers the Siberian would be the last and the greatest,
and that not only men, but nations, would play their part in the
breaking of it. He saw the red gleam of firelight in Olaf's eyes.

"And if we don't go in first from _this side_, Alan, the yellow fellows
will come out some day from _that,"_ rumbled the old sour-dough,
striking his pipe in the hollow of his hand. "And when they do, they
won't come over to us in ones an' twos an' threes, but in millions.
That's what the yellow fellows will do when they once get started, an'
it's up to a few Alaska Jacks an' Tough-Nut Bills to get their feet
planted first on the other side. Will you go?"

Alan shook his head. "Some day--but not now." The old flash was in his
eyes and he was seeing the fight ahead of him again--the fight to do his
bit in striking the shackles of misgovernment from Alaska and rousing
the world to an understanding of the menace which hung over her like a
smoldering cloud. "But you're right about the danger," he said. "It
won't come from Japan to California. It will pour like a flood through
Siberia and jump to Alaska in a night. It isn't the danger of the yellow
man alone, Olaf. You've got to combine that with Bolshevism, the menace
of blackest Russia. A disease which, if it crosses the little neck of
water and gets hold of Alaska, will shake the American continent to
bed-rock. It may be a generation from now, maybe a century, but it's
coming sure as God makes light--if we let Alaska go down and out. And my
way of preventing it is different from yours."

He stared into the fire, watching the embers flare up and die. "I'm not
proud of the States," he went on, as if speaking to something which he
saw in the flames. "I can't be, after the ruin their unintelligent
propaganda and legislation have brought upon Alaska. But they're our
salvation and conditions are improving. I concede we have factions in
Alaska and we are not at all unanimous in what we want. It's going to be
largely a matter of education. We can't take Alaska down to the
States--we've got to bring them up to us. We must make a large part of a
hundred and ten million Americans understand. We must bring a million
of them up here before that danger-flood we speak of comes beyond the
Gulf of Anadyr. It's God's own country we have north of Fifty-eight,
Olaf. And we have ten times the wealth of California. We can care for a
million people easily. But bad politics and bad judgment both here in
Alaska and at Washington won't let them come. With coal enough under our
feet to last a thousand years, we are buying fuel from the States. We've
got billions in copper and oil, but can't touch them. We should have
some of the world's greatest manufacturing plants, but we can not,
because everything up here is locked away from us. I repeat that isn't
conservation. If they had applied a little of it to the salmon
industry--but they didn't. And the salmon are going, like the buffalo of
the plains.

"The destruction of the salmon shows what will happen to us if the bars
are let down all at once to the financial banditti. Understanding and
common sense must guard the gates. The fight we must win is to bring
about an honest and reasonable adjustment, Olaf. And that fight will
take place right here--in Alaska--and not in Siberia. And if we
don't win--"

He raised his eyes from the fire and smiled grimly into Olaf's bearded
face.

"Then we can count on that thing coming across the neck of sea from the
Gulf of Anadyr," he finished. "And if it ever does come, the people of
the States will at last face the tragic realization of what Alaska
could have meant to the nation."

The force of the old spirit surged uppermost in Alan again, and after
that, for an hour or more, something lived for him in the glow of the
fire which Olaf kept burning. It was the memory of Mary Standish, her
quiet, beautiful eyes gazing at him, her pale face taking form in the
lacy wisps of birch-smoke. His mind pictured her in the flame-glow as
she had listened to him that day in Skagway, when he had told her of
this fight that was ahead. And it pleased him to think she would have
made this same fight for Alaska if she had lived. It was a thought which
brought a painful thickening in his breath, for always these visions
which Olaf could not see ended with Mary Standish as she had faced him
in his cabin, her back against the door, her lips trembling, and her
eyes softly radiant with tears in the broken pride of that last moment
of her plea for life.

He could not have told how long he slept that night. Dreams came to him
in his restless slumber, and always they awakened him, so that he was
looking at the stars again and trying not to think. In spite of the
grief in his soul they were pleasant dreams, as though some gentle force
were at work in him subconsciously to wipe away the shadows of tragedy.
Mary Standish was with him again, between the mountains at Skagway; she
was at his side in the heart of the tundras, the sun in her shining hair
and eyes, and all about them the wonder of wild roses and purple iris
and white seas of sedge-cotton and yellow-eyed daisies, and birds
singing in the gladness of summer. He heard the birds. And he heard the
girl's voice, answering them in her happiness and turning that happiness
from the radiance of her eyes upon him. When he awoke, it was with a
little cry, as if someone had stabbed him; and Olaf was building a fire,
and dawn was breaking in rose-gleams over the mountains.



CHAPTER XII

This first night and dawn in the heard of his wilderness, with the new
import of life gleaming down at him from the mighty peaks of the Chugach
and Kenai ranges, marked the beginning of that uplift which drew Alan
out of the pit into which he had fallen. He understood, now, how it was
that through many long years his father had worshiped the memory of a
woman who had died, it seemed to him, an infinity ago. Unnumbered times
he had seen the miracle of her presence in his father's eyes, and once,
when they had stood overlooking a sun-filled valley back in the
mountains, the elder Holt had said:

"Twenty-seven years ago the twelfth day of last month, mother went with
me through this valley, Alan. Do you see the little bend in the creek,
with the great rock in the sun? We rested there--before you were born!"

He had spoken of that day as if it had been but yesterday. And Alan
recalled the strange happiness in his father's face as he had looked
down upon something in the valley which no other but himself could see.

And it was happiness, the same strange, soul-aching happiness, that
began to build itself a house close up against the grief in Alan's
heart. It would never be a house quite empty. Never again would he be
alone. He knew at last it was an undying part of him, as it had been a
part of his father, clinging to him in sweet pain, encouraging him,
pressing gently upon him the beginning of a great faith that somewhere
beyond was a place to meet again. In the many days that followed, it
grew in him, but in a way no man or woman could see. It was a secret
about which he built a wall, setting it apart from that stoical
placidity of his nature which some people called indifference. Olaf
could see farther than others, because he had known Alan's father as a
brother. It had always been that way with the elder Holt--straight,
clean, deep-breathing, and with a smile on his lips in times of hurt.
Olaf had seen him face death like that. He had seen him rise up with
awesome courage from the beautiful form that had turned to clay under
his eyes, and fight forth again into a world burned to ashes. Something
of that look which he had seen in the eyes of the father he saw in
Alan's, in these days when they nosed their way up the Alaskan coast
together. Only to himself did Alan speak the name of Mary Standish, just
as his father had kept Elizabeth Holt's name sacred in his own heart.
Olaf, with mildly casual eyes and strong in the possession of memories,
observed how much alike they were, but discretion held his tongue, and
he said nothing to Alan of many things that ran in his mind.

He talked of Siberia--always of Siberia, and did not hurry on the way to
Seward. Alan himself felt no great urge to make haste. The days were
soft with the premature breath of summer. The nights were cold, and
filled with stars. Day after day mountains hung about them like mighty
castles whose battlements reached up into the cloud-draperies of the
sky. They kept close to the mainland and among the islands, camping
early each evening. Birds were coming northward by the thousand, and
each night Olaf's camp-fire sent up the delicious aroma of flesh-pots
and roasts. When at last they reached Seward, and the time came for Olaf
to turn back, there was an odd blinking in the old Swede's eyes, and as
a final comfort Alan told him again that the day would probably come
when he would go to Siberia with him. After that, he watched the
_Norden_ until the little boat was lost in the distance of the sea.

Alone, Alan felt once more a greater desire to reach his own country.
And he was fortunate. Two days after his arrival at Seward the steamer
which carried mail and the necessities of life to the string of
settlements reaching a thousand miles out into the Pacific left
Resurrection Bay, and he was given passage. Thereafter the countless
islands of the North Pacific drifted behind, while always northward were
the gray cliffs of the Alaskan Peninsula, with the ramparted ranges
beyond, glistening with glaciers, smoking with occasional volcanoes, and
at times so high their snowy peaks were lost in the clouds. First
touching the hatchery at Karluk and then the canneries at Uyak and
Chignik, the mail boat visited the settlements on the Island of Unga,
and thence covered swiftly the three hundred miles to Dutch Harbor and
Unalaska. Again he was fortunate. Within a week he was berthed on a
freighter, and on the twelfth day of June set foot in Nome.

His home-coming was unheralded, but the little, gray town, with its
peculiar, black shadowings, its sea of stove-pipes, and its two solitary
brick chimneys, brought a lump of joy into his throat as he watched its
growing outlines from the small boat that brought him ashore. He could
see one of the only two brick chimneys in northern Alaska gleaming in
the sun; beyond it, fifty miles away, were the ragged peaks of the
Saw-Tooth Range, looking as if one might walk to them in half an hour,
and over all the world between seemed to hover a misty gloom. But it was
where he had lived, where happiness and tragedy and unforgetable
memories had come to him, and the welcoming of its frame buildings, its
crooked streets, and what to others might have been ugliness, was a warm
and thrilling thing. For here were his _people_. Here were the men and
women who were guarding the northern door of the world, an epic place,
filled with strong hearts, courage, and a love of country as
inextinguishable as one's love of life. From this drab little place,
shut out from all the world for half the year, young men and women went
down to southern universities, to big cities, to the glamor and lure of
"outside." But they always came back. Nome called them. Its loneliness
in winter. Its gray gloom in springtime. Its glory in summer and autumn.
It was the breeding-place of a new race of men, and they loved it as
Alan loved it. To him the black wireless tower meant more than the
Statue of Liberty, the three weather-beaten church spires more than the
architectural colossi of New York and Washington. Beside one of the
churches he had played as a boy. He had seen the steeples painted. He
had helped make the crooked streets. And his mother had laughed and
lived and died here, and his father's footprints had been in the white
sands of the beach when tents dotted the shore like gulls.

When he stepped ashore, people stared at him and then greeted him. He
was unexpected. And the surprise of his arrival added strength to the
grip which men's hands gave him. He had not heard voices like theirs
down in the States, with a gladness in them that was almost excitement.
Small boys ran up to his side, and with white men came the Eskimo,
grinning and shaking his hands. Word traveled swiftly that Alan Holt had
come back from the States. Before the day was over, it was on its way to
Shelton and Candle and Keewalik and Kotzebue Sound. Such was the
beginning of his home-coming. But ahead of the news of his arrival Alan
walked up Front Street, stopped at Bahlke's restaurant for a cup of
coffee, and then dropped casually into Lomen's offices in the Tin
Bank Building.

For a week Alan remained in Nome. Carl Lomen had arrived a few days
before, and his brothers were "in" from the big ranges over on the
Choris Peninsula. It had been a good winter and promised to be a
tremendously successful summer. The Lomen herds would exceed forty
thousand head, when the final figures were in. A hundred other herds
were prospering, and the Eskimo and Lapps were full-cheeked and plump
with good feeding and prosperity. A third of a million reindeer were on
the hoof in Alaska, and the breeders were exultant. Pretty good, when
compared with the fact that in 1902 there were less than five thousand!
In another twenty years there would be ten million.

But with this prosperity of the present and still greater promise for
the future Alan sensed the undercurrent of unrest and suspicion in Nome.
After waiting and hoping through another long winter, with their best
men fighting for Alaska's salvation at Washington, word was traveling
from mouth to mouth, from settlement to settlement, and from range to
range, that the Bureaucracy which misgoverned them from thousands of
miles away was not lifting a hand to relieve them. Federal
office-holders refused to surrender their deadly power, and their
strangling methods were to continue. Coal, which should cost ten dollars
a ton if dug from Alaskan mines, would continue to cost forty dollars;
cold storage from Nome would continue to be fifty-two dollars a ton,
when it should be twenty. Commercial brigandage was still given letters
of marque. Bureaus were fighting among themselves for greater power, and
in the turmoil Alaska was still chained like a starving man just outside
the reach of all the milk and honey in a wonderful land. Pauperizing,
degrading, actually killing, the political misrule that had already
driven 25 per cent of Alaska's population from their homes was to
continue indefinitely. A President of the United States had promised to
visit the mighty land of the north and see with his own eyes. But would
he come? There had been other promises, many of them, and promises had
always been futile. But it was a hope that crept through Alaska, and
upon this hope men whose courage never died began to build. Freedom was
on its way, even if slowly. Justice must triumph ultimately, as it
always triumphed. Rusty keys would at last be turned in the locks which
had kept from Alaskans all the riches and resources of their country,
and these men were determined to go on building against odds that they
might be better prepared for that freedom of human endeavor when
it came.

In these days, when the fires of achievement needed to be encouraged,
and not smothered, neither Alan nor Carl Lomen emphasized the menace of
gigantic financial interests like that controlled by John
Graham--interests fighting to do away with the best friend Alaska ever
had, the Biological Survey, and backing with all their power the ruinous
legislation to put Alaska in the control of a group of five men that an
aggrandizement even more deadly than a suffocating policy of
conservation might be more easily accomplished. Instead, they spread the
optimism of men possessed of inextinguishable faith. The blackest days
were gone. Rifts were breaking in the clouds. Intelligence was creeping
through, like rays of sunshine. The end of Alaska's serfdom was near at
hand. So they preached, and knew they were preaching truth, for what
remained of Alaska's men after years of hopelessness and distress were
fighting men. And the women who had remained with them were the mothers
and wives of a new nation in the making.

These mothers and wives Alan met during his week in Nome. He would have
given his life if a few million people in the States could have known
these women. Something would have happened then, and the sisterhood of
half a continent--possessing the power of the ballot--would have opened
their arms to them. Men like John Graham would have gone out of
existence; Alaska would have received her birthright. For these women
were of the kind who greeted the sun each day, and the gloom of winter,
with something greater than hope in their hearts. They, too, were
builders. Fear of God and love of land lay deep in their souls, and side
by side with their men-folk they went on in this epic struggle for the
building of a nation at the top of the world.

Many times during this week Alan felt it in his heart to speak of Mary
Standish. But in the end, not even to Carl Lomen did word of her escape
his lips. The passing of each day had made her more intimately a part of
him, and a secret part. He could not tell people about her. He even made
evasions when questioned about his business and experiences at Cordova
and up the coast. Curiously, she seemed nearer to him when he was away
from other men and women. He remembered it had been that way with his
father, who was always happiest when in the deep mountains or the
unending tundras. And so Alan thrilled with an inner gladness when his
business was finished and the day came for him to leave Nome.

Carl Lomen went with him as far as the big herd on Choris Peninsula. For
one hundred miles, up to Shelton, they rode over a narrow-gauge,
four-foot railway on a hand-car drawn by dogs. And it seemed to Alan, at
times, as though Mary Standish were with him, riding in this strange way
through a great wilderness. He could _see_ her. That was the strange
thing which began to possess him. There were moments when her eyes were
shining softly upon him, her lips smiling, her presence so real he might
have spoken to her if Lomen had not been at his side. He did not fight
against these visionings. It pleased him to think of her going with him
into the heart of Alaska, riding the picturesque "pup-mobile," losing
herself in the mountains and in his tundras, with all the wonder and
glory of a new world breaking upon her a little at a time, like the
unfolding of a great mystery. For there was both wonder and glory in
these countless miles running ahead and drifting behind, and the miracle
of northward-sweeping life. The days were long. Night, as Mary Standish
had always known night, was gone. On the twentieth of June there were
twenty hours of day, with a dim and beautiful twilight between the hours
of eleven and one. Sleep was no longer a matter of the rising and
setting of the sun, but was regulated by the hands of the watch. A world
frozen to the core for seven months was bursting open like a
great flower.

From Shelton, Alan and his companion visited the eighty or ninety people
at Candle, and thence continued down the Keewalik River to Keewalik, on
Kotzebue Sound. A Lomen power-boat, run by Lapps, carried them to Choris
Peninsula, where for a week Alan remained with Lomen and his huge herd
of fifteen thousand reindeer. He was eager to go on, but tried to hide
his impatience. Something was urging him, whipping him on to greater
haste. For the first time in months he heard the crackling thunder of
reindeer hoofs, and the music of it was like a wild call from his own
herds hurrying him home. He was glad when the week-end came and his
business was done. The power-boat took him to Kotzebue. It was night, as
his watch went, when Paul Davidovich started up the delta of the Kobuk
River with him in a lighterage company's boat. But there was no
darkness. In the afternoon of the fourth day they came to the Redstone,
two hundred miles above the mouth of the Kobuk as the river winds. They
had supper together on the shore. After that Paul Davidovich turned back
with the slow sweep of the current, waving his hand until he was out
of sight.

Not until the sound of the Russian's motor-boat was lost in distance did
Alan sense fully the immensity of the freedom that swept upon him. At
last, after months that had seemed like so many years, he was _alone_.
North and eastward stretched the unmarked trail which he knew so well, a
hundred and fifty miles straight as a bird might fly, almost unmapped,
unpeopled, right up to the doors of his range in the slopes of the
Endicott Mountains. A little cry from his own lips gave him a start. It
was as if he had called out aloud to Tautuk and Amuk Toolik, and to Keok
and Nawadlook, telling them he was on his way home and would soon be
there. Never had this hidden land which he had found for himself seemed
so desirable as it did in this hour. There was something about it that
was all-mothering, all-good, all-sweetly-comforting to that other thing
which had become a part of him now. It was holding out its arms to him,
understanding, welcoming, inspiring him to travel strongly and swiftly
the space between. And he was ready to answer its call.

He looked at his watch. It was five o'clock in the afternoon. He had
spent a long day with the Russian, but he felt no desire for rest or
sleep. The musk-tang of the tundras, coming to him through the thin
timber of the river-courses, worked like an intoxicant in his blood. It
was the tundra he wanted, before he lay down upon his back with his face
to the stars. He was eager to get away from timber and to feel the
immeasurable space of the big country, the open country, about him. What
fool had given to it the name of _Barren Lands_? What idiots people were
to lie about it in that way on the maps! He strapped his pack over his
shoulders and seized his rifle. Barren Lands!

He set out, walking like a man in a race. And long before the twilight
hours of sleep they were sweeping out ahead of him in all their
glory--the Barren Lands of the map-makers, _his_ paradise. On a knoll he
stood in the golden sun and looked about him. He set his pack down and
stood with bared head, a whispering of cool wind in his hair. If Mary
Standish could have lived to see _this_! He stretched out his arms, as
if pointing for her eyes to follow, and her name was in his heart and
whispering on his silent lips. Immeasurable the tundras reached ahead of
him--rolling, sweeping, treeless, green and golden and a glory of
flowers, athrill with a life no forest land had ever known. Under his
feet was a crush of forget-me-nots and of white and purple violets,
their sweet perfume filling his lungs as he breathed. Ahead of him lay a
white sea of yellow-eyed daisies, with purple iris high as his knees in
between, and as far as he could see, waving softly in the breeze, was
the cotton-tufted sedge he loved. The pods were green. In a few days
they would be opening, and the tundras would be white carpets.

He listened to the call of life. It was about him everywhere, a melody
of bird-life subdued and sleepy even though the sun was still warmly
aglow in the sky. A hundred times he had watched this miracle of bird
instinct, the going-to-bed of feathered creatures in the weeks and
months when there was no real night. He picked up his pack and went on.
From a pool hidden in the lush grasses of a distant hollow came to him
the twilight honking of nesting geese and the quacking content of wild
ducks. He heard the reed-like, musical notes of a lone "organ-duck" and
the plaintive cries of plover, and farther out, where the shadows seemed
deepening against the rim of the horizon, rose the harsh, rolling notes
of cranes and the raucous cries of the loons. And then, from a clump of
willows near him, came the chirping twitter of a thrush whose throat was
tired for the day, and the sweet, sleepy evening song of a robin.
_Night!_ Alan laughed softly, the pale flush of the sun in his face.
_Bedtime!_ He looked at his watch.

It was nine o'clock. Nine o'clock, and the flowers still answering to
the glow of the sun! And the people down there--in the States--called it
a frozen land, a hell of ice and snow at the end of the earth, a place
of the survival of the fittest! Well, to just such extremes had
stupidity and ignorance gone through all the years of history, even
though men called themselves super-creatures of intelligence and
knowledge. It was humorous. And it was tragic.

At last he came to a shining pool between two tufted ridges, and in this
velvety hollow the twilight was gathering like a shadow in a cup. A
little creek ran out of the pool, and here Alan gathered soft grass and
spread out his blankets. A great stillness drew in about him, broken
only by the old squaws and the loons. At eleven o'clock he could still
see clearly the sleeping water-fowl on the surface of the pool. But the
stars were appearing. It grew duskier, and the rose-tint of the sun
faded into purple gloom as pale night drew near--four hours of rest that
was neither darkness nor day. With a pillow of sedge and grass under his
head he slept.

The song and cry of bird-life wakened him, and at dawn he bathed in the
pool, with dozens of fluffy, new-born ducks dodging away from him among
the grasses and reeds. That day, and the next, and the day after that he
traveled steadily into the heart of the tundra country, swiftly and
almost without rest. It seemed to him, at last, that he must be in that
country where all the bird-life of the world was born, for wherever
there was water, in the pools and little streams and the hollows between
the ridges, the voice of it in the morning was a babel of sound. Out of
the sweet breast of the earth he could feel the irresistible pulse of
motherhood filling him with its strength and its courage, and whispering
to him its everlasting message that because of the glory and need and
faith of life had God created this land of twenty-hour day and four-hour
twilight. In it, in these days of summer, was no abiding place for
gloom; yet in his own heart, as he drew nearer to his home, was a place
of darkness which its light could not quite enter.

The tundras had made Mary Standish more real to him. In the treeless
spaces, in the vast reaches with only the sky shutting out his vision,
she seemed to be walking nearer to him, almost with her hand in his. At
times it was like a torture inflicted upon him for his folly, and when
he visioned what might have been, and recalled too vividly that it was
he who had stilled with death that living glory which dwelt with him in
spirit now, a crying sob of which he was not ashamed came from his lips.
For when he thought too deeply, he knew that Mary Standish would have
lived if he had said other things to her that night aboard the ship. She
had died, not for him, but _because_ of him--because, in his failure to
live up to what she believed she had found in him, he had broken down
what must have been her last hope and her final faith. If he had been
less blind, and God had given him the inspiration of a greater wisdom,
she would have been walking with him now, laughing in the rose-tinted
dawn, growing tired amid the flowers, sleeping under the clear
stars--happy and unafraid, and looking to him for all things. At least
so he dreamed, in his immeasurable loneliness.

He did not tolerate the thought that other forces might have called her
even had she lived, and that she might not have been his to hold and to
fight for. He did not question the possibility of shackles and chains
that might have bound her, or other inclinations that might have led
her. He claimed her, now that she was dead, and knew that living he
would have possessed her. Nothing could have kept him from that. But she
was gone. And for that he was accountable, and the fifth night he lay
sleepless under the stars, and like a boy he cried for her with his face
upon his arm, and when morning came, and he went on, never had the world
seemed so vast and empty.

His face was gray and haggard, a face grown suddenly old, and he
traveled slowly, for the desire to reach his people was dying within
him. He could not laugh with Keok and Nawadlook, or give the old tundra
call to Amuk Toolik and his people, who would be riotous in their
happiness at his return. They loved him. He knew that. Their love had
been a part of his life, and the knowledge that his response to this
love would be at best a poor and broken thing filled him with dread. A
strange sickness crept through his blood; it grew in his head, so that
when noon came, he did not trouble himself to eat.

It was late in the afternoon when he saw far ahead of him the clump of
cottonwoods near the warm springs, very near his home. Often he had come
to these old cottonwoods, an oasis of timber lost in the great tundras,
and he had built himself a little camp among them. He loved the place.
It had seemed to him that now and then he must visit the forlorn trees
to give them cheer and comradeship. His father's name was carved in the
bole of the greatest of them all, and under it the date and day when the
elder Holt had discovered them in a land where no man had gone before.
And under his father's name was his mother's, and under that, his own.
He had made of the place a sort of shrine, a green and sweet-flowered
tabernacle of memories, and its bird-song and peace in summer and the
weird aloneness of it in winter had played their parts in the making of
his soul. Through many months he had anticipated this hour of his
home-coming, when in the distance he would see the beckoning welcome of
the old cottonwoods, with the rolling foothills and frosted peaks of the
Endicott Mountains beyond. And now he was looking at the trees and the
mountains, and something was lacking in the thrill of them. He came up
from the west, between two willow ridges through which ran the little
creek from the warm springs, and he was within a quarter of a mile of
them when something stopped him in his tracks.

At first he thought the sound was the popping of guns, but in a moment
he knew it could not be so, and the truth flashed suddenly upon him.
This day was the Fourth of July, and someone in the cottonwoods was
shooting firecrackers!

A smile softened his lips. He recalled Keok's mischievous habit of
lighting a whole bunch at one time, for which apparent wastefulness
Nawadlook never failed to scold her. They had prepared for his
home-coming with a celebration, and Tautuk and Amuk Toolik had probably
imported a supply of "bing-bangs" from Allakakat or Tanana. The
oppressive weight inside him lifted, and the smile remained on his lips.
And then as if commanded by a voice, his eyes turned to the dead
cottonwood stub which had sentineled the little oasis of trees for many
years. At the very crest of it, floating bravely in the breeze that came
with the evening sun, was an American flag!

He laughed softly. These were the people who loved him, who thought of
him, who wanted him back. His heart beat faster, stirred by the old
happiness, and he drew himself quickly into a strip of willows that grew
almost up to the cottonwoods. He would surprise them! He would walk
suddenly in among them, unseen and unheard. That was the sort of thing
that would amaze and delight them.

He came to the first of the trees and concealed himself carefully. He
heard the popping of individual firecrackers and the louder bang of one
of the "giants" that always made Nawadlook put her fingers in her pretty
ears. He crept stealthily over a knoll, down through a hollow, and then
up again to the opposite crest. It was as he had thought. He could see
Keok a hundred yards away, standing on the trunk of a fallen tree, and
as he looked, she tossed another bunch of sputtering crackers away from
her. The others were probably circled about her, out of his sight,
watching her performance. He continued cautiously, making his way so
that he could come up behind a thick growth of bush unseen, within a
dozen paces of them. At last he was as near as that to her, and Keok was
still standing on the log with her back toward him.

It puzzled him that he could not see or hear the others. And something
about Keok puzzled him, too. And then his heart gave a sudden throb and
seemed to stop its beating. It was not Keok on the log. And it was not
Nawadlook! He stood up and stepped out from his hiding-place. The
slender figure of the girl on the log turned a little, and he saw the
glint of golden sunshine in her hair. He called out.

"Keok!"

Was he mad? Had the sickness in his head turned his brain?

And then:

"Mary!" he called. "_Mary Standish_!"

She turned. And in that moment Alan Holt's face was the color of gray
rock. It was the dead he had been thinking of, and it was the dead that
had risen before him now. For it was Mary Standish who stood there on
the old cottonwood log, shooting firecrackers in this evening of his
home-coming.



CHAPTER XIII

After that one calling of her name Alan's voice was dead, and he made no
movement. He could not disbelieve. It was not a mental illusion or a
temporary upsetting of his sanity. It was truth. The shock of it was
rending every nerve in his body, even as he stood as if carved out of
wood. And then a strange relaxation swept over him. Some force seemed to
pass out of his flesh, and his arms hung limp. She was there, _alive!_
He could see the whiteness leave her face and a flush of color come into
it, and he heard a little cry as she jumped down from the log and came
toward him. It had all happened in a few seconds, but it seemed a long
time to Alan.

He saw nothing about her or beyond her. It was as if she were floating
up to him out of the cold mists of the sea. And she stopped only a step
away from him, when she saw more clearly what was in his face. It must
have been something that startled her. Vaguely he realized this and made
an effort to recover himself.

"You almost frightened me," she said. "We have been expecting you and
watching for you, and I was out there a few minutes ago looking back
over the tundra. The sun was in my eyes, and I didn't see you."

It seemed incredible that he should be hearing her voice, the same
voice, unexcited, sweet, and thrilling, speaking as if she had seen him
yesterday and with a certain reserved gladness was welcoming him again
today. It was impossible for him to realize in these moments the
immeasurable distance that lay between their viewpoints. He was simply
Alan Holt--she was the dead risen to life. Many times in his grief he
had visualized what he would do if some miracle could bring her back to
him like this; he had thought of taking her in his arms and never
letting her go. But now that the miracle had come to pass, and she was
within his reach, he stood without moving, trying only to speak.

"You--Mary Standish!" he said at last. "I thought--"

He did not finish. It was not himself speaking. It was another
individual within him, a detached individual trying to explain his lack
of physical expression. He wanted to cry out his gladness, to shout with
joy, yet the directing soul of action in him was stricken. She touched
his arm hesitatingly.

"I didn't think you would care," she said. "I thought you wouldn't
mind--if I came up here."

Care! The word was like an explosion setting things loose in his brain,
and the touch of her hand sent a sweep of fire through him. He heard
himself cry out, a strange, unhuman sort of cry, as he swept her to his
breast. He held her close, crushing kisses upon her mouth, his fingers
buried in her hair, her slender body almost broken in his arms. She was
alive--she had come back to him--and he forgot everything in these blind
moments but that great truth which was sweeping over him in a glorious
inundation. Then, suddenly, he found that she was fighting him,
struggling to free herself and putting her hands against his face in her
efforts. She was so close that he seemed to see nothing but her eyes,
and in them he did not see what he had dreamed of finding--but horror.
It was a stab that went into his heart, and his arms relaxed. She
staggered back, trembling and swaying a little as she got her breath,
her face very white.

He had hurt her. The hurt was in her eyes, in the way she looked at him,
as if he had become a menace from which she would run if he had not
taken the strength from her. As she stood there, her parted lips showing
the red of his kisses, her shining hair almost undone, he held out his
hands mutely.

"You think--I came here for _that?_" she panted.

"No," he said. "Forgive me. I am sorry."

It was not anger that he saw in her face. It was, instead, a mingling of
shock and physical hurt; a measurement of him now, as she looked at him,
which recalled her to him as she had stood that night with her back
against his cabin door. Yet he was not trying to piece things together.
Even subconsciously that was impossible, for all life in him was
centered in the one stupendous thought that she was not dead, but
living, and he did not wonder why. There was no question in his mind as
to the manner in which she had been saved from the sea. He felt a
weakness in his limbs; he wanted to laugh, to cry out, to give himself
up to strange inclinations for a moment or two, like a woman. Such was
the shock of his happiness. It crept in a living fluid through his
flesh. She saw it in the swift change of the rock-like color in his
face, and his quicker breathing, and was a little amazed, but Alan was
too completely possessed by the one great thing to discover the
astonishment growing in her eyes.

"You are alive," he said, giving voice again to the one thought pounding
in his brain. "_Alive!_"

It seemed to him that word wanted to utter itself an impossible number
of times. Then the truth that was partly dawning came entirely to
the girl.

"Mr. Holt, you did not receive my letter at Nome?" she asked.

"Your letter? At Nome?" He repeated the words, shaking his head. "No."

"And all this time--you have been thinking--I was dead?"

He nodded, because the thickness in his throat made it the easier form
of speech.

"I wrote you there," she said. "I wrote the letter before I jumped into
the sea. It went to Nome with Captain Rifle's ship."

"I didn't get it."

"You didn't get it?" There was wonderment in her voice, and then, if he
had observed it, understanding.

"Then you didn't mean that just now? You didn't intend to do it? It was
because you had blamed yourself for my death, and it was a great relief
to find me alive. That was it, wasn't it?"

Stupidly he nodded again. "Yes, it was a great relief."

"You see, I had faith in you even when you wouldn't help me," she went
on. "So much faith that I trusted you with my secret in the letter I
wrote. To all the world but you I am dead--to Rossland, Captain Rifle,
everyone. In my letter I told you I had arranged with the young Thlinkit
Indian. He smuggled the canoe over the side just before I leaped in, and
picked me up. I am a good swimmer. Then he paddled me ashore while the
boats were making their search."

In a moment she had placed a gulf between them again, on the other side
of which she stood unattainable. It was inconceivable that only a few
moments ago he had crushed her in his arms. The knowledge that he had
done this thing, and that she was looking at him now as if it had never
happened, filled him with a smothering sense of humiliation. She made it
impossible for him to speak about it, even to apologize more fully.

"Now I am here," she was saying in a quiet, possessive sort of way. "I
didn't think of coming when I jumped into the sea. I made up my mind
afterward. I think it was because I met a little man with red whiskers
whom you once pointed out to me in the smoking salon on the _Nome_. And
so--I am your guest, Mr. Holt."

There was not the slightest suspicion of apology in her voice as she
smoothed back her hair where he had crumpled it. It was as if she
belonged here, and had always belonged here, and was giving him
permission to enter her domain. Shock was beginning to pass away from
him, and he could feel his feet upon the earth once more. His
spirit-visions of her as she had walked hand in hand with him during the
past weeks, her soft eyes filled with love, faded away before the
reality of Mary Standish in flesh and blood, her quiet mastery of
things, her almost omniscient unapproachableness. He reached out his
hands, but there was a different light in his eyes, and she placed her
own in them confidently.

"It was like a bolt of lightning," he said, his voice free at last and
trembling. "Day and night I have been thinking of you, dreaming of you,
and cursing myself because I believed I had killed you. And now I find
you alive. And _here!_"

She was so near that the hands he clasped lay against his breast. But
reason had returned to him, and he saw the folly of dreams.

"It is difficult to believe. Out there I thought I was sick. Perhaps I
am. But if I am not sick, and you are really you, I am glad. If I wake
up and find I have imagined it all, as I imagined so many of the
other things--"

He laughed, freeing her hands and looking into eyes shining half out of
tears at him. But he did not finish. She drew away from him, with a
lingering of her finger-tips on his arm, and the little heart-beat in
her throat revealed itself clearly again as on that night in his cabin.

"I have been thinking of you back there, every hour, every step," he
said, making a gesture toward the tundras over which he had come. "Then
I heard the firecrackers and saw the flag. It is almost as if I had
created you!"

A quick answer was on her lips, but she stopped it.

"And when I found you here, and you didn't fade away like a ghost, I
thought something was wrong with my head. Something must have been
wrong, I guess, or I wouldn't have done _that_. You see, it puzzled me
that a ghost should be setting off firecrackers--and I suppose that was
the first impulse I had of making sure you were real."

A voice came from the edge of the cottonwoods beyond them. It was a
clear, wild voice with a sweet trill in it. "_Maa-rie!_" it called.
"_Maa-rie!_"

"Supper," nodded the girl. "You are just in time. And then we are going
home in the twilight."

It made his heart thump, that casual way in which she spoke of his place
as home. She went ahead of him, with the sun glinting in the soft coils
of her hair, and he picked up his rifle and followed, eyes and soul
filled only with the beauty of her slim figure--a glory of life where
for a long time he had fashioned a spirit of the dead. They came into an
open, soft with grass and strewn with flowers, and in this open a man
was kneeling beside a fire no larger than his two hands, and at his
side, watching him, stood a girl with two braids of black hair rippling
down her back. It was Nawadlook who turned first and saw who it was with
Mary Standish, and from his right came an odd little screech that only
one person in the world could make, and that was Keok. She dropped the
armful of sticks she had gathered for the fire and made straight for
him, while Nawadlook, taller and less like a wild creature in the manner
of her coming, was only a moment behind. And then he was shaking hands
with Stampede, and Keok had slipped down among the flowers and was
crying. That was like Keok. She always cried when he went away, and
cried when he returned; and then, in another moment, it was Keok who was
laughing first, and Alan noticed she no longer wore her hair in braids,
as the quieter Nawadlook persisted in doing, but had it coiled about her
head just as Mary Standish wore her own.

These details pressed themselves upon him in a vague and unreal sort of
way. No one, not even Mary Standish, could understand how his mind and
nerves were fighting to recover themselves. His senses were swimming
back one by one to a vital point from which they had been swept by an
unexpected sea, gripping rather incoherently at unimportant realities as
they assembled themselves. In the edge of the tundra beyond the
cottonwoods he noticed three saddle-deer grazing at the ends of ropes
which were fastened to cotton-tufted nigger-heads. He drew off his pack
as Mary Standish went to help Keok pick up the fallen sticks. Nawadlook
was pulling a coffee-pot from the tiny fire. Stampede began to fill a
pipe. He realized that because they had expected him, if not today then
tomorrow or the next day or a day soon after that, no one had
experienced shock but himself, and with a mighty effort he reached back
and dragged the old Alan Holt into existence again. It was like bringing
an intelligence out of darkness into light.

It was difficult for him--afterward--to remember just what happened
during the next half-hour. The amazing thing was that Mary Standish sat
opposite him, with the cloth on which Nawadlook had spread the supper
things between them, and that she was the same clear-eyed, beautiful
Mary Standish who had sat across the table from him in the dining-salon
of the _Nome_.

Not until later, when he stood alone with Stampede Smith in the edge of
the cottonwoods, and the three girls were riding deer back over the
tundra in the direction of the Range, did the sea of questions which had
been gathering begin to sweep upon him. It had been Keok's suggestion
that she and Mary and Nawadlook ride on ahead, and he had noticed how
quickly Mary Standish had caught at the idea. She had smiled at him as
she left, and a little farther out had waved her hand at him, as Keok
and Nawadlook both had done, but not another word had passed between
them alone. And as they rode off in the warm glow of sunset Alan stood
watching them, and would have stared without speech until they were out
of sight, if Stampede's fingers had not gripped his arm.

"Now, go to it, Alan," he said. "I'm ready. Give me hell!"



CHAPTER XIV

It was thus, with a note of something inevitable in his voice, that
Stampede brought Alan back solidly to earth. There was a practical and
awakening inspiration in the manner of the little red-whiskered man's
invitation.

"I've been a damn fool," he confessed. "And I'm waiting."

The word was like a key opening a door through which a flood of things
began to rush in upon Alan. There were other fools, and evidently he had
been one. His mind went back to the _Nome_. It seemed only a few hours
ago--only yesterday--that the girl had so artfully deceived them all,
and he had gone through hell because of that deception. The trickery had
been simple, and exceedingly clever because of its simplicity; it must
have taken a tremendous amount of courage, now that he clearly
understood that at no time had she wanted to die.

"I wonder," he said, "why she did a thing like that?"

Stampede shook his head, misunderstanding what was in Alan's mind. "I
couldn't keep her back, not unless I tied her to a tree." And he added,
"The little witch even threatened to shoot me!"

A flash of exultant humor filled his eyes. "Begin, Alan. I'm waiting.
Go the limit."

"For what?"

"For letting her ride over me, of course. For bringing her up. For not
shufflin' her in the bush. You can't take it out of _her_ hide,
can you?"

He twisted his red whiskers, waiting for an answer. Alan was silent.
Mary Standish was leading the way up out of a dip in the tundra a
quarter of a mile away, with Nawadlook and Keok close behind her. They
trotted up a low ridge and disappeared.

"It's none of my business," persisted Stampede, "but you didn't seem to
expect her--"

"You're right," interrupted Alan, turning toward his pack. "I didn't
expect her. I thought she was dead."

A low whistle escaped Stampede's lips. He opened his mouth to speak and
closed it again. Alan observed him as he slipped the pack over his
shoulders. Evidently his companion did not know Mary Standish was the
girl who had jumped overboard from the _Nome_, and if she had kept her
secret, it was not his business just now to explain, even though he
guessed that Stampede's quick wits would readily jump at the truth. A
light was beginning to dispel the little man's bewilderment as they
started toward the Range. He had seen Mary Standish frequently aboard
the _Nome_; a number of times he had observed her in Alan's company, and
he knew of the hours they had spent together in Skagway. Therefore, if
Alan had believed her dead when they went ashore at Cordova, a few hours
after the supposed tragedy, it must have been she who jumped into the
sea. He shrugged his shoulders in deprecation of his failure to discover
this amazing fact in his association with Mary Standish.

"It beats the devil!" he exclaimed suddenly.

"It does," agreed Alan.

Cold, hard reason began to shoulder itself inevitably against the
happiness that possessed him, and questions which he had found no
interest in asking when aboard ship leaped upon him with compelling
force. Why was it so tragically important to Mary Standish that the
world should believe her dead? What was it that had driven her to appeal
to him and afterward to jump into the sea? What was her mysterious
association with Rossland, an agent of Alaska's deadliest enemy, John
Graham--the one man upon whom he had sworn vengeance if opportunity ever
came his way? Over him, clubbing other emotions with its insistence,
rode a demand for explanations which it was impossible for him to make.
Stampede saw the tense lines in his face and remained silent in the
lengthening twilight, while Alan's mind struggled to bring coherence and
reason out of a tidal wave of mystery and doubt. Why had she come to
_his_ cabin aboard the _Nome_? Why had she played him with such
conspicuous intent against Rossland, and why--in the end--had she
preceded him to his home in the tundras? It was this question which
persisted, never for an instant swept aside by the others. She had not
come because of love for him. In a brutal sort of way he had proved
that, for when he had taken her in his arms, he had seen distress and
fear and a flash of horror in her face. Another and more mysterious
force had driven her.

The joy in him was a living flame even as this realization pressed upon
him. He was like a man who had found life after a period of something
that was worse than death, and with his happiness he felt himself
twisted upon an upheaval of conflicting sensations and half convictions
out of which, in spite of his effort to hold it back, suspicion began to
creep like a shadow. But it was not the sort of suspicion to cool the
thrill in his blood or frighten him, for he was quite ready to concede
that Mary Standish was a fugitive, and that her flight from Seattle had
been in the face of a desperate necessity. What had happened aboard ship
was further proof, and her presence at his range a final one. Forces had
driven her which it had been impossible for her to combat, and in
desperation she had come to him for refuge. She had chosen him out of
all the world to help her; she believed in him; she had faith that with
him no harm could come, and his muscles tightened with sudden desire to
fight for her.

In these moments he became conscious of the evening song of the tundras
and the soft splendor of the miles reaching out ahead of them. He
strained his eyes to catch another glimpse of the mounted figures when
they came up out of hollows to the clough-tops, but the lacy veils of
evening were drawing closer, and he looked in vain. Bird-song grew
softer; sleepy cries rose from the grasses and pools; the fire of the
sun itself died out, leaving its radiance in a mingling of vivid rose
and mellow gold over the edge of the world. It was night and yet day,
and Alan wondered what thoughts were in the heart of Mary Standish. What
had driven her to the Range was of small importance compared with the
thrilling fact that she was just ahead of him. The mystery of her would
be explained tomorrow. He was sure of that. She would confide in him.
Now that she had so utterly placed herself under his protection, she
would tell him what she had not dared to disclose aboard the _Nome_. So
he thought only of the silvery distance of twilight that separated them,
and spoke at last to Stampede.

"I'm rather glad you brought her," he said.

"I didn't bring her," protested Stampede. "She _came_." He shrugged his
shoulders with a grunt. "And furthermore I didn't manage it. She did
that herself. She didn't come with me. I came with _her_."

He stopped and struck a match to light his pipe. Over the tiny flame he
glared fiercely at Alan, but in his eyes was something that betrayed
him. Alan saw it and felt a desire to laugh out of sheer happiness. His
keen vision and sense of humor were returning.

"How did it happen?"

Stampede puffed loudly at his pipe, then took it from his mouth and
drew in a deep breath.

"First I remember was the fourth night after we landed at Cordova.
Couldn't get a train on the new line until then. Somewhere up near
Chitina we came to a washout. It didn't rain. You couldn't call it that,
Alan. It was the Pacific Ocean falling on us, with two or three other
oceans backing it up. The stage came along, horses swimming, coach
floating, driver half drowned in his seat. I was that hungry I got in
for Chitina. There was one other climbed in after me, and I wondered
what sort of fool he was. I said something about being starved or I'd
have hung to the train. The other didn't answer. Then I began to swear.
I did, Alan. I cursed terrible. Swore at the Government for building
such a road, swore at the rain, an' I swore at myself for not bringin'
along grub. I said my belly was as empty as a shot-off cartridge, and I
said it good an' loud. I was mad. Then a big flash of lightning lit up
the coach. Alan, it was _her_ sittin' there with a box in her lap,
facing me, drippin' wet, her eyes shining--and she was smiling at me!
Yessir, _smiling_."

Stampede paused to let the shock sink in. He was not disappointed.

Alan stared at him in amazement. "The fourth night--after--" He caught
himself. "Go on, Stampede!"

"I began hunting for the latch on the door, Alan. I was goin' to sneak
out, drop in the mud, disappear before the lightnin' come again. But it
caught me. An' there she was, undoing the box, and I heard her saying
she had plenty of good stuff to eat. An' she called me Stampede, like
she'd known me all her life, and with that coach rolling an' rocking and
the thunder an' lightning an' rain piling up against each other like
sin, she came over and sat down beside me and began to feed me. She did
that, Alan--_fed_ me. When the lightning fired up, I could see her eyes
shining and her lips smilin' as if all that hell about us made her
happy, and I thought she was plumb crazy. Before I knew it she was
telling me how you pointed me out to her in the smoking-room, and how
happy she was that I was goin' her way. _Her_ way, mind you, Alan, not
_mine._ And that's just the way she's kept me goin' up to the minute you
hove in sight back there in the cottonwoods!"

He lighted his pipe again. "Alan, how the devil did she know I was
hitting the trail for your place?"

"She didn't," replied Alan.

"But she did. She said that meeting with me in the coach was the
happiest moment of her life, because _she_ was on her way up to your
range, and I'd be such jolly good company for her. 'Jolly good'--them
were the words she used! When I asked her if you knew she was coming up,
she said no, of course not, and that it was going to be a grand
surprise. Said it was possible she'd buy your range, and she wanted to
look it over before you arrived. An' it seems queer I can't remember
anything more about the thunder and lightning between there and Chitina.
When we took the train again, she began askin' a million questions about
you and the Range and Alaska. Soak me if you want to, Alan--but
everything I knew she got out of me between Chitina and Fairbanks, and
she got it in such a sure-fire nice way that I'd have eat soap out of
her hand if she'd offered it to me. Then, sort of sly and soft-like, she
began asking questions about John Graham--and I woke up."

"John Graham!" Alan repeated the name.

"Yes, John Graham. And I had a lot to tell. After that I tried to get
away from her. But she caught me just as I was sneakin' aboard a
down-river boat, and cool as you please--with her hand on my arm--she
said she wasn't quite ready to go yet, and would I please come and help
her carry some stuff she was going to buy. Alan, it ain't a lie what I'm
going to tell you! She led me up the street, telling me what a wonderful
idea she had for surprisin' _you_. Said she knew you would return to the
Range by the Fourth of July and we sure must have some fireworks. Said
you was such a good American you'd be disappointed if you didn't have
'em. So she took me in a store an' bought it out. Asked the man what
he'd take for everything in his joint that had powder in it. Five
hundred dollars, that was what she paid. She pulled a silk something out
of the front of her dress with a pad of hundred-dollar bills in it an
inch think. Then she asked _me_ to get them firecrackers 'n' wheels 'n'
skyrockets 'n' balloons 'n' other stuff down to the boat, and she asked
me just as if I was a sweet little boy who'd be tickled to death to
do it!"

In the excitement of unburdening himself of a matter which he had borne
in secret for many days, Stampede did not observe the effect of his
words upon his companion. Incredulity shot into Alan's eyes, and the
humorous lines about his mouth vanished when he saw clearly that
Stampede was not drawing upon his imagination. Yet what he had told him
seemed impossible. Mary Standish had come aboard the _Nome_ a fugitive.
All her possessions she had brought with her in a small hand-bag, and
these things she had left in her cabin when she leaped into the sea.
How, then, could she logically have had such a sum of money at Fairbanks
as Stampede described? Was it possible the Thlinkit Indian had also
become her agent in transporting the money ashore on the night she
played her desperate game by making the world believe she had died? And
was this money--possibly the manner in which she had secured it in
Seattle--the cause of her flight and the clever scheme she had put into
execution a little later?

He had been thinking crime, and his face grew hot at the sin of it. It
was like thinking it of another woman, who was dead, and whose name was
cut under his father's in the old cottonwood tree.

Stampede, having gained his wind, was saying: "You don't seem
interested, Alan. But I'm going on, or I'll bust. I've got to tell you
what happened, and then if you want to lead me out and shoot me, I won't
say a word. I say, curse a firecracker anyway!"

"Go on," urged Alan. "I'm interested."

"I got 'em on the boat," continued Stampede viciously. "And she with me
every minute, smiling in that angel way of hers, and not letting me out
of her sight a flick of her eyelash, unless there was only one hole to
go in an' come out at. And then she said she wanted to do a little
shopping, which meant going into every shack in town and buyin'
something, an' I did the lugging. At last she bought a gun, and when I
asked her what she was goin' to do with it, she said, 'Stampede, that's
for you,' an' when I went to thank her, she said: 'No, I don't mean it
that way. I mean that if you try to run away from me again I'm going to
fill you full of holes.' She said that! Threatened me. Then she bought
me a new outfit from toe to summit--boots, pants, shirt, hat _and_ a
necktie! And I didn't say a word, not a word. She just led me in an'
bought what she wanted and made me put 'em on."

Stampede drew in a mighty breath, and a fourth time wasted a match on
his pipe. "I was getting used to it by the time we reached Tanana," he
half groaned. "Then the hell of it begun. She hired six Indians to tote
the luggage, and we set out over the trail for your place. 'You're
goin' to have a rest, Stampede,' she says to me, smiling so cool and
sweet like you wanted to eat her alive. 'All you've got to do is show us
the way and carry the bums.' 'Carry the what?' I asks. 'The bums,' she
says, an' then she explains that a bum is a thing filled with powder
which makes a terrible racket when it goes off. So I took the bums, and
the next day one of the Indians sprained a leg, and dropped out. He had
the firecrackers, pretty near a hundred pounds, and we whacked up his
load among us. I couldn't stand up straight when we camped. We had
crooks in our backs every inch of the way to the Range. And _would_ she
let us cache some of that junk? Not on your life she wouldn't! And all
the time while they was puffing an' panting them Indians was worshipin'
her with their eyes. The last day, when we camped with the Range almost
in sight, she drew 'em all up in a circle about her and gave 'em each a
handful of money above their pay. 'That's because I love you,' she says,
and then she begins asking them funny questions. Did they have wives and
children? Were they ever hungry? Did they ever know about any of their
people starving to death? And just _why_ did they starve? And, Alan, so
help me thunder if them Indians didn't talk! Never heard Indians tell so
much. And in the end she asked them the funniest question of all, asked
them if they'd heard of a man named John Graham. One of them had, and
afterward I saw her talking a long time with him alone, and when she
come back to me, her eyes were sort of burning up, and she didn't say
good night when she went into her tent. That's all, Alan, except--"

"Except what, Stampede?" said Alan, his heart throbbing like a drum
inside him.

Stampede took his time to answer, and Alan heard him chuckling and saw a
flash of humor in the little man's eyes.

"Except that she's done with everyone on the Range just what she did
with me between Chitina and here," he said. "Alan, if she wants to say
the word, why, _you_ ain't boss any more, that's all. She's been there
ten days, and you won't know the place. It's all done up in flags,
waiting for you. She an' Nawadlook and Keok are running everything but
the deer. The kids would leave their mothers for her, and the men--" He
chuckled again. "Why, the men even go to the Sunday school she's
started! I went. Nawadlook sings."

For a moment he was silent. Then he said in a subdued voice, "Alan,
you've been a big fool."

"I know it, Stampede."

"She's a--a flower, Alan. She's worth more than all the gold in the
world. And you could have married her. I know it. But it's too late now.
I'm warnin' you."

"I don't quite understand, Stampede. Why is it too late?"

"Because she likes me," declared Stampede a bit fiercely. "I'm after
her myself, Alan. You can't butt in now."

"Great Scott!" gasped Alan. "You mean that Mary Standish--"

"I'm not talking about Mary Standish," said Stampede. "It's Nawadlook.
If it wasn't for my whiskers--"

His words were broken by a sudden detonation which came out of the pale
gloom ahead of them. It was like the explosion of a cannon a long
distance away.

"One of them cussed bums," he explained. "That's why they hurried on
ahead of us, Alan. _She_ says this Fourth of July celebration is going
to mean a lot for Alaska. Wonder what she means?"

"I wonder," said Alan.



CHAPTER XV

Half an hour more of the tundra and they came to what Alan had named
Ghost Kloof, a deep and jagged scar in the face of the earth, running
down from the foothills of the mountains. It was a sinister thing, and
in the depths lay abysmal darkness as they descended a rocky path worn
smooth by reindeer and caribou hoofs. At the bottom, a hundred feet
below the twilight of the plains, Alan dropped on his knees beside a
little spring that he groped for among the stones, and as he drank he
could hear the weird whispering and gurgling of water up and down the
kloof, choked and smothered in the moss of the rock walls and eternally
dripping from the crevices. Then he saw Stampede's face in the glow of
another match, and the little man's eyes were staring into the black
chasm that reached for miles up into the mountains.

"Alan, you've been up this gorge?"

"It's a favorite runway for the lynx and big brown bears that kill our
fawns," replied Alan. "I hunt alone, Stampede. The place is supposed to
be haunted, you know. Ghost Kloof, I call it, and no Eskimo will enter
it. The bones of dead men lie up there."

"Never prospected it?" persisted Stampede.

"Never."

Alan heard the other's grunt of disgust.

"You're reindeer-crazy," he grumbled. "There's gold in this canyon.
Twice I've found it where there were dead men's bones. They bring me
good luck."

"But these were Eskimos. They didn't come for gold."

"I know it. The Boss settled that for me. When she heard what was the
matter with this place, she made me take her into it. Nerve? Say, I'm
telling you there wasn't any of it left out of her when she was born!"
He was silent for a moment, and then added: "When we came to that
dripping, slimy rock with the big yellow skull layin' there like a
poison toadstool, she didn't screech and pull back, but just gave a
little gasp and stared at it hard, and her fingers pinched my arm until
it hurt. It was a devilish-looking thing, yellow as a sick orange and
soppy with the drip of the wet moss over it. I wanted to blow it to
pieces, and I guess I would if she hadn't put a hand on my gun. An' with
a funny little smile she says: 'Don't do it, Stampede. It makes me think
of someone I know--and I wouldn't want you to shoot him.' Darned funny
thing to say, wasn't it? Made her think of someone she knew! Now, who
the devil could look like a rotten skull?"

Alan made no effort to reply, except to shrug his shoulders. They
climbed up out of gloom into the light of the plain. Smoothness of the
tundra was gone on this side of the crevasse. Ahead of them rolled up a
low hill, and mountainward hills piled one upon another until they were
lost in misty distance. From the crest of the ridge they looked out into
a vast sweep of tundra which ran in among the out-guarding billows and
hills of the Endicott Mountains in the form of a wide, semicircular bay.
Beyond the next swell in the tundra lay the range, and scarcely had they
reached this when Stampede drew his big gun from its holster. Twice he
blazed in the air.

"Orders," he said a little sheepishly. "Orders, Alan!"

Scarcely were the words out of his mouth when a yell came to them from
beyond the light-mists that hovered like floating lace over the tundra.
It was joined by another, and still another, until there was such a
sound that Alan knew Tautuk and Amuk Toolik and Topkok and Tatpan and
all the others were splitting their throats in welcome, and with it very
soon came a series of explosions that set the earth athrill under
their feet.

"Bums!" growled Stampede. "She's got Chink lanterns hanging up all
about, too. You should have seen her face, Alan, when she found there
was sunlight all night up here on July Fourth!"

From the range a pale streak went sizzling into the air, mounting until
it seemed to pause for a moment to look down upon the gray world, then
burst into innumerable little balls of puffy smoke. Stampede blazed
away with his forty-five, and Alan felt the thrill of it and emptied the
magazine of his gun, the detonations of revolver and rifle drowning the
chorus of sound that came from the range. A second rocket answered them.
Two columns of flame leaped up from the earth as huge fires gained
headway, and Alan could hear the shrill chorus of children's voices
mingling with the vocal tumult of men. All the people of his range were
there. They had come in from the timber-naked plateaux and high ranges
where the herds were feeding, and from the outlying shacks of the
tundras to greet him. Never had there been such a concentration of
effort on the part of his people. And Mary Standish was behind it all!
He knew he was fighting against odds when he tried to keep that fact
from choking up his heart a little.

He had not heard what Stampede was saying--that he and Amuk Toolik and
forty kids had labored a week gathering dry moss and timber fuel for the
big fires. There were three of these fires now, and the tom-toms were
booming their hollow notes over the tundra as Alan quickened his steps.
Over a little knoll, and he was looking at the buildings of the range,
wildly excited figures running about, women and children flinging moss
on the fires, the tom-tom beaters squatted in a half-circle facing the
direction from which he would come, and fifty Chinese lanterns swinging
in the soft night-breeze.

He knew what they were expecting of him, for they were children, all of
them. Even Tautuk and Amuk Toolik, his chief herdsmen, were children.
Nawadlook and Keok were children. Strong and loyal and ready to die for
him in any fight or stress, they were still children. He gave Stampede
his rifle and hastened on, determined to keep his eyes from questing for
Mary Standish in these first minutes of his return. He sounded the
tundra call, and men, women, and little children came running to meet
him. The drumming of the tom-toms ceased, and the beaters leaped to
their feet. He was inundated. There was a shrill crackling of voice,
laughter, children's squeals, a babel of delight. He gripped hands with
both his own--hard, thick, brown hands of men; little, softer, brown
hands of women; he lifted children up in his arms, slapped his palm
affectionately against the men's shoulders, and talked, talked, talked,
calling each by name without a slip of memory, though there were fifty
around him counting the children. First, last, and always these were
_his people_. The old pride swept over him, a compelling sense of power
and possession. They loved him, crowding in about him like a great
family, and he shook hands twice and three times with the same men and
women, and lifted the same children from the arms of delighted mothers,
and cried out greetings and familiarities with an abandon which a few
minutes ago knowledge of Mary Standish's presence would have tempered.
Then, suddenly, he saw her under the Chinese lanterns in front of his
cabin. Sokwenna, so old that he hobbled double and looked like a witch,
stood beside her. In a moment Sokwenna's head disappeared, and there
came the booming of a tom-tom. As quickly as the crowd had gathered
about him, it fell away. The beaters squatted themselves in their
semicircle again. Fireworks began to go off. Dancers assembled. Rockets
hissed through the air. Roman candles popped. From the open door of his
cabin came the sound of a phonograph. It was aimed directly at him, the
one thing intended for his understanding alone. It was playing "When
Johnny Comes Marching Home."

Mary Standish had not moved. He saw her laughing at him, and she was
alone. She was not the Mary Standish he had known aboard ship. Fear, the
quiet pallor of her face, and the strain and repression which had seemed
to be a part of her were gone. She was aflame with life, yet it was not
with voice or action that she revealed herself. It was in her eyes, the
flush of her cheeks and lips, the poise of her slim body as she waited
for him. A thought flashed upon him that for a space she had forgotten
herself and the shadow which had driven her to leap into the sea.

"It is splendid!" she said when he came up to her, and her voice
trembled a little. "I didn't guess how badly they wanted you back. It
must be a great happiness to have people think of you like that."

"And I thank you for your part," he replied. "Stampede has told me. It
was quite a bit of trouble, wasn't it, with nothing more than the hope
of Americanizing a pagan to inspire you?" He nodded at the half-dozen
flags over his cabin. "They're rather pretty."

"It was no trouble. And I hope you don't mind. It has been great fun."

He tried to look casually out upon his people as he answered her. It
seemed to him there was only one thing to say, and that it was a duty to
speak what was in his mind calmly and without emotion.

"Yes, I do mind," he said. "I mind so much that I wouldn't trade what
has happened for all the gold in these mountains. I'm sorry because of
what happened back in the cottonwoods, but I wouldn't trade that,
either. I'm glad you're alive. I'm glad you're here. But something is
missing. You know what it is. You must tell me about yourself. It is the
only fair thing for you to do now."

She touched his arm with her hand. "Let us wait for tomorrow.
Please--let us wait."

"And then--tomorrow--"

"It is your right to question me and send me back if I am not welcome.
But not tonight. All this is too fine--just you--and your people--and
their happiness." He bent his head to catch her words, almost drowned by
the hissing of a sky-rocket and the popping of firecrackers. She nodded
toward the buildings beyond his cabin. "I am with Keok and Nawadlook.
They have given me a home." And then swiftly she added, "I don't think
you love your people more than I do, Alan Holt!"

Nawadlook was approaching, and with a lingering touch of her fingers on
his arm she drew away from him. His face did not show his
disappointment, nor did he make a movement to keep her with him.

"Your people are expecting things of you," she said. "A little later, if
you ask me, I may dance with you to the music of the tom-toms."

He watched her as she went away with Nawadlook. She looked back at him
and smiled, and there was something in her face which set his heart
beating faster. She had been afraid aboard the ship, but she was not
afraid of tomorrow. Thought of it and the questions he would ask did not
frighten her, and a happiness which he had persistently held away from
himself triumphed in a sudden, submerging flood. It was as if something
in her eyes and voice had promised him that the dreams he had dreamed
through weeks of torture and living death were coming true, and that
possibly in her ride over the tundra that night she had come a little
nearer to the truth of what those weeks had meant to him. Surely he
would never quite be able to tell her. And what she said to him tomorrow
would, in the end, make little difference. She was alive, and he could
not let her go away from him again.

He joined the tom-tom beaters and the dancers. It rather amazed him to
discover himself doing things which he had never done before. His nature
was an aloof one, observing and sympathetic, but always more or less
detached. At his people's dances it was his habit to stand on the
side-line, smiling and nodding encouragement, but never taking a part.
His habit of reserve fell from him now, and he seemed possessed of a new
sense of freedom and a new desire to give physical expression to
something within him. Stampede was dancing. He was kicking his feet and
howling with the men, while the women dancers went through the muscular
movements of arms and bodies. A chorus of voices invited Alan. They had
always invited him. And tonight he accepted, and took his place between
Stampede and Amuk Toolik and the tom-tom beaters almost burst their
instruments in their excitement. Not until he dropped out, half
breathless, did he see Mary Standish and Keok in the outer circle. Keok
was frankly amazed. Mary Standish's eyes were shining, and she clapped
her hands when she saw that he had observed her. He tried to laugh, and
waved his hand, but he felt too foolish to go to her. And then the
balloon went up, a big, six-foot balloon, and with all its fire made
only a pale glow in the sky, and after another hour of hand-shaking,
shoulder-clapping, and asking of questions about health and domestic
matters, Alan went to his cabin.

He looked about the one big room that was his living-room, and it never
had seemed quite so comforting as now. At first he thought it was as he
had left it, for there was his desk where it should be, the big table in
the middle of the room, the same pictures on the walls, his gun-rack
filled with polished weapons, his pipes, the rugs on the floor--and
then, one at a time, he began to observe things that were different. In
place of dark shades there were soft curtains at his windows, and new
covers on his table and the home-made couch in the corner. On his desk
were two pictures in copper-colored frames, one of George Washington and
the other of Abraham Lincoln, and behind them crisscrossed against the
wall just over the top of the desk, were four tiny American flags. They
recalled Alan's mind to the evening aboard the _Nome_ when Mary Standish
had challenged his assertion that he was an Alaskan and not an American.
Only she would have thought of those two pictures and the little flags.
There were flowers in his room, and she had placed them there. She must
have picked fresh flowers each day and kept them waiting the hour of his
coming, and she had thought of him in Tanana, where she had purchased
the cloth for the curtains and the covers. He went into his bedroom and
found new curtains at the window, a new coverlet on his bed, and a pair
of red morocco slippers that he had never seen before. He took them up
in his hands and laughed when he saw how she had misjudged the size
of his feet.

In the living-room he sat down and lighted his pipe, observing that
Keok's phonograph, which had been there earlier in the evening, was
gone. Outside, the noise of the celebration died away, and the growing
stillness drew him to the window from which he could see the cabin where
lived Keok and Nawadlook with their foster-father, the old and shriveled
Sokwenna. It was there Mary Standish had said she was staying. For a
long time Alan watched it while the final sounds of the night drifted
away into utter silence.

It was a knock at his door that turned him about at last, and in answer
to his invitation Stampede came in. He nodded and sat down. Shiftingly
his eyes traveled about the room.

"Been a fine night, Alan. Everybody glad to see you."

"They seemed to be. I'm happy to be home again."

"Mary Standish did a lot. She fixed up this room."

"I guessed as much," replied Alan. "Of course Keok and Nawadlook helped
her."

"Not very much. She did it. Made the curtains. Put them pictures and
flags there. Picked the flowers. Been nice an' thoughtful, hasn't she?"

"And somewhat unusual," added Alan.

"And she is pretty."

"Most decidedly so."

There was a puzzling look in Stampede's eyes. He twisted nervously in
his chair and waited for words. Alan sat down opposite him.

"What's on your mind, Stampede?"

"Hell, mostly," shot back Stampede with sudden desperation. "I've come
loaded down with a dirty job, and I've kept it back this long because I
didn't want to spoil your fun tonight. I guess a man ought to keep to
himself what he knows about a woman, but I'm thinking this is a little
different. I hate to do it. I'd rather take the chance of a snake-bite.
But you'd shoot me if you knew I was keeping it to myself."

"Keeping what to yourself?"

"The truth, Alan. It's up to me to tell you what I know about this young
woman who calls herself Mary Standish."



CHAPTER XVI

The physical sign of strain in Stampede's face, and the stolid effort he
was making to say something which it was difficult for him to put into
words, did not excite Alan as he waited for his companion's promised
disclosure. Instead of suspense he felt rather a sense of anticipation
and relief. What he had passed through recently had burned out of him a
certain demand upon human ethics which had been almost callous in its
insistence, and while he believed that something very real and very
stern in the way of necessity had driven Mary Standish north, he was now
anxious to be given the privilege of gripping with any force of
circumstance that had turned against her. He wanted to know the truth,
yet he had dreaded the moment when the girl herself must tell it to him,
and the fact that Stampede had in some way discovered this truth, and
was about to make disclosure of it, was a tremendous lightening of the
situation.

"Go on," he said at last. "What do you know about Mary Standish?"

Stampede leaned over the table, a gleam of distress in his eyes. "It's
rotten. I know it. A man who backslides on a woman the way I'm goin' to
oughta be shot, and if it was anything else--_anything_--I'd keep it to
myself. But you've got to know. And you can't understand just how rotten
it is, either; you haven't ridden in a coach with her during a storm
that was blowing the Pacific outa bed, an' you haven't hit the trail
with her all the way from Chitina to the Range as I did. If you'd done
that, Alan, you'd feel like killing a man who said anything
against her."

"I'm not inquiring into your personal affairs," reminded Alan. "It's
your own business."

"That's the trouble," protested Stampede. "It's not my business. It's
yours. If I'd guessed the truth before we hit the Range, everything
would have been different. I'd have rid myself of her some way. But I
didn't find out what she was until this evening, when I returned Keok's
music machine to their cabin. I've been trying to make up my mind what
to do ever since. If she was only making her get-away from the States, a
pickpocket, a coiner, somebody's bunco pigeon chased by the
police--almost anything--we could forgive her. Even if she'd shot up
somebody--" He made a gesture of despair. "But she didn't. She's worse
than that!"

He leaned a little nearer to Alan.

"She's one of John Graham's tools sent up here to sneak and spy on you,"
he finished desperately. "I'm sorry--but I've got the proof."

His hand crept over the top of the table; slowly the closed palm opened,
and when he drew it back, a crumpled paper lay between them. "Found it
on the floor when I took the phonograph back," he explained. "It was
twisted up hard. Don't know why I unrolled it. Just chance."

He waited until Alan had read the few words on the bit of paper,
watching closely the slight tensing of the other's face. After a moment
Alan dropped the paper, rose to his feet, and went to the window. There
was no longer a light in the cabin where Mary Standish had been accepted
as a guest. Stampede, too, had risen from his seat. He saw the sudden
and almost imperceptible shrug of Alan's shoulders.

It was Alan who spoke, after a half-mixture of silence. "Rather a
missing link, isn't it? Adds up a number of things fairly well. And I'm
grateful to you, Stampede. Almost--you didn't tell me."

"Almost," admitted Stampede.

"And I wouldn't have blamed you. She's that kind--the kind that makes
you feel anything said against her is a lie. And I'm going to believe
that paper is a lie--until tomorrow. Will you take a message to Tautuk
and Amuk Toolik when you go out? I'm having breakfast at seven. Tell
them to come to my cabin with their reports and records at eight. Later
I'm going up into the foothills to look over the herds."

Stampede nodded. It was a good fight on Alan's part, and it was just the
way he had expected him to take the matter. It made him rather ashamed
of the weakness and uncertainty to which he had confessed. Of course
they could do nothing with a woman; it wasn't a shooting business--yet.
But there was a debatable future, if the gist of the note on the table
ran true to their unspoken analysis of it. Promise of something like
that was in Alan's eyes.

He opened the door. "I'll have Tautuk and Amuk Toolik here at eight.
Good night, Alan!"

"Good night!"

Alan watched Stampede's figure until it had disappeared before he closed
the door.

Now that he was alone, he no longer made an effort to restrain the
anxiety which the prospector's unexpected revealment had aroused in him.
The other's footsteps were scarcely gone when he again had the paper in
his hand. It was clearly the lower part of a letter sheet of ordinary
business size and had been carelessly torn from the larger part of the
page, so that nothing more than the signature and half a dozen lines of
writing in a man's heavy script remained.

What was left of the letter which Alan would have given much to have
possessed, read as follows:

"_--If you work carefully and guard your real identity in securing facts
and information, we should have the entire industry in our hands
within a year_."

Under these words was the strong and unmistakable signature of John
Graham.

A score of times Alan had seen that signature, and the hatred he bore
for its maker, and the desire for vengeance which had entwined itself
like a fibrous plant through all his plans for the future, had made of
it an unforgetable writing in his brain. Now that he held in his hand
words written by his enemy, and the man who had been his father's enemy,
all that he had kept away from Stampede's sharp eyes blazed in a sudden
fury in his face. He dropped the paper as if it had been a thing
unclean, and his hands clenched until his knuckles snapped in the
stillness of the room, as he slowly faced the window through which a few
moments ago he had looked in the direction of Mary Standish's cabin.

So John Graham was keeping his promise, the deadly promise he had made
in the one hour of his father's triumph--that hour in which the elder
Holt might have rid the earth of a serpent if his hands had not revolted
in the last of those terrific minutes which he as a youth had witnessed.
And Mary Standish was the instrument he had chosen to work his ends!

In these first minutes Alan could not find a doubt with which to fend
the absoluteness of the convictions which were raging in his head, or
still the tumult that was in his heart and blood. He made no pretense to
deny the fact that John Graham must have written this letter to Mary
Standish; inadvertently she had kept it, had finally attempted to
destroy it, and Stampede, by chance, had discovered a small but
convincing remnant of it. In a whirlwind of thought he pieced together
things that had happened: her efforts to interest him from the
beginning, the determination with which she had held to her purpose, her
boldness in following him to the Range, and her apparent endeavor to
work herself into his confidence--and with John Graham's signature
staring at him from the table these things seemed conclusive and
irrefutable evidence. The "industry" which Graham had referred to could
mean only his own and Carl Lomen's, the reindeer industry which they had
built up and were fighting to perpetuate, and which Graham and his
beef-baron friends were combining to handicap and destroy. And in this
game of destruction clever Mary Standish had come to play a part!

_But why had she leaped into the sea?_

It was as if a new voice had made itself heard in Alan's brain, a voice
that rose insistently over a vast tumult of things, crying out against
his arguments and demanding order and reason in place of the mad
convictions that possessed him. If Mary Standish's mission was to pave
the way for his ruin, and if she was John Graham's agent sent for that
purpose, what reason could she have had for so dramatically attempting
to give the world the impression that she had ended her life at sea?
Surely such an act could in no way have been related with any plot which
she might have had against him! In building up this structure of her
defense he made no effort to sever her relationship with John Graham;
that, he knew, was impossible. The note, her actions, and many of the
things she had said were links inevitably associating her with his
enemy, but these same things, now that they came pressing one upon
another in his memory, gave to their collusion a new significance.

Was it conceivable that Mary Standish, instead of working for John
Graham, was working _against_ him? Could some conflict between them have
been the reason for her flight aboard the _Nome_, and was it because she
discovered Rossland there--John Graham's most trusted servant--that she
formed her desperate scheme of leaping into the sea?

Between the two oppositions of his thought a sickening burden of what he
knew to be true settled upon him. Mary Standish, even if she hated John
Graham now, had at one time--and not very long ago--been an instrument
of his trust; the letter he had written to her was positive proof of
that. What it was that had caused a possible split between them and had
inspired her flight from Seattle, and, later, her effort to bury a past
under the fraud of a make-believe death, he might never learn, and just
now he had no very great desire to look entirely into the whole truth of
the matter. It was enough to know that of the past, and of the things
that happened, she had been afraid, and it was in the desperation of
this fear, with Graham's cleverest agent at her heels, that she had
appealed to him in his cabin, and, failing to win him to her assistance,
had taken the matter so dramatically into her own hands. And within that
same hour a nearly successful attempt had been made upon Rossland's
life. Of course the facts had shown that she could not have been
directly responsible for his injury, but it was a haunting thing to
remember as happening almost simultaneously with her disappearance
into the sea.

He drew away from the window and, opening the door, went out into the
night. Cool breaths of air gave a crinkly rattle to the swinging paper
lanterns, and he could hear the soft whipping of the flags which Mary
Standish had placed over his cabin. There was something comforting in
the sound, a solace to the dishevelment of nerves he had suffered, a
reminder of their day in Skagway when she had walked at his side with
her hand resting warmly in his arm and her eyes and face filled with the
inspiration of the mountains.

No matter what she was, or had been, there was something tenaciously
admirable about her, a quality which had risen even above her feminine
loveliness. She had proved herself not only clever; she was inspired by
courage--a courage which he would have been compelled to respect even in
a man like John Graham, and in this slim and fragile girl it appealed to
him as a virtue to be laid up apart and aside from any of the motives
which might be directing it. From the beginning it had been a
bewildering part of her--a clean, swift, unhesitating courage that had
leaped bounds where his own volition and judgment would have hung
waveringly; that one courage in all the world--a woman's courage--which
finds in the effort of its achievement no obstacle too high and no abyss
too wide though death waits with outreaching arms on the other side.
And, surely, where there had been all this, there must also have been
some deeper and finer impulse than one of destruction, of physical gain,
or of mere duty in the weaving of a human scheme.

The thought and the desire to believe brought words half aloud from
Alan's lips, as he looked up again at the flags beating softly above his
cabin. Mary Standish was not what Stampede's discovery had proclaimed
her to be; there was some mistake, a monumental stupidity of reasoning
on their part, and tomorrow would reveal the littleness and the
injustice of their suspicions. He tried to force the conviction upon
himself, and reentering the cabin he went to bed, still telling himself
that a great lie had built itself up out of nothing, and that the God of
all things was good to him because Mary Standish was alive, and
not dead.



CHAPTER XVII

Alan slept soundly for several hours, but the long strain of the
preceding day did not make him overreach the time he had set for
himself, and he was up at six o'clock. Wegaruk had not forgotten her old
habits, and a tub filled with cold water was waiting for him. He bathed,
shaved himself, put on fresh clothes, and promptly at seven was at
breakfast. The table at which he ordinarily sat alone was in a little
room with double windows, through which, as he enjoyed his meals, he
could see most of the habitations of the range. Unlike the average
Eskimo dwellings they were neatly built of small timber brought down
from the mountains, and were arranged in orderly fashion like the
cottages of a village, strung out prettily on a single street. A sea of
flowers lay in front of them, and at the end of the row, built on a
little knoll that looked down into one of the watered hollows of the
tundra, was Sokwenna's cabin. Because Sokwenna was the "old man" of the
community and therefore the wisest--and because with him lived his
foster-daughters, Keok and Nawadlook, the loveliest of Alan's tribal
colony--Sokwenna's cabin was next to Alan's in size. And Alan, looking
at it now and then as he ate his breakfast, saw a thin spiral of smoke
rising from the chimney, but no other sign of life.

The sun was already up almost to its highest point, a little more than
half-way between the horizon and the zenith, performing the apparent
miracle of rising in the north and traveling east instead of west. Alan
knew the men-folk of the village had departed hours ago for the distant
herds. Always, when the reindeer drifted into the higher and cooler
feeding-grounds of the foothills, there was this apparent abandonment,
and after last night's celebration the women and children were not yet
awake to the activities of the long day, where the rising and setting of
the sun meant so little.

As he rose from the table, he glanced again toward Sokwenna's cabin. A
solitary figure had climbed up out of the ravine and stood against the
sun on the clough-top. Even at that distance, with the sun in his eyes,
he knew it was Mary Standish.

He turned his back stoically to the window and lighted his pipe. For
half an hour after that he sorted out his papers and range-books in
preparation for the coming of Tautuk and Amuk Toolik, and when they
arrived, the minute hand of his watch was at the hour of eight.

That the months of his absence had been prosperous ones he perceived by
the smiling eagerness in the brown faces of his companions as they
spread out the papers on which they had, in their own crude fashion,
set down a record of the winter's happenings. Tautuk's voice, slow and
very deliberate in its unfailing effort to master English without a
slip, had in it a subdued note of satisfaction and triumph, while Amuk
Toolik, who was quick and staccato in his manner of speech, using
sentences seldom of greater length than three or four words, and who
picked up slang and swear-words like a parrot, swelled with pride as he
lighted his pipe, and then rubbed his hands with a rasping sound that
always sent a chill up Alan's back.

"A ver' fine and prosper' year," said Tautuk in response to Alan's first
question as to general conditions. "We bean ver' fortunate."

"One hell-good year," backed up Amuk Toolik with the quickness of a gun.
"Plenty calf. Good hoof. Moss. Little wolf. Herds fat. This
year--she peach!"

After this opening of the matter in hand Alan buried himself in the
affairs of the range, and the old thrill, the glow which comes through
achievement, and the pioneer's pride in marking a new frontier with the
creative forces of success rose uppermost in him, and he forgot the
passing of time. A hundred questions he had to ask, and the tongues of
Tautuk and Amuk Toolik were crowded with the things they desired to tell
him. Their voices filled the room with a paean of triumph. His herds had
increased by a thousand head during the fawning months of April and May,
and interbreeding of the Asiatic stock with wild, woodland caribou had
produced a hundred calves of the super-animal whose flesh was bound to
fill the markets of the States within a few years. Never had the moss
been thicker under the winter snow; there had been no destructive fires;
soft-hoof had escaped them; breeding records had been beaten, and
dairying in the edge of the Arctic was no longer an experiment, but an
established fact, for Tautuk now had seven deer giving a pint and a half
of milk each twice a day, nearly as rich as the best of cream from
cattle, and more than twenty that were delivering from a cupful to a
pint at a milking. And to this Amuk Toolik added the amazing record of
their running-deer, Kauk, the three-year-old, had drawn a sledge five
miles over unbeaten snow in thirteen minutes and forty-seven seconds;
Kauk and Olo, in team, had drawn the same sledge ten miles in twenty-six
minutes and forty seconds, and one day he had driven the two
ninety-eight miles in a mighty endurance test; and with Eno and Sutka,
the first of their inter-breed with the wild woodland caribou, and
heavier beasts, he had drawn a load of eight hundred pounds for three
consecutive days at the rate of forty miles a day. From Fairbanks,
Tanana, and the ranges of the Seward Peninsula agents of the swiftly
spreading industry had offered as high as a hundred and ten dollars a
head for breeding stock with the blood of the woodland caribou, and of
these native and larger caribou of the tundras and forests seven young
bulls and nine female calves had been captured and added to their own
propagative forces.

For Alan this was triumph. He saw nothing of what it all meant in the
way of ultimate personal fortune. It was the earth under his feet, the
vast expanse of unpeopled waste traduced and scorned in the blindness of
a hundred million people, which he saw fighting itself on the glory and
reward of the conqueror through such achievement as this; a land
betrayed rising at last out of the slime of political greed and
ignorance; a giant irresistible in its awakening, that was destined in
his lifetime to rock the destiny of a continent. It was Alaska rising up
slowly but inexorably out of its eternity of sleep, mountain-sealed
forces of a great land that was once the cradle of the earth coming into
possession of life and power again; and his own feeble efforts in that
long and fighting process of planting the seeds which meant its ultimate
ascendancy possessed in themselves their own reward.

Long after Tautuk and Amuk Toolik had gone, his heart was filled with
the song of success.

He was surprised at the swiftness with which time had gone, when he
looked at his watch. It was almost dinner hour when he had finished with
his papers and books and went outside. He heard Wegaruk's voice coming
from the dark mouth of the underground icebox dug into the frozen
subsoil of the tundra, and pausing at the glimmer of his old
housekeeper's candle, he turned aside, descended the few steps, and
entered quietly into the big, square chamber eight feet under the
surface, where the earth had remained steadfastly frozen for some
hundreds of thousands of years. Wegaruk had a habit of talking when
alone, but Alan thought it odd that she should be explaining to herself
that the tundra-soil, in spite of its almost tropical summer richness
and luxuriance, never thawed deeper than three or four feet, below which
point remained the icy cold placed there so long ago that "even the
spirits did not know." He smiled when he heard Wegaruk measuring time
and faith in terms of "spirits," which she had never quite given up for
the missionaries, and was about to make his presence known when a voice
interrupted him, so close at his side that the speaker, concealed in the
shadow of the wall, could have reached out a hand and touched him.

"Good morning, Mr. Holt!"

It was Mary Standish, and he stared rather foolishly to make her out in
the gloom.

"Good morning," he replied. "I was on my way to your place when
Wegaruk's voice brought me here. You see, even this icebox seems like a
friend after my experience in the States. Are you after a steak, Mammy?"
he called.

Wegaruk's strong, squat figure turned as she answered him, and the light
from her candle, glowing brightly in a split tomato can, fell clearly
upon Mary Standish as the old woman waddled toward them. It was as if a
spotlight had been thrown upon the girl suddenly out of a pit of
darkness, and something about her, which was not her prettiness or the
beauty that was in her eyes and hair, sent a sudden and unaccountable
thrill through Alan. It remained with him when they drew back out of
gloom and chill into sunshine and warmth, leaving Wegaruk to snuff her
tomato-can lantern and follow with the steak, and it did not leave him
when they walked over the tundra together toward Sokwenna's cabin. It
was a puzzling thrill, stirring an emotion which it was impossible for
him to subdue or explain; something which he knew he should understand
but could not. And it seemed to him that knowledge of this mystery was
in the girl's face, glowing in a gentle embarrassment, as she told him
she had been expecting him, and that Keok and Nawadlook had given up the
cabin to them, so that he might question her uninterrupted. But with
this soft flush of her uneasiness, revealing itself in her eyes and
cheeks, he saw neither fear nor hesitation.

In the "big room" of Sokwenna's cabin, which was patterned after his
own, he sat down amid the color and delicate fragrance of masses of
flowers, and the girl seated herself near him and waited for him
to speak.

"You love flowers," he said lamely. "I want to thank you for the flowers
you placed in my cabin. And the other things."

"Flowers are a habit with me," she replied, "and I have never seen such
flowers as these. Flowers--and birds. I never dreamed that there were
so many up here."

"Nor the world," he added. "It is ignorant of Alaska."

He was looking at her, trying to understand the inexplicable something
about her. She knew what was in his mind, because the strangely
thrilling emotion that possessed him could not keep its betrayal from
his eyes. The color was fading slowly out of her cheeks; her lips grew a
little tense, yet in her attitude of suspense and of waiting there was
no longer a suspicion of embarrassment, no trace of fear, and no sign
that a moment was at hand when her confidence was on the ebb. In this
moment Alan did not think of John Graham. It seemed to him that she was
like a child again, the child who had come to him in his cabin, and who
had stood with her back against his cabin door, entreating him to
achieve the impossible; an angel, almost, with her smooth, shining hair,
her clear, beautiful eyes, her white throat which waited with its little
heart-throb for him to beat down the fragile defense which now lay in
the greater power of his own hands. The inequality of it, and the
pitilessness of what had been in his mind to say and do, together with
an inundating sense of his own brute mastery, swept over him, and in
sudden desperation he reached out his hands toward her and cried:

"Mary Standish, in God's name tell me the truth. Tell me why you have
come up here!"

"I have come," she said, looking at him steadily, "because I know that
a man like you, when he loves a woman, will fight for her and protect
her even though he may not possess her."

"But you didn't know that--not until--the cottonwoods!" he protested.

"Yes, I did. I knew it in Ellen McCormick's cabin."

She rose slowly before him, and he, too, rose to his feet, staring at
her like a man who had been struck, while intelligence--a dawning
reason--an understanding of the strange mystery of her that morning,
sent the still greater thrill of its shock through him. He gave an
exclamation of amazement.

"You were at Ellen McCormick's! She gave you--_that!_"

She nodded. "Yes, the dress you brought from the ship. Please don't
scold me, Mr. Holt. Be a little kind with me when you have heard what I
am going to tell you. I was in the cabin that last day, when you
returned from searching for me in the sea. Mr. McCormick didn't know.
But _she_ did. I lied a little, just a little, so that she, being a
woman, would promise not to tell you I was there. You see, I had lost a
great deal of my faith, and my courage was about gone, and I was
afraid of you."

"Afraid of me?"

"Yes, afraid of everybody. I was in the room behind Ellen McCormick when
she asked you--that question; and when you answered as you did, I was
like stone. I was amazed and didn't believe, for I was certain that
after what had happened on the ship you despised me, and only through a
peculiar sense of honor were making the search for me. Not until two
days later, when your letters came to Ellen McCormick, and we
read them--"

"You opened both?"

"Of course. One was to be read immediately, the other when I was
found--and I had found myself. Maybe it wasn't exactly fair, but you
couldn't expect two women to resist a temptation like that. And--_I
wanted to know_."

She did not lower her eyes or turn her head aside as she made the
confession. Her gaze met Alan's with beautiful steadiness.

"And then I believed. I knew, because of what you said in that letter,
that you were the one man in all the world who would help me and give me
a fighting chance if I came to you. But it has taken all my courage--and
in the end you will drive me away--"

Again he looked upon the miracle of tears in wide-open, unfaltering
eyes, tears which she did not brush away, but through which, in a
moment, she smiled at him as no woman had ever smiled at him before. And
with the tears there seemed to possess her a pride which lifted her
above all confusion, a living spirit of will and courage and womanhood
that broke away the dark clouds of suspicion and fear that had gathered
in his mind. He tried to speak, and his lips were thick.

"You have come--because you know I love you, and you--"

"Because, from the beginning, it must have been a great faith in you
that inspired me, Alan Holt."

"There must have been more than that," he persisted. "Some other
reason."

"Two," she acknowledged, and now he noticed that with the dissolution of
tears a flush of color was returning into her cheeks.

"And those--"

"One it is impossible for you to know; the other, if I tell you, will
make you despise me. I am sure of that."

"It has to do with John Graham?"

She bowed her head. "Yes, with John Graham."

For the first time long lashes hid her eyes from him, and for a moment
it seemed that her resolution was gone and she stood stricken by the
import of the thing that lay behind his question; yet her cheeks flamed
red instead of paling, and when she looked at him again, her eyes burned
with a lustrous fire.

"John Graham," she repeated. "The man you hate and want to kill."

Slowly he turned toward the door. "I am leaving immediately after dinner
to inspect the herds up in the foothills," he said. "And you--_are
welcome here_."

He caught the swift intake of her breath as he paused for an instant at
the door, and saw the new light that leaped into her eyes.

"Thank you, Alan Holt," she cried softly, "_Oh, I thank you!_!"

And then, suddenly, she stopped him with a little cry, as if at last
something had broken away from her control. He faced her, and for a
moment they stood in silence.

"I'm sorry--sorry I said to you what I did that night on the _Nome_,"
she said. "I accused you of brutality, of unfairness, of--of even worse
than that, and I want to take it all back. You are big and clean and
splendid, for you would go away now, knowing I am poisoned by an
association with the man who has injured you so terribly, _and you say I
am welcome!_ And I don't want you to go. You have made me _want_ to tell
you who I am, and why I have come to you, and I pray God you will think
as kindly of me as you can when you have heard."



CHAPTER XVIII

It seemed to Alan that in an instant a sudden change had come over the
world. There was silence in the cabin, except for the breath which came
like a sob to the girl's lips as she turned to the window and looked out
into the blaze of golden sunlight that filled the tundra. He heard
Tautuk's voice, calling to Keok away over near the reindeer corral, and
he heard clearly Keok's merry laughter as she answered him. A
gray-cheeked thrush flew up to the roof of Sokwenna's cabin and began to
sing. It was as if these things had come as a message to both of them,
relieving a tension, and significant of the beauty and glory and undying
hope of life. Mary Standish turned from the window with shining eyes.

"Every day the thrush comes and sings on our cabin roof," she said.

"It is--possibly--because you are here," he replied.

She regarded him seriously. "I have thought of that. You know, I have
faith in a great many unbelievable things. I can think of nothing more
beautiful than the spirit that lives in the heart of a bird. I am sure,
if I were dying, I would like to have a bird singing near me.
Hopelessness cannot be so deep that bird-song will not reach it."

He nodded, trying to answer in that way. He felt uncomfortable. She
closed the door which he had left partly open, and made a little gesture
for him to resume the chair which he had left a few moments before. She
seated herself first and smiled at him wistfully, half regretfully,
as she said:

"I have been very foolish. What I am going to tell you now I should have
told you aboard the _Nome_. But I was afraid. Now I am not afraid, but
ashamed, terribly ashamed, to let you know the truth. And yet I am not
sorry it happened so, because otherwise I would not have come up here,
and all this--your world, your people, and you--have meant a great deal
to me. You will understand when I have made my confession."

"No, I don't want that," he protested almost roughly. "I don't want you
to put it that way. If I can help you, and if you wish to tell me as a
friend, that's different. I don't want a confession, which would imply
that I have no faith in you."

"And you have faith in me?"

"Yes; so much that the sun will darken and bird-song never seem the same
if I lose you again, as I thought I had lost you from the ship."

"Oh, _you mean that_!"

The words came from her in a strange, tense, little cry, and he seemed
to see only her eyes as he looked at her face, pale as the petals of
the tundra daises behind her. With the thrill of what he had dared to
say tugging at his heart, he wondered why she was so white.

"You mean that," her lips repeated slowly, "after all that has
happened--even after--that part of a letter--which Stampede brought to
you last night--"

He was surprised. How had she discovered what he thought was a secret
between himself and Stampede? His mind leaped to a conclusion, and she
saw it written in his face.

"No, it wasn't Stampede," she said. "He didn't tell me. It--just
happened. And after this letter--you still believe in me?"

"I must. I should be unhappy if I did not. And I am--most perversely
hoping for happiness. I have told myself that what I saw over John
Graham's signature was a lie."

"It wasn't that--quite. But it didn't refer to you, or to me. It was
part of a letter written to Rossland. He sent me some books while I was
on the ship, and inadvertently left a page of this letter in one of them
as a marker. It was really quite unimportant, when one read the whole of
it. The other half of the page is in the toe of the slipper which you
did not return to Ellen McCormick. You know that is the conventional
thing for a woman to do--to use paper for padding in a soft-toed
slipper."

He wanted to shout; he wanted to throw up his arms and laugh as Tautuk
and Amuk Toolik and a score of others had laughed to the beat of the
tom-toms last night, not because he was amused, but out of sheer
happiness. But Mary Standish's voice, continuing in its quiet and
matter-of-fact way, held him speechless, though she could not fail to
see the effect upon him of this simple explanation of the presence of
Graham's letter.

"I was in Nawadlook's room when I saw Stampede pick up the wad of paper
from the floor," she was saying. "I was looking at the slipper a few
minutes before, regretting that you had left its mate in my cabin on the
ship, and the paper must have dropped then. I saw Stampede read it, and
the shock that came in his face. Then he placed it on the table and went
out. I hurried to see what he had found and had scarcely read the few
words when I heard him returning. I returned the paper where he had laid
it, hid myself in Nawadlook's room, and saw Stampede when he carried it
to you. I don't know why I allowed it to be done. I had no reason. Maybe
it was just--intuition, and maybe it was because--just in that hour--I
so hated myself that I wanted someone to flay me alive, and I thought
that what Stampede had found would make you do it. And I deserve it! I
deserve nothing better at your hands."

"But it isn't true," he protested. "The letter was to Rossland."

There was no responsive gladness in her eyes. "Better that it were true,
and all that _is_ true were false," she said in a quiet, hopeless
voice. "I would almost give my life to be no more than what those words
implied, dishonest, a spy, a criminal of a sort; almost any alternative
would I accept in place of what I actually am. Do you begin to
understand?"

"I am afraid--I can not." Even as he persisted in denial, the pain which
had grown like velvety dew in her eyes clutched at his heart, and he
felt dread of what lay behind it. "I understand--only--that I am glad
you are here, more glad than yesterday, or this morning, or an
hour ago."

She bowed her head, so that the bright light of day made a radiance of
rich color in her hair, and he saw the sudden tremble of the shining
lashes that lay against her cheeks; and then, quickly, she caught her
breath, and her hands grew steady in her lap.

"Would you mind--if I asked you first--to tell me _your_ story of John
Graham?" she spoke softly. "I know it, a little, but I think it would
make everything easier if I could hear it from you--now."

He stood up and looked down upon her where she sat, with the light
playing in her hair; and then he moved to the window, and back, and she
had not changed her position, but was waiting for him to speak. She
raised her eyes, and the question her lips had formed was glowing in
them as clearly as if she had voiced it again in words. A desire rose in
him to speak to her as he had never spoken to another human being, and
to reveal for her--and for her alone--the thing that had harbored
itself in his soul for many years. Looking up at him, waiting, partial
understanding softening her sweet face, a dusky glow in her eyes, she
was so beautiful that he cried out softly and then laughed in a strange
repressed sort of way as he half held out his arms toward her.

"I think I know how my father must have loved my mother," he said. "But
I can't make you feel it. I can't hope for that. She died when I was so
young that she remained only as a beautiful dream for me. But for my
father she _never_ died, and as I grew older she became more and more
alive for me, so that in our journeys we would talk about her as if she
were waiting for us back home and would welcome us when we returned. And
never could my father remain away from the place where she was buried
very long at a time. He called it _home_, that little cup at the foot of
the mountain, with the waterfall singing in summer, and a paradise of
birds and flowers keeping her company, and all the great, wild world she
loved about her. There was the cabin, too; the little cabin where I was
born, with its back to the big mountain, and filled with the handiwork
of my mother as she had left it when she died. And my father too used to
laugh and sing there--he had a clear voice that would roll half-way up
the mountain; and as I grew older the miracle at times stirred me with a
strange fear, so real to my father did my dead mother seem when he was
home. But you look frightened, Miss Standish! Oh, it may seem weird and
ghostly now, but it was _true_--so true that I have lain awake nights
thinking of it and wishing that it had never been so!"

"Then you have wished a great sin," said the girl in a voice that seemed
scarcely to whisper between her parted lips. "I hope someone will feel
toward me--some day--like that."

"But it was this which brought the tragedy, the thing you have asked me
to tell you about," he said, unclenching his hands slowly, and then
tightening them again until the blood ebbed from their veins. "Interests
were coming in; the tentacles of power and greed were reaching out,
encroaching steadily a little nearer to our cup at the foot of the
mountain. But my father did not dream of what might happen. It came in
the spring of the year he took me on my first trip to the States, when I
was eighteen. We were gone five months, and they were five months of
hell for him. Day and night he grieved for my mother and the little home
under the mountain. And when at last we came back--"

He turned again to the window, but he did not see the golden sun of the
tundra or hear Tautuk calling from the corral.

"When we came back," he repeated in a cold, hard voice, "a construction
camp of a hundred men had invaded my father's little paradise. The cabin
was gone; a channel had been cut from the waterfall, and this channel
ran where my mother's grave had been. They had treated it with that
same desecration with which they have destroyed ten thousand Indian
graves since then. Her bones were scattered in the sand and mud. And
from the moment my father saw what had happened, never another sun rose
in the heavens for him. His heart died, yet he went on living--for
a time."

Mary Standish had bowed her face in her hands. He saw the tremor of her
slim shoulders; and when he came back, and she looked up at him, it was
as if he beheld the pallid beauty of one of the white tundra flowers.

"And the man who committed that crime--was John Graham," she said, in
the strangely passionless voice of one who knew what his answer
would be.

"Yes, John Graham. He was there, representing big interests in the
States. The foreman had objected to what happened; many of the men had
protested; a few of them, who knew my father, had thrown up their work
rather than be partners to that crime. But Graham had the legal power;
they say he laughed as if he thought it a great joke that a cabin and a
grave should be considered obstacles in his way. And he laughed when my
father and I went to see him; yes, _laughed_, in that noiseless, oily,
inside way of his, as you might think of a snake laughing.

"We found him among the men. My God, you don't know how I hated
him!--Big, loose, powerful, dangling the watch-fob that hung over his
vest, and looking at my father in that way as he told him what a fool
he was to think a worthless grave should interfere with his work. I
wanted to kill him, but my father put a hand on my shoulder, a quiet,
steady hand, and said: 'It is my duty, Alan. _My duty_.'

"And then--it happened. My father was older, much older than Graham, but
God put such strength in him that day as I had never seen before, and
with his naked hands he would have killed the brute if I had not
unlocked them with my own. Before all his men Graham became a mass of
helpless pulp, and from the ground, with the last of the breath that was
in him, he cursed my father, and he cursed me. He said that all the days
of his life he would follow us, until we paid a thousand times for what
we had done. And then my father dragged him as he would have dragged a
rat to the edge of a piece of bush, and there he tore his clothes from
him until the brute was naked; and in that nakedness he scourged him
with whips until his arms were weak, and John Graham was unconscious and
like a great hulk of raw beef. When it was over, we went into the
mountains."

During the terrible recital Mary Standish had not looked away from him,
and now her hands were clenched like his own, and her eyes and face were
aflame, as if she wanted to leap up and strike at something unseen
between them.

"And after that, Alan; after that--"

She did not know that she had spoken his name, and he, hearing it,
scarcely understood.

"John Graham kept his promise," he answered grimly. "The influence and
money behind him haunted us wherever we went. My father had been
successful, but one after another the properties in which he was
interested were made worthless. A successful mine in which he was most
heavily interested was allowed to become abandoned. A hotel which he
partly owned in Dawson was bankrupted. One after another things
happened, and after each happening my father would receive a polite note
of regret from Graham, written as if the word actually came from a
friend. But my father cared little for money losses now. His heart was
drying up and his life ebbing away for the little cabin and the grave
that were gone from the foot of the mountain. It went on this way for
three years, and then, one morning, my father was found on the beach at
Nome, dead."

"_Dead_!"

Alan heard only the gasping breath in which the word came from Mary
Standish, for he was facing the window, looking steadily away from her.

"Yes--murdered. I know it was the work of John Graham. He didn't do it
personally, but it was _his money_ that accomplished the end. Of course
nothing ever came of it. I won't tell you how his influence and power
have dogged me; how they destroyed the first herd of reindeer I had, and
how they filled the newspapers with laughter and lies about me when I
was down in the States last winter in an effort to make _your_ people
see a little something of the truth about Alaska. I am waiting. I know
the day is coming when I shall have John Graham as my father had him
under our mountain twenty years ago. He must be fifty now. But that
won't save him when the time comes. No one will loosen my hands as I
loosened my father's. And all Alaska will rejoice, for his power and his
money have become twin monsters that are destroying Alaska just as he
destroyed the life of my father. Unless he dies, and his money-power
ends, he will make of this great land nothing more than a shell out of
which he and his kind have taken all the meat. And the hour of deadliest
danger is now upon us."

He looked at Mary Standish, and it was as if death had come to her where
she sat. She seemed not to breathe, and her face was so white it
frightened him. And then, slowly, she turned her eyes upon him, and
never had he seen such living pools of torture and of horror. He was
amazed at the quietness of her voice when she began to speak, and
startled by the almost deadly coldness of it.

"I think you can understand--now--why I leaped into the sea, why I
wanted the world to think I was dead, and why I have feared to tell you
the truth," she said. "_I am John Graham's wife._"



CHAPTER XIX

Alan's first thought was of the monstrous incongruity of the thing, the
almost physical impossibility of a mésalliance of the sort Mary Standish
had revealed to him. He saw her, young and beautiful, with face and eyes
that from the beginning had made him feel all that was good and sweet in
life, and behind her he saw the shadow-hulk of John Graham, the pitiless
iron-man, without conscience and without soul, coarsened by power,
fiendish in his iniquities, and old enough to be her father!

A slow smile twisted his lips, but he did not know he smiled. He pulled
himself together without letting her see the physical part of the effort
it was taking. And he tried to find something to say that would help
clear her eyes of the agony that was in them.

"That--is a most unreasonable thing--to be true," he said.

It seemed to him his lips were making words out of wood, and that the
words were fatuously inefficient compared with what he should have said,
or acted, under the circumstances.

She nodded. "It is. But the world doesn't look at it in that way. Such
things just happen."

She reached for a book which lay on the table where the tundra daisies
were heaped. It was a book written around the early phases of pioneer
life in Alaska, taken from his own library, a volume of statistical
worth, dryly but carefully written--and she had been reading it. It
struck him as a symbol of the fight she was making, of her courage, and
of her desire to triumph in the face of tremendous odds that must have
beset her. He still could not associate her completely with John Graham.
Yet his face was cold and white.

Her hand trembled a little as she opened the book and took from it a
newspaper clipping. She did not speak as she unfolded it and gave it
to him.

At the top of two printed columns was the picture of a young
and beautiful girl; in an oval, covering a small space over the
girl's shoulder, was a picture of a man of fifty or so. Both were
strangers to him. He read their names, and then the headlines. "A
Hundred-Million-Dollar Love" was the caption, and after the word love
was a dollar sign. Youth and age, beauty and the other thing, two great
fortunes united. He caught the idea and looked at Mary Standish. It was
impossible for him to think of her as Mary Graham.

"I tore that from a paper in Cordova," she said. "They have nothing to
do with me. The girl lives in Texas. But don't you see something in her
eyes? Can't you see it, even in the picture? She has on her wedding
things. But it seemed to me--when I saw her face--that in her eyes were
agony and despair and hopelessness, and that she was bravely trying to
hide them from the world. It's just another proof, one of thousands,
that such unreasonable things do happen."

He was beginning to feel a dull and painless sort of calm, the stoicism
which came to possess him whenever he was confronted by the inevitable.
He sat down, and with his head bowed over it took one of the limp,
little hands that lay in Mary Standish's lap. The warmth had gone out of
it. It was cold and lifeless. He caressed it gently and held it between
his brown, muscular hands, staring at it, and yet seeing nothing in
particular. It was only the ticking of Keok's clock that broke the
silence for a time. Then he released the hand, and it dropped in the
girl's lap again. She had been looking steadily at the streak of gray in
his hair. And a light came into her eyes, a light which he did not see,
and a little tremble of her lips, and an almost imperceptible
inclination of her head toward him.

"I'm sorry I didn't know," he said. "I realize now how you must have
felt back there in the cottonwoods."

"No, you don't realize--_you don't!_" she protested.

In an instant, it seemed to him, a vibrant, flaming life swept over her
again. It was as if his words had touched fire to some secret thing, as
if he had unlocked a door which grim hopelessness had closed. He was
amazed at the swiftness with which color came into her cheeks.

"You don't understand, and I am determined that you _shall_," she went
on. "I would die before I let you go away thinking what is now in your
mind. You will despise me, but I would rather be hated for the truth
than because of the horrible thing which you must believe if I remain
silent." She forced a wan smile to her lips. "You know, Belinda
Mulrooneys were very well in their day, but they don't fit in now, do
they? If a woman makes a mistake and tries to remedy it in a fighting
sort of way, as Belinda Mulrooney might have done back in the days when
Alaska was young--"

She finished with a little gesture of despair.

"I have committed a great folly," she said, hesitating an instant in his
silence. "I see very clearly now the course I should have taken. You
will advise me that it is still not too late when you have heard what I
am going to say. Your face is like--a rock."

"It is because your tragedy is mine," he said.

She turned her eyes from him. The color in her cheeks deepened. It was a
vivid, feverish glow. "I was born rich, enormously, hatefully rich," she
said in the low, unimpassioned voice of a confessional. "I don't
remember father or mother. I lived always with my Grandfather Standish
and my Uncle Peter Standish. Until I was thirteen I had my Uncle Peter,
who was grandfather's brother, and lived with us. I worshiped Uncle
Peter. He was a cripple. From young manhood he had lived in a
wheel-chair, and he was nearly seventy-five when he died. As a baby that
wheel-chair, and my rides in it with him about the great house in which
we lived, were my delights. He was my father and mother, everything that
was good and sweet in life. I remember thinking, as a child, that if God
was as good as Uncle Peter, He was a wonderful God. It was Uncle Peter
who told me, year after year, the old stories and legends of the
Standishes. And he was always happy--always happy and glad and seeing
nothing but sunshine though he hadn't stood on his feet for nearly sixty
years. And my Uncle Peter died when I was thirteen, five days before my
birthday came. I think he must have been to me what your father was
to you."

He nodded. There was something that was not the hardness of rock in his
face now, and John Graham seemed to have faded away.

"I was left, then, alone with my Grandfather Standish," she went on. "He
didn't love me as my Uncle Peter loved me, and I don't think I loved
him. But I was proud of him. I thought the whole world must have stood
in awe of him, as I did. As I grew older I learned the world _was_
afraid of him--bankers, presidents, even the strongest men in great
financial interests; afraid of him, and of his partners, the Grahams,
and of Sharpleigh, who my Uncle Peter had told me was the cleverest
lawyer in the nation, and who had grown up in the business of the two
families. My grandfather was sixty-eight when Uncle Peter died, so it
was John Graham who was the actual working force behind the combined
fortunes of the two families. Sometimes, as I now recall it, Uncle Peter
was like a little child. I remember how he tried to make me understand
just how big my grandfather's interests were by telling me that if two
dollars were taken from every man, woman, and child in the United
States, it would just about add up to what he and the Grahams possessed,
and my Grandfather Standish's interests were three-quarters of the
whole. I remember how a hunted look would come into my Uncle Peter's
face at times when I asked him how all this money was used, and where it
was. And he never answered me as I wanted to be answered, and I never
understood. I didn't know _why_ people feared my grandfather and John
Graham. I didn't know of the stupendous power my grandfather's money had
rolled up for them. I didn't know"--her voice sank to a shuddering
whisper--"I didn't know how they were using it in Alaska, for instance.
I didn't know it was feeding upon starvation and ruin and death. I don't
think even Uncle Peter knew _that_."

She looked at Alan steadily, and her gray eyes seemed burning up with a
slow fire.

"Why, even then, before Uncle Peter died, I had become one of the
biggest factors in all their schemes. It was impossible for me to
suspect that John Graham was _anticipating_ a little girl of thirteen,
and I didn't guess that my Grandfather Standish, so straight, so grandly
white of beard and hair, so like a god of power when he stood among men,
was even then planning that I should be given to him, so that a
monumental combination of wealth might increase itself still more in
that juggernaut of financial achievement for which he lived. And to
bring about my sacrifice, to make sure it would not fail, they set
Sharpleigh to the task, because Sharpleigh was sweet and good of face,
and gentle like Uncle Peter, so that I loved him and had confidence in
him, without a suspicion that under his white hair lay a brain which
matched in cunning and mercilessness that of John Graham himself. And he
did his work well, Alan."

A second time she had spoken his name, softly and without embarrassment.
With her nervous fingers tying and untying the two corners of a little
handkerchief in her lap, she went on, after a moment of silence in which
the ticking of Keok's clock seemed tense and loud.

"When I was seventeen, Grandfather Standish died. I wish you could
understand all that followed without my telling you: how I clung to
Sharpleigh as a father, how I trusted him, and how cleverly and gently
he educated me to the thought that it was right and just, and my
greatest duty in life, to carry out the stipulation of my grandfather's
will and marry John Graham. Otherwise, he told me--if that union was
not brought about before I was twenty-two--not a dollar of the great
fortune would go to the house of Standish; and because he was clever
enough to know that money alone would not urge me, he showed me a letter
which he said my Uncle Peter had written, and which I was to read on my
seventeenth birthday, and in that letter Uncle Peter urged me to live up
to the Standish name and join in that union of the two great fortunes
which he and Grandfather Standish had always planned. I didn't dream the
letter was a forgery. And in the end they won--and I promised."

She sat with bowed head, crumpling the bit of cambric between her
fingers. "Do you despise me?" she asked.

"No," he replied in a tense, unimpassioned voice. "I love you."

She tried to look at him calmly and bravely. In his face again lay the
immobility of rock, and in his eyes a sullen, slumbering fire.

"I promised," she repeated quickly, as if regretting the impulse that
had made her ask him the question. "But it was to be business, a cold,
unsentimental business. I disliked John Graham. Yet I would marry him.
In the eyes of the law I would be his wife; in the eyes of the world I
would remain his wife--but never more than that. They agreed, and I in
my ignorance believed.

"I didn't see the trap. I didn't see the wicked triumph in John
Graham's heart. No power could have made me believe then that he wanted
to possess only _me_; that he was horrible enough to want me even
without love; that he was a great monster of a spider, and I the fly
lured into his web. And the agony of it was that in all the years since
Uncle Peter died I had dreamed strange and beautiful dreams. I lived in
a make-believe world of my own, and I read, read, read; and the thought
grew stronger and stronger in me that I had lived another life
somewhere, and that I belonged back in the years when the world was
clean, and there was love, and vast reaches of land wherein money and
power were little guessed of, and where romance and the glory of manhood
and womanhood rose above all other things. Oh, I wanted these things,
and yet because others had molded me, and because of my misguided
Standish sense of pride and honor, I was shackling myself to
John Graham.

"In the last months preceding my twenty-second birthday I learned more
of the man than I had ever known before; rumors came to me; I
investigated a little, and I began to find the hatred, and the reason
for it, which has come to me so conclusively here in Alaska. I almost
knew, at the last, that he was a monster, but the world had been told I
was to marry him, and Sharpleigh with his fatherly hypocrisy was behind
me, and John Graham treated me so courteously and so coolly that I did
not suspect the terrible things in his heart and mind--and I went on
with the bargain. _I married him._"

She drew a sudden, deep breath, as if she had passed through the ordeal
of what she had most dreaded to say, and now, meeting the changeless
expression of Alan's face with a fierce, little cry that leaped from her
like a flash of gun-fire, she sprang to her feet and stood with her back
crushed against the tundra flowers, her voice trembling as she
continued, while he stood up and faced her.

"You needn't go on," he interrupted in a voice so low and terribly hard
that she felt the menacing thrill of it. "You needn't. I will settle
with John Graham, if God gives me the chance."

"You would have me stop _now_--before I have told you of the only shred
of triumph to which I may lay claim!" she protested. "Oh, you may be
sure that I realize the sickening folly and wickedness of it all, but I
swear before my God that I didn't realize it then, until it was too
late. To you, Alan, clean as the great mountains and plains that have
been a part of you, I know how impossible this must seem--that I should
marry a man I at first feared, then loathed, then came to hate with a
deadly hatred; that I should sacrifice myself because I thought it was a
duty; that I should be so weak, so ignorant, so like soft clay in the
hands of those I trusted. Yet I tell you that at no time did I think or
suspect that I was sacrificing _myself_; at no time, blind though you
may call me, did I see a hint of that sickening danger into which I was
voluntarily going. No, not even an hour before the wedding did I suspect
that, for it had all been so coldly planned, like a great deal in
finance--so carefully adjudged by us all as a business affair, that I
felt no fear except that sickness of soul which comes of giving up one's
life. And no hint of it came until the last of the few words were spoken
which made us man and wife, and then I saw in John Graham's eyes
something which I had never seen there before. And Sharpleigh--"

Her hands caught at her breast. Her gray eyes were pools of flame.

"I went to my room. I didn't lock my door, because never had it been
necessary to do that. I didn't cry. No, I didn't cry. But something
strange was happening to me which tears might have prevented. It seemed
to me there were many walls to my room; I was faint; the windows seemed
to appear and disappear, and in that sickness I reached my bed. Then I
saw the door open, and John Graham came in, and closed the door behind
him, and locked it. My room. He had come into _my room!_ The
unexpectedness of it--the horror--the insult roused me from my stupor. I
sprang up to face him, and there he stood, within arm's reach of me, a
look in his face which told me at last the truth which I had failed to
suspect--or fear. His arms were reaching out--

"'You are my wife,' he said.

"Oh, I knew, then. '_You are my wife_,' he repeated. I wanted to
scream, but I couldn't; and then--then--his arms reached me; I felt them
crushing around me like the coils of a great snake; the poison of his
lips was at my face--and I believed that I was lost, and that no power
could save me in this hour from the man who had come to my room--the man
who was my husband. I think it was Uncle Peter who gave me voice, who
put the right words in my brain, who made me laugh--yes, laugh, and
almost caress him with my hands. The change in me amazed him, stunned
him, and he freed me--while I told him that in these first few hours of
wifehood I wanted to be alone, and that he should come to me that
evening, and that I would be waiting for him. And I smiled at him as I
said these things, smiled while I wanted to kill him, and he went, a
great, gloating, triumphant beast, believing that the obedience of
wifehood was about to give him what he had expected to find through
dishonor--and I was left alone.

"I thought of only one thing then--escape. I saw the truth. It swept
over me, inundated me, roared in my ears. All that I had ever lived with
Uncle Peter came back to me. This was not his world; it had never
been--and it was not mine. It was, all at once, a world of monsters. I
wanted never to face it again, never to look into the eyes of those I
had known. And even as these thoughts and desires swept upon me, I was
filling a traveling bag in a fever of madness, and Uncle Peter was at my
side, urging me to hurry, telling me I had no minutes to lose, for the
man who had left me was clever and might guess the truth that lay hid
behind my smiles and cajolery.

"I stole out through the back of the house, and as I went I heard
Sharpleigh's low laughter in the library. It was a new kind of laughter,
and with it I heard John Graham's voice. I was thinking only of the
sea--to get away on the sea. A taxi took me to my bank, and I drew
money. I went to the wharves, intent only on boarding a ship, any ship,
and it seemed to me that Uncle Peter was leading me; and we came to a
great ship that was leaving for Alaska--and you know--what happened
then--Alan Holt."

With a sob she bowed her face in her hands, but only an instant it was
there, and when she looked at Alan again, there were no tears in her
eyes, but a soft glory of pride and exultation.

"I am clean of John Graham," she cried. "_Clean!_"

He stood twisting his hands, twisting them in a helpless, futile sort of
way, and it was he, and not the girl, who felt like bowing his head that
the tears might come unseen. For her eyes were bright and shining and
clear as stars.

"Do you despise me now?"

"I love you," he said again, and made no movement toward her.

"I am glad," she whispered, and she did not look at him, but at the
sunlit plain which lay beyond the window.

"And Rossland was on the _Nome_, and saw you, and sent word back to
Graham," he said, fighting to keep himself from going nearer to her.

She nodded. "Yes; and so I came to you, and failing there, I leaped into
the sea, for I wanted them to think I was dead."

"And Rossland was hurt."

"Yes. Strangely. I heard of it in Cordova. Men like Rossland frequently
come to unexpected ends."

He went to the door which she had closed, and opened it, and stood
looking toward the blue billows of the foothills with the white crests
of the mountains behind them. She came, after a moment, and stood
beside him.

"I understand," she said softly, and her hand lay in a gentle touch upon
his arm. "You are trying to see some way out, and you can see only one.
That is to go back, face the creatures I hate, regain my freedom in the
old way. And I, too, can see no other way. I came on impulse; I must
return with impulse and madness burned out of me. And I am sorry. I
dread it. I--would rather die."

"And I--" he began, then caught himself and pointed to the distant hills
and mountains. "The herds are there," he said. "I am going to them. I
may be gone a week or more. Will you promise me to be here when
I return?"

"Yes, if that is your desire."

"It is."

She was so near that his lips might have touched her shining hair.

"And when you return, I must go. That will be the only way."

"I think so."

"It will be hard. It may be, after all, that I am a coward. But to face
all that--alone--"

"You won't be alone," he said quietly, still looking at the far-away
hills. "If you go, I am going with you."

It seemed as if she had stopped breathing for a moment at his side, and
then, with a little, sobbing cry she drew away from him and stood at the
half-opened door of Nawadlook's room, and the glory in her eyes was the
glory of his dreams as he had wandered with her hand in hand over the
tundras in those days of grief and half-madness when he had thought
she was dead.

"I am glad I was in Ellen McCormick's cabin the day you came," she was
saying. "And I thank God for giving me the madness and courage to come
to _you_. I am not afraid of anything in the world now--because--_I love
you, Alan_!"

And as Nawadlook's door closed behind her, Alan stumbled out into the
sunlight, a great drumming in his heart, and a tumult in his brain that
twisted the world about him until for a little it held neither vision
nor space nor sound.



CHAPTER XX

In that way, with the beautiful world swimming in sunshine and golden
tundra haze until foothills and mountains were like castles in a dream,
Alan Holt set off with Tautuk and Amuk Toolik, leaving Stampede and Keok
and Nawadlook at the corral bars, with Stampede little regretting that
he was left behind to guard the range. For a mighty resolution had taken
root in the prospector's heart, and he felt himself thrilled and a bit
trembling at the nearness of the greatest drama that had ever entered
his life. Alan, looking back after the first few minutes, saw that Keok
and Nawadlook stood alone. Stampede was gone.

The ridge beyond the coulée out of which Mary Standish had come with
wild flowers soon closed like a door between him and Sokwenna's cabin,
and the straight trail to the mountains lay ahead, and over this Alan
set the pace, with Tautuk and Amuk Toolik and a caravan of seven
pack-deer behind him, bearing supplies for the herdsmen.

Alan had scarcely spoken to the two men. He knew the driving force which
was sending him to the mountains was not only an impulse, but almost an
inspirational thing born of necessity. Each step that he took, with his
head and heart in a swirl of intoxicating madness, was an effort behind
which he was putting a sheer weight of physical will. He wanted to go
back. The urge was upon him to surrender utterly to the weakness of
forgetting that Mary Standish was a wife. He had almost fallen a victim
to his selfishness and passion in the moment when she stood at
Nawadlook's door, telling him that she loved him. An iron hand had drawn
him out into the day, and it was the same iron hand that kept his face
to the mountains now, while in his brain her voice repeated the words
that had set his world on fire.

He knew what had happened this morning was not the merely important and
essential incident of most human lives; it had been a cataclysmic thing
with him. Probably it would be impossible for even the girl ever fully
to understand. And he needed to be alone to gather strength and mental
calmness for the meeting of the problem ahead of him, a complication so
unexpected that the very foundation of that stoic equanimity which the
mountains had bred in him had suffered a temporary upsetting. His
happiness was almost an insanity. The dream wherein he had wandered with
a spirit of the dead had come true; it was the old idyl in the flesh
again, his father, his mother--and back in the cabin beyond the ridge
such a love had cried out to him. And he was afraid to return. He
laughed the fact aloud, happily and with an unrepressed exultation as
he strode ahead of the pack-train, and with that exultation words came
to his lips, words intended for himself alone, telling him that Mary
Standish belonged to him, and that until the end of eternity he would
fight for her and keep her. Yet he kept on, facing the mountains, and he
walked so swiftly that Tautuk and Amuk Toolik fell steadily behind with
the deer, so that in time long dips and swells of the tundra lay
between them.

With grim persistence he kept at himself, and at last there swept over
him in its ultimate triumph a compelling sense of the justice of what he
had done--justice to Mary Standish. Even now he did not think of her as
Mary Graham. But she was Graham's wife. And if he had gone to her in
that moment of glorious confession when she had stood at Nawadlook's
door, if he had violated her faith when, because of faith, she had laid
the world at his feet, he would have fallen to the level of John Graham
himself. Thought of the narrowness of his escape and of the first mad
desire to call her back from Nawadlook's room, to hold her in his arms
again as he had held her in the cottonwoods, brought a hot fire into his
face. Something greater than his own fighting instinct had turned him to
the open door of the cabin. It was Mary Standish--her courage, the-glory
of faith and love shining in her eyes, her measurement of him as a man.
She had not been afraid to say what was in her heart, because she knew
what he would do.

Mid-afternoon found him waiting for Tautuk and Amuk Toolik at the edge
of a slough where willows grew deep and green and the crested billows of
sedge-cotton stood knee-high. The faces of the herdsmen were sweating.
Thereafter Alan walked with them, until in that hour when the sun had
sunk to its lowest plane they came to the first of the Endicott
foothills. Here they rested until the coolness of deeper evening, when a
golden twilight filled the land, and then resumed the journey toward the
mountains.

Midsummer heat and the winged pests of the lower lands had driven the
herds steadily into the cooler altitudes of the higher plateaux and
valleys. Here they had split into telescoping columns which drifted in
slowly moving streams wherever the doors of the hills and mountains
opened into new grazing fields, until Alan's ten thousand reindeer were
in three divisions, two of the greatest traveling westward, and one, of
a thousand head, working north and east. The first and second days Alan
remained with the nearest and southward herd. The third day he went on
with Tautuk and two pack-deer through a break in the mountains and
joined the herdsmen of the second and higher multitude of feeding
animals. There began to possess him a curious disinclination to hurry,
and this aversion grew in a direct ratio with the thought which was
becoming stronger in him with each mile and hour of his progress. A
multitude of emotions were buried under the conviction that Mary
Standish must leave the range when he returned. He had a grim sense of
honor, and a particularly devout one when it had to do with women, and
though he conceded nothing of right and justice in the relationship
which existed between the woman he loved and John Graham, he knew that
she must go. To remain at the range was the one impossible thing for her
to do. He would take her to Tanana. He would go with her to the States.
The matter would be settled in a reasonable and intelligent way, and
when he came back, he would bring her with him.

But beneath this undercurrent of decision fought the thing which his
will held down, and yet never quite throttled completely--that something
which urged him with an unconquerable persistence to hold with his own
hands what a glorious fate had given him, and to finish with John
Graham, if it ever came to that, in the madly desirable way he visioned
for himself in those occasional moments when the fires of temptation
blazed hottest.

The fourth night he said to Tautuk:

"If Keok should marry another man, what would you do?"

It was a moment before Tautuk looked at him, and in the herdsman's eyes
was a wild, mute question, as if suddenly there had leaped into his
stolid mind a suspicion which had never come to him before. Alan laid a
reassuring hand upon his arm.

"I don't mean she's going to, Tautuk," he laughed. "She loves you. I
know it. Only you are so stupid, and so slow, and so hopeless as a lover
that she is punishing you while she has the right--before she marries
you. But if she _should_ marry someone else, what would you do?"

"My brother?" asked Tautuk.

"No."

"A relative?"

"No."

"A friend?"

"No. A stranger. Someone who had injured you, for instance; someone Keok
hated, and who had cheated her into marrying him."

"I would kill him," said Tautuk quietly.

It was this night the temptation was strongest upon Alan. Why should
Mary Standish go back, he asked himself. She had surrendered everything
to escape from the horror down there. She had given up fortune and
friends. She had scattered convention to the four winds, had gambled her
life in the hazard, and in the end had come to him! Why should he not
keep her? John Graham and the world believed she was dead. And he was
master here. If--some day--Graham should happen to cross his path, he
would settle the matter in Tautuk's way. Later, while Tautuk slept, and
the world lay about him in a soft glow, and the valley below was filled
with misty billows of twilight out of which came to him faintly the
curious, crackling sound of reindeer hoofs and the grunting contentment
of the feeding herd, the reaction came, as he had known it would come
in the end.

The morning of the fifth day he set out alone for the eastward herd, and
on the sixth overtook Tatpan and his herdsmen. Tatpan, like Sokwenna's
foster-children, Keok and Nawadlook, had a quarter-strain of white in
him, and when Alan came up to him in the edge of the valley where the
deer were grazing, he was lying on a rock, playing Yankee Doodle on a
mouth-organ. It was Tatpan who told him that an hour or two before an
exhausted stranger had come into camp, looking for him, and that the man
was asleep now, apparently more dead than alive, but had given
instructions to be awakened at the end of two hours, and not a minute
later. Together they had a look at him.

He was a small, ruddy-faced man with carroty blond hair and a peculiarly
boyish appearance as he lay doubled up like a jack-knife, profoundly
asleep. Tatpan looked at his big, silver watch and in a low voice
described how the stranger had stumbled into camp, so tired he could
scarcely put one foot ahead of the other; and that he had dropped down
where he now lay when he learned Alan was with one of the other herds.

"He must have come a long distance," said Tatpan, "and he has traveled
fast."

Something familiar about the man grew upon Alan. Yet he could not place
him. He wore a gun, which he had unbelted and placed within reach of
his hand on the grass. His chin was pugnaciously prominent, and in sleep
the mysterious stranger had crooked a forefinger and thumb about his
revolver in a way that spoke of caution and experience.

"If he is in such a hurry to see me, you might awaken him," said Alan.

He turned a little aside and knelt to drink at a tiny stream of water
that ran down from the snowy summits, and he could hear Tatpan rousing
the stranger. By the time he had finished drinking and faced about, the
little man with the carroty-blond hair was on his feet. Alan stared, and
the little man grinned. His ruddy cheeks grew pinker. His blue eyes
twinkled, and in what seemed to be a moment of embarrassment he gave his
gun a sudden snap that drew an exclamation of amazement from Alan. Only
one man in the world had he ever seen throw a gun into its holster like
that. A sickly grin began to spread over his own countenance, and all at
once Tatpan's eyes began to bulge.

"Stampede!" he cried.

Stampede rubbed a hand over his smooth, prominent chin and nodded
apologetically.

"It's me," he conceded. "I had to do it. It was give one or t'other
up--my whiskers _or her_. They went hard, too. I flipped dice, an' the
whiskers won. I cut cards, an' the whiskers won. I played Klondike
ag'in' 'em, an' the whiskers busted the bank. Then I got mad an' shaved
'em. Do I look so bad, Alan?"

"You look twenty years younger," declared Alan, stifling his desire to
laugh when he saw the other's seriousness.

Stampede was thoughtfully stroking his chin. "Then why the devil did
they laugh!" he demanded. "Mary Standish didn't laugh. She cried. Just
stood an' cried, an' then sat down an' cried, she thought I was that
blamed funny! And Keok laughed until she was sick an' had to go to bed.
That little devil of a Keok calls me Pinkey now, and Miss Standish says
it wasn't because I was funny that she laughed, but that the change in
me was so sudden she couldn't help it. Nawadlook says I've got a
character-ful chin--"

Alan gripped his hand, and a swift change came over Stampede's face. A
steely glitter shot into the blue of his eyes, and his chin hardened.
Nature no longer disguised the Stampede Smith of other days, and Alan
felt a new thrill and a new regard for the man whose hand he held. This,
at last, was the man whose name had gone before him up and down the old
trails; the man whose cool and calculating courage, whose fearlessness
of death and quickness with the gun had written pages in Alaskan history
which would never be forgotten. Where his first impulse had been to
laugh, he now felt the grim thrill and admiration of men of other days,
who, when in Stampede's presence, knew they were in the presence of a
master. The old Stampede had come to life again. And Alan knew why. The
grip of his hand tightened, and Stampede returned it.

"Some day, if we're lucky, there always comes a woman to make the world
worth living in, Stampede," he said.

"There does," replied Stampede.

He looked steadily at Alan.

"And I take it you love Mary Standish," he added, "and that you'd fight
for her if you had to."

"I would," said Alan.

"Then it's time you were traveling," advised Stampede significantly.
"I've been twelve hours on the trail without a rest. She told me to move
fast, and I've moved. I mean Mary Standish. She said it was almost a
matter of life and death that I find you in a hurry. I wanted to stay,
but she wouldn't let me. It's _you_ she wants. Rossland is at
the range."

"_Rossland_!"

"Yes, Rossland. And it's my guess John Graham isn't far away. I smell
happenings, Alan. We'd better hurry."



CHAPTER XXI

Stampede had started with one of the two saddle-deer left at the range,
but to ride deer-back successfully and with any degree of speed and
specific direction was an accomplishment which he had neglected, and
within the first half-dozen miles he had abandoned the adventure to
continue his journey on foot. As Tatpan had no saddle-deer in his herd,
and the swiftest messenger would require many hours in which to reach
Amuk Toolik, Alan set out for his range within half an hour after his
arrival at Tatpan's camp. Stampede, declaring himself a new man after
his brief rest and the meal which followed it, would not listen to
Alan's advice that he follow later, when he was more refreshed.

A fierce and reminiscent gleam smoldered in the little gun-fighter's
eyes as he watched Alan during the first half-hour leg of their race
through the foothills to the tundras. Alan did not observe it, or the
grimness that had settled in the face behind him. His own mind was
undergoing an upheaval of conjecture and wild questioning. That Rossland
had discovered Mary Standish was not dead was the least astonishing
factor in the new development. The information might easily have
reached him through Sandy McCormick or his wife Ellen. The astonishing
thing was that he had in some mysterious way picked up the trail of her
flight a thousand miles northward, and the still more amazing fact that
he had dared to follow her and reveal himself openly at his range. His
heart pumped hard, for he knew Rossland must be directly under
Graham's orders.

Then came the resolution to take Stampede into his confidence and to
reveal all that had happened on the day of his departure for the
mountains. He proceeded to do this without equivocation or hesitancy,
for there now pressed upon him a grim anticipation of impending events
ahead of them.

Stampede betrayed no astonishment at the other's disclosures. The
smoldering fire remained in his eyes, the immobility of his face
unchanged. Only when Alan repeated, in his own words, Mary Standish's
confession of love at Nawadlook's door did the fighting lines soften
about his comrade's eyes and mouth.

Stampede's lips responded with an oddly quizzical smile. "I knew that a
long time ago," he said. "I guessed it that first night of storm in the
coach up to Chitina. I knew it for certain before we left Tanana. She
didn't tell me, but I wasn't blind. It was the note that puzzled and
frightened me--the note she stuffed in her slipper. And Rossland told
me, before I left, that going for you was a wild-goose chase, as he
intended to take Mrs. John Graham back with him immediately."

"And you left her alone after _that_?"

Stampede shrugged his shoulders as he valiantly kept up with Alan's
suddenly quickened pace.

"She insisted. Said it meant life and death for her. And she looked it.
White as paper after her talk with Rossland. Besides--"

"What?"

"Sokwenna won't sleep until we get back. He knows. I told him. And he's
watching from the garret window with a.303 Savage. I saw him pick off a
duck the other day at two hundred yards."

They hurried on. After a little Alan said, with the fear which he could
not name clutching at his heart, "Why did you say Graham might not be
far away?"

"In my bones," replied Stampede, his face hard as rock again. "In my
bones!"

"Is that all?"

"Not quite. I think Rossland told her. She was so white. And her hand
cold as a lump of clay when she put it on mine. It was in her eyes, too.
Besides, Rossland has taken possession of your cabin as though he owns
it. I take it that means somebody behind him, a force, something big to
reckon with. He asked me how many men we had. I told him, stretching it
a little. He grinned. He couldn't keep back that grin. It was as if a
devil in him slipped out from hiding for an instant."

Suddenly he caught Alan's arm and stopped him. His chin shot out. The
sweat ran from his face. For a full quarter of a minute the two men
stared at each other.

"Alan, we're short-sighted. I'm damned if I don't think we ought to call
the herdsmen in, and every man with a loaded gun!"

"You think it's that bad?"

"Might be. If Graham's behind Rossland and has men with him--"

"We're two and a half hours from Tatpan," said Alan, in a cold,
unemotional voice. "He has only half a dozen men with him, and it will
take at least four to make quick work in finding Tautuk and Amuk Toolik.
There are eighteen men with the southward herd, and twenty-two with the
upper. I mean, counting the boys. Use your own judgment. All are armed.
It may be foolish, but I'm following your hunch."

They gripped hands.

"It's more than a hunch, Alan," breathed Stampede softly. "And for God's
sake keep off the music as long as you can!"

He was gone, and as his agile, boyish figure started in a half-run
toward the foothills, Alan set his face southward, so that in a quarter
of an hour they were lost to each other in the undulating distances of
the tundra.

Never had Alan traveled as on the last of this sixth day of his absence
from the range. He was comparatively fresh, as his trail to Tatpan's
camp had not been an exhausting one, and his more intimate knowledge of
the country gave him a decided advantage over Stampede. He believed he
could make the distance in ten hours, but to this he would be compelled
to add a rest of at least three or four hours during the night. It was
now eight o'clock. By nine or ten the next morning he would be facing
Rossland, and at about that same hour Tatpan's swift messengers would be
closing in about Tautuk and Amuk Toolik. He knew the speed with which
his herdsmen would sweep out of the mountains and over the tundras. Two
years ago Amuk Toolik and a dozen of his Eskimo people had traveled
fifty-two hours without rest or food, covering a hundred and nineteen
miles in that time. His blood flushed hot with pride. He couldn't do
that. But his people could--and _would_. He could see them sweeping in
from the telescoping segments of the herds as the word went among them;
he could see them streaking out of the foothills; and then, like wolves
scattering for freer air and leg-room, he saw them dotting the tundra in
their race for home--and war, if it was war that lay ahead of them.

Twilight began to creep in upon him, like veils of cool, dry mist out of
the horizons. And hour after hour he went on, eating a strip of pemmican
when he grew hungry, and drinking in the spring coulées when he came to
them, where the water was cold and clear. Not until a telltale cramp
began to bite warningly in his leg did he stop for the rest which he
knew he must take. It was one o'clock. Counting his journey to Tatpan's
camp, he had been traveling almost steadily for seventeen hours.

Not until he stretched himself out on his back in a grassy hollow where
a little stream a foot wide rippled close to his ears did he realize how
tired he had become. At first he tried not to sleep. Rest was all he
wanted; he dared not close his eyes. But exhaustion overcame him at
last, and he slept. When he awoke, bird-song and the sun were taunting
him. He sat up with a jerk, then leaped to his feet in alarm. His watch
told the story. He had slept soundly for six hours, instead of resting
three or four with his eyes open.

After a little, as he hurried on his way, he did not altogether regret
what had happened. He felt like a fighting man. He breathed deeply, ate
a breakfast of pemmican as he walked, and proceeded to make up lost
time. The interval between fifteen minutes of twelve and twelve he
almost ran. That quarter of an hour brought him to the crest of the
ridge from which he could look upon the buildings of the range. Nothing
had happened that he could see. He gave a great gasp of relief, and in
his joy he laughed. The strangeness of the laugh told him more than
anything else the tension he had been under.

Another half-hour, and he came up out of the dip behind Sokwenna's
cabin and tried the door. It was locked. A voice answered his knock, and
he called out his name. The bolt shot back, the door opened, and he
stepped in. Nawadlook stood at her bedroom door, a gun in her hands.
Keok faced him, holding grimly to a long knife, and between them,
staring white-faced at him as he entered, was Mary Standish. She came
forward to meet him, and he heard a whisper from Nawadlook, and saw Keok
follow her swiftly through the door into the other room.

Mary Standish held out her hands to him a little blindly, and the
tremble in her throat and the look in her eyes betrayed the struggle she
was making to keep from breaking down and crying out in gladness at his
coming. It was that look that sent a flood of joy into his heart, even
when he saw the torture and hopelessness behind it. He held her hands
close, and into her eyes he smiled in such a way that he saw them widen,
as if she almost disbelieved; and then she drew in a sudden quick
breath, and her fingers clung to him. It was as if the hope that had
deserted her came in an instant into her face again. He was not excited.
He was not even perturbed, now that he saw that light in her eyes and
knew she was safe. But his love was there. She saw it and felt the force
of it behind the deadly calmness with which he was smiling at her. She
gave a little sob, so low it was scarcely more than a broken breath; a
little cry that came of wonder--understanding--and unspeakable faith in
this man who was smiling at her so confidently in the face of the
tragedy that had come to destroy her.

"Rossland is in your cabin," she whispered. "And John Graham is back
there--somewhere--coming this way. Rossland says that if I don't go to
him of my own free will--"

He felt the shudder that ran through her.

"I understand the rest," he said. They stood silent for a moment. The
gray-cheeked thrush was singing on the roof. Then, as if she had been a
child, he took her face between his hands and bent her head back a
little, so that he was looking straight into her eyes, and so near that
he could feel the sweet warmth of her breath.

"You didn't make a mistake the day I went away?" he asked. "You--love
me?"

"Yes."

For a moment longer he looked into her eyes. Then he stood back from
her. Even Keok and Nawadlook heard his laugh. It was strange, they
thought--Keok with her knife, and Nawadlook with her gun--for the bird
was singing, and Alan Holt was laughing, and Mary Standish was
very still.

Another moment later, from where he sat cross-legged at the little
window in the attic, keeping his unsleeping vigil with a rifle across
his knees, old Sokwenna saw his master walk across the open, and
something in the manner of his going brought back a vision of another
day long ago when Ghost Kloof had rung with the cries of battle, and
the hands now gnarled and twisted with age had played their part in the
heroic stand of his people against the oppressors from the
farther north.

Then he saw Alan go into the cabin where Rossland was, and softly his
fingers drummed upon the ancient tom-tom which lay at his side. His eyes
fixed themselves upon the distant mountains, and under his breath he
mumbled the old chant of battle, dead and forgotten except in Sokwenna's
brain, and after that his eyes closed, and again the vision grew out of
darkness like a picture for him, a vision of twisting trails and of
fighting men gathering with their faces set for war.



CHAPTER XXII

At the desk in Alan's living-room sat Rossland, when the door opened
behind him and the master of the range came in. He was not disturbed
when he saw who it was, and rose to meet him. His coat was off, his
sleeves rolled up, and it was evident he was making no effort to conceal
his freedom with Alan's books and papers.

He advanced, holding out a hand. This was not the same Rossland who had
told Alan to attend to his own business on board the _Nome_. His
attitude was that of one greeting a friend, smiling and affable even
before he spoke. Something inspired Alan to return the smile. Behind
that smile he was admiring the man's nerve. His hand met Rossland's
casually, but there was no uncertainty in the warmth of the
other's grip.

"How d' do, Paris, old boy?" he greeted good-humoredly. "Saw you going
in to Helen a few minutes ago, so I've been waiting for you. She's a
little frightened. And we can't blame her. Menelaus is mightily upset.
But mind me, Holt, I'm not blaming you. I'm too good a sport. Clever, I
call it--damned clever. She's enough to turn any man's head. I only wish
I were in your boots right now. I'd have turned traitor myself aboard
the _Nome_ if she had shown an inclination."

He proffered a cigar, a big, fat cigar with a gold band. It was
inspiration again that made Alan accept it and light it. His blood was
racing. But Rossland saw nothing of that. He observed only the nod, the
cool smile on Alan's lips, the apparent nonchalance with which he was
meeting the situation. It pleased Graham's agent. He reseated himself in
the desk-chair and motioned Alan to another chair near him.

"I thought you were badly hurt," said Alan. "Nasty knife wound you got."

Rossland shrugged his shoulders. "There you have it again, Holt--the
hell of letting a pretty face run away with you. One of the Thlinkit
girls down in the steerage, you know. Lovely little thing, wasn't she?
Tricked her into my cabin all right, but she wasn't like some other
Indian girls I've known. The next night a brother, or sweetheart, or
whoever it was got me through the open port. It wasn't bad. I was out of
the hospital within a week. Lucky I was put there, too. Otherwise I
wouldn't have seen Mrs. Graham one morning--through the window. What a
little our fortunes hang to at times, eh? If it hadn't been for the girl
and the knife and the hospital, I wouldn't be here now, and Graham
wouldn't be bleeding his heart out with impatience--and you, Holt,
wouldn't be facing the biggest opportunity that will ever come into
your life."

"I'm afraid I don't understand," said Alan, hiding his face in the
smoke of his cigar and speaking with an apparent indifference which had
its effect upon Rossland. "Your presence inclines me to believe that
luck has rather turned against me. Where can my advantage be?"

A grim seriousness settled in Rossland's eyes, and his voice became cool
and hard. "Holt, as two men who are not afraid to meet unusual
situations, we may as well call a spade a spade in this matter, don't
you think so?"

"Decidedly," said Alan.

"You know that Mary Standish is really Mary Standish Graham, John
Graham's wife?"

"Yes."

"And you probably know--now--why she jumped into the sea, and why she
ran away from Graham."

"I do."

"That saves a lot of talk. But there is another side to the story which
you probably don't know, and I am here to tell it to you. John Graham
doesn't care for a dollar of the Standish fortune. It's the girl he
wants, and has always wanted. She has grown up under his eyes. From the
day she was fourteen years old he has lived and planned with the thought
of possessing her. You know how he got her to marry him, and you know
what happened afterward. But it makes no difference to him whether she
hates him or not. He _wants_ her. And this"--he swept his arms out, "is
the most beautiful place in the world in which to have her returned to
him. I've been figuring from your books. Your property isn't worth over
a hundred thousand dollars as it stands on hoof today. I'm here to offer
you five times that for it. In other words, Graham is willing to forfeit
all action he might have personally against you for stealing his wife,
and in place of that will pay you five hundred thousand dollars for the
privilege of having his honeymoon here, and making of this place a
country estate where his wife may reside indefinitely, subject to her
husband's visits when he is so inclined. There will be a stipulation, of
course, requiring that the personal details of the deal be kept strictly
confidential, and that you leave the country. Do I make myself clear?"

Alan rose to his feet and paced thoughtfully across the room. At least,
Rossland measured his action as one of sudden, intensive reflection as
he watched him, smiling complacently at the effect of his knock-out
proposition upon the other. He had not minced matters. He had come to
the point without an effort at bargaining, and he possessed sufficient
dramatic sense to appreciate what the offer of half a million dollars
meant to an individual who was struggling for existence at the edge of a
raw frontier. Alan stood with his back toward him, facing a window. His
voice was oddly strained when he answered. But that was quite natural,
too, Rossland thought.

"I am wondering if I understand you," he said. "Do you mean that if I
sell Graham the range, leave it bag and baggage, and agree to keep my
mouth shut thereafter, he will give me half a million dollars?"

"That is the price. You are to take your people with you. Graham has his
own."

Alan tried to laugh. "I think I see the point--now. He isn't paying five
hundred thousand for Miss Standish--I mean Mrs. Graham. He's paying it
for the _isolation_."

"Exactly. It was a last-minute hunch with him--to settle the matter
peaceably. We started up here to get his wife. You understand, to _get_
her, and settle the matter with you in a different way from the one
we're using now. You hit the word when you said 'isolation.' What a damn
fool a man can make of himself over a pretty face! Think of it--half a
million dollars!"

"It sounds unreal," mused Alan, keeping his face to the window. "Why
should he offer so much?"

"You must keep the stipulation in mind, Holt. That is an important part
of the deal. You are to keep your mouth shut. Buying the range at a
normal price wouldn't guarantee it. But when you accept a sum like that,
you're a partner in the other end of the transaction, and your health
depends upon keeping the matter quiet. Simple enough, isn't it?"

Alan turned back to the table. His face was pale. He tried to keep smoke
in front of his eyes. "Of course, I don't suppose he'd allow Mrs. Graham
to escape back to the States--where she might do a little upsetting on
her own account?"

"He isn't throwing the money away," replied Rossland significantly.

"She would remain here indefinitely?"

"Indefinitely."

"Probably never would return."

"Strange how squarely you hit the nail on the head! Why should she
return? The world believes she is dead. Papers were full of it. The
little secret of her being alive is all our own. And this will be a
beautiful summering place for Graham. Magnificent climate. Lovely
flowers. Birds. And the girl he has watched grow up, and wanted, since
she was fourteen."

"And who hates him."

"True."

"Who was tricked into marrying him, and who would rather die than live
with him as his wife."

"But it's up to Graham to keep her alive, Holt. That's not our business.
If she dies, I imagine you will have an opportunity to get your range
back pretty cheap."

Rossland held a paper out to Alan.

"Here's partial payment--two hundred and fifty thousand. I have the
papers here, on the desk, ready to sign. As soon as you give possession,
I'll return to Tanana with you and make the remaining payment."

Alan took the check. "I guess only a fool would refuse an offer like
this, Rossland."

"Yes, only a fool."

"_And I am that fool_."

So quietly did Alan speak that for an instant the significance of his
words did not fall with full force upon Rossland. The smoke cleared away
from before Alan's face. His cigar dropped to the floor, and he stepped
on it with his foot. The check followed it in torn scraps. The fury he
had held back with almost superhuman effort blazed in his eyes.

"If I could have Graham where you are now--_in that chair_--I'd give ten
years of my life, Rossland. I would kill him. And you--_you_--"

He stepped back a pace, as if to put himself out of striking distance of
the beast who was staring at him in amazement.

"What you have said about her should condemn you to death. And I would
kill you here, in this room, if it wasn't necessary for you to take my
message back to Graham. Tell him that Mary Standish--_not_ Mary
Graham--is as pure and clean and as sweet as the day she was born. Tell
him that she belongs to _me_. I love her. She is mine--do you
understand? And all the money in the world couldn't buy one hair from
her head. I'm going to take her back to the States. She is going to get
a square deal, and the world is going to know her story. She has
nothing to conceal. Absolutely nothing. Tell that to John Graham
for me."

He advanced upon Rossland, who had risen from his chair; his hands were
clenched, his face a mask of iron.

"Get out! Go before I flay you within an inch of your rotten life!"

The energy which every fiber in him yearned to expend upon Rossland sent
the table crashing back in an overturned wreck against the wall.

"Go--before I kill you!"

He was advancing, even as the words of warning came from his lips, and
the man before him, an awe-stricken mass of flesh that had forgotten
power and courage in the face of a deadly and unexpected menace, backed
quickly to the door and escaped. He made for the corrals, and Alan
watched from his door until he saw him departing southward, accompanied
by two men who bore packs on their shoulders. Not until then did
Rossland gather his nerve sufficiently to stop and look back. His
breathless voice carried something unintelligible to Alan. But he did
not return for his coat and hat.

The reaction came to Alan when he saw the wreck he had made of the
table. Another moment or two and the devil in him would have been at
work. He hated Rossland. He hated him now only a little less than he
hated John Graham, and that he had let him go seemed a miracle to him.
He felt the strain he had been under. But he was glad. Some little god
of common sense had overruled his passion, and he had acted wisely.
Graham would now get his message, and there could be no misunderstanding
of purpose between them.

He was staring at the disordered papers on his desk when a movement at
the door turned him about. Mary Standish stood before him.

"You sent him away," she cried softly.

Her eyes were shining, her lips parted, her face lit up with a beautiful
glow. She saw the overturned table, Rossland's hat and coat on a chair,
the evidence of what had happened and the quickness of his flight; and
then she turned her face to Alan again, and what he saw broke down the
last of that grim resolution which he had measured for himself, so that
in a moment he was at her side, and had her in his arms. She made no
effort to free herself as she had done in the cottonwoods, but turned
her mouth up for him to kiss, and then hid her face against his
shoulder--while he, fighting vainly to find utterance for the thousand
words in his throat, stood stroking her hair, and then buried his face
in it, crying out at last in the warm sweetness of it that he loved her,
and was going to fight for her, and that no power on earth could take
her away from him now. And these things he repeated until she raised her
flushed face from his breast, and let him kiss her lips once more, and
then freed herself gently from his arms.



CHAPTER XXIII

For a Space they stood apart, and in the radiant loveliness of Mary
Standish's face and in Alan's quiet and unimpassioned attitude were
neither shame nor regret. In a moment they had swept aside the barrier
which convention had raised against them, and now they felt the
inevitable thrill of joy and triumph, and not the humiliating
embarrassment of dishonor. They made no effort to draw a curtain upon
their happiness, or to hide the swift heart-beat of it from each other.
It had happened, and they were glad. Yet they stood apart, and something
pressed upon Alan the inviolableness of the little freedom of space
between them, of its sacredness to Mary Standish, and darker and deeper
grew the glory of pride and faith that lay with the love in her eyes
when he did not cross it. He reached out his hand, and freely she gave
him her own. Lips blushing with his kisses trembled in a smile, and she
bowed her head a little, so that he was looking at her smooth hair, soft
and sweet where he had caressed it a few moments before.

"I thank God!" he said.

He did not finish the surge of gratitude that was in his heart. Speech
seemed trivial, even futile. But she understood. He was not thanking
God for that moment, but for a lifetime of something that at last had
come to him. This, it seemed to him, was the end, the end of a world as
he had known it, the beginning of a new. He stepped back, and his hands
trembled. For something to do he set up the overturned table, and Mary
Standish watched him with a quiet, satisfied wonder. She loved him, and
she had come into his arms. She had given him her lips to kiss. And he
laughed softly as he came to her side again, and looked over the tundra
where Rossland had gone.

"How long before you can prepare for the journey?" he asked.

"You mean--"

"That we must start tonight or in the morning. I think we shall go
through the cottonwoods over the old trail to Nome. Unless Rossland
lied, Graham is somewhere out there on the Tanana trail."

Her hand pressed his arm. "We are going--_back?_ Is that it, Alan?"

"Yes, to Seattle. It is the one thing to do. You are not afraid?"

"With you there--no."

"And you will return with me--when it is over?"

He was looking steadily ahead over the tundra. But he felt her cheek
touch his shoulder, lightly as a feather.

"Yes, I will come back with you."

"And you will be ready?"

"I am ready now."

The sun-fire of the plains danced in his eyes; a cob-web of golden mist
rising out of the earth, beckoning wraiths and undulating visions--the
breath of life, of warmth, of growing things--all between him and the
hidden cottonwoods; a joyous sea into which he wanted to plunge without
another minute of waiting, as he felt the gentle touch of her cheek
against his shoulder, and the weight of her hand on his arm. That she
had come to him utterly was in the low surrender of her voice. She had
ceased to fight--she had given to him the precious right to fight
for her.

It was this sense of her need and of her glorious faith in him, and of
the obligation pressing with it that drove slowly back into him the
grimmer realities of the day. Its horror surged upon him again, and the
significance of what Rossland had said seemed fresher, clearer, even
more terrible now that he was gone. Unconsciously the old lines of
hatred crept into his face again as he looked steadily in the direction
which the other man had taken, and he wondered how much of that same
horror--of the unbelievable menace stealing upon her--Rossland had
divulged to the girl who stood so quietly now at his side. Had he done
right to let him go? Should he not have killed him, as he would have
exterminated a serpent? For Rossland had exulted; he was of Graham's
flesh and desires, a part of his foul soul, a defiler of womanhood and
the one who had bargained to make possible the opportunity for an
indescribable crime. It was not too late. He could still overtake him,
out there in the hollows of the tundra--

The pressure on his arm tightened. He looked down. Mary Standish had
seen what was in his face, and there was something in her calmness that
brought him to himself. He knew, in that moment, that Rossland had told
her a great deal. Yet she was not afraid, unless it was fear of what had
been in his mind.

"I am ready," she reminded him.

"We must wait for Stampede," he said, reason returning to him. "He
should be here sometime tonight, or in the morning. Now that Rossland is
off my nerves, I can see how necessary it is to have someone like
Stampede between us and--"

He did not finish, but what he had intended to say was quite clear to
her. She stood in the doorway, and he felt an almost uncontrollable
desire to take her in his arms again.

"He is between here and Tanana," she said with a little gesture of her
head.

"Rossland told you that?"

"Yes. And there are others with him, so many that he was amused when I
told him you would not let them take me away."

"Then you were not afraid that I--I might let them have you?"

"I have always been sure of what you would do since I opened that
second letter at Ellen McCormick's, Alan!"

He caught the flash of her eyes, the gladness in them, and she was gone
before he could find another word to say. Keok and Nawadlook were
approaching hesitatingly, but now they hurried to meet her, Keok still
grimly clutching the long knife; and beyond them, at the little window
under the roof, he saw the ghostly face of old Sokwenna, like a
death's-head on guard. His blood ran a little faster. The emptiness of
the tundras, the illimitable spaces without sign of human life, the vast
stage waiting for its impending drama, with its sunshine, its song of
birds, its whisper and breath of growing flowers, struck a new note in
him, and he looked again at the little window where Sokwenna sat like a
spirit from another world, warning him in his silent and lifeless stare
of something menacing and deadly creeping upon them out of that space
which seemed so free of all evil. He beckoned to him and then entered
his cabin, waiting while Sokwenna crawled down from his post and came
hobbling over the open, a crooked figure, bent like a baboon, witch-like
in his great age, yet with sunken eyes that gleamed like little points
of flame, and a quickness of movement that made Alan shiver as he
watched him through the window.

In a moment the old man entered. He was mumbling. He was saying, in that
jumble of sound which it was difficult for even Alan to understand--and
which Sokwenna had never given up for the missionaries' teachings--that
he could hear feet and smell blood; and that the feet were many, and the
blood was near, and that both smell and footfall were coming from the
old kloof where yellow skulls still lay, dripping with the water that
had once run red. Alan was one of the few who, by reason of much effort,
had learned the story of the kloof from old Sokwenna; how, so long ago
that Sokwenna was a young man, a hostile tribe had descended upon his
people, killing the men and stealing the women; and how at last Sokwenna
and a handful of his tribesmen fled south with what women were left and
made a final stand in the kloof, and there, on a day that was golden and
filled with the beauty of bird-song and flowers, had ambushed their
enemies and killed them to a man. All were dead now, all but Sokwenna.

For a space Alan was sorry he had called Sokwenna to his cabin. He was
no longer the cheerful and gentle "old man" of his people; the old man
who chortled with joy at the prettiness and play of Keok and Nawadlook,
who loved birds and flowers and little children, and who had retained an
impish boyhood along with his great age. He was changed. He stood before
Alan an embodiment of fatalism, mumbling incoherent things in his
breath, a spirit of evil omen lurking in his sunken eyes, and his thin
hands gripping like bird-claws to his rifle. Alan threw off the
uncomfortable feeling that had gripped him for a moment, and set him to
an appointed task--the watching of the southward plain from the crest of
a tall ridge two miles back on the Tanana trail. He was to return when
the sun reached its horizon.

Alan was inspired now by a great caution, a growing premonition which
stirred him with uneasiness, and he began his own preparations as soon
as Sokwenna had started on his mission. The desire to leave at once,
without the delay of an hour, pulled strong in him, but he forced
himself to see the folly of such haste. He would be away many months,
possibly a year this time. There was much to do, a mass of detail to
attend to, a volume of instructions and advice to leave behind him. He
must at least see Stampede, and it was necessary to write down certain
laws for Tautuk and Amuk Toolik. As this work of preparation progressed,
and the premonition persisted in remaining with him, he fell into a
habit of repeating to himself the absurdity of fears and the
impossibility of danger. He tried to make himself feel uncomfortably
foolish at the thought of having ordered the herdsmen in. In all
probability Graham would not appear at all, he told himself, or at least
not for many days--or weeks; and if he did come, it would be to war in a
legal way, and not with murder.

Yet his uneasiness did not leave him. As the hours passed and the
afternoon lengthened, the invisible something urged him more strongly to
take the trail beyond the cottonwoods, with Mary Standish at his side.
Twice he saw her between noon and five o'clock, and by that time his
writing was done. He looked at his guns carefully. He saw that his
favorite rifle and automatic were working smoothly, and he called
himself a fool for filling his ammunition vest with an extravagant
number of cartridges. He even carried an amount of this ammunition and
two of his extra guns to Sokwenna's cabin, with the thought that it was
this cabin on the edge of the ravine which was best fitted for defense
in the event of necessity. Possibly Stampede might have use for it, and
for the guns, if Graham should come after he and Mary were well on their
way to Nome.

After supper, when the sun was throwing long shadows from the edge of
the horizon, Alan came from a final survey of his cabin and the food
which Wegaruk had prepared for his pack, and found Mary at the edge of
the ravine, watching the twilight gathering where the coulée ran
narrower and deeper between the distant breasts of the tundra.

"I am going to leave you for a little while," he said. "But Sokwenna has
returned, and you will not be alone."

"Where are you going?"

"As far as the cottonwoods, I think."

"Then I am going with you."

"I expect to walk very fast."

"Not faster than I, Alan."

"But I want to make sure the country is clear in that direction before
twilight shuts out the distances."

"I will help you." Her hand crept into his. "I am going with you, Alan,"
she repeated.

"Yes, I--think you are," he laughed joyously, and suddenly he bent his
head and pressed her hand to his lips, and in that way, with her hand in
his, they set out over the trail which they had not traveled together
since the day he had come from Nome.

There was a warm glow in her face, and something beautifully soft and
sweet in her eyes which she did not try to keep away from him. It made
him forget the cottonwoods and the plains beyond, and his caution, and
Sokwenna's advice to guard carefully against the hiding-places of Ghost
Kloof and the country beyond.

"I have been thinking a great deal today," she was saying, "because you
have left me so much alone. I have been thinking of _you_. And--my
thoughts have given me a wonderful happiness."

"And I have been--in paradise," he replied.

"You do not think that I am wicked?"

"I could sooner believe the sun would never come up again."

"Nor that I have been unwomanly?"

"You are my dream of all that is glorious in womanhood."

"Yet I have followed you--have thrust myself at you, fairly at your
head, Alan."

"For which I thank God," He breathed devoutly.

"And I have told you that I love you, and you have taken me in your
arms, and have kissed me--"

"Yes."

"And I am walking now with my hand in yours--"

"And will continue to do so, if I can hold it."

"And I am another man's wife," she shuddered.

"You are mine," he declared doggedly. "You know it, and the Almighty God
knows it. It is blasphemy to speak of yourself as Graham's wife. You are
legally entangled with him, and that is all. Heart and soul and body you
are free."

"No, I am not free."

"But you are!"

And then, after a moment, she whispered at his shoulder: "Alan, because
you are the finest gentleman in all the world, I will tell you why I am
not. It is because--heart and soul--I belong to you."

He dared not look at her, and feeling the struggle within him Mary
Standish looked straight ahead with a wonderful smile on her lips and
repeated softly, "Yes, the very finest gentleman in all the world!"

Over the breasts of the tundra and the hollows between they went, still
hand in hand, and found themselves talking of the colorings in the sky,
and the birds, and flowers, and the twilight creeping in about them,
while Alan scanned the shortening horizons for a sign of human life. One
mile, and then another, and after that a third, and they were looking
into gray gloom far ahead, where lay the kloof.

It was strange that he should think of the letter now--the letter he had
written to Ellen McCormick--but think of it he did, and said what was in
his mind to Mary Standish, who was also looking with him into the wall
of gloom that lay between them and the distant cottonwoods.

"It seemed to me that I was not writing it to her, but to _you_" he
said. "And I think that if you hadn't come back to me I would have
gone mad."

"I have the letter. It is here"--and she placed a hand upon her breast.
"Do you remember what you wrote, Alan?"

"That you meant more to me than life."

"And that--particularly--you wanted Ellen McCormick to keep a tress of
my hair for you if they found me."

He nodded. "When I sat across the table from you aboard the _Nome_, I
worshiped it and didn't know it. And since then--since I've had you
here--every time. I've looked at you--" He stopped, choking the words
back in his throat.

"Say it, Alan."

"I've wanted to see it down," he finished desperately. "Silly notion,
isn't it?"

"Why is it?" she asked, her eyes widening a little. "If you love it, why
is it a silly notion to want to see it down?"

"Why, I though possibly you might think it so," he added lamely.

Never had he heard anything sweeter than her laughter as she turned
suddenly from him, so that the glow of the fallen sun was at her back,
and with deft, swift fingers began loosening the coils of her hair until
its radiant masses tumbled about her, streaming down her back in a
silken glory that awed him with its beauty and drew from his lips a cry
of gladness.

She faced him, and in her eyes was the shining softness that glowed in
her hair. "Do you think it is nice, Alan?"

He went to her and filled his hands with the heavy tresses and pressed
them to his lips and face.

Thus he stood when he felt the sudden shiver that ran through her. It
was like a little shock. He heard the catch of her breath, and the hand
which she had placed gently on his bowed head fell suddenly away. When
he raised his head to look at her, she was staring past him into the
deepening twilight of the tundra, and it seemed as if something had
stricken her so that for a space she was powerless to speak or move.

"What is it?" he cried, and whirled about, straining his eyes to see
what had alarmed her; and as he looked, a deep, swift shadow sped over
the earth, darkening the mellow twilight until it was somber gloom of
night--and the midnight sun went out like a great, luminous lamp as a
dense wall of purple cloud rolled up in an impenetrable curtain between
it and the arctic world. Often he had seen this happen in the approach
of summer storm on the tundras, but never had the change seemed so swift
as now. Where there had been golden light, he saw his companion's face
now pale in a sea of dusk. It was this miracle of arctic night, its
suddenness and unexpectedness, that had startled her, he thought, and he
laughed softly.

But her hand clutched his arm. "I saw them," she cried, her voice
breaking. "I saw them--out there against the sun--before the cloud
came--and some of them were running, like animals--"

"Shadows!" he exclaimed. "The long shadows of foxes running against the
sun, or of the big gray rabbits, or of a wolf and her half-grown
sneaking away--"

"No, no, they were not that," she breathed tensely, and her fingers
clung more fiercely to his arm. "They were not shadows. _They
were men_!"



CHAPTER XXIV

In the moment of stillness between them, when their hearts seemed to
have stopped beating that they might not lose the faintest whispering of
the twilight, a sound came to Alan, and he knew it was the toe of a boot
striking against stone. Not a foot in his tribe would have made that
sound; none but Stampede Smith's or his own.

"Were they many?" he asked.

"I could not see. The sun was darkening. But five or six were running--"

"Behind us?"

"Yes."

"And they saw us?"

"I think so. It was but a moment, and they were a part of the dusk."

He found her hand and held it closely. Her fingers clung to his, and he
could hear her quick breathing as he unbuttoned the flap of his
automatic holster.

"You think _they have come_?" she whispered, and a cold dread was in her
voice.

"Possibly. My people would not appear from that direction. You are not
afraid?"

"No, no, I am not afraid."

"Yet you are trembling."

"It is this strange gloom, Alan."

Never had the arctic twilight gone more completely. Not half a dozen
times had he seen the phenomenon in all his years on the tundras, where
thunder-storm and the putting out of the summer sun until twilight
thickens into the gloom of near-night is an occurrence so rare that it
is more awesome than the weirdest play of the northern lights. It seemed
to him now that what was happening was a miracle, the play of a mighty
hand opening their way to salvation. An inky wall was shutting out the
world where the glow of the midnight sun should have been. It was
spreading quickly; shadows became part of the gloom, and this gloom
crept in, thickening, drawing nearer, until the tundra was a weird
chaos, neither night nor twilight, challenging vision until eyes
strained futilely to penetrate its mystery.

And as it gathered about them, enveloping them in their own narrowing
circle of vision, Alan was thinking quickly. It had taken him only a
moment to accept the significance of the running figures his companion
had seen. Graham's men were near, had seen them, and were getting
between them and the range. Possibly it was a scouting party, and if
there were no more than five or six, the number which Mary had counted,
he was quite sure of the situation. But there might be a dozen or fifty
of them. It was possible Graham and Rossland were advancing upon the
range with their entire force. He had at no time tried to analyze just
what this force might be, except to assure himself that with the
overwhelming influence behind him, both political and financial, and
fired by a passion for Mary Standish that had revealed itself as little
short of madness, Graham would hesitate at no convention of law or
humanity to achieve his end. Probably he was playing the game so that he
would be shielded by the technicalities of the law, if it came to a
tragic end. His gunmen would undoubtedly be impelled to a certain extent
by an idea of authority. For Graham was an injured husband "rescuing"
his wife, while he--Alan Holt--was the woman's abductor and paramour,
and a fit subject to be shot upon sight!

His free hand gripped the butt of his pistol as he led the way straight
ahead. The sudden gloom helped to hide in his face the horror he felt of
what that "rescue" would mean to Mary Standish; and then a cold and
deadly definiteness possessed him, and every nerve in his body gathered
itself in readiness for whatever might happen.

If Graham's men had seen them, and were getting between them and
retreat, the neck of the trap lay ahead--and in this direction Alan
walked so swiftly that the girl was almost running at his side. He could
not hear her footsteps, so lightly they fell! her fingers were twined
about his own, and he could feel the silken caress of her loose hair.
For half a mile he kept on, watching for a moving shadow, listening for
a sound. Then he stopped. He drew Mary into his arms and held her
there, so that her head lay against his breast. She was panting, and he
could feel and hear her thumping heart. He found her parted lips and
kissed them.

"You are not afraid?" he asked again.

Her head made a fierce little negative movement against his breast.
"No!"

He laughed softly at the beautiful courage with which she lied. "Even if
they saw us, and are Graham's men, we have given them the slip," he
comforted her. "Now we will circle eastward back to the range. I am
sorry I hurried you so. We will go more slowly."

"We must travel faster," she insisted. "I want to run."

Her fingers sought his hand and clung to it again as they set out. At
intervals they stopped, staring about them into nothingness, and
listening. Twice Alan thought he heard sounds which did not belong to
the night. The second time the little fingers tightened about his own,
but his companion said no word, only her breath seemed to catch in her
throat for an instant.

At the end of another half-hour it was growing lighter, yet the breath
of storm seemed nearer. The cool promise of it touched their cheeks, and
about them were gathering whispers and eddies of a thirsty earth rousing
to the sudden change. It was lighter because the wall of cloud seemed to
be distributing itself over the whole heaven, thinning out where its
solid opaqueness had lain against the sun. Alan could see the girl's
face and the cloud of her hair. Hollows and ridges of the tundra were
taking more distinct shape when they came into a dip, and Alan
recognized a thicket of willows behind which a pool was hidden.

The thicket was only half a mile from home. A spring was near the edge
of the willows, and to this he led the girl, made her a place to kneel,
and showed her how to cup the cool water in the palms of her hands.
While she inclined her head to drink, he held back her hair and rested
with his lips pressed to it. He heard the trickle of water running
between her fingers, her little laugh of half-pleasure, half-fear, which
in another instant broke into a startled scream as he half gained his
feet to meet a crashing body that catapulted at him from the concealment
of the willows.

A greater commotion in the thicket followed the attack; then another
voice, crying out sharply, a second cry from Mary Standish, and he found
himself on his knees, twisted backward and fighting desperately to
loosen a pair of gigantic hands at his throat. He could hear the girl
struggling, but she did not cry out again. In an instant, it seemed, his
brain was reeling. He was conscious of a futile effort to reach his gun,
and could see the face over him, grim and horrible in the gloom, as the
merciless hands choked the life from him. Then he heard a shout, a loud
shout, filled with triumph and exultation as he was thrown back; his
head seemed leaving his shoulders; his body crumbled, and almost
spasmodically his leg shot out with the last strength that was in him.
He was scarcely aware of the great gasp that followed, but the fingers
loosened at his throat, the face disappeared, and the man who was
killing him sank back. For a precious moment or two Alan did not move as
he drew great breaths of air into his lungs. Then he felt for his
pistol. The holster was empty.

He could hear the panting of the girl, her sobbing breath very near him,
and life and strength leaped back into his body. The man who had choked
him was advancing again, on hands and knees. In a flash Alan was up and
on him like a lithe cat. His fist beat into a bearded face; he called
out to Mary as he struck, and through his blows saw her where she had
fallen to her knees, with a second hulk bending over her, almost in the
water of the little spring from which she had been drinking. A mad curse
leaped from his lips. He was ready to kill now; he wanted to kill--to
destroy what was already under his hands that he might leap upon this
other beast, who stood over Mary Standish, his hands twisted in her long
hair. Dazed by blows that fell with the force of a club the bearded
man's head sagged backward, and Alan's fingers dug into his throat. It
was a bull's neck. He tried to break it. Ten seconds--twenty--half a
minute at the most--and flesh and bone would have given way--but before
the bearded man's gasping cry was gone from his lips the second figure
leaped upon Alan.

He had no time to defend himself from this new attack. His strength was
half gone, and a terrific blow sent him reeling. Blindly he reached out
and grappled. Not until his arms met those of his fresh assailant did he
realize how much of himself he had expended upon the other. A sickening
horror filled his soul as he felt his weakness, and an involuntary moan
broke from his lips. Even then he would have cut out his tongue to have
silenced that sound, to have kept it from the girl. She was creeping on
her hands and knees, but he could not see. Her long hair trailed in the
trampled earth, and in the muddied water of the spring, and her hands
were groping--groping--until they found what they were seeking.

Then she rose to her feet, carrying the rock on which one of her hands
had rested when she knelt to drink. The bearded man, bringing himself to
his knees, reached out drunkenly, but she avoided him and poised herself
over Alan and his assailant. The rock descended. Alan saw her then; he
heard the one swift, terrible blow, and his enemy rolled away from him,
limply and without sound. He staggered to his feet and for a moment
caught the swaying girl in his arms.

The bearded man was rising. He was half on his feet when Alan was at his
throat again, and they went down together. The girl heard blows, then a
heavier one, and with an exclamation of triumph Alan stood up. By
chance his hand had come in contact with his fallen pistol. He clicked
the safety down; he was ready to shoot, ready to continue the fight
with a gun.

"Come," he said.

His voice was gasping, strangely unreal and thick. She came to him and
put her hand in his again, and it was wet and sticky with tundra mud
from the spring. Then they climbed to the swell of the plain, away from
the pool and the willows.

In the air about them, creeping up from the outer darkness of the
strange twilight, were clearer whispers now, and with these sounds of
storm, borne from the west, came a hallooing voice. It was answered from
straight ahead. Alan held the muddied little hand closer in his own and
set out for the range-houses, from which direction the last voice had
come. He knew what was happening. Graham's men were cleverer than he had
supposed; they had encircled the tundra side of the range, and some of
them were closing in on the willow pool, from which the triumphant shout
of the bearded man's companion had come. They were wondering why the
call was not repeated, and were hallooing.

Every nerve in Alan's body was concentrated for swift and terrible
action, for the desperateness of their situation had surged upon him
like a breath of fire, unbelievable, and yet true. Back at the willows
they would have killed him. The hands at his throat had sought his
life. Wolves and not men were about them on the plain; wolves headed by
two monsters of the human pack, Graham and Rossland. Murder and lust and
mad passion were hidden in the darkness; law and order and civilization
were hundreds of miles away. If Graham won, only the unmapped tundras
would remember this night, as the deep, dark kloof remembered in its
gloom the other tragedy of more than half a century ago. And the girl at
his side, already disheveled and muddied by their hands--

His mind could go no farther, and angry protest broke in a low cry from
his lips. The girl thought it was because of the shadows that loomed up
suddenly in their path. There were two of them, and she, too, cried out
as voices commanded them to stop. Alan caught a swift up-movement of an
arm, but his own was quicker. Three spurts of flame darted in lightning
flashes from his pistol, and the man who had raised his arm crumpled to
the earth, while the other dissolved swiftly into the storm-gloom. A
moment later his wild shouts were assembling the pack, while the
detonations of Alan's pistol continued to roll over the tundra.

The unexpectedness of the shots, their tragic effect, the falling of the
stricken man and the flight of the other, brought no word from Mary
Standish. But her breath was sobbing, and in the lifting of the purplish
gloom she turned her face for an instant to Alan, tensely white, with
wide-open eyes. Her hair covered her like a shining veil, and where it
clustered in a disheveled mass upon her breast Alan saw her hand
thrusting itself forward from its clinging concealment, and in it--to
his amazement--was a pistol. He recognized the weapon--one of a brace of
light automatics which his friend, Carl Lomen, had presented to him
several Christmas seasons ago. Pride and a strange exultation swept over
him. Until now she had concealed the weapon, but all along she had
prepared to fight--to fight with _him_ against their enemies! He wanted
to stop and take her in his arms, and with his kisses tell her how
splendid she was. But instead of this he sped more swiftly ahead, and
they came into the nigger-head bottom which lay in a narrow barrier
between them and the range.

Through this ran a trail scarcely wider than a wagon-track, made through
the sea of hummocks and sedge-boles and mucky pitfalls by the axes and
shovels of his people; finding this, Alan stopped for a moment, knowing
that safety lay ahead of them. The girl leaned against him, and then was
almost a dead weight in his arms. The last two hundred yards had taken
the strength from her body. Her pale face dropped back, and Alan brushed
the soft hair away from it, and kissed her lips and her eyes, while the
pistol lay clenched against his breast. Even then, too hard-run to
speak, she smiled at him, and Alan caught her up in his arms and darted
into the narrow path which he knew their pursuers would not immediately
find if they could bet beyond their vision. He was joyously amazed at
her lightness. She was like a child in his arms, a glorious little
goddess hidden and smothered in her long hair, and he held her closer as
he hurried toward the cabins, conscious of the soft tightening of her
arms about his neck, feeling the sweet caress of her panting breath,
strengthened and made happy by her helplessness.

Thus they came out of the bottom as the first mist of slowly approaching
rain touched his face. He could see farther now--half-way back over the
narrow trail. He climbed a slope, and here Mary Standish slipped from
his arms and stood with new strength, looking into his face. His breath
was coming in little breaks, and he pointed. Faintly they could make out
the shadows of the corral buildings. Beyond them were no lights
penetrating the gloom from the windows of the range of houses. The
silence of the place was death-like.

And then something grew out of the earth almost at their feet. A hollow
cry followed the movement, a cry that was ghostly and shivering, and
loud enough only for them to hear, and Sokwenna stood at their side. He
talked swiftly. Only Alan understood. There was something unearthly and
spectral in his appearance; his hair and beard were wet; his eyes shot
here and there in little points of fire; he was like a gnome, weirdly
uncanny as he gestured and talked in his monotone while he watched the
nigger-head bottom. When he had finished, he did not wait for an
answer, but turned and led the way swiftly toward the range houses.

"What did he say?" asked the girl.

"That he is glad we are back. He heard the shots and came to meet us."

"And what else?" she persisted.

"Old Sokwenna is superstitious--and nervous. He said some things that
you wouldn't understand. You would probably think him mad if he told you
the spirits of his comrades slain in the kloof many years ago were here
with him tonight, warning him of things about to happen. Anyway, he has
been cautious. No sooner were we out of sight than he hustled every
woman and child in the village on their way to the mountains. Keok and
Nawadlook wouldn't go. I'm glad of that, for if they were pursued and
overtaken by men like Graham and Rossland--"

"Death would be better," finished Mary Standish, and her hand clung more
tightly to his arm.

"Yes, I think so. But that can not happen now. Out in the open they had
us at a disadvantage. But we can hold Sokwenna's place until Stampede
and the herdsmen come. With two good rifles inside, they won't dare to
assault the cabin with their naked hands. The advantage is all ours now;
we can shoot, but they won't risk the use of their rifles."

"Why?"

"Because you will be inside. Graham wants you alive, not dead. And
bullets--"

They had reached Sokwenna's door, and in that moment they hesitated and
turned their faces back to the gloom out of which they had fled. Voices
came suddenly from beyond the corrals. There was no effort at
concealment. The buildings were discovered, and men called out loudly
and were answered from half a dozen points out on the tundra. They could
hear running feet and sharp commands; some were cursing where they were
entangled among the nigger-heads, and the sound of hurrying foes came
from the edge of the ravine. Alan's heart stood still. There was
something terribly swift and businesslike in this gathering of their
enemies. He could hear them at his cabin. Doors opened. A window fell in
with a crash. Lights flared up through the gray mist.

It was then, from the barricaded attic window over their heads, that
Sokwenna's rifle answered. A single shot, a shriek, and then a pale
stream of flame leaped out from the window as the old warrior emptied
his gun. Before the last of the five swift shots were fired, Alan was in
the cabin, barring the door behind him. Shaded candles burned on the
floor, and beside them crouched Keok and Nawadlook. A glance told him
what Sokwenna had done. The room was an arsenal. Guns lay there, ready
to be used; heaps of cartridges were piled near them, and in the eyes of
Keok and Nawadlook blazed deep and steady fires as they held shining
cartridges between their fingers, ready to thrust them into the rifle
chambers as fast as the guns were emptied.

In the center of the room stood Mary Standish. The candles, shaded so
they would not disclose the windows, faintly illumined her pale face and
unbound hair and revealed the horror in her eyes as she looked at Alan.

He was about to speak, to assure her there was no danger that Graham's
men would fire upon the cabin--when hell broke suddenly loose out in the
night. The savage roar of guns answered Sokwenna's fusillade, and a hail
of bullets crashed against the log walls. Two of them found their way
through the windows like hissing serpents, and with a single movement
Alan was at Mary's side and had crumpled her down on the floor beside
Keok and Nawadlook. His face was white, his brain a furnace of sudden,
consuming fire.

"I thought they wouldn't shoot at women," he said, and his voice was
terrifying in its strange hardness. "I was mistaken. And I am
sure--now--that I understand."

With his rifle he cautiously approached the window. He was no longer
guessing at an elusive truth. He knew what Graham was thinking, what he
was planning, what he intended to do, and the thing was appalling. Both
he and Rossland knew there would be some way of sheltering Mary Standish
in Sokwenna's cabin; they were accepting a desperate gamble, believing
that Alan Holt would find a safe place for her, while he fought until
he fell. It was the finesse of clever scheming, nothing less than
murder, and he, by this combination of circumstances and plot, was the
victim marked for death.

The shooting had stopped, and the silence that followed it held a
significance for Alan. They were giving him an allotted time in which to
care for those under his protection. A trap-door was in the floor of
Sokwenna's cabin. It opened into a small storeroom and cellar, which in
turn possessed an air vent leading to the outside, overlooking the
ravine. In the candle-glow Alan saw the door of this trap propped open
with a stick. Sokwenna, too, was clever. Sokwenna had foreseen.

Crouched under the window, he looked at the girls. Keok, with a rifle in
her hand, had crept to the foot of the ladder leading up to the attic,
and began to climb it. She was going to Sokwenna, to load for him. Alan
pointed to the open trap.

"Quick, get into that!" he cried. "It is the only safe place. You can
load there and hand out the guns."

Mary Standish looked at him steadily, but did not move. She was
clutching a rifle in her hands. And Nawadlook did not move. But Keok
climbed steadily and disappeared in the darkness above.

"Go into the cellar!" commanded Alan. "Good God, if you don't--"

A smile lit up Mary's face. In that hour of deadly peril it was like a
ray of glorious light leading the way through blackness, a smile sweet
and gentle and unafraid; and slowly she crept toward Alan, dragging the
rifle in one hand and holding the little pistol in the other, and from
his feet she still smiled up at him through the dishevelment of her
shining hair, and in a quiet, little voice that thrilled him, she said,
"I am going to help you fight."

Nawadlook came creeping after her, dragging another rifle and bearing an
apron heavy with the weight of cartridges.

And above, through the darkened loophole of the attic window, Sokwenna's
ferret eyes had caught the movement of a shadow in the gray mist, and
his rifle sent its death-challenge once more to John Graham and his men.
What followed struck a smile from Mary's lips, and a moaning sob rose
from her breast as she watched the man she loved rise up before the open
window to face the winged death that was again beating a tattoo against
the log walls of the cabin.



CHAPTER XXV

That in the lust and passion of his designs and the arrogance of his
power John Graham was not afraid to overstep all law and order, and that
he believed Holt would shelter Mary Standish from injury and death,
there could no longer be a doubt after the first few swift moments
following Sokwenna's rifle-shots from the attic window.

Through the window of the lower room, barricaded by the cautious old
warrior until its aperture was not more than eight inches square, Alan
thrust his rifle as the crash of gun-fire broke the gray and thickening
mist of night. He could hear the thud and hiss of bullets; he heard them
singing like angry bees as they passed with the swiftness of
chain-lightning over the cabin roof, and their patter against the log
walls was like the hollow drumming of knuckles against the side of a
ripe watermelon. There was something fascinating and almost gentle about
that last sound. It did not seem that the horror of death was riding
with it, and Alan lost all sense of fear as he stared in the direction
from which the firing came, trying to make out shadows at which to
shoot. Here and there he saw dim, white streaks, and at these he fired
as fast as he could throw cartridges into the chamber and pull the
trigger. Then he crouched down with the empty gun. It was Mary Standish
who held out a freshly loaded weapon to him. Her face was waxen in its
deathly pallor. Her eyes, staring at him so strangely, never for an
instant leaving his face, were lustrous with the agony of fear that
flamed in their depths. She was not afraid for herself. It was for
_him_. His name was on her lips, a whisper unspoken, a breathless
prayer, and in that instant a bullet sped through the opening in front
of which he had stood a moment before, a hissing, writhing serpent of
death that struck something behind them in its venomous wrath. With a
cry she flung up her arms about his bent head.

"My God, they will kill you if you stand there!" she moaned. "Give me up
to them, Alan. If you love me--give me up!"

A sudden spurt of white dust shot out into the dim candle-glow, and then
another, so near Nawadlook that his blood went cold. Bullets were
finding their way through the moss and earth chinking between the logs
of the cabin. His arms closed in a fierce embrace about the girl's slim
body, and before she could realize what was happening, he leaped to the
trap with her and almost flung her into its protection. Then he forced
Nawadlook down beside her, and after them he thrust in the empty gun and
the apron with its weight of cartridges. His face was demoniac in
its command.

"If you don't stay there, I'll open the door and go outside to fight!
Do you understand? _Stay there!_"

His clenched fist was in their faces, his voice almost a shout. He saw
another white spurt of dust; the bullet crashed in tinware, and
following the crash came a shriek from Keok in the attic.

In that upper gloom Sokwenna's gun had fallen with a clatter. The old
warrior bent himself over, nearly double, and with his two withered
hands was clutching his stomach. He was on his knees, and his breath
suddenly came in a panting, gasping cry. Then he straightened slowly and
said something reassuring to Keok, and faced the window again with the
gun which she had loaded for him.

The scream had scarcely gone from Keok's lips when Alan was at the top
of the ladder, calling her. She came to him through the stark blackness
of the room, sobbing that Sokwenna was hit; and Alan reached out and
seized her, and dragged her down, and placed her with Nawadlook and
Mary Standish.

From them he turned to the window, and his soul cried out madly for the
power to see, to kill, to avenge. As if in answer to this prayer for
light and vision he saw his cabin strangely illumined; dancing, yellow
radiance silhouetted the windows, and a stream of it billowed out
through an open door into the night. It was so bright he could see the
rain-mist, scarcely heavier than a dense, slowly descending fog, a wet
blanket of vapor moistening the earth. His heart jumped as with each
second the blaze of light increased. They had set fire to his cabin.
They were no longer white men, but savages.

He was terribly cool, even as his heart throbbed so violently. He
watched with the eyes of a deadly hunter, wide-open over his
rifle-barrel. Sokwenna was still. Probably he was dead. Keok was sobbing
in the cellar-pit. Then he saw a shape growing in the illumination,
three or four of them, moving, alive. He waited until they were clearer,
and he knew what they were thinking--that the bullet-riddled cabin had
lost its power to fight. He prayed God it was Graham he was aiming at,
and fired. The figure went down, sank into the earth as a dead man
falls. Steadily he fired at the others--one, two, three, four--and two
out of the four he hit, and the exultant thought flashed upon him that
it was good shooting under the circumstances.

He sprang back for another gun, and it was Mary who was waiting for him,
head and shoulders out of the cellar-pit, the rifle in her hands. She
was sobbing as she looked straight at him, yet without moisture or tears
in her eyes.

"Keep down!" he warned. "Keep down below the floor!"

He guessed what was coming. He had shown his enemies that life still
existed in the cabin, life with death in its hands, and now--from the
shelter of the other cabins, from the darkness, from beyond the light of
his flaming home, the rifle fire continued to grow until it filled the
night with a horrible din. He flung himself face-down upon the floor, so
that the lower log of the building protected him. No living thing could
have stood up against what was happening in these moments. Bullets tore
through the windows and between the moss-chinked logs, crashing against
metal and glass and tinware; one of the candles sputtered and went out,
and in this hell Alan heard a cry and saw Mary Standish coming out of
the cellar-pit toward him. He had flung himself down quickly, and she
thought he was hit! He shrieked at her, and his heart froze with horror
as he saw a heavy tress of her hair drop to the floor as she stood there
in that frightful moment, white and glorious in the face of the
gun-fire. Before she could move another step, he was at her side, and
with her in his arms leaped into the pit.

A bullet sang over them. He crushed her so close that for a breath or
two life seemed to leave her body.

A sudden draught of cool air struck his face. He missed Nawadlook. In
the deeper gloom farther under the floor he heard her moving, and saw a
faint square of light. She was creeping back. Her hands touched his arm.

"We can get away--there!" she cried in a low voice. "I have opened the
little door. We can crawl through it and into the ravine."

Her words and the square of light were an inspiration. He had not
dreamed that Graham would turn the cabin into a death-hole, and
Nawadlook's words filled him with a sudden thrilling hope. The rifle
fire was dying away again as he gave voice to his plan in sharp, swift
words. He would hold the cabin. As long as he was there Graham and his
men would not dare to rush it. At least they would hesitate a
considerable time before doing that. And meanwhile the girls could steal
down into the ravine. There was no one on that side to intercept them,
and both Keok and Nawadlook were well acquainted with the trails into
the mountains. It would mean safety for them. He would remain in the
cabin, and fight, until Stampede Smith and the herdsmen came.

The white face against his breast was cold and almost expressionless.
Something in it frightened him. He knew his argument had failed and that
Mary Standish would not go; yet she did not answer him, nor did her lips
move in the effort.

"Go--for _their_ sakes, if not for your own and mine," he insisted,
holding her away from him. "Good God, think what it will mean if beasts
like those out there get hold of Keok and Nawadlook! Graham is your
husband and will protect you for himself, but for them there will
be no hope, no salvation, nothing but a fate more terrible than
death. They will be like--like two beautiful lambs thrown among
wolves--broken--destroyed--"

Her eyes were burning with horror. Keok was sobbing, and a moan which
she bravely tried to smother in her breast came from Nawadlook.

"And _you!_" whispered Mary.

"I must remain here. It is the only way."

Dumbly she allowed him to lead her back with Keok and Nawadlook. Keok
went through the opening first, then Nawadlook, and Mary Standish last.
She did not touch him again. She made no movement toward him and said no
word, and all he remembered of her when she was gone in the gloom was
her eyes. In that last look she had given him her soul, and no whisper,
no farewell caress came with it.

"Go cautiously until you are out of the ravine, then hurry toward the
mountains," were his last words.

He saw their forms fade into dim shadows, and the gray mist swallowed
them.

He hurried back, seized a loaded gun, and sprang to the window, knowing
that he must continue to deal death until he was killed. Only in that
way could he hold Graham back and give those who had escaped a chance
for their lives. Cautiously he looked out over his gun barrel. His cabin
was a furnace red with flame; streams of fire were licking out at the
windows and through the door, and as he sought vainly for a movement of
life, the crackling roar of it came to his ears, and so swiftly that his
breath choked him, the pitch-filled walls became sheets of
conflagration, until the cabin was a seething, red-hot torch of fire
whose illumination was more dazzling than the sun of day.

Out into this illumination suddenly stalked a figure waving a white
sheet at the end of a long pole. It advanced slowly, a little
hesitatingly at first, as if doubtful of what might happen; and then it
stopped, full in the light, an easy mark for a rifle aimed from
Sokwenna's cabin. He saw who it was then, and drew in his rifle and
watched the unexpected maneuver in amazement. The man was Rossland. In
spite of the dramatic tenseness of the moment Alan could not repress the
grim smile that came to his lips. Rossland was a man of illogical
resource, he meditated. Only a short time ago he had fled ignominiously
through fear of personal violence, while now, with a courage that could
not fail to rouse admiration, he was exposing himself to a swift and
sudden death, protected only by the symbol of truce over his head. That
he owed this symbol either regard or honor did not for an instant
possess Alan. A murderer held it, a man even more vile than a murderer
if such a creature existed on earth, and for such a man death was a
righteous end. Only Rossland's nerve, and what he might have to say,
held back the vengeance within reach of Alan's hand.

He waited, and Rossland again advanced and did not stop until he was
within a hundred feet of the cabin. A sudden disturbing thought flashed
upon Alan as he heard his name called. He had seen no other figures, no
other shadows beyond Rossland, and the burning cabin now clearly
illumined the windows of Sokwenna's place. Was it conceivable that
Rossland was merely a lure, and the instant he exposed himself in a
parley a score of hidden rifles would reveal their treachery? He
shuddered and held himself below the opening of the window. Graham and
his men were more than capable of such a crime.

Rossland's voice rose above the crackle and roar of the burning cabin.
"Alan Holt! Are you there?"

"Yes, I am here," shouted Alan, "and I have a line on your heart,
Rossland, and my finger is on the trigger. What do you want?"

There was a moment of silence, as if the thought of what he was facing
had at last stricken Rossland dumb. Then he said: "We are giving you a
last chance, Holt. For God's sake, don't be a fool! The offer I made you
today is still good. If you don't accept it--the law must take
its course."

"_The law!_" Alan's voice was a savage cry.

"Yes, the law. The law is with us. We have the proper authority to
recover a stolen wife, a captive, a prisoner held in restraint with
felonious intent. But we don't want to press the law unless we are
forced to do so. You and the old Eskimo have killed three of our men and
wounded two others. That means the hangman, if we take you alive. But we
are willing to forget that if you will accept the offer I made you
today. What do you say?"

Alan was stunned. Speech failed him as he realized the monstrous
assurance with which Graham and Rossland were playing their game. And
when he made no answer Rossland continued to drive home his arguments,
believing that at last Alan was at the point of surrender.

Up in the dark attic the voices had come like ghost-land whispers to old
Sokwenna. He lay huddled at the window, and the chill of death was
creeping over him. But the voices roused him. They were not strange
voices, but voices which came up out of a past of many years ago,
calling upon him, urging him, persisting in his ears with cries of
vengeance and of triumph, the call of familiar names, a moaning of
women, a sobbing of children. Shadowy hands helped him, and a last time
he raised himself to the window, and his eyes were filled with the glare
of the burning cabin. He struggled to lift his rifle, and behind him he
heard the exultation of his people as he rested it over the sill and
with gasping breath leveled it at something which moved between him and
the blazing light of that wonderful sun which was the burning cabin. And
then, slowly and with difficulty, he pressed the trigger, and Sokwenna's
last shot sped on its mission.

At the sound of the shot Alan looked through the window. For a moment
Rossland stood motionless. Then the pole in his hands wavered, drooped,
and fell to the earth, and Rossland sank down after it making no sound,
and lay a dark and huddled blot on the ground.

The appalling swiftness and ease with which Rossland had passed from
life into death shocked every nerve in Alan's body. Horror for a brief
space stupefied him, and he continued to stare at the dark and
motionless blot, forgetful of his own danger, while a grim and terrible
silence followed the shot. And then what seemed to be a single cry broke
that silence, though it was made up of many men's voices. Deadly and
thrilling, it was a message that set Alan into action. Rossland had been
killed under a flag of truce, and even the men under Graham had
something like respect for that symbol. He could expect no
mercy--nothing now but the most terrible of vengeance at their hands,
and as he dodged back from the window he cursed Sokwenna under his
breath, even as he felt the relief of knowing he was not dead.

Before a shot had been fired from outside, he was up the ladder; in
another moment he was bending over the huddled form of the old Eskimo.

"Come below!" he commanded. "We must be ready to leave through the
cellar-pit."

His hand touched Sokwenna's face; it hesitated, groped in the darkness,
and then grew still over the old warrior's heart. There was no tremor or
beat of life in the aged beast. Sokwenna was dead.

The guns of Graham's men opened fire again. Volley after volley crashed
into the cabin as Alan descended the ladder. He could hear bullets
tearing through the chinks and windows as he turned quickly to the
shelter of the pit.

He was amazed to find that Mary Standish had returned and was waiting
for him there.



CHAPTER XXVI

In the astonishment with which Mary's unexpected presence confused him
for a moment, Alan stood at the edge of the trap, staring down at her
pale face, heedless of the terrific gun-fire that was assailing the
cabin. That she had not gone with Keok and Nawadlook, but had come back
to him, filled him with instant dread, for the precious minutes he had
fought for were lost, and the priceless time gained during the parley
with Rossland counted for nothing.

She saw his disappointment and his danger, and sprang up to seize his
hand and pull him down beside her.

"Of course you didn't expect me to go," she said, in a voice that no
longer trembled or betrayed excitement. "You didn't want me to be a
coward. My place is with you."

He could make no answer to that, with her beautiful eyes looking at him
as they were, but he felt his heart grow warmer and something rise up
chokingly in his throat.

"Sokwenna is dead, and Rossland lies out there--shot under a flag of
truce," he said. "We can't have many minutes left to us."

He was looking at the square of light where the tunnel from the
cellar-pit opened into the ravine. He had planned to escape through
it--alone--and keep up a fight in the open, but with Mary at his side it
would be a desperate gantlet to run.

"Where are Keok and Nawadlook?" he asked.

"On the tundra, hurrying for the mountains. I told them it was your plan
that I should return to you. When they doubted, I threatened to give
myself up unless they did as I commanded them. And--Alan--the ravine is
filled with the rain-mist, and dark--" She was holding his free hand
closely to her breast.

"It is our one chance," he said.

"And aren't you glad--a little glad--that I didn't run away without
you?"

Even then he saw the sweet and tremulous play of her lips as they smiled
at him in the gloom, and heard the soft note in her voice that was
almost playfully chiding; and the glory of her love as she had proved it
to him there drew from him what he knew to be the truth.

"Yes--I am glad. It is strange that I should be so happy in a moment
like this. If they will give us a quarter of an hour--"

He led the way quickly to the square of light and was first to creep
forth into the thick mist. It was scarcely rain, yet he could feel the
wet particles of it, and through this saturated gloom whining bullets
cut like knives over his head. The blazing cabin illumined the open on
each side of Sokwenna's place, but deepened the shadows in the ravine,
and a few seconds later they stood hand in hand in the blanket of fog
that hid the coulée.

Suddenly the shots grew scattering above them, then ceased entirely.
This was not what Alan had hoped for. Graham's men, enraged and made
desperate by Rossland's death, would rush the cabin immediately.
Scarcely had the thought leaped into his mind when he heard swiftly
approaching shouts, the trampling of feet, and then the battering of
some heavy object at the barricaded door of Sokwenna's cabin. In another
minute or two their escape would be discovered and a horde of men would
pour down into the ravine.

Mary tugged at his hand. "Let us hurry," she pleaded.

What happened then seemed madness to the girl, for Alan turned and with
her hand held tightly in his started up the side of the ravine,
apparently in the face of their enemies. Her heart throbbed with sudden
fear when their course came almost within the circle of light made by
the burning cabin. Like shadows they sped into the deeper shelter of the
corral buildings, and not until they paused there did she understand the
significance of the hazardous chance they had taken. Already Graham's
men were pouring into the ravine.

"They won't suspect we've doubled on them until it is too late," said
Alan exultantly. "We'll make for the kloof. Stampede and the herdsmen
should arrive within a few hours, and when that happens--"

A stifled moan interrupted him. Half a dozen paces away a crumpled
figure lay huddled against one of the corral gates.

"He is hurt," whispered Mary, after a moment of silence.

"I hope so," replied Alan pitilessly. "It will be unfortunate for us if
he lives to tell his comrades we have passed this way."

Something in his voice made the girl shiver. It was as if the vanishing
point of mercy had been reached, and savages were at their backs. She
heard the wounded man moan again as they stole through the deeper
shadows of the corrals toward the nigger-head bottom. And then she
noticed that the mist was no longer in her face. The sky was clearing.
She could see Alan more clearly, and when they came to the narrow trail
over which they had fled once before that night it reached out ahead of
them like a thin, dark ribbon. Scarcely had they reached this point when
a rifle shot sounded not far behind. It was followed by a second and a
third, and after that came a shout. It was not a loud shout. There was
something strained and ghastly about it, and yet it came distinctly
to them.

"The wounded man," said Alan, in a voice of dismay. "He is calling the
others. I should have killed him!"

He traveled at a half-trot, and the girl ran lightly at his side. All
her courage and endurance had returned. She breathed easily and
quickened her steps, so that she was setting the pace for Alan. They
passed along the crest of the ridge under which lay the willows and the
pool, and at the end of this they paused to rest and listen. Trained to
the varied night whisperings of the tundras Alan's ears caught faint
sounds which his companion did not hear. The wounded man had succeeded
in giving his message, and pursuers were scattering over the plain
behind them.

"Can you run a little farther?" he asked.

"Where?"

He pointed, and she darted ahead of him, her dark hair streaming in a
cloud that began to catch a faint luster of increasing light. Alan ran a
little behind her. He was afraid of the light. Only gloom had saved them
this night, and if the darkness of mist and fog and cloud gave way to
clear twilight and the sun-glow of approaching day before they reached
the kloof he would have to fight in the open. With Stampede at his side
he would have welcomed such an opportunity of matching rifles with their
enemies, for there were many vantage points in the open tundra from
which they might have defied assault. But the nearness of the girl
frightened him. She, after all, was the hunted thing. He was only an
incident. From him could be exacted nothing more than the price of
death; he would be made to pay that, as Sokwenna had paid. For her
remained the unspeakable horror of Graham's lust and passion. But if
they could reach the kloof, and the hiding-place in the face of the
cliff, they could laugh at Graham's pack of beasts while they waited for
the swift vengeance that would come with Stampede and the herdsmen.

He watched the sky. It was clearing steadily. Even the mists in the
hollows were beginning to melt away, and in place of their dissolution
came faintly rose-tinted lights. It was the hour of dawn; the sun sent a
golden glow over the disintegrating curtain of gloom that still lay
between it and the tundras, and objects a hundred paces away no longer
held shadow or illusionment.

The girl did not pause, but continued to run lightly and with surprising
speed, heeding only the direction which he gave her. Her endurance
amazed him. And he knew that without questioning him she had guessed the
truth of what lay behind them. Then, all at once, she stopped, swayed
like a reed, and would have fallen if his arms had not caught her.

"Splendid!" he cried.

She lay gasping for breath, her face against his breast. Her heart was a
swiftly beating little dynamo.

They had gained the edge of a shallow ravine that reached within half a
mile of the kloof. It was this shelter he had hoped for, and Mary's
splendid courage had won it for them.

He picked her up in his arms and carried her again, as he had carried
her through the nigger-head bottom. Every minute, every foot of
progress, counted now. Range of vision was widening. Pools of sunlight
were flecking the plains. In another quarter of an hour moving objects
would be distinctly visible a mile away.

With his precious burden in his arms, her lips so near that he could
feel their breath, her heart throbbing, he became suddenly conscious of
the incongruity of the bird-song that was wakening all about them. It
seemed inconceivable that this day, glorious in its freshness, and
welcomed by the glad voice of all living things, should be a day of
tragedy, of horror, and of impending doom for him. He wanted to shout
out his protest and say that it was all a lie, and it seemed absurd that
he should handicap himself with the weight and inconvenient bulk of his
rifle when his arms wanted to hold only that softer treasure which
they bore.

In a little while Mary was traveling at his side again. And from then on
he climbed at intervals to the higher swellings of the gully edge and
scanned the tundra. Twice he saw men, and from their movements he
concluded their enemies believed they were hidden somewhere on the
tundra not far from the range-houses.

Three-quarters of an hour later they came to the end of the shallow
ravine, and half a mile of level plain lay between them and the kloof.
For a space they rested, and in this interval Mary smoothed her long
hair and plaited it in two braids. In these moments Alan encouraged her,
but he did not lie. He told her the half-mile of tundra was their
greatest hazard, and described the risks they would run. Carefully he
explained what she was to do under certain circumstances. There was
scarcely a chance they could cross it unobserved, but they might be so
far ahead of the searchers that they could beat them out to the kloof.
If enemies appeared between them and the kloof, it would be necessary to
find a dip or shelter of rock, and fight; and if pursuers from behind
succeeded in out-stripping them in the race, she was to continue in the
direction of the kloof as fast as she could go, while he followed more
slowly, holding Graham's men back with his rifle until she reached the
edge of the gorge. After that he would come to her as swiftly as he
could run.

They started. Within five minutes they were on the floor of the tundra.
About them in all directions stretched the sunlit plains. Half a mile
back toward the range were moving figures; farther west were others, and
eastward, almost at the edge of the ravine, were two men who would have
discovered them in another moment if they had not descended into the
hollow. Alan could see them kneeling to drink at the little coulée which
ran through it.

"Don't hurry," he said, with a sudden swift thought. "Keep parallel with
me and a distance away. They may not discover you are a woman and
possibly may think we are searchers like themselves. Stop when I stop.
Follow my movements."

"Yes, sir!"

Now, in the sunlight, she was not afraid. Her cheeks were flushed, her
eyes bright as stars as she nodded at him. Her face and hands were
soiled with muck-stain, her dress spotted and torn, and looking at her
thus Alan laughed and cried out softly:

"You beautiful little vagabond!"

She sent the laugh back, a soft, sweet laugh to give him courage, and
after that she watched him closely, falling in with his scheme so
cleverly that her action was better than his own--and so they had made
their way over a third of the plain when Alan came toward her suddenly
and cried, "Now, _run_!"

A glance showed her what was happening. The two men had come out of the
ravine and were running toward them.

Swift as a bird she was ahead of Alan, making for a pinnacle of rock
which he had pointed out to her at the edge of the kloof.

Close behind her, he said: "Don't hesitate a second. Keep on going. When
they are a little nearer I am going to kill them. But you mustn't stop."

At intervals he looked behind him. The two men were gaining rapidly. He
measured the time when less than two hundred yards would separate them.
Then he drew close to Mary's side.

"See that level place ahead? We'll cross it in another minute or two.
When they come to it I'm going to stop, and catch them where they can't
find shelter. But you must keep on going. I'll overtake you by the time
you reach the edge of the kloof."

She made no answer, but ran faster; and when they had passed the level
space she heard his footsteps growing fainter, and her heart was ready
to choke her when she knew the time had come for him to turn upon their
enemies. But in her mind burned the low words of his command, his
warning, and she did not look back, but kept her eyes on the pinnacle of
rock, which was now very near. She had almost reached it when the first
shot came from behind her.

Without making a sound that would alarm her, Alan had stumbled, and made
pretense of falling. He lay upon his face for a moment, as if stunned,
and then rose to his knees. An instant too late Graham's men saw his
ruse when his leveled rifle gleamed in the sunshine. The speed of their
pursuit was their undoing. Trying to catch themselves so that they might
use their rifles, or fling themselves upon the ground, they brought
themselves into a brief but deadly interval of inaction, and in that
flash one of the men went down under Alan's first shot. Before he could
fire again the second had flattened himself upon the earth, and swift as
a fox Alan was on his feet and racing for the kloof. Mary stood with her
back against the huge rock, gasping for breath, when he joined her. A
bullet sang over their heads with its angry menace. He did not return
the fire, but drew the girl quickly behind the rock.

"He won't dare to stand up until the others join him," he encouraged
her. "We're beating them to it, little girl! If you can keep up a few
minutes longer--"

She smiled at him, even as she struggled to regain her breath. It seemed
to her there was no way of descending into the chaos of rock between the
gloomy walls of the kloof, and she gave a little cry when Alan caught
her by her hands and lowered her over the face of a ledge to a
table-like escarpment below. He laughed at her fear when he dropped down
beside her, and held her close as they crept back under the shelving
face of the cliff to a hidden path that led downward, with a yawning
chasm at their side. The trail widened as they descended, and at the
last they reached the bottom, with the gloom and shelter of a
million-year-old crevasse hovering over them. Grim and monstrous rocks,
black and slippery with age, lay about them, and among these they picked
their way, while the trickle and drip of water and the flesh-like
clamminess of the air sent a strange shiver of awe through Mary
Standish. There was no life here--only an age-old whisper that seemed a
part of death; and when voices came from above, where Graham's men were
gathering, they were ghostly and far away.

But here, too, was refuge and safety. Mary could feel it as they picked
their way through the chill and gloom that lay in the silent passages
between the Gargantuan rocks. When her hands touched their naked sides
an uncontrollable impulse made her shrink closer to Alan, even though
she sensed the protection of their presence. They were like colossi,
carved by hands long dead, and now guarded by spirits whose voices
guttered low and secretly in the mysterious drip and trickle of unseen
water. This was the haunted place. In this chasm death and vengeance had
glutted themselves long before she was born; and when a rock crashed
behind them, accidentally sent down by one of the men above, a cry broke
from her lips. She was frightened, and in a way she had never known
before. It was not death she feared here, nor the horror from which she
had escaped above, but something unknown and indescribable, for which
she would never be able to give a reason. She clung to Alan, and when at
last the narrow fissure widened over their heads, and light came down
and softened their way, he saw that her face was deathly white.

"We are almost there," he comforted. "And--some day--you will love this
gloomy kloof as I love it, and we will travel it together all the way to
the mountains."

A few minutes later they came to an avalanche of broken sandstone that
was heaped half-way up the face of the precipitous wall, and up this
climbed until they came to a level shelf of rock, and back of this was a
great depression in the rock, forty feet deep and half as wide, with a
floor as level as a table and covered with soft white sand. Mary would
never forget her first glimpse of this place; it was unreal, strange, as
if a band of outlaw fairies had brought the white sand for a carpet, and
had made this their hiding-place, where wind and rain and snow could
never blow. And up the face of the cavern, as if to make her thought
more real, led a ragged fissure which it seemed to her only fairies'
feet could travel, and which ended at the level of the plain. So they
were tundra fairies, coming down from flowers and sunlight through that
fissure, and it was from the evil spirits in the kloof itself that they
must have hidden themselves. Something in the humor and gentle thought
of it all made her smile at Alan. But his face had turned suddenly grim,
and she looked up the kloof, where they had traveled through danger and
come to safety. And then she saw that which froze all thought of fairies
out of her heart.

Men were coming through the chaos and upheaval of rock. There were many
of them, appearing out of the darker neck of the gorge into the clearer
light, and at their head was a man upon whom Mary's eyes fixed
themselves in horror. White-faced she looked at Alan. He had guessed
the truth.

"That man in front?" he asked.

She nodded. "Yes."

"Is John Graham."

He heard the words choking in her throat.

"Yes, John Graham."

He swung his rifle slowly, his eyes burning with a steely fire.

"I think," he said, "that from here I can easily kill him!"

Her hand touched his arm; she was looking into his eyes. Fear had gone
out of them, and in its place was a soft and gentle radiance, a
prayer to him.

"I am thinking of tomorrow--the next day--the years and years to come,
_with you_," she whispered. "Alan, you can't kill John Graham--not until
God shows us it is the only thing left for us to do. You can't--"

The crash of a rifle between the rock walls interrupted her. The snarl
of a bullet followed the shot. She heard it strike, and her heart
stopped beating, and the rigidity of death came into her limbs and body
as she saw the swift and terrible change in the stricken face of the man
she loved. He tried to smile at her, even as a red blot came where the
streak of gray in his hair touched his forehead. And then he crumpled
down at her feet, and his rifle rattled against the rocks.

She knew it was death. Something seemed to burst in her head and fill
her brain with the roar of a flood. She screamed. Even the men below
hesitated and their hearts jumped with a new sensation as the terrible
cry of a woman rang between the rock walls of the chasm. And following
the cry a voice came down to them.

"John Graham, I'm going to kill you--_kill you_--"

And snatching up the fallen rifle Mary Standish set herself to the task
of vengeance.



CHAPTER XXVII

She waited. The ferocity of a mother defending her young filled her
soul, and she moaned in her grief and despair as the seconds passed. But
she did not fire blindly, for she knew she must kill John Graham. The
troublesome thing was a strange film that persisted in gathering before
her eyes, something she tried to brush away, but which obstinately
refused to go. She did not know she was sobbing as she looked over the
rifle barrel. The figures came swiftly, but she had lost sight of John
Graham. They reached the upheaval of shattered rock and began climbing
it, and in her desire to make out the man she hated she stood above the
rampart that had sheltered her. The men looked alike, jumping and
dodging like so many big tundra hares as they came nearer, and suddenly
it occurred to her that _all_ of them were John Grahams, and that she
must kill swiftly and accurately. Only the hiding fairies might have
guessed how her reason trembled and almost fell in those moments when
she began firing. Certainly John Graham and his men did not, for her
first shot was a lucky one, and a man slipped down among the rocks at
the crack of it. After that she continued to fire until the responseless
click of the hammer told her the gun was empty. The explosions and the
shock against her slight shoulder cleared her vision and her brain. She
saw the men still coming, and they were so near she could see their
faces clearly. And again her soul cried out in its desire to kill
John Graham.

She turned, and for an instant fell upon her knees beside Alan. His face
was hidden in his arm. Swiftly she tore his automatic from its holster,
and sprang back to her rock. There was no time to wait or choose now,
for his murderers were almost upon her. With all her strength she tried
to fire accurately, but Alan's big gun leaped and twisted in her hand as
she poured its fire wildly down among the rocks until it was empty. Her
own smaller weapon she had lost somewhere in the race to the kloof, and
now when she found she had fired her last shot she waited through
another instant of horror, until she was striking at faces that came
within the reach of her arm. And then, like a monster created suddenly
by an evil spirit, Graham was at her side. She had a moment's vision of
his cruel, exultant face, his eyes blazing with a passion that was
almost madness, his powerful body lunging upon her. Then his arms came
about her. She could feel herself crushing inside them, and fought
against their cruel pressure, then broke limply and hung a resistless
weight against him. She was not unconscious, but her strength was gone,
and if the arms had closed a little more they would have killed her.

And she could hear--clearly. She heard suddenly the shots that came
from up the kloof, scattered shots, then many of them, and after that
the strange, wild cries that only the Eskimo herdsmen make.

Graham's arms relaxed. His eyes swept the fairies' hiding-place with its
white sand floor, and fierce joy lit up his face.

"Martens, it couldn't happen in a better place," he said to a man who
stood near him. "Leave me five men. Take the others and help Schneider.
If you don't clean them out, retreat this way, and six rifles from this
ambuscade will do the business in a hurry."

Mary heard the names of the men called who were to stay. The others
hurried away. The firing in the kloof was steady now. But there were no
cries, no shouts--nothing but the ominous crack of the rifles.

Graham's arms closed about her again. Then he picked her up and carried
her back into the cavern, and in a place where the rock wall sagged
inward, making a pocket of gloom which was shut out from the light of
day, he laid her upon the carpet of sand.

Where the erosion of many centuries of dripping water had eaten its
first step in the making of the ragged fissure a fairy had begun to
climb down from the edge of the tundra. He was a swift and agile fairy,
very red in the face, breathing fast from hard running, but making not a
sound as he came like a gopher where it seemed no living thing could
find a hold. And the fairy was Stampede Smith.

From the lips of the kloof he had seen the last few seconds of the
tragedy below, and where death would have claimed him in a more
reasonable moment he came down in safety now. In his finger-ends was the
old tingling of years ago, and in his blood the thrill which he had
thought was long dead--the thrill of looking over leveled guns into the
eyes of other men. Time had rolled back, and he was the old Stampede
Smith. He saw under him lust and passion and murder, as in other days he
had seen them, and between him and desire there was neither law nor
conscience to bar the way, and his dream--a last great fight--was here
to fill the final unwritten page of a life's drama that was almost
closed. And what a fight, if he could make that carpet of soft, white
sand unheard and unseen. Six to one! Six men with guns at their sides
and rifles in their hands. What a glorious end it would be, for a
woman--and Alan Holt!

He blessed the firing up the kloof which kept the men's faces turned
that way; he thanked God for the sound of combat, which made the
scraping of rock and the rattle of stones under his feet unheard. He was
almost down when a larger rock broke loose, and fell to the ledge. Two
of the men turned, but in that same instant came a more thrilling
interruption. A cry, a shrill scream, a woman's voice filled with
madness and despair, came from the depth of the cavern, and the five men
stared in the direction of its agony. Close upon the cries came Mary
Standish, with Graham behind her, reaching out his hands for her. The
girl's hair was flying, her face the color of the white sand, and
Graham's eyes were the eyes of a demon forgetful of all else but her. He
caught her. The slim body crumpled in his arms again while pitifully
weak hands beat futilely in his face.

And then came a cry such as no man had ever heard in Ghost Kloof before.

It was Stampede Smith. A sheer twenty feet he had leaped to the carpet
of sand, and as he jumped his hands whipped out his two guns, and
scarcely had his feet touched the floor of the soft pocket in the ledge
when death crashed from them swift as lightning flashes, and three of
the five were tottering or falling before the other two could draw or
swing a rifle. Only one of them had fired a shot. The other went down as
if his legs had been knocked from under him by a club, and the one who
fired bent forward then, as if making a bow to death, and pitched on
his face.

And then Stampede Smith whirled upon John Graham.

During these few swift seconds Graham had stood stunned, with the girl
crushed against his breast. He was behind her, sheltered by her body,
her head protecting his heart, and as Stampede turned he was drawing a
gun, his dark face blazing with the fiendish knowledge that the other
could not shoot without killing the girl. The horror of the situation
gripped Stampede. He saw Graham's pistol rise slowly and deliberately.
He watched it, fascinated. And the look in Graham's face was the cold
and unexcited triumph of a devil. Stampede saw only that face. It was
four inches--perhaps five--away from the girl's. There was only
that--and the extending arm, the crooking finger, the black mouth of the
automatic seeking his heart. And then, in that last second, straight
into the girl's staring eyes blazed Stampede's gun, and the four inches
of leering face behind her was suddenly blotted out. It was Stampede,
and not the girl, who closed his eyes then; and when he opened them and
saw Mary Standish sobbing over Alan's body, and Graham lying face down
in the sand, he reverently raised the gun from which he had fired the
last shot, and pressed its hot barrel to his thin lips.

Then he went to Alan. He raised the limp head, while Mary bowed her face
in her hands. In her anguish she prayed that she, too, might die, for in
this hour of triumph over Graham there was no hope or joy for her. Alan
was gone. Only death could have come with that terrible red blot on his
forehead, just under the gray streak in his hair. And without him there
was no longer a reason for her to live.

She reached out her arms. "Give him to me," she whispered. "Give him to
me."

Through the agony that burned in her eyes she did not see the look in
Stampede's face. But she heard his voice.

"It wasn't a bullet that hit him," Stampede was saying. "The bullet hit
a rock, an' it was a chip from the rock that caught him square between
the eyes. He isn't dead, _and he ain't going to die!_"

How many weeks or months or years it was after his last memory of the
fairies' hiding-place before he came back to life, Alan could make no
manner of guess. But he did know that for a long, long time he was
riding through space on a soft, white cloud, vainly trying to overtake a
girl with streaming hair who fled on another cloud ahead of him; and at
last this cloud broke up, like a great cake of ice, and the girl plunged
into the immeasurable depths over which they were sailing, and he leaped
after her. Then came strange lights, and darkness, and sounds like the
clashing of cymbals, and voices; and after those things a long sleep,
from which he opened his eyes to find himself in a bed, and a face very
near, with shining eyes that looked at him through a sea of tears.

And a voice whispered to him, sweetly, softly, joyously, "Alan!"

He tried to reach up his arms. The face came nearer; it was pressed
against his own, soft arms crept about him, softer lips kissed his mouth
and eyes, and sobbing whispers came with their love, and he knew the end
of the race had come, and he had won.

This was the fifth day after the fight in the kloof; and on the sixth he
sat up in his bed, bolstered with pillows, and Stampede came to see him,
and then Keok and Nawadlook and Tatpan and Topkok and Wegaruk, his old
housekeeper, and only for a few minutes at a time was Mary away from
him. But Tautuk and Amuk Toolik did not come, and he saw the strange
change in Keok, and knew that they were dead. Yet he dreaded to ask the
question, for more than any others of his people did he love these two
missing comrades of the tundras.

It was Stampede who first told him in detail what had happened--but he
would say little of the fight on the ledge, and it was Mary who told
him of that.

"Graham had over thirty men with him, and only ten got away," he said.
"We have buried sixteen and are caring for seven wounded at the corrals.
Now that Graham is dead, they're frightened stiff--afraid we're going to
hand them over to the law. And without Graham or Rossland to fight for
them, they know they're lost."

"And our men--my people?" asked Alan faintly.

"Fought like devils."

"Yes, I know. But--"

"They didn't rest an hour in coming from the mountains."

"You know what I mean, Stampede."

"Not many, Alan. Seven were killed, including Sokwenna," and he counted
over the names of the slain. Tautuk and Amuk Toolik were not among them.

"And Tautuk?"

"He is wounded. Missed death by an inch, and it has almost killed Keok.
She is with him night and day, and as jealous as a little cat if anyone
else attempts to do anything for him."

"Then--I am glad Tautuk was hit," smiled Alan. And he asked, "Where is
Amuk Toolik?"

Stampede hung his head and blushed like a boy.

"You'll have to ask _her_, Alan."

And a little later Alan put the question to Mary.

She, too, blushed, and in her eyes was a mysterious radiance that
puzzled him.

"You must wait," she said.

Beyond that she would say no word, though he pulled her head down, and
with his hands in her soft, smooth hair threatened to hold her until she
told him the secret. Her answer was a satisfied little sigh, and she
nestled her pink face against his neck, and whispered that she was
content to accept the punishment. So where Amuk Toolik had gone, and
what he was doing, still remained a mystery.

A little later he knew he had guessed the truth.

"I don't need a doctor," he said, "but it was mighty thoughtful of you
to send Amuk Toolik for one." Then he caught himself suddenly. "What a
senseless fool I am! Of course there are others who need a doctor more
than I do."

Mary nodded. "But I was thinking chiefly of you when I sent Amuk Toolik
to Tanana. He is riding Kauk, and should return almost any time now."
And she turned her face away so that he could see only the pink tip
of her ear.

"Very soon I will be on my feet and ready for travel," he said. "Then we
will start for the States, as we planned."

"You will have to go alone, Alan, for I shall be too busy fitting up the
new house," she replied, in such a quiet, composed, little voice that he
was stunned. "I have already given orders for the cutting of timber in
the foothills, and Stampede and Amuk Toolik will begin construction very
soon. I am sorry you find your business in the States so important,
Alan. It will be a little lonesome with you away."

He gasped. "Mary!"

She did not turn. "_Mary!_"

He could see again that little, heart-like throb in her throat when she
faced him.

And then he learned the secret, softly whispered, with sweet, warm lips
pressed to his.

"It wasn't a doctor I sent for, Alan. It was a minister. We need one to
marry Stampede and Nawadlook and Tautuk and Keok. Of course, you and I
can wait--"

But she never finished, for her lips were smothered with a love that
brought a little sob of joy from her heart.

And then she whispered things to him which he had never guessed of Mary
Standish, and never quite hoped to hear. She was a little wild, a little
reckless it may be, but what she said filled him with a happiness which
he believed had never come to any other man in the world. It was not her
desire to return to the States at all. She never wanted to return. She
wanted nothing down there, nothing that the Standish fortune-builders
had left her, unless he could find some way of using it for the good of
Alaska. And even then she was afraid it might lead to the breaking of
her dream. For there was only one thing that would make her happy, and
that was _his_ world. She wanted it just as it was--the big tundras, his
people, the herds, the mountains--with the glory and greatness of God
all about them in the open spaces. She now understood what he had meant
when he said he was an Alaskan and not an American; she was that, too,
an Alaskan first of all, and for Alaska she would go on fighting with
him, hand in hand, until the very end. His heart throbbed until it
seemed it would break, and all the time she was whispering her hopes and
secrets to him he stroked her silken hair, until it lay spread over his
breast, and against his lips, and for the first time in years a hot
flood of tears filled his eyes.

So happiness came to them; and only strange voices outside raised Mary's
head from where it lay, and took her quickly to the window where she
stood a vision of sweet loveliness, radiant in the tumbled confusion and
glory of her hair. Then she turned with a little cry, and her eyes were
shining like stars as she looked at Alan.

"It is Amuk Toolik," she said. "He has returned."

"And--is he alone?" Alan asked, and his heart stood still while he
waited for her answer.

Demurely she came to his side, and smoothed his pillow, and stroked back
his hair. "I must go and do up my hair, Alan," she said then. "It would
never do for them to find me like this."

And suddenly, in a moment, their fingers entwined and tightened, for on
the roof of Sokwenna's cabin the little gray-cheeked thrush was
singing again.





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