Part 3 out of 5
"You can't," he said. "But I don't think you went through a window. I
believe you fell over a cliff and were caught in an armful of wait-a-bit
bushes. They're devilish those wait-a-bits!"
They shook hands.
"I'm ready to blow up with curiosity again," said Blackton. "But I'll play
your game, Aldous."
A few minutes later Joanne and Peggy Blackton joined them. He saw again the
quick flush of pleasure in Joanne's lovely face when she entered the room.
It changed instantly when she saw the livid cuts in his skin. She came to
him quickly, and gave him her hand. Her lips trembled, but she did not
speak. Blackton accepted this as the psychological moment.
"What do you think of a man who'll wander off a trail, tumble over a ledge,
and get mixed up in a bunch of wait-a-bit like _that?_" he demanded,
laughing as though he thought it a mighty good joke on Aldous. "Wait-a-bit
thorns are worse than razors, Miss Gray," he elucidated further.
"They're--they're perfectly devilish, you know!"
"Indeed they _are_," emphasized Peggy Blackton, whom her husband had given
a quick look and a quicker nudge, "They're dreadful!"
Looking straight into Joanne's eyes, Aldous guessed that she did not
believe, and scarcely heard, the Blacktons.
"I had a presentiment something was going to happen," she said, smiling at
him. "I'm glad it was no worse than that."
She withdrew her hand, and turned to Peggy Blackton. To John's delight she
had arranged her wonderful shining hair in a braid that rippled in a thick,
sinuous rope of brown and gold below her hips. Peggy Blackton had in some
way found a riding outfit for her slender figure, a typical mountain
outfit, with short divided skirt, loose blouse, and leggings. She had never
looked more beautiful to him. Her night's rest had restored the colour to
her soft cheeks and curved lips; and in her eyes, when she looked at him
again, there was a strange, glowing light that thrilled him. During the
next half-hour he almost forgot his telltale disfigurements. At breakfast
Paul and Peggy Blackton were beautifully oblivious of them. Once or twice
he saw in Joanne's clear eyes a look which made him suspect that she had
guessed very near to the truth.
MacDonald was prompt to the minute. Gray day, with its bars of golden tint,
was just creeping over the shoulders of the eastern mountains when he rode
up to the Blacktons'. The old hunter was standing close to the horse which
Joanne was to ride when Aldous brought her out. Joanne gave him her hand,
and for a moment MacDonald bowed his shaggy head over it. Five minutes
later they were trailing up the rough wagon-road, MacDonald in the lead,
and Joanne and Aldous behind, with the single pack horse between.
For several miles this wagon-trail reached back through the thick timber
that filled the bottom between the two ranges of mountains. They had
travelled but a short distance when Joanne drew her horse close in beside
"I want to know what happened last night," she said. "Will you tell me?"
Aldous met her eyes frankly. He had made up his mind that she would believe
only the truth, and he had decided to tell her at least a part of that. He
would lay his whole misadventure to the gold. Leaning over the pommel of
his saddle he recounted the occurrences of the night before, beginning with
his search for Quade and the half-breed, and his experience with the woman
who rode the bear. He left out nothing--except all mention of herself. He
described the events lightly, not omitting those parts which appealed to
him as being very near to comedy.
In spite of his effort to rob the affair of its serious aspect his recital
had a decided effect upon Joanne. For some time after he had finished one
of her small gloved hands clutched tightly at the pommel of her saddle; her
breath came more quickly; the colour had ebbed from her cheeks, and she
looked straight ahead, keeping her eyes from meeting his. He began to
believe that in some way she was convinced he had not told her the whole
truth, and was possibly displeased, when she again turned her face to him.
It was tense and white. In it was the fear which, for a few minutes, she
had tried to keep from him.
"They would have killed you?" she breathed.
"Perhaps they would only have given me a good scare," said Aldous. "But I
didn't have time to wait and find out. I was very anxious to see MacDonald
again. So I went through the window!"
"No, they would have killed you," said Joanne. "Perhaps I did wrong, Mr.
Aldous, but I confided--a little--in Peggy Blackton last night. She seemed
like a sister. I love her. And I wanted to confide in some one--a woman,
like her. It wasn't much, but I told her what happened at Miette: about
you, and Quade, and how I saw him at the station, and again--later,
following us. And then--she told me! Perhaps she didn't know how it was
frightening me, but she told me all about these men--Quade and Culver Rann.
And now I'm more afraid of Culver Rann than Quade, and I've never seen him.
They can't hurt me. But I'm afraid for you!"
At her words a joy that was like the heat of a fire leaped into his brain.
"For me?" he said. "Afraid--for me?"
"Yes. Why shouldn't I be, if I know that you are in danger?" she asked
quietly. "And now, since last night, and the discovery of your secret by
these men, I am terrified. Quade has followed you here. Mrs. Blackton told
me that Culver Rann was many times more dangerous than Quade. Only a little
while ago you told me you did not care for riches. Then why do you go for
this gold? Why do you run the risk? Why----"
He waited. The colour was flooding back into her face in an excited,
feverish flush. Her blue eyes were dark as thunder-clouds in their
"Don't you understand?" she went on. "It was because of me that you
incurred this deadly enmity of Quade's. If anything happens to you, I shall
hold myself responsible!"
"No, you will not be responsible," replied Aldous, steadying the tremble in
his voice. "Besides, nothing is going to happen. But you don't know how
happy you have made me by taking this sort of an interest in me. It--it
feels good," he laughed.
For a few paces he dropped behind her, where the overhead spruce boughs
left but the space for a single rider between. Then, again, he drew up
close beside her.
"I was going to tell you about this gold," he said. "It isn't the gold
we're going after."
He leaned over until his hand rested on her saddle-bow.
"Look ahead," he went on, a curious softness in his voice. "Look at
The first shattered rays of the sun were breaking over the mountains and
reflecting their glow in the valley. Donald MacDonald had lifted his face
to the sunrise; out from under his battered hat the morning breeze sweeping
through the valley of the Frazer tossed his shaggy hair; his great owl-gray
beard swept his breast; his broad, gaunt shoulders were hunched a little
forward as he looked into the east. Again Aldous looked into Joanne's eyes.
"It's not the gold, but MacDonald, that's taking me north, Ladygray. And
it's not the gold that is taking MacDonald. It is strange, almost
unbelievedly strange--what I am going to tell you. To-day we are seeking a
grave--for you. And up there, two hundred miles in the north, another grave
is calling MacDonald. I am going with him. It just happens that the gold is
there. You wouldn't guess that for more than forty years that blessed old
wanderer ahead of us has loved a dead woman, would you? You wouldn't think
that for nearly half a century, year in and year out, winter and summer
alike, he has tramped the northern mountains--a lost spirit with but one
desire in life--to find at last her resting-place? And yet it is so,
Ladygray. I guess I am the only living creature to whom he has opened his
heart in many a long year. A hundred times beside our campfire I have
listened to him, until at last his story seems almost to be a part of my
own. He may be a little mad, but it is a beautiful madness."
"Yes," whispered Joanne. "Go on--John Aldous."
"It's--hard to tell," he continued. "I can't put the feeling of it in
words, the spirit of it, the wonder of it. I've tried to write it, and I
couldn't. Her name was Jane. He has never spoken of her by any other name
than that, and I've never asked for the rest of it. They were kids when
their two families started West over the big prairies in Conestoga wagons.
They grew up sweethearts. Both of her parents, and his mother, died before
they were married. Then, a little later, his father died, and they were
alone. I can imagine what their love must have been. I have seen it still
living in his eyes, and I have seen it in his strange hour-long dreams
after he has talked of her. They were always together. He has told me how
they roamed the mountains hand in hand in their hunts; how she was comrade
and chum when he went prospecting. He has opened his lonely old heart to
me--a great deal. He's told me how they used to be alone for months at a
time in the mountains, the things they used to do, and how she would sing
for him beside their campfire at night. 'She had a voice sweet as an
angel,' I remember he told me once. Then, more than forty years ago, came
the gold-rush away up in the Stikine River country. They went. They joined
a little party of twelve--ten men and two women. This party wandered far
out of the beaten paths of the other gold-seekers. And at last they found
Ahead of them Donald MacDonald had turned in his saddle and was looking
back. For a moment Aldous ceased speaking.
"Please--go on!" said Joanne.
"They found gold," repeated Aldous. "They found so much of it, Ladygray,
that some of them went mad--mad as beasts. It was placer gold--loose gold,
and MacDonald says that one day he and Jane filled their pockets with
nuggets. Then something happened. A great storm came; a storm that filled
the mountains with snow through which no living creature as heavy as a man
or a horse could make its way. It came a month earlier than they had
expected, and from the beginning they were doomed. Their supplies were
"I can't tell you the horrors of the weeks and months that followed, as old
Donald has told them to me, Joanne. You must imagine. Only, when you are
deep in the mountains, and the snow comes, you are like a rat in a trap. So
they were caught--eleven men and three women. They who could make their
beds in sheets of yellow gold, but who had no food. The horses were lost in
the storm. Two of their frozen carcasses were found and used for food. Two
of the men set out on snowshoes, leaving their gold behind, and probably
"Then the first terrible thing happened. Two men quarrelled over a can of
beans, and one was killed. He was the husband of one of the women. The next
terrible thing happened to her--and there was a fight. On one side there
were young Donald and the husband of the other woman; on the other
side--the beasts. The husband was killed, and Donald and Jane sought refuge
in the log cabin they had built. That night they fled, taking what little
food they possessed, and what blankets they could carry. They knew they
were facing death. But they went together, hand in hand.
"At last Donald found a great cave in the side of a mountain. I have a
picture of that cave in my brain--a deep, warm cave, with a floor of soft
white sand, a cave into which the two exhausted fugitives stumbled, still
hand in hand, and which was home. But they found it a little too late.
Three days later Jane died. And there is another picture in my brain--a
picture of young Donald sitting there in the cave, clasping in his arms the
cold form of the one creature in the world that he loved; moaning and
sobbing over her, calling upon her to come back to life, to open her eyes,
to speak to him--until at last his brain cracked and he went mad. That is
what happened. He went mad."
Joanne's breath was coming brokenly through her lips. Unconsciously she had
clasped her fingers about the hand Aldous rested on her pommel.
"How long he remained in the cave with his dead, MacDonald has never been
able to say," he resumed.
"He doesn't know whether he buried his wife or left her lying on the sand
floor of the cave. He doesn't know how he got out of the mountains. But he
did, and his mind came back. And since then, Joanne--for a matter of forty
years--his life has been spent in trying to find that cave. All those years
his search was unavailing. He could find no trace of the little hidden
valley in which the treasure-seekers found their bonanza of gold. No word
of it ever came out of the mountains; no other prospector ever stumbled
upon it. Year after year Donald went into the North; year after year he
came out as the winter set in, but he never gave up hope.
"Then he began spending winter as well as summer in that forgotten
world--forgotten because the early gold-rush was over, and the old
Telegraph trail was travelled more by wolves than men. And always, Donald
has told me, his beloved Jane's spirit was with him in his wanderings over
the mountains, her hand leading him, her voice whispering to him in the
loneliness of the long nights. Think of it, Joanne! Forty years of that!
Forty years of a strange, beautiful madness, forty years of undying love,
of faith, of seeking and never finding! And this spring old Donald came
almost to the end of his quest. He knows, now; he knows where that little
treasure valley is hidden in the mountains, he knows where to find the
"He found her--he found her?" she cried. "After all those years--he found
"Almost," said Aldous softly. "But the great finale in the tragedy of
Donald MacDonald's life is yet to come, Ladygray. It will come when once
more he stands in the soft white sand of that cavern floor, and sometimes
I tremble when I think that when that moment comes I will be at his side.
To me it will be terrible. To him it will be--what? That hour has not quite
arrived. It happened this way: Old Donald was coming down from the North on
the early slush snows this spring when he came to a shack in which a man
was almost dead of the smallpox. It was DeBar, the half-breed.
"Fearlessly MacDonald nursed him. He says it was God who sent him to that
shack. For DeBar, in his feverish ravings, revealed the fact that he had
stumbled upon that little Valley of Gold for which MacDonald had searched
through forty years. Old Donald knew it was the same valley, for the
half-breed raved of dead men, of rotting buckskin sacks of yellow nuggets,
of crumbling log shacks, and of other things the memories of which stabbed
like knives into Donald's heart. How he fought to save that man! And, at
last, he succeeded.
"They continued south, planning to outfit and go back for the gold. They
would have gone back at once, but they had no food and no horses. Foot by
foot, in the weeks that followed, DeBar described the way to the hidden
valley, until at last MacDonald knew that he could go to it as straight as
an eagle to its nest. When they reached Tete Jaune he came to me. And I
promised to go with him, Ladygray--back to the Valley of Gold. He calls it
that; but I--I think of it as The Valley of Silent Men. It is not the gold,
but the cavern with the soft white floor that is calling us."
In her saddle Joanne had straightened. Her head was thrown back, her lips
were parted, and her eyes shone as the eyes of a Joan of Arc must have
shone when she stood that day before the Hosts.
"And this man, the half-breed, has sold himself--for a woman?" she said,
looking straight ahead at the bent shoulders of old MacDonald.
"Yes, for a woman. Do you ask me why I go now? Why I shall fight, if
fighting there must be?"
She turned to him. Her face was a blaze of glory.
"No, no, no!" she cried. "Oh, John Aldous! if I were only a man, that I
might go with you and stand with you two in that Holy Sepulchre--the
Cavern----If I were a man, I'd go--and, yes, I would fight!"
And Donald MacDonald, looking back, saw the two clasping hands across the
trail. A moment later he turned his horse from the broad road into a narrow
trail that led over the range.
From the hour in which she had listened to the story of old MacDonald a
change seemed to have come over Joanne. It was as if she had risen out of
herself, out of whatever fear or grief she might have possessed in her own
heart. John Aldous knew that there was some deep significance in her visit
to the grave under the Saw Tooth Mountain, and that from the beginning she
had been fighting under a tremendous mental and physical strain. He had
expected this day would be a terrible day for her; he had seen her efforts
to strengthen herself for the approaching crisis that morning. He believed
that as they drew nearer to their journey's end her suspense and
uneasiness, the fear which she was trying to keep from him, would, in spite
of her, become more and more evident. For these reasons the change which he
saw in her was not only delightfully unexpected but deeply puzzling. She
seemed to be under the influence of some new and absorbing excitement. Her
cheeks were flushed. There was a different poise to her head; in her voice,
too, there was a note which he had not noticed before.
It struck him, all at once, that this was a new Joanne--a Joanne who, at
least for a brief spell, had broken the bondage of oppression and fear that
had fettered her. In the narrow trail up the mountain he rode behind her,
and in this he found a pleasure even greater than when he rode at her
side. Only when her face was turned from him did he dare surrender himself
at all to the emotions which had transformed his soul. From behind he could
look at her, and worship without fear of discovery. Every movement of her
slender, graceful body gave him a new and exquisite thrill; every dancing
light and every darkening shadow in her shimmering hair added to the joy
that no fear or apprehension could overwhelm within him now. Only in those
wonderful moments, when her presence was so near, and yet her eyes did not
see him, could he submerge himself completely in the thought of what she
had become to him and of what she meant to him.
During the first hour of their climb over the break that led into the
valley beyond they had but little opportunity for conversation. The trail
was an abandoned Indian path, narrow, and in places extremely steep. Twice
Aldous helped Joanne from her horse that she might travel afoot over places
which he considered dangerous. When he assisted her in the saddle again,
after a stiff ascent of a hundred yards, she was panting from her exertion,
and he felt the sweet thrill of her breath in his face. For a space his
happiness obliterated all thoughts of other things. It was MacDonald who
brought them back.
They had reached the summit of the break, and through his long brass
telescope the old mountaineer was scanning the valley out of which they had
come. Under them lay Tete Jaune, gleaming in the morning sun, and it dawned
suddenly upon Aldous that this was the spot from which MacDonald had spied
upon his enemies. He looked at Joanne. She was breathing quickly as she
looked upon the wonder of the scene below them. Suddenly she turned, and
encountered his eyes.
"They might--follow?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"No danger of that," he assured her.
MacDonald had dismounted, and now he lay crouched behind a rock, with his
telescope resting over the top of it. He had leaned his long rifle against
the boulder; his huge forty-four, a relic of the old Indian days, hung at
his hip. Joanne saw these omens of preparedness, and her eyes shifted again
to Aldous. His .303 swung from his saddle. At his waist was the heavy
automatic. She smiled. In her eyes was understanding, and something like a
challenge. She did not question him again, but under her gaze Aldous
A moment later MacDonald closed his telescope and without a word mounted
his horse. Where the descent into the second valley began he paused again.
To the north through the haze of the morning sun gleamed the snow-capped
peaks of the Saw Tooth Range. Apparently not more than an hour's ride
distant rose a huge red sandstone giant which seemed to shut in the end of
the valley MacDonald stretched forth a long arm in its direction.
"What we're seekin' is behind that mountain," he said. "It's ten miles from
here." He turned to the girl. "Are you gettin' lame, Mis' Joanne?"
Aldous saw her lips tighten.
"No. Let us go on, please."
She was staring fixedly at the sombre red mass of the mountain. Her eyes
did not take in the magnificent sweep of the valley below. They saw
nothing of the snow-capped peaks beyond. There was something wild and
unnatural in their steady gaze. Aldous dropped behind her as they began the
gradual descent from the crest of the break and his own heart began to beat
more apprehensively; the old question flashed back upon him, and he felt
again the oppression that once before had held him in its grip. His eyes
did not leave Joanne. And always she was staring at the mountain behind
which lay the thing they were seeking! It was not Joanne herself that set
his blood throbbing. Her face had not paled. Its colour was like the hectic
flush of a fever. Her eyes alone betrayed her; their strange intensity--the
almost painful steadiness with which they hung to the distant mountain, and
a dread of what was to come seized upon him. Again he found himself asking
himself questions which he could not answer. Why had Joanne not confided
more fully in him? What was the deeper significance of this visit to the
grave, and of her mission in the mountains?
Down the narrow Indian trail they passed into the thick spruce timber. Half
an hour later they came out into the grassy creek bottom of the valley.
During that time Joanne did not look behind her, and John Aldous did not
speak. MacDonald turned north, and the sandstone mountain was straight
ahead of them. It was not like the other mountains. There was something
sinister and sullen about it. It was ugly and broken. No vegetation grew
upon it, and through the haze of sunlight its barren sides and battlemented
crags gleamed a dark and humid red after the morning mists, as if freshly
stained with blood. Aldous guessed its effect upon Joanne, and he
determined to put an end to it. Again he rode up close beside her.
"I want you to get better acquainted with old Donald," he said. "We're sort
of leaving him out in the cold, Ladygray. Do you mind if I tell him to come
back and ride with you for a while?"
"I've been wanting to talk with him," she replied. "If you don't mind----"
"I don't," he broke in quickly. "You'll love old Donald, Ladygray. And, if
you can, I'd like to have you tell him all that you know about--Jane. Let
him know that I told you."
She nodded. Her lips trembled in a smile.
"I will," she said.
A moment later Aldous was telling MacDonald that Joanne wanted him. The old
mountaineer stared. He drew his pipe from his mouth, beat out its
half-burned contents, and thrust it into its accustomed pocket.
"She wants to see me?" he asked. "God bless her soul--what for?"
"Because she thinks you're lonesome up here alone, Mac. And look
here"--Aldous leaned over to MacDonald--"her nerves are ready to snap. I
know it. There's a mighty good reason why I can't relieve the strain she is
under. But you can. She's thinking every minute of that mountain up there
and the grave behind it. You go back, and talk. Tell her about the first
time you ever came up through these valleys--you and Jane. Will you, Mac?
Will you tell her that?"
MacDonald did not reply, but he dropped behind. Aldous took up the lead. A
few minutes later he looked back, and laughed softly under his breath.
Joanne and the old hunter were riding side by side in the creek bottom, and
Joanne was talking. He looked at his watch. He did not look at it again
until the first gaunt, red shoulder of the sandstone mountain began to loom
over them. An hour had passed since he left Joanne. Ahead of him, perhaps a
mile distant, was the cragged spur beyond which--according to the sketch
Keller had drawn for him at the engineers' camp--was the rough canyon
leading back to the basin on the far side of the mountain. He had almost
reached this when MacDonald rode up.
"You go back, Johnny," he said, a singular softness in his hollow voice.
"We're a'most there."
He cast his eyes over the western peaks, where dark clouds were shouldering
their way up in the face of the sun, and added:
"There's rain in that. I'll trot on ahead with Pinto and have a tent ready
when you come. I reckon it can't be more'n a mile up the canyon."
"And the grave, Mac?"
"Is right close to where I'll pitch the tent," said MacDonald, swinging
suddenly behind the pack-horse Pinto, and urging him into a trot. "Don't
waste any time, Johnny."
Aldous rode back to Joanne.
"It looks like rain," he explained. "These Pacific showers come up quickly
this side of the Divide, and they drench you in a jiffy. Donald is going on
ahead to put up a tent."
By the time they reached the mouth of the canyon MacDonald was out of
sight. A little creek that was a swollen torrent in spring time trickled
out of the gorge. Its channel was choked with a chaotic confusion of
sandstone rock and broken slate, and up through this Aldous carefully
picked his way, followed closely by Joanne. The sky continued to darken
above them, until at last the sun died out, and a thick and almost palpable
gloom began to envelop them. Low thunder rolled through the mountains in
sullen, rumbling echoes. He looked back at Joanne, and was amazed to see
her eyes shining, and a smile on her lips as she nodded at him.
"It makes me think of Henrik Hudson and his ten-pin players," she called
softly. "And ahead of us--is Rip Van Winkle!"
The first big drops were beginning to fall when they came to an open place.
The gorge swung to the right; on their left the rocks gave place to a
rolling meadow of buffalo grass, and Aldous knew they had reached the
basin. A hundred yards up the slope was a fringe of timber, and as he
looked he saw smoke rising out of this. The sound of MacDonald's axe came
to them. He turned to Joanne, and he saw that she understood. They were at
their journey's end. Perhaps her fingers gripped her rein a little more
tightly. Perhaps it was imagination that made him think there was a slight
tremble in her voice when she said:
"This--is the place?"
"Yes. It should be just above the timber. I believe I can see the upper
break of the little box canyon Keller told me about."
She rode without speaking until they entered the timber. They were just in
time. As he lifted her down from her horse the clouds opened, and the rain
fell in a deluge. Her hair was wet when he got her in the tent. MacDonald
had spread out a number of blankets, but he had disappeared. Joanne sank
down upon them with a little shiver. She looked up at Aldous. It was almost
dark in the tent, and her eyes were glowing strangely. Over them the
thunder crashed deafeningly. For a few minutes it was a continual roar,
shaking the mountains with mighty reverberations that were like the
explosions of giant guns. Aldous stood holding the untied flap against the
beat of the rain. Twice he saw Joanne's lips form words. At last he heard
"Where is Donald?"
He tied the flap, and dropped down on the edge of the blankets before he
"Probably out in the open watching the lightning, and letting the rain
drench him," he said. "I've never known old Donald to come in out of a
rain, unless it was cold. He was tying up the horses when I ran in here
He believed she was shivering, yet he knew she was not cold. In the half
gloom of the tent he wanted to reach over and take her hand.
For a few minutes longer there was no break in the steady downpour and the
crashing of the thunder. Then, as suddenly as the storm had broken, it
began to subside. Aldous rose and flung back the tent-flap.
"It is almost over," he said. "You had better remain in the tent a little
longer, Ladygray. I will go out and see if MacDonald has succeeded in
Joanne did not answer, and Aldous stepped outside. He knew where to find
the old hunter. He had gone up to the end of the timber, and probably this
minute was in the little box canyon searching for the grave. It was a
matter of less than a hundred yards to the upper fringe of timber, and when
Aldous came out of this he stood on the summit of the grassy divide that
separated the tiny lake Keller had described from the canyon. It was less
than a rifle shot distant, and on the farther side of it MacDonald was
already returning. Aldous hurried down to meet him. He did not speak when
they met, but his companion answered the question in his eyes, while the
water dripped in streams from his drenched hair and beard.
"It's there," he said, pointing back. "Just behind that big black rock.
There's a slab over it, an' you've got the name right. It's Mortimer
Above them the clouds were splitting asunder. A shaft of sunlight broke
through, and as they stood looking over the little lake the shaft
broadened, and the sun swept in golden triumph over the mountains.
MacDonald beat his limp hat against his knee, and with his other hand
drained the water from his beard.
"What you goin' to do?" he asked.
Aldous turned toward the timber. Joanne herself answered the question. She
was coming up the slope. In a few moments she stood beside them. First she
looked down upon the lake. Then her eyes turned to Aldous. There was no
need for speech. He held out his hand, and without hesitation she gave him
her own. MacDonald understood. He walked down ahead of them toward the
black rock. When he came to the rock he paused. Aldous and Joanne passed
him. Then they, too, stopped, and Aldous freed the girl's hand.
With an unexpectedness that was startling they had come upon the grave. Yet
not a sound escaped Joanne's lips. Aldous could not see that she was
breathing. Less than ten paces from them was the mound, protected by its
cairn of stones; and over the stones rose a weather-stained slab in the
form of a cross. One glance at the grave and Aldous riveted his eyes upon
Joanne. For a full minute she stood as motionless as though the last breath
had left her body. Then, slowly, she advanced. He could not see her face.
He followed, quietly, step by step as she moved. For another minute she
leaned over the slab, making out the fine-seared letters of the name. Her
body was bent forward; her two hands were clenched tightly at her side.
Even more slowly than she had advanced she turned toward Aldous and
MacDonald. Her face was dead white. She lifted her hands to her breast, and
clenched them there.
"It is his name," she said, and there was something repressed and terrible
in her low voice. "It is his name!"
She was looking straight into the eyes of John Aldous, and he saw that she
was fighting to say something which she had not spoken. Suddenly she came
to him, and her two hands caught his arm.
"It is terrible--what I am going to ask of you," she struggled. "You will
think I am a ghoul. But I must have proof! I must--I must!"
She was staring wildly at him, and all at once there leapt fiercely through
him a dawning of the truth. The name was there, seared by hot iron in that
slab of wood. The name! But under the cairn of stones----
Behind them MacDonald had heard. He towered beside them now. His great
mountain-twisted hands drew Joanne a step back, and strange gentleness was
in his voice as he said:
"You an' Johnny go back an' build a fire, Mis' Joanne. I'll find the
"Come," said Aldous, and he held out his hand again.
MacDonald hurried on ahead of them. When they reached the camp he was gone,
so that Joanne did not see the pick and shovel which he carried back. She
went into the tent and Aldous began building a fire where MacDonald's had
been drowned out. There was little reason for a fire; but he built it, and
for fifteen minutes added pitch-heavy fagots of storm-killed jack-pine and
spruce to it, until the flames leapt a dozen feet into the air. Half a
dozen times he was impelled to return to the grave and assist MacDonald in
his gruesome task. But he knew that MacDonald had meant that he should stay
with Joanne. If he returned, she might follow.
He was surprised at the quickness with which MacDonald performed his work.
Not more than half an hour had passed when a low whistle drew his eyes to a
clump of dwarf spruce back in the timber. The mountaineer was standing
there, holding something in his hand. With a backward glance to see that
Joanne had not come from the tent, Aldous hastened to him. What he could
see of MacDonald's face was the lifeless colour of gray ash. His eyes
stared as if he had suffered a strange and unexpected shock. He went to
speak, but no words came through his beard. In his hand he held his faded
red neck-handkerchief. He gave it to Aldous.
"It wasn't deep," he said. "It was shallow, turribly shallow, Johnny--just
under the stone!"
His voice was husky and unnatural.
There was something heavy in the handkerchief, and a shudder passed through
Aldous as he placed it on the palm of his hand and unveiled its contents.
He could not repress an exclamation when he saw what MacDonald had brought.
In his hand, with a single thickness of the wet handkerchief between the
objects and his flesh, lay a watch and a ring. The watch was of gold. It
was tarnished, but he could see there were initials, which he could not
make out, engraved on the back of the case. The ring, too, was of gold. It
was one of the most gruesome ornaments Aldous had ever seen. It was in the
form of a coiled and writhing serpent, wide enough to cover half of one's
middle finger between the joints. Again the eyes of the two men met, and
again Aldous observed that strange, stunned look in the old hunter's face.
He turned and walked back toward the tent, MacDonald following him slowly,
still staring, his long gaunt arms and hands hanging limply at his side.
Joanne heard them, and came out of the tent. A choking cry fell from her
lips when she saw MacDonald. For a moment one of her hands clutched at the
wet canvas of the tent, and then she swayed forward, knowing what John
Aldous had in his hand. He stood voiceless while she looked. In that tense
half-minute when she stared at the objects he held it seemed to him that
her heart-strings must snap under the strain. Then she drew back from
them, her eyes filled with horror, her hands raised as if to shut out the
sight of them, and a panting, sobbing cry broke from between her pallid
"Oh, my God!" she breathed. "Take them away--take them away!"
She staggered back to the tent, and stood there with her hands covering her
face. Aldous turned to the old hunter and gave him the things he held.
A moment later he stood alone where the three had been, staring now as
Joanne had stared, his heart beating wildly.
For Joanne, in entering the tent, had uncovered her face; it was not grief
that he saw there, but the soul of a woman new-born. And as his own soul
responded in a wild rejoicing, MacDonald, going over the summit and down
into the hollow, mumbled in his beard:
"God ha' mercy on me! I'm doin' it for her an' Johnny, an' because she's
like my Jane!"
Plunged from one extreme of mental strain to another excitement that was as
acute in its opposite effect, John Aldous stood and stared at the tent-flap
that had dropped behind Joanne. Only a flash he had caught of her face; but
in that flash he had seen the living, quivering joyousness of freedom
blazing where a moment before there had been only horror and fear. As if
ashamed of her own betrayal, Joanne had darted into the tent. She had
answered his question a thousand times more effectively than if she had
remained to tell him with her lips that MacDonald's proofs were
sufficient--that the grave in the little box canyon had not disappointed
her. She had recognized the ring and the watch; from them she had shrank in
horror, as if fearing that the golden serpent might suddenly leap into life
In spite of the mightiest efforts she might have made for self-control
Aldous had seen in her tense and tortured face a look that was more than
either dread or shock--it was abhorrence, hatred. And his last glimpse of
her face had revealed those things gone, and in their place the strange joy
she had run into the tent to hide. That she should rejoice over the dead,
or that the grim relics from the grave should bring that new dawn into her
face and eyes, did not strike him as shocking. In Joanne his sun had
already begun to rise and set. He had come to understand that for her the
grave must hold its dead; that the fact of death, death under the slab that
bore Mortimer FitzHugh's name, meant life for her, just as it meant life
and all things for him. He had prayed for it, even while he dreaded that it
might not be. In him all things were now submerged in the wild thought that
Joanne was free, and the grave had been the key to her freedom.
A calmness began to possess him that was in singular contrast to the
perturbed condition of his mind a few minutes before. From this hour Joanne
was his to fight for, to win if he could; and, knowing this, his soul rose
in triumph above his first physical exultation, and he fought back the
almost irresistible impulse to follow her into the tent and tell her what
this day had meant for him. Following this came swiftly a realization of
what it had meant for her--the suspense, the terrific strain, the final
shock and gruesome horror of it. He was sure, without seeing, that she was
huddled down on the blankets in the tent. She had passed through an ordeal
under which a strong man might have broken, and the picture he had of her
struggle in there alone turned him from the tent filled with a
determination to make her believe that the events of the morning, both with
him and MacDonald, were easily forgotten.
He began to whistle as he threw back the wet canvas from over the camp
outfit that had been taken from Pinto's back. In one of the two cow-hide
panniers he saw that thoughtful old Donald had packed materials for their
dinner, as well as utensils necessary for its preparation. That dinner they
would have in the valley, well beyond the red mountain. He began to repack,
whistling cheerily. He was still whistling when MacDonald returned. He
broke off sharply when he saw the other's face.
"What's the matter, Mac?" he asked. "You sick?"
"It weren't pleasant, Johnny."
Aldous nodded toward the tent.
"It was--beastly," he whispered. "But we can't let her feel that way about
it, Mac. Cheer up--and let's get out of this place. We'll have dinner
somewhere over in the valley."
They continued packing until only the tent remained to be placed on Pinto's
back. Aldous resumed his loud whistling as he tightened up the
saddle-girths, and killed time in half a dozen other ways. A quarter of an
hour passed. Still Joanne did not appear. Aldous scratched his head
dubiously, and looked at the tent.
"I don't want to disturb her, Mac," he said in a low voice. "Let's keep up
the bluff of being busy. We can put out the fire."
Ten minutes later, sweating and considerably smokegrimed, Aldous again
looked toward the tent.
"We might cut down a few trees," suggested MacDonald.
"Or play leap-frog," added Aldous.
"The trees'd sound more natcherel," said MacDonald. "We could tell her----"
A stick snapped behind them. Both turned at the same instant. Joanne stood
facing them not ten feet away.
"Great Scott!" gasped Aldous. "Joanne, I thought you were in the tent!"
The beautiful calmness in Joanne's face amazed him. He stared at her as he
spoke, forgetting altogether the manner in which he had intended to greet
her when she came from the tent.
"I went out the back way--lifted the canvas and crawled under just like a
boy," she explained. "And I've walked until my feet are wet."
"And the fire is out!"
"I don't mind wet feet," she hurried to assure him.
Old Donald was already at work pulling the tent-pegs. Joanne came close to
Aldous, and he saw again that deep and wonderful light in her eyes. This
time he knew that she meant he should see it, and words which he had
determined not to speak fell softly from his lips.
"You are no longer afraid, Ladygray? That which you dreaded----"
"Is dead," she said. "And you, John Aldous? Without knowing, seeing me only
as you have seen me, do you think that I am terrible?"
"No, could not think that."
Her hand touched his arm.
"Will you go out there with me, in the sunlight, where we can look down
upon the little lake?" she asked. "Until to-day I had made up my mind that
no one but myself would ever know the truth. But you have been good to me,
and I must tell you--about myself--about him."
He found no answer. He left no word with MacDonald. Until they stood on the
grassy knoll, with the lakelet shimmering in the sunlight below them,
Joanne herself did not speak again. Then, with a little gesture, she said:
"Perhaps you think what is down there is dreadful to me. It isn't. I shall
always remember that little lake, almost as Donald remembers the
cavern--not because it watches over something I love, but because it guards
a thing that in life would have destroyed me! I know how you must feel,
John Aldous--that deep down in your heart you must wonder at a woman who
can rejoice in the death of another human creature. Yet death, and death
alone, has been the key from bondage of millions of souls that have lived
before mine; and there are men--men, too--whose lives have been warped and
destroyed because death did not come to save them. One was my father. If
death had come for him, if it had taken my mother, that down there would
never have happened--for me!"
She spoke the terrible words so quietly, so calmly, that it was impossible
for him entirely to conceal their effect upon him. There was a bit of
pathos in her smile.
"My mother drove my father mad," she went on, with a simple directness that
was the most wonderful thing he had ever heard come from human lips. "The
world did not know that he was mad. It called him eccentric. But he was
mad--in just one way. I was nine years old when it happened, and I can
remember our home most vividly. It was a beautiful home. And my father!
Need I tell you that I worshipped him--that to me he was king of all men?
And as deeply as I loved him, so, in another way, he worshipped my mother.
She was beautiful. In a curious sort of way I used to wonder, as a child,
how it was possible for a woman to be so beautiful. It was a dark beauty--a
recurrence of French strain in her English blood.
"One day I overheard my father tell her that, if she died, he would kill
himself. He was not of the passionate, over-sentimental kind; he was a
philosopher, a scientist, calm and self-contained--and I remembered those
words later, when I had outgrown childhood, as one of a hundred proofs of
how devoutly he had loved her. It was more than love, I believe. It was
adoration. I was nine, I say, when things happened. Another man, a divorce,
and on the day of the divorce this woman, my mother, married her lover.
Somewhere in my father's brain a single thread snapped, and from that day
he was mad--mad on but one subject; and so deep and intense was his madness
that it became a part of me as the years passed, and to-day I, too, am
possessed of that madness. And it is the one greatest thing in the world
that I am proud of, John Aldous!"
Not once had her voice betrayed excitement or emotion. Not once had it
risen above its normal tone; and in her eyes, as they turned from the lake
to him, there was the tranquillity of a child.
"And that madness," she resumed, "was the madness of a man whose brain and
soul were overwrought in one colossal hatred--a hatred of divorce and the
laws that made it possible. It was born in him in a day, and it lived until
his death. It turned him from the paths of men, and we became wanderers
upon the face of the earth. Two years after the ruin of our home my mother
and the man she had married died in a ship that was lost at sea. This had
no effect upon my father. Possibly you will not understand what grew up
between us in the years and years that followed. To the end he was a
scientist, a man seeking after the unknown, and my education came to be a
composite of teachings gathered in all parts of the world. We were never
apart. We were more than father and daughter; we were friends,
comrades--he was my world, and I was his.
"I recall, as I became older, how his hatred of that thing that had broken
our home developed more and more strongly in me. His mind was titanic. A
thousand times I pleaded with him to employ it in the great fight I wanted
him to make--a fight against the crime divorce. I know, now, why he did
not. He was thinking of me. Only one thing he asked of me. It was more than
a request. It was a command. And this command, and my promise, was that so
long as I lived--no matter what might happen in my life--I would sacrifice
myself body and soul sooner than allow that black monster of divorce to
fasten its clutches on me. It is futile for me to tell you these things,
John Aldous. It is impossible--you cannot understand!"
"I can," he replied, scarcely above a whisper. "Joanne, I begin--to
And still without emotion, her voice as calm as the unruffled lake at their
feet, she continued:
"It grew in me. It is a part of me now. I hate divorce as I hate the worst
sin that bars one from Heaven. It is the one thing I hate. And it is
because of this hatred that I suffered myself to remain the wife of the man
whose name is over that grave down there--Mortimer FitzHugh. It came about
strangely--what I am going to tell you now. You will wonder. You will think
I was insane. But remember, John Aldous--the world had come to hold but one
friend and comrade for me, and he was my father. It was after Mindano. He
caught the fever, and he was dying."
For the first time her breath choked her. It was only for an instant. She
recovered herself, and went on:
"Out of the world my father had left he had kept one friend--Richard
FitzHugh; and this man, with his son, was with us during those terrible
days of fever. I met Mortimer as I had met a thousand other men. His
father, I thought, was the soul of honour, and I accepted the son as such.
We were much together during those two weeks of my despair, and he seemed
to be attentive and kind. Then came the end. My father was dying. And I--I
was ready to die. In his last moments his one thought was of me. He knew I
was alone, and the fear of it terrified him. I believe he did not realize
then what he was asking of me. He pleaded with me to marry the son of his
old friend before he died. And I--John Aldous, I could not fight his last
wish as he lay dying before my eyes. We were married there at his bedside.
He joined our hands. And the words he whispered to me last of all were:
'Remember--Joanne--thy promise and thine honour!'"
For a moment Joanne stood facing the little lake, and when she spoke again
there was a note of thankfulness, of subdued joy and triumph, in her voice.
"Before that day had ended I had displeased Mortimer FitzHugh," she said,
and Aldous saw the fingers of her hands close tightly. "I told him that
until a month had passed I would not live with him as a wife lives with her
husband. And he was displeased. And my father was not yet buried! I was
shocked. My soul revolted.
"We went to London and I was made welcome in the older FitzHugh's wifeless
home, and the papers told of our wedding. And two days later there came
from Devonshire a woman--a sweet-faced little woman with sick, haunted
eyes; in her arms she brought a baby; and that baby _was Mortimer
"We confronted him--the mother, the baby, and I; and then I knew that he
was a fiend. And the father was a fiend. They offered to buy the woman off,
to support her and the child. They told me that many English gentlemen had
made mistakes like this, and that it was nothing--that it was quite common.
Mortimer FitzHugh had never touched me with his lips, and now, when he came
to touch me with his hands, I struck him. It was a serpent's house, and I
"My father had left me a comfortable fortune, and I went into a house of my
own. Day after day they came to me, and I knew that they feared I was going
to secure a divorce. During the six months that followed I learned other
things about the man who was legally my husband. He was everything that was
vile. Brazenly he went into public places with women of dishonour, and I
hid my face in shame.
"His father died, and for a time Mortimer FitzHugh became one of the
talked-about spendthrifts of London. Swiftly he gambled and dissipated
himself into comparative poverty. And now, learning that I would not get a
divorce, he began to regard me as a slave in chains. I remember, one time,
that he succeeded in laying his hands on me, and they were like the touch
of things that were slimy and poisonous. He laughed at my revulsion. He
demanded money of me, and to keep him away from me I gave it to him. Again
and again he came for money; I suffered as I cannot tell you, but never
once in my misery did I weaken in my promise to my father and to myself.
But--at last--I ran away.
"I went to Egypt, and then to India. A year later I learned that Mortimer
FitzHugh had gone to America, and I returned to London. For two years I
heard nothing of him; but day and night I lived in fear and dread. And then
came the news that he had died, as you read in the newspaper clipping. I
was free! For a year I believed that; and then, like a shock that had come
to destroy me, I was told that he _was not dead_ but that he was alive, and
in a place called Tete Jaune Cache, in British Columbia. I could not live
in the terrible suspense that followed. I determined to find out for myself
if he was alive or dead. And so I came, John Aldous. And he is dead. He is
down there--dead. And I am glad that he is dead!"
"And if he was not dead," said Aldous quietly, "I would kill him!"
He could find nothing more to say than that. He dared trust himself no
further, and in silence he held out his hands, and for a moment Joanne gave
him her own. Then she withdrew them, and with a little gesture, and the
smile which he loved to see trembling about her mouth, she said:
"Donald will think this is scandalous. We must go back and apologize!"
She led him down the slope, and her face was filled with the pink flush of
a wild rose when she ran up to Donald, and asked him to help her into her
saddle. John Aldous rode like one in a dream as they went back into the
valley, for with each minute that passed Joanne seemed more and more to
him like a beautiful bird that had escaped from its prison-cage, and in him
mind and soul were absorbed in the wonder of it and in his own rejoicing.
She was free, and in her freedom she was happy!
Free! It was that thought that pounded steadily in his brain. He forgot
Quade, and Culver Rann, and the gold; he forgot his own danger, his own
work, almost his own existence. Of a sudden the world had become
infinitesimally small for him, and all he could see was the soft shimmer of
Joanne's hair in the sun, the wonder of her face, the marvellous blue of
her eyes--and all he could hear was the sweet thrill of her voice when she
spoke to him or old Donald, and when, now and then, soft laughter trembled
on her lips in the sheer joy of the life that had dawned anew for her this
They stopped for dinner, and then went on over the range and down into the
valley where lay Tete Jaune. And all this time he fought to keep from
flaming in his own face the desire that was like a hot fire within him--the
desire to go to Joanne and tell her that he loved her as he had never
dreamed it possible for love to exist in the whole wide world. He knew that
to surrender to that desire in this hour would be something like sacrilege.
He did not guess that Joanne saw his struggle, that even old MacDonald
mumbled low words in his beard. When they came at last to Blackton's
bungalow he thought that he had kept this thing from her, and he did not
see--and would not have understood if he had seen--the wonderful and
mysterious glow in Joanne's eyes when she kissed Peggy Blackton.
Blackton had come in from the work-end, dust-covered and jubilant.
"I'm glad you folks have returned," he cried, beaming with enthusiasm as he
gripped Aldous by the hand. "The last rock is packed, and to-night we're
going to shake the earth. We're going to blow up Coyote Number
Twenty-seven, and you won't forget the sight as long as you live!"
Not until Joanne had disappeared into the house with Peggy Blackton did
Aldous feel that he had descended firmly upon his feet once more into a
matter-of-fact world. MacDonald was waiting with the horses, and Blackton
was pointing over toward the steel workers, and was saying something about
ten thousand pounds of black powder and dynamite and a mountain that had
stood a million years and was going to be blown up that night.
"It's the best bit of work I've ever done, Aldous--that and Coyote Number
Twenty-eight. Peggy was going to touch the electric button to Twenty-seven
to-night, but we've decided to let Miss Gray do that, and Peggy'll fire
Twenty-eight to-morrow night. Twenty-eight is almost ready. If you say so,
the bunch of us will go over and see it in the morning. Mebby Miss Gray
would like to see for herself that a coyote isn't only an animal with a
bushy tail, but a cavern dug into rock an' filled with enough explosives to
play high jinks with all the navies in the world if they happened to be on
hand at the time. What do you say?"
"Fine!" said Aldous.
"And Peggy wants me to say that it's a matter of only common, every-day
decency on your part to make yourself our guest while here," added the
contractor, stuffing his pipe. "We've got plenty of room, enough to eat,
and a comfortable bed for you. You're going to be polite enough to accept,
"With all my heart," exclaimed Aldous, his blood tingling at the thought of
being near Joanne. "I've got some business with MacDonald and as soon as
that's over I'll domicile myself here. It's bully of you, Blackton! You
"Why, dammit, of course I know!" chuckled Blackton, lighting his pipe.
"Can't I see, Aldous? D'ye think I'm blind? I was just as gone over Peggy
before I married her. Fact is, I haven't got over it yet--and never will. I
come up from the work four times a day regular to see her, and if I don't
come I have to send up word I'm safe. Peggy saw it first. She said it was a
shame to put you off in that cabin with Miss Gray away up here. I don't
want to stick my nose in your business, old man, but--by George!--I
congratulate you! I've only seen one lovelier woman in my life, and that's
He thrust out a hand and pumped his friend's limp arm, and Aldous felt
himself growing suddenly warm under the other's chuckling gaze.
"For goodness sake don't say anything, or act anything, old man," he
Blackton nodded with prodigious understanding in his eyes.
"Come along when you get through with MacDonald," he said. "I'm going in
and clean up for to-night's fireworks."
A question was in Aldous' mind, but he did not put it in words. He wanted
to know about Quade and Culver Rann.
"Blackton is such a ridiculously forgetful fellow at times that I don't
want to rouse his alarm," he said to MacDonald as they were riding toward
the corral a few minutes later. "He might let something out to Joanne and
his wife, and I've got reasons--mighty good reasons, Mac--for keeping this
affair as quiet as possible. We'll have to discover what Rann and Quade are
MacDonald edged his horse in nearer to Aldous.
"See here, Johnny, boy--tell me what's in your mind?"
Aldous looked into the grizzled face, and there was something in the glow
of the old mountaineer's eyes that made him think of a father.
"You know, Mac."
Old Donald nodded.
"Yes, I guess I do, Johnny," he said in a low voice. "You think of Mis'
Joanne as I used to--to--think of _her_. I guess I know. But--what you
goin' to do?"
Aldous shook his head, and for the first time that afternoon a look of
uneasiness and gloom overspread his face.
"I don't know, Mac. I'm not ashamed to tell you. I love her. If she were to
pass out of my life to-morrow I would ask for something that belonged to
her, and the spirit of her would live in it for me until I died. That's how
I care, Mac. But I've known her such a short time. I can't tell her yet. It
wouldn't be the square thing. And yet she won't remain in Tete Jaune very
long. Her mission is accomplished. And if--if she goes I can't very well
follow her, can I, Mac?"
For a space old Donald was silent. Then he said, "You're thinkin' of me,
Johnny, an' what we was planning on?"
"Then don't any more. I'll stick to you, an' we'll stick to her. Only----"
"If you could get Peggy Blackton to help you----"
"You mean----" began Aldous eagerly.
"That if Peggy Blackton got her to stay for a week--mebby ten
days--visitin' her, you know, it wouldn't be so bad if you told her then,
would it, Johnny?"
"By George, it wouldn't!"
"And I think----"
"Bein' an old man, an' seein' mebby what you don't see----"
"That she'd take you, Johnny."
In his breast John's heart seemed suddenly to give a jump that choked him.
And while he stared ahead old Donald went on.
"I've seen it afore, in a pair of eyes just like her eyes, Johnny--so soft
an' deeplike, like the sky up there when the sun's in it. I seen it when we
was ridin' behind an' she looked ahead at you, Johnny. I did. An' I've seen
it afore. An' I think----"
Aldous waited, his heart-strings ready to snap.
"An' I think--she likes you a great deal, Johnny."
Aldous reached over and gripped MacDonald's hand.
"The good Lord bless you, Donald! We'll stick! As for Quade and Culver
"I've been thinkin' of them," interrupted MacDonald. "You haven't got time
to waste on them, Johnny. Leave 'em to me. If it's only a week you've got
to be close an' near by Mis' Joanne. I'll find out what Quade an' Rann are
doing, and what they're goin' to do. I've got a scheme. Will you leave 'em
Aldous nodded, and in the same breath informed MacDonald of Peggy
Blackton's invitation. The old hunter chuckled exultantly. He stopped his
horse, and Aldous halted.
"It's workin' out fine, Johnny!" he exclaimed. "There ain't no need of you
goin' any further. We understand each other, and there ain't nothin' for
you to do at the corral. Jump off your horse and go back. If I want you
I'll come to the Blacktons' 'r send word, and if you want me I'll be at the
corral or the camp in the coulee. Jump off, Johnny!"
Without further urging Aldous dismounted. They shook hands again, and
MacDonald drove on ahead of him the saddled horses and the pack. And as
Aldous turned back toward the bungalow old Donald was mumbling low in his
beard again, "God ha' mercy on me, but I'm doin' it for her an' Johnny--for
her an' Johnny!"
Half an hour later Blackton had shown Aldous to his room and bath. It was
four o'clock when he rejoined the contractor in the lower room, freshly
bathed and shaven and in a change of clothes. He had not seen Joanne, but
half a dozen times he had heard her and Peggy Blackton laughing and talking
in Mrs. Blackton's big room at the head of the stairs, and he heard them
now as they sat down to smoke their cigars. Blackton was filled with
enthusiasm over the accomplishment of his latest work, and Aldous tried
hard not to betray the fact that the minutes were passing with gruelling
slowness while he waited for Joanne. He wanted to see her. His heart was
beating like an excited boy's. He could hear her footsteps over his head,
and he distinguished her soft laughter, and her sweet voice when she spoke.
There was something tantalizing in her nearness and the fact that she did
not once show herself at the top of the stair. Blackton was still talking
about "coyotes" and dynamite when, an hour later, Aldous looked up, and his
heart gave a big, glad jump.
Peggy Blackton, a plump little golden-haired vision of happiness, was
already half a dozen steps down the stairs. At the top Joanne, for an
instant, had paused. Through that space, before the contractor had turned,
her eyes met those of John Aldous. She was smiling. Her eyes were shining
at him. Never had he seen her look at him in that way, he thought, and
never had she seemed such a perfect vision of loveliness. She was dressed
in a soft, clinging something with a flutter of white lace at her throat,
and as she came down he saw that she had arranged her hair in a marvellous
way. Soft little curls half hid themselves in the shimmer of rich coils she
had wreathed upon her head, and adorable little tendrils caressed the
lovely flush in her cheeks, and clung to the snow-whiteness of her neck.
For a moment, as Peggy Blackton went to her husband, he stood very close to
Joanne, and into his eyes she was smiling, half laughing, her beautiful
mouth aquiver, her eyes glowing, the last trace of their old suspense and
fear vanished in a new and wondrous beauty. He would not have said she was
twenty-eight now. He would have sworn she was twenty.
"Joanne," he whispered, "you are wonderful. Your hair is glorious!"
"Always--my hair," she replied, so low that he alone heard. "Can you never
see beyond my hair, John Aldous?"
"I stop there," he said. "And I marvel. It is glorious!"
"Again!" And up from her white throat there rose a richer, sweeter colour.
"If you say that again now, John Aldous, I shall never make curls for you
again as long as I live!"
His heart seemed near bursting with joy. But she had left him, and was
laughing with Peggy Blackton, who was showing her husband where he had
missed a stubbly patch of beard on his cheek. He caught her eyes, turned
swiftly to him, and they were laughing at him, and there came a sudden
pretty upturn to her chin as he continued to stare, and he saw again the
colour deepening in her face. When Peggy Blackton led her husband to the
stair, and drove him up to shave off the stubbly patch, Joanne found the
opportunity to whisper to him:
"You are rude, John Aldous! You must not stare at me like that!"
And as she spoke the rebellious colour was still in her face, in spite of
the tantalizing curve of her red lips and the sparkle in her eyes.
"I can't help it," he pleaded. "You are--glorious!"
During the next hour, and while they were at supper, he could see that she
was purposely avoiding his eyes, and that she spoke oftener to Paul
Blackton than she did to him, apparently taking the keenest interest in his
friend's enthusiastic descriptions of the mighty work along the line of
steel. And as pretty Peggy Blackton never seemed quite so happy as when
listening to her husband, he was forced to content himself by looking at
Joanne most of the time, without once receiving her smile.
The sun was just falling behind the western mountains when Peggy and
Joanne, hurried most incontinently by Blackton, who had looked at his
watch, left the table to prepare themselves for the big event of the
"I want to get you there before dusk," he explained. "So please hurry!"
They were back in five minutes. Joanne had slipped on a long gray coat, and
with a veil that trailed a yard down her back she had covered her head.
Not a curl or a tress of her hair had she left out of its filmy prison, and
there was a mischievous gleam of triumph in her eyes when she looked at
A moment later, when they went ahead of Blackton and his wife to where the
buckboard was waiting for them, he said:
"You put on that veil to punish me, Ladygray?"
"It is a pretty veil," said she.
"But your hair is prettier," said he.
"And you embarrassed me very much by staring as you did, John Aldous!"
"Forgive me. It is--I mean you are--so beautiful."
"And you are sometimes--most displeasing," said she. "Your ingenuousness,
John Aldous, is shocking!"
"Forgive me," he said again.
"And you have known me but two days," she added.
"Two days--is a long time," he argued. "One can be born, and live, and die
in two days. Besides, our trails have crossed for years."
"But--it displeases me."
"What I have said?"
"And the way I have looked at you?"
Her voice was low and quiet now, her eyes were serious, and she was not
"I know--I know," he groaned, and there was a deep thrill in his voice.
"It's been only two days after all, Ladygray. It seems like--like a
lifetime. I don't want you to think badly of me. God knows I don't!"
"No, no. I don't," she said quickly and gently. "You are the finest
gentleman I ever knew, John Aldous. Only--it embarrasses me."
"I will cut out my tongue and put out my eyes----"
"Nothing so terrible," she laughed softly. "Will you help me into the
wagon? They are coming."
She gave him her hand, warm and soft; and Blackton forced him into the seat
between her and Peggy, and Joanne's hand rested in his arm all the way to
the mountain that was to be blown up, and he told himself that he was a
fool if he were not supremely happy. The wagon stopped, and he helped her
out again, her warm little hand again close in his own, and when she looked
at him he was the cool, smiling John Aldous of old, so cool, and strong,
and unemotional that he saw surprise in her eyes first, and then that
gentle, gathering glow that came when she was proud of him, and pleased
with him. And as Blackton pointed out the mountain she unknotted the veil
under her chin and let it drop back over her shoulders, so that the last
light of the day fell richly in the trembling curls and thick coils of her
"And that is my reward," said John Aldous, but he whispered it to himself.
They had stopped close to a huge flat rock, and on this rock men were at
work fitting wires to a little boxlike thing that had a white button-lever.
Paul Blackton pointed to this, and his face was flushed with excitement.
"That's the little thing that's going to blow it up, Miss Gray--the touch
of your finger on that little white button. Do you see that black base of
the mountain yonder?--right there where you can see men moving about? It's
half a mile from here, and the 'coyote' is there, dug into the wall of
The tremble of enthusiasm was in his voice as he went on, pointing with his
long arm: "Think of it! We're spending a hundred thousand dollars going
through that rock that people who travel on the Grand Trunk Pacific in the
future will be saved seven minutes in their journey from coast to coast!
We're spending a hundred thousand there, and millions along the line, that
we may have the smoothest roadbed in the world when we're done, and the
quickest route from sea to sea. It looks like waste, but it isn't. It's
science! It's the fight of competition! It's the determination behind the
forces--the determination to make this road the greatest road in the world!
The gloom was thickening swiftly. The black mountain was fading slowly
away, and up out of that gloom came now ghostly and far-reaching voices of
men booming faintly through giant megaphones.
"_Clear away! Clear away! Clear away!_" they said, and the valley and the
mountain-sides caught up the echoes, until it seemed that a hundred voices
were crying out the warning. Then fell a strange and weird silence, and the
echoes faded away like the voices of dying men, and all was still save the
far-away barking of a coyote that answered the mysterious challenges of the
night. Joanne was close to the rock. Quietly the men who had been working
on the battery drew back.
"It is ready!" said one.
"Wait!" said Blackton, as his wife went to speak, "Listen!"
For five minutes there was silence. Then out of the night a single
megaphone cried the word:
"All is clear," said the engineer, with a deep breath. "All you have to do,
Miss Gray, is to move that little lever from the side on which it now rests
to the opposite side. Are you ready?"
In the darkness Joanne's left hand had sought John's. It clung to his
tightly. He could feel a little shiver run through her.
"Yes," she whispered.
"Then--if you please--press the button!"
Slowly Joanne's right hand crept out, while the fingers of her left clung
tighter to Aldous. She touched the button--thrust it over. A little cry
that fell from between her tense lips told them she had done the work, and
a silence like that of death fell on those who waited.
A half a minute--perhaps three quarters--and a shiver ran under their feet,
but there was no sound; and then a black pall, darker than the night,
seemed to rise up out of the mountain, and with that, a second later, came
the explosion. There was a rumbling and a jarring, as if the earth were
convulsed under foot; volumes of dense black smoke shot upward, and in
another instant these rolling, twisting volumes of black became lurid, and
an explosion like that of a thousand great guns rent the air. As fast as
the eye could follow sheets of flame shot up out of the sea of smoke,
climbing higher and higher, in lightning flashes, until the lurid tongues
licked the air a quarter of a mile above the startled wilderness. Explosion
followed explosion, some of them coming in hollow, reverberating booms,
others sounding as if in midair. Unseen by the watchers, the heavens were
filled with hurtling rocks; solid masses of granite ten feet square were
thrown a hundred feet away; rocks weighing a ton were hurled still farther,
as if they were no more than stones flung by the hands of a giant; chunks
that would have crashed from the roof to the basement of a skyscraper
dropped a third of a mile away. For three minutes the frightful convulsions
continued, and the tongues of flame leaped into the night. Then the lurid
lights died out, shorter and shorter grew the sullen flashes, and then
During those appalling moments, unconscious of the act, Joanne had shrank
close to Aldous, so that he felt the soft crush of her hair and the swift
movement of her bosom. Blackton's voice brought them back to life.
He laughed, and it was the laugh of a man who had looked upon work well
"It has done the trick," he said. "To-morrow we will come and see. And I
have changed my plans about Coyote Number Twenty-eight. Hutchins, the
superintendent, is passing through in the afternoon, and I want him to see
it." He spoke now to a man who had come up out of the darkness. "Gregg,
have Twenty-eight ready at four o'clock to-morrow afternoon--four
Then he said:
"Dust and a bad smell will soon be settling about us. Come, let's go home!"
And as they went back to the buckboard wagon through the gloom John Aldous
still held Joanne's hand in his own, and she made no effort to take it from
The next morning, when Aldous joined the engineer in the dining-room below,
he was disappointed to find the breakfast table prepared for two instead of
four. It was evident that Peggy Blackton and Joanne were not going to
interrupt their beauty nap on their account.
Blackton saw his friend's inquiring look, and chuckled.
"Guess we'll have to get along without 'em this morning, old man. Lord
bless me, did you hear them last night--after you went to bed?"
"You were too far away," chuckled Blackton again, "I was in the room across
the hall from them. You see, old man, Peggy sometimes gets fairly starved
for the right sort of company up here, and last night they didn't go to bed
until after twelve o'clock. I looked at my watch. Mebby they were in bed,
but I could hear 'em buzzing like two bees, and every little while they'd
giggle, and then go on buzzing again. By George, there wasn't a break in
it! When one let up the other'd begin, and sometimes I guess they were both
going at once. Consequently, they're sleeping now."
When breakfast was finished Blackton looked at his watch.
"Seven o'clock," he said. "We'll leave word for the girls to be ready at
nine. What are you going to do meantime, Aldous?"
"Hunt up MacDonald, probably."
"And I'll run down and take a look at the work."
As they left the house the engineer nodded down the road. MacDonald was
"He has saved you the trouble," he said. "Remember, Aldous--nine o'clock
A moment later Aldous was advancing to meet the old mountaineer.
"They've gone, Johnny," was Donald's first greeting.
"Yes. The whole bunch--Quade, Culver Rann, DeBar, and the woman who rode
the bear. They've gone, hide and hair, and nobody seems to know where."
Aldous was staring.
"Also," resumed old Donald slowly, "Culver Rann's outfit is gone--twenty
horses, including six saddles. An' likewise others have gone, but I can't
find out who."
"Gone!" repeated Aldous again.
"And that means----"
"That Culver Rann ain't lost any time in gettin' under way for the gold,"
said Donald. "DeBar is with him, an' probably the woman. Likewise three
cut-throats to fill the other saddles. They've gone prepared to fight."
Old Donald hunched his shoulders, and suddenly John's face grew dark and
"I understand," he spoke, half under his breath. "Quade has
disappeared--but he isn't with Culver Rann. He wants us to believe he has
gone. He wants to throw us off our guard. But he's watching, and
waiting--somewhere--like a hawk, to swoop down on Joanne! He----"
"That's it!" broke in MacDonald hoarsely. "That's it, Johnny! It's his old
trick--his old trick with women. There's a hunderd men who've got to do his
bidding--do it 'r get out of the mountains--an' we've got to watch Joanne.
We have, Johnny! If she should disappear----"
"You'd never find her again, so 'elp me God, you wouldn't, Johnny!" he
"We'll watch her," said Aldous quietly. "I'll be with her to-day, Mac, and
to-night I'll come down to the camp in the coulee to compare notes with
you. They can't very well steal her out of Blackton's house while I'm
For an hour after MacDonald left him he walked about in the neighbourhood
of the Blackton bungalow smoking his pipe. Not until he saw the contractor
drive up in the buckboard did he return. Joanne and Peggy were more than
prompt. They were waiting. If such a thing were possible Joanne was more
radiantly lovely than the night before. To Aldous she became more beautiful
every time he looked at her. But this morning he did not speak what was in
his heart when, for a moment, he held her hand, and looked into her eyes.
Instead, he said:
"Good morning, Ladygray. Have you used----"
"I have," she smiled. "Only it's Potterdam's Tar Soap, and not the other.
And you--have not shaved, John Aldous!"
"Great Scott, so I haven't!" he exclaimed, rubbing his chin. "But I did
yesterday afternoon, Ladygray!"
"And you will again this afternoon, if you please," she commanded. "I don't
"But in the wilderness----"
"One can shave as well as another can make curls," she reminded him, and
there came an adorable little dimple at the corner of her mouth as she
looked toward Paul Blackton.
Aldous was glad that Paul and Peggy Blackton did most of the talking that
morning. They spent half an hour where the explosion of the night before
had blown out the side of the mountain, and then drove on to Coyote Number
Twenty-eight. It was in the face of a sandstone cliff, and all they could
see of it when they got out of the wagon was a dark hole in the wall of
rock. Not a soul was about, and Blackton rubbed his hands with
"Everything is completed," he said. "Gregg put in the last packing this
morning, and all we are waiting for now is four o'clock this afternoon."
The hole in the mountain was perhaps four feet square. Ten feet in front of
it the engineer paused, and pointed to the ground. Up out of the earth came
two wires, which led away from the mouth of the cavern.
"Those wires go down to the explosives," he explained. "They're battery
wires half a mile long. But we don't attach the battery until the final
moment, as you saw last night. There might be an accident."
He bent his tall body and entered the mouth of the cavern, leading his wife
by the hand. Observing that Joanne had seen this attention on the
contractor's part, Aldous held out his own hand, and Joanne accepted it.
For perhaps twenty feet they followed the Blacktons with lowered heads.
They seemed to have entered a black, cold pit, sloping slightly downward,
and only faintly could they see Blackton when he straightened.
His voice came strange and sepulchral:
"You can stand up now. We're in the chamber. Don't move or you might
stumble over something. There ought to be a lantern here."
He struck a match, and as he moved slowly toward a wall of blackness,
searching for the lantern, he called back encouragingly through the gloom:
"You folks are now standing right over ten tons of dynamite, and there's
another five tons of black powder----"
A little shriek from Peggy Blackton stopped him, and his match went out.
"What in heaven's name is the matter?" he asked anxiously. "Peggy----"
"Why in heaven's name do you light a match then, with us standing over all
those tons of dynamite?" demanded Peggy. "Paul Blackton, you're----"
The engineer's laughter was like a giant's roar in the cavern, and Joanne
gave a gasp, while Peggy shiveringly caught Aldous by the arm.
"There--I've got the lantern!" exclaimed Blackton. "There isn't any danger,
not a bit. Wait a minute and I'll tell you all about it." He lighted the
lantern, and in the glow of it Joanne's and Peggy's faces were white and
startled. "Why, bless my soul, I didn't mean to frighten you!" he cried. "I
was just telling you facts. See, we're standing on a solid floor--four feet
of packed rock and cement. The dynamite and black powder are under that.
We're in a chamber--a cave--an artificial cavern. It's forty feet deep,
twenty wide, and about seven high."
He held the lantern even with his shoulders and walked deeper into the
cavern as he spoke. The others followed. They passed a keg on which was a
half-burned candle. Close to the keg was an empty box. Beyond these things
the cavern was empty.
"I thought it was full of powder and dynamite," apologized Peggy.
"You see, it's like this," Blackton began. "We put the powder and dynamite
down there, and pack it over solid with rock and cement. If we didn't leave
this big air-chamber above it there would be only one explosion, and
probably two thirds of the explosive would not fire, and would be lost.
This chamber corrects that. You heard a dozen explosions last night, and
you'll hear a dozen this afternoon, and the biggest explosion of all is
usually the fourth or fifth. A 'coyote' isn't like an ordinary blast or
shot. It's a mighty expensive thing, and you see it means a lot of work.
Now, if some one were to touch off those explosives at this minute----
What's the matter, Peggy? Are you cold? You're shivering!"
"Ye-e-e-e-s!" chattered Peggy.
Aldous felt Joanne tugging at his hand.
"Let's take Mrs. Blackton out," she whispered. "I'm--I'm--afraid she'll
In spite of himself Aldous could not restrain his laughter until they had
got through the tunnel. Out in the sunlight he looked at Joanne, still
holding her hand. She withdrew it, looking at him accusingly.
"Lord bless me!" exclaimed Blackton, who seemed to understand at last.
"There's no danger--not a bit!"
"But I'd rather look at it from outside, Paul, dear," said Mrs. Blackton.
"But--Peggy--if it went off now you'd be in just as bad shape out here!"
"I don't think we'd be quite so messy, really I don't, dear," she
"Lord bless me!" he gasped.
"And they'd probably be able to find something of us," she added.
"Not a button, Peggy!"
"Then I'm going to move, if you please!" And suiting her action to the word
Peggy led the way to the buckboard. There she paused and took one of her
husband's big hands fondly in both her own. "It's perfectly wonderful,
Paul--and I'm proud of you!" she said. "But, honestly, dear, I can enjoy it
so much better at four o'clock this afternoon."
Smiling, Blackton lifted her into the buckboard.
"That's why I wish Paul had been a preacher or something like that," she
confided to Joanne as they drove homeward. "I'm growing old just thinking
of him working over that horrid dynamite and powder all the time. Every
little while some one is blown into nothing."
"I believe," said Joanne, "that I'd like to do something like that if I
were a man. I'd want to be a man, not that preachers aren't men, Peggy,
dear--but I'd want to do things, like blowing up mountains for instance, or
finding buried cities, or"--she whispered, very, very softly under her
breath--"writing books, John Aldous!"
Only Aldous heard those last words, and Joanne gave a sharp little cry; and
when Peggy asked her what the matter was Joanne did not tell her that John
Aldous had almost broken her hand on the opposite side--for Joanne was
riding between the two.
"It's lame for life," she said to him half an hour later, when he was
bidding her good-bye, preparatory to accompanying Blackton down to the
working steel. "And I deserve it for trying to be kind to you. I think some
writers of books are--are perfectly intolerable!"
"Won't you take a little walk with me right after dinner?" he was asking
for the twentieth time.
"I doubt it very, very much."
"I may possibly think about it."
With that she left him, and she did not look back as she and Peggy Blackton
went into the house. But as they drove away they saw two faces at the
window that overlooked the townward road, and two hands were waving
good-bye. Both could not be Peggy Blackton's hands.
"Joanne and I are going for a walk this afternoon, Blackton," said Aldous,
"and I just want to tell you not to worry if we're not back by four
o'clock. Don't wait for us. We may be watching the blow-up from the top of
"Don't blame you," he said. "From an observer's point of view, John, it
looks to me as though you were going to have something more than hope to
live on pretty soon!"
"I--I hope so."
"And when I was going with Peggy I wouldn't have traded a quiet little walk
with her--like this you're suggesting--for a front seat look at a blow-up
of the whole Rocky Mountain system!"
"And you won't forget to tell Mrs. Blackton that we may not return by four
"I will not. And"--Blackton puffed hard at his pipe--"and, John--the Tete
Jaune preacher is our nearest neighbour," he finished.
From then until dinner time John Aldous lived in an atmosphere that was not
quite real, but a little like a dream. His hopes and his happiness were at
their highest. He knew that Joanne would go walking with him that
afternoon, and in spite of his most serious efforts to argue to the
contrary he could not keep down the feeling that the event would mean a
great deal for him. Almost feverishly he interested himself in Paul
Blackton's work. When they returned to the bungalow, a little before noon,
he went to his room, shaved himself, and in other ways prepared for dinner.
Joanne and the Blacktons were waiting when he came down.
His first look at Joanne assured him. She was dressed in a soft gray
walking-suit. Never had the preparation of a dinner seemed so slow to him,
and a dozen times he found himself inwardly swearing at Tom, the Chinese
cook. It was one o'clock before they sat down at the table and it was two
o'clock when they arose. It was a quarter after two when Joanne and he left
"Shall we wander up on the mountain?" he asked. "It would be fine to look
down upon the explosion."
"I have noticed that in some things you are very observant," said Joanne,
ignoring his question. "In the matter of curls, for instance, you are
unapproachable; in others you are--quite blind, John Aldous!"
"What do you mean?" he asked, bewildered.
"I lost my scarf this morning, and you did not notice it. It is quite an
unusual scarf. I bought it in Cairo, and I don't want to have it blown up."
"Yes. I must have dropped it in the cavern. I had it when we entered."
"Then we'll return for it," he volunteered. "We'll still have plenty of
time to climb up the mountain before the explosion."
Twenty minutes later they came to the dark mouth of the tunnel. There was
no one in sight, and for a moment Aldous searched for matches in his
"Wait here," he said. "I won't be gone two minutes."
He entered, and when he came to the chamber he struck a match. The lantern
was on the empty box. He lighted it, and began looking for the scarf.
Suddenly he heard a sound. He turned, and saw Joanne standing in the glow
of the lantern.
"Can you find it?" she asked.
They bent over the rock floor, and in a moment Joanne gave a little
exclamation of pleasure as she caught up the scarf. In that same moment, as
they straightened and faced each other, John Aldous felt his heart cease
beating, and Joanne's face had gone as white as death. The rock-walled
chamber was atremble; they heard a sullen, distant roaring, and as Aldous
caught Joanne's hand and sprang toward the tunnel the roar grew into a
deafening crash, and a gale of wind rushed into their faces, blowing out
the lantern, and leaving them in darkness. The mountain seemed crumbling
about them, and above the sound of it rang out a wild, despairing cry from
Joanne's lips. For there was no longer the brightness of sunshine at the
end of the tunnel, but darkness--utter darkness; and through that tunnel
there came a deluge of dust and rock that flung them back into the
blackness of the pit, and separated them.
"I am here, Joanne! I will light the lantern!"
His groping hands found the lantern. He relighted it, and Joanne crept to
his side, her face as white as the face of the dead. He held the lantern
above him, and together they stared at where the tunnel had been. A mass of
rock met their eyes. The tunnel was choked. And then, slowly, each turned
to the other; and each knew that the other understood--for it was Death
that whispered about them now in the restless air of the rock-walled tomb,
a terrible death, and their lips spoke no words as their eyes met in that
fearful and silent understanding.
Joanne's white lips spoke first.
"The tunnel is closed!" she whispered.
Her voice was strange. It was not Joanne's voice. It was unreal, terrible,
and her eyes were terrible as they looked steadily into his. Aldous could
not answer; something had thickened in his throat, and his blood ran cold
as he stared into Joanne's dead-white face and saw the understanding in her
eyes. For a space he could not move, and then, as suddenly as it had fallen
upon him, the effect of the shock passed away.
[Illustration: "The tunnel is closed," she whispered.... "That means we
have just forty-five minutes to live.... Let us not lie to one another."]
He smiled, and put out a hand to her.
"A slide of rock has fallen over the mouth of the tunnel," he said, forcing
himself to speak as if it meant little or nothing. "Hold the lantern,
Joanne, while I get busy."
"A slide of rock," she repeated after him dumbly.
She took the lantern, her eyes still looking at him in that stricken way,
and with his naked hands John Aldous set to work. Five minutes and he knew
that it was madness to continue. Hands alone could not clear the tunnel.
And yet he worked, tearing into the rock and shale like an animal; rolling
back small boulders, straining at larger ones until the tendons of his arms
seemed ready to snap and his veins to burst. For a few minutes after that
he went mad. His muscles cracked, he panted as he fought with the rock
until his hands were torn and bleeding, and over and over again there ran
through his head Blackton's last words--_Four o'clock this afternoon!--Four
o'clock this afternoon!_
Then he came to what he knew he would reach very soon, a solid wall! Rock
and shale and earth were packed as if by battering rams. For a few moments
he fought to control himself before facing Joanne. Over him swept the grim
realization that his last fight must be for her. He steadied himself, and
wiped the dust and grime from his face with his handkerchief. For the last
time he swallowed hard. His soul rose within him almost joyously now in the
face of this last great fight, and he turned--John Aldous, the super-man.
There was no trace of fear in his face as he went to her. He was even
smiling in that ghostly glow of the lantern.
"It is hard work, Joanne."
She did not seem to hear what he had said. She was looking at his hands.
She held the lantern nearer.
"Your hands are bleeding, John!"
It was the first time she had spoken his name like that, and he was
thrilled by the calmness of her voice, the untrembling gentleness of her
hand as it touched his hand. From his bruised and bleeding flesh she raised
her eyes to him, and they were no longer the dumb, horrified eyes he had
gazed into fifteen minutes before. In the wonder of it he stood silent, and
the moment was weighted with an appalling silence.
It came to them both in that instant--the _tick-tick-tick_ of the watch in
Without taking her eyes from his face she asked:
"What time is it. John?"
"I am not afraid," she whispered. "I was afraid this afternoon, but I am
not afraid now. What time is it, John?"
"My God--they'll dig us out!" he cried wildly. "Joanne, you don't think
they won't dig us out, do you? Why, that's impossible! The slide has
covered the wires. They've got to dig us out! There is no danger--none at
all. Only it's chilly, and uncomfortable, and I'm afraid you'll take cold!"
"What time is it?" she repeated softly.
For a moment he looked steadily at her, and his heart leaped when he saw
that she must believe him, for though her face was as white as an ivory
cross she was smiling at him--yes! she was smiling at him in that gray and
ghastly death-gloom of the cavern!
He brought out his watch, and in the lantern-glow they looked at it.
"A quarter after three," he said. "By four o'clock they will be at
work--Blackton and twenty men. They will have us out in time for supper."
"A quarter after three," repeated Joanne, and the words came steadily from
her lips. "That means----"
"_We have forty-five minutes in which to live!_" she said.
Before he could speak she had thrust the lantern into his hand, and had
seized his other hand in both her own.
"If there are only forty-five minutes let us not lie to one another," she
said, and her voice was very close. "I know why you are doing it, John
Aldous. It is for me. You have done a great deal for me in these two days
in which one 'can be born, and live, and die.' But in these last minutes
I do not want you to act what I know cannot be the truth. You know--and I
know. The wires are laid to the battery rock. There is no hope. At four
o'clock--we both know what will happen. And I--am not afraid."
She heard him choking for speech. In a moment he said:
"There are other lanterns--Joanne. I saw them when I was looking for the
scarf. I will light them."
He found two lanterns hanging against the rock wall. He lighted them, and
the half-burned candle.
"It is pleasanter," she said.
She stood in the glow of them when he turned to her, tall, and straight,
and as beautiful as an angel. Her lips were pale; the last drop of blood
had ebbed from her face; but there was something glorious in the poise of
her head, and in the wistful gentleness of her mouth and the light in her
eyes. And then, slowly, as he stood looking with a face torn in its agony
for her, she held out her arms.
"Joanne! Oh, my God!--Joanne!"
She swayed as he sprang to her, but she was smiling--smiling in that new
and wonderful way as her arms reached out to him, and the words he heard
her say came low and sobbing:
"John--John, if you want to, now--you can tell me that my hair is
And then she was in his arms, her warm, sweet body crushed close to him,
her face lifted to him, her soft hands stroking his face, and over and over
again she was speaking his name while from out of his soul there rushed
forth the mighty flood of his great love; and he held her there, forgetful
of time now, forgetful of death itself; and he kissed her tender lips, her
hair, her eyes--conscious only that in the hour of death he had found life,
that her hands were stroking his face, and caressing his hair, and that
over and over again she was whispering sobbingly his name, and that she
loved him. The pressure of her hands against his breast at last made him
free her. And now, truly, she was glorious. For the triumph of love had
overridden the despair of death, and her face was flooded with its colour
and in her eyes was its glory.
And then, as they stood there, a step between them, there came--almost like
the benediction of a cathedral bell--the soft, low tinkling chime of the
half-hour bell in Aldous' watch!
It struck him like a blow. Every muscle in him became like rigid iron, and
his torn hands clenched tightly at his sides.
"Joanne--Joanne, it is impossible!" he cried huskily, and he had her close
in his arms again, even as her face was whitening in the lantern-glow. "I
have lived for you, I have waited for you--all these years you have been
coming, coming, coming to me--and now that you are mine--_mine_--it is
impossible! It cannot happen----"
He freed her again, and caught up a lantern. Foot by foot he examined the
packed tunnel. It was solid--not a crevice or a break through which might
have travelled the sound of his voice or the explosion of a gun. He did not
shout. He knew that it would be hopeless, and that his voice would be
terrifying in that sepulchral tomb. Was it possible that there might be
some other opening--a possible exit--in that mountain wall? With the
lantern in his hand he searched. There was no break. He came back to
Joanne. She was standing where he had left her. And suddenly, as he looked
at her, all fear went out of him, and he put down the lantern and went to
"Joanne," he whispered, holding her two hands against his breast, "you are
"No, I am not afraid."
"And you know----"
"Yes, I know," and she leaned forward so that her head lay partly against
their clasped hands and partly upon his breast.
"And you love me, Joanne?"
"As I never dreamed that I should love a man, John Aldous," she whispered.
"And yet it has been but two days----"
"And I have lived an eternity," he heard her lips speak softly.
"You would be my wife?"
"If you wanted me then, John."
"I thank God," he breathed in her hair. "And you would come to me without
reservation, Joanne, trusting me, believing in me--you would come to me
body, and heart, and soul?"
"In all those ways--yes."
"I thank God," he breathed again.
He raised her face. He looked deep into her eyes, and the glory of her love
grew in them, and her lips trembled as she lifted them ever so little for
him to kiss.
"Oh, I was happy--so happy," she whispered, putting her hands to his face.
"John, I knew that you loved me, and oh! I was fighting so hard to keep
myself from letting you know how happy it made me. And here, I was afraid
you wouldn't tell me--before it happened. And John--John----"
She leaned back from him, and her white hands moved like swift shadows in
her hair, and then, suddenly, it billowed about her--her glorious
hair--covering her from crown to hip; and with her hands she swept and
piled the lustrous masses of it over him until his face, and head, and
shoulders were buried in the flaming sheen and sweet perfume of it.
He strained her closer. Through the warm richness of her tresses his lips
pressed her lips, and they ceased to breathe. And up to their ears,
pounding through that enveloping shroud of her hair came the
_tick-tick-tick_ of the watch in his pocket.
"Joanne," he whispered.
"You are not afraid of--death?"
"No, not when you are holding me like this, John."
He still clasped her hands, and a sweet smile crept over her lips.
"Even now you are splendid," she said. "Oh, I would have you that way, my
Again they stood up in the unsteady glow of the lanterns.
"What time is it?" she asked.