Part 4 out of 5
He drew out his watch, and as they both looked his blood ran cold.
"Twelve minutes," she murmured, and there was not a quiver in her voice.
"Let us sit down, John--you on this box, and I on the floor, at your
He seated himself on the box, and Joanne nestled herself at his knees, her
hands clasped in his.
"I think, John," she said softly, "that very, very often we would have
visited like this--you and I--in the evening."
A lump choked him, and he could not answer.
"I would very often have come and perched myself at your feet like this."
"Yes, yes, my beloved."
"And you would always have told me how beautiful my hair was--always. You
would not have forgotten that, John--or have grown tired?"
His arms were about her. He was drawing her closer.
"And we would have had beautiful times together, John--writing, and going
He felt her trembling, throbbing, and her arms tightened about him.
And now, again up through the smother of her hair, came the
_tick-tick-tick_ of his watch.
He felt her fumbling at his watch pocket, and in a moment she was holding
the timepiece between them, so that the light of the lantern fell on the
face of it.
"It is three minutes of four, John."
The watch slipped from her fingers, and now she drew herself up so that her
arms were about his neck, and their faces touched.
"Dear John, you love me?"
"So much that even now, in the face of death, I am happy," he whispered.
"Joanne, sweetheart, we are not going to be separated. We are
going--together. Through all eternity it must be like this--you and I,
together. Little girl, wind your hair about me--tight!"
"There--and there--and there, John! I have tied you to me, and you are
buried in it! Kiss me, John----"
And then the wild and terrible fear of a great loneliness swept through
him. For Joanne's voice had died away in a whispering breath, and the lips
he kissed did not kiss him back, and her body lay heavy, heavy, heavy in
his arms. Yet in his loneliness he thanked God for bringing her oblivion in
these last moments, and with his face crushed to hers he waited. For he
knew that it was no longer a matter of minutes, but of seconds, and in
those seconds he prayed, until up through the warm smother of her
hair--with the clearness of a tolling bell--came the sound of the little
gong in his watch striking the Hour of Four!
In space other worlds might have crumbled into ruin; on earth the stories
of empires might have been written and the lives of men grown old in those
first century-long seconds in which John Aldous held his breath and waited
after the chiming of the hour-bell in the watch on the cavern floor. How
long he waited he did not know; how closely he was crushing Joanne to his
breast he did not realize. Seconds, minutes, and other minutes--and his
brain ran red in dumb, silent madness. And the watch! It _ticked, ticked,
ticked!_ It was like a hammer.
He had heard the sound of it first coming up through her hair. But it was
not in her hair now. It was over him, about him--it was no longer a
ticking, but a throb, a steady, jarring, beating throb. It grew louder,
and the air stirred with it. He lifted his head. With the eyes of a madman
he stared--and listened. His arms relaxed from about Joanne, and she
slipped crumpled and lifeless to the floor. He stared--and that steady
_beat-beat-beat_--a hundred times louder than the ticking of a
watch--pounded in his brain. Was he mad? He staggered to the choked mouth
of the tunnel, and then there fell shout upon shout, and shriek upon shriek
from his lips, and twice, like a madman now, he ran back to Joanne and
caught her up in his arms, calling and sobbing her name, and then
shouting--and calling her name again. She moved; her eyes opened, and like
one gazing upon the spirit of the dead she looked into the face of John
Aldous, a madman's face in the lantern-glow.
She put up her hands, and with a cry he ran with her in his arms to the
"Listen! Listen!" he cried wildly. "Dear God in Heaven, Joanne--can you not
hear them? It's Blackton--Blackton and his men! Hear--hear the rock-hammers
smashing! Joanne--Joanne--we are saved!"
She did not sense him. She swayed, half on her feet, half in his arms, as
consciousness and reason returned to her. Dazedly her hands went to his
face in their old, sweet way. Aldous saw her struggling to understand--to
comprehend; and he kissed her soft upturned lips, fighting back the
excitement that made him want to raise his voice again in wild and joyous
"It is Blackton!" he said over and over again. "It is Blackton and his men!
Listen!--you can hear their picks and the pounding of their rock-hammers!"
At last Joanne realized that the explosion was not to come, that Blackton
and his men were working to save them. And now, as she listened with him,
her breath began to come in sobbing excitement between her lips--for there
was no mistaking that sound, that steady _beat-beat-beat_ that came from
beyond the cavern wall and seemed to set strange tremors stirring in the
air about their ears. For a few moments they stood stunned and silent, as
if not yet quite fully comprehending that they had come from out of the pit
of death, and that men were fighting for their rescue. They asked
themselves no questions--why the "coyote" had not been fired? how those
outside knew they were in the cavern. And, as they listened, there came to
them a voice. It was faint, so faint that it seemed to whisper to them
through miles and miles of space--yet they knew that it was a voice!
"Some one is shouting," spoke Aldous tensely. "Joanne, my darling, stand
around the face of the wall so flying rock will not strike you and I will
answer with my pistol!"
When he had placed her in safety from split lead and rock chips, he drew
his automatic and fired it close up against the choked tunnel. He fired
five times, steadily, counting three between each shot, and then he placed
his ear to the mass of stone and earth and listened. Joanne slipped to him
like a shadow. Her hand sought his, and they held their breaths. They no
longer heard sounds--nothing but the crumbling and falling of dust and
pebbles where the bullets had struck, and their own heart-beats. The picks
and rock-hammers had ceased.
Tighter and tighter grew the clasp of Joanne's fingers, and a terrible
thought flashed into John's brain. Perhaps a, rock from the slide had cut a
wire, and they had found the wire--had repaired it! Was that thought in
Joanne's mind, too? Her finger-nails pricked his flesh. He looked at her.
Her eyes were closed, and her lips were tense and gray. And then her eyes
shot open--wide and staring. They heard, faintly though it came to
them--once, twice, three times, four, five--the firing of a gun!
John Aldous straightened, and a great breath fell from his lips.
"Five times!" he said. "It is an answer. There is no longer doubt."
He was holding out his arms to her, and she came into them with a choking
cry; and now she sobbed like a little child with her head against his
breast, and for many minutes he held her close, kissing her wet face, and
her damp hair, and her quivering lips, while the beat of the picks and the
crash of the rock-hammers came steadily nearer.
Where those picks and rock-hammers fell a score of men were working like
fiends: Blackton, his arms stripped to the shoulders; Gregg, sweating and
urging the men; and among them--lifting and tearing at the rock like a
madman--old Donald MacDonald, his shirt open, his great hands bleeding, his
hair and beard tossing about him in the wind. Behind them, her hands
clasped to her breast--crying out to them to hurry, _hurry_--stood Peggy
Blackton. The strength of five men was in every pair of arms. Huge boulders
were rolled back. Men pawed earth and shale with their naked hands.
Rock-hammers fell with blows that would have cracked the heart of a granite
obelisk. Half an hour--three quarters--and Blackton came back to where
Peggy was standing, his face black and grimed, his arms red-seared where
the edges of the rocks had caught them, his eyes shining.
"We're almost there, Peggy," he panted. "Another five minutes and----"
A shout interrupted him. A cloud of dust rolled out of the mouth of the
tunnel, and into that dust rushed half a dozen men led by old Donald.
Before the dust had settled they began to reappear, and with a shrill
scream Peggy Blackton darted forward and flung her arms about the
gold-shrouded figure of Joanne, swaying and laughing and sobbing in the
sunshine. And old Donald, clasping his great arms about Aldous, cried
"Oh, Johnny, Johnny--something told me to foller ye--an' I was just in
time--just in time to see you go into the coyote!"
"God bless you, Mac!" said Aldous, and then Paul Blackton was wringing his
hands; and one after another the others shook his hand, but Peggy Blackton
was crying like a baby as she hugged Joanne in her arms.
"MacDonald came just in time," explained Blackton a moment later; and he
tried to speak steadily, and tried to smile. "Ten minutes more, and----"
He was white.
"Now that it has turned out like this I thank God that it happened, Paul,"
said Aldous, for the engineer's ears alone. "We thought we were facing
death, and so--I told her. And in there, on our knees, we pledged ourselves
man and wife. I want the minister--as quick as you can get him, Blackton.
Don't say anything to Joanne, but bring him to the house right away, will
"Within half an hour," replied Blackton. "There comes Tony with the
buckboard. We'll hustle up to the house and I'll have the preacher there in
As they went to the wagon, Aldous looked about for MacDonald. He had
disappeared. Requesting Gregg to hunt him up and send him to the bungalow,
he climbed into the back seat, with Joanne between him and Peggy. Her
little hand lay in his. Her fingers clung to him. But her hair hid her
face, and on the other side of her Peggy Blackton was laughing and talking
and crying by turns.
As they entered the bungalow, Aldous whispered to Joanne:
"Will you please go right to your room, dear? I want to say something to
When she went up the stair, Peggy caught a signal from her husband. Aldous
remained with them. In two minutes he told the bewildered and finally
delighted Peggy what was going to happen, and as Blackton hustled out for
the minister's house he followed Joanne. She had fastened her door behind
her. He knocked. Slowly she opened it.
"I have told them, dear," he whispered happily. "They understand. And,
Joanne, Paul Blackton will be back in ten minutes--with the minister. Are
She had opened the door wide, and he was heading out his arms to her again.
For a moment she did not move, but stood there trembling a little, and
deeper and sweeter grew the colour in her face, and tenderer the look in
"I must brush my hair," she answered, as though she could think of no other
words. "I--I must dress."
Laughing joyously, he went to her and gathered the soft masses of her hair
in his hands, and piled it up in a glorious disarray about her face and
head, holding it there, and still laughing into her eyes.
"Joanne, you are mine!"
"Unless I have been dreaming--I am, John Aldous!"
"Forever and forever."
"Yes, forever--and ever."
"And because I want the whole world to know, we are going to be married by
She was silent.
"And as my wife to be," he went on, his voice trembling with his happiness,
"you must obey me!"
"I think that I shall, John."
"Then you will not brush your hair, and you will not change your dress, and
you will not wash the dust from your face and that sweet little beauty-spot
from the tip of your nose," he commanded, and now he drew her head close to
him, so that he whispered, half in her hair: "Joanne, my darling, I want
you _wholly_ as you came to me there, when we thought we were going to die.
It was there you promised to become my wife, and I want you as you were
then--when the minister comes."
"John, I think I hear some one coming up the front steps!"
They listened. The door opened. They heard voices--Blackton's voice,
Peggy's voice, and another voice--a man's voice.
Blackton's voice came up to them very distinctly.
"Mighty lucky, Peggy," he said. "Caught Mr. Wollaver just as he was passing
the house. Where's----"
"Sh-h-hh!" came Peggy Blackton's sibilant whisper.
Joanne's hands had crept to John's face.
"I think," she said, "that it is the minister, John."
Her warm lips were near, and he kissed them.
"Come, Joanne. We will go down."
Hand in hand they went down the stair; and when the minister saw Joanne,
covered in the tangle and glory of her hair; and when he saw John Aldous,
with half-naked arms and blackened face; and when, with these things, he
saw the wonderful joy shining in their eyes, he stood like one struck dumb
at sight of a miracle descending out of the skies. For never had Joanne
looked more beautiful than in this hour, and never had man looked more like
entering into paradise than John Aldous.
Short and to the point was the little mountain minister's service, and when
he had done he shook hands with them, and again he stared at them as they
went back up the stair, still hand in hand. At her door they stopped. There
were no words to speak now, as her heart lay against his heart, and her
lips against his lips. And then, after those moments, she drew a little
back, and there came suddenly that sweet, quivering, joyous play of her
lips as she said:
"And now, my husband, may I dress my hair?"
"My hair," he corrected, and let her go from his arms.
Her door closed behind her. A little dizzily he turned to his room. His
hand was on the knob when he heard her speak his name. She had reopened her
door, and stood with something in her hand, which she was holding toward
him. He went back, and she gave him a photograph.
"John, you will destroy this," she whispered. "It is his
photograph--Mortimer FitzHugh's. I brought it to show to people, that it
might help me in my search. Please--destroy it!"
He returned to his room and placed the photograph on his table. It was
wrapped in thin paper, and suddenly there came upon him a most compelling
desire to see what Mortimer FitzHugh had looked like in life. Joanne would
not care. Perhaps it would be best for him to know.
He tore off the paper. And as he looked at the picture the hot blood in his
veins ran cold. He stared--stared as if some wild and maddening joke was
being played upon his faculties. A cry rose to his lips and broke in a
gasping breath, and about him the floor, the world itself, seemed slipping
away from under his feet.
For the picture he held in his hand was the picture of Culver Rann!
For a minute, perhaps longer, John Aldous stood staring at the photograph
which he held in his hand. It was the picture of Culver Rann--not once did
he question that fact, and not once did the thought flash upon him that
this might be only an unusual and startling resemblance. It was assuredly
Culver Rann! The picture dropped from his hand to the table, and he went
toward the door. His first impulse was to go to Joanne. But when he reached
the door he locked it, and dropped into a chair, facing the mirror in his
The reflection of his own face was a shock to him. If he was pale, the dust
and grime of his fight in the cavern concealed his pallor. But the face
that stared at him from out of the glass was haggard, wildly and almost
grotesquely haggard, and he turned from it with a grim laugh, and set his
jaws hard. He returned to the table, and bit by bit tore the photograph
into thin shreds, and then piled the shreds on his ash-tray and burned
them. He opened a window to let out the smoke and smell of charring paper,
and the fresh, cool air of early evening struck his face. He could look off
through the fading sunshine of the valley and see the mountain where Coyote
Number Twenty-eight was to have done its work, and as he looked he gripped
the window-sill so fiercely that the nails of his fingers were bent and
broken against the wood. And in his brain the same words kept repeating
themselves over and over again. Mortimer FitzHugh was not dead. He was
alive. He was Culver Rann. And Joanne--Joanne was not _his_ wife; she was
still the wife of Mortimer FitzHugh--of Culver Rann!
He turned again to the mirror, and there was another look in his face. It
was grim, terribly grim--and smiling. There was no excitement, nothing of
the passion and half-madness with which he had faced Quade and Rann the
night before. He laughed softly, and his nails dug as harshly into the
palms of his hands as they had dug into the sills of the window.
"You poor, drivelling, cowardly fool!" he said to his reflection. "And you
dare to say--you dare to _think_ that she is not your wife?"
As if in reply to his words there came a knock at the door, and from the
hall Blackton called:
"Here's MacDonald, Aldous. He wants to see you."
Aldous opened the door and the old hunter entered.
"If I ain't interruptin' you, Johnny----"
"You're the one man in the world I want to see, Mac. No, I'll take that
back; there's one other I want to see worse than you--Culver Rann."
The strange look in his face made old Donald stare.
"Sit down," he said, drawing two chairs close to the table. "There's
something to talk about. It was a terribly close shave, wasn't it?"
"An awful close shave, Johnny. As close a shave as ever was."
Still, as if not quite understanding what he saw, old Donald was staring
into John's face.
"I'm glad it happened," said Aldous, and his voice became softer. "She
loves me, Mac. It all came out when we were in there, and thought we were
going to die. Not ten minutes ago the minister was here, and he made us man
Words of gladness that sprang to the old man's lips were stopped by that
strange, cold, tense look in the face of John Aldous.
"And in the last five minutes," continued Aldous, as quietly as before, "I
have learned that Mortimer FitzHugh, her husband, is not dead. Is it very
remarkable that you do not find me happy, Mac? If you had come a few
"Oh, my God! Johnny! Johnny!"
MacDonald had pitched forward over the table, and now he bowed his great
shaggy head in his hands, and his gaunt shoulders shook as his voice came
brokenly through his beard.
"I did it, Johnny; I did it for you an' her! When I knew what it would mean
for her--I _couldn't_, Johnny, I couldn't tell her the truth, 'cause I knew
she loved you, an' you loved her, an' it would break her heart. I thought
it would be best, an' you'd go away together, an' nobody would ever know,
an' you'd be happy. I didn't lie. I didn't say anything. But
Johnny--Johnny, _there weren't no bones in the grave!_"
"My God!" breathed Aldous.
"There were just some clothes," went on MacDonald huskily, "an' the watch
an' the ring were on top. Johnny, there weren't nobody ever buried there,
an' I'm to blame--I'm to blame."
"And you did that for us," cried Aldous, and suddenly he reached over and
gripped old Donald's hands. "It wasn't a mistake, Mac. I thank God you kept
silent. If you had told her that the grave was empty, that it was a fraud,
I don't know what would have happened. And now--she is _mine!_ If she had
seen Culver Rann, if she had discovered that this scoundrel, this
blackmailer and murderer, was Mortimer FitzHugh, her husband----"
"Johnny! John Aldous!"
Donald MacDonald's voice came now like the deep growling roar of a
she-bear, and as he cried the other's name he sprang to his feet, and his
eyes gleamed in their deep sockets like raging fires.
Aldous rose, and he was smiling. He nodded.
"That's it," he said. "Mortimer FitzHugh is Culver Rann!"
"An'--an' you know this?"
"Absolutely. Joanne gave me Mortimer FitzHugh's photograph to destroy. I am
sorry that I burned it before you saw it. But there is no doubt. Mortimer
FitzHugh and Culver Rann are the same man."
Slowly the old mountaineer turned to the door. Aldous was ahead of him, and
stood with his hand on the knob.
"I don't want you to go yet, Mac."
"I--I'll see you a little later," said Donald clumsily.
For a full half minute they looked steadily into each other's eyes.
"Only a week, Johnny," pleaded Donald. "I'll be back in a week."
"You mean that you will kill him?"
"He'll never come back. I swear it, Johnny!"
As gently as he might have led Joanne, Aldous drew the mountaineer back to
"That would be cold-blooded murder," he said, "and I would be the murderer.
I can't send you out to do my killing, Mac, as I might send out a hired
assassin. Don't you see that I can't? Good heaven, some day--very soon--I
will tell you how this hound, Mortimer FitzHugh, poisoned Joanne's life,
and did his worst to destroy her. It's to me he's got to answer, Donald.
And to me he shall answer. I am going to kill him. But it will not be
murder. Since you have come into this room I have made my final plan, and I
shall follow it to the end coolly and deliberately. It will be a great
game, Mac--and it will be a fair game; and I shall play it happily, because
Joanne will not know, and I will be strengthened by her love.
"Quade wants my life, and tried to hire Stevens, up at Miette, to kill me.
Culver Rann wants my life; a little later it will come to be the greatest
desire of his existence to have me dead and out of the way. I shall give
him the chance to do the killing, Mac. I shall give him a splendid chance,
and he will not fail to accept his opportunity. Perhaps he will have an
advantage, but I am as absolutely certain of killing him as I am that the
sun is going down behind the mountains out there. If others should step
in, if I should have more than Culver Rann on my hands--why, then you may
deal yourself a hand if you like, Donald. It may be a bigger game than One
"It will," rumbled MacDonald. "I learned other things early this afternoon,
Johnny. Quade did not stay behind. He went with Rann. DeBar and the woman
are with them, and two other men. They went over the Lone Cache Pass, and
this minute are hurrying straight for the headwaters of the Parsnip. There
are five of 'em--five men."
"And we are two," smiled Aldous. "So there _is_ an advantage on their side,
isn't there, Mac? And it makes the game most eminently fair, doesn't it?"
"Johnny, we're good for the five!" cried old Donald in a low, eager voice.
"If we start now----"
"Can you have everything ready by morning?"
"The outfit's waiting. It's ready now, Johnny."
"Then we'll leave at dawn. I'll come to you to-night in the coulee, and
we'll make our final plans. My brain is a little muddled now, and I've got
to clear it, and make myself presentable before supper. We must not let
Joanne know. She must suspect nothing--absolutely nothing."
"Nothing," repeated MacDonald as he went to the door.
There he paused and, hesitating for a moment, leaned close to Aldous, and
said in a low voice:
"Johnny, I've been wondering why the grave were empty. I've been wondering
why there weren't somebody's bones there just t' give it the look it should
'a' had an' why the clothes were laid out so nicely with the watch an' the
ring on top!"
With that he was gone, and Aldous closed and relocked the door.
He was amazed at his own composure as he washed himself and proceeded to
dress for supper. What had happened had stunned him at first, had even
terrified him for a few appalling moments. Now he was superbly
self-possessed. He asked himself questions and answered them with a
promptness which left no room for doubt in his mind as to what his actions
should be. One fact he accepted as absolute: Joanne belonged to him. She
was his wife. He regarded her as that, even though Mortimer FitzHugh was
alive. In the eyes of both God and man FitzHugh no longer had a claim upon
her. This man, who was known as Culver Rann, was worse than Quade, a
scoundrel of the first water, a procurer, a blackmailer, even a
murderer--though he had thus far succeeded in evading the rather loose and
poorly working tentacles of mountain law.
Not for an instant did he think of Joanne as Culver Rann's wife. She was
_his_ wife. It was merely a technicality of the law--a technicality that
Joanne might break with her little finger--that had risen now between them
and happiness. And it was this that he knew was the mountain in his path,
for he was certain that Joanne would not break that last link of bondage.
She would know, with Mortimer FitzHugh alive, that the pledge between them
in the "coyote," and the marriage ceremony in the room below, meant
nothing. Legally, she was no more to him now than she was yesterday, or the
day before. And she would leave him, even if it destroyed her, heart and
soul. He was sure of that. For years she had suffered her heart to be
ground out of her because of the "bit of madness" that was in her, because
of that earlier tragedy in her life--and her promise, her pledge to her
father, her God, and herself. Without arguing a possible change in her
because of her love for him, John Aldous accepted these things. He believed
that if he told Joanne the truth he would lose her.
His determination not to tell her, to keep from her the secret of the grave
and the fact that Mortimer FitzHugh was alive, grew stronger in him with
each breath that he drew. He believed that it was the right thing to do,
that it was the honourable and the only thing to do. Now that the first
shock was over, he did not feel that he had lost Joanne, or that there was
a very great danger of losing her. For a moment it occurred to him that he
might turn the law upon Culver Rann, and in the same breath he laughed at
this absurdity. The law could not help him. He alone could work out his own
and Joanne's salvation. And what was to happen must happen very soon--up in
the mountains. When it was all over, and he returned, he would tell Joanne.
His heart beat more quickly as he finished dressing. In a few minutes more
he would be with Joanne, and in spite of what had happened, and what might
happen, he was happy. Yesterday he had dreamed. To-day was reality--and it
was a glorious reality. Joanne belonged to him. She loved him. She was his
wife, and when he went to her it was with the feeling that only a serpent
lay in the path of their paradise--a serpent which he would crush with as
little compunction as that serpent would have destroyed her. Utterly and
remorselessly his mind was made up.
The Blacktons' supper hour was five-thirty, and he was a quarter of an hour
late when he tapped at Joanne's door. He felt the warmth of a strange and
delightful embarrassment flushing his face as the door opened, and she
stood before him. In her face, too, was a telltale riot of colour which the
deep tan partly concealed in his own.
"I--I am a little late, am I not, Joanne?" he asked.
"You are, sir. If you have taken all this time dressing you are worse than
a woman. I have been waiting fifteen minutes!"
"Old Donald came to see me," he apologized. "Joanne----"
"You mustn't, John!" she expostulated in a whisper. "My face is afire now!
You mustn't kiss me again--until after supper----"
"Only once," he pleaded.
"If you will promise--just once----"
A moment later she gasped:
"Five times! John Aldous, I will never believe you again as long as I
They went down to the Blacktons, and Peggy and Paul, who were busy over
some growing geraniums in the dining-room window, faced about with a forced
and incongruous appearance of total oblivion to everything that had
happened. It lasted less than ten seconds. Joanne's lips quivered. Aldous
saw the two little dimples at the corners of her mouth fighting to keep
themselves out of sight--and then he looked at Peggy. Blackton could stand
it no longer, and grinned broadly.
"For goodness sake go to it, Peggy!" he laughed. "If you don't you'll
The next moment Peggy and Joanne were in each other's arms, and the two men
were shaking hands.
"We know just how you feel," Blackton tried to explain. "We felt just like
you do, only we had to face twenty people instead of two. And you're not
hungry. I'll wager that. I'll bet you don't feel like swallowing a
mouthful. It had that peculiar effect on us, didn't it, Peggy?"
"And I--I almost choked myself," gurgled Peggy as they took their places at
the table. "There really did seem to be something thick in my throat,
Joanne, dear. I coughed and coughed and coughed before all those people
until I wanted to die right there! And I'm wondering----"
"If I'm going to choke, too?" smiled Joanne. "Indeed not, Peggy. I'm as
hungry as a bear!"
And now she did look glorious and self-possessed to Aldous as she sat
opposite him at that small round table, which was just fitted for four. He
told her so when the meal was finished, and they were following the
Blacktons into the front room. Blackton had evidently been carefully
drilled along the line of a certain scheme which Peggy had formed, for in
spite of a negative nod from her, which signified that he was to wait a
while, he pulled out his watch, and said:
"It isn't at all surprising if you people have forgotten that to-morrow is
Sunday. Peggy and I always do some Saturday-night shopping, and if you
don't mind, we'll leave you to care for the house while we go to town. We
won't be gone more than an hour."
A few minutes later, when the door had closed behind them, Aldous led
Joanne to a divan, and sat down beside her.
"I couldn't have arranged it better myself, dear," he exclaimed. "I have
been wondering how I could have you alone for a few minutes, and tell you
what is on my mind before I see MacDonald again to-night. I'm afraid you
will be displeased with me, Joanne. I hardly know how to begin. But--I've
A moment's uneasiness came into her eyes as she saw how seriously he was
"You don't mean, John--there's more about Quade--and Culver Rann?"
"No, no--nothing like that," he laughed, as though amused at the absurdity
of her question. "Old Donald tells me they have skipped the country,
Joanne. It's not that. It's you I'm thinking of, and what you may think of
me a minute from now. Joanne, I've given my word to old Donald. He has
lived in my promise. I've got to keep that promise--I must go into the
North with him."
She had drawn one of his hands into her lap and was fondling it with her
own soft palm and fingers.
"Of course, you must, John. I love old Donald."
"And I must go--soon," he added.
"It is only fair to him that you should," she agreed.
"He--he is determined we shall go in the morning," he finished, keeping his
eyes from her.
For a moment Joanne did not answer. Her fingers interweaved with his, her
warm little palm stroked the rough back of his hand. Then she said, very
"And why do you think that will displease me, John, dear? I will be ready!"
Her eyes were on him, full, and dark, and glowing, and in them were both
love and laughter.
"You dear silly John!" she laughed. "Why don't you come right out and tell
me to stay at home, instead of--of--'beating 'round the bush'--as Peggy
Blackton says? Only you don't know what a terrible little person you've
got, John. You really don't. So you needn't say any more. We'll start in
the morning--and I am going with you!"
In a flash John Aldous saw his whole scheme shaking on its foundation.
"It's impossible--utterly impossible!" he gasped.
"And why utterly?" she asked, bending her head so that her soft hair
touched his face and lips. "John, have you already forgotten what we said
in that terrible cavern--what we told ourselves we would have done if we
had lived? We were going adventuring, weren't we? And we are not dead--but
alive. And this will be a glorious trip! Why, John, don't you see, don't
you understand? It will be our honeymoon trip!"
"It will be a long, rough journey," he argued. "It will be hard--hard for a
With a little laugh, Joanne sprang up and stood before him in a glow of
light, tall, and slim, and splendid, and there was a sparkle of beautiful
defiance and a little of triumph in her eyes as she looked down on him.
"And it will be dangerous, too? You are going to tell me that?"
"Yes, it will be dangerous."
She came to him and rumpled up his hair, and turned his face up so that she
could look into his eyes.
"Is it worse than fever, and famine, and deep swamps, and crawling
jungles?" she asked. "Are we going to encounter worse things than beasts,
and poisonous serpents, and murderous savages--even hunger and thirst,
John? For many years we dared those together--my father and I. Are these
great, big, beautiful mountains more treacherous than those Ceylon jungles
from which you ran away--even you, John? Are they more terrible to live in
than the Great African Desert? Are your bears worse than tigers, your
wolves more terrible than lions? And if, through years and years, I faced
those things with my father, do you suppose that I want to be left behind
now, and by my husband?"
So sweet and wonderful was the sound of that name as it came softly from
her lips, that in his joy he forgot the part he was playing, and drew her
close down in his arms, and in that moment all that remained of the scheme
he had built for keeping her behind crumbled in ruin about him.
Yet in a last effort he persisted.
"Old Donald wants to travel fast--very fast, Joanne. I owe a great deal to
him. Even you I owe to him--for he saved us from the 'coyote.'"
"I am going, John."
"If we went alone we would be able to return very soon."
"I am going."
"And some of the mountains--it is impossible for a woman to climb them!"
"Then I will let you carry me up them, John. You are so strong----"
He groaned hopelessly.
"Joanne, won't you stay with the Blacktons, to please me?"
"No. I don't care to please you."
Her fingers were stroking his cheek.
"Father taught me to shoot, and as we get better acquainted on our
honeymoon trip I'll tell you about some of my hunting adventures. I don't
like to shoot wild things, because I love them too well. But I can shoot.
And I want a gun!"
"Not a toy--but a real gun," she continued. "A gun like yours. And then, if
by any chance we should have trouble--with Culver Rann----"
She felt him start, and her hands pressed harder against his face.
"Now I know," she whispered. "I guessed it all along. You told me that
Culver Rann and the others were after the gold. They've gone--and their
going isn't quite 'skipping the country' as you meant me to understand it,
John Aldous! So please let's not argue any more. If we do we may quarrel,
and that would be terrible. I'm going. And I will be ready in the morning.
And I want a gun. And I want you to be nice to me, and I want it to be our
honeymoon--even if it is going to be exciting!"
And with that she put her lips to his, and his last argument was gone.
Two hours later, when he went to the coulee, he was like one who had come
out of a strange and disturbing and altogether glorious dream. He had told
Joanne and the Blacktons that it was necessary for him to be with MacDonald
that night. Joanne's good-night kiss was still warm on his lips, the loving
touch of her hands still trembled on his face, and the sweet perfume of her
hair was in his nostrils. He was drunk with the immeasurable happiness that
had come to him, every fibre in him was aquiver with it--and yet, possessed
of his great joy, he was conscious of a fear; a fear that was new and
growing, and which made him glad when he came at last to the little fire in
He did not tell MacDonald the cause of this fear at first. He told the
story of Mortimer FitzHugh and Joanne, leaving no part of it unbared, until
he could see Donald MacDonald's great gaunt hands clenching in the
firelight, and his cavernous eyes flaming darkly through the gloom. Then he
told what had happened when the Blacktons went to town, and when he had
finished, and rose despairingly beside the fire, Donald rose, too, and his
voice boomed in a sort of ecstasy.
"My Jane would ha' done likewise," he cried in triumph. "She would that,
"But this is different!" groaned Aldous. "What am I going to do, Mac? What
can I do? Don't you see how impossible it is! Mac, Mac--she isn't my
wife--not entirely, not absolutely, not in the last and vital sense of
being a wife by law! If she knew the truth, she wouldn't consider herself
my wife; she would leave me. For that reason I can't take her. I can't.
Think what it would mean!"
Old Donald had come close to his side, and at the look in the gray old
mountaineer's face John Aldous paused. Slowly Donald laid his hands on his
"Johnny," he said gently, "Johnny, be you sure of yourself? Be you a man,
"Good heaven, Donald. You mean----"
Their eyes met steadily.
"If you are, Johnny," went on MacDonald in a low voice, "I'd take her with
me. An' if you ain't, I'd leave these mount'ins to-night an' never look in
her sweet face again as long as I lived."
"You'd take her along?" demanded Aldous eagerly.
"I would. I've been thinkin' it over to-night. An' something seemed to tell
me we mustn't dare leave her here alone. There's just two things to do,
Johnny. You've got to stay with her an' let me go on alone or--you've got
to take her."
Slowly Aldous shook his head. He looked at his watch. It was a little after
"If I could make myself believe that she would not be safe here--I would
take her," he said. "But I can't quite make up my mind to that, Mac. She
will be in good hands with the Blacktons. I will warn Paul. Joanne is
determined to go, and I know she will think it pretty indecent to be told
emphatically that she can't go. But I've got to do it. I can't see----"
A break in the stillness of the night stopped him with the suddenness of a
bullet in his brain. It was a scream--a woman's scream, and there followed
it shriek after shriek, until the black forest trembled with the fear and
agony of the cries, and John Aldous stood as if suddenly stripped of the
power to move or act. Donald MacDonald roused him to life. With a roar in
his beard, he sprang forth into the darkness. And Aldous followed, a hot
sweat of fear in his blood where a moment before had been only a chill of
wonder and horror. For in Donald's savage beastlike cry he had caught
Joanne's name, and an answering cry broke from his own lips as he followed
the great gaunt form that was tearing with the madness of a wounded bear
ahead of him through the night.
Not until they had rushed up out of the coulee and had reached the pathlike
trail did the screaming cease. For barely an instant MacDonald paused, and
then ran on with a speed that taxed Aldous to keep up. When they came to
the little open amphitheatre in the forest MacDonald halted again. Their
hearts were thumping like hammers, and the old mountaineer's voice came
husky and choking when he spoke.
"It wasn't far--from here!" he panted.
Scarcely had he uttered the words when he sped on again. Three minutes
later they came to where the trail crossed the edge of a small
rock-cluttered meadow, and with a sudden spurt Aldous darted ahead of
MacDonald into this opening, where he saw two figures in the moonlight.
Half a dozen feet from them he stopped with a cry of horror. They were Paul
and Peggy Blackton! Peggy was dishevelled and sobbing, and was frantically
clutching at her husband. It was Paul Blackton who dragged the cry from his
lips. The contractor was swaying. He was hatless; his face was covered with
blood, and his eyes were only half open, as if he were fighting to pull
himself back into consciousness after a terrible blow. Peggy's hair was
down, her dress was torn at the throat, and she was panting so that for a
moment she could not speak.
"They've got--Joanne!" she cried then. "They went--there!"
She pointed, and Aldous ran where she pointed--into the timber on the far
side of the little meadow. MacDonald caught his arm as they ran.
"You go straight in," he commanded. "I'll swing--to right--toward
For two minutes after that Aldous tore straight ahead. Then for barely a
moment he stopped. He had not paused to question Peggy Blackton. His own
fears told him who Joanne's abductors were. They were men working under
instructions from Quade. And they could not be far away, for scarcely ten
minutes had passed since the first scream. He listened, and held his breath
so that the terrific beating of his heart would not drown the sound of
crackling brush. All at once the blood in him was frozen by a fierce yell.
It was MacDonald, a couple of hundred yards to his right, and after that
yell came the bellowing shout of his name.
"Johnny! Johnny! Oh, Johnny!"
He dashed in MacDonald's direction, and a few moments later heard the
crashing of bodies in the undergrowth. Fifty seconds more and he was in the
arena. MacDonald was fighting three men in a space over which the
spruce-tops grew thinly. The moon shone upon them as they swayed in a
struggling mass, and as Aldous sprang to the combat one of the three reeled
backward and fell as if struck by a battering-ram. In that same moment
MacDonald went down, and Aldous struck a terrific blow with the butt of his
heavy Savage. He missed, and the momentum of his blow carried him over
MacDonald. He tripped and fell. By the time he had regained his, feet the
two men had disappeared into the thick shadows of the spruce forest. Aldous
whirled toward the third man, whom he had seen fall. He, too, had
disappeared. A little lamely old Donald brought himself to his feet. He was
"Now, what do 'ee think, Johnny?"
"Where is she? Where is Joanne?" demanded Aldous.
"Twenty feet behind you, Johnny, gagged an' trussed up nice as a whistle!
If they hadn't stopped to do that work you wouldn't ha' seen her ag'in,
Johnny--s'elp me, God, you wouldn't! They was hikin' for the river. Once
they had reached the Frazer, and a boat----"
He broke off to lead Aldous to a clump of dwarf spruce. Behind this, white
and still in the moonlight, but with eyes wide open and filled with horror,
lay Joanne. Hands and feet were bound, and a big handkerchief was tied over
her mouth. Twenty seconds later Aldous held her shivering and sobbing and
laughing hysterically by turns in his arms, while MacDonald's voice brought
Paul and Peggy Blackton to them. Blackton had recovered from the blow that
had dazed him. Over Joanne's head he stared at Aldous. And MacDonald was
staring at Blackton. His eyes were burning a little darkly.
"It's all come out right," he said, "but it ain't a special nice time o'
night to be taking a' evening walk in this locality with a couple o'
Blackton was still staring at Aldous, with Peggy clutching his arm as if
afraid of losing him.
It was Peggy who answered MacDonald.
"And it was a nice time of night for you to send a message asking us to
bring Joanne down the trail!" she cried, her voice trembling.
"We----" began Aldous, when he saw a sudden warning movement on MacDonald's
part, and stopped. "Let us take the ladies home," he said.
With Joanne clinging to him, he led the way. Behind them all MacDonald
"There's got t' be something done with these damned beasts of furriners.
It's gettin' so no woman ain't safe at night!"
Twenty minutes later they reached the bungalow. Leaving Joanne and Peggy
inside, now as busily excited as two phoebe birds, and after Joanne had
insisted upon Aldous sleeping at the Blacktons' that night, the two men
accompanied MacDonald a few steps on his way back to camp.
As soon as they were out of earshot Blackton began cursing softly under his
"So you didn't send that damned note?" he asked. "You haven't said so, but
I've guessed you didn't send it!"
"No, we didn't send a note."
"And you had a reason--you and MacDonald--for not wanting the girls to know
"A mighty good reason," said Aldous. "I've got to thank MacDonald for
closing my mouth at the right moment. I was about to give it away. And now,
Blackton, I've got to confide in you. But before I do that I want your word
that you will repeat nothing of what I say to another person--even your
"Go on," he said. "I've suspected a thing or two, Aldous. I'll give you my
word. Go on."
As briefly as possible, and without going deeply into detail, Aldous told
of Quade and his plot to secure possession of Joanne.
"And this is his work," he finished. "I've told you this, Paul, so that you
won't worry about Peggy. You can see from to-night's events that they were
not after her, but wanted Joanne. Joanne must not learn the truth. And your
wife must not know. I am going to settle with Quade. Just how and where and
when I'm going to settle with him I don't care to say now. But he's going
to answer to me. And he's going to answer soon."
Blackton whistled softly.
"A boy brought the note," he said. "He stood in the dark when he handed it
to me. And I didn't recognize any one of the three men who jumped out on
us. I didn't have much of a chance to fight, but if there's any one on the
face of the earth who has got it over Peggy when it comes to screaming, I'd
like to know her name! Joanne didn't have time to make a sound. But they
didn't touch Peggy until she began screaming, and then one of the men began
choking her. They had about laid me out with a club, so I was helpless.
"They were river men," said MacDonald. "Probably some of Tomman's scow-men.
They were making for the river."
A few minutes later, when Aldous was saying good-night to MacDonald, the
old hunter said again, in a whisper:
"Now what do 'ee think, Johnny?"
"That you're right, Mac," replied Aldous in a low voice. "There is no
longer a choice. Joanne must go with us. You will come early?"
"At dawn, Johnny."
He returned to the bungalow with Blackton, and until midnight the lights
there burned brightly while the two men answered a thousand questions about
the night's adventure, and Aldous told of his and Joanne's plans for the
honeymoon trip into the North that was to begin the next day.
It was half-past twelve when be locked the door of his and sat down to
There was no doubt in the mind of John Aldous now. The attempt upon Joanne
left him but one course to pursue: he must take her with him, in spite of
the monumental objections which he had seen a few hours before. He realized
what a fight this would mean for him, and with what cleverness and resource
he must play his part. Joanne had not given herself to him as she had once
given herself to Mortimer FitzHugh. In the "coyote," when they had faced
death, she had told him that were there to be a to-morrow in life for them
she would have given herself to him utterly and without reservation. And
that to-morrow had dawned. It was present. She was his wife. And she had
come to him as she had promised. In her eyes he had seen love and trust and
faith--and a glorious happiness. She had made no effort to hide that
happiness from him. Consciousness of it filled him with his own great
happiness, and yet it made him realize even more deeply how hard his fight
was to be. She was his wife. In a hundred little ways she had shown him
that she was proud of her wifehood. And again he told himself that she had
come to him as she had promised, that she had given into his keeping all
that she had to give. And yet--_she was not his wife!_
He groaned aloud, and his fingers dug into the flesh of his knees as he
thought of that. Could he keep that terrible truth from her? If she went
with him into the North, would she not guess? And, even though he kept the
truth from her until Mortimer FitzHugh was dead, would he be playing fair
with her? Again he went over all that he had gone over before. He knew that
Joanne would leave him to-morrow, and probably forever, if he told her that
FitzHugh was alive. The law could not help him, for only death--and never
divorce--would free her. Within himself he decided for the last time. He
was about to do the one thing left for him to do. And it was the honourable
thing, for it meant freedom for her and happiness for them both. To him,
Donald MacDonald had become a man who lived very close to the heart and the
right of things, and Donald had said that he should take her. This was the
greatest proof that he was right.
But could he keep Joanne from guessing? Could he keep her from discovering
the truth until it was time for her to know that truth? In this necessity
of keeping her from suspecting that something was wrong he saw his greatest
fight. Compared with it, the final settlement with Quade and Mortimer
FitzHugh sank into a second importance. He knew what would happen then. But
Joanne--Joanne on the trail, as his wife----
He began pacing back and forth in his room, clouding himself in the smoke
of his pipe. Frequently Joanne's mind had filled him with an exquisite
delight by its quickness and at times almost magic perceptiveness, and he
realized that in these things, and the fineness of her woman's intuition,
now lay his greatest menace. He was sure that she understood the meaning of
the assault upon her that night, though she had apparently believed what
he and Blackton had told them--that it had been the attack of
irresponsible and drunken hoodlums. Yet he was certain that she had already
guessed that Quade had been responsible.
He went to bed, dreading what questions and new developments the morning
might bring forth. And when the morning came, he was both amazed and
delighted. The near tragedy of the previous night might never have happened
in so far as he could judge from Joanne's appearance. When she came out of
her room to meet him, in the glow of a hall lamp, her eyes were like stars,
and the colour in her cheeks was like that of a rose fresh from its slumber
"I'm so happy, and what happened last night seems so like a bad dream," she
whispered, as he held her close to him for a few moments before descending
the stairs. "I shall worry about Peggy, John. I shall. I don't understand
how her husband dares to bring her among savages like these. You wouldn't
leave me among them, would you?" And as she asked the question, and his
lips pressed hers, John Aldous still believed that in her heart she knew
the truth of that night attack.
If she did know, she kept her secret from him all that day. They left Tete
Jaune before sunrise with an outfit which MacDonald had cut down to six
horses. Its smallness roused Joanne's first question, for Aldous had
described to her an outfit of twenty horses. He explained that a large
outfit made travel much more difficult and slow, but he did not tell her
that with six horses instead of twenty they could travel less
conspicuously, more easily conceal themselves from enemies, and, if
necessary, make quick flight or swift pursuit.
They stopped to camp for the night in a little basin that drew from Joanne
an exclamation of joy and wonder. They had reached the upper timber-line,
and on three sides the basin was shut in by treeless and brush-naked walls
of the mountains. In the centre of the dip was a lake fed by a tiny stream
that fell in a series of ribbonlike cataracts a sheer thousand feet from
the snow-peaks that towered above them. Small, parklike clumps of spruce
dotted the miniature valley; over it hung a sky as blue as sapphire and
under their feet was a carpet of soft grass sprayed with little blue
forget-me-nots and wild asters.
"I have never seen anything a half so beautiful as this!" cried Joanne, as
Aldous helped her from her horse.
As her feet touched the ground she gave a little cry and hung limply in his
"I'm lame--lame for life!" she laughed in mock humour. "John, I can't
stand. I really can't!"
Old Donald was chuckling in his beard as he came up.
"You ain't nearly so lame as you'll be to-morrow," he comforted her. "An'
you won't be nearly so lame to-morrow as you'll be next day. Then you'll
begin to get used to it, Mis' Joanne."
"_Mrs. Aldous_, Donald," she corrected sweetly. "Or--just Joanne."
At that Aldous found himself holding her so closely that she gave a little
"Please don't," she expostulated. "Your arms are terribly strong, John!"
MacDonald had turned away, still chuckling, and began to unpack. Joanne
looked behind her, then quickly held up her softly pouted lips. Aldous
kissed her, and would have kissed her again but she slipped suddenly from
his arms and going to Pinto began to untie a dishpan that was fastened to
the top of his pack.
"Get to work, John Aldous!" she commanded.
MacDonald had camped before in the basin, and there were tepee poles ready
cut, as light and dry as matchwood. Joanne watched them as they put up the
tent, and when it was done, and she looked inside, she cried delightedly:
"It's the snuggest little home I ever had, John!"
After that she busied herself in a way that was a constantly growing
pleasure to him. She took possession at once of pots and pans and kettles.
She lost no time in impressing upon both Aldous and MacDonald the fact that
while she was their docile follower on the trail she was to be at the head
of affairs in camp. While they were straightening out the outfit, hobbling
the horses, and building a fire, she rummaged through the panniers and took
stock of their provisions. She bossed old Donald in a manner that made him
fairly glow with pleasure. She bared her white arms to the elbows and made
biscuits for the "reflector" instead of bannock, while Aldous brought water
from the lake, and MacDonald cut wood. Her cheeks were aflame. Her eyes
were laughing, joyous, happy. MacDonald seemed years younger. He obeyed her
like a boy, and once Aldous caught him looking at her in a way that set him
thinking again of those days of years and years ago, and of other camps,
and of another woman--like Joanne.
MacDonald had thought of this first camp--and there were porterhouse steaks
for supper, which he had brought packed in a kettle of ice. When they sat
down to the meal, Joanne was facing a distant snow-capped ridge that cut
the skyline, and the last of the sun, reflected from the face of the
mountain on the east, had set brown-and-gold fires aglow in her hair. They
were partly through when her eyes rested on the distant snow-ridge. Aldous
saw her looking steadily. Suddenly she pointed beyond him.
"I see something moving over the snow on that mountain!" she cried a little
excitedly. "It is hurrying toward the summit--just under the skyline! What
Aldous and MacDonald looked toward the ridge. Fully a mile away, almost
even with the skyline now, a small dark object was moving over the white
surface of the snow.
"It ain't a goat," said MacDonald, "because a goat is white, and we
couldn't see it on the snow. It ain't a sheep, 'cause it's too dark, an'
movin' too slow. It must be a bear, but why in the name o' sin a bear would
be that high, I don't know!"
He jumped up and ran for his telescope.
"A grizzly," whispered Joanne tensely. "Would it be a grizzly, John?"
"Possibly," he answered. "Indeed, it's very likely. This is a grizzly
country. If we hurry you can get a look at him through the telescope."
MacDonald was already studying the object through his long glass when they
"It's a bear," he said.
"Please--please let me look at him," begged Joanne.
The dark object was now almost on the skyline. Half A minute more and it
would pass over and out of sight. MacDonald still held his eye to the
telescope, as though he had not heard Joanne. Not until the moving object
had crossed the skyline, and had disappeared, did he reply to her.
"The light's bad, an' you couldn't have made him out very well," he said.
"We'll show you plenty o' grizzlies, an' so near you won't want a
telescope. Eh, Johnny?"
As he looked at Aldous there was a strange look in his eyes, and during the
remainder of the supper he was restless, and ate hurriedly. When he had
finished he rose and picked up his long rifle.
"There's sheep somewhere near this basin, Johnny," he explained. "An' I
reckon Joanne'll scold us if we don't keep her in fresh meat. I'm goin' to
bring in some mutton if there's any to be got, an' I probably won't be back
until after dark."
Aldous knew that he had more to say, and he went with him a few steps
beyond the camp.
And MacDonald continued in a low, troubled voice:
"Be careful, Johnny. Watch yo'rself. I'm going to take a look over into the
next valley, an' I won't be back until late. It wasn't a goat, an' it
wasn't a sheep, an' it wasn't a bear. It was two-legged! It was a man,
Johnny, an' he was there to watch this trail, or my name ain't Donald
MacDonald. Mebby he came ahead of us last night, an' mebby he was here
before that happened. Anyway, be on your guard while I look over into the
With that he struck off in the direction of the snow-ridge, and for a few
moments Aldous stood looking after the tall, picturesque figure until it
disappeared behind a clump of spruce. Swiftly he was telling himself that
it was not the hunting season, and that it was not a prospector whom they
had seen on the snow-ridge. As a matter of caution, there could be but one
conclusion to draw. The man had been stationed there either by Quade or
FitzHugh, or both, and had unwittingly revealed himself.
He turned toward Joanne, who had already begun to gather up the supper
things. He could hear her singing happily, and as he looked she pressed a
finger to her lips and threw a kiss to him. His heart smote him even as he
smiled and waved a hand in response. Then he went to her. How slim and
wonderful she looked in that glow of the setting sun, he thought. How white
and soft were her hands, how tender and fragile her lovely neck! And how
helpless--how utterly helpless she would be if anything happened to him and
MacDonald! With an effort he flung the thought from him. On his knees he
wiped the dishes and pots and pans for Joanne. When this was done, he
seized an axe and showed her how to gather a bed. This was a new and
delightful experience for Joanne.
"You always want to cut balsam boughs when you can get them," he explained,
pausing before two small trees. "Now, this is a cedar, and this is a
balsam. Notice how prickly and needlelike on all sides these cedar branches
are. And now look at the balsam. The needles lay flat and soft. Balsam
makes the best bed you can get in the North, except moss, and you've got to
dry the moss."
For fifteen minutes he clipped off the soft ends of the balsam limbs and
Joanne gathered them in her arms and carried them into the tepee. Then he
went in with her, and showed her how to make the bed. He made it a narrow
bed, and a deep bed, and he knew that Joanne was watching him, and he was
glad the tan hid the uncomfortable glow in his face when he had finished
tucking in the end of the last blanket.
"You will be as cozy as can be in that," he said.
"And you, John?" she asked, her face flushing rosily. "I haven't seen
another tent for you and Donald."
"We don't sleep in a tent during the summer," he said. "Just our
blankets--out in the open."
"But--if it should rain?"
"We get under a balsam or a spruce or a thick cedar."
A little later they stood beside the fire. It was growing dusk. The distant
snow-ridge was swiftly fading into a pale and ghostly sheet in the gray
gloom of the night. Up that ridge Aldous knew that MacDonald was toiling.
Joanne put her hands to his shoulders.
"Are you sorry--so very, very sorry that you let me come, John?"
"I didn't let you come," he laughed softly, drawing her to him. "You came!"
"And are you sorry?"
It was deliciously sweet to have her tilt up her head and put her soft lips
to his, and it was still sweeter when her tender hands stroked his cheeks,
and eyes and lips smiled their love and gladness. He stood stroking her
hair, with her face laying warm and close against him, and over her head he
stared into the thickening darkness of the spruce and cedar copses. Joanne
herself had piled wood on the fire, and in its glow they were dangerously
illuminated. With one of her hands she was still caressing his cheek.
"When will Donald return?" she asked.
"Probably not until late," he replied, wondering what it was that had set a
stone rolling down the side of the mountain nearest to them. "He hunted
until dark, and may wait for the moon to come up before he returns."
"Yes, dear?----" And mentally he measured the distance to the nearest clump
of timber between them and the mountain.
"Let's build a big fire, and sit down on the pannier canvases."
His eyes were still on the timber, and he was wondering what a man with a
rifle, or even a pistol, might do at that space. He made a good target, and
MacDonald was probably several miles away.
"I've been thinking about the fire," he said. "We must put it out, Joanne.
There are reasons why we should not let it burn. For one thing, the smoke
will drive any game away that we may hope to see in the morning."
Her hands lay still against his cheek.
"I--understand, John," she replied quickly, and there was the smallest bit
of a shudder in her voice. "I had forgotten. We must put it out!"
Five minutes later only a few glowing embers remained where the fire had
been. He had spread out the pannier canvases, and now he seated himself
with his back to a tree. Joanne snuggled close to him.
"It is much nicer in the dark," she whispered, and her arms reached up
about him, and her lips pressed warm and soft against his hand. "Are you
just a little ashamed of me, John?"
"Ashamed? Good heaven----"
"Because," she interrupted him, "we have known each other such a very short
time, and I have allowed myself to become so very, very well acquainted
with you. It has all been so delightfully sudden, and strange, and I
am--just as happy as I can be. You don't think it is immodest for me to say
these things to my husband, John--even if I have only known him three
He answered by crushing her so closely in his arms that for a few moments
afterward she lay helplessly on his breast, gasping for breath. His brain
was afire with the joyous madness of possession. Never had woman come to
man more sweetly than Joanne had come to him, and as he felt her throbbing
and trembling against him he was ready to rise up and shout forth a
challenge to a hundred Quades and Culver Ranns hiding in the darkness of
the mountains. For a long time he held her nestled close in his arms, and
at intervals there were silences between them, in which they listened to
the glad tumult of their own hearts, and the strange silence that came to
them from out of the still night.
It was their first hour alone--of utter oblivion to all else but
themselves; to Joanne the first sacrament hour of her wifehood, to him the
first hour of perfect possession and understanding. In that hour their
souls became one, and when at last they rose to their feet, and the moon
came up over a crag of the mountain and flooded them in its golden light,
there was in Joanne's face a tenderness and a gentle glory that made John
Aldous think of an angel. He led her to the tepee, and lighted a candle
for her, and at the last, with the sweet demand of a child in the manner of
her doing it, she pursed up her lips to be kissed good-night.
And when he had tied the tent-flap behind her, he took his rifle and sat
down with it across his knees in the deep black shadow of a spruce, and
waited and listened for the coming of Donald MacDonald.
For an hour after Joanne had gone into her tent Aldous sat silent and
watchful. From where he had concealed himself he could see over a part of
the moonlit basin, and guard the open space between the camp and the clump
of timber that lay in the direction of the nearest mountain. After Joanne
had blown out her candle the silence of the night seemed to grow deeper
about him. The hobbled horses had wandered several hundred yards away, and
only now and then could he hear the thud of a hoof, or the clank of a steel
shoe on rock. He believed that it was impossible for any one to approach
without ears and eyes giving him warning, and he felt a distinct shock when
Donald MacDonald suddenly appeared in the moonlight not twenty paces from
him. With an ejaculation of amazement he jumped to his feet and went to
"How the deuce did you get here?" he demanded.
"Were you asleep, Johnny?"
"I was awake--and watching!"
The old hunter chuckled.
"It was so still when I come to those trees back there that I thought mebby
something had 'appened," he said.
"So, I sneaked up, Johnny."
"Did you see anything over the range?" asked Aldous anxiously.
"I found footprints in the snow, an' when I got to the top I smelled smoke,
but couldn't see a fire. It was dark then." MacDonald nodded toward the
tepee. "Is she asleep, Johnny?"
"I think so. She must be very tired."
They drew back into the shadow of the spruce. It was a simultaneous
movement of caution, and both, without speaking their thoughts, realized
the significance of it. Until now they had had no opportunity of being
alone since last night.
MacDonald spoke in a low, muffled voice:
"Quade an' Culver Rann are goin' the limit, Johnny," he said. "They left
men on the job at Tete Jaune, and they've got others watching us.
Consequently, I've hit on a scheme--a sort of simple and unreasonable
scheme, mebby, but an awful good scheme at times."
"What is it?"
"Whenever you see anything that ain't a bear, or a goat, or a sheep, don't
wait to change the time o' day--but shoot!" said MacDonald.
Aldous smiled grimly.
"If I had any ideas of chivalry, or what I call fair play, they were taken
out of me last night, Mac," he said. "I'm ready to shoot on sight!"
MacDonald grunted his satisfaction.
"They can't beat us if we do that, Johnny. They ain't even ordinary
cut-throats--they're sneaks in the bargain; an' if they could walk in our
camp, smilin' an' friendly, and brain us when our backs was turned, they'd
do it. We don't know who's with them, and if a stranger heaves in sight
meet him with a chunk o' lead. They're the only ones in these mountains,
an' we won't make any mistake. See that bunch of spruce over there?"
The old hunter pointed to a clump fifty yards beyond the tepee toward the
little lake. Aldous nodded.
"I'll take my blankets over there," continued MacDonald. "You roll yourself
up here, and the tepee'll be between us. You see the system, Johnny? If
they make us a visit during the night we've got 'em between us, and
there'll be some real burying to do in the morning!"
Back under the low-hanging boughs of the dwarf spruce Aldous spread out his
blanket a few minutes later. He had made up his mind not to sleep, and for
hours he lay watchful and waiting, smoking occasionally, with his face
close to the ground so that the odour of tobacco would cling to the earth.
The moon rose until it was straight overhead, flooding the valley in a
golden splendour that he wished Joanne might have seen. Then it began
sinking into the west; slowly at first, and then more swiftly, its radiance
diminished. He looked at his watch before the yellow orb effaced itself
behind the towering peak of a distant mountain. It was a quarter of two.
With deepening darkness, his eyes grew heavier. He closed them for a few
moments at a time; and each time the interval was longer, and it took
greater effort to force himself into wakefulness. Finally he slept. But he
was still subconsciously on guard, and an hour later that consciousness was
beating and pounding within him, urging him to awake. He sat up with a
start and gripped his rifle. An owl was hooting--softly, very softly. There
were four notes. He answered, and a little later MacDonald came like a
shadow out of the gloom. Aldous advanced to meet him, and he noticed that
over the eastern mountains there was a break of gray.
"It's after three, Johnny," MacDonald greeted him. "Build a fire and get
breakfast. Tell Joanne I'm out after another sheep. Until it's good an'
light I'm going to watch from that clump of timber up there. In half an
hour it'll be dawn."
He moved toward the timber, and Aldous set about building a fire. He was
careful not to awaken Joanne. The fire was crackling cheerily when he went
to the lake for water. Returning he saw the faint glow of candlelight in
Joanne's tepee. Five minutes later she appeared, and all thought of danger,
and the discomfort of his sleepless night, passed from him at sight of her.
Her eyes were still a little misty with sleep when he took her in his arms
and kissed her, but she was deliciously alive, and glad, and happy. In one
hand she had brought a brush and in the other a comb.
"You slept like a log," he cried happily. "It can't be that you had very
bad dreams, little wife?"
"I had a beautiful dream, John," she laughed softly, and the colour flooded
up into her face.
She unplaited the thick silken strands of her braid and began brushing her
hair in the firelight, while Aldous sliced the bacon. Some of the slices
were thick, and some were thin, for he could not keep his eyes from her as
she stood there like a goddess, buried almost to her knees in that wondrous
mantle. He found himself whistling with a very light heart as she braided
her hair, and afterward plunged her face in a bath of cold water he had
brought from the lake. From that bath she emerged like a glowing Naiad.
Her eyes sparkled. Her cheeks were pink and her lips full and red. Damp
little tendrils of hair clung adorably about her face and neck. For another
full minute Aldous paused in his labours, and he wondered if MacDonald was
watching them from the clump of timber. The bacon was sputtering when
Joanne ran to it and rescued it from burning.
Dawn followed quickly after that first break of day in the east, but not
until one could see a full rifle-shot away did MacDonald return to the
camp. Breakfast was waiting, and as soon as he had finished the old hunter
went after the horses. It was five o'clock, and bars of the sun were
shooting over the tops of the mountains when once more they were in the
saddle and on their way.
Most of this day Aldous headed the outfit up the valley. On the pretext of
searching for game MacDonald rode so far in advance that only twice during
the forenoon was he in sight. When they stopped to camp for the night his
horse was almost exhausted, and MacDonald himself showed signs of
tremendous physical effort. Aldous could not question him before Joanne. He
waited. And MacDonald was strangely silent.
The proof of MacDonald's prediction concerning Joanne was in evidence this
second night. Every bone in her body ached, and she was so tired that she
made no objection to going to her bed as soon as it was dark.
"It always happens like this," consoled old Donald, as she bade him
good-night. "To-morrow you'll begin gettin' broke in, an' the next day you
won't have any lameness at all."
She limped to the tepee with John's arm snugly about her slim waist.
MacDonald waited patiently until he returned. He motioned Aldous to seat
himself close at his side. Both men lighted their pipes before the
"We can't both sleep at once to-night, Johnny," he said. "We've got to take
turns keeping watch."
"You've discovered something to-day?"
"No. It's what I haven't discovered that counts. There weren't no tracks in
this valley, Johnny, from mount'in to mount'in. They haven't travelled
through this range, an' that leaves just two things for us to figger on.
They're behind us--or DeBar is hitting another trail into the north. There
isn't no danger ahead right now, because we're gettin' into the biggest
ranges between here an' the Yukon. If Quade and Rann are in the next valley
they can't get over the mount'ins to get at us. Quade, with all his flesh,
couldn't climb over that range to the west of us inside o' three days, if
he could get over it at all. They're hikin' straight for the gold over
another trail, or they're behind us, an' mebby both."
"How--both?" asked Aldous.
"Two parties," explained MacDonald, puffing hard at his pipe. "If there's
an outfit behind us they were hid in the timber on the other side of the
snow-ridge, and they're pretty close this minute. Culver Rann--or FitzHugh,
as you call him--is hustling straight on with DeBar. Mebby Quade is with
him, an' mebby he ain't. Anyway, there's a big chance of a bunch behind us
with special instructions from Quade to cut our throats and keep Joanne."
That day Aldous had been turning a question over in his own mind. He asked
"Mac, are you sure you can go to the valley of gold without DeBar?"
For a long half minute MacDonald looked at him, and then his voice rumbled
in a low, exultant laugh in his beard.
"Johnny," he said, with a strange quiver in his voice, "I can go to it now
straighter an' quicker than DeBar! I know why I never found it. DeBar
helped me that much. The trail is mapped right out in my brain now, Johnny.
Five years ago I was within ten miles of the cavern--an' didn't know it!"
"And we can get there ahead of them?"
"We could--if it wasn't for Joanne. We're makin' twenty miles a day. We
could make thirty."
"If we could beat them to it!" exclaimed Aldous, clenching his hands. "If
we only could, Donald--the rest would be easy!"
MacDonald laid a heavy hand on his knee.
"You remember what you told me, Johnny, that you'd play the game fair, and
give 'em a first chance? You ain't figgerin' on that now, be you?"
"No, I'm with you now, Donald. It's----"
"Shoot on sight!"
Aldous rose from his seat as he spoke.
"You turn in, Mac," he said. "You're about bushed after the work you've
done to-day. I'll keep first watch. I'll conceal myself fifty or sixty
yards from camp, and if we have visitors before midnight the fun will all
He knew that MacDonald was asleep within fifteen minutes after he had
stationed himself at his post. In spite of the fact that he had had almost
no sleep the preceding night, he was more than usually wakeful. He was
filled with a curious feeling that events were impending. Yet the hours
passed, the moon flooded the valley again, the horses grazed without alarm,
and nothing happened. He had planned not to awaken old Donald at midnight,
but MacDonald roused himself, and came to take his place a little before
twelve. From that hour until four Aldous slept like the dead. He was
tremendously refreshed when he arose, to find that the candle was alight in
Joanne's tepee, and that MacDonald had built a fire. He waited for Joanne,
and went with her to the tiny creek near the camp, where both bathed their
faces in the snow-cold water from the mountain tops. Joanne had slept
soundly for eight hours, and she was as fresh and as happy as a bird. Her
lameness was almost gone, and she was eager for the day's journey.
As they filed again up the valley that morning, with the early sun
transfiguring the great snow-topped ranges about them into a paradise of
colour and warmth, Aldous found himself mentally wondering if it were
really possible that a serious danger menaced them. He did not tell
MacDonald what was in his mind. He did not confess that he was about ready
to believe that the man on the snow-ridge had been a hunter or a prospector
returning to his camp in the other valley, and that the attack in Tete
Jaune was the one and only effort Quade would make to secure possession of
Joanne. While a few hours before he had almost expected an immediate
attack, he was now becoming more and more convinced that Quade, to a large
extent, had dropped out of the situation. He might be with Mortimer
FitzHugh, and probably was--a dangerous and formidable enemy to be
accounted for when the final settlement came.
But as an immediate menace to Joanne, Aldous was beginning to fear him less
as the hours passed. Joanne, and the day itself, were sufficient to disarm
him of his former apprehension. In places they could see for miles ahead
and behind them. And Joanne, each time that he looked at her, was a greater
joy to him. Constantly she was pointing out the wonders of the mountains to
him and MacDonald. Each new rise or fall in the valley held fresh and
delightful surprises for her; in the craggy peaks she pointed out
castlements, and towers, and battlemented strongholds of ancient princes
and kings. Her mind was a wild and beautiful riot of imagination, of
wonder, and of happiness, and in spite of the grimness of the mission they
were on even MacDonald found himself rejoicing in her spirit, and he
laughed and talked with them as they rode into the North.
They were entering now into a hunter's paradise. For the first time Joanne
saw white, moving dots far up on a mountain-side, which MacDonald told her
were goats. In the afternoon they saw mountain sheep feeding on a slide
half a mile away, and for ten breathless minutes Joanne watched them
through the telescope. Twice caribou sped over the opens ahead of them. But
it was not until the sun was settling toward the west again that Joanne saw
what she had been vainly searching the sides of the mountains to find.
MacDonald had stopped suddenly in the trail, motioning them to advance.
When they rode up to him he pointed to a green slope two hundred yards
"There's yo'r grizzly, Joanne," he said.
A huge, tawny beast was ambling slowly along the crest of the slope, and at
sight of him Joanne gave a little cry of excitement.
"He's hunting for gophers," explained MacDonald.
"That's why he don't seem in a hurry. He don't see us because a b'ar's eyes
are near-sighted, but he could smell us half a mile away if the wind was
He was unslinging his long rifle as he spoke. Joanne was near enough to
catch his arm.
"Don't shoot--please don't shoot!" she begged. "I've seen lions, and I've
seen tigers--and they're treacherous and I don't like them. But there's
something about bears that I love, like dogs. And the lion isn't a king
among beasts compared with him. Please don't shoot!"
"I ain't a-goin' to," chuckled old Donald. "I'm just getting ready to give
'im the proper sort of a handshake if he should happen to come this way,
Joanne. You know a grizzly ain't pertic'lar afraid of anything on earth as
I know of, an' they're worse 'n a dynamite explosion when they come
head-on. There--he's goin' over the slope!"
"Got our wind," said Aldous.
They went on, a colour in Joanne's face like the vivid sunset. They camped
two hours before dusk, and MacDonald figured they had made better than
twenty miles that day. The same precautions were observed in guarding the
camp as the night before, and the long hours of vigil were equally
uneventful. The next day added still more to Aldous' peace of mind
regarding possible attack from Quade, and on the night of this day, their
fourth in the mountains, he spoke his mind to MacDonald.
For a few moments afterward the old hunter smoked quietly at his pipe. Then
"I don't know but you're right, Johnny. If they were behind us they'd most
likely have tried something before this. But it ain't in the law of the
mount'ins to be careless. We've got to watch."
"I agree with you there, Mac," replied Aldous. "We cannot afford to lose
our caution for a minute. But I'm feeling a deuced sight better over the
situation just the same. If we can only get there ahead of them!"
"If Quade is in the bunch we've got a chance of beating them," said
MacDonald thoughtfully. "He's heavy, Johnny--that sort of heaviness that
don't stand up well in the mount'ins; whisky-flesh, I call it. Culver Rann
don't weigh much more'n half as much, but he's like iron. Quade may be a
drag. An' Joanne, Lord bless her!--she's facing the music like an' 'ero,
"And the journey is almost half over."
"This is the fourth day. I figger we can make it in ten at most, mebby
nine," said old Donald. "You see we're in that part of the Rockies where
there's real mount'ins, an' the ranges ain't broke up much. We've got
fairly good travel to the end."
On this night Aldous slept from eight until twelve. The next, their fifth,
his watch was from midnight until morning. As the sixth and the seventh
days and nights passed uneventfully the belief that there were no enemies
behind them became a certainty. Yet neither Aldous nor MacDonald relaxed
The eighth day dawned, and now a new excitement took possession of Donald
MacDonald. Joanne and Aldous saw his efforts to suppress it, but it did not
escape their eyes. They were nearing the tragic scenes of long ago, and old
Donald was about to reap the reward of a search that had gone faithfully
and untiringly through the winters and summers of forty years. He spoke
seldom that day. There were strange lights in his eyes. And once his voice
was husky and strained when he said to Aldous:
"I guess we'll make it to-morrow, Johnny--jus' about as the sun's going
They camped early, and Aldous rolled himself in his blanket when Joanne
extinguished the candle in her tent. He found that he could not sleep, and
he relieved MacDonald at eleven o'clock.
"Get all the rest you can, Mac," he urged. "There may be doings
to-morrow--at about sundown."
There was but little moonlight now, but the stars were clear. He lighted
his pipe, and with his rifle in the crook of his arm he walked slowly up
and down over a hundred-yard stretch of the narrow plain in which they had
camped. That night they had built their fire beside a fallen log, which was
now a glowing mass without flame. Finally he sat down with his back to a
rock fifty paces from Joanne's tepee. It was a splendid night. The air was
cool and sweet. He leaned back until his head rested against the rock, and
there fell upon him the fatal temptation to close his eyes and snatch a few
minutes of the slumber which had not come to him during the early hours of
the night. He was in a doze, oblivious to movement and the softer sounds of
the night, when a cry pierced the struggling consciousness of his brain
like the sting of a dart. In an instant he was on his feet.
In the red glow of the log stood Joanne in her long white night robe. She
seemed to be swaying when he first saw her. Her hands were clutched at her
bosom, and she was staring--staring out into the night beyond the burning
log, and in her face was a look of terror. He sprang toward her, and out of
the gloom beyond her rushed Donald MacDonald. With a cry she turned to
Aldous and flung herself shivering and half-sobbing into his arms.
Gray-faced, his eyes burning like the smouldering coals in the fire, Donald
MacDonald stood a step behind them, his long rifle in his hands.
"What is it?" cried Aldous. "What has frightened you, Joanne?"
She was shuddering against his breast.
"It--it must have been a dream," she said. "It--it frightened me. But it
was so terrible, and I'm--I'm sorry, John. I didn't know what I was doing."
"What was it, dear?" insisted Aldous.
MacDonald had drawn very close.
Joanne raised her head.
"Please let me go back to bed, John. It was only a dream, and I'll tell it
to you in the morning, when there's sunshine--and day."
Something in MacDonald's tense, listening attitude caught Aldous' eyes.
"What was the dream?" he urged.
She looked from him to old Donald, and shivered.
"The flap of my tepee was open," she said slowly. "I thought I was awake. I
thought I could see the glow of the fire. But it was a dream--a _dream_,
only it was horrible! For as I looked I saw a face out there in the light,
a white, searching face--and it was his face!"
"Mortimer FitzHugh's," she shuddered.
Tenderly Aldous led her back to the tent.
"Yes, it was surely an unpleasant dream, dear," he comforted her. "Try and
sleep again. You must get all the rest you can."
He closed the flap after her, and turned back toward MacDonald. The old
hunter had disappeared. It was ten minutes before he came in from out of
the darkness. He went straight to Aldous.
"Johnny, you was asleep!"
"I'm afraid I was, Mac--just for a minute."
MacDonald's fingers gripped his arm.
"Jus' for a minute, Johnny--an' in that minute you lost the chance of your
"What do you mean?"
"I mean"--and old Donald's voice was filled with a low, choking tremble
that Aldous had never heard in it before--"I mean that it weren't no dream,
Johnny! Mortimer FitzHugh was in this camp to-night!"
Donald MacDonald's startling assertion that Mortimer FitzHugh had been in
the camp, and that Joanne's dream was not a dream, but reality, brought a
gasp of astonishment and disbelief from Aldous. Before he had recovered
sufficiently from his amazement to speak, MacDonald was answering the
question in his mind.
"I woke quicker'n you, Johnny," he said. "She was just coming out of the
tepee, an' I heard something running off through the brush. I thought mebby
it was a wolverine, or a bear, an' I didn't move until she cried out your
name an' you jumped up. If she had seen a bear in the fire-glow she
wouldn't have thought it was Mortimer FitzHugh, would she? It's possible,
but it ain't likely, though I do say it's mighty queer why he should be in
this camp alone. It's up to us to watch pretty close until daylight."
"He wouldn't be here alone," asserted Aldous. "Let's get out of the light,
Mac. If you're right, the whole gang isn't far away!"
"They ain't in rifle-shot," said MacDonald. "I heard him running a hundred
yards out there. That's the queer thing about it! Why didn't they jump on
us when they had the chance?"
"We'll hope that it was a dream," replied Aldous. "If Joanne was dreaming
of FitzHugh, and while still half asleep saw something in camp, she might
easily imagine the rest. But we'll keep watch. Shall I move out there?"
MacDonald nodded, and the two men separated. For two hours they patrolled
the darkness, waiting and listening. With dawn Aldous returned to camp to
arouse Joanne and begin breakfast. He was anxious to see what effect the
incident of the night had on her. Her appearance reassured him. When he
referred to the dream, and the manner in which she had come out into the
night, a lovely confusion sent the blushes into her face. He kissed her
until they grew deeper, and she hid her face on his neck.
And then she whispered something, with her face still against his shoulder,
that drove the hot blood into his own cheeks.
"You are my husband, John, and I don't suppose I should be ashamed to let
you see me in my bare feet. But, John--you have made me feel that way, and
I am--your wife!"
He held her head close against him so that she could not see his face.
"I wanted to show you--that I loved you--'that much," he said, scarcely
knowing what words he was speaking. "Joanne, my darling----"
A soft hand closed his lips.
"I know, John," she interrupted him softly. "And I love you so for it, and
I'm so proud of you--oh, so proud, John!"
He was glad that MacDonald came crashing through the bush then. Joanne
slipped from his arms and ran into the tepee.
In MacDonald's face was a grim and sullen look.
"You missed your chance, all right, Johnny," he growled. "I found where a
horse was tied out there. The tracks lead to a big slide of rock that opens
a break in the west range. Whoever it was has beat it back into the other
valley. I can't understand, s'elp me God, I can't, Johnny! Why should
FitzHugh come over into this valley alone? And he _rode_ over! I'd say the
devil couldn't do that!"
He said nothing more, but went out to lead in the hobbled horses, leaving
Aldous in half-stunned wonderment to finish the preparation of breakfast.
Joanne reappeared a little later, and helped him. It was six o'clock before
breakfast was over and they were ready to begin their day's journey. As
they were throwing the hitch over the last pack, MacDonald said in a low
voice to Aldous:
"Everything may happen to-day, Johnny. I figger we'll reach the end by
sundown. An' what don't happen there may happen along the trail. Keep a
rifle-shot behind with Joanne. If there's unexpected shooting, we want what
you might call a reserve force in the rear. I figger I can see danger, if
there is any, an' I can do it best alone."
Aldous knew that in these last hours Donald MacDonald's judgment must be
final, and he made no objection to an arrangement which seemed to place the
old hunter under a more hazardous risk than his own. And he realized fully
that these were the last hours. For the first time he had seen MacDonald
fill his pockets with the finger-long cartridges for his rifle, and he had
noted how carefully he had looked at the breech of that rifle. Without
questioning, he had followed the mountaineer's example. There were fifty
spare cartridges in his own pockets. His .303 was freshly cleaned and
oiled. He had tested the mechanism of his automatic. MacDonald had watched
him, and both understood what such preparations meant as they set out on
this last day's journey into the North. They had not kept from Joanne the
fact that they would reach the end before night, and as they rode the
prescribed distance behind the old hunter Aldous wondered how much she
guessed, and what she knew. They had given her to understand that they were
beating out the rival party, but he believed that in spite of all their
efforts there was in Joanne's mind a comprehension which she did not reveal
in voice or look. To-day she was no different than yesterday, or the day
before, except that her cheeks were not so deeply flushed, and there was an
uneasy questing in her eyes. He believed that she sensed the nearness of
tragedy, that she was conscious of what they were now trying to hide from
her, and that she did not speak because she knew that he and MacDonald did
not want her to know. His heart throbbed with pride. Her courage inspired
him. And he noticed that she rode closer to him--always at his side through
Early in the afternoon MacDonald stopped on the crest of a swell in the
valley and waited for them. When they came up he was facing the north. He
did not look at them. For a few moments he did not speak. His hat was
pulled low, and his beard was twitching.
They looked ahead. At their feet the valley broadened until it was a mile
in width. Half a mile away a band of caribou were running for the cover of
a parklike clump of timber. MacDonald did not seem to notice them. He was
still looking steadily, and he was gazing at a mountain. It was a
tremendous mountain, a terrible-looking, ugly mountain, perhaps three miles
away. Aldous had never seen another like it. Its two huge shoulders were of
almost ebon blackness, and glistened in the sunlight as if smeared with
oil. Between those two shoulders rose a cathedral-like spire of rock and
snow that seemed to tip the white fleece of the clouds.
MacDonald did not turn when he spoke. His voice was deep and vibrant with
an intense emotion. Yet he was not excited.
"I've been hunting for that mount'in for forty years, Johnny!"
Aldous leaned over and laid a hand on the old mountaineer's shoulder. Still
MacDonald did not look at him.
"Forty years," he repeated, as if speaking to himself. "I see how I missed
it now, just as DeBar said. I hunted from the west, an' on that side the
mount'in ain't black. We must have crossed this valley an' come in from the
east forty years ago, Johnny----"
He turned now, and what Joanne and Aldous saw in his face was not grief; it
was not the sorrow of one drawing near to his beloved dead, but a joy that
had transfigured him. The fire and strength of the youth in which he had
first looked upon this valley with Jane at his side burned again in the
sunken eyes of Donald MacDonald. After forty years he had come into his
own. Somewhere very near was the cavern with the soft white floor of sand,
and for a moment Aldous fancied that he could hear the beating of
MacDonald's heart, while from Joanne's tender bosom there rose a deep,
sobbing breath of understanding.
And MacDonald, facing the mountain again, pointed with a long, gaunt arm,
"We're almost there, Johnny. God ha' mercy on them if they've beat us out!"
They rode on into the Valley of Gold. Again MacDonald took the lead, and he
rode straight into the face of the black mountain. Aldous no longer made an
effort to keep Joanne in ignorance of what might be ahead of them. He put a
sixth cartridge into the chamber of his rifle, and carried the weapon
across the pommel of his saddle. He explained to her now why they were
riding behind--that if their enemies were laying in wait for them,
MacDonald, alone, could make a swift retreat. Joanne asked no questions.
Her lips were set tight. She was pale.
At the end of three quarters of an hour it seemed to them that MacDonald
was riding directly into the face of a wall of rock. Then he swung sharply
to the left, and disappeared. When they came to the point where he had
turned they found that he had entered a concealed break in the mountain--a
chasm with walls that rose almost perpendicular for a thousand feet above
their heads. A dark and solemn gloom pervaded this chasm, and Aldous drew
nearer to MacDonald, his rifle held in readiness, and his bridle-rein
fastened to his saddle-horn. The chasm was short. Sunlight burst upon them
suddenly, and a few minutes later MacDonald waited for them again.
Even Aldous could not restrain an exclamation of surprise when he rode up
with Joanne. Under them was another valley, a wide-sweeping valley between
two rugged ranges that ran to the southwest. Up out of it there came to
their ears a steady, rumbling roar; the air was filled with that roar; the
earth seemed to tremble with it under their feet--and yet it was not loud.
It came sullenly, as if from a great distance.
And then they saw that MacDonald was not looking out over the sweep of the
valley, but down. Half a mile under them there was a dip--a valley within a
valley--and through it ran the silver sheen of a stream. MacDonald spoke no
word now. He dismounted and levelled his long telescope at the little
valley. Aldous helped Joanne from her horse, and they waited. A great
breath came at last from the old hunter. Slowly he turned. He did not give
the telescope to Aldous, but to Joanne. She looked. For a full minute she
seemed scarcely to breathe. Her hands trembled when she turned to give the
glass to Aldous.
"I see--log cabins!" she whispered.
MacDonald placed a detaining hand on her arm.
"Look ag'in--Joanne," he said in a low voice that had in it a curious