Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Audrey Longhurst, Richard Prairie and PG Distributed
[Illustration: He worked tirelessly, as though he was determined to
infuse her numb veins with his own vigor. FRONTISPIECE.]
THE RIM OF THE DESERT
ADA WOODRUFF ANDERSON
AUTHOR OF "THE STRAIN OF WHITE," "THE HEART OF THE RED FIRS," ETC.
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY MONTE CREWS
_To the Memory of_
A gentle and appreciative critic, the only one, perhaps, who re-read my
previous books with pleasure and found no flaw in them, and who would have
had a greater interest than any other in this publication.
The desert of this story is that semi-arid region east of the upper
Columbia. It is cut off from the moisture laden winds of the Pacific by
the lofty summits of the Cascade Mountains which form its western rim, and
for many miles the great river crowds the barrier, winding, breaking in
rapids, seeking a way through. To one approaching this rim from the dense
forests of the westward slopes, the sage grown levels seem to stretch
limitless into the far horizon, but they are broken by hidden coulees; in
propitious seasons reclaimed areas have yielded phenominal crops of wheat,
and under irrigation the valley of one of the two tributaries from the
west, wherein lies Hesperides Vale, has become a garden spot of the world.
To the initiated I wish to say if in the chapters touching on the Alaska
coal cases I have followed too literally the statements of prominent men,
it was not in an effort to portray them but merely to represent as clearly
as possible the Alaska situation.
ADA WOODRUFF ANDERSON.
I THE MAN WHO NEVER CAME BACK
II THE QUESTION
III FOSTER TOO
IV SNOQUALMIE PASS AND A BROKEN AXLE
V APPLES OF EDEN
VI NIP AND TUCK
VII A NIGHT ON THE MOUNTAIN ROAD
VIII THE BRAVEST WOMAN HE EVER KNEW
IX THE DUNES OF THE COLUMBIA
X A WOMAN'S HEART-STRINGS
XI THE LOOPHOLE
XII "WHOM THE GODS WOULD DESTROY"
XIII "A LITTLE STREAK OF LUCK"
XIV ON BOARD THE AQUILA
XV THE STORY OF THE TENAS PAPOOSE
XVI THE ALTERNATIVE
XVII "ALL THESE THINGS WILL I GIVE THEE"
XVIII THE OPTION
XIX LUCKY BANKS AND THE PINK CHIFFON
XX KERNEL AND PEACH
XXI FOSTER'S HOUR
XXII AS MAN TO MAN
XXIII THE DAY OF PUBLICATION
XXIV SNOWBOUND IN THE ROCKIES AND "FIT AS A MOOSE"
XXV THE IDES OF MARCH
XXVI THE EVERLASTING DOOR
XXVII KISMET, AN ACT OF GOD
XXIX BACK TO HESPERIDES VALE
XXX THE JUNIOR DEFENDANT
XXXI TISDALE OF ALASKA--AND WASHINGTON, D.C.
XXXII THE OTHER DOCUMENT
XXXIII THE CALF-BOUND NOTEBOOK
THE RIM OF THE DESERT
THE MAN WHO NEVER CAME BACK
It is in October, when the trails over the wet tundra harden, and before
the ice locks Bering Sea, that the Alaska exodus sets towards Seattle; but
there were a few members of the Arctic Circle in town that first evening
in September to open the clubhouse on the Lake Boulevard with an informal
little supper for special delegate Feversham, who had arrived on the
steamer from the north, on his way to Washington.
The clubhouse, which was built of great, hewn logs, with gabled eaves,
stood in a fringe of firs, and an upper rear balcony afforded a broad
outlook of lake and forest, with the glaciered heights of the Cascade
Mountains breaking a far horizon. The day had been warm, but a soft
breeze, drawing across this veranda through the open door, cooled the
assembly room, and, lifting one of the lighter hangings of Indian-wrought
elk leather, found the stairs and raced with a gentle rustle through the
lower front entrance back into the night. It had caressed many familiar
things on its way, for the walls were embellished with trophies from the
big spaces where winds are born. There were skins of polar and Kodiak
bear; of silver and black fox; there were antlered heads set above the
fireplace and on the rough, bark-seamed pillars that supported the
unceiled roof. A frieze of pressed and framed Alaska flora finished the
low gallery which extended around three sides of the hall, and the massive
chairs, like the polished banquet board, were of crocus-yellow Alaska
The delegate, who had come out to tide-water over the Fairbanks-Valdez
trail, was describing with considerable heat the rigors of the journey.
The purple parka, which was the regalia of the Circle, seemed to increase
his prominence of front and intensified the color in his face to a sort of
"Yes, gentlemen," he continued, thumping the table with a stout hand and
repeating the gesture slowly, while the glasses trembled, "Alaska's crying
need is a railroad; a single finished line from the most northern harbor
open to navigation the whole year--and that is Prince William Sound--
straight through to the Tanana Valley and the upper Yukon. Already the
first problem has been solved; we have pierced the icy barrier of the
Coast Range. All we are waiting for is further right of way; the right to
the forests, that timber may be secured for construction work; the right
to mine coal for immediate use. But, gentlemen, we may grow gray waiting.
What do men four thousand miles away, men who never saw Alaska, care about
our needs?" He leaned back in his chair, while his glance moved from face
to face and rested, half in challenge, on the member at the foot of the
board. "These commissioners appointed off there in Washington," he added.
"These carpet-baggers from the little States beyond the Mississippi!"
Hollis Tisdale, who had spent some of the hardest years of his Alaska
career in the service of the Government, met the delegate's look with a
quiet humor in his eyes.
"It seems to me," he said, and his deep, expressive voice instantly held
the attention of every one, "that such a man, with intelligence and
insight, of course, stands the surest chance of giving general
satisfaction in the end. He is at least disinterested, while the best of
us, no matter how big he is, how clear-visioned, is bound to take his own
district specially to heart. Prince William Sound alone has hundreds of
miles of coast-line and includes more than one fine harbor with an
At this a smile rippled around the table, and Miles Feversham, who was the
attorney for one of the most ambitious syndicates of promoters in the
north, gave his attention to the menu. But Tisdale, having spoken, turned
his face to the open balcony door. His parka was thrown back, showing an
incongruous breadth of stiff white bosom, yet he was the only man present
who wore the garment with grace. In that moment the column of throat
rising from the purple folds, the upward, listening pose of the fine head,
in relief against the bearskin on the wall behind his chair, suggested a
Greek medallion. His brown hair, close-cut, waved at the temples; lines
were chiseled at the corners of his eyes and, with a lighter touch, about
his mouth; yet his face, his whole compact, muscular body, gave an
impression of youth--youth and power and the capacity for great endurance.
His friends said the north never had left a mark of its grip on Tisdale.
The life up there that had scarred, crippled, wrecked most of them seemed
only to have mellowed him.
"But," resumed Feversham quickly, "I shall make a stiff fight at
Washington; I shall force attention to our suspended land laws; demand the
rights the United States allows her western territories; I shall ask for
the same concessions that were the making of the Oregon country; and first
and last I shall do all I can to loosen the strangling clutch of
Conservation." He paused, while his hand fell still more heavily on the
table, and the glasses jingled anew. "And, gentlemen, the day of the
floating population is practically over; we have our settled communities,
our cities; we are ready for a legislative body of our own; the time has
come for Home Rule. But the men who make our laws must be familiar with
the country, have allied interests. Gentlemen,"--his voice, dropping its
aggressive tone, took a honeyed insistence,--"we want in our first
executive a man who knows us intimately, who has covered our vast
distances, whose vision has broadened; a man big enough to hold the
welfare of all Alaska at heart."
The delegate finished this period with an all-embracing smile and, nodding
gently, leaned back again in his chair. But in the brief silence that
followed, he experienced a kind of shock. Foster, the best known mining
engineer from Prince William Sound to the Tanana, had turned his eyes on
Tisdale; and Banks, Lucky Banks, who had made the rich strike in the
Iditarod wilderness, also looked that way. Then instantly their thought
was telegraphed from face to face. When Feversham allowed his glance to
follow the rest, it struck him as a second shock that Tisdale was the only
one on whom the significance of the moment was lost.
The interval passed. Tisdale stirred, and his glance, coming back from the
door, rested on a dish that had been placed before him. "Japanese
pheasant!" he exclaimed. The mellowness glowed in his face. He lifted his
eyes, and the delegate, meeting that clear, direct gaze, dropped his own
to his plate. "Think of it! Game from the other side of the Pacific. They
look all right, but--do you know?"--the lines deepened humorously at the
corners of his mouth--"nothing with wings ever seems quite as fine to me
"Ptarmigan!" Feversham suspended his fork in astonishment. "Not
"Yes," persisted Tisdale gently, "ptarmigan; and particularly the ones
that nest in Nunatak Arm."
There was a pause, while for the first time his eyes swept the Circle. He
still held the attention of every one, but with a difference; the
tenseness had given place to a pleased expectancy.
Then Foster said: "That must have been on some trip you made, while you
were doing geological work around St. Elias."
Tisdale shook his head. "No, it was before that; the year I gave up
Government work to have my little fling at prospecting. You were still in
college. Every one was looking for a quick route to the Klondike then, and
I believed if I could push through the Coast Range from Yakutat Bay to the
valley of the Alsek, it would be smooth going straight to the Yukon. An
old Indian I talked with at the mission told me he had made it once on a
hunting trip, and Weatherbee--you all remember David Weatherbee--was eager
to try it with me. The Tlinket helped us with the outfit, canoeing around
the bay and up into the Arm to his starting point across Nunatak glacier.
But it took all three of us seventy-two days to pack the year's supplies
over the ice. We tramped back and forth in stages, twelve hundred miles.
We hadn't been able to get dogs, and in the end, when winter overtook us
in the, mountains, we cached the outfit and came out."
"And never went back." Banks laughed, a shrill, mirthless laugh, and added
in a higher key: "Lost a whole year and--the outfit."
Tisdale nodded slowly. "All we gained was experience. We had plenty of
that to invest the next venture over the mountains from Prince William
Sound. But--do you know?--I always liked that little canoe trip around
from Yakutat. I can't tell you how fine it is in that upper fiord; big
peaks and ice walls growing all around. Yes."--he nodded again, while the
genial wrinkles deepened--"I've seen mountains grow. We had a shock once
that raised the coast-line forty-five feet. And another time, while we
were going back to the village for a load, a small glacier in a hanging
valley high up, perhaps two thousand feet, toppled right out of its cradle
into the sea. It stirred things some and noise"--he shook his head with an
expressive sound that ended in a hissing whistle. "But it missed the
canoe, and the wave it made lifted us and set us safe on top of a little
rocky island." He paused again, laughing softly. "I don't know how we kept
right side up, but we did. Weatherbee was great in an emergency."
A shadow crossed his face. He looked off to the end of the room.
"I guess you both understood a canoe," said Banks. His voice was still
high-pitched, like that of a man under continued stress, and his eyes
burned in his withered, weather-beaten face like the vents of buried
fires. "But likely it was then, while you was freighting the outfit around
to the glacier, you came across those ptarmigan."
Tisdale's glance returned, and the humor played again softly at the
corners of his eyes. "I had forgotten about those birds. It was this way.
I made the last trip in the canoe alone, for the mail and a small load,
principally ammunition and clothing, while Weatherbee and the Tlinket
pushed ahead on one of those interminable stages over the glacier. And on
the way back, I was caught in fog. It rolled in, layer on layer, while I
felt for the landing; but I managed to find the place and picked up the
trail we had worn packing over the ice. And I lost it; probably in a new
thaw that had opened and glazed over since I left. Anyhow, in a little
while I didn't know where I was. I had given my compass to Weatherbee, and
there was no sun to take bearings from, not a landmark in sight. Nothing
but fog and ice, and it all looked alike. The surface was too hard to take
my impressions, so I wasn't able to follow my own tracks back to the
landing. But I had to keep moving, it was so miserably cold; I hardly let
myself rest at night; and that fog hung on five days. The third evening I
found myself on the water-front, and pretty soon I stumbled on my canoe. I
was down to a mighty small allowance of crackers and cheese then, but I
parcelled it out in rations for three days and started once more along the
shore for Yakutat. The next night I was traveling by a sort of sedge when
I heard ptarmigan. It sounded good to me, and I brought my canoe up and
stepped out. I couldn't see, but I could hear those birds stirring and
cheeping all around. I lay down and lifted my gun ready to take the first
that came between me and the sky." His voice had fallen to an undernote,
and his glance rested an absent moment on the circle of light on the
rafter above an electric lamp. "When it did, and I blazed, the whole flock
rose. I winged two. I had to grope for them in the reeds, but I found
them, and I made a little fire and cooked one of them in a tin pail I
carried in the canoe. But when I had finished that supper and pushed off--
do you know?"--his look returned, moving humorously from face to face--"I
was hungrier than I had been before. And I just paddled back and cooked
the other one."
There was a stir along the table; a sighing breath. Then some one laughed,
and Banks piped his strained note. "And," he said after a moment, "of
course you kept on to that missionary camp and waited for the fog to
Tisdale shook his head. "After that supper, there wasn't any need; I
turned back to the glacier. And before I reached the landing, I heard
Weatherbee's voice booming out on the thick silence like a siren at sea;
piloting me straight to that one dip in the ice-wall."
He looked off again to the end of the room, absently, with the far-sighted
gaze of one accustomed to travel great solitudes. It was as though he
heard again that singing voice. Then suddenly his expression changed. His
eyes had rested on a Kodiak bearskin that hung against a pillar at the top
of the gallery steps. The corner was unlighted, in heavy shadow, but a
hand reaching from behind had drawn the rug slightly aside, and its
whiteness on the brown fur, the flash of a jewelled ring, caught his
attention. The next moment the hand was withdrawn. He gave it no more
thought then, but a time came afterward when he remembered it.
"Weatherbee had noticed that fog-bank," he went on, "from high up the
glacier. It worried him so he finally turned back to meet me, and he had
waited so long he was down to his last biscuit. I was mighty reckless
about that second ptarmigan, but the water the birds were cooked in made a
fine soup. And the fog broke, and we overtook the Tlinket and supplies the
There was another stir along the table, then Foster said: "That was a
great voice of Weatherbee's. I've seen it hearten a whole crowd on a mean
trail, like the bugle and fife of a regiment."
"So have I." It was Lucky Banks who spoke. "So have I. And Weatherbee was
always ready to stand by a poor devil in a tight place. When the frost got
me"--he held up a crippled and withered hand--"it was Dave Weatherbee who
pulled me through. We were mushing it on the same stampede from Fairbanks
to Ruby Creek, and he never had seen me before. It had come to the last
day, and we were fighting it out in the teeth of a blizzard. You all know
what that means. In the end we just kept the trail, following the
hummocks. Sometimes it was a pack under a drift, or maybe a sled; and
sometimes it was a hand reaching up through the snow, frozen stiff. Then
it came my turn, and I lay down in my tracks. But Weatherbee stopped to
work over me. He wouldn't go on. He said if I was determined to stay in
that cemet'ry, I could count on his company. And when he got me on my
feet, he just started 'Dixie,' nice and lively, and the next I knew he had
me all wound up and set going again, good as new."
His laugh, like the treble notes of the Arctic wind, gave an edge to the
Presently Foster said: "That was Weatherbee; I never knew another such
man. Always effacing himself when it came to a choice; always ready to
share a good thing. Why, he made some of his friends rich, and yet in the
end, after seven years of it, seven years of struggle of the worst kind,
what did he have to show?"
"Nothing, Foster; nothing but seven feet of earth up there on the edge of
the wilderness." Tisdale's voice vibrated gently; an emotion like the
surface stir of shaken depths crossed his face. "And a tract of unimproved
desert down here in eastern Washington," he added.
"And Mrs. Weatherbee," supplemented Feversham quickly. "You mustn't forget
her. Any man must have counted such a wife his most valuable asset. Here's
to her! Young, charming, clever; a typical American beauty!" He stopped to
drain his glass, then went on. "I remember the day Weatherbee sailed for
Alaska. I was taking the same steamer, and she was on the dock, with all
Seattle, to see the Argonauts away. It was a hazardous journey into the
Unknown in those days, and scenes were going on all around--my own wife
was weeping on my shoulder--but Mrs. Weatherbee, and she had just been
married then, bridged the parting like a little trump. 'Well, David,' she
said, with a smile to turn a priest's head, 'good-by and good luck. Come
back when you've made your fortune, and I'll help you to spend it.'"
The delegate, laughing deeply, reached for the port decanter to refill his
glass. No one else saw the humor of the story, though the man with the
maimed hand again gave an edge to the silence that followed with his
strained, mirthless laugh. Presently he said: "But he never came back."
"No." It was Foster who answered. "No, but he was on his way out to the
States at last, when the end came. I don't understand it. It seems
incredible that Weatherbee, who had won through so many times, handicapped
by the waifs and strays of the trail,--Weatherbee, to whom the Susitna
country was an open scroll,--should have perished as he did. But it was
you who found him, Hollis. Come, tell us all about it."
Tisdale shook his head. "Some other time, Foster. It's a long story and
not the kind to tell here."
"Go on! Go on!" The urging came from many, and Banks added in his high,
tense key; "I guess we can stand it. Most of us saw the iron side of
Alaska before we saw the golden."
"Well, then," Tisdale began reluctantly, "I must take you back a year. I
was completing trail reconnaissance from the new Alaska Midway surveys in
the Susitna Valley, through Rainy Pass, to connect with the mail route
from the interior to Nome, and, to avoid returning another season, kept my
party late in the field. It was the close of September when we struck
Seward Peninsula and miserably cold, with gales sweeping in from Bering
Sea. The grass had frozen, and before we reached a cache of oats I had
relied on, most of our horses perished; we arrived at Nome too late for
the last steamer of the year. That is how I came to winter there, and why
a letter Weatherbee had written in October was so long finding me. It was
forwarded from Seattle with other mail I cabled for, back to Prince
William Sound, over the Fairbanks-Valdez trail, and out again by the
winter route three thousand miles to Nome. It was the middle of March when
I received it, and he had asked me to buy his half interest in the Aurora
mine. He needed the money to go out to the States."
Tisdale's voice broke a little; and for a moment he looked off through the
open door. "Perhaps some of you remember I grub-staked him for a half
share when he left the Tanana to prospect down along the Alaska Range.
After he located, I forwarded him small amounts several times to carry on
development work. I never had been on the ground, but he explained he was
handicapped by high water and was trying to divert the channel of a creek.
In that last letter he said he had carried the scheme nearly through; the
next season would pay my money back and more; the Aurora would pan out the
richest strike he had ever made. But that did not trouble me. I knew if
Weatherbee had spent two years on that placer, the gravels had something
to show. The point that weighed was that he was willing to go home at last
to the States. I had urged him before I put up the grub-stake, but he had
answered: 'Not until I have made good.' It was hardly probable that,
failing to hear from me, he had sold out to any one else. From his
description, the Aurora was isolated; hundreds of miles from the new
Iditarod camp; he hadn't a neighbor in fifty miles. So I forwarded his
price and arranged with the mail carrier to send a special messenger on
from the nearest post. In the letter I wrote to explain my delay, I
sketched a plan of my summer's work and told him how sorry I was I had
missed seeing him while the party was camped below Rainy Pass. Though I
couldn't have spared the time to go to the Aurora, he might have found me,
had I sent an Indian with word. It was the first time I had gone through
his orbit without letting him know.
"But after that carrier had gone, Weatherbee's letter kept worrying me. It
wasn't like him to complain, yet he had written he was tired of the
eternal winters; he couldn't stand those everlasting snow peaks sometimes,
they got to crowding him so; they kept him awake when he needed sleep,
threatening him. 'I've got to break away from them, Hollis,' he said, 'and
get where it's warm once more; and when my blood begins to thaw, I'll show
you I can make a go of things.' Then he reminded me of the land he owned
down here on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains. The soil was the
finest volcanic ash; the kind that grew the vineyards on Vesuvius, and he
meant to plant it with grapes; with orchards, too, on the bench levels.
All the tract needed was water, but there was a natural reservoir and
spring on a certain high plateau that could be easily tapped with a
Tisdale paused while his glance moved slowly, singling out those who had
known Weatherbee. A great gentleness rested on his face, and when he went
on, it crept like a caress through his voice. "Most of you have heard him
talk about that irrigation scheme; some of you have seen those plans he
used to-work on, long Alaska nights. It was his dream for years. He went
north in the beginning just to accumulate capital enough to swing that
project. But the more I studied that letter, the more confident I was he
had stayed his limit; he was breaking, and he knew it. That was why he was
so anxious to turn the Aurora over to me and get to the States. Finally I
decided to go with the mail carrier and on to the mine. If Weatherbee was
still there, as I believed, we would travel to Fairbanks together and take
the Valdez trail out to the open harbor on Prince William Sound. I picked
up a team of eight good huskies--the weather was clear with a moon in her
second quarter--and I started light, cutting my stops short; but when I
left Nome I had lost four days."
Hollis paused another interval, looking off again through the open door,
while the far-sighted expression gathered in his eyes. It was as though
his listeners also in that moment saw those white solitudes stretching
limitless under the Arctic night.
"I never caught up with that carrier," he went on, "and the messenger he
sent on broke trail for me all the way to the Aurora. I met him on his
return trip, thirty hours out from the mine. But he had found Weatherbee
there, and had a deed for me which David had asked him to see recorded and
forwarded to me at Nome. It was a relief to hear he had been able to
attend to these business matters, but I wondered why he had not brought
the deed himself, since he must come that way to strike the Fairbanks
trail, and why the man had not waited to travel with him. Then he told me
Weatherbee had decided to use the route I had sketched in my letter. The
messenger had tried to dissuade him; he had reminded him there were no
road-houses, and that the traces left by my party must have been wiped out
by the winter snows. But Weatherbee argued that the new route would
shorten the distance to open tide-water hundreds of miles; that his
nearest neighbors were in that direction, fifty miles to the south; and
they would let him have dogs. Then, when he struck the Susitna Valley, he
would have miles of railroad bed to ease the last stage. So, at the time
the messenger left the Aurora, Weatherbee started south on his long trek
to Rainy Pass. He was mushing afoot, with Tyee pulling the sled. Some of
you must remember that big husky with a strain of St. Bernard he used to
drive on the Tanana."
"My, yes," piped little Banks, and his eyes scintillated like chippings of
blue glacier ice. "Likely I do remember Tyee. Dave picked him up that same
trip he set me on my feet. He found him left to starve on the trail with a
broken leg. And he camped right there, pitched his tent for a hospital,
and went to whittling splints out of a piece of willow to set that bone.
'I am sorry to keep you waiting,' he says to me, 'but he is a mighty good
dog. He would have done his level best to see the man who deserted him
through.' And he would. I'd bank my money on old Tyee."
Tisdale nodded slowly. "But my chance to overtake David was before he
secured that team fifty miles on. And I pushed my dogs too hard. When I
reached the Aurora, they were nearly done for. I was forced to rest them a
day. That gave me time to look into Weatherbee's work. I found that the
creek where he had made his discovery ran through a deep and narrow
canyon, and it was clear to me that the boxed channel, which was frozen
solid then, was fed during the short summer by a small glacier at the top
of the gorge. To turn the high water from his placer, he had made a bore
of nearly one thousand feet and practically through rock. I followed a
bucket tramway he had rigged to lift the dump and found a primitive
lighting-plant underground. The whole tunnel was completed, with the
exception of a thin wall left to safeguard against an early thaw in the
stream, while the bore was being equipped with a five-foot flume. You all
know what that means, hundreds of miles from navigation or a main traveled
road. To get that necessary lumber, he felled trees in a spruce grove up
the ravine; every board was hewn by hand. And about two-thirds of those
sluice-boxes, the bottoms fitted with riffles, were finished. Afterwards,
at that camp where he stopped for dogs, I learned that aside from a few
days at long intervals, when the two miners had exchanged their labor for
some engineering, he had made his improvements alone, single-handed. And
most of that flume was constructed in those slow months he waited to hear
Tisdale paused, and again his glance sought the faces of those who had
known David Weatherbee. But all the Circle was strung responsive. Those
who never had known Weatherbee understood the terrible conditions he had
braved; the body-wracking toil underground; the soul-breaking solitude;
the crowding silence that months earlier he had felt the necessity to
escape. In that picked company, the latent force in each acknowledged the
iron courage of the man; but it was Tisdale's magnetic personality, the
unstudied play of expression in his rugged face, the undercurrent of
emotion quickening through infinite tones of his voice, that plumbed the
depths and in every listener struck the dominant chord. And, too, these
men had bridged subconsciously those vast distances between Tisdale's
start from Nome in clear weather, "with a moon in her second quarter," and
that stop at the deserted mine, when his dogs--powerful huskies, part
wolf, since they were bred in the Seward Peninsula--"were nearly done
for." Long and inevitable periods of dark there had been; perils of white
blizzard, of black frost. They had run familiarly the whole gamut of
hardship and danger he himself must have faced single-handed; and while
full measure was accorded Weatherbee, the greater tribute passed silently,
unsought, to the man who had traveled so far and so fast to rescue him.
"It ought to have been me," exclaimed Lucky Banks at last in his high
treble. "I was just down in the Iditarod country, less than three hundred
miles. I ought to have run up once in awhile to see how he was getting
along. But I never thought of Dave's needing help himself, and nobody told
me he was around. I'd ought to have kept track of him, though; it was up
to me. But go on, Hollis; go on. I bet you made up that day you lost at
the mine. My, yes, I bet you broke the record hitting that fifty-mile
Tisdale nodded, and for an instant the humor played lightly at the corners
of his eyes. "It took me just seven hours with an up-grade the last twenty
miles. You see, I had Weatherbee to break trail. He rested a night at the
camp and lost about three hours more, while they hunted a missing husky to
make up his team. Still he pushed out with nearly eighteen hours start and
four fresh dogs, with Tyee pulling a strong lead; while I wasn't able to
replace even one of mine that had gone lame. I had to leave him there, and
before I reached the summit of Rainy Pass, I was carrying his mate on my
sled. But I had a sun then,--the days were lengthening fast into May,--and
by cutting my stops short I managed to hold my own to the divide. After
that I gained. Finally, one morning, I came to a rough place where his
outfit had upset, and I saw his dogs were giving him trouble. There were
blood stains all around on the snow. It looked like the pack had broken
open, and the huskies had tried to get at the dried salmon. Tyee must have
fought them off until Weatherbee was able to master them. At the end of
the next day I reached a miners' cabin where he had spent the night, and
the man who had helped him unhitch told me he had had to remind him to
feed his dogs. He had seemed all right, only dead tired; but he had gone
to bed early and, neglecting to leave a call, had slept fifteen hours. I
rested my team five, and late the next morning I came upon his camp-fire
Tisdale paused to draw his hand across his eyes and met Foster's look over
the table. "It was there I blundered. There was a plain traveled trail
from that mine down through the lowlands to Susitna, and I failed to see
that his tracks left it: they were partly blotted out in a fresh fall of
snow. I lost six hours there, and when I picked up his trail again, I saw
he was avoiding the few way houses; he passed the settlement by; then I
missed his camp-fire. It was plain he was afraid to sleep any more. But he
knew the Susitna country; he kept a true course, and sometimes, in swampy
places, turned back to the main thoroughfare. At last, near the crossing
of the Matanuska, I was caught in the first spring thaw. It was heavy
going. All the streams were out of banks; the valley became a network of
small sloughs undermining the snowfields, creating innumerable ponds and
lakes. The earth, bared in patches, gave and oozed like a sponge. It was
impossible to follow Weatherbee's trail, but I picked it up once more,
where it came into the other, along the Chugach foot-hills. Slides began
to block the way; ice glazed the overflows at night; and at last a cold
wave struck down from the summits; the track stiffened in an hour and it
was hard as steel underfoot. The wind cut like swords. Then came snow."
Tisdale looked off with his far-sighted gaze through the open door. Every
face was turned to him, but no one hurried him. It was a time when silence
"I came on Weatherbee's dogs in a small ravine," he said. "They had
broken through thin ice in an overflow, and the sled had mired in muck.
The cold wave set them tight; their legs were planted like posts, and I
had to cut them out. Two were done for."
"You mean," exclaimed Banks, "Dave hadn't cut the traces to give his
huskies a chance."
Tisdale nodded slowly. "But the instant I cut Tyee loose, he went limping
off, picking up his master's trail. It was a zigzag course up the face of
a ridge into a grove of spruce. Weatherbee took a course like a husky;
location was a sixth sense to him; yet I found his tracks up there,
winding aimlessly. It had stopped snowing then, but the first impressions
were nearly filled. In a little while I noticed the spaces were shorter
between the prints of the left shoe; they made a dip and blur. Then I came
into a parallel trail, and these tracks were clear, made since the
snowstorm, but there was the same favoring of the left foot. He was
traveling in a circle. Sometimes in unsheltered places, where the wind
swept through an avenue of trees, small drifts covered the impressions,
but the dog found them again, still doubling that broad circle. Finally I
saw a great dark blotch ahead where the ground sloped up to a narrow
plateau. And in a moment I saw it was caused by a great many fresh twigs
of spruce, all stuck upright in the snow and set carefully in rows, like a
child's make-believe garden."
Tisdale's voice broke. He was looking off again into the night, and his
face hardened; two vertical lines like clefts divided his brows. It was as
though the iron in the man cropped through. The pause was breathless. Here
and there a grim face worked.
"When the dog reached the spot," Hollis went on, "he gave a quick bark and
ran with short yelps towards a clump of young trees a few yards off. The
rim of a drift formed a partial windbreak, but he had only a low bough to
cover him,--and the temperature,--along those ice-peaks--"
His voice failed. There was another speaking silence. It was as though
these men, having followed all those hundreds of miles over tundra and
mountains, through thaw and frost, felt with him in that moment the
heart-breaking futility of his pursuit. "I tried my best," he added. "I
guess you all know that, but--I was too late."
The warning blast of an automobile cut the stillness, and the machine
stopped in front of the clubhouse, but no one at the table noticed the
Then Banks said, in his high key: "But you hitched his dogs up with yours,
the ones that were fit, and brought him through to Seward. You saw him
buried. Thank you for that."
Feversham cleared his throat and reached for the decanter, "Think of it!"
he exclaimed. "A man like that, lost on a main traveled thoroughfare! But
the toll will go on every year until we have a railroad. Here's to that
road, gentlemen. Here's to the Alaska Midway and Home Rule."
The toast was responded to, and it was followed by others. But Tisdale had
left his place to step through the open door to the balcony. Presently
Foster joined him. They stood for an interval smoking and taking in those
small night sounds for which long intimacy with Nature teaches a man to
listen; the distant voice of running water; the teasing note of the
breeze; the complaint of a balsam-laden bough; the restless stir of unseen
wings; the patter of diminutive feet. A wooded point that formed the horn
of a bay was etched in black on the silver lake; then suddenly the moon
illumined the horizon and, rising over a stencilled crest of the Cascades,
stretched her golden path to the shore below them. Both these men,
watching it, saw that other trail reaching white, limitless, hard as steel
through the Alaska solitudes.
"At Seward," said Foster at last, "you received orders by cable detailing
you to a season in the Matanuska fields; but before you took your party
in, you sent a force of men back to the Aurora to finish Weatherbee's work
and begin operations. And the diverting of that stream exposed gravels
that are going to make you rich. You deserve it. I grant that. It's your
compensation; but just the same it gives a sharper edge to poor
Tisdale swung around. "See here, Foster, I want you to know I should have
considered that money as a loan if David had lived. If he had lived--and
recovered--I should have made him take back that half interest in the
Aurora. You've got to believe that; and I would be ready to do as much for
his wife, if she had treated him differently. But she wrecked his life. I
hold her responsible."
Foster was silent.
"Think of it!" Hollis went on. "The shame of it! All those years while he
faced privation, the worst kind, tramping Alaska trails, panning in icy
streams, sluicing, digging sometimes like any common laborer, wintering in
shacks, she was living in luxury down here. He never made a promising
discovery that he wasn't forced to sell. She spent his money faster than
he made it; kept him handicapped. And all she ever gave him was a friendly
letter now and then, full of herself and the gay life she led, and showing
clearly how happy she could be without him. Think of it, Foster!" His
voice deepened and caught its vibrant quality. "A fine fellow like
Weatherbee; so reliable, so great in a hard place. How could she have
treated him as she did? Damn it! How could he have thrown himself away
like that, for a feather-headed woman?"
Foster knocked the ash from the end of his cigar. "You don't know her," he
answered. "If you did, you wouldn't put it in that way." He smiled a
little and looked off at the golden path on the lake. "So," he said after
a moment, and his glance returned to meet Tisdale's squarely, "she has
absolutely nothing now but that tract of unimproved desert on the other
side of the Cascades."
Sometime, high on a mountain slope, a cross current of air, or perhaps a
tremor of the surface occasioned far off, starts the small snow-cap, that
sliding, halting, impelled forward again, always accumulating, gathering
momentum, finally becomes the irresistible avalanche. So Marcia Feversham,
the following morning, gave the first slight impetus to the question that
eventually menaced Tisdale with swift destruction. She was not taking the
early train with her husband; she desired to break the long journey and,
after the season in the north, prolong the visit with her relatives in
Seattle. The delegate had left her sleeping, but when he had finished the
light breakfast served him alone in the Morganstein dining-room and
hurried out to the waiting limousine, to his surprise he found her in the
car. "I am going down to see you away," she explained; "this salt breeze
with the morning tide is so delightfully fresh."
There was no archness in her glance; her humor was wholly masculine. A
firm mouthy brilliant, dark eyes, the heavy Morganstein brows that met
over the high nose, gave weight and intensity to anything she said. Her
husband, in coaching her for the coming campaign at Washington, had told
her earnestness was her strong suit; that her deep, deliberate voice was
her best card, but she held in her eyes, unquestionably, both bowers.
"Delightful of you, I am sure," he answered, taking the seat beside her,
with his for-the-public smile, "but I give credit to the air; you are
looking as brilliant at this outrageous hour as you would on your way to
an afternoon at bridge." Then, the chauffeur having closed the door and
taken his place in the machine, Feversham turned a little to scrutinize
"Now, my lady," he asked, "to what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Mr. Tisdale," she answered directly. "Of course you must see now, even if
I do contrive to meet him through Frederic, as you suggested, and manage
to see him frequently; even if I find out what he means to say in those
coal reports, when it comes to influence, I won't have the weight of a
feather. No woman could. He is made of iron, and his principles were cast
in the mold."
"Every man has his vulnerable point, and I can trust you to find Hollis
Tisdale's." The delegate paused an instant, still regarding his wife's
face, frowning a little, yet not without humor, then said: "But you have
changed your attitude quickly. Where did you learn so much about him? How
can you be so positive about a man you never have met? Whom you have seen
only a time or two at a distance, on some street--or was it a hotel
lobby?--in Valdez or Fairbanks?"
"Yesterday, when we were talking, that was true; but since then I have
seen him at close range. I've heard him." She turned and met Feversham's
scrutiny with the brilliancy rising in her eyes. "Last night at the
clubhouse, when he told the story of David Weatherbee, I was there."
"You were there? Impossible! That is against the rules. Not a man of the
Circle would have permitted it, and you certainly would have been
discovered before you reached the assembly hall. Why, I myself was the
last to arrive. Frederic, you remember, had to speed the car a little to
get me there. And I looked back from the door and saw you in the tonneau
with Elizabeth, while Mrs. Weatherbee kept her place in front with
Frederic. You were going down the boulevard to spend the evening with her
at Vivian Court."
"That was our plan, but we turned back," she explained. "We had a
curiosity to see the Circle seated around the banquet board in those
ridiculous purple parkas. And Frederic bet me a new electric runabout
against the parka of silver fox and the mukluks I bought of the Esquimau
girl at Valdez that we never could get as far as the assembly room. He
waited with Elizabeth in the car while we two crept up the stairs. The
door was open, and we stood almost screened by that portiere of Indian
leather, peeping in. Mr. Tisdale was telling the ptarmigan yarn--it's
wonderful the power he has to hold the interest of a crowd of men--and the
chance was too good to miss. We stole on up the steps to the gallery,--no
one noticed us,--and concealed ourselves behind that hanging Kodiak
"Incredible!" exclaimed Feversham. "But I see you arrived at the opportune
moment,--when Tisdale was talking. There's something occult about the
personality of that man. And she, Mrs. Weatherbee, heard everything?"
Marcia nodded. "Even your graceful toast to her."
At this he settled back in his seat, laughing. "Well, I am glad I made it.
I could hardly have put it more neatly had I known she was there."
"She couldn't have missed a word. We had found a bench behind the Kodiak
skin, and she sat straight as a soldier, listening through it all. I
couldn't get her to come away; it was as though she was looking on at an
interesting play. She was just as neutral and still; only her face turned
white, and her eyes were wide as stars, and once she gripped the fur of
the Kodiak so hard I expected to see it come down. But I know she failed
to grasp the vital point of the story. I mean the point vital to her. She
doesn't understand enough about law. And I myself slept on it the night
through before I saw. It came the moment I wakened this morning, clear and
sudden as an electric flash. If David Weatherbee was mentally unbalanced
when he made that transfer, the last half interest in the Aurora mine
ought to revert to her."
Feversham started. He lifted his plump hands and let them drop forcibly on
his broad knees. But she did not notice his surprise. They were
approaching the station, and time pressed. "You know it is not a simple
infatuation with Frederic," she hurried on, "to be forgotten tomorrow. He
has loved her passionately from the day he first met her, four years ago.
He can't think of anything else; he never will do anything of credit to
the family until she is his wife. And now, with David Weatherbee safely
buried, it seems reasonably sure. Still, still, Miles, this unexpected
fortune held out to her just now might turn the scales. We have got to
keep it from her, and if those coal claims are coming up for trial, you
must frame some excuse to have them postponed."
"Postponed? Why, we've just succeeded in gaining Federal attention. We've
been waiting five years. We want them settled now. It concerns Frederic as
well as the rest of us."
"True," she answered, "even more. If those patents are allowed, he will
take immediate steps to mine the coal on a large scale. And it came over
me, instantly, on the heels of the first flash, that it was inevitable, if
Mr. Tisdale had taken advantage of David Weatherbee's condition--and his
own story shows the man had lost his mind; he was wandering around
planting make-believe orchards in the snow--you would use the point to
impeach the Government's star witness."
"Impeach the Government's witness?" repeated Feversham, then a sudden
intelligence leaped into his face. "Impeach Hollis Tisdale," he added
softly and laughed.
Presently, as the chauffeur slackened speed, looking for a stand among the
waiting machines at the depot, the attorney said: "If the syndicate sends
Stuart Foster north to the Iditarod, he may be forced to winter there;
that would certainly postpone the trial until spring."
The next moment the chauffeur threw open the limousine door, and the
delegate stepped out; but he lingered a little over his good-by, retaining
his wife's hand, which he continued to shake slowly, while his eyes
telegraphed an answer to the question in hers. Then, laughing again
deeply, he said: "My lady! My lady! Nature juggled; she played your
brother Frederic a trick when she set that mind in your woman's head."
The apartment Tisdale called home was in a high corner of the Alaska
building, where the western windows, overtopping other stone and brick
blocks of the business center, commanded the harbor, caught like a faceted
jewel between Duwamish Head and Magnolia Bluff, and a far sweep of the
outer Sound set in wooded islands and the lofty snow peaks of the Olympic
peninsula. Next to his summer camp in the open he liked this eyrie, and
particularly he liked it at this hour of the night tide. He drew his chair
forward where the stiff, salt wind blew full in his face, but Foster, who
had found the elevator not running and was somewhat heated by his long
climb to the "summit," took the precaution of choosing a sheltered place
near the north window, which was closed. A shaded electric lamp cast a
ring of light on the package he had laid on the table between them, but
the rest of the room was in shadow, and from his seat he glanced down on
the iridescent sign displays of Second Avenue, then followed the lines of
street globes trailing away to the brilliant constellations set against
the blackness of Queen Anne hill.
"She is to be out of town a week," he said, "and I hardly liked to leave
Weatherbee's things with a hotel clerk; since I am sailing on the _Admiral
Sampson_ tonight, I brought the package back. You will have to be your own
"That's all right, Foster; I can find another when she returns. I'll ask
"No." Foster's glance came back from the street; his voice rang a little
sharp. "Take it yourself, Hollis."
"I can trust it with Banks." Tisdale paused a moment, still looking out on
the harbor lights and the stars, then said: "So you are going north again;
back to the copper mine, I presume?"
"No, I shall be there later, but I expect to make a quick trip in to the
Iditarod now, to look over placer properties. The syndicate has bonded
Banks' claims and, if it is feasible, a dredger will be sent in next
spring to begin operations on a big scale. I shall go, of course, by way
of the Yukon, and if ice comes early and the steamers are taken off,
return by trail around through Fairbanks."
"I see." Tisdale leaned forward a little, grasping the arms of his chair.
"The syndicate is taking considerable risk in sending you to the Iditarod
at this time. Suppose those coal cases should be called, with you
winter-bound up there. Why, the Chugach trial couldn't go on."
"I am identified with the Morganstein interests there, I admit; but why
should the Chugach claims be classed with conspiracies to defraud the
Government? They were entered regularly, fifty coal claims of one hundred
and sixty acres each, by as many different persons. Because the President
temporarily suspended Alaska coal laws is no reason those patents should
be refused or even delayed. Our money was accepted by the Government; it
was never refunded."
"As I thought," said Tisdale softly, addressing the stars; "as I feared."
Then, "Foster, Foster," he admonished, "be careful. Keep your head. That
syndicate is going to worry you some, old man, before you are through."
Foster got to his feet. "See here, Hollis, be fair. Look at it once from
the other side. The Morgansteins have done more for Alaska than they will
ever be given credit for. Capital is the one key to open that big, new,
mountain-locked country, and the Government is treating it like a
boa-constrictor to be throttled and stamped out. Millions went into the
development of the El Dorado, yet they still have to ship the ore
thousands of miles to a smelter, with coal,--the best kind, inexhaustible
fields of it,--at our door. And go back to McFarlane. He put one hundred
and fifty thousand into the Chugach Railway to bring out the coal he had
mined, but he can't touch it; it's all tied up in red tape; the road is
rotting away. He is getting to be an old man, but I saw him doing day
labor on the Seattle streets to-day. Then there's the Copper River
Northwestern. That company built a railroad where every engineer but one,
who saw the conditions, said it could not be done. You yourself have
called it the most wonderful piece of construction on record. You know how
that big bridge was built in winter--the only time when the bergs stopped
chipping off the face of the glacier long enough to set the piers; you
know how Haney worked his men, racing against the spring thaw--he's paying
for it with his life, now, down in California. In dollars that bridge
alone cost a million and a half. Yet, with this road finished through the
coast mountains, they've had to suspend operation because they can't burn
their own coal. They've got to change their locomotives to oil burners.
And all this is just because the President delays to annul a temporary
restriction the previous executive neglected to remove. We have waited; we
have imported from British Columbia, from Japan; shipped in Pennsylvania,
laid down at Prince William Sound at fifteen dollars a ton, when our own
coal could be mined for two and a quarter and delivered here in Seattle
"It could, I grant that," said Tisdale mellowly, "but would it, Stuart?
Would it, if the Morganstein interests had exclusive control?"
Foster seemed not to have heard that question. He turned restlessly and
strode across the room. "The Government with just as much reason might
have conserved Alaska gold."
Tisdale laughed. "That would have been a good thing for Alaska," he
answered; "if a part, at least of her placer streams had been conserved.
Come, Foster, you know as well as I do that the regulations early
prospectors accepted as laws are not respected to-day. Every discovery is
followed by speculators who travel light, who do not expect to do even
first assessment work, but only to stay on the ground long enough to stake
as many claims as possible for themselves and their friends. When the real
prospector arrives, with his year's outfit, he finds hundreds of miles, a
whole valley staked, and his one chance is to buy or work under a lease.
Most of these speculators live in the towns, some of them down here in
Seattle, carrying on other business, and they never visit their claims.
They re-stake and re-stake year after year and follow on the heels of each
new strike, often by proxy. We have proof enough of all this to convince
the most lukewarm senator."
"You think then," said Foster quickly, "there is going to be a chance,
after all, for the bill for Home Rule?"
"No." Tisdale's voice lost its mellowness. "It is a mistake; it's asking
too much at the beginning. We need amended mining laws; we should work for
that at once, in the quickest concerted way. And, first of all, our
special delegates should push the necessity of a law giving a defined
length of shaft or tunnel for assessment work, as is enforced in the
Klondike, and ask for efficient inspectors to see that such laws as we
have are obeyed."
Foster moved to the window and stood looking down again on the city
lights. Presently he said: "I presume you will see the President while you
are in Washington."
"Probably. He is always interested in the field work up there, and this
season's reconnaissance in the Matanuska coal district should be of
special importance to him just now. The need of a naval coaling station on
the Pacific coast has grown imperative, and with vast bodies of coal
accessible to Prince William Sound, the question of location should soon
There was another silence, while Poster walked again to the end of the
room and returned. "How soon do you start east?" he asked.
"Within a week. Meantime, I am going over the Cascades into the sage-brush
country to look up that land of Weatherbee's."
"You intend then," said Foster quickly, "to take that piece of desert off
Mrs. Weatherbee's hands?"
"Perhaps. It depends on the possibility of carrying out his project. I
have just shipped a steam thawing apparatus in to the Aurora, and that,
with supplies for a winter camp, has taken a good deal of ready money.
Freighting runs high, whether it's from the Iditarod or south from
Fairbanks. But spring should see expenses paid and my investment back."
"From all I've heard," responded Foster dryly, "you'll get your investment
back with interest."
"Of course," said Tisdale after a moment, "Mrs. Weatherbee will be eager
to dispose of the tract; the only reason it is still on her hands is that
no one has wanted to buy it at any price."
"And that's just why you should." Foster paused, then went on slowly,
controlling the emotion in his voice, "You don't know her, Hollis. She's
proud. She won't admit the situation, and I can't ask her directly, but I
am sure she has come to the limit. I've been trying all day, ever since I
knew I must go north again, to raise enough money to make an offer for
that land, but practically all I have is tied up in Alaska properties. It
takes time to find a customer, and the banks are cautious."
Tisdale rose from his chair. "Foster!" he cried and stretched out his
hands. "Foster--not you, too."
Then his hands dropped, and Foster drew a step nearer into the circle of
light and stood meeting squarely the silent remonstrance, accusation,
censure, for which he was prepared. "I knew how you would take it," he
broke out at last, "but it's the truth. I've smothered it, kept it down
for years; but it's nothing to be ashamed of any longer. I'd have been
glad to exchange places with Weatherbee. I'd have counted it a privilege
to work, even as he did, for her; I could have suffered privation, the
worst kind, wrung success out of failure, for the hope of her."
"See here, Foster,"--Tisdale laid his hands on the younger man's
shoulders, shaking him slowly,--"you must stop this." His hold relaxed; he
stepped back, and his voice vibrated softly through the room. "How could
you have said it, knowing David Weatherbee as you did? No matter what kind
of a woman she is, you should have remembered she was his wife and
respected her for his sake."
"Respect? I do respect her. She's the kind of woman a man sets on a
pedestal to worship and glorify. You don't understand it, Hollis; you
don't know her, and I can't explain; but just her presence is an appeal,
an inspiration to all that's worth anything in me."
Tisdale's hands sought his pockets; his head dropped forward a little and
he stood regarding Foster with an upward look from under frowning brows.
"You don't know her," Foster repeated. "She's different--finer than other
women. And she has been gently bred. Generations of the best blood is
bottled like old wine in her crystal body." He paused, his face
brightening at the fancy. "You can always see the spirit sparkling
"I remember about that blue blood," Tisdale said tersely. "Weatherbee told
me how it could be traced back through a Spanish mother to some
buccaneering adventurer, Don Silva de y somebody, who made his
headquarters in Mexico. And that means a trace of Mexican in the race, or
at least Aztec."
Foster colored. "The son of that Don Silva came north and settled in
California. He brought his peons with him and made a great rancheria. At
the time of the Mexican War, his herds and flocks covered immense ranges.
Hundreds of these cattle must have supplied the United States commissary;
the rest were scattered, and in the end there was little left of the
estate; just a few hundred acres and a battered hacienda. But Mrs.
Weatherbee's father was English; the younger son of an old and knighted
"I know," answered Tisdale dryly. "Here in the northwest we call such sons
remittance men. They are paid generous allowances, sometimes, to come to
America and stay."
"That's unfair," Foster flamed. "You have no right to say it. He came to
California when he was just a young fellow to invest a small inheritance.
He doubled it twice in a few years. Then he was persuaded to put his money
in an old, low-grade gold mine. The company made improvements, built a
flume thirty miles long to bring water to the property for development,
but it was hardly finished when a State law was passed prohibiting
hydraulic mining. It practically ruined him. He had nothing to depend on
then but a small annuity."
"Meantime," supplemented Tisdale, "he had married his Spanish senorita and
her inheritance, the old rancheria, was sunk with his own in the gold
mine. Then he began to play fast and loose with his annuity at the San
Francisco stock exchange."
"He hoped to make good quickly. He was getting past his prime, with his
daughter's future to be secured. But it got to be a habit and, after the
death of his wife, a passion. His figure was well known on the street; he
was called a plunger. Some days he made fortunes; the next lost them.
Still he was the same distinguished, courteous gentleman to the end."
"And that came on the stock exchange, after a prolonged strain. David
Weatherbee found him and took him home." Tisdale paused, then went on,
still regarding Foster with that upward look from under his forbidding
brows. "It fell to Weatherbee to break the news to the daughter, and ten
days later, on the eve of his sailing north to Seattle, that marriage was
There was a silent moment, then Foster said: "Weatherbee loved her, and he
was going to Alaska; it was uncertain when he could return; married, he
might send for her when conditions were fit. And her father's affairs were
a complete wreck; even the annuity stopped at his death, and there wasn't
an acre of her mother's inheritance left. Not a relative to take her in."
"I know; that is why she married Weatherbee." Tisdale set his lips grimly;
he swung around and strode across the floor. "You see, you can't tell me
anything," he said. "I know all about it. Wait. Listen. I am going over
the mountains and look up that land of Weatherbee's, and I shall probably
buy it, but I want you to understand clearly it is only because I hope to
carry his project through. Now go north, Foster; take a new grip on
things; get to work and let your investments alone."
After that, when Foster had gone, Tisdale spent a long interval tramping
the floor of his breezy room. The furrows still divided his brows, his
mouth was set, and a dark color burned and glowed through his tan. But
deeper than his angry solicitude for Foster rankled his resentment against
this woman. Who was she, he asked himself, that she should fix her hold on
level-headed Foster? But he knew her kind. Feversham had called her a
"typical American beauty," but there were many types, and he knew her
kind. She was a brunette, of course, showing a swarthier trace of Mexican
with the Spanish, and she would have a sort of personal magnetism. She
might prove dramatic if roused, but those Spanish-California women were
indolent, and they grew heavy early. Big, handsome, voluptuous; just a
splendid animal without a spark of soul.
He had stopped near the table, and his glance fell on the package in the
ring of light from the shaded lamp. After a moment he lifted it and,
drawing up a chair, seated himself and removed the wrapper. It covered a
tin box such as he was accustomed to use in the wilderness for the
protection and portage of field notes and maps. He raised the lid and took
from the top a heavy paper, which he unfolded and spread before him. It
was Weatherbee's landscape plan, traced with the skill of a draughtsman
and showing plainly the contour of the tract in eastern Washington and his
method of reclamation. The land included a deep pocket set between spurs
of the Cascade Mountains. The ridges and peaks above it had an altitude of
from one to six thousand feet. He found the spring, marked high in a
depressed shoulder, and followed the line of flume drawn from it down to a
natural dry basin at the top of the pocket. A dam was set in the lower rim
of this reservoir and, reaching from it, a canal was sketched in, feeding
cross ditches, distributing spillways to the orchards that covered the
slopes and levels below. Finally he traced the roadway up through the
avenues between the trees, over the bench, to the house that commanded the
valley. The mission walls, the inside court, the roomy, vine-grown
portico, all the detail of foliage here had been elaborated skilfully,
with the touch of an artist. The habitation stood out the central feature
of the picture and, as a good etching will, assumed a certain personality.
How fond David would have been of a home,--a home and children! Tisdale
folded the plan and sat holding it absently in his hands. His mind ran
back from this final, elaborated copy to the first rough draft Weatherbee
had shown him one night at the beginning of that interminable winter they
had passed together in the Alaska solitudes. He had watched the drawing
and the project grow. But afterwards, when he had taken up geological work
again, they had met only at long intervals; at times he had lost all trace
of Weatherbee, and he had not realized the scheme had such a hold. Still,
he should have understood; he should have had at least a suspicion before
that letter reached him at Nome. And even then he had been blind. With
that written proof in his hands, he had failed to grasp its meaning. The
tragedy! the shame of it! That he should have hesitated,--thrown away four
He looked off once more to the harbor, and his eyes gathered their
far-sighted expression, as though they went seeking that white trail
through the solitudes stretching limitless under the cold Arctic night.
His face hardened. When finally the features stirred, disturbed by forces
far down, he had come to that make-believe orchard of spruce twigs.
After a while he folded the drawing to put it away, but as his glance fell
on the contents of the box, he laid the plan on the table to take up the
miner's poke tucked in a corner made by a packet of letters, and drew out
Weatherbee's watch. It was valuable but the large monogram deeply engraved
on the gold case may have made it unnegotiable. That probably was why
David never had parted with it. Tisdale wound it, and set the hands. The
action seemed suddenly to bring Weatherbee close. He felt his splendid
personality there beside him, as he used to feel it still nights up under
the near Yukon stars. It was as though he was back to one night, the last
on a long trail, when they were about to part company. He had been urging
him to come out with him to the States, but Weatherbee had as steadily
refused. "Not yet," he persisted. "Not until I have something to show."
And again: "No, Hollis, don't ask me to throw away all these years. I have
the experience now, and I've got to make good." Then he spoke of his wife--
for an instant Tisdale seemed to see him once more, bending to hold his
open watch so that the light of the camp-fire played on her picture set in
the lower rim. "You see Alaska is no place for a woman like her," he said,
"but she is worth waiting for and working for. You ought to understand,
Hollis, how the thought of her buoys me through."
But it was a long time to remember a picture seen only by the flicker of a
camp-fire and starshine, and the woman of Tisdale's imagination clouded
out the face he tried to recall. "Still Weatherbee was so sensitive, so
fine," he argued with himself. "A woman must have possessed more than a
beautiful body to have become the center of his life. She must, at the
start, have possessed some capacity of feeling."
He put his thumb on the spring to open the lower case, but the image so
clearly fixed in his mind stayed the impulse. "What is the use?" he
exclaimed, and thrusting the watch back into the bag, quickly tied the
string. "I don't want to see you. I don't want to know you," and he added,
pushing the poke into its place and closing the box; "The facts are all
SNOQUALMIE PASS AND A BROKEN AXLE
Tisdale leaned forward in his seat in the observation car. His rugged
features worked a little, and his eyes had their far-sighted gaze. Scarred
buttes crowded the track; great firs, clinging with exposed roots to the
bluffs, leaned in menace, and above the timber belt granite pyramids and
fingers shone amethyst against the sky; then a giant door closed on this
vestibule of the Pass, and he was in an amphitheatre of lofty peaks. The
eastbound began to wind and lift like a leviathan seeking a way through.
It crept along a tilting shelf, rounded a sheer spur, and ran shrieking
over a succession of trestles, while the noise of the exhausts rang a
continuous challenge from shoulder and crag. Then suddenly a mighty summit
built like a pulpit of the gods closed behind, and a company of still
higher mountains encircled the gorge. Everywhere above the wooded slopes
towered castellated heights and spires.
Presently a near cliff came between him and the higher view and, with a
lift and drop of his square shoulders, he settled back in his chair. He
drew his hand across his eyes, the humorous lines deepened and, like one
admitting a weakness, he shook his head. It was always so; the sight of
any mountains, a patch of snow on a far blue ridge, set his pulses
singing; wakened the wanderlust for the big spaces in God's out-of-doors.
And this canyon of the Snoqualmie was old, familiar ground. He had served
his surveyor's apprenticeship on these western slopes of the Cascades. He
had triangulated most of these peaks, named some of them, and he had
carried a transit to these headwaters, following his axman often over a
new trail. Now, far, far down between the columns of hemlock and fir, he
caught glimpses of the State road on the opposite bank of the stream that,
like a lost river, went forever seeking a way out, and finally, for an
instant he saw a cabin set like a toy house at the wooden bridge where the
thoroughfare crossed. Then the eastbound, having made a great loop, found
another hidden gateway and moved up to the levels above Lake Keechelus.
The whistle signalled a mountain station, and Tisdale rose and went out to
the platform; when the trucks jolted to a standstill, he swung himself
down to the ground to enjoy a breath of the fine air.
The next moment he found himself almost upon a wrecked automobile. He saw
in a flash that the road, coming through a cut, crossed the railroad
track, and that in making a quick turn to avoid the end of the slowing
train, the chauffeur had forced the car into the bank. The machine was
still upright, but it listed forward on a broken axle. A young woman who
had kept her seat in the tonneau was nursing a painful wrist, while two
girls, who evidently had come through the accident unscathed, were trying
to help the only man of the party up from the ground. Tisdale bent to give
him the support of his shoulder, and, groaning, the stranger settled
against the side of his car and into a sitting position on the edge of the
floor, easing an injured leg. He had also received an ugly hurt above his
brows, which were heavy and black and met in an angle over a prominent
The lady in the tonneau and one of the girls had the same marked features
and the same brilliant dark eyes, though the retreating chin, which in the
man amounted to almost a blemish, in them was modified. But the last one
in the party, whom Tisdale had noticed first, was not like the rest. She
was not like any one in the world he had seen before. From the hem of her
light gray motoring coat to the crown of her big hat, she was a delight to
the eyes. The veil that tied the hat down framed a face full of a piquant
yet delicate charm. She was watching the man huddled against the machine,
and her mouth, parted a little, showed the upper lip short with the upward
curves of a bow. It was as though words were arrested, half spoken, and
her eyes, shadowy under curling dark lashes, held their expression,
uncertain whether to sparkle out or to cloud.
After a moment the man lifted his head and, meeting her look, smiled. "I'm
all right," he said, "only I've wrenched this knee; sprained it, I guess.
And my head feels like a drum."
"Oh, I am--glad"--her voice fluctuated softly, but the sparkle broke in
her eyes--"that it isn't worse. Would you like a glass of ice-water from
the train? A porter is coming and the conductor, too. I will ask for
He smiled again. "You'll get it, if you do. But what I want most just now
is a glass of that port. Elizabeth," and his glance moved to the other
girl, "where did you put that hamper?"
Elizabeth, followed by the porter, hurried around to the other side of the
automobile to find the basket, and Tisdale moved a few steps away, waiting
to see if he could be of further service.
A passenger with a camera and an alert, inquiring face had come down from
the day coach. He wound the film key and focussed for a closer exposure,
but no one noticed him. At that moment all interest centered on the man
who was hurt. "Well," said the conductor at last, having looked the group
and the situation over, "what's the trouble?"
"Looks like a broken axle, doesn't it? And possibly a broken leg." He
groaned and repeated aggressively: "A broken axle. With the worst of
Snoqualmie Pass before us, and not a garage or a repair shop within fifty
"You are in a fix, sure. But this train will take you through the Pass to
Ellensburg, and there ought to be a hospital and a garage there. Or--the
westbound passenger, due at this siding in seven minutes"--the conductor
looked at his watch--"could put you back in Seattle at eight-fifteen."
"Make it the westbound; no hospital for me. Telegraph for a drawing-room,
conductor, and notify this station agent to ship the machine on the same
train. And, Elizabeth," he paused to take the drinking-cup she had filled,
"you look up a telephone, or if there isn't a long distance, telegraph
James. Tell him to have a couple of doctors, Hillis and Norton, to meet
the eight-fifteen; and to bring the limousine down with plenty of pillows
and comforters." He drained the cup and dropped it into the open hamper.
"Now, porter," he added, "if you hurry up a cocktail, the right sort,
before that westbound gets here, it means a five to you."
As these various messengers scurried away, the girl who remained picked up
the cup and poured a draught of wine for the lady in the tonneau. "I am so
sorry, but it was the only way. Do you think it is a sprain?" she asked.
"Yes." The older woman took the cup in her left hand. She had a deep,
carrying voice, and she added, looking at the injured wrist: "It's
swelling frightfully, but it saved my face; I might have had just such a
hideous wound as Frederic's. Isn't it a relief to hear him talking so
The girl nodded. "He seems quite himself," she said gravely. But she
turned to cover the mirth in her eyes; it suffused her face, her whole
charming personality. Then suddenly, at the moment the flow was highest,
came the ebb. Her glance met Tisdale's clear, appraising look, and she
stood silent and aloof.
He looked away and, after a moment, seeing nothing further to do, started
back to his train. She turned to take the empty cup, and as she closed the
hamper the whistle of the westbound sounded through the gorge.
Tisdale walked on through the observation car to the rear platform and
stood looking absently off through an aisle of Alpine firs that, parklike,
bordered the track. It was a long time since the sight of a pretty woman
had so quickened his blood. He had believed that for him this sort of
thing was over, and he laughed at himself a little.
The westbound rumbled to a stop on the parallel track, he felt the trucks
under him start, and an unaccountable depression came over him; the next
moment he heard a soft voice directing the porter behind him, and as
unaccountably his heart rose. The girl came on through the open door and
stopped beside him, bracing herself with one hand on the railing, while
she waved her handkerchief to the group she had left. He caught a faint,
clean perfume suggesting violets, the wind lifted the end of her veil
across his shoulder, and something of her exhilaration was transmitted to
the currents in his veins. "Good-by, Elizabeth," she called. "Good-by.
Some trainmen were getting the injured man aboard the westbound passenger,
and the lady who had left the wrecked automobile to go with him sent back
a sonorous "Au revoir." But Elizabeth, who was hurrying down from the
station where she had accomplished her errand, turned in astonishment to
look after the speeding eastbound. Then a rocky knob closed all this from
The girl on the platform turned, and Tisdale moved a little to let her
pass. At the same time the lurching of the car, as it swung to the curve,
threw her against him. It all happened very quickly; he steadied her with
his arm, and she drew back in confusion; he raised his hand to his head
and, remembering he had left his hat in his seat, a flush shaded through
his tan. Then, "I beg your pardon," she said and hurried by him through
Tisdale stood smoothing his wind-ruffled hair and watching the receding
cliff. "Her eyes are hazel," he thought, "with turquoise lights. I never
heard of such a combination, but--it's fine."
A little later, when he went in to take his seat, he found her in the
chair across the aisle. The train was skirting the bluffs of Keechelus
then, and she had taken off her coat and hat and sat watching the
unfolding lake. His side glance swept her slender, gray-clad figure to the
toe of one trim shoe, braced lightly on her footstool, and returned to her
face. In profile it was a new delight. One caught the upward curl of her
black lashes; the suggestion of a fault in the tip of her high, yet
delicately chiseled nose; the piquant curve of her short upper lip; the
full contour of the lifted chin. Her hair, roughened some, was soft and
fine and black with bluish tones.
The temptation to watch her was very great, and Tisdale squared his
shoulders resolutely and swung his chair more towards his own window,
which did not afford a view of the lake. He wanted to see this new
railroad route through the Cascades. This Pass of Snoqualmie had always
been his choice of a transcontinental line. And he was approaching new
territory; he never had pushed down the eastern side from the divide. He
had chosen this roundabout way purposely, with thirty miles of horseback
at the end, when the Great Northern would have put him directly into the
Wenatchee Valley and within a few miles of that tract of Weatherbee's he
was going to see.
There were few travelers in the observation car, and for a while nothing
broke the silence but the clamp and rush of the wheels on the down-grade,
then the man with a camera entered and came down the aisle as far as the
new passenger's chair. "I hope you'll excuse me," he said, "I'm Daniels,
representing the _Seattle Press_, and I thought you would like to see this
story go in straight."
Tisdale swung his chair a little towards the open rear door, so that he
was able to watch without seeming to see the progress of the comedy. He
was quick enough to catch the sweeping look she gave the intruder, aloof
yet fearless, as though she saw him across an invisible barrier. "You mean
you are a reporter," she asked quietly, "and are writing an account of the
accident for your newspaper?"
"Yes." Daniels dropped his cap into the next chair and seated himself
airily on the arm. The camera swung by a carrying strap from his shoulder,
and he opened a notebook, which he supported on his knee while he felt in
his pocket for a pencil. "Of course I recognized young Morganstein;
everybody knows him and that chocolate car; he's been run in so often for
speeding about town. And I suppose he was touring through Snoqualmie Pass
to the races at North Yakima fair. There should be some horses there worth
going to see."
"We meant to spend a day or two at the fair," she admitted, "but we
expected to motor on, exploring a little in the neighborhood."
"I see. Up the valley to have a look at the big irrigation dam the
Government is putting in and maybe on to see the great Tieton bore. That
would have been a fine trip; sorry you missed it." Daniels paused to place
several dots and hooks on his page. "I recognized Miss Morganstein, too,"
he went on, "though she was too busy to notice me. I met her when I was
taking my course in journalism at the State University; danced with her at
the Junior Prom. And the other lady, whose wrist was sprained, must have
been her sister, Mrs. Feversham. I was detailed to interview the new
Alaska delegate when he passed through Seattle, and I understood his wife
was to join him later. She was stopping over for a visit, and the society
editor called my attention to a mighty good picture of her in last
Sunday's issue. Do you know?--" he paused, looking into the girl's face
with a curious scrutiny, "there was another fine reproduction on that page
that you might have posed for. The lady served tea or punch or did
something at the same affair. But I can't remember her name--I've tried
ever since we left that station--though seems to me it was a married one."
"I remember the picture you mean; I remember. And I was there. It was a
bridge-luncheon at the Country Club in honor of Mrs. Feversham. And she--
the lady you were reminded of--won the prize. So you think I resemble that
photograph?" She tipped her head back a little, holding his glance with
her half-veiled eyes. "What an imagination!"
"Of course if you did pose for that picture, it doesn't do you half
justice; I admit that. But"--regarding her with a wavering doubt--"I guess
I've been jumping at conclusions again. They call me the 'Novelist' at the
office." He paused, laughing off a momentary embarrassment. "That's why I
didn't want to depend on getting your name from the society editor."
"I am glad you did not. It would have been very annoying, I'm sure--to the
lady. I suppose," she went on slowly, while the glamour grew in her eyes,
"I suppose nothing could induce you to keep this story out of the
He pursed his lips and shook his head decidedly. "I don't see how I can.
I'd do 'most anything to oblige you, but this is the biggest scoop I ever
fell into. The fellows detailed by the other papers to report the fair
went straight through by way of the Northern Pacific. I was the only
reporter at the wreck."
"I understand, but," her voice fluctuated softly, "I dislike publicity so
intensely. Of course it's different with Mrs. Feversham. She is accustomed
to newspaper notice; her husband and brother are so completely in the
public eye. But since you must use the story, couldn't you suppress my
"Oh, but how could I? The whole story hinges on you. You were driving the
machine. I saw you from the train window as you came through the cut. You
handled the gear like an imported chauffeur, but it was steep there on the
approach, and the car began to skid. I saw in a flash what was going to
happen; it made me limp as a rag. But there was a chance,--the merest
hairbreadth, and you took it." He waited a moment, then said, smiling:
"That was a picture worth snapping, but I was too batty to think of it in
time. You see," he went on seriously, "the leading character in this story
is you. And it means a lot to me. I was going to be fired; honest I was.
The old man told me he wasn't looking for any _Treasure Island_ genius;
what his paper needed was plain facts. Then his big heart got the upper
hand, and he called me back. 'Jimmie,' he said, 'there's good stuff in
you, and I am going to give you one more trial. Go over to North Yakima
and tell us about the fair. Take the new Milwaukee line as far as
Ellensburg and pick up something about the automobile road through
Snoqualmie Pass. But remember, cut out the fiction; keep to facts!'"
"I understand," she repeated gravely, "I understand. The accident came
opportunely. It was life and color to your setting and demonstrates the
need of a better road. The most I can hope is that you will not exaggerate
or--or put us in a ridiculous light."
"I swear to that." He settled his notebook again on his knee and lifted
his pencil. "Nothing sensational," he added, "nothing annoying; now please
give me your name."
"Well, then, write Miss Armitage."
"Miss Armitage. Thank you. Miss Armitage of?"
"Of San Francisco; and visiting the Morgansteins, of course. But going on
now alone to meet the friends who are expecting you--am I right?--at North
There was a brief silence, and she moved a little in her chair. "Where I
am going now," she said, and looked at him once more across the invisible
barrier, "is another story."
"I beg your pardon." Daniels laughed and, rising from his perch on the
chair arm, put his notebook in his pocket. "And I'm awfully grateful. If
ever I can be of service to you, I hope you'll let me know." He started up
the car, then paused to say over his shoulder: "The light for photography
was fine; the old man will double column every illustration."
"Illustrations?" She started up in dismay. "Oh, no. Please--I couldn't
But Jimmie Daniels, with the camera swinging to his quick step, hurried on
to the vestibule.
She settled back in her seat, and for a moment her consternation grew;
then the humor of the situation must have dawned on her, for suddenly the
sparkles danced in her eyes. Her glance met Tisdale's briefly and,
suppress it as he tried, his own smile broke at the corners of his mouth.
He rose and walked out again to the platform.
This was the rarest woman on earth. She was able to appreciate a joke at
her own expense. Clearly she had finessed, then, in the instant she had
been sure of the game, she had met and accepted defeat with a smile. But
he would like to discipline that fellow Daniels;--here he frowned--those
films should be destroyed. Still, the boy would hardly give them up
peaceably and to take them otherwise would not spare her the publicity she
so desired to avoid; such a scene must simply furnish fresh material, a
new chapter to the story. After all, not one newspaper cut in a hundred
could be recognized. It was certain she was in no need of a champion; he
never had seen a woman so well equipped, so sure of herself and her
weapons, and yet so altogether feminine. If Foster had but known _her_.
Instantly, in sharp contrast to this delightful stranger, rose the woman
of his imagination; the idle spendthrift who had cast her spell over
level-headed Foster; who had wrecked David Weatherbee; and his face
hardened. A personal interview, he told himself presently, would be worse
than useless. There was no way to reach a woman like her; she was past
appeal. But he would take that tract of desert off her hands at her price,
and perhaps, while the money lasted, she would let Foster alone.
The train had left Lake Keechelus and was racing easily down the banks of
the Yakima. He was entering the country he had desired to see, and soon
his interest wakened. He seated himself to watch the heights that seemed
to move in quick succession like the endlessly closing gates of the Pass.
The track still ran shelf-wise along precipitous knobs and ridges;
sometimes it bored through. The forests of fir and hemlock were replaced
by thinning groves of pine; then appeared the first bare, sage-mottled
dune. The trucks rumbled over a bit of trestle, and for an instant he saw
the intake of an irrigating canal, and finally, after a last tunnel, the
eastbound steamed out of the canyon into a broad, mountain-locked plateau.
Everywhere, watered by the brimming ditch, stretched fields of vivid
alfalfa or ripe grain. Where the harvesting was over, herds of fine horses
and cattle or great flocks of sheep were turned in to browse on the
stubble. At rare intervals a sage-grown breadth of unreclaimed land, like
a ragged blemish, divided these farms. Then, when the arid slopes began to
crowd again, the train whistled Ellensburg on the lower rim of the plain.
Tisdale left his seat to lean over the railing and look ahead. He was in
time to catch a fleeting glimpse of Jimmie Daniels as he hurried out of
the telegraph office and sprang on the step of a starting bus. It was here
the young newspaper man was to transfer to the Northern Pacific, and
doubtless the girl too was changing trains. The Milwaukee, beyond
Ellensburg, passed through new, unbroken country for many miles; the
stations were all in embryo, and even though she may not have resumed her
journey at the Pass with the intention of stopping off at the fair, the
same bus was probably taking her over to the old, main traveled route down
the Yakima to the Columbia.
Again that unaccountable depression came over him. He tried to throw it
off, laughing at himself a little and lighting a cigar. This pretty woman
had happened in his path like a flower; she had pleased his eyes for a few
hours and was gone. But what possible difference could her coming and
going make to him?
The train started, and he settled back in his seat. The fertile fields
were left behind, then presently the eastbound steamed through a gap in a
sun-baked ridge and entered a great arid level. Sage-brush stretched
limitless, and the dull green of each bush, powdered with dust, made a
grayer blotch on the pale shifting soil, that every chance zephyr lifted
in swirls and scattered like ashes. Sometimes a whiter patch showed where
alkali streaked through. It was like coming into an old, worn-out world.
The sun burned pitilessly, and when finally the train had crossed this
plain and began to wind through lofty dunes, the heat pent between the
slopes became stifling. The rear platform was growing intolerable, and he
knew his station could not be far off. He rose to go in, but the eastbound
suddenly plunged into the coolness of a tunnel, and he waited while it
bored through to daylight and moved on along a shelf overlooking a dry
run. Then, as he turned to the open door, he saw the girl had not taken
the Northern Pacific at Ellensburg. She was still there in the observation
Her eyes were closed, and he noticed as he went forward that her breast
rose and fell gently; the shorter, loose hair formed damp, cool little
rings on her forehead and about her ears. She was sleeping in her chair.
But a turn in the track brought the sun streaming through her window; the
polished ceiling reflected the glare, and he stopped to reach carefully
and draw the blind. A moment later the whistle shrieked, and the conductor
called his station. He hurried on up the aisle and, finding his satchel in
the vestibule, stood waiting until the car jolted to a stop, then swung
himself off. But the porter followed with a suitcase and placed his stool,
and the next instant the girl appeared. She carried her hat in her hands,
her coat was tucked under her arm, and as she stepped down beside Tisdale,
the bell began to ring, the porter sprang aboard, and the train went
The station was only a telegraph office, flanked by a water-tank on a
siding. There was no waiting hotel bus, no cab, no vehicle of any kind.
The small building rose like an islet out of a gray sea. Far off through
billowing swells one other islet appeared, but these two passengers the
eastbound had left were like a man and woman marooned.
APPLES OF EDEN
Tisdale stood looking after the train while the girl's swift, startled
glance swept the billowing desert and with growing dismay searched the
draw below the station. "There isn't a town in sight!" she exclaimed, and
her lip trembled. "Not a taxi or even a stage!" And she added, moving and
lifting her eyes to meet his: "What am I to do?"
"I'll do my best, madam," he paused, and the genial lines broke lightly in
his face, "but I could find out quicker if I knew where you want to go."
"To Wenatchee. And I tho--ought--I understood--the conductor told me you
were going there, and this was your stop. It was his first trip over the
new Milwaukee, and we trusted--to you."
Tisdale pursed his lips, shaking his head slowly. "I guess I am
responsible. I did tell that conductor I was going to Wenatchee when I
asked him to drop me at this siding, but I should have explained I
expected to find a saddle-horse here and take a cut-off to strike the
Ellensburg road. It should save an hour." He drew a Government map of the
quadrangle of that section from his pocket and opened it. "You see, your
stop was Ellensburg; the only through road starts there." He found the
thoroughfare and began to trace it with his forefinger. "It crosses rugged
country; follows the canyons through these spurs of the Cascades. They
push down sheer to the Columbia. See the big bend it makes, flowing south
for miles along the mountains trying to find a way out to the Pacific. The
river ought to be off there." He paused and swung on his heel to look
eastward. "It isn't far from this station. But even if we reached it, it
would be up-stream, against a succession of rapids, from here to
Wenatchee. A boat would be impossible." He folded the plat and put it
away, then asked abruptly: "Do you ride, madam?"
She gave him a swift side-glance and looked off in the direction of the
hidden Columbia. "Sometimes--but I haven't a riding habit."
Tisdale waited. The humor deepened a little at the corners of his mouth.
There was but one passenger train each way daily on the newly opened
Milwaukee road, and plainly she could not remain at this siding alone all
night; yet she was debating the propriety of riding through the mountains
to Wenatchee with him. Then unexpectedly the click of a telegraph cut the
stillness, and a sudden brightness leaped in her face. "A station master,"
she cried; "perhaps there's a telephone." And she hurried up the platform
to the open office door.
Tisdale slowly followed.
The station master, having transmitted his message, swung around on his
stool, and got to his feet in astonishment on seeing the girl.
"I have made a mistake," she said, with a wavering glance over the
interior, "and I tho--ought, I hoped there was a telephone. But you can
communicate with the nearest garage for me, can you not? Or a stable--or--
somewhere. You see," and for an instant the coquetry of a pretty woman who
knows she is pretty beamed in her eyes, "I really must have a taxicab or
some kind of a carriage to take me back to Ellensburg."
The station master, who was a very young man, answered her smile and,
reaching to take a coat from a peg on the wall, hastily slipped it on. "Of
course I could call up Ellensburg," he said; "that's the nearest for a
machine. But it belongs to the doctor, and even if he was in town and
could spare it, it would take till dark to bring it down. It's a mean road
over sandhills for thirty-five miles."
"It is hardly farther than that to Wenatchee," said Tisdale quietly. "With
good saddle-horses we should be able to make it as soon. Do you know
anything about the trail through to tap the Ellensburg-Wenatchee highway?"
The station master came around the end of his desk. "So you are going to
Wenatchee," he exclaimed, and his face shone with a sort of inner glow. "I
guess then you must have heard about Hesperides Vale; the air's full of
it, and while land is selling next to nothing you want to get in on the
ground floor. Yes, sir," his voice quickened, "I own property over there,
and I came that way, up the mountain road, in the spring to take this
position when the Milwaukee opened. But I don't know much about your
cut-off; I just kept on to Ellensburg and dropped down by train from there.
The main road, though, was in pretty good shape. It's the old stage road
that used to connect with the Northern Pacific, and they had to do some
mighty heavy hauling over it while the mountain division of the Great
Northern was building up the Wenatchee. It keeps an easy grade, following
the canyons up and up till it's six thousand feet at the divide, then you
begin to drop to the Columbia. And when you leave the woods, it's like
this again, bunch grass and sage, sand and alkali, for twenty miles. Of
course there isn't a regular stage now; you have to hire."
"Any road-houses?" asked Tisdale briefly.
"No, but you come across a ranch once in awhile, and any of them would
take a man in over night--or a lady."
Tisdale turned to the door. "I can find saddle-horses, I presume, at that
ranch off there through the draw. Is it the nearest?"
"The nearest and the only one." The station master walked on with him to
the platform. "It's a new place. They are working two teams, every day and
Sunday, while daylight lasts, grubbing out the sage-brush for planting.
It's a pumping layout to bring water from the Columbia, and they are
starting with forty acres all in apples."
"But they have saddle-horses?" said Tisdale, frowning.
"I can't tell you that. The fellow I talked with came over for freight and
used one of the teams. Said they couldn't spare it. But that's your only
chance. I don't know of any other horses in twenty miles, unless it's a
wild band that passed this morning. They stopped down the draw, nosing out
the bunch grass for an hour or two, then skidooed."
Tisdale paused a thoughtful moment then asked: "When is the next freight
due on this siding?"
"Two-forty-five. And say"--he slapped his knee at the sudden thought--
"that's your chance, sure. I have orders to hold them for the eastbound
silk train, and they'll let you ride in the caboose up to Kittitas. That's
the stop this side of Ellensburg, and there's a livery there, with a
cross-road to strike the Ellensburg-Wenatchee. But, say! If you do drop
off at Kittitas, ask Lighter to show you the colts. They are the star team
in three counties. Took the prize at North Yakima last year for
three-year-olds. They're too fly for livery work, but if you can drive,
and Lighter likes your looks"--the station master gave Tisdale a careful
scrutiny--"and you have his price, I shouldn't wonder if you could hire
Nip and Tuck."
Tisdale laughed. "I see. If I can't hire them, I may be allowed the
privilege to buy them. But," and he looked at his watch, "there's time to
try that ranch."
He started down the platform then stopped to look back at the girl who had
followed a few steps from the threshold. Her eyes held their expression of
uncertainty whether to sparkle or to cloud, and he read the arrested
question on her lips. "If there are any saddle-horses," he answered, "I
will have them here before that two-forty-five freight arrives, but," and
he smiled, "I am not so sure I can supply the proper riding-suit. And the
most I hope for in saddles is just a small Mexican."
"A Mexican is easy riding," she said, "on a mountain road." But she stood
watching him, with the uncertainty still clouding her face, while he moved
down the draw.
He wore the suit of gray corduroy it was his habit to wear in open
country, with leggings of russet leather, and he traveled very swiftly,
with a long, easy stride, though never rapidly enough to wholly escape the
dust he disturbed. Once he stopped and bent to fasten a loose strap, and
then he took off his coat, which he folded to carry. The pall of dust
enveloped him. In it his actions gathered mystery, and his big frame
loomed indistinctly like the figure of a genii in a column of smoke. The
fancy must have occurred to the watcher on the platform, for it was then
the sparkles broke in her eyes, and she said aloud, softly clapping her
hands: "I wish--I wish it to be Nip and Tuck."
"So do I." She started and turned, and the station master smiled. "They're
beauties, you can take my word. It would be the drive of your life."
He carried his office chair around the corner of the building to place for
her in the shade. Then his instrument called him, and for an interval she
was left alone. The desert stretched before her, limitless, in the glare
of the afternoon sun. If the Columbia flowed in that neighborhood, it was
hidden by sand dunes and decomposing cliffs of granite. There was no
glimpse of water anywhere, not a green blade; even the bunch grass, that
grew sparsely between the sage-brush through the draw, was dry and gray.
For a while no sound but the click of the telegraph disturbed the great
silence, then a hot wind came wailing out of the solitudes and passed into
a fastness of the mountains.
Finally the station master returned. "Well," he said genially, "how are
you making it? Lonesome, I guess."
"Oh," she exclaimed, "how can you, how could any human being, live in this
dead, worn-out world?"
"It is desolate now," he admitted, sending a thoughtful glance over the
arid waste; "it must seem like the Great Sahara to you, coming into it for
the first time and directly from the Puget Sound country. I remember how I
felt when I struck the Hesperides. Why, it looked like the front door of
Hades to me; I said so, and I called myself all kinds of a fool. But I had
sunk an even thousand dollars in a twenty-acre tract; bought it off a real
estate map over in Seattle, without seeing the ground." He laughed, half
in embarrassment at the confession, and moved to take a more comfortable
position against the wall. "I was in a railroad office in Chicago," he
explained, "and my father expected me to work up to the responsible
position he held with the company and take it when he was through. But the
western fever caught me; I wanted to come to Washington and grow with the
country. He couldn't talk me out of it; so he gave me that thousand
dollars and told me to go and to stay till I made good."
"Oh," she cried, "how hard! How miserable! And you?"
"Why, I stayed. There wasn't anything else to do. And after I looked
around the valley a little and saw the Peshastin ditch and what it could
do, I got busy. I found work; did anything that turned up and saved like a
miser, until I was able to have the land cleared of sagebrush. It has mean
roots, you know, sprawling in all directions like the branches. Then I
saved to make connections with the ditch and to buy trees. I set the whole
twenty acres to apples--I always did like a good apple, and I had sized up
the few home orchards around Wenatchee--then I put in alfalfa for a
filler, and that eased things, and I settled down to office work, small
pay, lots of time to plan, and waited for my trees to grow. That was four
years ago, five since I struck the Wenatchee valley, and this season they
came into bearing. Now, at the end of this month, I am giving up my
position with the Milwaukee, cutting railroading for good, to go over and
superintend the harvesting. And say"--he stood erect, the inner glow
illumined his face--"I've had an offer for my crop; three hundred and
fifty dollars an acre for the fruit on the trees. Three hundred and fifty
dollars for a four-year-old orchard! Think of that! Seven thousand clear
"How splendid!" she said, and in that instant her face seemed to catch and
reflect his enthusiasm. "To have waited, fought like that in the face of
defeat, and to have made good."
"And it's only the beginning," his voice caught a little; "an apple
orchard has bigger results every year after maturity. There's a man over
there on the Wenatchee who is going to make a thousand dollar profit on
each acre of his twelve-year orchard. You ought to see those trees, all
braced up with scaffolding, only fourteen acres of them, but every branch
loaded. But that orchard is an exception; they had to lift water from the
river with buckets and a wheel, and most of the pioneers put in grain.
Their eyes are just beginning to open. But think of Hesperides Vale in
another five years. And think what that High Line ditch means. Just
imagine it! Water, all you can use and running to waste; water spilling
over in this sage-brush desert. Doesn't it spell oasis? Think of it! Grass
and flowers and shade in place of this sunbaked sand and alkali."
"It sounds like a fairy tale," she said. "I can hardly believe it."
"I'll show you." He hurried around to the office door and came back
directly with a basket of fruit. "Here are a few samples from my trees.
Did you ever see pink like that in a bellflower? Isn't it pretty enough
for a girl's cheek? And say," he held up an exceedingly large apple,
nearer the size of a small pumpkin, "how's this for a Rome Beauty? An
agent who is selling acreage for a company down the Yakima offered me five
dollars for that apple yesterday. He wanted it for a window display over
at his Seattle office. But look at these Jonathans." His sensitive fingers
touched the fruit lingeringly with a sort of caress, and the glow deepened
in his face. "They represent the main crop. And talk about color! Did you
ever see wine and scarlet and gold blend and shade nicer than this?"
She shook her head. "Unless it was in a Puget Sound cloud effect at
sunset. That is what it reminds me of; a handful of Puget Sound sunset."
The station master laughed softly. "That's about it, sure. Now taste one
and tell me what the flavor of a Wenatchee Jonathan is like. No, that's
not quite ripe; try this."
She set her small white teeth in the crimson cheek and tested the flavor
deliberately, with the gravity of an epicure, while the boy watched her,
his whole nervous frame keyed by her responsiveness to high pitch. "It's
like nothing else in the world," she said finally. "No, wait, yes, it is.
It's like condensed wine; a blend of the best; golden Angelica, red port,
amber champagne, with just enough of old-fashioned cider to remind you it
is an apple."
The station master laughed again. "Say, but you've got it all in, fine."
He set the basket at her feet and stood looking down at her an uncertain
moment. "I would like awfully well to send you a box," he added, and the
flush of his bellflower was reflected in his cheek.
She gave him a swift upward glance and turned her face to the desert.
"Thank you, but when one is traveling, it is hard to give a certain
address." In the pause that followed, she glanced again and smiled. "I
would like one or two of these samples, though, if you can spare them,"
she compromised; "I shall be thirsty on that mountain road."
"I can spare all you'll take."
"Thank you," she repeated hastily. "And you may be sure I shall look for
your orchard when I reach Wenatchee. The fruit on the trees must be
"It is. It's worth the drive up from Wenatchee just to see Hesperides
Vale, and that special Eden of mine is the core. You couldn't miss it;
about ten miles up and right on the river road."
"I shall find it," she nodded brightly. "I am going that way to see a wild
tract in a certain pocket of the valley. I wonder"--she started and turned
a little to give him her direct look--"if by any possibility it could be
brought under your Peshastin ditch?"
He shook his head. "Hardly. I wouldn't count on it. Most of those pockets
back in the benches are too high. Some of them are cut off by ridges from
one to six thousand feet. Maybe your agent will talk of pumping water from
the canal, but don't you bite. It means an expensive electric plant and
several miles of private flume. And perhaps he will show you how easy it's
going to be to tap the new High Line that's building down the Wenatchee
and on to the plateau across the Columbia thirty miles. But it's a big
proposition to finance; in places they'll have to bore through granite
cliffs; and if the day ever comes when it's finished far enough to benefit
your tract, I doubt the water would reach your upper levels. And say, what
is the use of letting him talk you into buying a roof garden when, for one
or two hundred dollars an acre, you can still get in on the ground floor?"
She did not answer. Her eyes were turned again to the desert, and a sudden
weariness clouded her face. In that moment she seemed older, and the
strong light brought out two lines delicately traced at the corners of her
beautiful mouth that had not been apparent before.
"But, say," the young man went on eagerly, "let me tell you a little more
about the Vale. It's sheltered in there. The mountains wall it in, and you
don't get the fierce winds off the Columbia desert. The snow never drifts;
it lies flat as a carpet all winter. And we don't have late frosts; never
have to stay up all night watching smudge pots to keep the trees warm. And
those steep slopes catch the early spring sun and cast it off like big
reflectors; things start to grow before winter is gone. And I don't know
what makes it so, but the soil on those low Wenatchee benches is a little
different from any other. It looks like the Almighty made his hot beds
there, all smooth and level, and just forgot to turn the water on. And
take a project like the Peshastin, run by a strong company with plenty of
capital; the man along the canal only has to pay his water rate, so much
an irrigated acre; nothing towards the plant, nothing for flume
construction and repairs. And, say, I don't want to bore you, I don't want
to influence you too far, but I hate to see a woman--a lady--throw her
money away right in sight of a sure proposition; even if you can't go into
improved orchards, any Hesperides investment is safe. It means at least
double the price to you within two years. I've bonded forty acres more of
wild land joining my tract, and I shall plant thirty of it in the fall.
The last ten will be cleared and reserved for speculation. The piece comes
within a stone's throw of the Great Northern's tracks. There's a siding
there now, and when the Vale comes into full bearing, they are bound to
make it a shipping station. Then I'm going to plat that strip into town
lots and put it on the market." He paused while her glance, returning from
the desert, met his in a veiled side-look, and the flush of the bellflower
again tinged his cheek. "I mean," he added, "I'd be mighty glad to let you
The blue sparkles played under her lashes. "Thank you, it sounds like
She stopped, leaving the excuse unsaid. The station master had turned his
face suddenly towards the Columbia; he was not listening to her. Then,
presently, the sound that had caught his alert ear reached her own
faintly. Somewhere out in the solitudes a train had whistled. "The
westbound freight!" she exclaimed softly. "Isn't it the westbound
He nodded. "She's signalling Beverley. They'll call me in a minute." And
he started around to the office door.
She rose and followed to the corner to look for Tisdale. Midway the road
doubled a knoll and was lost, to reappear, a paler streak, on the gray
slope where the ranch house stood; and it was there, at the turn, she
first noticed a cloud of dust. It advanced rapidly, but for a while she
was not able to determine whether it enveloped a rider or a man on foot;
she was certain there was no led horse. Then a gust of wind parted the
cloud an instant, and the sparkle suffused her whole face. He was
returning as she had hoped, afoot.
She stood watching the moving cloud; the man's bulk began to detach from
it and gathered shape. Between pauses, the click of the telegraph reached
her, then suddenly the shriek of the whistle cut the stillness. The train
must have crossed the Columbia and was winding up through the dunes. She
went along the platform and picked up her hat, which she had left on the
suitcase with her coat. While she pinned it on and tied her veil over it,
the freight signalled twice. It was so close she caught the echo of the
thundering trucks from some rocky cut. When the call sounded a third time,
it brought an answer from the silk special, far off in the direction of
Ellensburg. She lifted her coat and turned again to watch Tisdale. He had
quickened his pace, but a shade of suspense subdued the light in her face.
Since the whistle of the special, the telegraph instrument had remained
silent, and presently she heard the station master's step behind her.
"Well," he said, "it's Nip and Tuck, sure. But say, he can sprint some.
Does it easy, too, like one of those cross-country fellows out of a
college team. I'd back him against the freight."
"If he misses it," and the suspense crept into her voice, "I must go
without him, and I suppose I can be sure of a hotel at Ellensburg?"
"You'll find fair accommodations at Kittitas. But he isn't going to miss
the freight, and it will be hours saved to you if Lighter lets you have
She lifted her coat, and he held it while she slipped her arms in the
sleeves. "I've 'most forgotten how to do this," he said; "it's so long
since I've seen a girl--or a lady. I'm afraid I've bored you a lot, but
you don't know how I've enjoyed it. It's been an epoch seeing you in this
"It's been very interesting to me, I'm sure," she replied gravely. "I've
learned so much. I wonder if, should I come this way again, I would find
all this desert blossoming?"
"I shouldn't be surprised; settlement's bound to follow a new railroad.
But say, look into Hesperides Vale while you are at Wenatchee, and if my
proposition seems good to you at one hundred dollars an acre, and that is
what I'm paying, drop me a line. My name is Bailey. Henderson Bailey,
Post-Office, Wenatchee, after the end of the month."