Part 1 out of 5
A Novel of the North
By JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
With Illustrations by Walt Louderback
To the strong-hearted men and women of Alaska, the new empire rising
in the North, it is for me an honor and a privilege to dedicate
JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
Owosso, Michigan August 1, 1923
It was as if the man was deliberately insulting her (Frontispiece).
The long, black launch nosed its way out to sea.
The man wore a gun ... within reach of his hand.
Mary sobbed as the man she loved faced winged death.
Captain Rifle, gray and old in the Alaskan Steamship service, had not
lost the spirit of his youth along with his years. Romance was not dead
in him, and the fire which is built up of clean adventure and the
association of strong men and a mighty country had not died out of his
veins. He could still see the picturesque, feel the thrill of the
unusual, and--at times--warm memories crowded upon him so closely that
yesterday seemed today, and Alaska was young again, thrilling the world
with her wild call to those who had courage to come and fight for her
treasures, and live--or die.
Tonight, with the softly musical throb of his ship under his feet, and
the yellow moon climbing up from behind the ramparts of the Alaskan
mountains, something of loneliness seized upon him, and he said simply:
"That is Alaska."
The girl standing beside him at the rail did not turn, nor for a moment
did she answer. He could see her profile clear-cut as a cameo in the
almost vivid light, and in that light her eyes were wide and filled
with a dusky fire, and her lips were parted a little, and her slim body
was tense as she looked at the wonder of the moon silhouetting the
cragged castles of the peaks, up where the soft, gray clouds lay like
Then she turned her face a little and nodded. "Yes, Alaska," she said,
and the old captain fancied there was the slightest ripple of a tremor
in her voice. "Your Alaska, Captain Rifle."
Out of the clearness of the night came to them a distant sound like the
low moan of thunder. Twice before, Mary Standish had heard it, and now
she asked: "What was that? Surely it can not be a storm, with the moon
like that, and the stars so clear above!"
"It is ice breaking from the glaciers and falling into the sea. We are
in the Wrangel Narrows, and very near the shore, Miss Standish. If it
were day you could hear the birds singing. This is what we call the
Inside Passage. I have always called it the water-wonderland of the
world, and yet, if you will observe, I must be mistaken--for we are
almost alone on this side of the ship. Is it not proof? If I were right,
the men and women in there--dancing, playing cards, chattering--would be
crowding this rail. Can you imagine humans like that? But they can't see
what I see, for I am a ridiculous old fool who remembers things. Ah, do
you catch that in the air, Miss Standish--the perfume of flowers, of
forests, of green things ashore? It is faint, but I catch it."
"And so do I."
She breathed in deeply of the sweet air, and turned then, so that she
stood with her back to the rail, facing the flaming lights of the ship.
The mellow cadence of the music came to her, soft-stringed and sleepy;
she could hear the shuffle of dancing feet. Laughter rippled with the
rhythmic thrum of the ship, voices rose and fell beyond the lighted
windows, and as the old captain looked at her, there was something in
her face which he could not understand.
She had come aboard strangely at Seattle, alone and almost at the last
minute--defying the necessity of making reservation where half a
thousand others had been turned away--and chance had brought her under
his eyes. In desperation she had appealed to him, and he had discovered
a strange terror under the forced calm of her appearance. Since then he
had fathered her with his attentions, watching closely with the wisdom
of years. And more than once he had observed that questing, defiant
poise of her head with which she was regarding the cabin windows now.
She had told him she was twenty-three and on her way to meet relatives
in Nome. She had named certain people. And he had believed her. It was
impossible not to believe her, and he admired her pluck in breaking all
official regulations in coming aboard.
In many ways she was companionable and sweet. Yet out of his experience,
he gathered the fact that she was under a tension. He knew that in some
way she was making a fight, but, influenced by the wisdom of three and
sixty years, he did not let her know he had guessed the truth.
He watched her closely now, without seeming to do so. She was very
pretty in a quiet and unusual way. There was something irresistibly
attractive about her, appealing to old memories which were painted
clearly in his heart. She was girlishly slim. He had observed that her
eyes were beautifully clear and gray in the sunlight, and her
exquisitely smooth dark hair, neatly coiled and luxuriant crown of
beauty, reminded him of puritanism in its simplicity. At times he
doubted that she was twenty-three. If she had said nineteen or twenty he
would have been better satisfied. She puzzled him and roused speculation
in him. But it was a part of his business to see many things which
others might not see--and hold his tongue.
"We are not quite alone," she was saying. "There are others," and she
made a little gesture toward two figures farther up the rail.
"Old Donald Hardwick, of Skagway," he said. "And the other is Alan
She was facing the mountains again, her eyes shining in the light of the
moon. Gently her hand touched the old captain's arm. "Listen," she
"Another berg breaking away from Old Thunder. We are very near the
shore, and there are glaciers all the way up."
"And that other sound, like low wind--on a night so still and calm! What
"You always hear that when very close to the big mountains, Miss
Standish. It is made by the water of a thousand streams and rivulets
rushing down to the sea. Wherever there is melting snow in the
mountains, you hear that song."
"And this man, Alan Holt," she reminded him. "He is a part of these
"Possibly more than any other man, Miss Standish. He was born in Alaska
before Nome or Fairbanks or Dawson City were thought of. It was in
Eighty-four, I think. Let me see, that would make him--"
"Thirty-eight," she said, so quickly that for a moment he was
Then he chuckled. "You are very good at figures."
He felt an almost imperceptible tightening of her fingers on his arm.
"This evening, just after dinner, old Donald found me sitting alone. He
said he was lonely and wanted to talk with someone--like me. He almost
frightened me, with his great, gray beard and shaggy hair. I thought of
ghosts as we talked there in the dusk."
"Old Donald belongs to the days when the Chilkoot and the White Horse
ate up men's lives, and a trail of living dead led from the Summit to
Klondike, Miss Standish," said Captain Rifle. "You will meet many like
him in Alaska. And they remember. You can see it in their faces--always
the memory of those days that are gone."
She bowed her head a little, looking to the sea. "And Alan Holt? You
know him well?"
"Few men know him well. He is a part of Alaska itself, and I have
sometimes thought him more aloof than the mountains. But I know him. All
northern Alaska knows Alan Holt. He has a reindeer range up beyond the
Endicott Mountains and is always seeking the last frontier."
"He must be very brave."
"Alaska breeds heroic men, Miss Standish."
"And honorable men--men you can trust and believe in?"
"It is odd," she said, with a trembling little laugh that was like a
bird-note in her throat. "I have never seen Alaska before, and yet
something about these mountains makes me feel that I have known them a
long time ago. I seem to feel they are welcoming me and that I am going
home. Alan Holt is a fortunate man. I should like to be an Alaskan."
"And you are--"
"An American," she finished for him, a sudden, swift irony in her voice.
"A poor product out of the melting-pot, Captain Rifle. I am going
"Only that, Miss Standish?"
His question, quietly spoken and without emphasis, demanded an answer.
His kindly face, seamed by the suns and winds of many years at sea, was
filled with honest anxiety as she turned to look straight into his eyes.
"I must press the question," he said. "As the captain of this ship, and
as a father, it is my duty. Is there not something you would like to
tell me--in confidence, if you will have it so?"
For an instant she hesitated, then slowly she shook her head. "There is
nothing, Captain Rifle."
"And yet--you came aboard very strangely," he urged. "You will recall
that it was most unusual--without reservation, without baggage--"
"You forget the hand-bag," she reminded him.
"Yes, but one does not start for northern Alaska with only a hand-bag
scarcely large enough to contain a change of linen, Miss Standish."
"But I did, Captain Rifle."
"True. And I saw you fighting past the guards like a little wildcat. It
was without precedent."
"I am sorry. But they were stupid and difficult to pass."
"Only by chance did I happen to see it all, my child. Otherwise the
ship's regulations would have compelled me to send you ashore. You were
frightened. You can not deny that. You were running away from
He was amazed at the childish simplicity with which she answered him.
"Yes, I was running away--from something."
Her eyes were beautifully clear and unafraid, and yet again he sensed
the thrill of the fight she was making.
"And you will not tell me why--or from what you were escaping?"
"I can not--tonight. I may do so before we reach Nome. But--it is
"That I shall never reach Nome."
Suddenly she caught one of his hands in both her own. Her fingers clung
to him, and with a little note of fierceness in her voice she hugged the
hand to her breast. "I know just how good you have been to me," she
cried. "I should like to tell you why I came aboard--like that. But I
can not. Look! Look at those wonderful mountains!" With one free hand
"Behind them and beyond them lie the romance and adventure and mystery
of centuries, and for nearly thirty years you have been very near those
things, Captain Rifle. No man will ever see again what you have seen or
feel what you have felt, or forget what you have had to forget. I know
it. And after all that, can't you--won't you--forget the strange manner
in which I came aboard this ship? It is such a simple, little thing to
put out of your mind, so trivial, so unimportant when you look
back--and think. Please Captain Rifle--please!"
So quickly that he scarcely sensed the happening of it she pressed his
hand to her lips. Their warm thrill came and went in an instant, leaving
him speechless, his resolution gone.
"I love you because you have been so good to me," she whispered, and as
suddenly as she had kissed his hand, she was gone, leaving him alone
at the rail.
Alan Holt saw the slim figure of the girl silhouetted against the vivid
light of the open doorway of the upper-deck salon. He was not watching
her, nor did he look closely at the exceedingly attractive picture which
she made as she paused there for an instant after leaving Captain Rifle.
To him she was only one of the five hundred human atoms that went to
make up the tremendously interesting life of one of the first ships of
the season going north. Fate, through the suave agency of the purser,
had brought him into a bit closer proximity to her than the others; that
was all. For two days her seat in the dining-salon had been at the same
table, not quite opposite him. As she had missed both breakfast hours,
and he had skipped two luncheons, the requirements of neighborliness and
of courtesy had not imposed more than a dozen words of speech upon them.
This was very satisfactory to Alan. He was not talkative or
communicative of his own free will. There was a certain cynicism back of
his love of silence. He was a good listener and a first-rate analyst.
Some people, he knew, were born to talk; and others, to trim the
balance, were burdened with the necessity of holding their tongues. For
him silence was not a burden.
In his cool and causal way he admired Mary Standish. She was very
quiet, and he liked her because of that. He could not, of course, escape
the beauty of her eyes or the shimmering luster of the long lashes that
darkened them. But these were details which did not thrill him, but
merely pleased him. And her hair pleased him possibly even more than her
gray eyes, though he was not sufficiently concerned to discuss the
matter with himself. But if he had pointed out any one thing, it would
have been her hair--not so much the color of it as the care she
evidently gave it, and the manner in which she dressed it. He noted that
it was dark, with varying flashes of luster in it under the dinner
lights. But what he approved of most of all were the smooth, silky coils
in which she fastened it to her pretty head. It was an intense relief
after looking on so many frowsy heads, bobbed and marcelled, during his
six months' visit in the States. So he liked her, generally speaking,
because there was not a thing about her that he might dislike.
He did not, of course, wonder what the girl might be thinking of
him--with his quiet, stern face, his cold indifference, his rather
Indian-like litheness, and the single patch of gray that streaked his
thick, blond hair. His interest had not reached anywhere near
Tonight it was probable that no woman in the world could have interested
him, except as the always casual observer of humanity. Another and
greater thing gripped him and had thrilled him since he first felt the
throbbing pulse of the engines of the new steamship _Nome_ under his
feet at Seattle. He was going _home_. And home meant Alaska. It meant
the mountains, the vast tundras, the immeasurable spaces into which
civilization had not yet come with its clang and clamor. It meant
friends, the stars he knew, his herds, everything he loved. Such was his
reaction after six months of exile, six months of loneliness and
desolation in cities which he had learned to hate.
"I'll not make the trip again--not for a whole winter--unless I'm sent
at the point of a gun," he said to Captain Rifle, a few moments after
Mary Standish had left the deck. "An Eskimo winter is long enough, but
one in Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York is longer--for me."
"I understand they had you up before the Committee on Ways and Means at
"Yes, along with Carl Lomen, of Nome. But Lomen was the real man. He has
forty thousand head of reindeer in the Seward Peninsula, and they had to
listen to him. We may get action."
"May!" Captain Rifle grunted his doubt. "Alaska has been waiting ten
years for a new deck and a new deal. I doubt if you'll get anything.
When politicians from Iowa and south Texas tell us what we can have and
what we need north of Fifty-eight--why, what's the use? Alaska might as
well shut up shop!"
"But she isn't going to do that," said Alan Holt, his face grimly set in
the moonlight. "They've tried hard to get us, and they've made us shut
up a lot of our doors. In 1910 we were thirty-six thousand whites in the
Territory. Since then the politicians at Washington have driven out nine
thousand, a quarter of the population. But those that are left are
hard-boiled. We're not going to quit, Captain. A lot of us are Alaskans,
and we are not afraid to fight."
"That we'll have a square deal within another five years, or know the
reason why. And another five years after that, we'll he shipping a
million reindeer carcasses down into the States each year. Within twenty
years we'll be shipping five million. Nice thought for the beef barons,
eh? But rather fortunate, I think, for the hundred million Americans who
are turning their grazing lands into farms and irrigation systems."
One of Alan Holt's hands was clenched at the rail. "Until I went down
this winter, I didn't realize just how bad it was," he said, a note hard
as iron in his voice. "Lomen is a diplomat, but I'm not. I want to fight
when I see such things--fight with a gun. Because we happened to find
gold up here, they think Alaska is an orange to be sucked as quickly as
possible, and that when the sucking process is over, the skin will be
worthless. That's modern, dollar-chasing Americanism for you!"
"And are you not an American, Mr. Holt?"
So soft and near was the voice that both men started. Then both turned
and stared. Close behind them, her quiet, beautiful face flooded with
the moon-glow, stood Mary Standish.
"You ask me a question, madam," said Alan Holt, bowing courteously. "No,
I am not an American. I am an Alaskan."
The girl's lips were parted. Her eyes were very bright and clear.
"Please pardon me for listening," she said. "I couldn't help it. I am an
American. I love America. I think I love it more than anything else in
the world--more than my religion, even. _America,_ Mr. Holt. And America
doesn't necessarily mean a great many of America's people. I love to
think that I first came ashore in the _Mayflower_. That is why my name
is Standish. And I just wanted to remind you that Alaska _is_ America."
Alan Holt was a bit amazed. The girl's face was no longer placidly
quiet. Her eyes were radiant. He sensed the repressed thrill in her
voice, and he knew that in the light of day he would have seen fire in
her cheeks. He smiled, and in that smile he could not quite keep back
the cynicism of his thought.
"And what do you know about Alaska, Miss Standish?"
"Nothing," she said. "And yet I love it." She pointed to the mountains.
"I wish I might have been born among them. You are fortunate. You should
"Alaska, you mean!"
"No, America." There was a flashing challenge in her eyes. She was not
speaking apologetically. Her meaning was direct.
The irony on Alan's lips died away. With a little laugh he bowed again.
"If I am speaking to a daughter of Captain Miles Standish, who came over
in the _Mayflower_, I stand reproved," he said. "You should be an
authority on Americanism, if I am correct in surmising your
"You are correct," she replied with a proud, little tilt of her glossy
head, "though I think that only lately have I come to an understanding
of its significance--and its responsibility. I ask your pardon again for
interrupting you. It was not premeditated. It just happened."
She did not wait for either of them to speak, but flashed the two a
swift smile and passed down the promenade.
The music had ceased and the cabins at last were emptying themselves of
"A remarkable young woman," Alan remarked. "I imagine that the spirit of
Captain Miles Standish may be a little proud of this particular
olive-branch. A chip off the old block, you might say. One would almost
suppose he had married Priscilla and this young lady was a definite
though rather indirect result."
He had a curious way of laughing without any more visible manifestation
of humor than spoken words. It was a quality in his voice which one
could not miss, and at times, when ironically amused, it carried a
sting which he did not altogether intend.
In another moment Mary Standish was forgotten, and he was asking the
captain a question which was in his mind.
"The itinerary of this ship is rather confused, is it not?"
"Yes--rather," acknowledged Captain Rifle. "Hereafter she will ply
directly between Seattle and Nome. But this time we're doing the Inside
Passage to Juneau and Skagway and will make the Aleutian Passage via
Cordova and Seward. A whim of the owners, which they haven't seen fit to
explain to me. Possibly the Canadian junket aboard may have something to
do with it. We're landing them at Skagway, where they make the Yukon by
way of White Horse Pass. A pleasure trip for flabby people nowadays,
Holt. I can remember--"
"So can I," nodded Alan Holt, looking at the mountains beyond which lay
the dead-strewn trails of the gold stampede of a generation before. "I
remember. And old Donald is dreaming of that hell of death back there.
He was all choked up tonight. I wish he might forget."
"Men don't forget such women as Jane Hope," said the captain softly.
"You knew her?"
"Yes. She came up with her father on my ship. That was twenty-five years
ago last autumn, Alan. A long time, isn't it? And when I look at Mary
Standish and hear her voice--" He hesitated, as if betraying a secret,
and then he added: "--I can't help thinking of the girl Donald Hardwick
fought for and won in that death-hole at White Horse. It's too bad she
had to die."
"She isn't dead," said Alan. The hardness was gone from his voice. "She
isn't dead," he repeated. "That's the pity of it. She is as much a
living thing to him today as she was twenty years ago."
After a moment the captain said, "She was talking with him early this
"Miss Captain Miles Standish, you mean?"
"Yes. There seems to be something about her that amuses you."
Alan shrugged his shoulders. "Not at all. I think she is a most
admirable young person. Will you have a cigar, Captain? I'm going to
promenade a bit. It does me good to mix in with the sour-doughs."
The two lighted their cigars from a single match, and Alan went his way,
while the captain turned in the direction of his cabin.
To Alan, on this particular night, the steamship _Nome_ was more than a
thing of wood and steel. It was a living, pulsating being, throbbing
with the very heart-beat of Alaska. The purr of the mighty engines was a
human intelligence crooning a song of joy. For him the crowded passenger
list held a significance that was almost epic, and its names represented
more than mere men and women. They were the vital fiber of the land he
loved, its heart's blood, its very element--"giving in." He knew that
with the throb of those engines romance, adventure, tragedy, and hope
were on their way north--and with these things also arrogance and greed.
On board were a hundred conflicting elements--some that had fought for
Alaska, others that would make her, and others that would destroy.
He puffed at his cigar and walked alone, brushing sleeves with men and
women whom he scarcely seemed to notice. But he was observant. He knew
the tourists almost without looking at them. The spirit of the north had
not yet seized upon them. They were voluble and rather excitedly
enthusiastic in the face of beauty and awesomeness. The sour-doughs were
tucked away here and there in shadowy nooks, watching in silence, or
they walked the deck slowly and quietly, smoking their cigars or pipes,
and seeing things beyond the mountains. Between these two, the newcomers
and the old-timers, ran the gamut of all human thrill for Alan, the
flesh-and-blood fiber of everything that went to make up life north of
Fifty-four. And he could have gone from man to man and picked out those
who belonged north of Fifty-eight.
Aft of the smoking-room he paused, tipping the ash of his cigar over the
edge of the rail. A little group of three stood near him, and he
recognized them as the young engineers, fresh from college, going up to
work on the government railroad running from Seward to Tanana. One of
them was talking, filled with the enthusiasm of his first adventure.
"I tell you," he said, "people don't know what they ought to know about
Alaska. In school they teach us that it's an eternal icebox full of
gold, and is headquarters for Santa Claus, because that's where reindeer
come from. And grown-ups think about the same thing. Why"--he drew in a
deep breath--"it's nine times as large as the state of Washington,
twelve times as big as the state of New York, and we bought it from
Russia for less than two cents an acre. If you put it down on the face
of the United States, the city of Juneau would be in St. Augustine,
Florida, and Unalaska would be in Los Angeles. That's how big it is, and
the geographical center of our country isn't Omaha or Sioux City, but
exactly San Francisco, California."
"Good for you, sonny," came a quiet voice from beyond the group. "Your
geography is correct. And you might add for the education of your people
that Alaska is only thirty-seven miles from Bolshevik Siberia, and
wireless messages are sent into Alaska by the Bolsheviks urging our
people to rise against the Washington government. We've asked Washington
for a few guns and a few men to guard Nome, but they laugh at us. Do you
see a moral?"
From half-amused interest Alan jerked himself to alert tension. He
caught a glimpse of the gaunt, old graybeard who had spoken, but did not
know him. And as this man turned away, a shadowy hulk in the moonlight,
the same deep, quiet voice came back very clearly:
"And if you ever care for Alaska, you might tell your government to hang
a few such men as John Graham, sonny."
At the sound of that name Alan felt the blood in him run suddenly hot.
Only one man on the face of the earth did he hate with undying hatred,
and that man was John Graham. He would have followed, seeking the
identity of the stranger whose words had temporarily stunned the young
engineers, when he saw a slim figure standing between him and the light
of the smoking-room windows. It was Mary Standish. He knew by her
attitude that she had heard the words of the young engineer and the old
graybeard, but she was looking at _him_. And he could not remember that
he had ever seen quite that same look in a woman's face before. It was
not fright. It was more an expression of horror which comes from thought
and mental vision rather than physical things. Instantly it annoyed Alan
Holt. This was the second time she had betrayed a too susceptible
reaction in matters which did not concern her. So he said, speaking to
the silent young men a few steps away:
"He was mistaken, gentlemen. John Graham should not be hung. That would
be too merciful."
He resumed his way then, nodding at them as he passed. But he had
scarcely gone out of their vision when quick footsteps pattered behind
him, and the girl's hand touched his arm lightly.
"Mr. Holt, please--"
He stopped, sensing the fact that the soft pressure of her fingers was
not altogether unpleasant. She hesitated, and when she spoke again, only
her finger-tips touched his arm. She was looking shoreward, so that for
a moment he could see only the lustrous richness of her smooth hair.
Then she was meeting his eyes squarely, a flash of challenge in the gray
depths of her own.
"I am alone on the ship," she said. "I have no friends here. I want to
see things and ask questions. Will you ... help me a little?"
"You mean ... escort you?"
"Yes, if you will. I should feel more comfortable."
Nettled at first, the humor of the situation began to appeal to him, and
he wondered at the intense seriousness of the girl. She did not smile.
Her eyes were very steady and very businesslike, and at the same time
"The way you put it, I don't see how I can refuse," he said. "As for the
questions--probably Captain Rifle can answer them better than I."
"I don't like to trouble him," she replied. "He has much to think about.
And you are alone."
"Yes, quite alone. And with very little to think about."
"You know what I mean, Mr. Holt. Possibly you can not understand me, or
won't try. But I'm going into a new country, and I have a passionate
desire to learn as much about that country as I can before I get there.
I want to know about many things. For instance--"
"Why did you say what you did about John Graham? What did the other man
mean when he said he should be hung?"
There was an intense directness in her question which for a moment
astonished him. She had withdrawn her fingers from his arm, and her slim
figure seemed possessed of a sudden throbbing suspense as she waited for
an answer. They had turned a little, so that in the light of the moon
the almost flowerlike whiteness of her face was clear to him. With her
smooth, shining hair, the pallor of her face under its lustrous
darkness, and the clearness of her eyes she held Alan speechless for a
moment, while his brain struggled to seize upon and understand the
something about her which made him interested in spite of himself. Then
he smiled and there was a sudden glitter in his eyes.
"Did you ever see a dog fight?" he asked.
She hesitated, as if trying to remember, and shuddered slightly. "Once."
"It was my dog--a little dog. His throat was torn--"
He nodded. "Exactly. And that is just what John Graham is doing to
Alaska, Miss Standish. He's the dog--a monster. Imagine a man with a
colossal financial power behind him, setting out to strip the wealth
from a new land and enslave it to his own desires and political
ambitions. That is what John Graham is doing from his money-throne down
there in the States. It's the financial support he represents, curse
him! Money--and a man without conscience. A man who would starve
thousands or millions to achieve his ends. A man who, in every sense of
the word, is a murderer--"
The sharpness of her cry stopped him. If possible, her face had gone
whiter, and he saw her hands clutched suddenly at her breast. And the
look in her eyes brought the old, cynical twist back to his lips.
"There, I've hurt your puritanism again, Miss Standish," he said, bowing
a little. "In order to appeal to your finer sensibilities I suppose I
must apologize for swearing and calling another man a murderer. Well, I
do. And now--if you care to stroll about the ship--"
From a respectful distance the three young engineers watched Alan and
Mary Standish as they walked forward.
"A corking pretty girl," said one of them, drawing a deep breath. "I
never saw such hair and eyes--"
"I'm at the same table with them," interrupted another. "I'm second on
her left, and she hasn't spoken three words to me. And that fellow she
is with is like an icicle out of Labrador."
And Mary Standish was saying: "Do you know, Mr. Holt, I envy those young
engineers. I wish I were a man."
"I wish you were," agreed Alan amiably.
Whereupon Mary Standish's pretty mouth lost its softness for an instant.
But Alan did not observe this. He was enjoying his cigar and the
Alan Holt was a man whom other men looked at twice. With women it was
different. He was, in no solitary sense of the word, a woman's man. He
admired them in an abstract way, and he was ready to fight for them, or
die for them, at any time such a course became necessary. But his
sentiment was entirely a matter of common sense. His chivalry was born
and bred of the mountains and the open and had nothing in common with
the insincere brand which develops in the softer and more luxurious laps
of civilization. Years of aloneness had put their mark upon him. Men of
the north, reading the lines, understood what they meant. But only now
and then could a woman possibly understand. Yet if in any given moment a
supreme physical crisis had come, women would have turned instinctively
in their helplessness to such a man as Alan Holt.
He possessed a vein of humor which few had been privileged to discover.
The mountains had taught him to laugh in silence. With him a chuckle
meant as much as a riotous outburst of merriment from another, and he
could enjoy greatly without any noticeable muscular disturbance of his
face. And not always was his smile a reflection of humorous thought.
There were times when it betrayed another kind of thought more
forcefully than speech.
Because he understood fairly well and knew what he was, the present
situation amused him. He could not but see what an error in judgment
Miss Standish had made in selecting him, when compared with the
intoxicating thrill she could easily have aroused by choosing one of the
young engineers as a companion in her evening adventure. He chuckled.
And Mary Standish, hearing the smothered note of amusement, gave to her
head that swift little birdlike tilt which he had observed once before,
in the presence of Captain Rifle. But she said nothing. As if
challenged, she calmly took possession of his arm.
Halfway round the deck, Alan began to sense the fact that there was a
decidedly pleasant flavor to the whole thing. The girl's hand did not
merely touch his arm; it was snuggled there confidently, and she was
necessarily so close to him that when he looked down, the glossy coils
of her hair were within a few inches of his face. His nearness to her,
together with the soft pressure of her hand on his arm, was a jolt to
"It's not half bad," he expressed himself frankly. "I really believe I
am going to enjoy answering your questions, Miss Standish."
"Oh!" He felt the slim, little figure stiffen for an instant. "You
thought--possibly--I might be dangerous?"
"A little. I don't understand women. Collectively I think they are God's
most wonderful handiwork. Individually I don't care much about them.
She nodded approvingly. "That is very nice of you. But you needn't say I
am different from the others. I am not. All women are alike."
"Possibly--except in the way they dress their hair."
"You like mine?"
He was amazed at the admission, so much so that he puffed out a huge
cloud of smoke from his cigar in mental protest.
They had come to the smoking-room again. This was an innovation aboard
the _Nome_. There was no other like it in the Alaskan service, with its
luxurious space, its comfortable hospitality, and the observation parlor
built at one end for those ladies who cared to sit with their husbands
while they smoked their after-dinner cigars.
"If you want to hear about Alaska and see some of its human make-up,
let's go in," he suggested. "I know; of no better place. Are you afraid
"No. If I were a man, I would smoke."
"Perhaps you do?"
"I do not. When I begin that, if you please, I shall bob my hair."
"Which would be a crime," he replied so earnestly that again he was
surprised at himself.
Two or three ladies, with their escorts, were in the parlor when they
entered. The huge main room, covering a third of the aft deck, was blue
with smoke. A score of men were playing cards at round tables. Twice as
many were gathered in groups, talking, while others walked aimlessly up
and down the carpeted floor. Here and there were men who sat alone. A
few were asleep, which made Alan look at his watch. Then he observed
Mary Standish studying the innumerable bundles of neatly rolled blankets
that lay about. One of them was at her feet. She touched it with
"What do they mean?" she asked.
"We are overloaded," he explained. "Alaskan steam-ships have no steerage
passengers as we generally know them. It isn't poverty that rides
steerage when you go north. You can always find a millionaire or two on
the lower deck. When they get sleepy, most of the men you see in there
will unroll blankets and sleep on the floor. Did you ever see an earl?"
He felt it his duty to make explanations now that he had brought her in,
and directed her attention to the third table on their left. Three men
were seated at this table.
"The man facing us, the one with a flabby face and pale mustache, is an
earl--I forget his name," he said. "He doesn't look it, but he is a real
sport. He is going up to shoot Kadiak bears, and sleeps on the floor.
The group beyond them, at the fifth table, are Treadwell mining men,
and that fellow you see slouched against the wall, half asleep, with
whiskers nearly to his waist, is Stampede Smith, an old-time partner of
George Carmack, who discovered gold on Bonanza Creek in Ninety-six. The
thud of Carmack's spade, as it hit first pay, was the 'sound heard round
the world,' Miss Standish. And the gentleman with crumpled whiskers was
the second-best man at Bonanza, excepting Skookum Jim and Taglish
Charlie, two Siwah Indians who were with Carmack when the strike was
made. Also, if you care for the romantic, he was in love with Belinda
Mulrooney, the most courageous woman who ever came into the north."
"Why was she courageous?"
"Because she came alone into a man's land, without a soul to fight for
her, determined to make a fortune along with the others. And she did. As
long as there is a Dawson sour-dough alive, he will remember Belinda
"She proved what a woman could do, Mr. Holt."
"Yes, and a little later she proved how foolish a woman can be, Miss
Standish. She became the richest woman in Dawson. Then came a man who
posed as a count, Belinda married him, and they went to Paris. _Finis_,
I think. Now, if she had married Stampede Smith over there, with his big
He did not finish. Half a dozen paces from them a man had risen from a
table and was facing them. There was nothing unusual about him, except
his boldness as he looked at Mary Standish. It was as if he knew her and
was deliberately insulting her in a stare that was more than impudent in
its directness. Then a sudden twist came to his lips; he shrugged his
shoulders slightly and turned away.
Alan glanced swiftly at his companion. Her lips were compressed, and her
cheeks were flaming hotly. Even then, as his own blood boiled, he could
not but observe how beautiful anger made her.
"If you will pardon me a moment," he said quietly, "I shall demand an
Her hand linked itself quickly through his arm.
"Please don't," she entreated. "It is kind of you, and you are just the
sort of man I should expect to resent a thing like that. But it would be
absurd to notice it. Don't you think so?"
In spite of her effort to speak calmly, there was a tremble in her
voice, and Alan was puzzled at the quickness with which the color went
from her face, leaving it strangely white.
"I am at your service," he replied with a rather cold inclination of his
head. "But if you were my sister, Miss Standish, I would not allow
anything like that to go unchallenged."
He watched the stranger until he disappeared through a door out upon the
"One of John Graham's men," he said. "A fellow named Rossland, going up
to get a final grip on the salmon fishing, I understand. They'll choke
the life out of it in another two years. Funny what this filthy stuff we
call money can do, isn't it? Two winters ago I saw whole Indian villages
starving, and women and little children dying by the score because of
this John Graham's money. Over-fishing did it, you understand. If you
could have seen some of those poor little devils, just skin and bones,
crying for a rag to eat--"
Her hand clutched at his arm. "How could John Graham--do that?" she
He laughed unpleasantly. "When you have been a year in Alaska you won't
ask that question, Miss Standish. _How_? Why, simply by glutting his
canneries and taking from the streams the food supply which the natives
have depended upon for generations. In other words, the money he handles
represents the fish trust--and many other things. Please don't
misunderstand me. Alaska needs capital for its development. Without it
we will not only cease to progress; we will die. No territory on the
face of the earth offers greater opportunities for capital than Alaska
does today. Ten thousand fortunes are waiting to be made here by men who
have money to invest.
"But John Graham does not represent the type we want. He is a despoiler,
one of those whose only desire is to turn original resource into dollars
as fast as he can, even though those operations make both land and water
barren. You must remember until recently the government of Alaska as
manipulated by Washington politicians was little better than that
against which the American colonies rebelled in 1776. A hard thing for
one to say about the country he loves, isn't it? And John Graham stands
for the worst--he and the money which guarantees his power.
"As a matter of fact, big and legitimate capital is fighting shy of
Alaska. Conditions are such, thanks to red-tapeism and bad politics,
that capital, big and little, looks askance at Alaska and cannot be
interested. Think of it, Miss Standish! There are thirty-eight separate
bureaus at Washington operating on Alaska, five thousand miles away. Is
it a wonder the patient is sick? And is it a wonder that a man like John
Graham, dishonest and corrupt to the soul, has a fertile field to
"But we are progressing. We are slowly coming out from under the shadow
which has so long clouded Alaska's interests. There is now a growing
concentration of authority and responsibility. Both the Department of
the Interior and the Department of Agriculture now realize that Alaska
is a mighty empire in itself, and with their help we are bound to go
ahead in spite of all our handicaps. It is men like John Graham I fear.
Suddenly he caught himself. "There--I'm talking politics, and I should
entertain you with pleasanter and more interesting things," he
apologized. "Shall we go to the lower decks?"
"Or the open air," she suggested. "I am afraid this smoke is upsetting
He could feel the change in her and did not attribute it entirely to the
thickness of the air. Rossland's inexplicable rudeness had disturbed her
more deeply than she had admitted, he believed.
"There are a number of Thlinkit Indians and a tame bear down in what we
should ordinarily call the steerage. Would you like to see them?" he
asked, when they were outside. "The Thlinkit girls are the prettiest
Indian women in the world, and there are two among those below who
are--well--unusually good-looking, the Captain says."
"And he has already made me acquainted with them," she laughed softly.
"Kolo and Haidah are the girls. They are sweet, and I love them. I had
breakfast with them this morning long before you were awake."
"The deuce you say! And that is why you were not at table? And the
"You noticed my absence?" she asked demurely.
"It was difficult for me not to see an empty chair. On second thought, I
think the young engineer called my attention to it by wondering if you
"He is very much interested in you, Miss Standish. It amuses me to see
him torture the corners of his eyes to look at you. I have thought it
would be only charity and good-will to change seats with him."
"In which event, of course, your eyes would not suffer."
"Have they ever suffered?"
"I think not."
"When looking at the Thlinkit girls, for instance?"
"I haven't seen them."
She gave her shoulders a little shrug.
"Ordinarily I would think you most uninteresting, Mr. Holt. As it is I
think you unusual. And I rather like you for it. Would you mind taking
me to my cabin? It is number sixteen, on this deck."
She walked with her fingers touching his arm again. "What is your room?"
"Twenty-seven, Miss Standish."
Not until she had said good night, quietly and without offering him her
hand, did the intimacy of her last questions strike him. He grunted and
lighted a fresh cigar. A number of things occurred to him all at once,
as he slowly made a final round or two of the deck. Then he went to his
cabin and looked over papers which were going ashore at Juneau. These
were memoranda giving an account of his appearance with Carl Lomen
before the Ways and Means Committee at Washington.
It was nearly midnight when he had finished. He wondered if Mary
Standish was asleep. He was a little irritated, and slightly amused, by
the recurring insistency with which his mind turned to her. She was a
clever girl, he admitted. He had asked her nothing about herself, and
she had told him nothing, while he had been quite garrulous. He was a
little ashamed when he recalled how he had unburdened his mind to a girl
who could not possibly be interested in the political affairs of John
Graham and Alaska. Well, it was not entirely his fault. She had fairly
catapulted herself upon him, and he had been decent under the
circumstances, he thought.
He put out his light and stood with his face at the open port-hole. Only
the soft throbbing of the vessel as she made her way slowly through the
last of the Narrows into Frederick Sound came to his ears. The ship, at
last, was asleep. The moon was straight overhead, no longer silhouetting
the mountains, and beyond its misty rim of light the world was dark. Out
of this darkness, rising like a deeper shadow, Alan could make out
faintly the huge mass of Kupreanof Island. And he wondered, knowing the
perils of the Narrows in places scarcely wider than the length of the
ship, why Captain Rifle had chosen this course instead of going around
by Cape Decision. He could feel that the land was more distant now, but
the _Nome_ was still pushing ahead under slow bell, and he could smell
the fresh odor of kelp, and breathe deeply of the scent of forests that
came from both east and west.
Suddenly his ears became attentive to slowly approaching footsteps.
They seemed to hesitate and then advanced; he heard a subdued voice, a
man's voice--and in answer to it a woman's. Instinctively he drew a step
back and stood unseen in the gloom. There was no longer a sound of
voices. In silence they walked past his window, clearly revealed to him
in the moonlight. One of the two was Mary Standish. The man was
Rossland, who had stared at her so boldly in the smoking-room.
Amazement gripped Alan. He switched on his light and made his final
arrangements for bed. He had no inclination to spy upon either Mary
Standish or Graham's agent, but he possessed an inborn hatred of fraud
and humbug, and what he had seen convinced him that Mary Standish knew
more about Rossland than she had allowed him to believe. She had not
lied to him. She had said nothing at all--except to restrain him from
demanding an apology. Evidently she had taken advantage of him, but
beyond that fact her affairs had nothing to do with his own business in
life. Possibly she and Rossland had quarreled, and now they were making
up. Quite probable, he thought. Silly of him to think over the matter
So he put out his light again and went to bed. But he had no great
desire to sleep. It was pleasant to lie there, flat on his back, with
the soothing movement of the ship under him, listening to the musical
thrum of it. And it was pleasant to think of the fact that he was going
home. How infernally long those seven months had been, down in the
States! And how he had missed everyone he had ever known--even
He closed his eyes and visualized the home that was still thousands of
miles away--the endless tundras, the blue and purple foothills of the
Endicott Mountains, and "Alan's Range" at the beginning of them. Spring
was breaking up there, and it was warm on the tundras and the southern
slopes, and the pussy-willow buds were popping out of their coats like
corn from a hopper.
He prayed God the months had been kind to his people--the people of the
range. It was a long time to be away from them, when one loved them as
he did. He was sure that Tautuk and Amuk Toolik, his two chief herdsmen,
would care for things as well as himself. But much could happen in seven
months. Nawadlook, the little beauty of his distant kingdom, was not
looking well when he left. He was worried about her. The pneumonia of
the previous winters had left its mark. And Keok, her rival in
prettiness! He smiled in the darkness, wondering how Tautuk's sometimes
hopeless love affair had progressed. For Keok was a little heart-breaker
and had long reveled in Tautuk's sufferings. An archangel of iniquity,
Alan thought, as he grinned--but worth any man's risk of life, if he had
but a drop of brown blood in him! As for his herds, they had undoubtedly
fared well. Ten thousand head was something to be proud of--
Suddenly he drew in his breath and listened. Someone was at his door
and had paused there. Twice he had heard footsteps outside, but each
time they had passed. He sat up, and the springs of his berth made a
sound under him. He heard movement then, a swift, running movement--and
he switched on his light. A moment later he opened the door. No one was
there. The long corridor was empty. And then--a distance away--he heard
the soft opening and closing of another door.
It was then that his eyes saw a white, crumpled object on the floor. He
picked it up and reentered his room. It was a woman's handkerchief. And
he had seen it before. He had admired the pretty laciness of it that
evening in the smoking-room. Rather curious, he thought, that he should
now find it at his door.
For a few minutes after finding the handkerchief at his door, Alan
experienced a feeling of mingled curiosity and disappointment--also a
certain resentment. The suspicion that he was becoming involved in spite
of himself was not altogether pleasant. The evening, up to a certain
point, had been fairly entertaining. It was true he might have passed a
pleasanter hour recalling old times with Stampede Smith, or discussing
Kadiak bears with the English earl, or striking up an acquaintance with
the unknown graybeard who had voiced an opinion about John Graham. But
he was not regretting lost hours, nor was he holding Mary Standish
accountable for them. It was, last of all, the handkerchief that
momentarily upset him.
Why had she dropped it at his door? It was not a dangerous-looking
affair, to be sure, with its filmy lace edging and ridiculous
diminutiveness. As the question came to him, he was wondering how even
as dainty a nose as that possessed by Mary Standish could be much
comforted by it. But it was pretty. And, like Mary Standish, there was
something exquisitely quiet and perfect about it, like the simplicity of
her hair. He was not analyzing the matter. It was a thought that came to
him almost unconsciously, as he tossed the annoying bit of fabric on
the little table at the head of his berth. Undoubtedly the dropping of
it had been entirely unpremeditated and accidental. At least he told
himself so. And he also assured himself, with an involuntary shrug of
his shoulders, that any woman or girl had the right to pass his door if
she so desired, and that he was an idiot for thinking otherwise. The
argument was only slightly adequate. But Alan was not interested in
mysteries, especially when they had to do with woman--and such an
absurdly inconsequential thing as a handkerchief.
A second time he went to bed. He fell asleep thinking about Keok and
Nawadlook and the people of his range. From somewhere he had been given
the priceless heritage of dreaming pleasantly, and Keok was very real,
with her swift smile and mischievous face, and Nawadlook's big, soft
eyes were brighter than when he had gone away. He saw Tautuk, gloomy as
usual over the heartlessness of Keok. He was beating a tom-tom that gave
out the peculiar sound of bells, and to this Amuk Toolik was dancing the
Bear Dance, while Keok clapped her hands in exaggerated admiration. Even
in his dreams Alan chuckled. He knew what was happening, and that out of
the corners of her laughing eyes Keok was enjoying Tautuk's jealousy.
Tautuk was so stupid he would never understand. That was the funny part
of it. And he beat his drum savagely, scowling so that he almost shut
his eyes, while Keok laughed outright.
It was then that Alan opened his eyes and heard the last of the ship's
bells. It was still dark. He turned on the light and looked at his
watch. Tautuk's drum had tolled eight bells, aboard the ship, and it was
four o'clock in the morning.
Through the open port came the smell of sea and land, and with it a
chill air which Alan drank in deeply as he stretched himself for a few
minutes after awakening. The tang of it was like wine in his blood, and
he got up quietly and dressed while he smoked the stub-end of a cigar he
had laid aside at midnight. Not until he had finished dressing did he
notice the handkerchief on the table. If its presence had suggested a
significance a few hours before, he no longer disturbed himself by
thinking about it. A bit of carelessness on the girl's part, that was
all. He would return it. Mechanically he put the crumpled bit of cambric
in his coat pocket before going on deck.
He had guessed that he would be alone. The promenade was deserted.
Through the ghost-white mist of morning he saw the rows of empty chairs,
and lights burning dully in the wheel-house. Asian monsoon and the
drifting warmth of the Japan current had brought an early spring to the
Alexander Archipelago, and May had stolen much of the flowering softness
of June. But the dawns of these days were chilly and gray. Mists and
fogs settled in the valleys, and like thin smoke rolled down the sides
of the mountains to the sea, so that a ship traveling the inner waters
felt its way like a child creeping in darkness.
Alan loved this idiosyncrasy of the Alaskan coast. The phantom mystery
of it was stimulating, and in the peril of it was a challenging lure. He
could feel the care with which the _Nome_ was picking her way northward.
Her engines were thrumming softly, and her movement was a slow and
cautious glide, catlike and slightly trembling, as if every pound of
steel in her were a living nerve widely alert. He knew Captain Rifle
would not be asleep and that straining eyes were peering into the white
gloom from the wheel-house. Somewhere west of them, hazardously near,
must lie the rocks of Admiralty Island; eastward were the still more
pitiless glacial sandstones and granites of the coast, with that deadly
finger of sea-washed reef between, along the lip of which they must
creep to Juneau. And Juneau could not be far ahead.
He leaned over the rail, puffing at the stub of his cigar. He was eager
for his work. Juneau, Skagway, and Cordova meant nothing to him, except
that they were Alaska. He yearned for the still farther north, the wide
tundras, and the mighty achievement that lay ahead of him there. His
blood sang to the surety of it now, and for that reason he was not sorry
he had spent seven months of loneliness in the States. He had proved
with his own eyes that the day was near when Alaska would come into her
own. Gold! He laughed. Gold had its lure, its romance, its thrill, but
what was all the gold the mountains might possess compared with this
greater thing he was helping to build! It seemed to him the people he
had met in the south had thought only of gold when they learned he was
from Alaska. Always gold--that first, and then ice, snow, endless
nights, desolate barrens, and craggy mountains frowning everlastingly
upon a blasted land in which men fought against odds and only the
fittest survived. It was gold that had been Alaska's doom. When people
thought of it, they visioned nothing beyond the old stampede days, the
Chilkoot, White Horse, Dawson, and Circle City. Romance and glamor and
the tragedies of dead men clung to their ribs. But they were beginning
to believe now. Their eyes were opening. Even the Government was waking
up, after proving there was something besides graft in railroad building
north of Mount St. Elias. Senators and Congressmen at Washington had
listened to him seriously, and especially to Carl Lomen. And the beef
barons, wisest of all, had tried to buy him off and had offered a
fortune for Lomen's forty thousand head of reindeer in the Seward
Peninsula! That was proof of the awakening. Absolute proof.
He lighted a fresh cigar, and his mind shot through the dissolving mist
into the vast land ahead of him. Some Alaskans had cursed Theodore
Roosevelt for putting what they called "the conservation shackles" on
their country. But he, for one, did not. Roosevelt's far-sightedness had
kept the body-snatchers at bay, and because he had foreseen what
money-power and greed would do, Alaska was not entirely stripped today,
but lay ready to serve with all her mighty resources the mother who had
neglected her for a generation. But it was going to be a struggle, this
opening up of a great land. It must be done resourcefully and with
intelligence. Once the bars were down, Roosevelt's shadow-hand could not
hold back such desecrating forces as John Graham and the syndicate he
Thought of Graham was an unpleasant reminder, and his face grew hard in
the sea-mist. Alaskans themselves must fight against the licensed
plunderers. And it would be a hard fight. He had seen the pillaging work
of these financial brigands in a dozen states during the past
winter--states raped of their forests, their lakes and streams robbed
and polluted, their resources hewn down to naked skeletons. He had been
horrified and a little frightened when he looked over the desolation of
Michigan, once the richest timber state in America. What if the
Government at Washington made it possible for such a thing to happen in
Alaska? Politics--and money--were already fighting for just that thing.
He no longer heard the throb of the ship under his feet. It was _his_
fight, and brain and muscle reacted to it almost as if it had been a
physical thing. And his end of that fight he was determined to win, if
it took every year of his life. He, with a few others, would prove to
the world that the millions of acres of treeless tundras of the north
were not the cast-off ends of the earth. They would populate them, and
the so-called "barrens" would thunder to the innumerable hoofs of
reindeer herds as the American plains had never thundered to the beat of
cattle. He was not thinking of the treasure he would find at the end of
this rainbow of success which he visioned. Money, simply as money, he
hated. It was the achievement of the thing that gripped him; the passion
to hew a trail through which his beloved land might come into its own,
and the desire to see it achieve a final triumph by feeding a half of
that America which had laughed at it and kicked it when it was down.
The tolling of the ship's bell roused him from the subconscious struggle
into which he had allowed himself to be drawn. Ordinarily he had no
sympathy with himself when he fell into one of these mental spasms, as
he called them. Without knowing it, he was a little proud of a certain
dispassionate tolerance which he possessed--a philosophical mastery of
his emotions which at times was almost cold-blooded, and which made some
people think he was a thing of stone instead of flesh and blood. His
thrills he kept to himself. And a mildly disturbing sensation passed
through him now, when he found that unconsciously his fingers had twined
themselves about the little handkerchief in his pocket. He drew it out
and made a sudden movement as if to toss it overboard. Then, with a
grunt expressive of the absurdity of the thing, he replaced it in his
pocket and began to walk slowly toward the bow of the ship.
He wondered, as he noted the lifting of the fog, what he would have been
had he possessed a sister like Mary Standish. Or any family at all, for
that matter--even an uncle or two who might have been interested in him.
He remembered his father vividly, his mother a little less so, because
his mother had died when he was six and his father when he was twenty.
It was his father who stood out above everything else, like the
mountains he loved. The father would remain with him always, inspiring
him, urging him, encouraging him to live like a gentleman, fight like a
man, and die at last unafraid. In that fashion the older Alan Holt had
lived and died. But his mother, her face and voice scarcely remembered
in the passing of many years, was more a hallowed memory to him than a
thing of flesh and blood. And there had been no sisters or brothers.
Often he had regretted this lack of brotherhood. But a sister.... He
grunted his disapprobation of the thought. A sister would have meant
enchainment to civilization. Cities, probably. Even the States. And
slavery to a life he detested. He appreciated the immensity of his
freedom. A Mary Standish, even though she were his sister, would be a
catastrophe. He could not conceive of her, or any other woman like her,
living with Keok and Nawadlook and the rest of his people in the heart
of the tundras. And the tundras would always be his home, because his
heart was there.
He had passed round the wheel-house and came suddenly upon an odd figure
crumpled in a chair. It was Stampede Smith. In the clearer light that
came with the dissolution of the sea-mist Alan saw that he was not
asleep. He paused, unseen by the other. Stampede stretched himself,
groaned, and stood up. He was a little man, and his fiercely bristling
red whiskers, wet with dew, were luxuriant enough for a giant. His head
of tawny hair, bristling like his whiskers, added to the piratical
effect of him above the neck, but below that part of his anatomy there
was little to strike fear into the hearts of humanity. Some people
smiled when they looked at him. Others, not knowing their man, laughed
outright. Whiskers could be funny. And they were undoubtedly funny on
Stampede Smith. But Alan neither smiled nor laughed, for in his heart
was something very near to the missing love of brotherhood for this
little man who had written his name across so many pages of
This morning, as Alan saw him, Stampede Smith was no longer the swiftest
gunman between White Horse and Dawson City. He was a pathetic reminder
of the old days when, single-handed, he had run down Soapy Smith and his
gang--days when the going of Stampede Smith to new fields meant a
stampede behind him, and when his name was mentioned in the same breath
with those of George Carmack, and Alex McDonald, and Jerome Chute, and
a hundred men like Curley Monroe and Joe Barret set their compasses by
his. To Alan there was tragedy in his aloneness as he stood in the gray
of the morning. Twenty times a millionaire, he knew that Stampede Smith
was broke again.
"Good morning," he said so unexpectedly that the little man jerked
himself round like the lash of a whip, a trick of the old gun days. "Why
so much loneliness, Stampede?"
Stampede grinned wryly. He had humorous, blue eyes, buried like an
Airedale's under brows which bristled even more fiercely than his
whiskers. "I'm thinkin'," said he, "what a fool thing is money. Good
He nodded and chuckled, and continued to chuckle in the face of the
lifting fog, and Alan saw the old humor which had always been Stampede's
last asset when in trouble. He drew nearer and stood beside him, so that
their shoulders touched as they leaned over the rail.
"Alan," said Stampede, "it ain't often I have a big thought, but I've
been having one all night. Ain't forgot Bonanza, have you?"
Alan shook his head. "As long as there is an Alaska, we won't forget
"I took a million out of it, next to Carmack's Discovery--an' went
busted afterward, didn't I?"
Alan nodded without speaking.
"But that wasn't a circumstance to Gold Run Creek, over the Divide,"
Stampede continued ruminatively. "Ain't forgot old Aleck McDonald, the
Scotchman, have you, Alan? In the 'wash' of Ninety-eight we took up
seventy sacks to bring our gold back in and we lacked thirty of doin'
the job. Nine hundred thousand dollars in a single clean-up, and that
was only the beginning. Well, I went busted again. And old Aleck went
busted later on. But he had a pretty wife left. A girl from Seattle. I
had to grub-stake."
He was silent for a moment, caressing his damp whiskers, as he noted the
first rose-flush of the sun breaking through the mist between them and
the unseen mountain tops.
"Five times after that I made strikes and went busted," he said a little
proudly. "And I'm busted again!"
"I know it," sympathized Alan.
"They took every cent away from me down in Seattle an' Frisco," chuckled
Stampede, rubbing his hands together cheerfully, "an' then bought me a
ticket to Nome. Mighty fine of them, don't you think? Couldn't have been
more decent. I knew that fellow Kopf had a heart. That's why I trusted
him with my money. It wasn't his fault he lost it."
"Of course not," agreed Alan.
"And I'm sort of sorry I shot him up for it. I am, for a fact."
"You killed him?"
"Not quite. I clipped one ear off as a reminder, down in Chink
Holleran's place. Mighty sorry. Didn't think then how decent it was of
him to buy me a ticket to Nome. I just let go in the heat of the moment.
He did me a favor in cleanin' me, Alan. He did, so help me! You don't
realize how free an' easy an' beautiful everything is until
Smiling, his odd face almost boyish behind its ambush of hair, he saw
the grim look in Alan's eyes and about his jaws. He caught hold of the
other's arm and shook it.
"Alan, I mean it!" he declared. "That's why I think money is a fool
thing. It ain't _spendin'_ money that makes me happy. It's _findin'_
it--the gold in the mountains--that makes the blood run fast through my
gizzard. After I've found it, I can't find any use for it in particular.
I want to go broke. If I didn't, I'd get lazy and fat, an' some
newfangled doctor would operate on me, and I'd die. They're doing a lot
of that operatin' down in Frisco, Alan. One day I had a pain, and they
wanted to cut out something from inside me. Think what can happen to a
man when he's got money!"
"You mean all that, Stampede?"
"On my life, I do. I'm just aching for the open skies, Alan. The
mountains. And the yellow stuff that's going to be my playmate till I
die. Somebody'll grub-stake me in Nome."
"They won't," said Alan suddenly. "Not if I can help it. Stampede, I
want you. I want you with me up under the Endicott Mountains. I've got
ten thousand reindeer up there. It's No Man's Land, and we can do as we
please in it. I'm not after gold. I want another sort of thing. But I've
fancied the Endicott ranges are full of that yellow playmate of yours.
It's a new country. You've never seen it. God only knows what you may
find. Will you come?"
The humorous twinkle had gone out of Stampede's eyes. He was staring at
"Will I _come?_ Alan, will a cub nurse its mother? Try me. Ask me. Say
it all over ag'in."
The two men gripped hands. Smiling, Alan nodded to the east. The last of
the fog was clearing swiftly. The tips of the cragged Alaskan ranges
rose up against the blue of a cloudless sky, and the morning sun was
flashing in rose and gold at their snowy peaks. Stampede also nodded.
Speech was unnecessary. They both understood, and the thrill of the life
they loved passed from one to the other in the grip of their hands.
Breakfast hour was half over when Alan went into the dining-room. There
were only two empty chairs at his table. One was his own. The other
belonged to Mary Standish. There was something almost aggressively
suggestive in their simultaneous vacancy, it struck him at first. He
nodded as he sat down, a flash of amusement in his eyes when he observed
the look in the young engineer's face. It was both envious and accusing,
and yet Alan was sure the young man was unconscious of betraying an
emotion. The fact lent to the eating of his grapefruit an accompaniment
of pleasing and amusing thought. He recalled the young man's name. It
was Tucker. He was a clean-faced, athletic, likable-looking chap. And an
idiot would have guessed the truth, Alan told himself. The young
engineer was more than casually interested in Mary Standish; he was in
love. It was not a discovery which Alan made. It was a decision, and as
soon as possible he would remedy the unfortunate omission of a general
introduction at their table by bringing the two together. Such an
introduction would undoubtedly relieve him of a certain responsibility
which had persisted in attaching itself to him.
So he tried to think. But in spite of his resolution he could not get
the empty chair opposite him out of his mind. It refused to be
obliterated, and when other chairs became vacant as their owners left
the table, this one straight across from him continued to thrust itself
upon him. Until this morning it had been like other empty chairs. Now it
was persistently annoying, inasmuch as he had no desire to be so
constantly reminded of last night, and the twelve o'clock tryst of Mary
Standish with Graham's agent, Rossland.
He was the last at the table. Tucker, remaining until his final hope of
seeing Mary Standish was gone, rose with two others. The first two had
made their exit through the door leading from the dining salon when the
young engineer paused. Alan, watching him, saw a sudden change in his
face. In a moment it was explained. Mary Standish came in. She passed
Tucker without appearing to notice him, and gave Alan a cool little nod
as she seated herself at the table. She was very pale. He could see
nothing of the flush of color that had been in her cheeks last night. As
she bowed her head a little, arranging her dress, a pool of sunlight
played in her hair, and Alan was staring at it when she raised her eyes.
They were coolly beautiful, very direct, and without embarrassment.
Something inside him challenged their loveliness. It seemed
inconceivable that such eyes could play a part in fraud and deception,
yet he was in possession of quite conclusive proof of it. If they had
lowered themselves an instant, if they had in any way betrayed a shadow
of regret, he would have found an apology. Instead of that, his fingers
touched the handkerchief in his pocket.
"Did you sleep well, Miss Standish?" he asked politely.
"Not at all," she replied, so frankly that his conviction was a bit
unsettled. "I tried to powder away the dark rings under my eyes, but I
am afraid I have failed. Is that why you ask?"
He was holding the handkerchief in his hand. "This is the first morning
I have seen you at breakfast. I accepted it for granted you must have
slept well. Is this yours, Miss Standish?"
He watched her face as she took the crumpled bit of cambric from his
fingers. In a moment she was smiling. The smile was not forced. It was
the quick response to a feminine instinct of pleasure, and he was
disappointed not to catch in her face a betrayal of embarrassment.
"It is my handkerchief, Mr. Holt. Where did you find it?"
"In front of my cabin door a little after midnight."
He was almost brutal in the definiteness of detail. He expected some
kind of result. But there was none, except that the smile remained on
her lips a moment longer, and there was a laughing flash back in the
clear depths of her eyes. Her level glance was as innocent as a child's
and as he looked at her, he thought of a child--a most beautiful
child--and so utterly did he feel the discomfiture of his mental
analysis of her that he rose to his feet with a frigid bow.
"I thank you, Mr. Holt," she said. "You can imagine my sense of
obligation when I tell you I have only three handkerchiefs aboard the
ship with me. And this is my favorite."
She busied herself with the breakfast card, and as Alan left, he heard
her give the waiter an order for fruit and cereal. His blood was hot,
but the flush of it did not show in his face. He felt the uncomfortable
sensation of her eyes following him as he stalked through the door. He
did not look back. Something was wrong with him, and he knew it. This
chit of a girl with her smooth hair and clear eyes had thrown a grain of
dust into the satisfactory mechanism of his normal self, and the grind
of it was upsetting certain specific formulae which made up his life. He
was a fool. He lighted a cigar and called himself names.
Someone brushed against him, jarring the hand that held the burning
match. He looked up. It was Rossland. The man had a mere twist of a
smile on his lips. In his eyes was a coolly appraising look as
"Beg pardon." The words were condescending, carelessly flung at him over
Rossland's shoulder. He might as well have said, "I'm sorry, Boy, but
you must keep out of my way."
Alan smiled back and returned the nod. Once, in a spirit of sauciness,
Keok had told him his eyes were like purring cats when he was in a humor
to kill. They were like that now as they flashed their smile at
Rossland. The sneering twist left Rossland's lips as he entered the
A rather obvious prearrangement between Mary Standish and John Graham's
agent, Alan thought. There were not half a dozen people left at the
tables, and the scheme was that Rossland should be served tete-a-tete
with Miss Standish, of course. That, apparently, was why she had greeted
him with such cool civility. Her anxiety for him to leave the table
before Rossland appeared upon the scene was evident, now that he
understood the situation.
He puffed at his cigar. Rossland's interference had spoiled a perfect
lighting of it, and he struck another match. This time he was
successful, and he was about to extinguish the burning end when he
hesitated and held it until the fire touched his flesh. Mary Standish
was coming through the door. Amazed by the suddenness of her appearance,
he made no movement except to drop the match. Her eyes were flaming, and
two vivid spots burned in her cheeks. She saw him and gave the slightest
inclination to her head as she passed. When she had gone, he could not
resist looking into the salon. As he expected, Rossland was seated in a
chair next to the one she had occupied, and was calmly engaged in
looking over the breakfast card.
All this was rather interesting, Alan conceded, if one liked puzzles.
Personally he had no desire to become an answerer of conundrums, and he
was a little ashamed of the curiosity that had urged him to look in upon
Rossland. At the same time he was mildly elated at the freezing
reception which Miss Standish had evidently given to the dislikable
individual who had jostled him in passing.
He went on deck. The sun was pouring in an iridescent splendor over the
snowy peaks of the mountains, and it seemed as if he could almost reach
out his arms and touch them. The _Nome_ appeared to be drifting in the
heart of a paradise of mountains. Eastward, very near, was the mainland;
so close on the other hand that he could hear the shout of a man was
Douglas Island, and ahead, reaching out like a silver-blue ribbon was
Gastineau Channel. The mining towns of Treadwell and Douglas were
Someone nudged him, and he found Stampede Smith at his side.
"That's Bill Treadwell's place," he said. "Once the richest gold mines
in Alaska. They're flooded now. I knew Bill when he was worrying about
the price of a pair of boots. Had to buy a second-hand pair an' patched
'em himself. Then he struck it lucky, got four hundred dollars
somewhere, and bought some claims over there from a man named French
Pete. They called it Glory Hole. An' there was a time when there were
nine hundred stamps at work. Take a look, Alan. It's worth it."
Somehow Stampede's voice and information lacked appeal. The decks were
crowded with passengers as the ship picked her way into Juneau, and Alan
wandered among them with a gathering sense of disillusionment pressing
upon him. He knew that he was looking with more than casual interest for
Mary Standish, and he was glad when Stampede bumped into an old
acquaintance and permitted him to be alone. He was not pleased with the
discovery, and yet he was compelled to acknowledge the truth of it. The
grain of dust had become more than annoying. It did not wear away, as he
had supposed it would, but was becoming an obsessive factor in his
thoughts. And the half-desire it built up in him, while aggravatingly
persistent, was less disturbing than before. The little drama in the
dining-room had had its effect upon him in spite of himself. He liked
fighters. And Mary Standish, intensely feminine in her quiet prettiness,
had shown her mettle in those few moments when he had seen her flashing
eyes and blazing cheeks after leaving Rossland. He began to look for
Rossland, too. He was in a humor to meet him.
Not until Juneau hung before him in all its picturesque beauty,
literally terraced against the green sweep of Mount Juneau, did he go
down to the lower deck. The few passengers ready to leave the ship
gathered near the gangway with their luggage. Alan was about to pass
them when he suddenly stopped. A short distance from him, where he could
see every person who disembarked, stood Rossland. There was something
grimly unpleasant in his attitude as he fumbled his watch-fob and eyed
the stair from above. His watchfulness sent an unexpected thrill through
Alan. Like a shot his mind jumped to a conclusion. He stepped to
Rossland's side and touched his arm.
"Watching for Miss Standish?" he asked.
"I am." There was no evasion in Rossland's words. They possessed the
hard and definite quality of one who had an incontestable authority
"And if she goes ashore?"
"I am going too. Is it any affair of yours, Mr. Holt? Has she asked you
to discuss the matter with me? If so--"
"No, Miss Standish hasn't done that."
"Then please attend to your own business. If you haven't enough to take
up your time, I'll lend you some books. I have several in my cabin."
Without waiting for an answer Rossland coolly moved away. Alan did not
follow. There was nothing for him to resent, nothing for him to
imprecate but his own folly. Rossland's words were not an insult. They
were truth. He had deliberately intruded in an affair which was
undoubtedly of a highly private nature. Possibly it was a domestic
tangle. He shuddered. A sense of humiliation swept over him, and he was
glad that Rossland did not even look back at him. He tried to whistle as
he climbed back to the main-deck; Rossland, even though he detested the
man, had set him right. And he would lend him books, if he wanted to be
amused! Egad, but the fellow had turned the trick nicely. And it was
something to be remembered. He stiffened his shoulders and found old
Donald Hardwick and Stampede Smith. He did not leave them until the
_Nome_ had landed her passengers and freight and was churning her way
out of Gastineau Channel toward Skagway. Then he went to the
smoking-room and remained there until luncheon hour.
Today Mary Standish was ahead of him at the table. She was seated with
her back toward him as he entered, so she did not see him as he came up
behind her, so near that his coat brushed her chair. He looked across at
her and smiled as he seated himself. She returned the smile, but it
seemed to him an apologetic little effort. She did not look well, and
her presence at the table struck him as being a brave front to hide
something from someone. Casually he looked over his left shoulder.
Rossland was there, in his seat at the opposite side of the room.
Indirect as his glance had been, Alan saw the girl understood the
significance of it. She bowed her head a little, and her long lashes
shaded her eyes for a moment. He wondered why he always looked at her
hair first. It had a peculiarly pleasing effect on him. He had been
observant enough to know that she had rearranged it since breakfast, and
the smooth coils twisted in mysterious intricacy at the crown of her
head were like softly glowing velvet. The ridiculous thought came to
him that he would like to see them tumbling down about her. They must be
even more beautiful when freed from their bondage.
The pallor of her face was unusual. Possibly it was the way the light
fell upon her through the window. But when she looked across at him
again, he caught for an instant the tiniest quiver about her mouth. He
began telling her something about Skagway, quite carelessly, as if he
had seen nothing which she might want to conceal. The light in her eyes
changed, and it was almost a glow of gratitude he caught in them. He had
broken a tension, relieved her of some unaccountable strain she was
under. He noticed that her ordering of food was merely a pretense. She
scarcely touched it, and yet he was sure no other person at the table
had discovered the insincerity of her effort, not even Tucker, the
enamored engineer. It was likely Tucker placed a delicate halo about her
lack of appetite, accepting daintiness of that sort as an
Only Alan, sitting opposite her, guessed the truth. She was making a
splendid effort, but he felt that every nerve in her body was at the
breaking-point. When she arose from her seat, he thrust back his own
chair. At the same time he saw Rossland get up and advance rather
hurriedly from the opposite side of the room. The girl passed through
the door first, Rossland followed a dozen steps behind, and Alan came
last, almost shoulder to shoulder with Tucker. It was amusing in a way,
yet beyond the humor of it was something that drew a grim line about the
corners of his mouth.
At the foot of the luxuriously carpeted stair leading from the dining
salon to the main deck Miss Standish suddenly stopped and turned upon
Rossland. For only an instant her eyes were leveled at him. Then they
flashed past him, and with a swift movement she came toward Alan. A
flush had leaped into her cheeks, but there was no excitement in her
voice when she spoke. Yet it was distinct, and clearly heard
"I understand we are approaching Skagway, Mr. Holt," she said. "Will you
take me on deck, and tell me about it?"
Graham's agent had paused at the foot of the stair and was slowly
preparing to light a cigarette. Recalling his humiliation of a few hours
before at Juneau, when the other had very clearly proved him a meddler,
words refused to form quickly on Alan's lips. Before he was ready with
an answer Mary Standish had confidently taken his arm. He could see the
red flush deepening in her upturned face. She was amazingly unexpected,
bewilderingly pretty, and as cool as ice except for the softly glowing
fire in her cheeks. He saw Rossland staring with his cigarette half
poised. It was instinctive for him to smile in the face of danger, and
he smiled now, without speaking. The girl laughed softly. She gave his
arm a gentle tug, and he found himself moving past Rossland, amazed but
obedient, her eyes looking at him in a way that sent a gentle thrill
At the head of the wide stair she whispered, with her lips close to his
shoulder: "You are splendid! I thank you, Mr. Holt."
Her words, along with the decisive relaxing of her hand upon his arm,
were like a dash of cold water in his face. Rossland could no longer see
them, unless he had followed. The girl had played her part, and a second
time he had accepted the role of a slow-witted fool. But the thought did
not anger him. There was a remarkable element of humor about it for him,
viewing himself in the matter, and Mary Standish heard him chuckling as
they came out on deck.
Her fingers tightened resentfully upon his arm. "It isn't funny," she
reproved. "It is tragic to be bored by a man like that."
He knew she was politely lying to anticipate the question he might ask,
and he wondered what would happen if he embarrassed her by letting her
know he had seen her alone with Rossland at midnight. He looked down at
her, and she met his scrutiny unflinchingly. She even smiled at him, and
her eyes, he thought, were the loveliest liars he had ever looked into.
He felt the stir of an unusual sentiment--a sort of pride in her, and he
made up his mind to say nothing about Rossland. He was still absurdly
convinced that he had not the smallest interest in affairs which were
not entirely his own. Mary Standish evidently believed he was blind,
and he would make no effort to spoil her illusion. Such a course would
undoubtedly be most satisfactory in the end.
Even now she seemed to have forgotten the incident at the foot of the
stair. A softer light was in her eyes when they came to the bow of the
ship, and Alan fancied he heard a strange little cry on her lips as she
looked about her upon the paradise of Taiya Inlet. Straight ahead, like
a lilac ribbon, ran the narrow waterway to Skagway's door, while on both
sides rose high mountains, covered with green forests to the snowy
crests that gleamed like white blankets near the clouds. In this melting
season there came to them above the slow throb of the ship's engines the
liquid music of innumerable cascades, and from a mountain that seemed to
float almost directly over their heads fell a stream of water a sheer
thousand feet to the sea, smoking and twisting in the sunshine like a
living thing at play. And then a miracle happened which even Alan
wondered at, for the ship seemed to stand still and the mountain to
swing slowly, as if some unseen and mighty force were opening a guarded
door, and green foothills with glistening white cottages floated into
the picture, and Skagway, heart of romance, monument to brave men and
thrilling deeds, drifted out slowly from its hiding-place. Alan turned
to speak, but what he saw in the girl's face held him silent. Her lips
were parted, and she was staring as if an unexpected thing had risen
before her eyes, something that bewildered her and even startled her.
And then, as if speaking to herself and not to Alan Holt, she said in a
tense whisper: "I have seen this place before. It was a long time ago.
Maybe it was a hundred years or a thousand. But I have been here. I have
lived under that mountain with the waterfall creeping down it--"
A tremor ran through her, and she remembered Alan. She looked up at him,
and he was puzzled. A weirdly beautiful mystery lay in her eyes.
"I must go ashore here," she said. "I didn't know I would find it so
With her hand touching his arm she turned. He was looking at her and saw
the strange light fade swiftly out of her eyes. Following her glance he
saw Rossland standing half a dozen paces behind them.
In another moment Mary Standish was facing the sea, and again her hand
was resting confidently in the crook of Alan's arm. "Did you ever feel
like killing a man, Mr. Holt?" she asked with an icy little laugh.
"Yes," he answered rather unexpectedly. "And some day, if the right
opportunity comes, I am going to kill a certain man--the man who
murdered my father."
She gave a little gasp of horror. "Your father--was--murdered--"
"Indirectly--yes. It wasn't done with knife or gun, Miss Standish. Money
was the weapon. Somebody's money. And John Graham was the man who
struck the blow. Some day, if there is justice, I shall kill him. And
right now, if you will allow me to demand an explanation of this man
"_No_." Her hand tightened on his arm. Then, slowly, she drew it away.
"I don't want you to ask an explanation of him," she said. "If he should
make it, you would hate me. Tell me about Skagway, Mr. Holt. That will
Not until early twilight came with the deep shadows of the western
mountains, and the _Nome_ was churning slowly back through the narrow
water-trails to the open Pacific, did the significance of that afternoon
fully impress itself upon Alan. For hours he had surrendered himself to
an impulse which he could not understand, and which in ordinary moments
he would not have excused. He had taken Mary Standish ashore. For two
hours she had walked at his side, asking him questions and listening to
him as no other had ever questioned him or listened to him before. He
had shown her Skagway. Between the mountains he pictured the wind-racked
canon where Skagway grew from one tent to hundreds in a day, from
hundreds to thousands in a week; he visioned for her the old days of
romance, adventure, and death; he told her of Soapy Smith and his gang
of outlaws, and side by side they stood over Soapy's sunken grave as the
first somber shadows of the mountains grew upon them.
But among it all, and through it all, she had asked him about _himself_.
And he had responded. Until now he did not realize how much he had
confided in her. It seemed to him that the very soul of this slim and
beautiful girl who had walked at his side had urged him on to the
indiscretion of personal confidence. He had seemed to feel her heart
beating with his own as he described his beloved land under the Endicott
Mountains, with its vast tundras, his herds, and his people. There, he
had told her, a new world was in the making, and the glow in her eyes
and the thrilling something in her voice had urged him on until he
forgot that Rossland was waiting at the ship's gangway to see when they
returned. He had built up for her his castles in the air, and the
miracle of it was that she had helped him to build them. He had
described for her the change that was creeping slowly over Alaska, the
replacement of mountain trails by stage and automobile highways, the
building of railroads, the growth of cities where tents had stood a few
years before. It was then, when he had pictured progress and
civilization and the breaking down of nature's last barriers before
science and invention, that he had seen a cloud of doubt in her
And now, as they stood on the deck of the _Nome_ looking at the white
peaks of the mountains dissolving into the lavender mist of twilight,
doubt and perplexity were still deeper in her eyes, and she said:
"I would always love tents and old trails and nature's barriers. I envy
Belinda Mulrooney, whom you told me about this afternoon. I hate cities
and railroads and automobiles, and all that goes with them, and I am
sorry to see those things come to Alaska. And I, too, hate this
Her words startled him.
"And I want you to tell me what he is doing--with his money--now." Her
voice was cold, and one little hand, he noticed, was clenched at the
edge of the rail.
"He has stripped Alaskan waters of fish resources which will never be
replaced, Miss Standish. But that is not all. I believe I state the case
well within fact when I say he has killed many women and little children
by robbing the inland waters of the food supplies upon which the natives
have subsisted for centuries. I know. I have seen them die."
It seemed to him that she swayed against him for an instant.
"And that--is all?"
He laughed grimly. "Possibly some people would think it enough, Miss
Standish. But the tentacles of his power are reaching everywhere in
Alaska. His agents swarm throughout the territory, and Soapy Smith was a
gentleman outlaw compared with these men and their master. If men like
John Graham are allowed to have their way, in ten years greed and graft
will despoil what two hundred years of Rooseveltian conservation would
not be able to replace."
She raised her head, and in the dusk her pale face looked up at the
ghost-peaks of the mountains still visible through the thickening gloom
of evening. "I am glad you told me about Belinda Mulrooney," she said.
"I am beginning to understand, and it gives me courage to think of a
woman like her. She could fight, couldn't she? She could make a
"Yes, and did make it."
"And she had no money to give her power. Her last dollar, you told me,
she flung into the Yukon for luck."
"Yes, at Dawson. It was the one thing between her and hunger."
She raised her hand, and on it he saw gleaming faintly the single ring
which she wore. Slowly she drew it from her finger.
"Then this, too, for luck--the luck of Mary Standish," she laughed
softly, and flung the ring into the sea.
She faced him, as if expecting the necessity of defending what she had
done. "It isn't melodrama," she said. "I mean it. And I believe in it. I
want something of mine to lie at the bottom of the sea in this gateway
to Skagway, just as Belinda Mulrooney wanted her dollar to rest forever
at the bottom of the Yukon."
She gave him the hand from which she had taken the ring, and for a
moment the warm thrill of it lay in his own. "Thank you for the
wonderful afternoon you have given me, Mr. Holt. I shall never forget
it. It is dinner time. I must say good night."
He followed her slim figure with his eyes until she disappeared. In
returning to his cabin he almost bumped into Rossland. The incident was
irritating. Neither of the men spoke or nodded, but Rossland met Alan's
look squarely, his face rock-like in its repression of emotion. Alan's
impression of the man was changing in spite of his prejudice. There was
a growing something about him which commanded attention, a certainty of
poise which could not be mistaken for sham. A scoundrel he might be, but
a cool brain was at work inside his head--a brain not easily disturbed
by unimportant things, he decided. He disliked the man. As an agent of
John Graham Alan looked upon him as an enemy, and as an acquaintance of
Mary Standish he was as much of a mystery as the girl herself. And only
now, in his cabin, was Alan beginning to sense the presence of a real
authority behind Rossland's attitude.
He was not curious. All his life he had lived too near the raw edge of
practical things to dissipate in gossipy conjecture. He cared nothing
about the relationship between Mary Standish and Rossland except as it
involved himself, and the situation had become a trifle too delicate to
please him. He could see no sport in an adventure of the kind it
suggested, and the possibility that he had been misjudged by both
Rossland and Mary Standish sent a flush of anger into his cheeks. He
cared nothing for Rossland, except that he would like to wipe him out of
existence with all other Graham agents. And he persisted in the
conviction that he thought of the girl only in a most casual sort of
way. He had made no effort to discover her history. He had not
questioned her. At no time had he intimated a desire to intrude upon her
personal affairs, and at no time had she offered information about
herself, or an explanation of the singular espionage which Rossland had
presumed to take upon himself. He grimaced as he reflected how
dangerously near that hazard he had been--and he admired her for the
splendid judgment she had shown in the matter. She had saved him the
possible alternative of apologizing to Rossland or throwing him
There was a certain bellicose twist to his mind as he went down to the
dining salon, an obstinate determination to hold himself aloof from any
increasing intimacy with Mary Standish. No matter how pleasing his
experience had been, he resented the idea of being commandeered at
unexpected moments. Had Mary Standish read his thoughts, her bearing
toward him during the dinner hour could not have been more satisfying.
There was, in a way, something seductively provocative about it. She
greeted him with the slightest inclination of her head and a cool little
smile. Her attitude did not invite spoken words, either from him or from
his neighbors, yet no one would have accused her of deliberate reserve.
Her demure unapproachableness was a growing revelation to him, and he
found himself interested in spite of the new law of self-preservation he
had set down for himself. He could not keep his eyes from stealing
glimpses at her hair when her head was bowed a little. She had smoothed
it tonight until it was like softest velvet, with rich glints in it, and
the amazing thought came to him that it would be sweetly pleasant to
touch with one's hand. The discovery was almost a shock. Keok and
Nawadlook had beautiful hair, but he had never thought of it in this
way. And he had never thought of Keok's pretty mouth as he was thinking
of the girl's opposite him. He shifted uneasily and was glad Mary
Standish did not look at him in these moments of mental unbalance.
When he left the table, the girl scarcely noticed his going. It was as
if she had used him and then calmly shuttled him out of the way. He
tried to laugh as he hunted up Stampede Smith. He found him, half an
hour later, feeding a captive bear on the lower deck. It was odd, he
thought, that a captive bear should be going north. Stampede explained.
The animal was a pet and belonged to the Thlinkit Indians. There were
seven, getting off at Cordova. Alan observed that the two girls watched
him closely and whispered together. They were very pretty, with large,
dark eyes and pink in their cheeks. One of the men did not look at him
at all, but sat cross-legged on the deck, with his face turned away.
With Stampede he went to the smoking-room, and until a late hour they
discussed the big range up under the Endicott Mountains, and Alan's
plans for the future. Once, early in the evening, Alan went to his cabin
to get maps and photographs. Stampede's eyes glistened as his mind
seized upon the possibilities of the new adventure. It was a vast land.
An unknown country. And Alan was its first pioneer. The old thrill ran
in Stampede's blood, and its infectiousness caught Alan, so that he
forgot Mary Standish, and all else but the miles that lay between them
and the mighty tundras beyond the Seward Peninsula. It was midnight when
Alan went to his cabin.
He was happy. Love of life swept in an irresistible surge through his
body, and he breathed in deeply of the soft sea air that came in through
his open port from the west. In Stampede Smith he had at last found the
comradeship which he had missed, and the responsive note to the wild and
half-savage desires always smoldering in his heart. He looked out at the
stars and smiled up at them, and his soul was filled with an unspoken
thankfulness that he was not born too late. Another generation and there
would be no last frontier. Twenty-five years more and the world would
lie utterly in the shackles of science and invention and what the human
race called progress.
So God had been good to him. He was helping to write the last page in
that history which would go down through the eons of time, written in
the red blood of men who had cut the first trails into the unknown.
After him, there would be no more frontiers. No more mysteries of
unknown lands to solve. No more pioneering hazards to make. The earth
would be tamed. And suddenly he thought of Mary Standish and of what
she had said to him in the dusk of evening. Strange that it had been
_her_ thought, too--that she would always love tents and old trails and
nature's barriers, and hated to see cities and railroads and automobiles
come to Alaska. He shrugged his shoulders. Probably she had guessed what
was in his own mind, for she was clever, very clever.
A tap at his door drew his eyes from the open watch in his hand. It was
a quarter after twelve o'clock, an unusual hour for someone to be
tapping at his door.
It was repeated--a bit hesitatingly, he thought. Then it came again,
quick and decisive. Replacing his watch in his pocket, he opened
It was Mary Standish who stood facing him.
He saw only her eyes at first, wide-open, strange, frightened eyes. And
then he saw the pallor of her face as she came slowly in, without
waiting for him to speak or give her permission to enter. And it was
Mary Standish herself who closed the door, while he stared at her in
stupid wonderment--and stood there with her back against it, straight
and slim and deathly pale.
"May I come in?" she asked.
"My God, you're in!" gasped Alan. "_You're in_."
That it was past midnight, and Mary Standish had deliberately come to
his room, entering it and closing the door without a word or a nod of
invitation from him, seemed incredible to Alan. After his first
explosion of astonishment he stood mute, while the girl looked at him
steadily and her breath came a little quickly. But she was not excited.
Even in his amazement he could see that. What he had thought was fright
had gone out of her eyes. But he had never seen her so white, and never
had she appeared quite so slim and childish-looking as while she stood
there in these astounding moments with her back against the door.
The pallor of her face accentuated the rich darkness of her hair. Even
her lips were pale. But she was not embarrassed. Her eyes were clear and
unafraid now, and in the poise of her head and body was a sureness of
purpose that staggered him. A feeling of anger, almost of personal
resentment, began to possess him as he waited for her to speak. This, at
last, was the cost of his courtesies to her, The advantage she was
taking of him was an indignity and an outrage, and his mind flashed to
the suspicion that Rossland was standing just outside the door.
In another moment he would have brushed her aside and opened it, but her
quiet face held him. The tenseness was fading out of it. He saw her lips
tremble, and then a miracle happened. In her wide-open, beautiful eyes
tears were gathering. Even then she did not lower her glance or bury her
face in her hands, but looked at him bravely while the tear-drops
glistened like diamonds on her cheeks. He felt his heart give way. She
read his thoughts, had guessed his suspicion, and he was wrong.
"You--you will have a seat, Miss Standish?" he asked lamely, inclining
his head toward the cabin chair.
"No. Please let me stand." She drew in a deep breath. "It is late, Mr.
"Rather an irregular hour for a visit such as this," he assured her.
"Half an hour after midnight, to be exact. It must be very important
business that has urged you to make such a hazard aboard ship, Miss
For a moment she did not answer him, and he saw the little heart-throb
in her white throat.
"Would Belinda Mulrooney have considered this a very great hazard, Mr.
Holt? In a matter of life and death, do you not think she would have
come to your cabin at midnight--even aboard ship? And it is that with
me--a matter of life and death. Less than an hour ago I came to that
decision. I could not wait until morning. I had to see you tonight."
"And why me?" he asked. "Why not Rossland, or Captain Rifle, or some
other? Is it because--"