James Oliver Curwood
Part 3 out of 5
Mary Standish, and from his right came an odd little screech that only
one person in the world could make, and that was Keok. She dropped the
armful of sticks she had gathered for the fire and made straight for
him, while Nawadlook, taller and less like a wild creature in the manner
of her coming, was only a moment behind. And then he was shaking hands
with Stampede, and Keok had slipped down among the flowers and was
crying. That was like Keok. She always cried when he went away, and
cried when he returned; and then, in another moment, it was Keok who was
laughing first, and Alan noticed she no longer wore her hair in braids,
as the quieter Nawadlook persisted in doing, but had it coiled about her
head just as Mary Standish wore her own.
These details pressed themselves upon him in a vague and unreal sort of
way. No one, not even Mary Standish, could understand how his mind and
nerves were fighting to recover themselves. His senses were swimming
back one by one to a vital point from which they had been swept by an
unexpected sea, gripping rather incoherently at unimportant realities as
they assembled themselves. In the edge of the tundra beyond the
cottonwoods he noticed three saddle-deer grazing at the ends of ropes
which were fastened to cotton-tufted nigger-heads. He drew off his pack
as Mary Standish went to help Keok pick up the fallen sticks. Nawadlook
was pulling a coffee-pot from the tiny fire. Stampede began to fill a
pipe. He realized that because they had expected him, if not today then
tomorrow or the next day or a day soon after that, no one had
experienced shock but himself, and with a mighty effort he reached back
and dragged the old Alan Holt into existence again. It was like bringing
an intelligence out of darkness into light.
It was difficult for him--afterward--to remember just what happened
during the next half-hour. The amazing thing was that Mary Standish sat
opposite him, with the cloth on which Nawadlook had spread the supper
things between them, and that she was the same clear-eyed, beautiful
Mary Standish who had sat across the table from him in the dining-salon
of the _Nome_.
Not until later, when he stood alone with Stampede Smith in the edge of
the cottonwoods, and the three girls were riding deer back over the
tundra in the direction of the Range, did the sea of questions which had
been gathering begin to sweep upon him. It had been Keok's suggestion
that she and Mary and Nawadlook ride on ahead, and he had noticed how
quickly Mary Standish had caught at the idea. She had smiled at him as
she left, and a little farther out had waved her hand at him, as Keok
and Nawadlook both had done, but not another word had passed between
them alone. And as they rode off in the warm glow of sunset Alan stood
watching them, and would have stared without speech until they were out
of sight, if Stampede's fingers had not gripped his arm.
"Now, go to it, Alan," he said. "I'm ready. Give me hell!"
It was thus, with a note of something inevitable in his voice, that
Stampede brought Alan back solidly to earth. There was a practical and
awakening inspiration in the manner of the little red-whiskered man's
"I've been a damn fool," he confessed. "And I'm waiting."
The word was like a key opening a door through which a flood of things
began to rush in upon Alan. There were other fools, and evidently he had
been one. His mind went back to the _Nome_. It seemed only a few hours
ago--only yesterday--that the girl had so artfully deceived them all,
and he had gone through hell because of that deception. The trickery had
been simple, and exceedingly clever because of its simplicity; it must
have taken a tremendous amount of courage, now that he clearly
understood that at no time had she wanted to die.
"I wonder," he said, "why she did a thing like that?"
Stampede shook his head, misunderstanding what was in Alan's mind. "I
couldn't keep her back, not unless I tied her to a tree." And he added,
"The little witch even threatened to shoot me!"
A flash of exultant humor filled his eyes. "Begin, Alan. I'm waiting.
Go the limit."
"For letting her ride over me, of course. For bringing her up. For not
shufflin' her in the bush. You can't take it out of _her_ hide,
He twisted his red whiskers, waiting for an answer. Alan was silent.
Mary Standish was leading the way up out of a dip in the tundra a
quarter of a mile away, with Nawadlook and Keok close behind her. They
trotted up a low ridge and disappeared.
"It's none of my business," persisted Stampede, "but you didn't seem to
"You're right," interrupted Alan, turning toward his pack. "I didn't
expect her. I thought she was dead."
A low whistle escaped Stampede's lips. He opened his mouth to speak and
closed it again. Alan observed him as he slipped the pack over his
shoulders. Evidently his companion did not know Mary Standish was the
girl who had jumped overboard from the _Nome_, and if she had kept her
secret, it was not his business just now to explain, even though he
guessed that Stampede's quick wits would readily jump at the truth. A
light was beginning to dispel the little man's bewilderment as they
started toward the Range. He had seen Mary Standish frequently aboard
the _Nome_; a number of times he had observed her in Alan's company, and
he knew of the hours they had spent together in Skagway. Therefore, if
Alan had believed her dead when they went ashore at Cordova, a few hours
after the supposed tragedy, it must have been she who jumped into the
sea. He shrugged his shoulders in deprecation of his failure to discover
this amazing fact in his association with Mary Standish.
"It beats the devil!" he exclaimed suddenly.
"It does," agreed Alan.
Cold, hard reason began to shoulder itself inevitably against the
happiness that possessed him, and questions which he had found no
interest in asking when aboard ship leaped upon him with compelling
force. Why was it so tragically important to Mary Standish that the
world should believe her dead? What was it that had driven her to appeal
to him and afterward to jump into the sea? What was her mysterious
association with Rossland, an agent of Alaska's deadliest enemy, John
Graham--the one man upon whom he had sworn vengeance if opportunity ever
came his way? Over him, clubbing other emotions with its insistence,
rode a demand for explanations which it was impossible for him to make.
Stampede saw the tense lines in his face and remained silent in the
lengthening twilight, while Alan's mind struggled to bring coherence and
reason out of a tidal wave of mystery and doubt. Why had she come to
_his_ cabin aboard the _Nome_? Why had she played him with such
conspicuous intent against Rossland, and why--in the end--had she
preceded him to his home in the tundras? It was this question which
persisted, never for an instant swept aside by the others. She had not
come because of love for him. In a brutal sort of way he had proved
that, for when he had taken her in his arms, he had seen distress and
fear and a flash of horror in her face. Another and more mysterious
force had driven her.
The joy in him was a living flame even as this realization pressed upon
him. He was like a man who had found life after a period of something
that was worse than death, and with his happiness he felt himself
twisted upon an upheaval of conflicting sensations and half convictions
out of which, in spite of his effort to hold it back, suspicion began to
creep like a shadow. But it was not the sort of suspicion to cool the
thrill in his blood or frighten him, for he was quite ready to concede
that Mary Standish was a fugitive, and that her flight from Seattle had
been in the face of a desperate necessity. What had happened aboard ship
was further proof, and her presence at his range a final one. Forces had
driven her which it had been impossible for her to combat, and in
desperation she had come to him for refuge. She had chosen him out of
all the world to help her; she believed in him; she had faith that with
him no harm could come, and his muscles tightened with sudden desire to
fight for her.
In these moments he became conscious of the evening song of the tundras
and the soft splendor of the miles reaching out ahead of them. He
strained his eyes to catch another glimpse of the mounted figures when
they came up out of hollows to the clough-tops, but the lacy veils of
evening were drawing closer, and he looked in vain. Bird-song grew
softer; sleepy cries rose from the grasses and pools; the fire of the
sun itself died out, leaving its radiance in a mingling of vivid rose
and mellow gold over the edge of the world. It was night and yet day,
and Alan wondered what thoughts were in the heart of Mary Standish. What
had driven her to the Range was of small importance compared with the
thrilling fact that she was just ahead of him. The mystery of her would
be explained tomorrow. He was sure of that. She would confide in him.
Now that she had so utterly placed herself under his protection, she
would tell him what she had not dared to disclose aboard the _Nome_. So
he thought only of the silvery distance of twilight that separated them,
and spoke at last to Stampede.
"I'm rather glad you brought her," he said.
"I didn't bring her," protested Stampede. "She _came_." He shrugged his
shoulders with a grunt. "And furthermore I didn't manage it. She did
that herself. She didn't come with me. I came with _her_."
He stopped and struck a match to light his pipe. Over the tiny flame he
glared fiercely at Alan, but in his eyes was something that betrayed
him. Alan saw it and felt a desire to laugh out of sheer happiness. His
keen vision and sense of humor were returning.
"How did it happen?"
Stampede puffed loudly at his pipe, then took it from his mouth and
drew in a deep breath.
"First I remember was the fourth night after we landed at Cordova.
Couldn't get a train on the new line until then. Somewhere up near
Chitina we came to a washout. It didn't rain. You couldn't call it that,
Alan. It was the Pacific Ocean falling on us, with two or three other
oceans backing it up. The stage came along, horses swimming, coach
floating, driver half drowned in his seat. I was that hungry I got in
for Chitina. There was one other climbed in after me, and I wondered
what sort of fool he was. I said something about being starved or I'd
have hung to the train. The other didn't answer. Then I began to swear.
I did, Alan. I cursed terrible. Swore at the Government for building
such a road, swore at the rain, an' I swore at myself for not bringin'
along grub. I said my belly was as empty as a shot-off cartridge, and I
said it good an' loud. I was mad. Then a big flash of lightning lit up
the coach. Alan, it was _her_ sittin' there with a box in her lap,
facing me, drippin' wet, her eyes shining--and she was smiling at me!
Stampede paused to let the shock sink in. He was not disappointed.
Alan stared at him in amazement. "The fourth night--after--" He caught
himself. "Go on, Stampede!"
"I began hunting for the latch on the door, Alan. I was goin' to sneak
out, drop in the mud, disappear before the lightnin' come again. But it
caught me. An' there she was, undoing the box, and I heard her saying
she had plenty of good stuff to eat. An' she called me Stampede, like
she'd known me all her life, and with that coach rolling an' rocking and
the thunder an' lightning an' rain piling up against each other like
sin, she came over and sat down beside me and began to feed me. She did
that, Alan--_fed_ me. When the lightning fired up, I could see her eyes
shining and her lips smilin' as if all that hell about us made her
happy, and I thought she was plumb crazy. Before I knew it she was
telling me how you pointed me out to her in the smoking-room, and how
happy she was that I was goin' her way. _Her_ way, mind you, Alan, not
_mine._ And that's just the way she's kept me goin' up to the minute you
hove in sight back there in the cottonwoods!"
He lighted his pipe again. "Alan, how the devil did she know I was
hitting the trail for your place?"
"She didn't," replied Alan.
"But she did. She said that meeting with me in the coach was the
happiest moment of her life, because _she_ was on her way up to your
range, and I'd be such jolly good company for her. 'Jolly good'--them
were the words she used! When I asked her if you knew she was coming up,
she said no, of course not, and that it was going to be a grand
surprise. Said it was possible she'd buy your range, and she wanted to
look it over before you arrived. An' it seems queer I can't remember
anything more about the thunder and lightning between there and Chitina.
When we took the train again, she began askin' a million questions about
you and the Range and Alaska. Soak me if you want to, Alan--but
everything I knew she got out of me between Chitina and Fairbanks, and
she got it in such a sure-fire nice way that I'd have eat soap out of
her hand if she'd offered it to me. Then, sort of sly and soft-like, she
began asking questions about John Graham--and I woke up."
"John Graham!" Alan repeated the name.
"Yes, John Graham. And I had a lot to tell. After that I tried to get
away from her. But she caught me just as I was sneakin' aboard a
down-river boat, and cool as you please--with her hand on my arm--she
said she wasn't quite ready to go yet, and would I please come and help
her carry some stuff she was going to buy. Alan, it ain't a lie what I'm
going to tell you! She led me up the street, telling me what a wonderful
idea she had for surprisin' _you_. Said she knew you would return to the
Range by the Fourth of July and we sure must have some fireworks. Said
you was such a good American you'd be disappointed if you didn't have
'em. So she took me in a store an' bought it out. Asked the man what
he'd take for everything in his joint that had powder in it. Five
hundred dollars, that was what she paid. She pulled a silk something out
of the front of her dress with a pad of hundred-dollar bills in it an
inch think. Then she asked _me_ to get them firecrackers 'n' wheels 'n'
skyrockets 'n' balloons 'n' other stuff down to the boat, and she asked
me just as if I was a sweet little boy who'd be tickled to death to
In the excitement of unburdening himself of a matter which he had borne
in secret for many days, Stampede did not observe the effect of his
words upon his companion. Incredulity shot into Alan's eyes, and the
humorous lines about his mouth vanished when he saw clearly that
Stampede was not drawing upon his imagination. Yet what he had told him
seemed impossible. Mary Standish had come aboard the _Nome_ a fugitive.
All her possessions she had brought with her in a small hand-bag, and
these things she had left in her cabin when she leaped into the sea.
How, then, could she logically have had such a sum of money at Fairbanks
as Stampede described? Was it possible the Thlinkit Indian had also
become her agent in transporting the money ashore on the night she
played her desperate game by making the world believe she had died? And
was this money--possibly the manner in which she had secured it in
Seattle--the cause of her flight and the clever scheme she had put into
execution a little later?
He had been thinking crime, and his face grew hot at the sin of it. It
was like thinking it of another woman, who was dead, and whose name was
cut under his father's in the old cottonwood tree.
Stampede, having gained his wind, was saying: "You don't seem
interested, Alan. But I'm going on, or I'll bust. I've got to tell you
what happened, and then if you want to lead me out and shoot me, I won't
say a word. I say, curse a firecracker anyway!"
"Go on," urged Alan. "I'm interested."
"I got 'em on the boat," continued Stampede viciously. "And she with me
every minute, smiling in that angel way of hers, and not letting me out
of her sight a flick of her eyelash, unless there was only one hole to
go in an' come out at. And then she said she wanted to do a little
shopping, which meant going into every shack in town and buyin'
something, an' I did the lugging. At last she bought a gun, and when I
asked her what she was goin' to do with it, she said, 'Stampede, that's
for you,' an' when I went to thank her, she said: 'No, I don't mean it
that way. I mean that if you try to run away from me again I'm going to
fill you full of holes.' She said that! Threatened me. Then she bought
me a new outfit from toe to summit--boots, pants, shirt, hat _and_ a
necktie! And I didn't say a word, not a word. She just led me in an'
bought what she wanted and made me put 'em on."
Stampede drew in a mighty breath, and a fourth time wasted a match on
his pipe. "I was getting used to it by the time we reached Tanana," he
half groaned. "Then the hell of it begun. She hired six Indians to tote
the luggage, and we set out over the trail for your place. 'You're
goin' to have a rest, Stampede,' she says to me, smiling so cool and
sweet like you wanted to eat her alive. 'All you've got to do is show us
the way and carry the bums.' 'Carry the what?' I asks. 'The bums,' she
says, an' then she explains that a bum is a thing filled with powder
which makes a terrible racket when it goes off. So I took the bums, and
the next day one of the Indians sprained a leg, and dropped out. He had
the firecrackers, pretty near a hundred pounds, and we whacked up his
load among us. I couldn't stand up straight when we camped. We had
crooks in our backs every inch of the way to the Range. And _would_ she
let us cache some of that junk? Not on your life she wouldn't! And all
the time while they was puffing an' panting them Indians was worshipin'
her with their eyes. The last day, when we camped with the Range almost
in sight, she drew 'em all up in a circle about her and gave 'em each a
handful of money above their pay. 'That's because I love you,' she says,
and then she begins asking them funny questions. Did they have wives and
children? Were they ever hungry? Did they ever know about any of their
people starving to death? And just _why_ did they starve? And, Alan, so
help me thunder if them Indians didn't talk! Never heard Indians tell so
much. And in the end she asked them the funniest question of all, asked
them if they'd heard of a man named John Graham. One of them had, and
afterward I saw her talking a long time with him alone, and when she
come back to me, her eyes were sort of burning up, and she didn't say
good night when she went into her tent. That's all, Alan, except--"
"Except what, Stampede?" said Alan, his heart throbbing like a drum
Stampede took his time to answer, and Alan heard him chuckling and saw a
flash of humor in the little man's eyes.
"Except that she's done with everyone on the Range just what she did
with me between Chitina and here," he said. "Alan, if she wants to say
the word, why, _you_ ain't boss any more, that's all. She's been there
ten days, and you won't know the place. It's all done up in flags,
waiting for you. She an' Nawadlook and Keok are running everything but
the deer. The kids would leave their mothers for her, and the men--" He
chuckled again. "Why, the men even go to the Sunday school she's
started! I went. Nawadlook sings."
For a moment he was silent. Then he said in a subdued voice, "Alan,
you've been a big fool."
"I know it, Stampede."
"She's a--a flower, Alan. She's worth more than all the gold in the
world. And you could have married her. I know it. But it's too late now.
I'm warnin' you."
"I don't quite understand, Stampede. Why is it too late?"
"Because she likes me," declared Stampede a bit fiercely. "I'm after
her myself, Alan. You can't butt in now."
"Great Scott!" gasped Alan. "You mean that Mary Standish--"
"I'm not talking about Mary Standish," said Stampede. "It's Nawadlook.
If it wasn't for my whiskers--"
His words were broken by a sudden detonation which came out of the pale
gloom ahead of them. It was like the explosion of a cannon a long
"One of them cussed bums," he explained. "That's why they hurried on
ahead of us, Alan. _She_ says this Fourth of July celebration is going
to mean a lot for Alaska. Wonder what she means?"
"I wonder," said Alan.
Half an hour more of the tundra and they came to what Alan had named
Ghost Kloof, a deep and jagged scar in the face of the earth, running
down from the foothills of the mountains. It was a sinister thing, and
in the depths lay abysmal darkness as they descended a rocky path worn
smooth by reindeer and caribou hoofs. At the bottom, a hundred feet
below the twilight of the plains, Alan dropped on his knees beside a
little spring that he groped for among the stones, and as he drank he
could hear the weird whispering and gurgling of water up and down the
kloof, choked and smothered in the moss of the rock walls and eternally
dripping from the crevices. Then he saw Stampede's face in the glow of
another match, and the little man's eyes were staring into the black
chasm that reached for miles up into the mountains.
"Alan, you've been up this gorge?"
"It's a favorite runway for the lynx and big brown bears that kill our
fawns," replied Alan. "I hunt alone, Stampede. The place is supposed to
be haunted, you know. Ghost Kloof, I call it, and no Eskimo will enter
it. The bones of dead men lie up there."
"Never prospected it?" persisted Stampede.
Alan heard the other's grunt of disgust.
"You're reindeer-crazy," he grumbled. "There's gold in this canyon.
Twice I've found it where there were dead men's bones. They bring me
"But these were Eskimos. They didn't come for gold."
"I know it. The Boss settled that for me. When she heard what was the
matter with this place, she made me take her into it. Nerve? Say, I'm
telling you there wasn't any of it left out of her when she was born!"
He was silent for a moment, and then added: "When we came to that
dripping, slimy rock with the big yellow skull layin' there like a
poison toadstool, she didn't screech and pull back, but just gave a
little gasp and stared at it hard, and her fingers pinched my arm until
it hurt. It was a devilish-looking thing, yellow as a sick orange and
soppy with the drip of the wet moss over it. I wanted to blow it to
pieces, and I guess I would if she hadn't put a hand on my gun. An' with
a funny little smile she says: 'Don't do it, Stampede. It makes me think
of someone I know--and I wouldn't want you to shoot him.' Darned funny
thing to say, wasn't it? Made her think of someone she knew! Now, who
the devil could look like a rotten skull?"
Alan made no effort to reply, except to shrug his shoulders. They
climbed up out of gloom into the light of the plain. Smoothness of the
tundra was gone on this side of the crevasse. Ahead of them rolled up a
low hill, and mountainward hills piled one upon another until they were
lost in misty distance. From the crest of the ridge they looked out into
a vast sweep of tundra which ran in among the out-guarding billows and
hills of the Endicott Mountains in the form of a wide, semicircular bay.
Beyond the next swell in the tundra lay the range, and scarcely had they
reached this when Stampede drew his big gun from its holster. Twice he
blazed in the air.
"Orders," he said a little sheepishly. "Orders, Alan!"
Scarcely were the words out of his mouth when a yell came to them from
beyond the light-mists that hovered like floating lace over the tundra.
It was joined by another, and still another, until there was such a
sound that Alan knew Tautuk and Amuk Toolik and Topkok and Tatpan and
all the others were splitting their throats in welcome, and with it very
soon came a series of explosions that set the earth athrill under
"Bums!" growled Stampede. "She's got Chink lanterns hanging up all
about, too. You should have seen her face, Alan, when she found there
was sunlight all night up here on July Fourth!"
From the range a pale streak went sizzling into the air, mounting until
it seemed to pause for a moment to look down upon the gray world, then
burst into innumerable little balls of puffy smoke. Stampede blazed
away with his forty-five, and Alan felt the thrill of it and emptied the
magazine of his gun, the detonations of revolver and rifle drowning the
chorus of sound that came from the range. A second rocket answered them.
Two columns of flame leaped up from the earth as huge fires gained
headway, and Alan could hear the shrill chorus of children's voices
mingling with the vocal tumult of men. All the people of his range were
there. They had come in from the timber-naked plateaux and high ranges
where the herds were feeding, and from the outlying shacks of the
tundras to greet him. Never had there been such a concentration of
effort on the part of his people. And Mary Standish was behind it all!
He knew he was fighting against odds when he tried to keep that fact
from choking up his heart a little.
He had not heard what Stampede was saying--that he and Amuk Toolik and
forty kids had labored a week gathering dry moss and timber fuel for the
big fires. There were three of these fires now, and the tom-toms were
booming their hollow notes over the tundra as Alan quickened his steps.
Over a little knoll, and he was looking at the buildings of the range,
wildly excited figures running about, women and children flinging moss
on the fires, the tom-tom beaters squatted in a half-circle facing the
direction from which he would come, and fifty Chinese lanterns swinging
in the soft night-breeze.
He knew what they were expecting of him, for they were children, all of
them. Even Tautuk and Amuk Toolik, his chief herdsmen, were children.
Nawadlook and Keok were children. Strong and loyal and ready to die for
him in any fight or stress, they were still children. He gave Stampede
his rifle and hastened on, determined to keep his eyes from questing for
Mary Standish in these first minutes of his return. He sounded the
tundra call, and men, women, and little children came running to meet
him. The drumming of the tom-toms ceased, and the beaters leaped to
their feet. He was inundated. There was a shrill crackling of voice,
laughter, children's squeals, a babel of delight. He gripped hands with
both his own--hard, thick, brown hands of men; little, softer, brown
hands of women; he lifted children up in his arms, slapped his palm
affectionately against the men's shoulders, and talked, talked, talked,
calling each by name without a slip of memory, though there were fifty
around him counting the children. First, last, and always these were
_his people_. The old pride swept over him, a compelling sense of power
and possession. They loved him, crowding in about him like a great
family, and he shook hands twice and three times with the same men and
women, and lifted the same children from the arms of delighted mothers,
and cried out greetings and familiarities with an abandon which a few
minutes ago knowledge of Mary Standish's presence would have tempered.
Then, suddenly, he saw her under the Chinese lanterns in front of his
cabin. Sokwenna, so old that he hobbled double and looked like a witch,
stood beside her. In a moment Sokwenna's head disappeared, and there
came the booming of a tom-tom. As quickly as the crowd had gathered
about him, it fell away. The beaters squatted themselves in their
semicircle again. Fireworks began to go off. Dancers assembled. Rockets
hissed through the air. Roman candles popped. From the open door of his
cabin came the sound of a phonograph. It was aimed directly at him, the
one thing intended for his understanding alone. It was playing "When
Johnny Comes Marching Home."
Mary Standish had not moved. He saw her laughing at him, and she was
alone. She was not the Mary Standish he had known aboard ship. Fear, the
quiet pallor of her face, and the strain and repression which had seemed
to be a part of her were gone. She was aflame with life, yet it was not
with voice or action that she revealed herself. It was in her eyes, the
flush of her cheeks and lips, the poise of her slim body as she waited
for him. A thought flashed upon him that for a space she had forgotten
herself and the shadow which had driven her to leap into the sea.
"It is splendid!" she said when he came up to her, and her voice
trembled a little. "I didn't guess how badly they wanted you back. It
must be a great happiness to have people think of you like that."
"And I thank you for your part," he replied. "Stampede has told me. It
was quite a bit of trouble, wasn't it, with nothing more than the hope
of Americanizing a pagan to inspire you?" He nodded at the half-dozen
flags over his cabin. "They're rather pretty."
"It was no trouble. And I hope you don't mind. It has been great fun."
He tried to look casually out upon his people as he answered her. It
seemed to him there was only one thing to say, and that it was a duty to
speak what was in his mind calmly and without emotion.
"Yes, I do mind," he said. "I mind so much that I wouldn't trade what
has happened for all the gold in these mountains. I'm sorry because of
what happened back in the cottonwoods, but I wouldn't trade that,
either. I'm glad you're alive. I'm glad you're here. But something is
missing. You know what it is. You must tell me about yourself. It is the
only fair thing for you to do now."
She touched his arm with her hand. "Let us wait for tomorrow.
Please--let us wait."
"It is your right to question me and send me back if I am not welcome.
But not tonight. All this is too fine--just you--and your people--and
their happiness." He bent his head to catch her words, almost drowned by
the hissing of a sky-rocket and the popping of firecrackers. She nodded
toward the buildings beyond his cabin. "I am with Keok and Nawadlook.
They have given me a home." And then swiftly she added, "I don't think
you love your people more than I do, Alan Holt!"
Nawadlook was approaching, and with a lingering touch of her fingers on
his arm she drew away from him. His face did not show his
disappointment, nor did he make a movement to keep her with him.
"Your people are expecting things of you," she said. "A little later, if
you ask me, I may dance with you to the music of the tom-toms."
He watched her as she went away with Nawadlook. She looked back at him
and smiled, and there was something in her face which set his heart
beating faster. She had been afraid aboard the ship, but she was not
afraid of tomorrow. Thought of it and the questions he would ask did not
frighten her, and a happiness which he had persistently held away from
himself triumphed in a sudden, submerging flood. It was as if something
in her eyes and voice had promised him that the dreams he had dreamed
through weeks of torture and living death were coming true, and that
possibly in her ride over the tundra that night she had come a little
nearer to the truth of what those weeks had meant to him. Surely he
would never quite be able to tell her. And what she said to him tomorrow
would, in the end, make little difference. She was alive, and he could
not let her go away from him again.
He joined the tom-tom beaters and the dancers. It rather amazed him to
discover himself doing things which he had never done before. His nature
was an aloof one, observing and sympathetic, but always more or less
detached. At his people's dances it was his habit to stand on the
side-line, smiling and nodding encouragement, but never taking a part.
His habit of reserve fell from him now, and he seemed possessed of a new
sense of freedom and a new desire to give physical expression to
something within him. Stampede was dancing. He was kicking his feet and
howling with the men, while the women dancers went through the muscular
movements of arms and bodies. A chorus of voices invited Alan. They had
always invited him. And tonight he accepted, and took his place between
Stampede and Amuk Toolik and the tom-tom beaters almost burst their
instruments in their excitement. Not until he dropped out, half
breathless, did he see Mary Standish and Keok in the outer circle. Keok
was frankly amazed. Mary Standish's eyes were shining, and she clapped
her hands when she saw that he had observed her. He tried to laugh, and
waved his hand, but he felt too foolish to go to her. And then the
balloon went up, a big, six-foot balloon, and with all its fire made
only a pale glow in the sky, and after another hour of hand-shaking,
shoulder-clapping, and asking of questions about health and domestic
matters, Alan went to his cabin.
He looked about the one big room that was his living-room, and it never
had seemed quite so comforting as now. At first he thought it was as he
had left it, for there was his desk where it should be, the big table in
the middle of the room, the same pictures on the walls, his gun-rack
filled with polished weapons, his pipes, the rugs on the floor--and
then, one at a time, he began to observe things that were different. In
place of dark shades there were soft curtains at his windows, and new
covers on his table and the home-made couch in the corner. On his desk
were two pictures in copper-colored frames, one of George Washington and
the other of Abraham Lincoln, and behind them crisscrossed against the
wall just over the top of the desk, were four tiny American flags. They
recalled Alan's mind to the evening aboard the _Nome_ when Mary Standish
had challenged his assertion that he was an Alaskan and not an American.
Only she would have thought of those two pictures and the little flags.
There were flowers in his room, and she had placed them there. She must
have picked fresh flowers each day and kept them waiting the hour of his
coming, and she had thought of him in Tanana, where she had purchased
the cloth for the curtains and the covers. He went into his bedroom and
found new curtains at the window, a new coverlet on his bed, and a pair
of red morocco slippers that he had never seen before. He took them up
in his hands and laughed when he saw how she had misjudged the size
of his feet.
In the living-room he sat down and lighted his pipe, observing that
Keok's phonograph, which had been there earlier in the evening, was
gone. Outside, the noise of the celebration died away, and the growing
stillness drew him to the window from which he could see the cabin where
lived Keok and Nawadlook with their foster-father, the old and shriveled
Sokwenna. It was there Mary Standish had said she was staying. For a
long time Alan watched it while the final sounds of the night drifted
away into utter silence.
It was a knock at his door that turned him about at last, and in answer
to his invitation Stampede came in. He nodded and sat down. Shiftingly
his eyes traveled about the room.
"Been a fine night, Alan. Everybody glad to see you."
"They seemed to be. I'm happy to be home again."
"Mary Standish did a lot. She fixed up this room."
"I guessed as much," replied Alan. "Of course Keok and Nawadlook helped
"Not very much. She did it. Made the curtains. Put them pictures and
flags there. Picked the flowers. Been nice an' thoughtful, hasn't she?"
"And somewhat unusual," added Alan.
"And she is pretty."
"Most decidedly so."
There was a puzzling look in Stampede's eyes. He twisted nervously in
his chair and waited for words. Alan sat down opposite him.
"What's on your mind, Stampede?"
"Hell, mostly," shot back Stampede with sudden desperation. "I've come
loaded down with a dirty job, and I've kept it back this long because I
didn't want to spoil your fun tonight. I guess a man ought to keep to
himself what he knows about a woman, but I'm thinking this is a little
different. I hate to do it. I'd rather take the chance of a snake-bite.
But you'd shoot me if you knew I was keeping it to myself."
"Keeping what to yourself?"
"The truth, Alan. It's up to me to tell you what I know about this young
woman who calls herself Mary Standish."
The physical sign of strain in Stampede's face, and the stolid effort he
was making to say something which it was difficult for him to put into
words, did not excite Alan as he waited for his companion's promised
disclosure. Instead of suspense he felt rather a sense of anticipation
and relief. What he had passed through recently had burned out of him a
certain demand upon human ethics which had been almost callous in its
insistence, and while he believed that something very real and very
stern in the way of necessity had driven Mary Standish north, he was now
anxious to be given the privilege of gripping with any force of
circumstance that had turned against her. He wanted to know the truth,
yet he had dreaded the moment when the girl herself must tell it to him,
and the fact that Stampede had in some way discovered this truth, and
was about to make disclosure of it, was a tremendous lightening of the
"Go on," he said at last. "What do you know about Mary Standish?"
Stampede leaned over the table, a gleam of distress in his eyes. "It's
rotten. I know it. A man who backslides on a woman the way I'm goin' to
oughta be shot, and if it was anything else--_anything_--I'd keep it to
myself. But you've got to know. And you can't understand just how rotten
it is, either; you haven't ridden in a coach with her during a storm
that was blowing the Pacific outa bed, an' you haven't hit the trail
with her all the way from Chitina to the Range as I did. If you'd done
that, Alan, you'd feel like killing a man who said anything
"I'm not inquiring into your personal affairs," reminded Alan. "It's
your own business."
"That's the trouble," protested Stampede. "It's not my business. It's
yours. If I'd guessed the truth before we hit the Range, everything
would have been different. I'd have rid myself of her some way. But I
didn't find out what she was until this evening, when I returned Keok's
music machine to their cabin. I've been trying to make up my mind what
to do ever since. If she was only making her get-away from the States, a
pickpocket, a coiner, somebody's bunco pigeon chased by the
police--almost anything--we could forgive her. Even if she'd shot up
somebody--" He made a gesture of despair. "But she didn't. She's worse
He leaned a little nearer to Alan.
"She's one of John Graham's tools sent up here to sneak and spy on you,"
he finished desperately. "I'm sorry--but I've got the proof."
His hand crept over the top of the table; slowly the closed palm opened,
and when he drew it back, a crumpled paper lay between them. "Found it
on the floor when I took the phonograph back," he explained. "It was
twisted up hard. Don't know why I unrolled it. Just chance."
He waited until Alan had read the few words on the bit of paper,
watching closely the slight tensing of the other's face. After a moment
Alan dropped the paper, rose to his feet, and went to the window. There
was no longer a light in the cabin where Mary Standish had been accepted
as a guest. Stampede, too, had risen from his seat. He saw the sudden
and almost imperceptible shrug of Alan's shoulders.
It was Alan who spoke, after a half-mixture of silence. "Rather a
missing link, isn't it? Adds up a number of things fairly well. And I'm
grateful to you, Stampede. Almost--you didn't tell me."
"Almost," admitted Stampede.
"And I wouldn't have blamed you. She's that kind--the kind that makes
you feel anything said against her is a lie. And I'm going to believe
that paper is a lie--until tomorrow. Will you take a message to Tautuk
and Amuk Toolik when you go out? I'm having breakfast at seven. Tell
them to come to my cabin with their reports and records at eight. Later
I'm going up into the foothills to look over the herds."
Stampede nodded. It was a good fight on Alan's part, and it was just the
way he had expected him to take the matter. It made him rather ashamed
of the weakness and uncertainty to which he had confessed. Of course
they could do nothing with a woman; it wasn't a shooting business--yet.
But there was a debatable future, if the gist of the note on the table
ran true to their unspoken analysis of it. Promise of something like
that was in Alan's eyes.
He opened the door. "I'll have Tautuk and Amuk Toolik here at eight.
Good night, Alan!"
Alan watched Stampede's figure until it had disappeared before he closed
Now that he was alone, he no longer made an effort to restrain the
anxiety which the prospector's unexpected revealment had aroused in him.
The other's footsteps were scarcely gone when he again had the paper in
his hand. It was clearly the lower part of a letter sheet of ordinary
business size and had been carelessly torn from the larger part of the
page, so that nothing more than the signature and half a dozen lines of
writing in a man's heavy script remained.
What was left of the letter which Alan would have given much to have
possessed, read as follows:
"_--If you work carefully and guard your real identity in securing facts
and information, we should have the entire industry in our hands
within a year_."
Under these words was the strong and unmistakable signature of John
A score of times Alan had seen that signature, and the hatred he bore
for its maker, and the desire for vengeance which had entwined itself
like a fibrous plant through all his plans for the future, had made of
it an unforgetable writing in his brain. Now that he held in his hand
words written by his enemy, and the man who had been his father's enemy,
all that he had kept away from Stampede's sharp eyes blazed in a sudden
fury in his face. He dropped the paper as if it had been a thing
unclean, and his hands clenched until his knuckles snapped in the
stillness of the room, as he slowly faced the window through which a few
moments ago he had looked in the direction of Mary Standish's cabin.
So John Graham was keeping his promise, the deadly promise he had made
in the one hour of his father's triumph--that hour in which the elder
Holt might have rid the earth of a serpent if his hands had not revolted
in the last of those terrific minutes which he as a youth had witnessed.
And Mary Standish was the instrument he had chosen to work his ends!
In these first minutes Alan could not find a doubt with which to fend
the absoluteness of the convictions which were raging in his head, or
still the tumult that was in his heart and blood. He made no pretense to
deny the fact that John Graham must have written this letter to Mary
Standish; inadvertently she had kept it, had finally attempted to
destroy it, and Stampede, by chance, had discovered a small but
convincing remnant of it. In a whirlwind of thought he pieced together
things that had happened: her efforts to interest him from the
beginning, the determination with which she had held to her purpose, her
boldness in following him to the Range, and her apparent endeavor to
work herself into his confidence--and with John Graham's signature
staring at him from the table these things seemed conclusive and
irrefutable evidence. The "industry" which Graham had referred to could
mean only his own and Carl Lomen's, the reindeer industry which they had
built up and were fighting to perpetuate, and which Graham and his
beef-baron friends were combining to handicap and destroy. And in this
game of destruction clever Mary Standish had come to play a part!
_But why had she leaped into the sea?_
It was as if a new voice had made itself heard in Alan's brain, a voice
that rose insistently over a vast tumult of things, crying out against
his arguments and demanding order and reason in place of the mad
convictions that possessed him. If Mary Standish's mission was to pave
the way for his ruin, and if she was John Graham's agent sent for that
purpose, what reason could she have had for so dramatically attempting
to give the world the impression that she had ended her life at sea?
Surely such an act could in no way have been related with any plot which
she might have had against him! In building up this structure of her
defense he made no effort to sever her relationship with John Graham;
that, he knew, was impossible. The note, her actions, and many of the
things she had said were links inevitably associating her with his
enemy, but these same things, now that they came pressing one upon
another in his memory, gave to their collusion a new significance.
Was it conceivable that Mary Standish, instead of working for John
Graham, was working _against_ him? Could some conflict between them have
been the reason for her flight aboard the _Nome_, and was it because she
discovered Rossland there--John Graham's most trusted servant--that she
formed her desperate scheme of leaping into the sea?
Between the two oppositions of his thought a sickening burden of what he
knew to be true settled upon him. Mary Standish, even if she hated John
Graham now, had at one time--and not very long ago--been an instrument
of his trust; the letter he had written to her was positive proof of
that. What it was that had caused a possible split between them and had
inspired her flight from Seattle, and, later, her effort to bury a past
under the fraud of a make-believe death, he might never learn, and just
now he had no very great desire to look entirely into the whole truth of
the matter. It was enough to know that of the past, and of the things
that happened, she had been afraid, and it was in the desperation of
this fear, with Graham's cleverest agent at her heels, that she had
appealed to him in his cabin, and, failing to win him to her assistance,
had taken the matter so dramatically into her own hands. And within that
same hour a nearly successful attempt had been made upon Rossland's
life. Of course the facts had shown that she could not have been
directly responsible for his injury, but it was a haunting thing to
remember as happening almost simultaneously with her disappearance
into the sea.
He drew away from the window and, opening the door, went out into the
night. Cool breaths of air gave a crinkly rattle to the swinging paper
lanterns, and he could hear the soft whipping of the flags which Mary
Standish had placed over his cabin. There was something comforting in
the sound, a solace to the dishevelment of nerves he had suffered, a
reminder of their day in Skagway when she had walked at his side with
her hand resting warmly in his arm and her eyes and face filled with the
inspiration of the mountains.
No matter what she was, or had been, there was something tenaciously
admirable about her, a quality which had risen even above her feminine
loveliness. She had proved herself not only clever; she was inspired by
courage--a courage which he would have been compelled to respect even in
a man like John Graham, and in this slim and fragile girl it appealed to
him as a virtue to be laid up apart and aside from any of the motives
which might be directing it. From the beginning it had been a
bewildering part of her--a clean, swift, unhesitating courage that had
leaped bounds where his own volition and judgment would have hung
waveringly; that one courage in all the world--a woman's courage--which
finds in the effort of its achievement no obstacle too high and no abyss
too wide though death waits with outreaching arms on the other side.
And, surely, where there had been all this, there must also have been
some deeper and finer impulse than one of destruction, of physical gain,
or of mere duty in the weaving of a human scheme.
The thought and the desire to believe brought words half aloud from
Alan's lips, as he looked up again at the flags beating softly above his
cabin. Mary Standish was not what Stampede's discovery had proclaimed
her to be; there was some mistake, a monumental stupidity of reasoning
on their part, and tomorrow would reveal the littleness and the
injustice of their suspicions. He tried to force the conviction upon
himself, and reentering the cabin he went to bed, still telling himself
that a great lie had built itself up out of nothing, and that the God of
all things was good to him because Mary Standish was alive, and
Alan slept soundly for several hours, but the long strain of the
preceding day did not make him overreach the time he had set for
himself, and he was up at six o'clock. Wegaruk had not forgotten her old
habits, and a tub filled with cold water was waiting for him. He bathed,
shaved himself, put on fresh clothes, and promptly at seven was at
breakfast. The table at which he ordinarily sat alone was in a little
room with double windows, through which, as he enjoyed his meals, he
could see most of the habitations of the range. Unlike the average
Eskimo dwellings they were neatly built of small timber brought down
from the mountains, and were arranged in orderly fashion like the
cottages of a village, strung out prettily on a single street. A sea of
flowers lay in front of them, and at the end of the row, built on a
little knoll that looked down into one of the watered hollows of the
tundra, was Sokwenna's cabin. Because Sokwenna was the "old man" of the
community and therefore the wisest--and because with him lived his
foster-daughters, Keok and Nawadlook, the loveliest of Alan's tribal
colony--Sokwenna's cabin was next to Alan's in size. And Alan, looking
at it now and then as he ate his breakfast, saw a thin spiral of smoke
rising from the chimney, but no other sign of life.
The sun was already up almost to its highest point, a little more than
half-way between the horizon and the zenith, performing the apparent
miracle of rising in the north and traveling east instead of west. Alan
knew the men-folk of the village had departed hours ago for the distant
herds. Always, when the reindeer drifted into the higher and cooler
feeding-grounds of the foothills, there was this apparent abandonment,
and after last night's celebration the women and children were not yet
awake to the activities of the long day, where the rising and setting of
the sun meant so little.
As he rose from the table, he glanced again toward Sokwenna's cabin. A
solitary figure had climbed up out of the ravine and stood against the
sun on the clough-top. Even at that distance, with the sun in his eyes,
he knew it was Mary Standish.
He turned his back stoically to the window and lighted his pipe. For
half an hour after that he sorted out his papers and range-books in
preparation for the coming of Tautuk and Amuk Toolik, and when they
arrived, the minute hand of his watch was at the hour of eight.
That the months of his absence had been prosperous ones he perceived by
the smiling eagerness in the brown faces of his companions as they
spread out the papers on which they had, in their own crude fashion,
set down a record of the winter's happenings. Tautuk's voice, slow and
very deliberate in its unfailing effort to master English without a
slip, had in it a subdued note of satisfaction and triumph, while Amuk
Toolik, who was quick and staccato in his manner of speech, using
sentences seldom of greater length than three or four words, and who
picked up slang and swear-words like a parrot, swelled with pride as he
lighted his pipe, and then rubbed his hands with a rasping sound that
always sent a chill up Alan's back.
"A ver' fine and prosper' year," said Tautuk in response to Alan's first
question as to general conditions. "We bean ver' fortunate."
"One hell-good year," backed up Amuk Toolik with the quickness of a gun.
"Plenty calf. Good hoof. Moss. Little wolf. Herds fat. This
After this opening of the matter in hand Alan buried himself in the
affairs of the range, and the old thrill, the glow which comes through
achievement, and the pioneer's pride in marking a new frontier with the
creative forces of success rose uppermost in him, and he forgot the
passing of time. A hundred questions he had to ask, and the tongues of
Tautuk and Amuk Toolik were crowded with the things they desired to tell
him. Their voices filled the room with a paean of triumph. His herds had
increased by a thousand head during the fawning months of April and May,
and interbreeding of the Asiatic stock with wild, woodland caribou had
produced a hundred calves of the super-animal whose flesh was bound to
fill the markets of the States within a few years. Never had the moss
been thicker under the winter snow; there had been no destructive fires;
soft-hoof had escaped them; breeding records had been beaten, and
dairying in the edge of the Arctic was no longer an experiment, but an
established fact, for Tautuk now had seven deer giving a pint and a half
of milk each twice a day, nearly as rich as the best of cream from
cattle, and more than twenty that were delivering from a cupful to a
pint at a milking. And to this Amuk Toolik added the amazing record of
their running-deer, Kauk, the three-year-old, had drawn a sledge five
miles over unbeaten snow in thirteen minutes and forty-seven seconds;
Kauk and Olo, in team, had drawn the same sledge ten miles in twenty-six
minutes and forty seconds, and one day he had driven the two
ninety-eight miles in a mighty endurance test; and with Eno and Sutka,
the first of their inter-breed with the wild woodland caribou, and
heavier beasts, he had drawn a load of eight hundred pounds for three
consecutive days at the rate of forty miles a day. From Fairbanks,
Tanana, and the ranges of the Seward Peninsula agents of the swiftly
spreading industry had offered as high as a hundred and ten dollars a
head for breeding stock with the blood of the woodland caribou, and of
these native and larger caribou of the tundras and forests seven young
bulls and nine female calves had been captured and added to their own
For Alan this was triumph. He saw nothing of what it all meant in the
way of ultimate personal fortune. It was the earth under his feet, the
vast expanse of unpeopled waste traduced and scorned in the blindness of
a hundred million people, which he saw fighting itself on the glory and
reward of the conqueror through such achievement as this; a land
betrayed rising at last out of the slime of political greed and
ignorance; a giant irresistible in its awakening, that was destined in
his lifetime to rock the destiny of a continent. It was Alaska rising up
slowly but inexorably out of its eternity of sleep, mountain-sealed
forces of a great land that was once the cradle of the earth coming into
possession of life and power again; and his own feeble efforts in that
long and fighting process of planting the seeds which meant its ultimate
ascendancy possessed in themselves their own reward.
Long after Tautuk and Amuk Toolik had gone, his heart was filled with
the song of success.
He was surprised at the swiftness with which time had gone, when he
looked at his watch. It was almost dinner hour when he had finished with
his papers and books and went outside. He heard Wegaruk's voice coming
from the dark mouth of the underground icebox dug into the frozen
subsoil of the tundra, and pausing at the glimmer of his old
housekeeper's candle, he turned aside, descended the few steps, and
entered quietly into the big, square chamber eight feet under the
surface, where the earth had remained steadfastly frozen for some
hundreds of thousands of years. Wegaruk had a habit of talking when
alone, but Alan thought it odd that she should be explaining to herself
that the tundra-soil, in spite of its almost tropical summer richness
and luxuriance, never thawed deeper than three or four feet, below which
point remained the icy cold placed there so long ago that "even the
spirits did not know." He smiled when he heard Wegaruk measuring time
and faith in terms of "spirits," which she had never quite given up for
the missionaries, and was about to make his presence known when a voice
interrupted him, so close at his side that the speaker, concealed in the
shadow of the wall, could have reached out a hand and touched him.
"Good morning, Mr. Holt!"
It was Mary Standish, and he stared rather foolishly to make her out in
"Good morning," he replied. "I was on my way to your place when
Wegaruk's voice brought me here. You see, even this icebox seems like a
friend after my experience in the States. Are you after a steak, Mammy?"
Wegaruk's strong, squat figure turned as she answered him, and the light
from her candle, glowing brightly in a split tomato can, fell clearly
upon Mary Standish as the old woman waddled toward them. It was as if a
spotlight had been thrown upon the girl suddenly out of a pit of
darkness, and something about her, which was not her prettiness or the
beauty that was in her eyes and hair, sent a sudden and unaccountable
thrill through Alan. It remained with him when they drew back out of
gloom and chill into sunshine and warmth, leaving Wegaruk to snuff her
tomato-can lantern and follow with the steak, and it did not leave him
when they walked over the tundra together toward Sokwenna's cabin. It
was a puzzling thrill, stirring an emotion which it was impossible for
him to subdue or explain; something which he knew he should understand
but could not. And it seemed to him that knowledge of this mystery was
in the girl's face, glowing in a gentle embarrassment, as she told him
she had been expecting him, and that Keok and Nawadlook had given up the
cabin to them, so that he might question her uninterrupted. But with
this soft flush of her uneasiness, revealing itself in her eyes and
cheeks, he saw neither fear nor hesitation.
In the "big room" of Sokwenna's cabin, which was patterned after his
own, he sat down amid the color and delicate fragrance of masses of
flowers, and the girl seated herself near him and waited for him
"You love flowers," he said lamely. "I want to thank you for the flowers
you placed in my cabin. And the other things."
"Flowers are a habit with me," she replied, "and I have never seen such
flowers as these. Flowers--and birds. I never dreamed that there were
so many up here."
"Nor the world," he added. "It is ignorant of Alaska."
He was looking at her, trying to understand the inexplicable something
about her. She knew what was in his mind, because the strangely
thrilling emotion that possessed him could not keep its betrayal from
his eyes. The color was fading slowly out of her cheeks; her lips grew a
little tense, yet in her attitude of suspense and of waiting there was
no longer a suspicion of embarrassment, no trace of fear, and no sign
that a moment was at hand when her confidence was on the ebb. In this
moment Alan did not think of John Graham. It seemed to him that she was
like a child again, the child who had come to him in his cabin, and who
had stood with her back against his cabin door, entreating him to
achieve the impossible; an angel, almost, with her smooth, shining hair,
her clear, beautiful eyes, her white throat which waited with its little
heart-throb for him to beat down the fragile defense which now lay in
the greater power of his own hands. The inequality of it, and the
pitilessness of what had been in his mind to say and do, together with
an inundating sense of his own brute mastery, swept over him, and in
sudden desperation he reached out his hands toward her and cried:
"Mary Standish, in God's name tell me the truth. Tell me why you have
come up here!"
"I have come," she said, looking at him steadily, "because I know that
a man like you, when he loves a woman, will fight for her and protect
her even though he may not possess her."
"But you didn't know that--not until--the cottonwoods!" he protested.
"Yes, I did. I knew it in Ellen McCormick's cabin."
She rose slowly before him, and he, too, rose to his feet, staring at
her like a man who had been struck, while intelligence--a dawning
reason--an understanding of the strange mystery of her that morning,
sent the still greater thrill of its shock through him. He gave an
exclamation of amazement.
"You were at Ellen McCormick's! She gave you--_that!_"
She nodded. "Yes, the dress you brought from the ship. Please don't
scold me, Mr. Holt. Be a little kind with me when you have heard what I
am going to tell you. I was in the cabin that last day, when you
returned from searching for me in the sea. Mr. McCormick didn't know.
But _she_ did. I lied a little, just a little, so that she, being a
woman, would promise not to tell you I was there. You see, I had lost a
great deal of my faith, and my courage was about gone, and I was
afraid of you."
"Afraid of me?"
"Yes, afraid of everybody. I was in the room behind Ellen McCormick when
she asked you--that question; and when you answered as you did, I was
like stone. I was amazed and didn't believe, for I was certain that
after what had happened on the ship you despised me, and only through a
peculiar sense of honor were making the search for me. Not until two
days later, when your letters came to Ellen McCormick, and we
"You opened both?"
"Of course. One was to be read immediately, the other when I was
found--and I had found myself. Maybe it wasn't exactly fair, but you
couldn't expect two women to resist a temptation like that. And--_I
wanted to know_."
She did not lower her eyes or turn her head aside as she made the
confession. Her gaze met Alan's with beautiful steadiness.
"And then I believed. I knew, because of what you said in that letter,
that you were the one man in all the world who would help me and give me
a fighting chance if I came to you. But it has taken all my courage--and
in the end you will drive me away--"
Again he looked upon the miracle of tears in wide-open, unfaltering
eyes, tears which she did not brush away, but through which, in a
moment, she smiled at him as no woman had ever smiled at him before. And
with the tears there seemed to possess her a pride which lifted her
above all confusion, a living spirit of will and courage and womanhood
that broke away the dark clouds of suspicion and fear that had gathered
in his mind. He tried to speak, and his lips were thick.
"You have come--because you know I love you, and you--"
"Because, from the beginning, it must have been a great faith in you
that inspired me, Alan Holt."
"There must have been more than that," he persisted. "Some other
"Two," she acknowledged, and now he noticed that with the dissolution of
tears a flush of color was returning into her cheeks.
"One it is impossible for you to know; the other, if I tell you, will
make you despise me. I am sure of that."
"It has to do with John Graham?"
She bowed her head. "Yes, with John Graham."
For the first time long lashes hid her eyes from him, and for a moment
it seemed that her resolution was gone and she stood stricken by the
import of the thing that lay behind his question; yet her cheeks flamed
red instead of paling, and when she looked at him again, her eyes burned
with a lustrous fire.
"John Graham," she repeated. "The man you hate and want to kill."
Slowly he turned toward the door. "I am leaving immediately after dinner
to inspect the herds up in the foothills," he said. "And you--_are
He caught the swift intake of her breath as he paused for an instant at
the door, and saw the new light that leaped into her eyes.
"Thank you, Alan Holt," she cried softly, "_Oh, I thank you!_!"
And then, suddenly, she stopped him with a little cry, as if at last
something had broken away from her control. He faced her, and for a
moment they stood in silence.
"I'm sorry--sorry I said to you what I did that night on the _Nome_,"
she said. "I accused you of brutality, of unfairness, of--of even worse
than that, and I want to take it all back. You are big and clean and
splendid, for you would go away now, knowing I am poisoned by an
association with the man who has injured you so terribly, _and you say I
am welcome!_ And I don't want you to go. You have made me _want_ to tell
you who I am, and why I have come to you, and I pray God you will think
as kindly of me as you can when you have heard."
It seemed to Alan that in an instant a sudden change had come over the
world. There was silence in the cabin, except for the breath which came
like a sob to the girl's lips as she turned to the window and looked out
into the blaze of golden sunlight that filled the tundra. He heard
Tautuk's voice, calling to Keok away over near the reindeer corral, and
he heard clearly Keok's merry laughter as she answered him. A
gray-cheeked thrush flew up to the roof of Sokwenna's cabin and began to
sing. It was as if these things had come as a message to both of them,
relieving a tension, and significant of the beauty and glory and undying
hope of life. Mary Standish turned from the window with shining eyes.
"Every day the thrush comes and sings on our cabin roof," she said.
"It is--possibly--because you are here," he replied.
She regarded him seriously. "I have thought of that. You know, I have
faith in a great many unbelievable things. I can think of nothing more
beautiful than the spirit that lives in the heart of a bird. I am sure,
if I were dying, I would like to have a bird singing near me.
Hopelessness cannot be so deep that bird-song will not reach it."
He nodded, trying to answer in that way. He felt uncomfortable. She
closed the door which he had left partly open, and made a little gesture
for him to resume the chair which he had left a few moments before. She
seated herself first and smiled at him wistfully, half regretfully,
as she said:
"I have been very foolish. What I am going to tell you now I should have
told you aboard the _Nome_. But I was afraid. Now I am not afraid, but
ashamed, terribly ashamed, to let you know the truth. And yet I am not
sorry it happened so, because otherwise I would not have come up here,
and all this--your world, your people, and you--have meant a great deal
to me. You will understand when I have made my confession."
"No, I don't want that," he protested almost roughly. "I don't want you
to put it that way. If I can help you, and if you wish to tell me as a
friend, that's different. I don't want a confession, which would imply
that I have no faith in you."
"And you have faith in me?"
"Yes; so much that the sun will darken and bird-song never seem the same
if I lose you again, as I thought I had lost you from the ship."
"Oh, _you mean that_!"
The words came from her in a strange, tense, little cry, and he seemed
to see only her eyes as he looked at her face, pale as the petals of
the tundra daises behind her. With the thrill of what he had dared to
say tugging at his heart, he wondered why she was so white.
"You mean that," her lips repeated slowly, "after all that has
happened--even after--that part of a letter--which Stampede brought to
you last night--"
He was surprised. How had she discovered what he thought was a secret
between himself and Stampede? His mind leaped to a conclusion, and she
saw it written in his face.
"No, it wasn't Stampede," she said. "He didn't tell me. It--just
happened. And after this letter--you still believe in me?"
"I must. I should be unhappy if I did not. And I am--most perversely
hoping for happiness. I have told myself that what I saw over John
Graham's signature was a lie."
"It wasn't that--quite. But it didn't refer to you, or to me. It was
part of a letter written to Rossland. He sent me some books while I was
on the ship, and inadvertently left a page of this letter in one of them
as a marker. It was really quite unimportant, when one read the whole of
it. The other half of the page is in the toe of the slipper which you
did not return to Ellen McCormick. You know that is the conventional
thing for a woman to do--to use paper for padding in a soft-toed
He wanted to shout; he wanted to throw up his arms and laugh as Tautuk
and Amuk Toolik and a score of others had laughed to the beat of the
tom-toms last night, not because he was amused, but out of sheer
happiness. But Mary Standish's voice, continuing in its quiet and
matter-of-fact way, held him speechless, though she could not fail to
see the effect upon him of this simple explanation of the presence of
"I was in Nawadlook's room when I saw Stampede pick up the wad of paper
from the floor," she was saying. "I was looking at the slipper a few
minutes before, regretting that you had left its mate in my cabin on the
ship, and the paper must have dropped then. I saw Stampede read it, and
the shock that came in his face. Then he placed it on the table and went
out. I hurried to see what he had found and had scarcely read the few
words when I heard him returning. I returned the paper where he had laid
it, hid myself in Nawadlook's room, and saw Stampede when he carried it
to you. I don't know why I allowed it to be done. I had no reason. Maybe
it was just--intuition, and maybe it was because--just in that hour--I
so hated myself that I wanted someone to flay me alive, and I thought
that what Stampede had found would make you do it. And I deserve it! I
deserve nothing better at your hands."
"But it isn't true," he protested. "The letter was to Rossland."
There was no responsive gladness in her eyes. "Better that it were true,
and all that _is_ true were false," she said in a quiet, hopeless
voice. "I would almost give my life to be no more than what those words
implied, dishonest, a spy, a criminal of a sort; almost any alternative
would I accept in place of what I actually am. Do you begin to
"I am afraid--I can not." Even as he persisted in denial, the pain which
had grown like velvety dew in her eyes clutched at his heart, and he
felt dread of what lay behind it. "I understand--only--that I am glad
you are here, more glad than yesterday, or this morning, or an
She bowed her head, so that the bright light of day made a radiance of
rich color in her hair, and he saw the sudden tremble of the shining
lashes that lay against her cheeks; and then, quickly, she caught her
breath, and her hands grew steady in her lap.
"Would you mind--if I asked you first--to tell me _your_ story of John
Graham?" she spoke softly. "I know it, a little, but I think it would
make everything easier if I could hear it from you--now."
He stood up and looked down upon her where she sat, with the light
playing in her hair; and then he moved to the window, and back, and she
had not changed her position, but was waiting for him to speak. She
raised her eyes, and the question her lips had formed was glowing in
them as clearly as if she had voiced it again in words. A desire rose in
him to speak to her as he had never spoken to another human being, and
to reveal for her--and for her alone--the thing that had harbored
itself in his soul for many years. Looking up at him, waiting, partial
understanding softening her sweet face, a dusky glow in her eyes, she
was so beautiful that he cried out softly and then laughed in a strange
repressed sort of way as he half held out his arms toward her.
"I think I know how my father must have loved my mother," he said. "But
I can't make you feel it. I can't hope for that. She died when I was so
young that she remained only as a beautiful dream for me. But for my
father she _never_ died, and as I grew older she became more and more
alive for me, so that in our journeys we would talk about her as if she
were waiting for us back home and would welcome us when we returned. And
never could my father remain away from the place where she was buried
very long at a time. He called it _home_, that little cup at the foot of
the mountain, with the waterfall singing in summer, and a paradise of
birds and flowers keeping her company, and all the great, wild world she
loved about her. There was the cabin, too; the little cabin where I was
born, with its back to the big mountain, and filled with the handiwork
of my mother as she had left it when she died. And my father too used to
laugh and sing there--he had a clear voice that would roll half-way up
the mountain; and as I grew older the miracle at times stirred me with a
strange fear, so real to my father did my dead mother seem when he was
home. But you look frightened, Miss Standish! Oh, it may seem weird and
ghostly now, but it was _true_--so true that I have lain awake nights
thinking of it and wishing that it had never been so!"
"Then you have wished a great sin," said the girl in a voice that seemed
scarcely to whisper between her parted lips. "I hope someone will feel
toward me--some day--like that."
"But it was this which brought the tragedy, the thing you have asked me
to tell you about," he said, unclenching his hands slowly, and then
tightening them again until the blood ebbed from their veins. "Interests
were coming in; the tentacles of power and greed were reaching out,
encroaching steadily a little nearer to our cup at the foot of the
mountain. But my father did not dream of what might happen. It came in
the spring of the year he took me on my first trip to the States, when I
was eighteen. We were gone five months, and they were five months of
hell for him. Day and night he grieved for my mother and the little home
under the mountain. And when at last we came back--"
He turned again to the window, but he did not see the golden sun of the
tundra or hear Tautuk calling from the corral.
"When we came back," he repeated in a cold, hard voice, "a construction
camp of a hundred men had invaded my father's little paradise. The cabin
was gone; a channel had been cut from the waterfall, and this channel
ran where my mother's grave had been. They had treated it with that
same desecration with which they have destroyed ten thousand Indian
graves since then. Her bones were scattered in the sand and mud. And
from the moment my father saw what had happened, never another sun rose
in the heavens for him. His heart died, yet he went on living--for
Mary Standish had bowed her face in her hands. He saw the tremor of her
slim shoulders; and when he came back, and she looked up at him, it was
as if he beheld the pallid beauty of one of the white tundra flowers.
"And the man who committed that crime--was John Graham," she said, in
the strangely passionless voice of one who knew what his answer
"Yes, John Graham. He was there, representing big interests in the
States. The foreman had objected to what happened; many of the men had
protested; a few of them, who knew my father, had thrown up their work
rather than be partners to that crime. But Graham had the legal power;
they say he laughed as if he thought it a great joke that a cabin and a
grave should be considered obstacles in his way. And he laughed when my
father and I went to see him; yes, _laughed_, in that noiseless, oily,
inside way of his, as you might think of a snake laughing.
"We found him among the men. My God, you don't know how I hated
him!--Big, loose, powerful, dangling the watch-fob that hung over his
vest, and looking at my father in that way as he told him what a fool
he was to think a worthless grave should interfere with his work. I
wanted to kill him, but my father put a hand on my shoulder, a quiet,
steady hand, and said: 'It is my duty, Alan. _My duty_.'
"And then--it happened. My father was older, much older than Graham, but
God put such strength in him that day as I had never seen before, and
with his naked hands he would have killed the brute if I had not
unlocked them with my own. Before all his men Graham became a mass of
helpless pulp, and from the ground, with the last of the breath that was
in him, he cursed my father, and he cursed me. He said that all the days
of his life he would follow us, until we paid a thousand times for what
we had done. And then my father dragged him as he would have dragged a
rat to the edge of a piece of bush, and there he tore his clothes from
him until the brute was naked; and in that nakedness he scourged him
with whips until his arms were weak, and John Graham was unconscious and
like a great hulk of raw beef. When it was over, we went into the
During the terrible recital Mary Standish had not looked away from him,
and now her hands were clenched like his own, and her eyes and face were
aflame, as if she wanted to leap up and strike at something unseen
"And after that, Alan; after that--"
She did not know that she had spoken his name, and he, hearing it,
"John Graham kept his promise," he answered grimly. "The influence and
money behind him haunted us wherever we went. My father had been
successful, but one after another the properties in which he was
interested were made worthless. A successful mine in which he was most
heavily interested was allowed to become abandoned. A hotel which he
partly owned in Dawson was bankrupted. One after another things
happened, and after each happening my father would receive a polite note
of regret from Graham, written as if the word actually came from a
friend. But my father cared little for money losses now. His heart was
drying up and his life ebbing away for the little cabin and the grave
that were gone from the foot of the mountain. It went on this way for
three years, and then, one morning, my father was found on the beach at
Alan heard only the gasping breath in which the word came from Mary
Standish, for he was facing the window, looking steadily away from her.
"Yes--murdered. I know it was the work of John Graham. He didn't do it
personally, but it was _his money_ that accomplished the end. Of course
nothing ever came of it. I won't tell you how his influence and power
have dogged me; how they destroyed the first herd of reindeer I had, and
how they filled the newspapers with laughter and lies about me when I
was down in the States last winter in an effort to make _your_ people
see a little something of the truth about Alaska. I am waiting. I know
the day is coming when I shall have John Graham as my father had him
under our mountain twenty years ago. He must be fifty now. But that
won't save him when the time comes. No one will loosen my hands as I
loosened my father's. And all Alaska will rejoice, for his power and his
money have become twin monsters that are destroying Alaska just as he
destroyed the life of my father. Unless he dies, and his money-power
ends, he will make of this great land nothing more than a shell out of
which he and his kind have taken all the meat. And the hour of deadliest
danger is now upon us."
He looked at Mary Standish, and it was as if death had come to her where
she sat. She seemed not to breathe, and her face was so white it
frightened him. And then, slowly, she turned her eyes upon him, and
never had he seen such living pools of torture and of horror. He was
amazed at the quietness of her voice when she began to speak, and
startled by the almost deadly coldness of it.
"I think you can understand--now--why I leaped into the sea, why I
wanted the world to think I was dead, and why I have feared to tell you
the truth," she said. "_I am John Graham's wife._"
Alan's first thought was of the monstrous incongruity of the thing, the
almost physical impossibility of a mesalliance of the sort Mary Standish
had revealed to him. He saw her, young and beautiful, with face and eyes
that from the beginning had made him feel all that was good and sweet in
life, and behind her he saw the shadow-hulk of John Graham, the pitiless
iron-man, without conscience and without soul, coarsened by power,
fiendish in his iniquities, and old enough to be her father!
A slow smile twisted his lips, but he did not know he smiled. He pulled
himself together without letting her see the physical part of the effort
it was taking. And he tried to find something to say that would help
clear her eyes of the agony that was in them.
"That--is a most unreasonable thing--to be true," he said.
It seemed to him his lips were making words out of wood, and that the
words were fatuously inefficient compared with what he should have said,
or acted, under the circumstances.
She nodded. "It is. But the world doesn't look at it in that way. Such
things just happen."
She reached for a book which lay on the table where the tundra daisies
were heaped. It was a book written around the early phases of pioneer
life in Alaska, taken from his own library, a volume of statistical
worth, dryly but carefully written--and she had been reading it. It
struck him as a symbol of the fight she was making, of her courage, and
of her desire to triumph in the face of tremendous odds that must have
beset her. He still could not associate her completely with John Graham.
Yet his face was cold and white.
Her hand trembled a little as she opened the book and took from it a
newspaper clipping. She did not speak as she unfolded it and gave it
At the top of two printed columns was the picture of a young
and beautiful girl; in an oval, covering a small space over the
girl's shoulder, was a picture of a man of fifty or so. Both were
strangers to him. He read their names, and then the headlines. "A
Hundred-Million-Dollar Love" was the caption, and after the word love
was a dollar sign. Youth and age, beauty and the other thing, two great
fortunes united. He caught the idea and looked at Mary Standish. It was
impossible for him to think of her as Mary Graham.
"I tore that from a paper in Cordova," she said. "They have nothing to
do with me. The girl lives in Texas. But don't you see something in her
eyes? Can't you see it, even in the picture? She has on her wedding
things. But it seemed to me--when I saw her face--that in her eyes were
agony and despair and hopelessness, and that she was bravely trying to
hide them from the world. It's just another proof, one of thousands,
that such unreasonable things do happen."
He was beginning to feel a dull and painless sort of calm, the stoicism
which came to possess him whenever he was confronted by the inevitable.
He sat down, and with his head bowed over it took one of the limp,
little hands that lay in Mary Standish's lap. The warmth had gone out of
it. It was cold and lifeless. He caressed it gently and held it between
his brown, muscular hands, staring at it, and yet seeing nothing in
particular. It was only the ticking of Keok's clock that broke the
silence for a time. Then he released the hand, and it dropped in the
girl's lap again. She had been looking steadily at the streak of gray in
his hair. And a light came into her eyes, a light which he did not see,
and a little tremble of her lips, and an almost imperceptible
inclination of her head toward him.
"I'm sorry I didn't know," he said. "I realize now how you must have
felt back there in the cottonwoods."
"No, you don't realize--_you don't!_" she protested.
In an instant, it seemed to him, a vibrant, flaming life swept over her
again. It was as if his words had touched fire to some secret thing, as
if he had unlocked a door which grim hopelessness had closed. He was
amazed at the swiftness with which color came into her cheeks.
"You don't understand, and I am determined that you _shall_," she went
on. "I would die before I let you go away thinking what is now in your
mind. You will despise me, but I would rather be hated for the truth
than because of the horrible thing which you must believe if I remain
silent." She forced a wan smile to her lips. "You know, Belinda
Mulrooneys were very well in their day, but they don't fit in now, do
they? If a woman makes a mistake and tries to remedy it in a fighting
sort of way, as Belinda Mulrooney might have done back in the days when
Alaska was young--"
She finished with a little gesture of despair.
"I have committed a great folly," she said, hesitating an instant in his
silence. "I see very clearly now the course I should have taken. You
will advise me that it is still not too late when you have heard what I
am going to say. Your face is like--a rock."
"It is because your tragedy is mine," he said.
She turned her eyes from him. The color in her cheeks deepened. It was a
vivid, feverish glow. "I was born rich, enormously, hatefully rich," she
said in the low, unimpassioned voice of a confessional. "I don't
remember father or mother. I lived always with my Grandfather Standish
and my Uncle Peter Standish. Until I was thirteen I had my Uncle Peter,
who was grandfather's brother, and lived with us. I worshiped Uncle
Peter. He was a cripple. From young manhood he had lived in a
wheel-chair, and he was nearly seventy-five when he died. As a baby that
wheel-chair, and my rides in it with him about the great house in which
we lived, were my delights. He was my father and mother, everything that
was good and sweet in life. I remember thinking, as a child, that if God
was as good as Uncle Peter, He was a wonderful God. It was Uncle Peter
who told me, year after year, the old stories and legends of the
Standishes. And he was always happy--always happy and glad and seeing
nothing but sunshine though he hadn't stood on his feet for nearly sixty
years. And my Uncle Peter died when I was thirteen, five days before my
birthday came. I think he must have been to me what your father was
He nodded. There was something that was not the hardness of rock in his
face now, and John Graham seemed to have faded away.
"I was left, then, alone with my Grandfather Standish," she went on. "He
didn't love me as my Uncle Peter loved me, and I don't think I loved
him. But I was proud of him. I thought the whole world must have stood
in awe of him, as I did. As I grew older I learned the world _was_
afraid of him--bankers, presidents, even the strongest men in great
financial interests; afraid of him, and of his partners, the Grahams,
and of Sharpleigh, who my Uncle Peter had told me was the cleverest
lawyer in the nation, and who had grown up in the business of the two
families. My grandfather was sixty-eight when Uncle Peter died, so it
was John Graham who was the actual working force behind the combined
fortunes of the two families. Sometimes, as I now recall it, Uncle Peter
was like a little child. I remember how he tried to make me understand
just how big my grandfather's interests were by telling me that if two
dollars were taken from every man, woman, and child in the United
States, it would just about add up to what he and the Grahams possessed,
and my Grandfather Standish's interests were three-quarters of the
whole. I remember how a hunted look would come into my Uncle Peter's
face at times when I asked him how all this money was used, and where it
was. And he never answered me as I wanted to be answered, and I never
understood. I didn't know _why_ people feared my grandfather and John
Graham. I didn't know of the stupendous power my grandfather's money had
rolled up for them. I didn't know"--her voice sank to a shuddering
whisper--"I didn't know how they were using it in Alaska, for instance.
I didn't know it was feeding upon starvation and ruin and death. I don't
think even Uncle Peter knew _that_."
She looked at Alan steadily, and her gray eyes seemed burning up with a
"Why, even then, before Uncle Peter died, I had become one of the
biggest factors in all their schemes. It was impossible for me to
suspect that John Graham was _anticipating_ a little girl of thirteen,
and I didn't guess that my Grandfather Standish, so straight, so grandly
white of beard and hair, so like a god of power when he stood among men,
was even then planning that I should be given to him, so that a
monumental combination of wealth might increase itself still more in
that juggernaut of financial achievement for which he lived. And to
bring about my sacrifice, to make sure it would not fail, they set
Sharpleigh to the task, because Sharpleigh was sweet and good of face,
and gentle like Uncle Peter, so that I loved him and had confidence in
him, without a suspicion that under his white hair lay a brain which
matched in cunning and mercilessness that of John Graham himself. And he
did his work well, Alan."
A second time she had spoken his name, softly and without embarrassment.
With her nervous fingers tying and untying the two corners of a little
handkerchief in her lap, she went on, after a moment of silence in which
the ticking of Keok's clock seemed tense and loud.
"When I was seventeen, Grandfather Standish died. I wish you could
understand all that followed without my telling you: how I clung to
Sharpleigh as a father, how I trusted him, and how cleverly and gently
he educated me to the thought that it was right and just, and my
greatest duty in life, to carry out the stipulation of my grandfather's
will and marry John Graham. Otherwise, he told me--if that union was
not brought about before I was twenty-two--not a dollar of the great
fortune would go to the house of Standish; and because he was clever
enough to know that money alone would not urge me, he showed me a letter
which he said my Uncle Peter had written, and which I was to read on my
seventeenth birthday, and in that letter Uncle Peter urged me to live up
to the Standish name and join in that union of the two great fortunes
which he and Grandfather Standish had always planned. I didn't dream the
letter was a forgery. And in the end they won--and I promised."
She sat with bowed head, crumpling the bit of cambric between her
fingers. "Do you despise me?" she asked.
"No," he replied in a tense, unimpassioned voice. "I love you."
She tried to look at him calmly and bravely. In his face again lay the
immobility of rock, and in his eyes a sullen, slumbering fire.
"I promised," she repeated quickly, as if regretting the impulse that
had made her ask him the question. "But it was to be business, a cold,
unsentimental business. I disliked John Graham. Yet I would marry him.
In the eyes of the law I would be his wife; in the eyes of the world I
would remain his wife--but never more than that. They agreed, and I in
my ignorance believed.
"I didn't see the trap. I didn't see the wicked triumph in John
Graham's heart. No power could have made me believe then that he wanted
to possess only _me_; that he was horrible enough to want me even
without love; that he was a great monster of a spider, and I the fly
lured into his web. And the agony of it was that in all the years since
Uncle Peter died I had dreamed strange and beautiful dreams. I lived in
a make-believe world of my own, and I read, read, read; and the thought
grew stronger and stronger in me that I had lived another life
somewhere, and that I belonged back in the years when the world was
clean, and there was love, and vast reaches of land wherein money and
power were little guessed of, and where romance and the glory of manhood
and womanhood rose above all other things. Oh, I wanted these things,
and yet because others had molded me, and because of my misguided
Standish sense of pride and honor, I was shackling myself to
"In the last months preceding my twenty-second birthday I learned more
of the man than I had ever known before; rumors came to me; I
investigated a little, and I began to find the hatred, and the reason
for it, which has come to me so conclusively here in Alaska. I almost
knew, at the last, that he was a monster, but the world had been told I
was to marry him, and Sharpleigh with his fatherly hypocrisy was behind
me, and John Graham treated me so courteously and so coolly that I did
not suspect the terrible things in his heart and mind--and I went on
with the bargain. _I married him._"
She drew a sudden, deep breath, as if she had passed through the ordeal
of what she had most dreaded to say, and now, meeting the changeless
expression of Alan's face with a fierce, little cry that leaped from her
like a flash of gun-fire, she sprang to her feet and stood with her back
crushed against the tundra flowers, her voice trembling as she
continued, while he stood up and faced her.
"You needn't go on," he interrupted in a voice so low and terribly hard
that she felt the menacing thrill of it. "You needn't. I will settle
with John Graham, if God gives me the chance."
"You would have me stop _now_--before I have told you of the only shred
of triumph to which I may lay claim!" she protested. "Oh, you may be
sure that I realize the sickening folly and wickedness of it all, but I
swear before my God that I didn't realize it then, until it was too
late. To you, Alan, clean as the great mountains and plains that have
been a part of you, I know how impossible this must seem--that I should
marry a man I at first feared, then loathed, then came to hate with a
deadly hatred; that I should sacrifice myself because I thought it was a
duty; that I should be so weak, so ignorant, so like soft clay in the
hands of those I trusted. Yet I tell you that at no time did I think or
suspect that I was sacrificing _myself_; at no time, blind though you
may call me, did I see a hint of that sickening danger into which I was
voluntarily going. No, not even an hour before the wedding did I suspect
that, for it had all been so coldly planned, like a great deal in
finance--so carefully adjudged by us all as a business affair, that I
felt no fear except that sickness of soul which comes of giving up one's
life. And no hint of it came until the last of the few words were spoken
which made us man and wife, and then I saw in John Graham's eyes
something which I had never seen there before. And Sharpleigh--"
Her hands caught at her breast. Her gray eyes were pools of flame.
"I went to my room. I didn't lock my door, because never had it been
necessary to do that. I didn't cry. No, I didn't cry. But something
strange was happening to me which tears might have prevented. It seemed
to me there were many walls to my room; I was faint; the windows seemed
to appear and disappear, and in that sickness I reached my bed. Then I
saw the door open, and John Graham came in, and closed the door behind
him, and locked it. My room. He had come into _my room!_ The
unexpectedness of it--the horror--the insult roused me from my stupor. I
sprang up to face him, and there he stood, within arm's reach of me, a
look in his face which told me at last the truth which I had failed to
suspect--or fear. His arms were reaching out--
"'You are my wife,' he said.
"Oh, I knew, then. '_You are my wife_,' he repeated. I wanted to
scream, but I couldn't; and then--then--his arms reached me; I felt them
crushing around me like the coils of a great snake; the poison of his
lips was at my face--and I believed that I was lost, and that no power
could save me in this hour from the man who had come to my room--the man
who was my husband. I think it was Uncle Peter who gave me voice, who
put the right words in my brain, who made me laugh--yes, laugh, and
almost caress him with my hands. The change in me amazed him, stunned
him, and he freed me--while I told him that in these first few hours of
wifehood I wanted to be alone, and that he should come to me that
evening, and that I would be waiting for him. And I smiled at him as I
said these things, smiled while I wanted to kill him, and he went, a
great, gloating, triumphant beast, believing that the obedience of
wifehood was about to give him what he had expected to find through
dishonor--and I was left alone.
"I thought of only one thing then--escape. I saw the truth. It swept
over me, inundated me, roared in my ears. All that I had ever lived with
Uncle Peter came back to me. This was not his world; it had never
been--and it was not mine. It was, all at once, a world of monsters. I
wanted never to face it again, never to look into the eyes of those I
had known. And even as these thoughts and desires swept upon me, I was
filling a traveling bag in a fever of madness, and Uncle Peter was at my
side, urging me to hurry, telling me I had no minutes to lose, for the
man who had left me was clever and might guess the truth that lay hid
behind my smiles and cajolery.
"I stole out through the back of the house, and as I went I heard
Sharpleigh's low laughter in the library. It was a new kind of laughter,
and with it I heard John Graham's voice. I was thinking only of the
sea--to get away on the sea. A taxi took me to my bank, and I drew
money. I went to the wharves, intent only on boarding a ship, any ship,
and it seemed to me that Uncle Peter was leading me; and we came to a
great ship that was leaving for Alaska--and you know--what happened
With a sob she bowed her face in her hands, but only an instant it was
there, and when she looked at Alan again, there were no tears in her
eyes, but a soft glory of pride and exultation.
"I am clean of John Graham," she cried. "_Clean!_"
He stood twisting his hands, twisting them in a helpless, futile sort of
way, and it was he, and not the girl, who felt like bowing his head that
the tears might come unseen. For her eyes were bright and shining and
clear as stars.
"Do you despise me now?"
"I love you," he said again, and made no movement toward her.
"I am glad," she whispered, and she did not look at him, but at the
sunlit plain which lay beyond the window.
"And Rossland was on the _Nome_, and saw you, and sent word back to
Graham," he said, fighting to keep himself from going nearer to her.
She nodded. "Yes; and so I came to you, and failing there, I leaped into
the sea, for I wanted them to think I was dead."
"And Rossland was hurt."
"Yes. Strangely. I heard of it in Cordova. Men like Rossland frequently
come to unexpected ends."
He went to the door which she had closed, and opened it, and stood
looking toward the blue billows of the foothills with the white crests
of the mountains behind them. She came, after a moment, and stood
"I understand," she said softly, and her hand lay in a gentle touch upon
his arm. "You are trying to see some way out, and you can see only one.
That is to go back, face the creatures I hate, regain my freedom in the
old way. And I, too, can see no other way. I came on impulse; I must
return with impulse and madness burned out of me. And I am sorry. I
dread it. I--would rather die."
"And I--" he began, then caught himself and pointed to the distant hills
and mountains. "The herds are there," he said. "I am going to them. I
may be gone a week or more. Will you promise me to be here when
"Yes, if that is your desire."
She was so near that his lips might have touched her shining hair.
"And when you return, I must go. That will be the only way."
"I think so."
"It will be hard. It may be, after all, that I am a coward. But to face
"You won't be alone," he said quietly, still looking at the far-away
hills. "If you go, I am going with you."
It seemed as if she had stopped breathing for a moment at his side, and
then, with a little, sobbing cry she drew away from him and stood at the
half-opened door of Nawadlook's room, and the glory in her eyes was the
glory of his dreams as he had wandered with her hand in hand over the
tundras in those days of grief and half-madness when he had thought
she was dead.
"I am glad I was in Ellen McCormick's cabin the day you came," she was
saying. "And I thank God for giving me the madness and courage to come
to _you_. I am not afraid of anything in the world now--because--_I love
And as Nawadlook's door closed behind her, Alan stumbled out into the
sunlight, a great drumming in his heart, and a tumult in his brain that
twisted the world about him until for a little it held neither vision
nor space nor sound.
In that way, with the beautiful world swimming in sunshine and golden
tundra haze until foothills and mountains were like castles in a dream,
Alan Holt set off with Tautuk and Amuk Toolik, leaving Stampede and Keok
and Nawadlook at the corral bars, with Stampede little regretting that
he was left behind to guard the range. For a mighty resolution had taken
root in the prospector's heart, and he felt himself thrilled and a bit
trembling at the nearness of the greatest drama that had ever entered
his life. Alan, looking back after the first few minutes, saw that Keok
and Nawadlook stood alone. Stampede was gone.
The ridge beyond the coulee out of which Mary Standish had come with
wild flowers soon closed like a door between him and Sokwenna's cabin,
and the straight trail to the mountains lay ahead, and over this Alan
set the pace, with Tautuk and Amuk Toolik and a caravan of seven
pack-deer behind him, bearing supplies for the herdsmen.
Alan had scarcely spoken to the two men. He knew the driving force which
was sending him to the mountains was not only an impulse, but almost an
inspirational thing born of necessity. Each step that he took, with his
head and heart in a swirl of intoxicating madness, was an effort behind
which he was putting a sheer weight of physical will. He wanted to go
back. The urge was upon him to surrender utterly to the weakness of
forgetting that Mary Standish was a wife. He had almost fallen a victim
to his selfishness and passion in the moment when she stood at
Nawadlook's door, telling him that she loved him. An iron hand had drawn
him out into the day, and it was the same iron hand that kept his face
to the mountains now, while in his brain her voice repeated the words
that had set his world on fire.
He knew what had happened this morning was not the merely important and
essential incident of most human lives; it had been a cataclysmic thing
with him. Probably it would be impossible for even the girl ever fully
to understand. And he needed to be alone to gather strength and mental
calmness for the meeting of the problem ahead of him, a complication so
unexpected that the very foundation of that stoic equanimity which the
mountains had bred in him had suffered a temporary upsetting. His
happiness was almost an insanity. The dream wherein he had wandered with
a spirit of the dead had come true; it was the old idyl in the flesh
again, his father, his mother--and back in the cabin beyond the ridge
such a love had cried out to him. And he was afraid to return. He
laughed the fact aloud, happily and with an unrepressed exultation as
he strode ahead of the pack-train, and with that exultation words came
to his lips, words intended for himself alone, telling him that Mary
Standish belonged to him, and that until the end of eternity he would
fight for her and keep her. Yet he kept on, facing the mountains, and he
walked so swiftly that Tautuk and Amuk Toolik fell steadily behind with
the deer, so that in time long dips and swells of the tundra lay
With grim persistence he kept at himself, and at last there swept over
him in its ultimate triumph a compelling sense of the justice of what he
had done--justice to Mary Standish. Even now he did not think of her as
Mary Graham. But she was Graham's wife. And if he had gone to her in
that moment of glorious confession when she had stood at Nawadlook's
door, if he had violated her faith when, because of faith, she had laid
the world at his feet, he would have fallen to the level of John Graham
himself. Thought of the narrowness of his escape and of the first mad
desire to call her back from Nawadlook's room, to hold her in his arms
again as he had held her in the cottonwoods, brought a hot fire into his
face. Something greater than his own fighting instinct had turned him to
the open door of the cabin. It was Mary Standish--her courage, the-glory
of faith and love shining in her eyes, her measurement of him as a man.
She had not been afraid to say what was in her heart, because she knew
what he would do.
Mid-afternoon found him waiting for Tautuk and Amuk Toolik at the edge
of a slough where willows grew deep and green and the crested billows of
sedge-cotton stood knee-high. The faces of the herdsmen were sweating.
Thereafter Alan walked with them, until in that hour when the sun had
sunk to its lowest plane they came to the first of the Endicott
foothills. Here they rested until the coolness of deeper evening, when a
golden twilight filled the land, and then resumed the journey toward the
Midsummer heat and the winged pests of the lower lands had driven the
herds steadily into the cooler altitudes of the higher plateaux and
valleys. Here they had split into telescoping columns which drifted in
slowly moving streams wherever the doors of the hills and mountains
opened into new grazing fields, until Alan's ten thousand reindeer were
in three divisions, two of the greatest traveling westward, and one, of
a thousand head, working north and east. The first and second days Alan
remained with the nearest and southward herd. The third day he went on
with Tautuk and two pack-deer through a break in the mountains and
joined the herdsmen of the second and higher multitude of feeding
animals. There began to possess him a curious disinclination to hurry,
and this aversion grew in a direct ratio with the thought which was
becoming stronger in him with each mile and hour of his progress. A
multitude of emotions were buried under the conviction that Mary
Standish must leave the range when he returned. He had a grim sense of
honor, and a particularly devout one when it had to do with women, and
though he conceded nothing of right and justice in the relationship
which existed between the woman he loved and John Graham, he knew that
she must go. To remain at the range was the one impossible thing for her
to do. He would take her to Tanana. He would go with her to the States.
The matter would be settled in a reasonable and intelligent way, and
when he came back, he would bring her with him.
But beneath this undercurrent of decision fought the thing which his
will held down, and yet never quite throttled completely--that something
which urged him with an unconquerable persistence to hold with his own
hands what a glorious fate had given him, and to finish with John
Graham, if it ever came to that, in the madly desirable way he visioned
for himself in those occasional moments when the fires of temptation
The fourth night he said to Tautuk:
"If Keok should marry another man, what would you do?"
It was a moment before Tautuk looked at him, and in the herdsman's eyes
was a wild, mute question, as if suddenly there had leaped into his
stolid mind a suspicion which had never come to him before. Alan laid a
reassuring hand upon his arm.
"I don't mean she's going to, Tautuk," he laughed. "She loves you. I
know it. Only you are so stupid, and so slow, and so hopeless as a lover
that she is punishing you while she has the right--before she marries
you. But if she _should_ marry someone else, what would you do?"
"My brother?" asked Tautuk.
"No. A stranger. Someone who had injured you, for instance; someone Keok
hated, and who had cheated her into marrying him."
"I would kill him," said Tautuk quietly.
It was this night the temptation was strongest upon Alan. Why should
Mary Standish go back, he asked himself. She had surrendered everything
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