James Oliver Curwood
Part 4 out of 5
to escape from the horror down there. She had given up fortune and
friends. She had scattered convention to the four winds, had gambled her
life in the hazard, and in the end had come to him! Why should he not
keep her? John Graham and the world believed she was dead. And he was
master here. If--some day--Graham should happen to cross his path, he
would settle the matter in Tautuk's way. Later, while Tautuk slept, and
the world lay about him in a soft glow, and the valley below was filled
with misty billows of twilight out of which came to him faintly the
curious, crackling sound of reindeer hoofs and the grunting contentment
of the feeding herd, the reaction came, as he had known it would come
in the end.
The morning of the fifth day he set out alone for the eastward herd, and
on the sixth overtook Tatpan and his herdsmen. Tatpan, like Sokwenna's
foster-children, Keok and Nawadlook, had a quarter-strain of white in
him, and when Alan came up to him in the edge of the valley where the
deer were grazing, he was lying on a rock, playing Yankee Doodle on a
mouth-organ. It was Tatpan who told him that an hour or two before an
exhausted stranger had come into camp, looking for him, and that the man
was asleep now, apparently more dead than alive, but had given
instructions to be awakened at the end of two hours, and not a minute
later. Together they had a look at him.
He was a small, ruddy-faced man with carroty blond hair and a peculiarly
boyish appearance as he lay doubled up like a jack-knife, profoundly
asleep. Tatpan looked at his big, silver watch and in a low voice
described how the stranger had stumbled into camp, so tired he could
scarcely put one foot ahead of the other; and that he had dropped down
where he now lay when he learned Alan was with one of the other herds.
"He must have come a long distance," said Tatpan, "and he has traveled
Something familiar about the man grew upon Alan. Yet he could not place
him. He wore a gun, which he had unbelted and placed within reach of
his hand on the grass. His chin was pugnaciously prominent, and in sleep
the mysterious stranger had crooked a forefinger and thumb about his
revolver in a way that spoke of caution and experience.
"If he is in such a hurry to see me, you might awaken him," said Alan.
He turned a little aside and knelt to drink at a tiny stream of water
that ran down from the snowy summits, and he could hear Tatpan rousing
the stranger. By the time he had finished drinking and faced about, the
little man with the carroty-blond hair was on his feet. Alan stared, and
the little man grinned. His ruddy cheeks grew pinker. His blue eyes
twinkled, and in what seemed to be a moment of embarrassment he gave his
gun a sudden snap that drew an exclamation of amazement from Alan. Only
one man in the world had he ever seen throw a gun into its holster like
that. A sickly grin began to spread over his own countenance, and all at
once Tatpan's eyes began to bulge.
"Stampede!" he cried.
Stampede rubbed a hand over his smooth, prominent chin and nodded
"It's me," he conceded. "I had to do it. It was give one or t'other
up--my whiskers _or her_. They went hard, too. I flipped dice, an' the
whiskers won. I cut cards, an' the whiskers won. I played Klondike
ag'in' 'em, an' the whiskers busted the bank. Then I got mad an' shaved
'em. Do I look so bad, Alan?"
"You look twenty years younger," declared Alan, stifling his desire to
laugh when he saw the other's seriousness.
Stampede was thoughtfully stroking his chin. "Then why the devil did
they laugh!" he demanded. "Mary Standish didn't laugh. She cried. Just
stood an' cried, an' then sat down an' cried, she thought I was that
blamed funny! And Keok laughed until she was sick an' had to go to bed.
That little devil of a Keok calls me Pinkey now, and Miss Standish says
it wasn't because I was funny that she laughed, but that the change in
me was so sudden she couldn't help it. Nawadlook says I've got a
Alan gripped his hand, and a swift change came over Stampede's face. A
steely glitter shot into the blue of his eyes, and his chin hardened.
Nature no longer disguised the Stampede Smith of other days, and Alan
felt a new thrill and a new regard for the man whose hand he held. This,
at last, was the man whose name had gone before him up and down the old
trails; the man whose cool and calculating courage, whose fearlessness
of death and quickness with the gun had written pages in Alaskan history
which would never be forgotten. Where his first impulse had been to
laugh, he now felt the grim thrill and admiration of men of other days,
who, when in Stampede's presence, knew they were in the presence of a
master. The old Stampede had come to life again. And Alan knew why. The
grip of his hand tightened, and Stampede returned it.
"Some day, if we're lucky, there always comes a woman to make the world
worth living in, Stampede," he said.
"There does," replied Stampede.
He looked steadily at Alan.
"And I take it you love Mary Standish," he added, "and that you'd fight
for her if you had to."
"I would," said Alan.
"Then it's time you were traveling," advised Stampede significantly.
"I've been twelve hours on the trail without a rest. She told me to move
fast, and I've moved. I mean Mary Standish. She said it was almost a
matter of life and death that I find you in a hurry. I wanted to stay,
but she wouldn't let me. It's _you_ she wants. Rossland is at
"Yes, Rossland. And it's my guess John Graham isn't far away. I smell
happenings, Alan. We'd better hurry."
Stampede had started with one of the two saddle-deer left at the range,
but to ride deer-back successfully and with any degree of speed and
specific direction was an accomplishment which he had neglected, and
within the first half-dozen miles he had abandoned the adventure to
continue his journey on foot. As Tatpan had no saddle-deer in his herd,
and the swiftest messenger would require many hours in which to reach
Amuk Toolik, Alan set out for his range within half an hour after his
arrival at Tatpan's camp. Stampede, declaring himself a new man after
his brief rest and the meal which followed it, would not listen to
Alan's advice that he follow later, when he was more refreshed.
A fierce and reminiscent gleam smoldered in the little gun-fighter's
eyes as he watched Alan during the first half-hour leg of their race
through the foothills to the tundras. Alan did not observe it, or the
grimness that had settled in the face behind him. His own mind was
undergoing an upheaval of conjecture and wild questioning. That Rossland
had discovered Mary Standish was not dead was the least astonishing
factor in the new development. The information might easily have
reached him through Sandy McCormick or his wife Ellen. The astonishing
thing was that he had in some mysterious way picked up the trail of her
flight a thousand miles northward, and the still more amazing fact that
he had dared to follow her and reveal himself openly at his range. His
heart pumped hard, for he knew Rossland must be directly under
Then came the resolution to take Stampede into his confidence and to
reveal all that had happened on the day of his departure for the
mountains. He proceeded to do this without equivocation or hesitancy,
for there now pressed upon him a grim anticipation of impending events
ahead of them.
Stampede betrayed no astonishment at the other's disclosures. The
smoldering fire remained in his eyes, the immobility of his face
unchanged. Only when Alan repeated, in his own words, Mary Standish's
confession of love at Nawadlook's door did the fighting lines soften
about his comrade's eyes and mouth.
Stampede's lips responded with an oddly quizzical smile. "I knew that a
long time ago," he said. "I guessed it that first night of storm in the
coach up to Chitina. I knew it for certain before we left Tanana. She
didn't tell me, but I wasn't blind. It was the note that puzzled and
frightened me--the note she stuffed in her slipper. And Rossland told
me, before I left, that going for you was a wild-goose chase, as he
intended to take Mrs. John Graham back with him immediately."
"And you left her alone after _that_?"
Stampede shrugged his shoulders as he valiantly kept up with Alan's
suddenly quickened pace.
"She insisted. Said it meant life and death for her. And she looked it.
White as paper after her talk with Rossland. Besides--"
"Sokwenna won't sleep until we get back. He knows. I told him. And he's
watching from the garret window with a.303 Savage. I saw him pick off a
duck the other day at two hundred yards."
They hurried on. After a little Alan said, with the fear which he could
not name clutching at his heart, "Why did you say Graham might not be
"In my bones," replied Stampede, his face hard as rock again. "In my
"Is that all?"
"Not quite. I think Rossland told her. She was so white. And her hand
cold as a lump of clay when she put it on mine. It was in her eyes, too.
Besides, Rossland has taken possession of your cabin as though he owns
it. I take it that means somebody behind him, a force, something big to
reckon with. He asked me how many men we had. I told him, stretching it
a little. He grinned. He couldn't keep back that grin. It was as if a
devil in him slipped out from hiding for an instant."
Suddenly he caught Alan's arm and stopped him. His chin shot out. The
sweat ran from his face. For a full quarter of a minute the two men
stared at each other.
"Alan, we're short-sighted. I'm damned if I don't think we ought to call
the herdsmen in, and every man with a loaded gun!"
"You think it's that bad?"
"Might be. If Graham's behind Rossland and has men with him--"
"We're two and a half hours from Tatpan," said Alan, in a cold,
unemotional voice. "He has only half a dozen men with him, and it will
take at least four to make quick work in finding Tautuk and Amuk Toolik.
There are eighteen men with the southward herd, and twenty-two with the
upper. I mean, counting the boys. Use your own judgment. All are armed.
It may be foolish, but I'm following your hunch."
They gripped hands.
"It's more than a hunch, Alan," breathed Stampede softly. "And for God's
sake keep off the music as long as you can!"
He was gone, and as his agile, boyish figure started in a half-run
toward the foothills, Alan set his face southward, so that in a quarter
of an hour they were lost to each other in the undulating distances of
Never had Alan traveled as on the last of this sixth day of his absence
from the range. He was comparatively fresh, as his trail to Tatpan's
camp had not been an exhausting one, and his more intimate knowledge of
the country gave him a decided advantage over Stampede. He believed he
could make the distance in ten hours, but to this he would be compelled
to add a rest of at least three or four hours during the night. It was
now eight o'clock. By nine or ten the next morning he would be facing
Rossland, and at about that same hour Tatpan's swift messengers would be
closing in about Tautuk and Amuk Toolik. He knew the speed with which
his herdsmen would sweep out of the mountains and over the tundras. Two
years ago Amuk Toolik and a dozen of his Eskimo people had traveled
fifty-two hours without rest or food, covering a hundred and nineteen
miles in that time. His blood flushed hot with pride. He couldn't do
that. But his people could--and _would_. He could see them sweeping in
from the telescoping segments of the herds as the word went among them;
he could see them streaking out of the foothills; and then, like wolves
scattering for freer air and leg-room, he saw them dotting the tundra in
their race for home--and war, if it was war that lay ahead of them.
Twilight began to creep in upon him, like veils of cool, dry mist out of
the horizons. And hour after hour he went on, eating a strip of pemmican
when he grew hungry, and drinking in the spring coulees when he came to
them, where the water was cold and clear. Not until a telltale cramp
began to bite warningly in his leg did he stop for the rest which he
knew he must take. It was one o'clock. Counting his journey to Tatpan's
camp, he had been traveling almost steadily for seventeen hours.
Not until he stretched himself out on his back in a grassy hollow where
a little stream a foot wide rippled close to his ears did he realize how
tired he had become. At first he tried not to sleep. Rest was all he
wanted; he dared not close his eyes. But exhaustion overcame him at
last, and he slept. When he awoke, bird-song and the sun were taunting
him. He sat up with a jerk, then leaped to his feet in alarm. His watch
told the story. He had slept soundly for six hours, instead of resting
three or four with his eyes open.
After a little, as he hurried on his way, he did not altogether regret
what had happened. He felt like a fighting man. He breathed deeply, ate
a breakfast of pemmican as he walked, and proceeded to make up lost
time. The interval between fifteen minutes of twelve and twelve he
almost ran. That quarter of an hour brought him to the crest of the
ridge from which he could look upon the buildings of the range. Nothing
had happened that he could see. He gave a great gasp of relief, and in
his joy he laughed. The strangeness of the laugh told him more than
anything else the tension he had been under.
Another half-hour, and he came up out of the dip behind Sokwenna's
cabin and tried the door. It was locked. A voice answered his knock, and
he called out his name. The bolt shot back, the door opened, and he
stepped in. Nawadlook stood at her bedroom door, a gun in her hands.
Keok faced him, holding grimly to a long knife, and between them,
staring white-faced at him as he entered, was Mary Standish. She came
forward to meet him, and he heard a whisper from Nawadlook, and saw Keok
follow her swiftly through the door into the other room.
Mary Standish held out her hands to him a little blindly, and the
tremble in her throat and the look in her eyes betrayed the struggle she
was making to keep from breaking down and crying out in gladness at his
coming. It was that look that sent a flood of joy into his heart, even
when he saw the torture and hopelessness behind it. He held her hands
close, and into her eyes he smiled in such a way that he saw them widen,
as if she almost disbelieved; and then she drew in a sudden quick
breath, and her fingers clung to him. It was as if the hope that had
deserted her came in an instant into her face again. He was not excited.
He was not even perturbed, now that he saw that light in her eyes and
knew she was safe. But his love was there. She saw it and felt the force
of it behind the deadly calmness with which he was smiling at her. She
gave a little sob, so low it was scarcely more than a broken breath; a
little cry that came of wonder--understanding--and unspeakable faith in
this man who was smiling at her so confidently in the face of the
tragedy that had come to destroy her.
"Rossland is in your cabin," she whispered. "And John Graham is back
there--somewhere--coming this way. Rossland says that if I don't go to
him of my own free will--"
He felt the shudder that ran through her.
"I understand the rest," he said. They stood silent for a moment. The
gray-cheeked thrush was singing on the roof. Then, as if she had been a
child, he took her face between his hands and bent her head back a
little, so that he was looking straight into her eyes, and so near that
he could feel the sweet warmth of her breath.
"You didn't make a mistake the day I went away?" he asked. "You--love
For a moment longer he looked into her eyes. Then he stood back from
her. Even Keok and Nawadlook heard his laugh. It was strange, they
thought--Keok with her knife, and Nawadlook with her gun--for the bird
was singing, and Alan Holt was laughing, and Mary Standish was
Another moment later, from where he sat cross-legged at the little
window in the attic, keeping his unsleeping vigil with a rifle across
his knees, old Sokwenna saw his master walk across the open, and
something in the manner of his going brought back a vision of another
day long ago when Ghost Kloof had rung with the cries of battle, and
the hands now gnarled and twisted with age had played their part in the
heroic stand of his people against the oppressors from the
Then he saw Alan go into the cabin where Rossland was, and softly his
fingers drummed upon the ancient tom-tom which lay at his side. His eyes
fixed themselves upon the distant mountains, and under his breath he
mumbled the old chant of battle, dead and forgotten except in Sokwenna's
brain, and after that his eyes closed, and again the vision grew out of
darkness like a picture for him, a vision of twisting trails and of
fighting men gathering with their faces set for war.
At the desk in Alan's living-room sat Rossland, when the door opened
behind him and the master of the range came in. He was not disturbed
when he saw who it was, and rose to meet him. His coat was off, his
sleeves rolled up, and it was evident he was making no effort to conceal
his freedom with Alan's books and papers.
He advanced, holding out a hand. This was not the same Rossland who had
told Alan to attend to his own business on board the _Nome_. His
attitude was that of one greeting a friend, smiling and affable even
before he spoke. Something inspired Alan to return the smile. Behind
that smile he was admiring the man's nerve. His hand met Rossland's
casually, but there was no uncertainty in the warmth of the
"How d' do, Paris, old boy?" he greeted good-humoredly. "Saw you going
in to Helen a few minutes ago, so I've been waiting for you. She's a
little frightened. And we can't blame her. Menelaus is mightily upset.
But mind me, Holt, I'm not blaming you. I'm too good a sport. Clever, I
call it--damned clever. She's enough to turn any man's head. I only wish
I were in your boots right now. I'd have turned traitor myself aboard
the _Nome_ if she had shown an inclination."
He proffered a cigar, a big, fat cigar with a gold band. It was
inspiration again that made Alan accept it and light it. His blood was
racing. But Rossland saw nothing of that. He observed only the nod, the
cool smile on Alan's lips, the apparent nonchalance with which he was
meeting the situation. It pleased Graham's agent. He reseated himself in
the desk-chair and motioned Alan to another chair near him.
"I thought you were badly hurt," said Alan. "Nasty knife wound you got."
Rossland shrugged his shoulders. "There you have it again, Holt--the
hell of letting a pretty face run away with you. One of the Thlinkit
girls down in the steerage, you know. Lovely little thing, wasn't she?
Tricked her into my cabin all right, but she wasn't like some other
Indian girls I've known. The next night a brother, or sweetheart, or
whoever it was got me through the open port. It wasn't bad. I was out of
the hospital within a week. Lucky I was put there, too. Otherwise I
wouldn't have seen Mrs. Graham one morning--through the window. What a
little our fortunes hang to at times, eh? If it hadn't been for the girl
and the knife and the hospital, I wouldn't be here now, and Graham
wouldn't be bleeding his heart out with impatience--and you, Holt,
wouldn't be facing the biggest opportunity that will ever come into
"I'm afraid I don't understand," said Alan, hiding his face in the
smoke of his cigar and speaking with an apparent indifference which had
its effect upon Rossland. "Your presence inclines me to believe that
luck has rather turned against me. Where can my advantage be?"
A grim seriousness settled in Rossland's eyes, and his voice became cool
and hard. "Holt, as two men who are not afraid to meet unusual
situations, we may as well call a spade a spade in this matter, don't
you think so?"
"Decidedly," said Alan.
"You know that Mary Standish is really Mary Standish Graham, John
"And you probably know--now--why she jumped into the sea, and why she
ran away from Graham."
"That saves a lot of talk. But there is another side to the story which
you probably don't know, and I am here to tell it to you. John Graham
doesn't care for a dollar of the Standish fortune. It's the girl he
wants, and has always wanted. She has grown up under his eyes. From the
day she was fourteen years old he has lived and planned with the thought
of possessing her. You know how he got her to marry him, and you know
what happened afterward. But it makes no difference to him whether she
hates him or not. He _wants_ her. And this"--he swept his arms out, "is
the most beautiful place in the world in which to have her returned to
him. I've been figuring from your books. Your property isn't worth over
a hundred thousand dollars as it stands on hoof today. I'm here to offer
you five times that for it. In other words, Graham is willing to forfeit
all action he might have personally against you for stealing his wife,
and in place of that will pay you five hundred thousand dollars for the
privilege of having his honeymoon here, and making of this place a
country estate where his wife may reside indefinitely, subject to her
husband's visits when he is so inclined. There will be a stipulation, of
course, requiring that the personal details of the deal be kept strictly
confidential, and that you leave the country. Do I make myself clear?"
Alan rose to his feet and paced thoughtfully across the room. At least,
Rossland measured his action as one of sudden, intensive reflection as
he watched him, smiling complacently at the effect of his knock-out
proposition upon the other. He had not minced matters. He had come to
the point without an effort at bargaining, and he possessed sufficient
dramatic sense to appreciate what the offer of half a million dollars
meant to an individual who was struggling for existence at the edge of a
raw frontier. Alan stood with his back toward him, facing a window. His
voice was oddly strained when he answered. But that was quite natural,
too, Rossland thought.
"I am wondering if I understand you," he said. "Do you mean that if I
sell Graham the range, leave it bag and baggage, and agree to keep my
mouth shut thereafter, he will give me half a million dollars?"
"That is the price. You are to take your people with you. Graham has his
Alan tried to laugh. "I think I see the point--now. He isn't paying five
hundred thousand for Miss Standish--I mean Mrs. Graham. He's paying it
for the _isolation_."
"Exactly. It was a last-minute hunch with him--to settle the matter
peaceably. We started up here to get his wife. You understand, to _get_
her, and settle the matter with you in a different way from the one
we're using now. You hit the word when you said 'isolation.' What a damn
fool a man can make of himself over a pretty face! Think of it--half a
"It sounds unreal," mused Alan, keeping his face to the window. "Why
should he offer so much?"
"You must keep the stipulation in mind, Holt. That is an important part
of the deal. You are to keep your mouth shut. Buying the range at a
normal price wouldn't guarantee it. But when you accept a sum like that,
you're a partner in the other end of the transaction, and your health
depends upon keeping the matter quiet. Simple enough, isn't it?"
Alan turned back to the table. His face was pale. He tried to keep smoke
in front of his eyes. "Of course, I don't suppose he'd allow Mrs. Graham
to escape back to the States--where she might do a little upsetting on
her own account?"
"He isn't throwing the money away," replied Rossland significantly.
"She would remain here indefinitely?"
"Probably never would return."
"Strange how squarely you hit the nail on the head! Why should she
return? The world believes she is dead. Papers were full of it. The
little secret of her being alive is all our own. And this will be a
beautiful summering place for Graham. Magnificent climate. Lovely
flowers. Birds. And the girl he has watched grow up, and wanted, since
she was fourteen."
"And who hates him."
"Who was tricked into marrying him, and who would rather die than live
with him as his wife."
"But it's up to Graham to keep her alive, Holt. That's not our business.
If she dies, I imagine you will have an opportunity to get your range
back pretty cheap."
Rossland held a paper out to Alan.
"Here's partial payment--two hundred and fifty thousand. I have the
papers here, on the desk, ready to sign. As soon as you give possession,
I'll return to Tanana with you and make the remaining payment."
Alan took the check. "I guess only a fool would refuse an offer like
"Yes, only a fool."
"_And I am that fool_."
So quietly did Alan speak that for an instant the significance of his
words did not fall with full force upon Rossland. The smoke cleared away
from before Alan's face. His cigar dropped to the floor, and he stepped
on it with his foot. The check followed it in torn scraps. The fury he
had held back with almost superhuman effort blazed in his eyes.
"If I could have Graham where you are now--_in that chair_--I'd give ten
years of my life, Rossland. I would kill him. And you--_you_--"
He stepped back a pace, as if to put himself out of striking distance of
the beast who was staring at him in amazement.
"What you have said about her should condemn you to death. And I would
kill you here, in this room, if it wasn't necessary for you to take my
message back to Graham. Tell him that Mary Standish--_not_ Mary
Graham--is as pure and clean and as sweet as the day she was born. Tell
him that she belongs to _me_. I love her. She is mine--do you
understand? And all the money in the world couldn't buy one hair from
her head. I'm going to take her back to the States. She is going to get
a square deal, and the world is going to know her story. She has
nothing to conceal. Absolutely nothing. Tell that to John Graham
He advanced upon Rossland, who had risen from his chair; his hands were
clenched, his face a mask of iron.
"Get out! Go before I flay you within an inch of your rotten life!"
The energy which every fiber in him yearned to expend upon Rossland sent
the table crashing back in an overturned wreck against the wall.
"Go--before I kill you!"
He was advancing, even as the words of warning came from his lips, and
the man before him, an awe-stricken mass of flesh that had forgotten
power and courage in the face of a deadly and unexpected menace, backed
quickly to the door and escaped. He made for the corrals, and Alan
watched from his door until he saw him departing southward, accompanied
by two men who bore packs on their shoulders. Not until then did
Rossland gather his nerve sufficiently to stop and look back. His
breathless voice carried something unintelligible to Alan. But he did
not return for his coat and hat.
The reaction came to Alan when he saw the wreck he had made of the
table. Another moment or two and the devil in him would have been at
work. He hated Rossland. He hated him now only a little less than he
hated John Graham, and that he had let him go seemed a miracle to him.
He felt the strain he had been under. But he was glad. Some little god
of common sense had overruled his passion, and he had acted wisely.
Graham would now get his message, and there could be no misunderstanding
of purpose between them.
He was staring at the disordered papers on his desk when a movement at
the door turned him about. Mary Standish stood before him.
"You sent him away," she cried softly.
Her eyes were shining, her lips parted, her face lit up with a beautiful
glow. She saw the overturned table, Rossland's hat and coat on a chair,
the evidence of what had happened and the quickness of his flight; and
then she turned her face to Alan again, and what he saw broke down the
last of that grim resolution which he had measured for himself, so that
in a moment he was at her side, and had her in his arms. She made no
effort to free herself as she had done in the cottonwoods, but turned
her mouth up for him to kiss, and then hid her face against his
shoulder--while he, fighting vainly to find utterance for the thousand
words in his throat, stood stroking her hair, and then buried his face
in it, crying out at last in the warm sweetness of it that he loved her,
and was going to fight for her, and that no power on earth could take
her away from him now. And these things he repeated until she raised her
flushed face from his breast, and let him kiss her lips once more, and
then freed herself gently from his arms.
For a Space they stood apart, and in the radiant loveliness of Mary
Standish's face and in Alan's quiet and unimpassioned attitude were
neither shame nor regret. In a moment they had swept aside the barrier
which convention had raised against them, and now they felt the
inevitable thrill of joy and triumph, and not the humiliating
embarrassment of dishonor. They made no effort to draw a curtain upon
their happiness, or to hide the swift heart-beat of it from each other.
It had happened, and they were glad. Yet they stood apart, and something
pressed upon Alan the inviolableness of the little freedom of space
between them, of its sacredness to Mary Standish, and darker and deeper
grew the glory of pride and faith that lay with the love in her eyes
when he did not cross it. He reached out his hand, and freely she gave
him her own. Lips blushing with his kisses trembled in a smile, and she
bowed her head a little, so that he was looking at her smooth hair, soft
and sweet where he had caressed it a few moments before.
"I thank God!" he said.
He did not finish the surge of gratitude that was in his heart. Speech
seemed trivial, even futile. But she understood. He was not thanking
God for that moment, but for a lifetime of something that at last had
come to him. This, it seemed to him, was the end, the end of a world as
he had known it, the beginning of a new. He stepped back, and his hands
trembled. For something to do he set up the overturned table, and Mary
Standish watched him with a quiet, satisfied wonder. She loved him, and
she had come into his arms. She had given him her lips to kiss. And he
laughed softly as he came to her side again, and looked over the tundra
where Rossland had gone.
"How long before you can prepare for the journey?" he asked.
"That we must start tonight or in the morning. I think we shall go
through the cottonwoods over the old trail to Nome. Unless Rossland
lied, Graham is somewhere out there on the Tanana trail."
Her hand pressed his arm. "We are going--_back?_ Is that it, Alan?"
"Yes, to Seattle. It is the one thing to do. You are not afraid?"
"With you there--no."
"And you will return with me--when it is over?"
He was looking steadily ahead over the tundra. But he felt her cheek
touch his shoulder, lightly as a feather.
"Yes, I will come back with you."
"And you will be ready?"
"I am ready now."
The sun-fire of the plains danced in his eyes; a cob-web of golden mist
rising out of the earth, beckoning wraiths and undulating visions--the
breath of life, of warmth, of growing things--all between him and the
hidden cottonwoods; a joyous sea into which he wanted to plunge without
another minute of waiting, as he felt the gentle touch of her cheek
against his shoulder, and the weight of her hand on his arm. That she
had come to him utterly was in the low surrender of her voice. She had
ceased to fight--she had given to him the precious right to fight
It was this sense of her need and of her glorious faith in him, and of
the obligation pressing with it that drove slowly back into him the
grimmer realities of the day. Its horror surged upon him again, and the
significance of what Rossland had said seemed fresher, clearer, even
more terrible now that he was gone. Unconsciously the old lines of
hatred crept into his face again as he looked steadily in the direction
which the other man had taken, and he wondered how much of that same
horror--of the unbelievable menace stealing upon her--Rossland had
divulged to the girl who stood so quietly now at his side. Had he done
right to let him go? Should he not have killed him, as he would have
exterminated a serpent? For Rossland had exulted; he was of Graham's
flesh and desires, a part of his foul soul, a defiler of womanhood and
the one who had bargained to make possible the opportunity for an
indescribable crime. It was not too late. He could still overtake him,
out there in the hollows of the tundra--
The pressure on his arm tightened. He looked down. Mary Standish had
seen what was in his face, and there was something in her calmness that
brought him to himself. He knew, in that moment, that Rossland had told
her a great deal. Yet she was not afraid, unless it was fear of what had
been in his mind.
"I am ready," she reminded him.
"We must wait for Stampede," he said, reason returning to him. "He
should be here sometime tonight, or in the morning. Now that Rossland is
off my nerves, I can see how necessary it is to have someone like
Stampede between us and--"
He did not finish, but what he had intended to say was quite clear to
her. She stood in the doorway, and he felt an almost uncontrollable
desire to take her in his arms again.
"He is between here and Tanana," she said with a little gesture of her
"Rossland told you that?"
"Yes. And there are others with him, so many that he was amused when I
told him you would not let them take me away."
"Then you were not afraid that I--I might let them have you?"
"I have always been sure of what you would do since I opened that
second letter at Ellen McCormick's, Alan!"
He caught the flash of her eyes, the gladness in them, and she was gone
before he could find another word to say. Keok and Nawadlook were
approaching hesitatingly, but now they hurried to meet her, Keok still
grimly clutching the long knife; and beyond them, at the little window
under the roof, he saw the ghostly face of old Sokwenna, like a
death's-head on guard. His blood ran a little faster. The emptiness of
the tundras, the illimitable spaces without sign of human life, the vast
stage waiting for its impending drama, with its sunshine, its song of
birds, its whisper and breath of growing flowers, struck a new note in
him, and he looked again at the little window where Sokwenna sat like a
spirit from another world, warning him in his silent and lifeless stare
of something menacing and deadly creeping upon them out of that space
which seemed so free of all evil. He beckoned to him and then entered
his cabin, waiting while Sokwenna crawled down from his post and came
hobbling over the open, a crooked figure, bent like a baboon, witch-like
in his great age, yet with sunken eyes that gleamed like little points
of flame, and a quickness of movement that made Alan shiver as he
watched him through the window.
In a moment the old man entered. He was mumbling. He was saying, in that
jumble of sound which it was difficult for even Alan to understand--and
which Sokwenna had never given up for the missionaries' teachings--that
he could hear feet and smell blood; and that the feet were many, and the
blood was near, and that both smell and footfall were coming from the
old kloof where yellow skulls still lay, dripping with the water that
had once run red. Alan was one of the few who, by reason of much effort,
had learned the story of the kloof from old Sokwenna; how, so long ago
that Sokwenna was a young man, a hostile tribe had descended upon his
people, killing the men and stealing the women; and how at last Sokwenna
and a handful of his tribesmen fled south with what women were left and
made a final stand in the kloof, and there, on a day that was golden and
filled with the beauty of bird-song and flowers, had ambushed their
enemies and killed them to a man. All were dead now, all but Sokwenna.
For a space Alan was sorry he had called Sokwenna to his cabin. He was
no longer the cheerful and gentle "old man" of his people; the old man
who chortled with joy at the prettiness and play of Keok and Nawadlook,
who loved birds and flowers and little children, and who had retained an
impish boyhood along with his great age. He was changed. He stood before
Alan an embodiment of fatalism, mumbling incoherent things in his
breath, a spirit of evil omen lurking in his sunken eyes, and his thin
hands gripping like bird-claws to his rifle. Alan threw off the
uncomfortable feeling that had gripped him for a moment, and set him to
an appointed task--the watching of the southward plain from the crest of
a tall ridge two miles back on the Tanana trail. He was to return when
the sun reached its horizon.
Alan was inspired now by a great caution, a growing premonition which
stirred him with uneasiness, and he began his own preparations as soon
as Sokwenna had started on his mission. The desire to leave at once,
without the delay of an hour, pulled strong in him, but he forced
himself to see the folly of such haste. He would be away many months,
possibly a year this time. There was much to do, a mass of detail to
attend to, a volume of instructions and advice to leave behind him. He
must at least see Stampede, and it was necessary to write down certain
laws for Tautuk and Amuk Toolik. As this work of preparation progressed,
and the premonition persisted in remaining with him, he fell into a
habit of repeating to himself the absurdity of fears and the
impossibility of danger. He tried to make himself feel uncomfortably
foolish at the thought of having ordered the herdsmen in. In all
probability Graham would not appear at all, he told himself, or at least
not for many days--or weeks; and if he did come, it would be to war in a
legal way, and not with murder.
Yet his uneasiness did not leave him. As the hours passed and the
afternoon lengthened, the invisible something urged him more strongly to
take the trail beyond the cottonwoods, with Mary Standish at his side.
Twice he saw her between noon and five o'clock, and by that time his
writing was done. He looked at his guns carefully. He saw that his
favorite rifle and automatic were working smoothly, and he called
himself a fool for filling his ammunition vest with an extravagant
number of cartridges. He even carried an amount of this ammunition and
two of his extra guns to Sokwenna's cabin, with the thought that it was
this cabin on the edge of the ravine which was best fitted for defense
in the event of necessity. Possibly Stampede might have use for it, and
for the guns, if Graham should come after he and Mary were well on their
way to Nome.
After supper, when the sun was throwing long shadows from the edge of
the horizon, Alan came from a final survey of his cabin and the food
which Wegaruk had prepared for his pack, and found Mary at the edge of
the ravine, watching the twilight gathering where the coulee ran
narrower and deeper between the distant breasts of the tundra.
"I am going to leave you for a little while," he said. "But Sokwenna has
returned, and you will not be alone."
"Where are you going?"
"As far as the cottonwoods, I think."
"Then I am going with you."
"I expect to walk very fast."
"Not faster than I, Alan."
"But I want to make sure the country is clear in that direction before
twilight shuts out the distances."
"I will help you." Her hand crept into his. "I am going with you, Alan,"
"Yes, I--think you are," he laughed joyously, and suddenly he bent his
head and pressed her hand to his lips, and in that way, with her hand in
his, they set out over the trail which they had not traveled together
since the day he had come from Nome.
There was a warm glow in her face, and something beautifully soft and
sweet in her eyes which she did not try to keep away from him. It made
him forget the cottonwoods and the plains beyond, and his caution, and
Sokwenna's advice to guard carefully against the hiding-places of Ghost
Kloof and the country beyond.
"I have been thinking a great deal today," she was saying, "because you
have left me so much alone. I have been thinking of _you_. And--my
thoughts have given me a wonderful happiness."
"And I have been--in paradise," he replied.
"You do not think that I am wicked?"
"I could sooner believe the sun would never come up again."
"Nor that I have been unwomanly?"
"You are my dream of all that is glorious in womanhood."
"Yet I have followed you--have thrust myself at you, fairly at your
"For which I thank God," He breathed devoutly.
"And I have told you that I love you, and you have taken me in your
arms, and have kissed me--"
"And I am walking now with my hand in yours--"
"And will continue to do so, if I can hold it."
"And I am another man's wife," she shuddered.
"You are mine," he declared doggedly. "You know it, and the Almighty God
knows it. It is blasphemy to speak of yourself as Graham's wife. You are
legally entangled with him, and that is all. Heart and soul and body you
"No, I am not free."
"But you are!"
And then, after a moment, she whispered at his shoulder: "Alan, because
you are the finest gentleman in all the world, I will tell you why I am
not. It is because--heart and soul--I belong to you."
He dared not look at her, and feeling the struggle within him Mary
Standish looked straight ahead with a wonderful smile on her lips and
repeated softly, "Yes, the very finest gentleman in all the world!"
Over the breasts of the tundra and the hollows between they went, still
hand in hand, and found themselves talking of the colorings in the sky,
and the birds, and flowers, and the twilight creeping in about them,
while Alan scanned the shortening horizons for a sign of human life. One
mile, and then another, and after that a third, and they were looking
into gray gloom far ahead, where lay the kloof.
It was strange that he should think of the letter now--the letter he had
written to Ellen McCormick--but think of it he did, and said what was in
his mind to Mary Standish, who was also looking with him into the wall
of gloom that lay between them and the distant cottonwoods.
"It seemed to me that I was not writing it to her, but to _you_" he
said. "And I think that if you hadn't come back to me I would have
"I have the letter. It is here"--and she placed a hand upon her breast.
"Do you remember what you wrote, Alan?"
"That you meant more to me than life."
"And that--particularly--you wanted Ellen McCormick to keep a tress of
my hair for you if they found me."
He nodded. "When I sat across the table from you aboard the _Nome_, I
worshiped it and didn't know it. And since then--since I've had you
here--every time. I've looked at you--" He stopped, choking the words
back in his throat.
"Say it, Alan."
"I've wanted to see it down," he finished desperately. "Silly notion,
"Why is it?" she asked, her eyes widening a little. "If you love it, why
is it a silly notion to want to see it down?"
"Why, I though possibly you might think it so," he added lamely.
Never had he heard anything sweeter than her laughter as she turned
suddenly from him, so that the glow of the fallen sun was at her back,
and with deft, swift fingers began loosening the coils of her hair until
its radiant masses tumbled about her, streaming down her back in a
silken glory that awed him with its beauty and drew from his lips a cry
She faced him, and in her eyes was the shining softness that glowed in
her hair. "Do you think it is nice, Alan?"
He went to her and filled his hands with the heavy tresses and pressed
them to his lips and face.
Thus he stood when he felt the sudden shiver that ran through her. It
was like a little shock. He heard the catch of her breath, and the hand
which she had placed gently on his bowed head fell suddenly away. When
he raised his head to look at her, she was staring past him into the
deepening twilight of the tundra, and it seemed as if something had
stricken her so that for a space she was powerless to speak or move.
"What is it?" he cried, and whirled about, straining his eyes to see
what had alarmed her; and as he looked, a deep, swift shadow sped over
the earth, darkening the mellow twilight until it was somber gloom of
night--and the midnight sun went out like a great, luminous lamp as a
dense wall of purple cloud rolled up in an impenetrable curtain between
it and the arctic world. Often he had seen this happen in the approach
of summer storm on the tundras, but never had the change seemed so swift
as now. Where there had been golden light, he saw his companion's face
now pale in a sea of dusk. It was this miracle of arctic night, its
suddenness and unexpectedness, that had startled her, he thought, and he
But her hand clutched his arm. "I saw them," she cried, her voice
breaking. "I saw them--out there against the sun--before the cloud
came--and some of them were running, like animals--"
"Shadows!" he exclaimed. "The long shadows of foxes running against the
sun, or of the big gray rabbits, or of a wolf and her half-grown
"No, no, they were not that," she breathed tensely, and her fingers
clung more fiercely to his arm. "They were not shadows. _They
In the moment of stillness between them, when their hearts seemed to
have stopped beating that they might not lose the faintest whispering of
the twilight, a sound came to Alan, and he knew it was the toe of a boot
striking against stone. Not a foot in his tribe would have made that
sound; none but Stampede Smith's or his own.
"Were they many?" he asked.
"I could not see. The sun was darkening. But five or six were running--"
"And they saw us?"
"I think so. It was but a moment, and they were a part of the dusk."
He found her hand and held it closely. Her fingers clung to his, and he
could hear her quick breathing as he unbuttoned the flap of his
"You think _they have come_?" she whispered, and a cold dread was in her
"Possibly. My people would not appear from that direction. You are not
"No, no, I am not afraid."
"Yet you are trembling."
"It is this strange gloom, Alan."
Never had the arctic twilight gone more completely. Not half a dozen
times had he seen the phenomenon in all his years on the tundras, where
thunder-storm and the putting out of the summer sun until twilight
thickens into the gloom of near-night is an occurrence so rare that it
is more awesome than the weirdest play of the northern lights. It seemed
to him now that what was happening was a miracle, the play of a mighty
hand opening their way to salvation. An inky wall was shutting out the
world where the glow of the midnight sun should have been. It was
spreading quickly; shadows became part of the gloom, and this gloom
crept in, thickening, drawing nearer, until the tundra was a weird
chaos, neither night nor twilight, challenging vision until eyes
strained futilely to penetrate its mystery.
And as it gathered about them, enveloping them in their own narrowing
circle of vision, Alan was thinking quickly. It had taken him only a
moment to accept the significance of the running figures his companion
had seen. Graham's men were near, had seen them, and were getting
between them and the range. Possibly it was a scouting party, and if
there were no more than five or six, the number which Mary had counted,
he was quite sure of the situation. But there might be a dozen or fifty
of them. It was possible Graham and Rossland were advancing upon the
range with their entire force. He had at no time tried to analyze just
what this force might be, except to assure himself that with the
overwhelming influence behind him, both political and financial, and
fired by a passion for Mary Standish that had revealed itself as little
short of madness, Graham would hesitate at no convention of law or
humanity to achieve his end. Probably he was playing the game so that he
would be shielded by the technicalities of the law, if it came to a
tragic end. His gunmen would undoubtedly be impelled to a certain extent
by an idea of authority. For Graham was an injured husband "rescuing"
his wife, while he--Alan Holt--was the woman's abductor and paramour,
and a fit subject to be shot upon sight!
His free hand gripped the butt of his pistol as he led the way straight
ahead. The sudden gloom helped to hide in his face the horror he felt of
what that "rescue" would mean to Mary Standish; and then a cold and
deadly definiteness possessed him, and every nerve in his body gathered
itself in readiness for whatever might happen.
If Graham's men had seen them, and were getting between them and
retreat, the neck of the trap lay ahead--and in this direction Alan
walked so swiftly that the girl was almost running at his side. He could
not hear her footsteps, so lightly they fell! her fingers were twined
about his own, and he could feel the silken caress of her loose hair.
For half a mile he kept on, watching for a moving shadow, listening for
a sound. Then he stopped. He drew Mary into his arms and held her
there, so that her head lay against his breast. She was panting, and he
could feel and hear her thumping heart. He found her parted lips and
"You are not afraid?" he asked again.
Her head made a fierce little negative movement against his breast.
He laughed softly at the beautiful courage with which she lied. "Even if
they saw us, and are Graham's men, we have given them the slip," he
comforted her. "Now we will circle eastward back to the range. I am
sorry I hurried you so. We will go more slowly."
"We must travel faster," she insisted. "I want to run."
Her fingers sought his hand and clung to it again as they set out. At
intervals they stopped, staring about them into nothingness, and
listening. Twice Alan thought he heard sounds which did not belong to
the night. The second time the little fingers tightened about his own,
but his companion said no word, only her breath seemed to catch in her
throat for an instant.
At the end of another half-hour it was growing lighter, yet the breath
of storm seemed nearer. The cool promise of it touched their cheeks, and
about them were gathering whispers and eddies of a thirsty earth rousing
to the sudden change. It was lighter because the wall of cloud seemed to
be distributing itself over the whole heaven, thinning out where its
solid opaqueness had lain against the sun. Alan could see the girl's
face and the cloud of her hair. Hollows and ridges of the tundra were
taking more distinct shape when they came into a dip, and Alan
recognized a thicket of willows behind which a pool was hidden.
The thicket was only half a mile from home. A spring was near the edge
of the willows, and to this he led the girl, made her a place to kneel,
and showed her how to cup the cool water in the palms of her hands.
While she inclined her head to drink, he held back her hair and rested
with his lips pressed to it. He heard the trickle of water running
between her fingers, her little laugh of half-pleasure, half-fear, which
in another instant broke into a startled scream as he half gained his
feet to meet a crashing body that catapulted at him from the concealment
of the willows.
A greater commotion in the thicket followed the attack; then another
voice, crying out sharply, a second cry from Mary Standish, and he found
himself on his knees, twisted backward and fighting desperately to
loosen a pair of gigantic hands at his throat. He could hear the girl
struggling, but she did not cry out again. In an instant, it seemed, his
brain was reeling. He was conscious of a futile effort to reach his gun,
and could see the face over him, grim and horrible in the gloom, as the
merciless hands choked the life from him. Then he heard a shout, a loud
shout, filled with triumph and exultation as he was thrown back; his
head seemed leaving his shoulders; his body crumbled, and almost
spasmodically his leg shot out with the last strength that was in him.
He was scarcely aware of the great gasp that followed, but the fingers
loosened at his throat, the face disappeared, and the man who was
killing him sank back. For a precious moment or two Alan did not move as
he drew great breaths of air into his lungs. Then he felt for his
pistol. The holster was empty.
He could hear the panting of the girl, her sobbing breath very near him,
and life and strength leaped back into his body. The man who had choked
him was advancing again, on hands and knees. In a flash Alan was up and
on him like a lithe cat. His fist beat into a bearded face; he called
out to Mary as he struck, and through his blows saw her where she had
fallen to her knees, with a second hulk bending over her, almost in the
water of the little spring from which she had been drinking. A mad curse
leaped from his lips. He was ready to kill now; he wanted to kill--to
destroy what was already under his hands that he might leap upon this
other beast, who stood over Mary Standish, his hands twisted in her long
hair. Dazed by blows that fell with the force of a club the bearded
man's head sagged backward, and Alan's fingers dug into his throat. It
was a bull's neck. He tried to break it. Ten seconds--twenty--half a
minute at the most--and flesh and bone would have given way--but before
the bearded man's gasping cry was gone from his lips the second figure
leaped upon Alan.
He had no time to defend himself from this new attack. His strength was
half gone, and a terrific blow sent him reeling. Blindly he reached out
and grappled. Not until his arms met those of his fresh assailant did he
realize how much of himself he had expended upon the other. A sickening
horror filled his soul as he felt his weakness, and an involuntary moan
broke from his lips. Even then he would have cut out his tongue to have
silenced that sound, to have kept it from the girl. She was creeping on
her hands and knees, but he could not see. Her long hair trailed in the
trampled earth, and in the muddied water of the spring, and her hands
were groping--groping--until they found what they were seeking.
Then she rose to her feet, carrying the rock on which one of her hands
had rested when she knelt to drink. The bearded man, bringing himself to
his knees, reached out drunkenly, but she avoided him and poised herself
over Alan and his assailant. The rock descended. Alan saw her then; he
heard the one swift, terrible blow, and his enemy rolled away from him,
limply and without sound. He staggered to his feet and for a moment
caught the swaying girl in his arms.
The bearded man was rising. He was half on his feet when Alan was at his
throat again, and they went down together. The girl heard blows, then a
heavier one, and with an exclamation of triumph Alan stood up. By
chance his hand had come in contact with his fallen pistol. He clicked
the safety down; he was ready to shoot, ready to continue the fight
with a gun.
"Come," he said.
His voice was gasping, strangely unreal and thick. She came to him and
put her hand in his again, and it was wet and sticky with tundra mud
from the spring. Then they climbed to the swell of the plain, away from
the pool and the willows.
In the air about them, creeping up from the outer darkness of the
strange twilight, were clearer whispers now, and with these sounds of
storm, borne from the west, came a hallooing voice. It was answered from
straight ahead. Alan held the muddied little hand closer in his own and
set out for the range-houses, from which direction the last voice had
come. He knew what was happening. Graham's men were cleverer than he had
supposed; they had encircled the tundra side of the range, and some of
them were closing in on the willow pool, from which the triumphant shout
of the bearded man's companion had come. They were wondering why the
call was not repeated, and were hallooing.
Every nerve in Alan's body was concentrated for swift and terrible
action, for the desperateness of their situation had surged upon him
like a breath of fire, unbelievable, and yet true. Back at the willows
they would have killed him. The hands at his throat had sought his
life. Wolves and not men were about them on the plain; wolves headed by
two monsters of the human pack, Graham and Rossland. Murder and lust and
mad passion were hidden in the darkness; law and order and civilization
were hundreds of miles away. If Graham won, only the unmapped tundras
would remember this night, as the deep, dark kloof remembered in its
gloom the other tragedy of more than half a century ago. And the girl at
his side, already disheveled and muddied by their hands--
His mind could go no farther, and angry protest broke in a low cry from
his lips. The girl thought it was because of the shadows that loomed up
suddenly in their path. There were two of them, and she, too, cried out
as voices commanded them to stop. Alan caught a swift up-movement of an
arm, but his own was quicker. Three spurts of flame darted in lightning
flashes from his pistol, and the man who had raised his arm crumpled to
the earth, while the other dissolved swiftly into the storm-gloom. A
moment later his wild shouts were assembling the pack, while the
detonations of Alan's pistol continued to roll over the tundra.
The unexpectedness of the shots, their tragic effect, the falling of the
stricken man and the flight of the other, brought no word from Mary
Standish. But her breath was sobbing, and in the lifting of the purplish
gloom she turned her face for an instant to Alan, tensely white, with
wide-open eyes. Her hair covered her like a shining veil, and where it
clustered in a disheveled mass upon her breast Alan saw her hand
thrusting itself forward from its clinging concealment, and in it--to
his amazement--was a pistol. He recognized the weapon--one of a brace of
light automatics which his friend, Carl Lomen, had presented to him
several Christmas seasons ago. Pride and a strange exultation swept over
him. Until now she had concealed the weapon, but all along she had
prepared to fight--to fight with _him_ against their enemies! He wanted
to stop and take her in his arms, and with his kisses tell her how
splendid she was. But instead of this he sped more swiftly ahead, and
they came into the nigger-head bottom which lay in a narrow barrier
between them and the range.
Through this ran a trail scarcely wider than a wagon-track, made through
the sea of hummocks and sedge-boles and mucky pitfalls by the axes and
shovels of his people; finding this, Alan stopped for a moment, knowing
that safety lay ahead of them. The girl leaned against him, and then was
almost a dead weight in his arms. The last two hundred yards had taken
the strength from her body. Her pale face dropped back, and Alan brushed
the soft hair away from it, and kissed her lips and her eyes, while the
pistol lay clenched against his breast. Even then, too hard-run to
speak, she smiled at him, and Alan caught her up in his arms and darted
into the narrow path which he knew their pursuers would not immediately
find if they could bet beyond their vision. He was joyously amazed at
her lightness. She was like a child in his arms, a glorious little
goddess hidden and smothered in her long hair, and he held her closer as
he hurried toward the cabins, conscious of the soft tightening of her
arms about his neck, feeling the sweet caress of her panting breath,
strengthened and made happy by her helplessness.
Thus they came out of the bottom as the first mist of slowly approaching
rain touched his face. He could see farther now--half-way back over the
narrow trail. He climbed a slope, and here Mary Standish slipped from
his arms and stood with new strength, looking into his face. His breath
was coming in little breaks, and he pointed. Faintly they could make out
the shadows of the corral buildings. Beyond them were no lights
penetrating the gloom from the windows of the range of houses. The
silence of the place was death-like.
And then something grew out of the earth almost at their feet. A hollow
cry followed the movement, a cry that was ghostly and shivering, and
loud enough only for them to hear, and Sokwenna stood at their side. He
talked swiftly. Only Alan understood. There was something unearthly and
spectral in his appearance; his hair and beard were wet; his eyes shot
here and there in little points of fire; he was like a gnome, weirdly
uncanny as he gestured and talked in his monotone while he watched the
nigger-head bottom. When he had finished, he did not wait for an
answer, but turned and led the way swiftly toward the range houses.
"What did he say?" asked the girl.
"That he is glad we are back. He heard the shots and came to meet us."
"And what else?" she persisted.
"Old Sokwenna is superstitious--and nervous. He said some things that
you wouldn't understand. You would probably think him mad if he told you
the spirits of his comrades slain in the kloof many years ago were here
with him tonight, warning him of things about to happen. Anyway, he has
been cautious. No sooner were we out of sight than he hustled every
woman and child in the village on their way to the mountains. Keok and
Nawadlook wouldn't go. I'm glad of that, for if they were pursued and
overtaken by men like Graham and Rossland--"
"Death would be better," finished Mary Standish, and her hand clung more
tightly to his arm.
"Yes, I think so. But that can not happen now. Out in the open they had
us at a disadvantage. But we can hold Sokwenna's place until Stampede
and the herdsmen come. With two good rifles inside, they won't dare to
assault the cabin with their naked hands. The advantage is all ours now;
we can shoot, but they won't risk the use of their rifles."
"Because you will be inside. Graham wants you alive, not dead. And
They had reached Sokwenna's door, and in that moment they hesitated and
turned their faces back to the gloom out of which they had fled. Voices
came suddenly from beyond the corrals. There was no effort at
concealment. The buildings were discovered, and men called out loudly
and were answered from half a dozen points out on the tundra. They could
hear running feet and sharp commands; some were cursing where they were
entangled among the nigger-heads, and the sound of hurrying foes came
from the edge of the ravine. Alan's heart stood still. There was
something terribly swift and businesslike in this gathering of their
enemies. He could hear them at his cabin. Doors opened. A window fell in
with a crash. Lights flared up through the gray mist.
It was then, from the barricaded attic window over their heads, that
Sokwenna's rifle answered. A single shot, a shriek, and then a pale
stream of flame leaped out from the window as the old warrior emptied
his gun. Before the last of the five swift shots were fired, Alan was in
the cabin, barring the door behind him. Shaded candles burned on the
floor, and beside them crouched Keok and Nawadlook. A glance told him
what Sokwenna had done. The room was an arsenal. Guns lay there, ready
to be used; heaps of cartridges were piled near them, and in the eyes of
Keok and Nawadlook blazed deep and steady fires as they held shining
cartridges between their fingers, ready to thrust them into the rifle
chambers as fast as the guns were emptied.
In the center of the room stood Mary Standish. The candles, shaded so
they would not disclose the windows, faintly illumined her pale face and
unbound hair and revealed the horror in her eyes as she looked at Alan.
He was about to speak, to assure her there was no danger that Graham's
men would fire upon the cabin--when hell broke suddenly loose out in the
night. The savage roar of guns answered Sokwenna's fusillade, and a hail
of bullets crashed against the log walls. Two of them found their way
through the windows like hissing serpents, and with a single movement
Alan was at Mary's side and had crumpled her down on the floor beside
Keok and Nawadlook. His face was white, his brain a furnace of sudden,
"I thought they wouldn't shoot at women," he said, and his voice was
terrifying in its strange hardness. "I was mistaken. And I am
sure--now--that I understand."
With his rifle he cautiously approached the window. He was no longer
guessing at an elusive truth. He knew what Graham was thinking, what he
was planning, what he intended to do, and the thing was appalling. Both
he and Rossland knew there would be some way of sheltering Mary Standish
in Sokwenna's cabin; they were accepting a desperate gamble, believing
that Alan Holt would find a safe place for her, while he fought until
he fell. It was the finesse of clever scheming, nothing less than
murder, and he, by this combination of circumstances and plot, was the
victim marked for death.
The shooting had stopped, and the silence that followed it held a
significance for Alan. They were giving him an allotted time in which to
care for those under his protection. A trap-door was in the floor of
Sokwenna's cabin. It opened into a small storeroom and cellar, which in
turn possessed an air vent leading to the outside, overlooking the
ravine. In the candle-glow Alan saw the door of this trap propped open
with a stick. Sokwenna, too, was clever. Sokwenna had foreseen.
Crouched under the window, he looked at the girls. Keok, with a rifle in
her hand, had crept to the foot of the ladder leading up to the attic,
and began to climb it. She was going to Sokwenna, to load for him. Alan
pointed to the open trap.
"Quick, get into that!" he cried. "It is the only safe place. You can
load there and hand out the guns."
Mary Standish looked at him steadily, but did not move. She was
clutching a rifle in her hands. And Nawadlook did not move. But Keok
climbed steadily and disappeared in the darkness above.
"Go into the cellar!" commanded Alan. "Good God, if you don't--"
A smile lit up Mary's face. In that hour of deadly peril it was like a
ray of glorious light leading the way through blackness, a smile sweet
and gentle and unafraid; and slowly she crept toward Alan, dragging the
rifle in one hand and holding the little pistol in the other, and from
his feet she still smiled up at him through the dishevelment of her
shining hair, and in a quiet, little voice that thrilled him, she said,
"I am going to help you fight."
Nawadlook came creeping after her, dragging another rifle and bearing an
apron heavy with the weight of cartridges.
And above, through the darkened loophole of the attic window, Sokwenna's
ferret eyes had caught the movement of a shadow in the gray mist, and
his rifle sent its death-challenge once more to John Graham and his men.
What followed struck a smile from Mary's lips, and a moaning sob rose
from her breast as she watched the man she loved rise up before the open
window to face the winged death that was again beating a tattoo against
the log walls of the cabin.
That in the lust and passion of his designs and the arrogance of his
power John Graham was not afraid to overstep all law and order, and that
he believed Holt would shelter Mary Standish from injury and death,
there could no longer be a doubt after the first few swift moments
following Sokwenna's rifle-shots from the attic window.
Through the window of the lower room, barricaded by the cautious old
warrior until its aperture was not more than eight inches square, Alan
thrust his rifle as the crash of gun-fire broke the gray and thickening
mist of night. He could hear the thud and hiss of bullets; he heard them
singing like angry bees as they passed with the swiftness of
chain-lightning over the cabin roof, and their patter against the log
walls was like the hollow drumming of knuckles against the side of a
ripe watermelon. There was something fascinating and almost gentle about
that last sound. It did not seem that the horror of death was riding
with it, and Alan lost all sense of fear as he stared in the direction
from which the firing came, trying to make out shadows at which to
shoot. Here and there he saw dim, white streaks, and at these he fired
as fast as he could throw cartridges into the chamber and pull the
trigger. Then he crouched down with the empty gun. It was Mary Standish
who held out a freshly loaded weapon to him. Her face was waxen in its
deathly pallor. Her eyes, staring at him so strangely, never for an
instant leaving his face, were lustrous with the agony of fear that
flamed in their depths. She was not afraid for herself. It was for
_him_. His name was on her lips, a whisper unspoken, a breathless
prayer, and in that instant a bullet sped through the opening in front
of which he had stood a moment before, a hissing, writhing serpent of
death that struck something behind them in its venomous wrath. With a
cry she flung up her arms about his bent head.
"My God, they will kill you if you stand there!" she moaned. "Give me up
to them, Alan. If you love me--give me up!"
A sudden spurt of white dust shot out into the dim candle-glow, and then
another, so near Nawadlook that his blood went cold. Bullets were
finding their way through the moss and earth chinking between the logs
of the cabin. His arms closed in a fierce embrace about the girl's slim
body, and before she could realize what was happening, he leaped to the
trap with her and almost flung her into its protection. Then he forced
Nawadlook down beside her, and after them he thrust in the empty gun and
the apron with its weight of cartridges. His face was demoniac in
"If you don't stay there, I'll open the door and go outside to fight!
Do you understand? _Stay there!_"
His clenched fist was in their faces, his voice almost a shout. He saw
another white spurt of dust; the bullet crashed in tinware, and
following the crash came a shriek from Keok in the attic.
In that upper gloom Sokwenna's gun had fallen with a clatter. The old
warrior bent himself over, nearly double, and with his two withered
hands was clutching his stomach. He was on his knees, and his breath
suddenly came in a panting, gasping cry. Then he straightened slowly and
said something reassuring to Keok, and faced the window again with the
gun which she had loaded for him.
The scream had scarcely gone from Keok's lips when Alan was at the top
of the ladder, calling her. She came to him through the stark blackness
of the room, sobbing that Sokwenna was hit; and Alan reached out and
seized her, and dragged her down, and placed her with Nawadlook and
From them he turned to the window, and his soul cried out madly for the
power to see, to kill, to avenge. As if in answer to this prayer for
light and vision he saw his cabin strangely illumined; dancing, yellow
radiance silhouetted the windows, and a stream of it billowed out
through an open door into the night. It was so bright he could see the
rain-mist, scarcely heavier than a dense, slowly descending fog, a wet
blanket of vapor moistening the earth. His heart jumped as with each
second the blaze of light increased. They had set fire to his cabin.
They were no longer white men, but savages.
He was terribly cool, even as his heart throbbed so violently. He
watched with the eyes of a deadly hunter, wide-open over his
rifle-barrel. Sokwenna was still. Probably he was dead. Keok was sobbing
in the cellar-pit. Then he saw a shape growing in the illumination,
three or four of them, moving, alive. He waited until they were clearer,
and he knew what they were thinking--that the bullet-riddled cabin had
lost its power to fight. He prayed God it was Graham he was aiming at,
and fired. The figure went down, sank into the earth as a dead man
falls. Steadily he fired at the others--one, two, three, four--and two
out of the four he hit, and the exultant thought flashed upon him that
it was good shooting under the circumstances.
He sprang back for another gun, and it was Mary who was waiting for him,
head and shoulders out of the cellar-pit, the rifle in her hands. She
was sobbing as she looked straight at him, yet without moisture or tears
in her eyes.
"Keep down!" he warned. "Keep down below the floor!"
He guessed what was coming. He had shown his enemies that life still
existed in the cabin, life with death in its hands, and now--from the
shelter of the other cabins, from the darkness, from beyond the light of
his flaming home, the rifle fire continued to grow until it filled the
night with a horrible din. He flung himself face-down upon the floor, so
that the lower log of the building protected him. No living thing could
have stood up against what was happening in these moments. Bullets tore
through the windows and between the moss-chinked logs, crashing against
metal and glass and tinware; one of the candles sputtered and went out,
and in this hell Alan heard a cry and saw Mary Standish coming out of
the cellar-pit toward him. He had flung himself down quickly, and she
thought he was hit! He shrieked at her, and his heart froze with horror
as he saw a heavy tress of her hair drop to the floor as she stood there
in that frightful moment, white and glorious in the face of the
gun-fire. Before she could move another step, he was at her side, and
with her in his arms leaped into the pit.
A bullet sang over them. He crushed her so close that for a breath or
two life seemed to leave her body.
A sudden draught of cool air struck his face. He missed Nawadlook. In
the deeper gloom farther under the floor he heard her moving, and saw a
faint square of light. She was creeping back. Her hands touched his arm.
"We can get away--there!" she cried in a low voice. "I have opened the
little door. We can crawl through it and into the ravine."
Her words and the square of light were an inspiration. He had not
dreamed that Graham would turn the cabin into a death-hole, and
Nawadlook's words filled him with a sudden thrilling hope. The rifle
fire was dying away again as he gave voice to his plan in sharp, swift
words. He would hold the cabin. As long as he was there Graham and his
men would not dare to rush it. At least they would hesitate a
considerable time before doing that. And meanwhile the girls could steal
down into the ravine. There was no one on that side to intercept them,
and both Keok and Nawadlook were well acquainted with the trails into
the mountains. It would mean safety for them. He would remain in the
cabin, and fight, until Stampede Smith and the herdsmen came.
The white face against his breast was cold and almost expressionless.
Something in it frightened him. He knew his argument had failed and that
Mary Standish would not go; yet she did not answer him, nor did her lips
move in the effort.
"Go--for _their_ sakes, if not for your own and mine," he insisted,
holding her away from him. "Good God, think what it will mean if beasts
like those out there get hold of Keok and Nawadlook! Graham is your
husband and will protect you for himself, but for them there will
be no hope, no salvation, nothing but a fate more terrible than
death. They will be like--like two beautiful lambs thrown among
Her eyes were burning with horror. Keok was sobbing, and a moan which
she bravely tried to smother in her breast came from Nawadlook.
"And _you!_" whispered Mary.
"I must remain here. It is the only way."
Dumbly she allowed him to lead her back with Keok and Nawadlook. Keok
went through the opening first, then Nawadlook, and Mary Standish last.
She did not touch him again. She made no movement toward him and said no
word, and all he remembered of her when she was gone in the gloom was
her eyes. In that last look she had given him her soul, and no whisper,
no farewell caress came with it.
"Go cautiously until you are out of the ravine, then hurry toward the
mountains," were his last words.
He saw their forms fade into dim shadows, and the gray mist swallowed
He hurried back, seized a loaded gun, and sprang to the window, knowing
that he must continue to deal death until he was killed. Only in that
way could he hold Graham back and give those who had escaped a chance
for their lives. Cautiously he looked out over his gun barrel. His cabin
was a furnace red with flame; streams of fire were licking out at the
windows and through the door, and as he sought vainly for a movement of
life, the crackling roar of it came to his ears, and so swiftly that his
breath choked him, the pitch-filled walls became sheets of
conflagration, until the cabin was a seething, red-hot torch of fire
whose illumination was more dazzling than the sun of day.
Out into this illumination suddenly stalked a figure waving a white
sheet at the end of a long pole. It advanced slowly, a little
hesitatingly at first, as if doubtful of what might happen; and then it
stopped, full in the light, an easy mark for a rifle aimed from
Sokwenna's cabin. He saw who it was then, and drew in his rifle and
watched the unexpected maneuver in amazement. The man was Rossland. In
spite of the dramatic tenseness of the moment Alan could not repress the
grim smile that came to his lips. Rossland was a man of illogical
resource, he meditated. Only a short time ago he had fled ignominiously
through fear of personal violence, while now, with a courage that could
not fail to rouse admiration, he was exposing himself to a swift and
sudden death, protected only by the symbol of truce over his head. That
he owed this symbol either regard or honor did not for an instant
possess Alan. A murderer held it, a man even more vile than a murderer
if such a creature existed on earth, and for such a man death was a
righteous end. Only Rossland's nerve, and what he might have to say,
held back the vengeance within reach of Alan's hand.
He waited, and Rossland again advanced and did not stop until he was
within a hundred feet of the cabin. A sudden disturbing thought flashed
upon Alan as he heard his name called. He had seen no other figures, no
other shadows beyond Rossland, and the burning cabin now clearly
illumined the windows of Sokwenna's place. Was it conceivable that
Rossland was merely a lure, and the instant he exposed himself in a
parley a score of hidden rifles would reveal their treachery? He
shuddered and held himself below the opening of the window. Graham and
his men were more than capable of such a crime.
Rossland's voice rose above the crackle and roar of the burning cabin.
"Alan Holt! Are you there?"
"Yes, I am here," shouted Alan, "and I have a line on your heart,
Rossland, and my finger is on the trigger. What do you want?"
There was a moment of silence, as if the thought of what he was facing
had at last stricken Rossland dumb. Then he said: "We are giving you a
last chance, Holt. For God's sake, don't be a fool! The offer I made you
today is still good. If you don't accept it--the law must take
"_The law!_" Alan's voice was a savage cry.
"Yes, the law. The law is with us. We have the proper authority to
recover a stolen wife, a captive, a prisoner held in restraint with
felonious intent. But we don't want to press the law unless we are
forced to do so. You and the old Eskimo have killed three of our men and
wounded two others. That means the hangman, if we take you alive. But we
are willing to forget that if you will accept the offer I made you
today. What do you say?"
Alan was stunned. Speech failed him as he realized the monstrous
assurance with which Graham and Rossland were playing their game. And
when he made no answer Rossland continued to drive home his arguments,
believing that at last Alan was at the point of surrender.
Up in the dark attic the voices had come like ghost-land whispers to old
Sokwenna. He lay huddled at the window, and the chill of death was
creeping over him. But the voices roused him. They were not strange
voices, but voices which came up out of a past of many years ago,
calling upon him, urging him, persisting in his ears with cries of
vengeance and of triumph, the call of familiar names, a moaning of
women, a sobbing of children. Shadowy hands helped him, and a last time
he raised himself to the window, and his eyes were filled with the glare
of the burning cabin. He struggled to lift his rifle, and behind him he
heard the exultation of his people as he rested it over the sill and
with gasping breath leveled it at something which moved between him and
the blazing light of that wonderful sun which was the burning cabin. And
then, slowly and with difficulty, he pressed the trigger, and Sokwenna's
last shot sped on its mission.
At the sound of the shot Alan looked through the window. For a moment
Rossland stood motionless. Then the pole in his hands wavered, drooped,
and fell to the earth, and Rossland sank down after it making no sound,
and lay a dark and huddled blot on the ground.
The appalling swiftness and ease with which Rossland had passed from
life into death shocked every nerve in Alan's body. Horror for a brief
space stupefied him, and he continued to stare at the dark and
motionless blot, forgetful of his own danger, while a grim and terrible
silence followed the shot. And then what seemed to be a single cry broke
that silence, though it was made up of many men's voices. Deadly and
thrilling, it was a message that set Alan into action. Rossland had been
killed under a flag of truce, and even the men under Graham had
something like respect for that symbol. He could expect no
mercy--nothing now but the most terrible of vengeance at their hands,
and as he dodged back from the window he cursed Sokwenna under his
breath, even as he felt the relief of knowing he was not dead.
Before a shot had been fired from outside, he was up the ladder; in
another moment he was bending over the huddled form of the old Eskimo.
"Come below!" he commanded. "We must be ready to leave through the
His hand touched Sokwenna's face; it hesitated, groped in the darkness,
and then grew still over the old warrior's heart. There was no tremor or
beat of life in the aged beast. Sokwenna was dead.
The guns of Graham's men opened fire again. Volley after volley crashed
into the cabin as Alan descended the ladder. He could hear bullets
tearing through the chinks and windows as he turned quickly to the
shelter of the pit.
He was amazed to find that Mary Standish had returned and was waiting
for him there.
In the astonishment with which Mary's unexpected presence confused him
for a moment, Alan stood at the edge of the trap, staring down at her
pale face, heedless of the terrific gun-fire that was assailing the
cabin. That she had not gone with Keok and Nawadlook, but had come back
to him, filled him with instant dread, for the precious minutes he had
fought for were lost, and the priceless time gained during the parley
with Rossland counted for nothing.
She saw his disappointment and his danger, and sprang up to seize his
hand and pull him down beside her.
"Of course you didn't expect me to go," she said, in a voice that no
longer trembled or betrayed excitement. "You didn't want me to be a
coward. My place is with you."
He could make no answer to that, with her beautiful eyes looking at him
as they were, but he felt his heart grow warmer and something rise up
chokingly in his throat.
"Sokwenna is dead, and Rossland lies out there--shot under a flag of
truce," he said. "We can't have many minutes left to us."
He was looking at the square of light where the tunnel from the
cellar-pit opened into the ravine. He had planned to escape through
it--alone--and keep up a fight in the open, but with Mary at his side it
would be a desperate gantlet to run.
"Where are Keok and Nawadlook?" he asked.
"On the tundra, hurrying for the mountains. I told them it was your plan
that I should return to you. When they doubted, I threatened to give
myself up unless they did as I commanded them. And--Alan--the ravine is
filled with the rain-mist, and dark--" She was holding his free hand
closely to her breast.
"It is our one chance," he said.
"And aren't you glad--a little glad--that I didn't run away without
Even then he saw the sweet and tremulous play of her lips as they smiled
at him in the gloom, and heard the soft note in her voice that was
almost playfully chiding; and the glory of her love as she had proved it
to him there drew from him what he knew to be the truth.
"Yes--I am glad. It is strange that I should be so happy in a moment
like this. If they will give us a quarter of an hour--"
He led the way quickly to the square of light and was first to creep
forth into the thick mist. It was scarcely rain, yet he could feel the
wet particles of it, and through this saturated gloom whining bullets
cut like knives over his head. The blazing cabin illumined the open on
each side of Sokwenna's place, but deepened the shadows in the ravine,
and a few seconds later they stood hand in hand in the blanket of fog
that hid the coulee.
Suddenly the shots grew scattering above them, then ceased entirely.
This was not what Alan had hoped for. Graham's men, enraged and made
desperate by Rossland's death, would rush the cabin immediately.
Scarcely had the thought leaped into his mind when he heard swiftly
approaching shouts, the trampling of feet, and then the battering of
some heavy object at the barricaded door of Sokwenna's cabin. In another
minute or two their escape would be discovered and a horde of men would
pour down into the ravine.
Mary tugged at his hand. "Let us hurry," she pleaded.
What happened then seemed madness to the girl, for Alan turned and with
her hand held tightly in his started up the side of the ravine,
apparently in the face of their enemies. Her heart throbbed with sudden
fear when their course came almost within the circle of light made by
the burning cabin. Like shadows they sped into the deeper shelter of the
corral buildings, and not until they paused there did she understand the
significance of the hazardous chance they had taken. Already Graham's
men were pouring into the ravine.
"They won't suspect we've doubled on them until it is too late," said
Alan exultantly. "We'll make for the kloof. Stampede and the herdsmen
should arrive within a few hours, and when that happens--"
A stifled moan interrupted him. Half a dozen paces away a crumpled
figure lay huddled against one of the corral gates.
"He is hurt," whispered Mary, after a moment of silence.
"I hope so," replied Alan pitilessly. "It will be unfortunate for us if
he lives to tell his comrades we have passed this way."
Something in his voice made the girl shiver. It was as if the vanishing
point of mercy had been reached, and savages were at their backs. She
heard the wounded man moan again as they stole through the deeper
shadows of the corrals toward the nigger-head bottom. And then she
noticed that the mist was no longer in her face. The sky was clearing.
She could see Alan more clearly, and when they came to the narrow trail
over which they had fled once before that night it reached out ahead of
them like a thin, dark ribbon. Scarcely had they reached this point when
a rifle shot sounded not far behind. It was followed by a second and a
third, and after that came a shout. It was not a loud shout. There was
something strained and ghastly about it, and yet it came distinctly
"The wounded man," said Alan, in a voice of dismay. "He is calling the
others. I should have killed him!"
He traveled at a half-trot, and the girl ran lightly at his side. All
her courage and endurance had returned. She breathed easily and
quickened her steps, so that she was setting the pace for Alan. They
passed along the crest of the ridge under which lay the willows and the
pool, and at the end of this they paused to rest and listen. Trained to
the varied night whisperings of the tundras Alan's ears caught faint
sounds which his companion did not hear. The wounded man had succeeded
in giving his message, and pursuers were scattering over the plain
"Can you run a little farther?" he asked.
He pointed, and she darted ahead of him, her dark hair streaming in a
cloud that began to catch a faint luster of increasing light. Alan ran a
little behind her. He was afraid of the light. Only gloom had saved them
this night, and if the darkness of mist and fog and cloud gave way to
clear twilight and the sun-glow of approaching day before they reached
the kloof he would have to fight in the open. With Stampede at his side
he would have welcomed such an opportunity of matching rifles with their
enemies, for there were many vantage points in the open tundra from
which they might have defied assault. But the nearness of the girl
frightened him. She, after all, was the hunted thing. He was only an
incident. From him could be exacted nothing more than the price of
death; he would be made to pay that, as Sokwenna had paid. For her
remained the unspeakable horror of Graham's lust and passion. But if
they could reach the kloof, and the hiding-place in the face of the
cliff, they could laugh at Graham's pack of beasts while they waited for
the swift vengeance that would come with Stampede and the herdsmen.
He watched the sky. It was clearing steadily. Even the mists in the
hollows were beginning to melt away, and in place of their dissolution
came faintly rose-tinted lights. It was the hour of dawn; the sun sent a
golden glow over the disintegrating curtain of gloom that still lay
between it and the tundras, and objects a hundred paces away no longer
held shadow or illusionment.
The girl did not pause, but continued to run lightly and with surprising
speed, heeding only the direction which he gave her. Her endurance
amazed him. And he knew that without questioning him she had guessed the
truth of what lay behind them. Then, all at once, she stopped, swayed
like a reed, and would have fallen if his arms had not caught her.
"Splendid!" he cried.
She lay gasping for breath, her face against his breast. Her heart was a
swiftly beating little dynamo.
They had gained the edge of a shallow ravine that reached within half a
mile of the kloof. It was this shelter he had hoped for, and Mary's
splendid courage had won it for them.
He picked her up in his arms and carried her again, as he had carried
her through the nigger-head bottom. Every minute, every foot of
progress, counted now. Range of vision was widening. Pools of sunlight
were flecking the plains. In another quarter of an hour moving objects
would be distinctly visible a mile away.
With his precious burden in his arms, her lips so near that he could
feel their breath, her heart throbbing, he became suddenly conscious of
the incongruity of the bird-song that was wakening all about them. It
seemed inconceivable that this day, glorious in its freshness, and
welcomed by the glad voice of all living things, should be a day of
tragedy, of horror, and of impending doom for him. He wanted to shout
out his protest and say that it was all a lie, and it seemed absurd that
he should handicap himself with the weight and inconvenient bulk of his
rifle when his arms wanted to hold only that softer treasure which
In a little while Mary was traveling at his side again. And from then on
he climbed at intervals to the higher swellings of the gully edge and
scanned the tundra. Twice he saw men, and from their movements he
concluded their enemies believed they were hidden somewhere on the
tundra not far from the range-houses.
Three-quarters of an hour later they came to the end of the shallow
ravine, and half a mile of level plain lay between them and the kloof.
For a space they rested, and in this interval Mary smoothed her long
hair and plaited it in two braids. In these moments Alan encouraged her,
but he did not lie. He told her the half-mile of tundra was their
greatest hazard, and described the risks they would run. Carefully he
explained what she was to do under certain circumstances. There was
scarcely a chance they could cross it unobserved, but they might be so
far ahead of the searchers that they could beat them out to the kloof.
If enemies appeared between them and the kloof, it would be necessary to
find a dip or shelter of rock, and fight; and if pursuers from behind
succeeded in out-stripping them in the race, she was to continue in the
direction of the kloof as fast as she could go, while he followed more
slowly, holding Graham's men back with his rifle until she reached the
edge of the gorge. After that he would come to her as swiftly as he
They started. Within five minutes they were on the floor of the tundra.
About them in all directions stretched the sunlit plains. Half a mile
back toward the range were moving figures; farther west were others, and
eastward, almost at the edge of the ravine, were two men who would have
discovered them in another moment if they had not descended into the
hollow. Alan could see them kneeling to drink at the little coulee which
ran through it.
"Don't hurry," he said, with a sudden swift thought. "Keep parallel with
me and a distance away. They may not discover you are a woman and
possibly may think we are searchers like themselves. Stop when I stop.
Follow my movements."
Now, in the sunlight, she was not afraid. Her cheeks were flushed, her
eyes bright as stars as she nodded at him. Her face and hands were
soiled with muck-stain, her dress spotted and torn, and looking at her
thus Alan laughed and cried out softly:
"You beautiful little vagabond!"
She sent the laugh back, a soft, sweet laugh to give him courage, and
after that she watched him closely, falling in with his scheme so
cleverly that her action was better than his own--and so they had made
their way over a third of the plain when Alan came toward her suddenly
and cried, "Now, _run_!"
A glance showed her what was happening. The two men had come out of the
ravine and were running toward them.
Swift as a bird she was ahead of Alan, making for a pinnacle of rock
which he had pointed out to her at the edge of the kloof.
Close behind her, he said: "Don't hesitate a second. Keep on going. When
they are a little nearer I am going to kill them. But you mustn't stop."
At intervals he looked behind him. The two men were gaining rapidly. He
measured the time when less than two hundred yards would separate them.
Then he drew close to Mary's side.
"See that level place ahead? We'll cross it in another minute or two.
When they come to it I'm going to stop, and catch them where they can't
find shelter. But you must keep on going. I'll overtake you by the time
you reach the edge of the kloof."
She made no answer, but ran faster; and when they had passed the level
space she heard his footsteps growing fainter, and her heart was ready
to choke her when she knew the time had come for him to turn upon their
enemies. But in her mind burned the low words of his command, his
warning, and she did not look back, but kept her eyes on the pinnacle of
rock, which was now very near. She had almost reached it when the first
shot came from behind her.
Without making a sound that would alarm her, Alan had stumbled, and made
pretense of falling. He lay upon his face for a moment, as if stunned,
and then rose to his knees. An instant too late Graham's men saw his
ruse when his leveled rifle gleamed in the sunshine. The speed of their
pursuit was their undoing. Trying to catch themselves so that they might
use their rifles, or fling themselves upon the ground, they brought
themselves into a brief but deadly interval of inaction, and in that
flash one of the men went down under Alan's first shot. Before he could
fire again the second had flattened himself upon the earth, and swift as
a fox Alan was on his feet and racing for the kloof. Mary stood with her
back against the huge rock, gasping for breath, when he joined her. A
bullet sang over their heads with its angry menace. He did not return
the fire, but drew the girl quickly behind the rock.
"He won't dare to stand up until the others join him," he encouraged
her. "We're beating them to it, little girl! If you can keep up a few
She smiled at him, even as she struggled to regain her breath. It seemed
to her there was no way of descending into the chaos of rock between the
gloomy walls of the kloof, and she gave a little cry when Alan caught
her by her hands and lowered her over the face of a ledge to a
table-like escarpment below. He laughed at her fear when he dropped down
beside her, and held her close as they crept back under the shelving
face of the cliff to a hidden path that led downward, with a yawning
chasm at their side. The trail widened as they descended, and at the
last they reached the bottom, with the gloom and shelter of a
million-year-old crevasse hovering over them. Grim and monstrous rocks,
black and slippery with age, lay about them, and among these they picked
their way, while the trickle and drip of water and the flesh-like
clamminess of the air sent a strange shiver of awe through Mary
Standish. There was no life here--only an age-old whisper that seemed a
part of death; and when voices came from above, where Graham's men were
gathering, they were ghostly and far away.
But here, too, was refuge and safety. Mary could feel it as they picked
their way through the chill and gloom that lay in the silent passages
between the Gargantuan rocks. When her hands touched their naked sides
an uncontrollable impulse made her shrink closer to Alan, even though
she sensed the protection of their presence. They were like colossi,
carved by hands long dead, and now guarded by spirits whose voices
guttered low and secretly in the mysterious drip and trickle of unseen
water. This was the haunted place. In this chasm death and vengeance had
glutted themselves long before she was born; and when a rock crashed
behind them, accidentally sent down by one of the men above, a cry broke
from her lips. She was frightened, and in a way she had never known
before. It was not death she feared here, nor the horror from which she
had escaped above, but something unknown and indescribable, for which
she would never be able to give a reason. She clung to Alan, and when at
last the narrow fissure widened over their heads, and light came down
and softened their way, he saw that her face was deathly white.
"We are almost there," he comforted. "And--some day--you will love this
gloomy kloof as I love it, and we will travel it together all the way to
A few minutes later they came to an avalanche of broken sandstone that
was heaped half-way up the face of the precipitous wall, and up this
climbed until they came to a level shelf of rock, and back of this was a
great depression in the rock, forty feet deep and half as wide, with a
floor as level as a table and covered with soft white sand. Mary would
never forget her first glimpse of this place; it was unreal, strange, as
if a band of outlaw fairies had brought the white sand for a carpet, and
had made this their hiding-place, where wind and rain and snow could
never blow. And up the face of the cavern, as if to make her thought
more real, led a ragged fissure which it seemed to her only fairies'
feet could travel, and which ended at the level of the plain. So they
were tundra fairies, coming down from flowers and sunlight through that
fissure, and it was from the evil spirits in the kloof itself that they
must have hidden themselves. Something in the humor and gentle thought
of it all made her smile at Alan. But his face had turned suddenly grim,
and she looked up the kloof, where they had traveled through danger and
come to safety. And then she saw that which froze all thought of fairies
out of her heart.
Men were coming through the chaos and upheaval of rock. There were many
of them, appearing out of the darker neck of the gorge into the clearer
light, and at their head was a man upon whom Mary's eyes fixed
themselves in horror. White-faced she looked at Alan. He had guessed
"That man in front?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yes."
"Is John Graham."
He heard the words choking in her throat.
"Yes, John Graham."
He swung his rifle slowly, his eyes burning with a steely fire.
"I think," he said, "that from here I can easily kill him!"
Her hand touched his arm; she was looking into his eyes. Fear had gone
out of them, and in its place was a soft and gentle radiance, a
prayer to him.
"I am thinking of tomorrow--the next day--the years and years to come,
_with you_," she whispered. "Alan, you can't kill John Graham--not until
God shows us it is the only thing left for us to do. You can't--"
The crash of a rifle between the rock walls interrupted her. The snarl
of a bullet followed the shot. She heard it strike, and her heart
stopped beating, and the rigidity of death came into her limbs and body
as she saw the swift and terrible change in the stricken face of the man
she loved. He tried to smile at her, even as a red blot came where the
streak of gray in his hair touched his forehead. And then he crumpled
down at her feet, and his rifle rattled against the rocks.
She knew it was death. Something seemed to burst in her head and fill
her brain with the roar of a flood. She screamed. Even the men below
hesitated and their hearts jumped with a new sensation as the terrible
cry of a woman rang between the rock walls of the chasm. And following
the cry a voice came down to them.
"John Graham, I'm going to kill you--_kill you_--"
And snatching up the fallen rifle Mary Standish set herself to the task
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