James Oliver Curwood
Part 2 out of 5
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
"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
"You come to me with a silly threat like that, Miss Standish? A threat
"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
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
"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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
It was the woman. The captain broke in, as she caught herself with a
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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--"
"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
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
"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
"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."
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"Of course. Everything I possess."
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.
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.
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
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 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
He raised his eyes from the fire and smiled grimly into Olaf's bearded
"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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Was he mad? Had the sickness in his head turned his brain?
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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.
"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
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