Part 5 out of 5
Again she raised the telescope to her eyes.
"You see the little cabin--nearest the river?" whispered Donald.
"Yes, I see it."
"That was our cabin--Jane's an' mine--forty years ago," he said, and now
his voice was husky.
Joanne's breath broke sobbingly as she gave Aldous the glass. Something
seemed to choke him as he looked down upon the scene of the grim tragedy
in which Donald MacDonald and Jane had played their fatal part. He saw the
cabins as they had stood for nearly half a century. There were four. Three
of them were small, and the fourth was large. They might have been built
yesterday, for all that he could see of ruin or decay. The doors and
windows of the larger cabin and two of the smaller ones were closed. The
roofs were unbroken. The walls appeared solid. Twice he looked at the
fourth cabin, with its wide-open door and window, and twice he looked at
the cabin nearest the stream, where had lived Donald MacDonald and Jane.
Donald had moved, and Joanne was watching him tensely, when he took the
glass from his eyes. Mutely the old mountaineer held out a hand, and Aldous
gave him the telescope. Crouching behind a rock he slowly swept the valley.
For half an hour he looked through the glass, and in that time scarce a
word was spoken. During the last five minutes of that half-hour both Joanne
and Aldous knew that MacDonald was looking at the little cabin nearest the
stream, and with hands clasped tightly they waited in silence.
At last old Donald rose, and his face and voice were filled with a
"There ain't been no change," he said softly. "I can see the log in front
o' the door that I used to cut kindling on. It was too tough for them to
split an' burn after we left. An' I can see the tub I made out o' spruce
for Jane. It's leaning next the door, where I put it the day before we went
away. Forty years ain't very long, Johnny! It ain't very long!"
Joanne had turned from them, and Aldous knew that she was crying.
"An' we've beat 'em to it, Johnny--we've beat 'em to it!" exulted
MacDonald. "There ain't a sign of life in the valley, and we sure could
make it out from here if there was!"
He climbed into his saddle, and started down the slope of the mountain.
Aldous went to Joanne. She was sobbing. Her eyes were blinded by tears.
"It's terrible, terrible," she whispered brokenly. "And it--it's beautiful,
John. I feel as though I'd like to give my life--to bring Jane back!"
"You must not betray tears or grief to Donald," said Aldous, drawing her
close in his arms for a moment. "Joanne--sweetheart--it is a wonderful
thing that is happening with him! I dreaded this day--I have dreaded it for
a long time. I thought that it would be terrible to witness the grief of a
man with a heart like Donald's. But he is not filled with grief, Joanne. It
is joy, a great happiness that perhaps neither you nor I can
understand--that has come to him now. Don't you understand? He has found
her. He has found their old home. To-day is the culmination of forty years
of hope, and faith, and prayer. And it does not bring him sorrow, but
gladness. We must rejoice with him. We must be happy with him. I love you,
Joanne. I love you above all else on earth or in heaven. Without you I
would not want to live. And yet, Joanne, I believe that I am no happier
to-day than is Donald MacDonald!"
With a sudden cry Joanne flung her arms about his neck.
"John, is it _that?_" she cried, and joy shone through her tears. "Yes,
yes, I understand now! His heart is not breaking. It is life returning into
a heart that was empty. I understand--oh, I understand now! And we must be
happy with him. We must be happy when we find the cavern--and Jane!"
"And when we go down there to the little cabin that was their home."
They followed behind MacDonald. After a little a spur of the mountain-side
shut out the little valley from them, and when they rounded this they found
themselves very near to the cabins. They rode down a beautiful slope into
the basin, and when he reached the log buildings old Donald stopped and
dismounted. Again Aldous helped Joanne from her horse. Ahead of them
MacDonald went to the cabin nearest the stream. At the door he paused and
waited for them.
"Forty years!" he said, facing them. "An' there ain't been so very much
change as I can see!"
Years had dropped from his shoulders in these last few minutes, and even
Aldous could not keep quite out of his face his amazement and wonder. Very
gently Donald put his hand to the latch, as though fearing to awaken some
one within; and very gently he pressed down on it, and put a bit of his
strength against the door. It moved inward, and when it had opened
sufficiently he leaned forward so that his head and a half of his shoulders
were inside; and he looked--a long time he looked, without a movement of
his body or a breath that they could see.
And then he turned to them again, and his eyes were shining as they had
never seen them shine before.
"I'll open the window," he said. "It's dark--dark inside."
He went to the window, which was closed with a sapling barricade that had
swung on hinges; and when he swung it back the rusted hinges gave way, and
the thing crashed down at his feet. And now through the open window the sun
poured in a warm radiance, and Donald entered the cabin, with Joanne and
Aldous close behind him.
There was not much in the cabin, but what it held was earth, and heaven,
and all else to Donald MacDonald. A strange, glad cry surged from his chest
as he looked about him, and now Joanne saw and understood what John Aldous
had told her--for Donald MacDonald, after forty years, had come back to his
"Oh, my Gawd, Johnny, they didn't touch anything! They didn't touch
anything!" he breathed in ecstasy. "I thought after we ran away they'd come
He broke off, and his hat dropped from his hand, and he stood and stared;
and what he was looking at, the sun fell upon in a great golden splash, and
Joanne's hand gripped John's, and held to it tightly. Against the wall,
hanging as they had hung for forty years, were a woman's garments: a hood,
a shawl, a dress, and an apron that was half in tatters; and on the floor
under these things were _a pair of shoes_. And as Donald MacDonald went to
them, his arms reaching out, his lips moving, forgetful of all things but
that he had come home, and Jane was here, Joanne drew Aldous softly to the
door, and they went out into the day.
Joanne did not speak, and Aldous did not urge her. He saw her white throat
throbbing as if there were a little heart beating there, and her eyes were
big and dark and velvety, like the eyes of a fawn that had been frightened.
There was a thickness in his own throat, and he found that it was difficult
for him to see far out over the plain. They waited near the horses. Fifty
yards from them ran the stream; a clear, beautiful stream which flowed in
the direction from which the mysterious ramble of thunder seemed to come.
This, Aldous knew, was the stream of gold. In the sand he saw wreckage
which he knew were the ancient rockers; a shovel, thrust shaft-deep, still
remained where it had last been planted.
Perhaps for ten minutes Donald MacDonald remained in the cabin. Then he
came out. Very carefully he closed the door. His shoulders were thrown
back. His head was held high. He looked like a monarch.
And his voice was calm.
"Everything is there, Johnny--everything but the gold," he said. "They took
Now he spoke to Joanne.
"You better not go with us into the other cabins," he said.
"Why?" she asked softly.
"Because--there's death in them all."
"I am going," she said.
From the window of the largest cabin MacDonald pulled the sapling shutter,
and, like the other, it fell at his feet. Then they opened the door, and
entered; and here the sunlight revealed the cabin's ghastly tragedy. The
first thing that they saw, because it was most terrible, was a rough table,
half over which lay the shrunken thing that had once been a man. A part of
its clothes still remained, but the head had broken from its column, and
the white and fleshless skull lay facing them. Out of tattered and
dust-crumbling sleeves reached the naked bones of hands and arms. And on
the floor lay another of these things, in a crumpled and huddled heap, only
the back of the skull showing, like the polished pate of a bald man. These
things they saw first, and then two others: on the table were a heap of
age-blackened and dusty sacks, and out of the back of the crumbling thing
that guarded them stuck the long buckhorn hilt of a knife.
"They must ha' died fighting," said MacDonald. "An' there, Johnny, is their
White as death Joanne stood in the door and watched them. MacDonald and
Aldous went to the sacks. They were of buckskin. The years had not aged
them. When Aldous took one in his hands he found that it was heavier than
lead. With his knife MacDonald cut a slit in one of them, and the sun that
came through the window flashed in a little golden stream that ran from the
"We'll take them out and put 'em in a pannier," said MacDonald. "The others
won't be far behind us, Johnny."
Between them they carried out the seven sacks of gold. It was a load for
their arms. They put it in one of the panniers, and then MacDonald nodded
toward the cabin next the one that had been his own.
"I wouldn't go in there, Joanne," he said.
"I'm going," she whispered again.
"It was _their_ cabin--the man an' his wife," persisted old Donald. "An'
the men was beasts, Joanne! I don't know what happened in there--but I
"I'm going," she said again.
MacDonald pulled down the barricade from the window--a window that also
faced the south and west, and this time he had to thrust against the door
with his shoulder. They entered, and now a cry came from Joanne's lips--a
cry that had in it horror, disbelief, a woman's wrath. Against the wall was
a pile of something, and on that pile was the searching first light of day
that had fallen upon it for nearly half a century. The pile was a man
crumpled down; across it, her skeleton arms thrown about it protectingly,
was a woman. This time Aldous did not go forward. MacDonald was alone, and
Aldous took Joanne from the cabin, and held her while she swayed in his
arms. Donald came out a little later, and there was a curious look of
exultation and triumph in his face.
"She killed herself," he said. "That was her husband. I know him. I gave
him the rock-nails he put in the soles of his boots--and the nails are
He went alone into the remaining two cabins, while Aldous stood with
Joanne. He did not stay long. From the fourth cabin he brought an armful of
the little brown sacks. He returned, and brought a second armful.
"There's three more in that last cabin," he explained. "Two men, an' a
woman. She must ha' been the wife of the man they killed. They were the
last to live, an' they starved to death. An' now, Johnny----"
He paused, and he drew in a great breath.
He was looking to the west, where the sun was beginning to sink behind the
"An' now, Johnny, if you're ready, an' if Joanne is ready, we'll go," he
As they went up out of the basin into the broad meadows of the larger
valley, MacDonald rode between Aldous and Joanne, and the pack-horses, led
by Pinto, trailed behind.
Again old Donald said, as he searched the valley:
"We've beat 'em, Johnny. Quade an' Rann are coming up on the other side of
the range, and I figger they're just about a day behind--mebby only hours,
or an hour. You can't tell. There's more gold back there. We got about a
hunderd pounds in them fifteen sacks, an' there was twice that much. It's
hid somewhere. Calkins used to keep his'n under the floor. So did Watts.
We'll find it later. An' the river, an' the dry gulches on both sides of
the valley--they're full of it! It's all gold, Johnny--gold everywhere!"
He pointed ahead to where the valley rose in a green slope between two
mountains half a mile away.
"That's the break," he said. "It don't seem very far now, do it, Joanne?"
His silence seemed to have dropped from him like a mantle, and there was
joy in what he was telling. "But it was a distance that night--a tumble
distance," he continued, before she could answer. "That was forty-one years
ago, coming November. An' it was cold, an' the snow was deep. It was bitter
cold--so cold it caught my Jane's lungs, an' that was what made her go a
little later. The slope up there don't look steep now, but it was steep
then--with two feet of snow to drag ourselves through. I don't think the
cavern is more'n five or six miles away, Johnny, mebby less, an' it took us
twenty hours to reach it. It snowed so heavy that night, an' the wind
blowed so, that our trail was filled up or they might ha' followed."
Many times Aldous had been on the point of asking old Donald a question.
For the first time he asked it now, even as his eyes swept slowly and
searchingly over the valley for signs of Mortimer FitzHugh and Quade.
"I've often wondered why you ran away with Jane," he said. "I know what
threatened her--a thing worse than death. But why did you run? Why didn't
you stay and fight?"
A low growl rumbled in MacDonald's beard.
"Johnny, Johnny, if I only ha' could!" he groaned. "There was five of them
left when I ran into the cabin an' barricaded myself there with Jane. I
stuck my gun out of the window an' they was afraid to rush the cabin. They
was _afraid_, Johnny, all that afternoon--_an' I didn't have a cartridge
left to fire!_ That's why we went just as soon as we could crawl out in the
dark. I knew they'd come that night. I might ha' killed one or two hand to
hand, for I was big an' strong in them days, Johnny, but I knew I couldn't
beat 'em all. So we went."
"After all, death isn't so very terrible," said Joanne softly, and she was
riding so close that for a moment she laid one of her warm hands on Donald
"No, it's sometimes--wunnerful--an' beautiful," replied Donald, a little
brokenly, and with that he rode ahead, and Joanne and Aldous waited until
the pack-horses had passed them.
"He's going to see that all is clear at the summit," explained Aldous.
They seemed to be riding now right into the face of that mysterious rumble
and roar of the mountains. It was an hour before they all stood together at
the top of the break, and here MacDonald swung sharply to the right, and
came soon to the rock-strewn bed of a dried-up stream that in ages past had
been a wide and rushing torrent. Steadily, as they progressed down this,
the rumble and roar grew nearer. It seemed that it was almost under their
feet, when again MacDonald turned, and a quarter of an hour later they
found themselves at the edge of a small plain; and now all about them were
cold and towering mountains that shut out the sun, and a hundred yards to
their right was a great dark cleft in the floor of the plain, and up out of
this came the rumble and roar that was like the sullen anger of monster
beasts imprisoned deep down in the bowels of the earth.
MacDonald got off his horse, and Aldous and Joanne rode up to him. In the
old man's face was a look of joy and triumph.
"It weren't so far as I thought it was, Johnny!" he cried. "Oh, it must ha'
been a turrible night--a turrible night when Jane an' I come this way! It
took us twenty hours, Johnny!"
"We are near the cavern?" breathed Joanne.
"It ain't more'n half a mile farther on, I guess. But we'll camp here.
We're pretty well hid. They can't find us. An' from that summit up there
we can keep watch in both valleys."
Knowing the thoughts that were in MacDonald's mind, and how full his heart
was with a great desire, Aldous went to him when they had dismounted.
"You go on alone if there is time to-night, Mac," he said, knowing that the
other would understand him. "I will make camp."
"There ain't no one in the valley," mused the old man, a little doubtfully
at first. "It would be safe--quite safe, Johnny."
"Yes, it will be safe."
"And I will stand guard while John is working," said Joanne, who had come
to them. "No one can approach us without being seen."
For another moment MacDonald hesitated. Then he said:
"Do you see that break over there across the plain? It's the open to a
gorge. Johnny, it do seem unreasonable--it do seem as though I must ha'
been dreamin'--when I think that it took us twenty hours! But the snow was
to my waist in this plain, an' it was slow work--turrible slow work! I
think the cavern--ain't on'y a little way up that gorge."
"You can make it before the sun is quite gone."
"An' I could hear you shout, or your gun. I could ride back in five
minutes--an' I wouldn't be gone an hour."
"There is no danger," urged Aldous.
A deep breath came from old Donald's breast.
"I guess--I'll go, Johnny, if you an' Joanne don't mind."
He looked about him, and then he pointed toward the face of a great rock.
"Put the tepee up near that," he said. "Pile the saddles, an' the blankets,
an' the panniers around it, so it'll look like a real camp, Johnny. But it
won't be a real camp. It'll be a dummy. See them thick spruce an' cedar
over there? Build Joanne a shelter of boughs in there, an' take in some
grub, an' blankets, an' the gold. See the point, Johnny? If anything should
"They'd tackle the bogus camp!" cried Aldous with elation. "It's a splendid
He set at once about unpacking the horses, and Joanne followed close at his
side to help him. MacDonald mounted his horse and rode at a trot in the
direction of the break in the mountain.
The sun had disappeared, but its reflection was still on the peaks; and
after he had stripped and hobbled the horses Aldous took advantage of the
last of day to scrutinize the plain and the mountain slopes through the
telescope. After that he found enough dry poles with which to set up the
tepee, and about this he scattered the saddles and panniers, as MacDonald
had suggested. Then he cleared a space in the thick spruce, and brought to
it what was required for their hidden camp.
It was almost dark when he completed the spruce and cedar lean-to for
Joanne. He knew that to-night they must build no fire, not even for tea;
and when they had laid out the materials for their cold supper, which
consisted of beans, canned beef and tongue, peach marmalade, bread bannock,
and pickles and cheese, he went with Joanne for water to a small creek they
had crossed a hundred yards away. In both his hands, ready for instant
action, he carried his rifle. Joanne carried the pail. Her eyes were big
and bright and searching in that thick-growing dusk of night. She walked
very close to Aldous, and she said:
"John, I know how careful you and Donald have been in this journey into the
North. I know what you have feared. Culver Rann and Quade are after the
gold, and they are near. But why does Donald talk as though we are _surely_
going to be attacked by them, or are _surely_ going to attack them? I don't
understand it, John. If you don't care for the gold so much, as you told me
once, and if we find Jane to-morrow, or to-night, why do we remain to have
trouble with Quade and Culver Rann? Tell me, John."
He could not see her face fully in the gloom, and he was glad that she
could not see his.
"If we can get away without fighting, we will, Joanne," he lied. And he
knew that she would have known that he was lying if it had not been for the
"You won't fight--over the gold?" she asked, pressing his arm. "Will you
promise me that, John?"
"Yes, I promise that. I swear it!" he cried, and so forcefully that she
gave a glad little laugh.
"Then if they don't find us to-morrow, we'll go back home?" She trembled,
and he knew that her heart was filled with a sudden lightness. "And I don't
believe they will find us. They won't come beyond that terrible place--and
the gold! Why should they, John? Why should they follow us--if we leave
them everything? Oh-h-h-h!" She shuddered, and whispered: "I wish we had
not brought the gold, John. I wish we had left it behind!"
"What we have is worth thirty or forty thousand dollars," he said
reassuringly, as he filled his pail with water and they began to return.
"We can do a great deal of good with that. Endowments, for instance," he
As he spoke, they both stopped, and listened. Plainly they heard the
approaching thud of hoofs. MacDonald had been gone nearer two hours than
one, and believing that it was him, Aldous gave the owl signal. The signal
floated back to them softly. Five minutes later MacDonald rode up and
dismounted. Until he had taken the saddle off, and had hobbled his horse,
he did not speak. Neither Joanne nor Aldous asked the question that was in
their hearts. But even in the darkness they felt something. It was as if
not only the torrent rushing through the chasm, but MacDonald's heart as
well, was charging the air with a strange and subdued excitement. And when
MacDonald spoke, that which they had felt was in his voice.
"You ain't seen or heard anything, Johnny?"
"Nothing. And you--Donald?"
In the darkness, Joanne went to the old man, and her hand found one of his,
and clasped it tightly; and she found that Donald MacDonald's big hand was
trembling in a strange and curious way, and she could feel him quivering.
"You found Jane?" she whispered.
"Yes, I found her, little Joanne."
She did not let go of his hand until they entered the open space which
Aldous had made in the spruce. Then she remembered what Aldous had said to
her earlier in the day, and cheerfully she lighted the two candles they
had set out, and forced Aldous down first upon the ground, and then
MacDonald, and began to help them to beans and meat and bannock, while all
the time her heart was crying out to know about the cavern--and Jane. The
candleglow told her a great deal, for in it Donald MacDonald's face was
very calm, and filled with a great peace, despite the trembling she had
felt. Her woman's sympathy told her that his heart was too full on this
night for speech, and when he ate but little she did not urge him to eat
more; and when he rose and went silently and alone out into the darkness
she held Aldous back; and when, still a little later, she went into her
nest for the night, she whispered softly to him:
"I know that he found Jane as he wanted to find her, and he is happy. I
think he has gone out there alone--to cry." And for a time after that, as
he sat in the gloom, John Aldous knew that Joanne was sobbing like a little
child in the spruce and cedar shelter he had built for her.
If MacDonald slept at all that night Aldous did not know it. The old
mountaineer watched until a little after twelve in the deep shadow of a
rock between the two camps.
"I can't sleep," he protested, when Aldous urged him to take his rest. "I
might take a little stroll up the plain, Johnny--but I can't sleep."
The plain lay in a brilliant starlight at this hour; they could see the
gleam of the snow-peaks--the light was almost like the glow of the moon.
"There'll be plenty of sleep after to-morrow," added MacDonald, and there
was a finality in his voice and words which set the other's blood stirring.
"You think they will show up to-morrow?"
"Yes. This is the same valley the cabins are in, Johnny. That big mountain
runs out an' splits it, an' it curves like a horseshoe. From that mount'in
we can see them, no matter which way they come. They'll go straight to the
cabins. There's a deep little run under the slope. You didn't see it when
we came out, but it'll take us within a hunderd yards of 'em. An' at a
He shrugged his shoulders suggestively in the starlight, and there was a
smile on his face.
"It seems almost like murder," shuddered Aldous.
"But it ain't,'" replied MacDonald quickly. "It's self-defence! If we
don't do it, Johnny--if we don't draw on them first, what happened there
forty years ago is goin' to happen again--with Joanne!"
"A hundred yards," breathed Aldous, his jaws setting hard. "And there are
"They'll go into the cabins," said MacDonald. "At some time there will be
two or three outside, an' we'll take them first. At the sound of the shots
the others will run out, and it will be easy. Yo' can't very well miss a
man at a hunderd yards, Johnny?"
"No, I won't miss."
"I'm goin' to take a little stroll, Johnny."
For two hours after that Aldous was alone. He knew why old Donald could not
sleep, and where he had gone, and he pictured him sitting before the little
old cabin in the starlit valley communing with the spirit of Jane. And
during those two hours he steeled himself for the last time to the thing
that was going to happen when the day came.
It was nearly three o'clock when MacDonald returned. It was four o'clock
before he roused Joanne; and it was five o'clock when they had eaten their
breakfast, and MacDonald prepared to leave for the mountain with his
telescope. Aldous had observed Joanne talking to him for several minutes
alone, and he had also observed that her eyes were very bright, and that
there was an unusual eagerness in her manner of listening to what the old
man was saying. The significance of this did not occur to him when she
urged him to accompany MacDonald.
"Two pairs of eyes are better than one, John," she said, "and I cannot
possibly be in danger here. I can see you all the time, and you can see
me--if I don't run away, or hide." And she laughed a little breathlessly.
"There is no danger, is there, Donald?"
The old hunter shook his head.
"There's no danger, but--you might be lonesome," he said.
Joanne put her pretty mouth close to Aldous' ear.
"I want to be alone for a little while, dear," she whispered, and there was
that mystery in her voice which kept him from questioning her, and made him
go with MacDonald.
In three quarters of an hour they had reached the spur of the mountain from
which MacDonald had said they could see up the valley, and also the break
through which they had come the preceding afternoon. The morning mists
still hung low, but as these melted away under the sun mile after mile of a
marvellous panorama spread out swiftly under them, and as the distance of
their vision grew, the deeper became the disappointment in MacDonald's
face. For half an hour after the mists had gone he neither spoke nor
lowered the telescope from his eyes. A mile away Aldous saw three caribou
crossing the valley. A little later, on a green slope, he discerned a
moving hulk that he knew was a bear. He did not speak until old Donald
lowered the glass.
"I can see for eight miles up the valley, an' there ain't a soul in sight,"
said MacDonald in answer to his question. "I figgered they'd be along about
A dozen times Aldous had looked back at the camp. Twice he had seen Joanne.
He looked now through the telescope. She was nowhere in sight. A bit
nervously he returned the telescope to MacDonald.
"And I can't see Joanne," he said.
MacDonald looked. For five minutes he levelled the glass steadily at the
camp. Then he shifted it slowly westward, and a low exclamation broke from
his lips as he lowered the glass, and looked at Aldous.
"Johnny, she's just goin' into the gorge! She was just disappearin' when I
"Going into--the gorge!" gasped Aldous, jumping to his feet. "Mac----"
MacDonald rose and stood at his side. There was something reassuring in the
rumbling laugh that came from deep in his chest.
"She's beat us!" he chuckled. "Bless her, she's beat us! I didn't guess why
she was askin' me all them questions. An' I told her, Johnny--told her just
where the cavern was up there in the gorge, an' how you wouldn't hardly
miss it if you tried. An' she asked me how long it would take to _walk_
there, an' I told her half an hour. An' she's going to the cavern, Johnny!"
He was telescoping his long glass as he spoke, and while Aldous was still
staring toward the gorge in wonderment and a little fear, he added:
"We'd better follow. Quade an' Rann can't get here inside o' two or three
hours, an' we'll be back before then." Again he rumbled with that curious
chuckling laugh. "She beat us, Johnny, she beat us fair! An' she's got
spirrit, a wunnerful spirrit, to go up there alone!"
Aldous wanted to run, but he held himself down to MacDonald's stride. His
heart trembled apprehensively as they hurriedly descended the mountain and
cut across the plain. He could not quite bring himself to MacDonald's point
of assurance regarding Quade and Mortimer FitzHugh. The old mountaineer was
positive that the other party was behind them. Aldous asked himself if it
were not possible that Quade and FitzHugh were _ahead_ of them, and already
waiting and watching for their opportunity. He had suggested that they
might have swung farther to the west, with the plan of descending upon the
valley from the north, and MacDonald had pointed out how unlikely this was.
In spite of this, Aldous was not in a comfortable frame of mind as they
hurried after Joanne. She had half an hour's start of them when they
reached the mouth of the gorge, and not until they had travelled another
half-hour up the rough bed of the break between the two mountains, and
MacDonald pointed ahead, and said: "There's the cavern!" did he breathe
They could see the mouth of the cavern when they were yet a couple of
hundred yards from it. It was a wide, low cleft in the north face of the
chasm wall, and in front of it, spreading out like the flow of a stream,
was a great spatter of white sand, like a huge rug that had been spread out
in a space cleared of its chaotic litter of rock and broken slate. At first
glance Aldous guessed that the cavern had once been the exit of a
subterranean stream. The sand deadened the sound of their footsteps as they
approached. At the mouth of the cave they paused. It was perhaps forty or
fifty feet deep, and as high as a nine-foot room. Inside it was quite
light. Halfway to the back of it, upon her knees, and with her face turned
from them, was Joanne.
They were very close to her before she heard them. With a startled cry she
sprang to her feet, and Aldous and MacDonald saw what she had been doing.
Over a long mound in the white sand still rose the sapling stake which
Donald had planted there forty years before; and about this, and scattered
over the grave, were dozens of wild asters and purple hyacinths which
Joanne had brought from the plain. Aldous did not speak, but he took her
hand, and looked down with her on the grave. And then something caught his
eyes among the flowers, and Joanne drew him a step nearer, her eyes shining
like velvet stars, while his heart beat faster when he saw what the object
was. It was a book, open in the middle, and it lay face downward on the
grave. It was old, and looked as though it might have fallen into dust at
the touch of his finger. Joanne's voice was low and filled with a
"It was her Bible, John!"
He turned a little, and noticed that Donald had gone to the mouth of the
cavern, and was looking toward the mountain.
"It was her Bible," he heard Joanne repeating; and then MacDonald turned
toward them, and he saw in his face a look that seemed strange and out of
place in this home of his dead. He went to him, and Joanne followed.
MacDonald had turned again--was listening--and holding his breath. Then he
said, still with his face toward the mountain and the valley:
"I may be mistaken, Johnny, but I think I heard--a rifle-shot!"
For a full minute they listened.
"It seemed off there," said MacDonald, pointing to the south. "I guess
we'd better get back to camp, Johnny."
He started ahead of them, and Aldous followed as swiftly as he could with
Joanne. She was panting with excitement, but she asked no questions.
MacDonald began to spring more quickly from rock to rock; over the level
spaces he began to run. He reached the edge of the plain four or five
hundred yards in advance of them, and was scanning the valley through his
telescope when they came up.
"They're not on this side," he said. "They're comin' up the other leg of
the valley, Johnny. We've got to get to the mount'in before we can see
He closed the glass with a snap and swung it over his shoulder. Then he
pointed toward the camp.
"Take Joanne down there," he commanded. "Watch the break we came through,
an' wait for me. I'm goin' up on the mount'in an' take a look!"
The last words came back over his shoulder as he started on a trot down the
slope. Only once before had Aldous seen MacDonald employ greater haste, and
that was on the night of the attack on Joanne. He was convinced there was
no doubt in Donald's mind about the rifle-shot, and that the shot could
mean but one thing--the nearness of Mortimer FitzHugh and Quade. Why they
should reveal their presence in that way he did not ask himself as he
hurried down into the plain with Joanne. By the time they reached the camp
old Donald had covered two thirds of the distance to the mountain. Aldous
looked at his watch and a curious thrill shot through him. Only a little
more than an hour had passed since they had left the mountain to follow
Joanne, and in that time it would have been impossible for their enemies to
have covered more than a third of the eight-mile stretch of valley which
they had found empty of human life under the searching scrutiny of the
telescope! He was right--and MacDonald was wrong! The sound of the shot, if
there had been a shot, must have come from some other direction!
He wanted to shout his warning to MacDonald, but already too great a
distance separated them. Besides, if he was right, MacDonald would run into
no danger in that direction. Their menace was to the north--beyond the
chasm out of which came the rumble and roar of the stream. When Donald had
disappeared up the slope he looked more closely at the rugged walls of rock
that shut them in on that side. He could see no break in them. His eyes
followed the dark streak in the floor of the plain, which was the chasm. It
was two hundred yards below where they were standing; and a hundred yards
beyond the tepee he saw where it came out of a great rent in the mountain.
He looked at Joanne. She had been watching him, and was breathing quickly.
"While Donald is taking his look from the mountain, I'm going to
investigate the chasm," he said.
She followed him, a few steps behind. The roar grew in their ears as they
advanced. After a little solid rock replaced the earth under their feet,
and twenty paces from the precipice Aldous took Joanne by the hand. They
went to the edge and looked over. Fifty feet below them the stream was
caught in the narrow space between the two chasm walls, and above the rush
and roar of it Aldous heard the startled cry that came from Joanne. She
clutched his hand fiercely. Fascinated she gazed down. The water, speeding
like a millrace, was a lather of foam; and up through this foam there shot
the crests of great rocks, as though huge monsters of some kind were at
play, whipping the torrent into greater fury, and bellowing forth
thunderous voices. Downstream Aldous could see that the tumult grew less;
from the rent in the mountain came the deeper, more distant-rolling thunder
that they had heard on the other side of the range. And then, as he looked,
a sharper cry broke from Joanne, and she dragged him back from the ledge,
and pointed toward the tepee.
Out from among the rocks had appeared a human figure. It was a woman. Her
hair was streaming wildly about her, and in the sun it was black as a
crow's wing. She rushed to the tepee, opened the flap, and looked in. Then
she turned, and a cry that was almost a scream rang from her lips. In
another moment she had seen Aldous and Joanne, and was running toward them.
They advanced to meet her. Suddenly Aldous stopped, and with a sharp
warning to Joanne he threw his rifle half to his shoulder, and faced the
rocks from which the speeding figure had come. In that same instant they
both recognized her. It was Marie, the woman who had ridden the bear at
Tete Jaune, and with whom Mortimer FitzHugh had bought Joe DeBar!
She staggered up to them, panting, exhausted, her breath coming in gulping
sobs. For a moment she could not speak. Her dress was torn; her waist was
ripped so that it exposed her throat and shoulder; and the front of the
waist and her face were stained with blood. Her black eyes shone like a
madwoman's. Fiercely she fought to get her breath, and all the time she
clung to Joanne, and looked at Aldous. She pointed toward the rocks--the
chaotic upheaval that lay between the tepee and the chasm--and words broke
gaspingly from her lips.
"They're coming!--coming!" she cried. "They killed Joe--murdered him--and
they're coming--to kill you!" She clutched a hand to her breast, and then
pointed with it to the mountain where MacDonald had gone. "They saw him
go--and they sent two men to kill him; and the rest are coming through the
rocks!" She turned sobbingly to Joanne. "They killed Joe," she moaned.
"They killed Joe, and they're coming--for _you!_"
The emphasis on that final word struck like a blow in the ears of John
"Run for the spruce!" he commanded. "Joanne, run!"
Marie had crumpled down in a moaning heap at Joanne's feet, and sat swaying
with her face in her hands.
"They killed him--they murdered my Joe!" she was sobbing. "And it was my
fault--my fault! I trapped him! I sold him! And, oh, my God, I loved him--I
"Run, Joanne!" commanded Aldous a second time. "Run for the spruce!"
Instead of obeying him, Joanne knelt down beside Marie.
He went to speak again, but there came an interruption--a thing that was
like the cold touch of lead in his own heart. From up on the mountain where
the old mountaineer had walked into the face of death there came the
sharp, splitting report of a rifle; and in that same instant it was
followed by another and still a third--quick, stinging, whiplike
reports--and he knew that not one of them had come from the gun of Donald
And then he saw that the rocks behind the tepee had become suddenly alive
Sheer amazement made Aldous hold his fire in that first moment. Marie had
said that two men were after MacDonald. He had heard three shots nearly a
mile away, and she was still sobbing that DeBar was dead. That accounted
for _three_. He had expected to see only Quade, and FitzHugh, and one other
behind the tepee. And there were six! He counted them as they came swiftly
out from the shelter of the rocks to the level of the plain. He was about
to fire when he thought of Joanne and Marie. They were still behind him,
crouching upon the ground. To fire from where he stood would draw a
fusillade of bullets in their direction, and with another warning cry to
Joanne, he sped twenty paces to one side so that they would not be within
range. Not until then did the attacking party see him.
At a hundred and fifty yards he had no time to pick out Quade or Mortimer
FitzHugh. He fired first at a group of three, and one of the three crumpled
down as though his skull had been crushed from above. A rifle spat back at
him and the bullet sang like a ripping cloth close over his head. He
dropped to his knees before he fired again, and a bullet clove the air
where he had stood. The crack of rifles did not hurry him. He knew that he
had six cartridges, and only six, and he aimed deliberately. At his second
shot the man he had fired at ran forward three or four steps, and then
pitched flat on his face. For a flash Aldous thought that it was Mortimer
FitzHugh. Then, along his gun barrel, he saw FitzHugh--and pulled the
trigger. It was a miss.
Two men had dropped upon their knees and were aiming more carefully. He
swung his sight to the foremost, and drove a bullet straight through his
chest. The next moment something seemed to have fallen upon him with
crushing weight. A red sea rose before his eyes. In it he was submerged;
the roar of it filled his ears; it blinded him; and in the suffocating
embrace of it he tried to cry out. He fought himself out of it, his eyes
cleared, and he could see again. His rifle was no longer in his hands, and
he was standing. Twenty feet away men were rushing upon him. His brain
recovered itself with the swiftness of lightning. A bullet had stunned him,
but he was not badly hurt. He jerked out his automatic, but before he could
raise it, or even fire from his hip, the first of his assailants was upon
him with a force that drove it from his hand. They went down together, and
as they struggled on the bare rock Aldous caught for a fraction of a second
a scene that burned itself like fire in his brain. He saw Mortimer FitzHugh
with a revolver in his hand. He had stopped; he was staring like one
looking upon the ghost of the dead, and as he stared there rose above the
rumbling roar of the chasm a wild and terrible shriek from Joanne.
Aldous saw no more then. He was not fighting for his life, but for her, and
he fought with the mad ferocity of a tiger. As he struck, and choked, and
beat the head of his assailant on the rock, he heard shriek after shriek
come from Joanne's lips; and then for a flash he saw them again, and
Joanne was struggling in the arms of Quade!
He struggled to his knees, and the man he was fighting struggled to his
knees; and then they came to their feet, locked in a death-grip on the edge
of the chasm. From Quade's clutch he saw Joanne staring at Mortimer
FitzHugh; then her eyes shot to him, and with another shriek she fought to
For thirty seconds of that terrible drama Mortimer FitzHugh stood as if
hewn out of rock. Then he sprang toward the fighters.
In the arms of John Aldous was the strength of ten men. He twisted the head
of his antagonist under his arm; he braced his feet--in another moment he
would have flung him bodily into the roaring maelstrom below. Even as his
muscles gathered themselves for the final effort he knew that all was lost.
Mortimer FitzHugh's face leered over his shoulder, his demoniac intention
was in his eyes before he acted. With a cry of hatred and of triumph he
shoved them both over the edge, and as Aldous plunged to the depths below,
still holding to his enemy, he heard a last piercing scream from Joanne.
As the rock slid away from under his feet his first thought was that the
end had come, and that no living creature could live in the roaring
maelstrom of rock and, flood into which he was plunging. But quicker than
he dashed through space his mind worked. Instinctively, without time for
reasoning, he gripped at the fact that his one chance lay in the close
embrace of his enemy. He hung to him. It seemed to him that they turned
over and over a hundred times in that distance of fifty feet. Then a mass
of twisting foam broke under him, and up out of it shot the head of one of
the roaring monsters of rock that he and Joanne had looked upon. They
struck it fairly, and Aldous was uppermost. He felt the terrific impact of
the other's body. The foam boiled upward again, and they slipped off into
Still Aldous held to his enemy. He could feel that he was limp now; he no
longer felt the touch of the hands that had choked him, or the embrace of
the arms that had struggled with him. He believed that his antagonist was
dead. The fifty-foot fall, with the rock splitting his back, had killed
him. For a moment Aldous still clung to him as they sank together under the
surface, torn and twisted by the whirling eddies and whirlpools. It seemed
to him that they would never cease going down, that they were sinking a
Dully he felt the beat of rocks. Then it flashed upon him that the dead man
was sinking like a weighted thing. He freed himself. Fiercely he struggled
to bring himself to the surface. It seemed an eternity before he rose to
the top. He opened his mouth and drew a great gulp of air into his lungs.
The next instant a great rock reared like a living thing in his face; he
plunged against it, was beaten over it, and again he was going
down--down--in that deadly clutch of maelstrom and undertow. Again he
fought, and again he came to the surface. He saw a black, slippery wall
gliding past him with the speed of an express train. And now it seemed as
though a thousand clubs were beating him. Ahead of him were rocks--nothing
He shot through them like a piece of driftwood. The roaring in his ears
grew less, and he felt the touch of something under his feet. Sunlight
burst upon him. He caught at a rock, and hung to it. His eyes cleared a
little. He was within ten feet of a shore covered with sand and gravel. The
water was smooth and running with a musical ripple. Waist-deep he waded
through it to the shore, and fell down upon his knees, with his face buried
in his arms. He had been ten minutes in the death-grip of the chasm. It was
another ten minutes before he staggered to his feet and looked about him.
His face was beaten until he was almost blind. His shirt had been torn from
his shoulders and his flesh was bleeding. He advanced a few steps. He
raised one arm and then the other. He limped. One arm hurt him when he
moved it, but the bone was sound. He was terribly mauled, but he knew that
no bones were broken, and a gasp of thankfulness fell from his lips. All
this time his mind had been suffering even more than his body. Not for an
instant, even as he fought for life between the chasm walls, and as he lay
half unconscious on the rock, had he forgotten Joanne. His one thought was
of her now. He had no weapon, but as he stumbled in the direction of the
camp in the little plain he picked up a club that lay in his path.
That MacDonald was dead, Aldous was certain. There would be four against
him--Quade and Mortimer FitzHugh and the two men who had gone to the
mountain. His brain cleared swiftly as a part of his strength returned, and
it occurred to him that if he lost no time he might come upon Joanne and
her captors before the two men came from killing old Donald. He tried to
run. Not until then did he fully realize the condition he was in. Twice in
the first hundred yards his legs doubled under him and he fell down among
the rocks. He grew steadily stronger, though each time he tried to run or
spring a distance of a few feet his legs doubled under him like that. It
took him twenty minutes to get back to the edge of the plain, and when he
got there it was empty. There was no sign of Quade or FitzHugh, or of
Joanne and Marie; and there was no one coming from the direction of the
He tried to run again, and he found that over the level floor of the valley
he could make faster time than among the rocks. He went to where he had
dropped his rifle. It was gone. He searched for his automatic. That, too,
was gone. There was one weapon left--a long skinning-knife in one of the
panniers near the tepee. As he went for this, he passed two of the men whom
he had shot. Quade and FitzHugh had taken their weapons, and had turned
them over to see if they were alive or dead. They were dead. He secured the
knife, and behind the tepee he passed the third body, its face as still and
white as the others. He shuddered as he recognized it. It was Slim Barker.
His rifle was gone.
More swiftly now he made his way into the break out of which his assailants
had come a short time before. The thought came to him again that he had
been right, and that Donald MacDonald, in spite of all his years in the
mountains, had been fatally wrong. Their enemies had come down from the
north, and this break led to their hiding-place. Through it Joanne must
have been taken by her captors. As he made his way over the rocks, gaining
a little more of his strength with each step, his mind tried to picture the
situation that had now arisen between Quade and Mortimer FitzHugh. How
would Quade, who was mad for possession of Joanne, accept FitzHugh's claim
of ownership? Would he believe his partner? Would he even believe Joanne
if, to save herself from him, she told him FitzHugh was her husband? Even
if he believed them, _would he give her up?_ Would Quade allow Mortimer
FitzHugh to stand between him and the object for which he was willing to
As Aldous asked himself these questions his blood ran hot and cold by
turns. And the answer to them drew a deep breath of fear and of anguish
from him as he tried again to run among the rocks. There could be but one
answer: Quade would fight. He would fight like a madman, and if this fight
had happened and FitzHugh had been killed Joanne had already gone utterly
and helplessly into his power. He believed that FitzHugh had not revealed
to Quade his relationship to Joanne while they were on the plain, and the
thought still more terrible came to him that he might not reveal it at all,
that he might repudiate Joanne even as she begged upon her knees for him to
save her. What a revenge it would be to see her helpless and broken in the
arms of Quade! And then, both being beasts----
He could think no farther. The sweat broke out on his face as he hobbled
faster over a level space. The sound of the water between the chasm walls
was now a thunder in his ears. He could not have heard a rifle-shot or a
scream a hundred yards away. The trail he was following had continually
grown narrower. It seemed to end a little ahead of him, and the fear that
he had come the wrong way after all filled him with dread. He came to the
face of the mountain wall, and then, to his left, he saw a crack that was
no wider than a man's body. In it there was sand, and the, sand was beaten
by footprints! He wormed his way through, and a moment later stood at the
edge of the chasm. Fifty feet above him a natural bridge of rock spanned
the huge cleft through which the stream was rushing. He crossed this,
exposing himself openly to a shot if it was guarded. But it was not
guarded. This fact convinced him that MacDonald had been killed, and that
his enemies believed he was dead. If MacDonald had escaped, and they had
feared a possible pursuit, some one would have watched the bridge.
The trail was easy to follow now. Sand and grassy earth had replaced rock
and shale; he could make out the imprints of feet--many of them--and they
led in the direction of a piece of timber that apparently edged a valley
running to the east and west. The rumble of the torrent in the chasm grew
fainter as he advanced. A couple of hundred yards farther on the trail
swung to the left again; it took him around the end of a huge rock, and as
he appeared from behind this, his knife clutched in his hand, he dropped
suddenly flat on his face, and his heart rose like a lump in his throat.
Scarcely fifty yards above him was the camp of his enemies! There were two
tepees and piles of saddles and panniers and blankets about them, but not a
soul that he could see. And then, suddenly, there rose a voice bellowing
with rage, and he recognized it as Quade's. It came from beyond the tepee,
and he rose quickly from where he had thrown himself and ran forward, with
the tepee between him and those on the other side. Close to the canvas he
dropped on his knees and crawled out behind a pile of saddles and panniers.
From here he could see.
So near that he could almost have touched them were Joanne and Marie,
seated on the ground, with their backs toward him. Their hands were tied
behind them. Their feet were bound with pannier ropes. A dozen paces beyond
them were Quade and Mortimer FitzHugh.
The two men were facing each other, a yard apart. Mortimer FitzHugh's face
was white, a deadly white, and he was smiling. His right hand rested
carelessly in his hunting-coat pocket. There was a sneering challenge on
his lips; in his eyes was a look that Aldous knew meant death if Quade
moved. And Quade was like a great red beast ready to spring. His eyes
seemed bulging out on his cheeks; his great hands were knotted; his
shoulders were hunched forward, and his mottled face was ablaze with
passion. In that moment's dramatic tableau Aldous glanced about swiftly.
The men from the mountain had not returned. He was alone with Quade and
Then FitzHugh spoke, very quietly, a little laughingly; but his voice
trembled, and Aldous knew what the hand was doing in the hunting-coat
"You're excited, Billy," he said. "I'm not a liar, as you've very
impolitely told me. And I'm not playing you dirt, and I haven't fallen in
love with the lady myself, as you seem to think. But she belongs to me,
body and soul. If you don't believe me--why, ask the lady herself, Billy!"
As he spoke, he turned his sneering eyes for the fraction of a second
toward Joanne. The movement was fatal. Quade was upon him. The hand in the
coat pocket flung itself upward, there followed a muffled report, but the
bullet flew wide. In all his life Aldous had never heard a sound like the
roar that came from Quade's throat then. He saw Mortimer FitzHugh's hand
appear with a pistol in it, and then the pistol was gone. He did not see
where it went to. He gripped his knife and waited, his heart beating with
what seemed like smothered explosions as he watched for the opportunity
which he knew would soon come. He expected to see FitzHugh go down under
Quade's huge bulk. Instead of that, a small, iron fist shot upward and
Quade's head went back as if broken from his neck.
FitzHugh sprang a step backward, and in the movement his heel caught the
edge of a pack-saddle. He stumbled, almost fell, and before he could
recover himself Quade was at him again. This time there was something in
the red brute's hand. It rose and fell once--and Mortimer FitzHugh reeled
backward with a moaning cry, swayed for a second or two on his feet, and
fell to the ground. Quade turned. In his hand was a bloody knife. Madness
and passion and the triumphant joy of a demon were in his face as he glared
at his helpless prey. As Aldous crouched lower his shoulder touched one of
the saddles. It slipped from the pile, one of the panniers followed it, and
Quade saw him. There was no longer reason for concealment, and as Quade
stood paralyzed for a moment Aldous sprang forth into the space between him
and Joanne. He heard the cry that broke strangely from her lips but he did
not turn his head. He advanced upon Quade, his head lowered, the long
skinning-knife gleaming in his hand.
John Aldous knew that words would avail nothing in these last few minutes
between him and Quade. The latter had already hunched himself forward, the
red knife in his hand poised at his waistline. He was terrible. His huge
bulk, his red face and bull neck, his eyes popping from behind their fleshy
lids, and the dripping blade in the shapeless hulk of his hand gave him the
appearance as he stood there of some monstrous gargoyle instead of a thing
of flesh and blood. And Aldous was terrible to look at, but in a way that
wrung a moaning cry from Joanne. His face was livid from the beat of the
rocks; it was crusted with blood; his eyes were partly closed, and what
remained of his shirt was drenched with blood that still ran from the deep
cuts in his arms and shoulders. But it was he who advanced, and Quade who
stood and waited.
Aldous knew little or nothing of knife-fighting; and he realized, also,
that there was a strange weakness in his arms and body caused by his battle
with the maelstroms in the chasm. But he had wrestled a great deal with the
Indians of the north, who fought as their half-wolf sledgedogs fought, and
he employed their methods now. Slowly and deliberately he began to circle
around Quade, so that Quade became the pivot of that circle, and as he
circled he drew nearer and nearer to his enemy, but never in a frontal
advance. He edged inward, with his knife-arm on the outside. His deadly
deliberateness and the steady glare of his eyes discomfited Quade, who
suddenly took a step backward.
It was always when the Indian made this step that his opponent darted in;
and Aldous, with this in mind, sprang to the attack. Their knives clashed
in midair. As they met, hilt to hilt, Aldous threw his whole weight against
Quade, darted sidewise, and with a terrific lunge brought the blade of his
knife down between Quade's shoulders. A straight blade would have gone from
back to chest through muscle and sinew, but the knife which Aldous held
scarcely pierced the other's clothes.
Not until then did he fully realize the tremendous odds against him. The
curved blade of his skinning-knife would not penetrate! His one hope was to
cut with it. He flung out his arm before Quade had fully recovered, and
blind luck carried the keen edge of the knife across his enemy's pouchy
cheek. The blood came in a spurt, and with a terrible cry Quade leaped back
toward the pile of saddles and panniers. Before Aldous could follow his
advantage the other had dropped his knife and had snatched up a four-foot
length of a tepee pole. For a moment he hesitated while the blood ran in a
hot flood down his thick neck. Then with a bellow of rage he rushed upon
It was no time for knife-work now. As the avalanche of brute strength
descended upon him Aldous gathered himself for the shock. He had already
measured his own weakness. Those ten minutes among the rocks of the chasm
had broken and beaten him until his strength was gone. He was panting from
his first onset with Quade, but his brain was working. And he knew that
Quade was no longer a reasoning thing. He had ceased to think. He was blind
with the passion of the brute, and his one thought was to crush his enemy
down under the weight of the club in his huge hands. Aldous waited. He
heard Joanne's terrified scream when Quade was almost upon him--when less
than five feet separated them. The club was descending when he flung
himself forward, straight for the other's feet. The club crashed over him,
and with what strength he had he gripped Quade at the knees. With a
tremendous thud Quade came to earth. The club broke from the grip of his
hands. For a moment he was stunned, and in that moment Aldous was at his
He would have sold the best of his life for the skinning-knife. But he had
lost it in gripping Quade. And now he choked--with every ounce of strength
in him he choked at the thick red neck of his enemy. Quade's hands reached
for his own throat. They found it. And both choked, lying there gasping and
covered with blood! while Joanne struggled vainly to free herself, and
scream after scream rang from her lips. And John Aldous knew that at last
the end had come. For there was no longer strength in his arms, and there
was something that was like a strange cramp in his fingers, while the
clutch at his own throat was turning the world black. His grip relaxed. His
hands fell limp. The last that he realized was that Quade was over him, and
that he must be dying.
Then it was, as he lay within a final second or two of death, no longer
conscious of physical attack or of Joanne's terrible cries, that a strange
and unforeseen thing occurred. Beyond the tepee a man had risen from the
earth. He staggered toward them, and it was from Marie that the wildest and
strangest cry of all came now. For the man was Joe DeBar! In his hand he
held a knife. Swaying and stumbling he came to the fighters--from behind.
Quade did not see him, and over Quade's huge back he poised himself. The
knife rose; for the fraction of a second it trembled in midair. Then it
descended, and eight inches of steel went to the heart of Quade.
And as DeBar turned and staggered toward Joanne and Marie, John Aldous was
sinking deeper and deeper into a black and abysmal night.
In that chaotic night in which he was drifting, light as a feather floating
on the wind, John Aldous experienced neither pain nor very much of the
sense of life. And yet, without seeing or feeling, he seemed to be living,
All was dead in him but that last consciousness, which is almost the
spirit; he might have been dreaming, and minutes, hours, or even years
might have passed in that dream. For a long time he seemed to be sinking
through the blackness; and then something stopped him, without jar or
shock, and he was rising. He could hear nothing. There was a vast silence
about him, a silence as deep and as unbroken as the abysmal pit in which he
seemed to be softly floating.
After a time Aldous felt himself swaying and rocking, as though tossed
gently on the billows of a sea. This was the first thought that took shape
in his struggling brain--he was at sea; he was on a ship in the heart of a
black night, and he was alone. He tried to call out, but his tongue seemed
gone. It seemed a very long time before day broke, and then it was a
strange day. Little needles of light pricked his eyes; silver strings shot
like flashes of weblike lightning through the darkness, and after that he
saw for an instant a strange glare. It was gone in one big, powderlike
flash, and he was in night again. These days and nights seemed to follow
one another swiftly now, and the nights grew less dark, and the days
brighter. He was conscious of sounds and buffetings, and it was very hot.
Out of this heat there came a cool, soft breeze that was continually
caressing his face, and eyes, and head. It was like the touch of a spirit
hand. It became more and more real to him. It caressed him into a dark and
comfortable oblivion. Out of this oblivion a still brighter day roused him.
His brain seemed clear. He opened his eyes. A white cloud was hovering over
them; it fell softly; it was cool and gentle. Then it rose again, and it
was not a cloud, but a hand! The hand moved away, and he was looking into a
pair of wide-open, staring, prayerful eyes, and a little cry came to him,
and a voice.
He was drifting again, but now he knew that he was alive. He heard
movement. He heard voices. They were growing nearer and more distinct. He
tried to cry out Joanne's name, and it came in a whispering breath between
his lips. But Joanne heard; and he heard her calling to him; he felt her
hands; she was imploring him to open his eyes, to speak to her. It seemed
many minutes before he could do this, but at last he succeeded. And this
time his vision was not so blurred. He could see plainly. Joanne was there,
hovering over him, and just beyond her was the great bearded face of Donald
MacDonald. And then, before words had formed on his lips, he did a
wonderful thing. He smiled.
"O my God, I thank Thee!" he heard Joanne cry out, and then she was on her
knees, and her face was against his, and she was sobbing.
He knew that it was MacDonald who drew her away.
The great head bent over him.
"Take this, will 'ee, Johnny boy?"
"Mac, you're--alive," he breathed.
"Alive as ever was, Johnny. Take this."
He swallowed. And then Joanne hovered over him again, and he put up his
hands to her face, and her glorious eyes were swimming seas as she kissed
him and choked back the sobs in her throat. He buried his fingers in her
hair. He held her head close to him, and for many minutes no one spoke,
while MacDonald stood and looked down on them. In those minutes everything
returned to him. The fight was over. MacDonald had come in time to save him
from Quade. But--and now his eyes stared upward through the sheen of
Joanne's hair--he was in a cabin! He recognized it. It was Donald
MacDonald's old home. When Joanne raised her head he looked about him
without speaking. He was in the wide bunk built against the wall. Sunlight
was filtering through a white curtain at the window, and in the open door
he saw the anxious face of Marie.
He tried to lift himself, and was amazed to find that he could not. Very
gently Joanne urged him back on his pillow. Her face was a glory of life
and of joy. He obeyed her as he would have obeyed the hand of the Madonna.
She saw all his questioning.
"You must be quiet, John," she said, and never had he heard in her voice
the sweetness of love that was in it now. "We will tell you
everything--Donald and I. But you must be quiet. You were terribly beaten
among the rocks. We brought you here at noon, and the sun is setting--and
until now you have not opened your eyes. Everything is well. But you must
be quiet. You were terribly bruised by the rocks, dear."
It was sweet to lie under the caresses of her hand. He drew her face down
"Joanne, my darling, you understand now--why I wanted to come alone into
Her lips pressed warm and soft against his.
"I know," she whispered, and he could feel her arras trembling, and her
breath coming quickly. Gently she drew away from him. "I am going to make
you some broth," she said then.
He watched her as she went out of the cabin, one white hand lifted to her
Old Donald MacDonald seated himself on the edge of the bunk. He looked down
at Aldous, chuckling in his beard; and Aldous, with his bruised and swollen
face and half-open eyes, grinned like a happy fiend.
"It was a wunerful, wunerful fight, Johnny!" said old Donald.
"It was, Mac. And you came in fine on the home stretch!"
"What d'ye mean--home stretch?" queried Donald leaning over.
"You saved me from Quade."
Donald fairly groaned.
"I didn't, Johnny--I didn't! DeBar killed 'im. It was all over when I come.
On'y--Johnny--I had a most cur'ous word with Culver Rann afore he died!"
In his eagerness Aldous was again trying to sit up when Joanne appeared in
the doorway. With a little cry she darted to him, forced him gently back,
and brushed old Donald off the edge of the bunk.
"Go out and watch the broth, Donald," she commanded firmly. Then she said
to Aldous, stroking back his hair, "I forbade you to talk. John, dear,
aren't you going to mind me?"
"Did Quade get me with the knife?" he asked.
"Am I shot?"
"Any bones broken?"
"Donald says not."
"Then please give me my pipe, Joanne--and let me get up. Why do you want me
to lie here when I'm strong like an ox, as Donald says?"
Joanne laughed happily.
"You _are_ getting better every minute," she cried joyously. "But you were
terribly beaten by the rocks, John. If you will wait until you have the
broth I will let you sit up."
A few minutes later, when he had swallowed his broth, Joanne kept her
promise. Only then did he realize that there was not a bone or a muscle in
his body that did not have its own particular ache. He grimaced when Joanne
and Donald bolstered him up with blankets at his back. But he was happy.
Twilight was coming swiftly, and as Joanne gave the final pats and turns to
the blankets and pillows, MacDonald was lighting half a dozen candles
placed around the room.
"Any watch to-night, Donald?" asked Aldous.
"No, Johnny, there ain't no watch to-night," replied the old mountaineer.
He came and seated himself on a bench with Joanne. For half an hour after
that Aldous listened to a recital of the strange things that had
happened--how poor marksmanship had saved MacDonald on the mountain-side,
and how at last the duel had ended with the old hunter killing those who
had come to slay him. When they came to speak of DeBar, Joanne leaned
nearer to Aldous.
"It is wonderful what love will sometimes do," she spoke softly. "In the
last few hours Marie has bared her soul to me, John. What she has been she
has not tried to hide from me, nor even from the man she loves. She was one
of Mortimer FitzHugh's tools. DeBar saw her and loved her, and she sold
herself to him in exchange for the secret of the gold. When they came into
the North the wonderful thing happened. She loved DeBar--not in the way of
her kind, but as a woman in whom had been born a new heart and a new soul
and a new joy. She defied FitzHugh; she told DeBar how she had tricked him.
"This morning FitzHugh attempted his old familiarity with her, and DeBar
struck him down. The act gave them excuse for what they had planned to do.
Before her eyes Marie thought they had killed the man she loved. She flung
herself on his breast, and she said she could not feel his heart beat, and
his blood flowed warm against her hands and face. Both she and DeBar had
determined to warn us if they could. Only a few minutes before DeBar was
stabbed he had let off his rifle--an accident, he said. But it was not an
accident. It was the shot Donald heard in the cavern. It saved us, John!
And Marie, waiting her opportunity, fled to us in the plain. DeBar was not
killed. He says my screams brought him back to life. He came out--and
killed Quade with a knife. Then he fell at our feet. A few minutes later
Donald came. DeBar is in another cabin. He is not fatally hurt, and Marie
She was stroking his hand when she finished. The curious rumbling came
softly in MacDonald's beard and his eyes were bright with a whimsical
"I pretty near bored a hole through poor Joe when I come up," he chuckled.
"But you bet I hugged him when I found what he'd done, Johnny! Joe says
their camp was just over the range from us that night FitzHugh looked us
up, an' Joanne thought she'd been dreamin'. He didn't have any help, but
his intention was to finish us alone--murder us asleep--when Joanne cried
out. Joe says it was just a devil's freak that took 'im to the top of the
mountain alone that night. He saw our fire an' came down to investigate."
A low voice was calling outside the door. It was Marie. As Joanne went to
her a quick gleam came into old Donald's eyes. He looked behind him
cautiously to see that she had disappeared, then he bent over Aldous, and
"Johnny, I had a most cur'ous word with Rann--or FitzHugh--afore he died!
He wasn't dead when I went to him. But he knew he was dyin'; an' Johnny, he
was smilin' an' cool to the end. I wanted to ask 'im a question, Johnny. I
was dead cur'ous to know _why the grave were empty!_ But he asked for
Joanne, an' I couldn't break in on his last breath. I brought her. The
first thing he asked her was how people had took it when they found out
he'd poisoned his father! When Joanne told him no one had ever thought he'd
killed his father, FitzHugh sat leanin' against the saddles for a minit so
white an' still I thought he 'ad died with his eyes open. Then it came out,
Johnny. He was smilin' as he told it. He killed his father with poison to
get his money. Later he came to America. He didn't have time to tell us how
he come to think they'd discovered his crime. He was dyin' as he talked. It
came out sort o' slobberingly, Johnny. He thought they'd found 'im out. He
changed his name, an' sent out the report that Mortimer FitzHugh had died
in the mount'ins. But Johnny, he died afore I could ask him about the
There was a final note of disappointment in old Donald's voice that was
"It was such a cur'ous grave," he said. "An' the clothes were laid out so
prim an' nice."
Aldous laid his hand on MacDonald's.
"It's easy, Mac," he said, and he wanted to laugh at the disappointment
that was still in the other's face. "Don't you see? He never expected any
one to dig _into_ the grave. And he put the clothes and the watch and the
ring in there to get rid of them. They might have revealed his identity.
Joanne was coming to them again. She laid a cool hand on his forehead and
held up a warning finger to MacDonald.
"Hush!" she said gently, "Your head is very hot, dear, and there must be
no more talking. You must lie down and sleep. Tell John good-night,
Like a boy MacDonald did as she told him, and disappeared through the cabin
door. Joanne levelled the pillows and lowered John's head.
"I can't sleep, Joanne," he protested.
"I will sit here close at your side and stroke your face and hair," she
"And you will talk to me?"
"No, I must not talk. But, John----"
"If you will promise to be very, very quiet, and let me be very quiet----"
"I will make you a pillow of my hair."
"I--will be quiet," he whispered.
She unbound her hair, and leaned over so that it fell in a flood on his
pillow. With a sigh of contentment he buried his face in the rich, sweet
masses of it. Gently, like the cooling breeze that had come to him in his
hours of darkness, her hand caressed him. He closed his eyes; he drank in
the intoxicating perfume of her tresses; and after a little he slept.
For many hours Joanne sat at his bedside, sleepless, and rejoicing.
When Aldous awoke it was dawn in the cabin. Joanne was gone. For a few
minutes he continued to lie with his face toward the window. He knew that
he had slept a long time, and that the day was breaking. Slowly he raised
himself. The terrible ache in his body was gone; he was still lame, but no
longer helpless. He drew himself cautiously to the edge of the bunk and
sat there for a time, testing himself before he got up. He was delighted at
the result of the experiments. He rose to his feet. His clothes were
hanging against the wall, and he dressed himself. Then he opened the door
and walked out into the morning, limping a little as he went. MacDonald was
up. Joanne's tepee was close to the cabin. The two men greeted each other
quietly, and they talked in low voices, but Joanne heard them, and a few
moments later she ran out with her hair streaming about her and went
straight into the arms of John Aldous.
This was the beginning of the three wonderful days that yet remained for
Joanne and John Aldous in Donald MacDonald's little valley of gold and
sunshine and blue skies. They were strange and beautiful days, filled with
a great peace and a great happiness, and in them wonderful changes were at
work. On the second day Joanne and Marie rode alone to the cavern where
Jane lay, and when they returned in the golden sun of the afternoon they
were leading their horses, and walking hand in hand. And when they came
down to where DeBar and Aldous and Donald MacDonald were testing the
richness of the black sand along the stream there was a light in Marie's
eyes and a radiance in Joanne's face which told again that world-old story
of a Mary Magdalene and the dawn of another Day. And now, Aldous thought,
Marie had become beautiful; and Joanne laughed softly and happily that
night, and confided many things into the ears of Aldous, while Marie and
DeBar talked for a long time alone out under the stars, and came back at
last hand in hand, like two children. Before they went to bed Marie
whispered something to Joanne, and a little later Joanne whispered it to
"They want to know if they can be married with us, John," she said. "That
is, if you haven't grown tired of trying to marry me, dear," she added with
a happy laugh. "Have you?"
His answer satisfied her. And when she told a small part of it to Marie,
the other woman's dark eyes grew as soft as the night, and she whispered
the words to Joe.
The third and last day was the most beautiful of all. Joe's knife wound was
not bad. He had suffered most from a blow on the head. Both he and Aldous
were in condition to travel, and plans were made to begin the homeward
journey on the fourth morning. MacDonald had unearthed another dozen sacks
of the hidden gold, and he explained to Aldous what must be done to secure
legal possession of the little valley. His manner of doing this was
unnatural and strained. His words came haltingly. There was unhappiness in
his eyes. It was in his voice. It was in the odd droop of his shoulders.
And finally, when they were alone, he said to Aldous, with almost a sob in
"Johnny--Johnny, if on'y the gold were not here!"
He turned his eyes to the mountain, and Aldous took one of his big gnarled
hands in both his own.
"Say it, Mac," he said gently. "I guess I know what it is."
"It ain't fair to you, Johnny," said old Donald, still with his eyes on the
mountains. "It ain't fair to you. But when you take out the claims down
there it'll start a rush. You know what it means, Johnny. There'll be a
thousand men up here; an' mebby you can't understand--but there's the
cavern an' Jane an' the little cabin here; an' it seems like desecratin'
His voice choked, and as Aldous gripped the big hand harder in his own he
"It would, Mac," he said. "I've been watching you while we made the plans.
These cabins and the gold have been here for more than forty years without
discovery, Donald--and they won't be discovered again so long as Joe DeBar
and John Aldous and Donald MacDonald have a word to say about it. We'll
take out no claims, Mac. The valley isn't ours. It's Jane's valley and
Joanne, coming up just then, wondered what the two men had been saying that
they stood as they did, with hands clasped. Aldous told her. And then old
Donald confessed to them what was in his mind, and what he had kept from
them. At last he had found his home, and he was not going to leave it
again. He was going to stay with Jane. He was going to bring her from the
cavern and bury her near the cabin, and he pointed out the spot, covered
with wild hyacinths and asters, where she used to sit on the edge of the
stream and watch him while he worked for gold. And they could return each
year and dig for gold, and he would dig for gold while they were away, and
they could have it all. All that he wanted was enough to eat, and Jane, and
the little valley. And Joanne turned from him as he talked, her face
streaming with tears, and in John's throat was a great lump, and he looked
away from MacDonald to the mountains.
So it came to pass that on the fourth morning, when they went into the
south, they stopped on the last knoll that shut out the little valley from
the larger valley, and looked back. And Donald MacDonald stood alone in
front of the cabin waving them good-bye.