Part 2 out of 7
He waited with expectation in his frank brown eyes, but the girl stood
obliviously watching Tisdale. He reached the platform and stopped,
breathing deep and full, while he shook the dust from his hat. "I am
sorry, madam," he said, "but their only saddle-horse pulled his rope-stake
this morning and went off with the wild herd. You will have to take this
freight back to Kittitas."
"How disappointing!" she exclaimed. "And you were forced to tramp back
directly through this heat and dust."
"This is the lightest soil I ever stepped on"--he glanced down over his
powdered leggings and shoes; the humor broke gently in his face--"and
there's just one kind deeper,--the Alaska tundra."
With this he hurried by her to the office. Presently the freight whistled
the siding, and Bailey picked up the baggage and went down to make
arrangements with the trainmen. The girl followed, and when Tisdale came
back, she stood framed in the doorway of the waiting caboose, while a
brakeman dusted a chair, which he placed adroitly facing outside, so that
she might forget the unmade bunks and greasy stove. "It isn't much on
accommodations," he said conciliatingly, "but you can have it all to
yourselves; as far as you go, it's your private car."
The other train thundered into the station and past; the freight began to
move, and Tisdale swung himself aboard. Then the station master,
remembering the apples at the last moment, ran with the basket, crowned
still by the Rome Beauty for which he had refused five dollars, and
dropped it as a parting tribute at her feet.
"Thank you! Thank you for everything!" Her soft voice fluted back to
Bailey, and she leaned forward a little, raising her hand with a parting
Then, as she settled back in her chair, her swift side-glance swept
Tisdale. It was incredible he had removed so much dust in that brief
interval, but plainly, somewhere in that miserable station, he had found
water and towels; he had not seemed more fit that morning in the
observation car. The hand he laid on the wall as a brace against the
rocking of the light caboose was on a level with her eyes, and they rested
there. It was a strong, well-made hand, the hand of the capable
draughtsman, sensitive yet controlled, and scrupulously cared for. "I hope
I pass muster," he said, and the amusement played gently in his face, "for
I am going to venture to introduce myself. Possibly you have heard Judge
Feversham speak of me. I am Hollis Tisdale--Miss Armitage."
In the instant he hesitated on the name, she gave him another swift upward
glance, and he caught a question in her eyes; then the sparkles rose, and
she looked off again to the point where the railroad track was lost among
the dunes. "Of course I have heard of you," she admitted. "We--Mrs.
Feversham--recognized you this morning in Snoqualmie Pass and would have
spoken to thank you for your service had you not hurried aboard your
train. She has known you by sight and has wished to meet you personally a
long time. But I--I--as you must know--I--"
She had turned once more to give him the direct look of her unveiled eyes,
and meeting his her voice failed. The color flamed and went in her face;
then, her glance falling to the basket at her feet, she bent and took the
largest apple. "Did you ever see such a marvel?" she asked. "It came from
that station master's orchard in the Wenatchee valley. He called it a Rome
Beauty. Divide it, please; let us see if the flavor is all it promises."
"If it is"--and Tisdale took the apple and felt in his pocket for his
knife--"the ground that grew the tree is a bonanza." He waited another
moment, watching the changing color in her face, then turned and walked to
the upper end of the caboose, where he deliberately selected a stool which
he brought forward to the door. Her confusion puzzled him. Had she been
about to confess, as he had at first conjectured, that Miss Armitage was
an incognito used to satisfy the _Press_ reporter and so avoid publicity?
It was clear she had thought better of the impulse, and he told himself,
as he took the seat beside her and opened his knife, he was to have no
more of her confidence than Jimmie Daniels.
NIP AND TUCK
Bailey was right; the colts were beauties. But at the time Tisdale arrived
at the Kittitas stables, Lighter, having decided to drive them to North
Yakima, was putting the pair to a smart buggy. They were not for hire at
double or treble the usual day rate.
"I want to sell this team," the trader repeated flatly. "I don't want to
winter 'em again, and my best chance to show 'em is now, down at the fair.
I can keep 'em in good shape, making it in two stages and resting 'em over
night on the road, and be there by noon to-morrow."
One of the horses reared, lifting the stable-boy off his feet, and Lighter
sprang to take the bit in his powerful grasp. "Steady, Tuck, steady! Whoa,
whoa, back now, back, steady, whoa!" The animal stood, frothing a little,
his beautiful coat moist, every muscle tense. "See there, now! Ain't he
peaceable? Nothing mean under his whole hide; just wants to go. The other
one will nip your fingers once in a while, if you don't watch out, but he
don't mean anything, either; it's all in fun."
He gave his place to the boy again and stepped back to Tisdale's side,
still watching his team, while a second stableman hurried to fasten the
traces. "The fact is," he went on, dropping his voice confidentially,
"I've got wind of a customer. He's driving through from the Sound to the
races in his machine. A friend of mine wired me. Mebbe you know him. It's
one of those Morgansteins of Seattle; the young feller. He saw these bays
last year when they took the blue ribbon and said he'd keep an eye on 'em.
They were most too fly then for crowded streets and spinning around the
boulevard 'mongst the automobiles, but they're pretty well broke now.
Steady, Nip, whoa there!"
"But," said Tisdale quietly, "young Morganstein met with an accident this
morning in Snoqualmie Pass. An axle was broken, and he was thrown out of
his machine. His leg was injured, and he took the train back to Seattle. I
happened to be on the eastbound at the siding where it all occurred."
Lighter gave him a skeptical glance between narrowed lids. "Then, if he
can't come himself, I guess he'll send his man. He told that friend of
mine he counted on having another look at this team."
Tisdale's brows contracted. "See here, I want to drive to Wenatchee; what
is the best you can do for me?"
"Why, let's see. My best livery rig is on the Wenatchee road now. One of
them High Line fellers hired the outfit with a driver to take him through
to the valley. If you'd be'n here when they started, likely they'd be'n
glad to accommodate you. And the sorrels is out with a picnic to Nanum
canyon. That leaves the roans. They come in half an hour ago. A couple of
traveling salesmen had 'em out all the forenoon, and these drummers drive
like blue blazes; and it's a mean pull through to Wenatchee. But wait till
to-morrow and, with an early start, you can make it all right with the
roans. That's the best I can do, unless you want a saddle-horse."
Tisdale walked back to the stalls and, convinced at a glance the jaded
roans were impossible for that day, at least, stopped to look over the
saddle animals. He saw that there were two promising travelers, but it
would be necessary to impress an indifferent third to carry the baggage.
Besides, judging from all he had seen, the resources of Kittitas did not
include a ready-made lady's habit. He returned and stood another silent
moment watching the lithe, impatient bays. Finally his eyes moved to the
entrance and down the road to the railroad station where Miss Armitage was
waiting. She was seated on a bench near the door. He could distinguish her
gray figure in relief against the reddish-brown wall.
Directly he swung around. "What is your price?" he asked.
Lighter's hand dropped from the edge of the buggy seat. He stepped back to
the heads of his team. "You get in, Harry," he said. "Drive 'em five or
six blocks. Keep your eyes open."
Harry gathered the reins warily and sprang in; Lighter released his hold,
then hurried forward to the driveway and stood with Tisdale watching the
team. "Ain't they a sight?" he said.
And they were. Their coats shone like satin in the sun; they stepped
airily, spurning the dust of Kittitas, and blew the ashen powder from
their nostrils; then without warning the splendid span was away.
Tisdale repeated: "What is your price?"
Lighter's shrewd eyes swept his new customer over; it was as though he
made an estimate of how much Tisdale could pay. "Five hundred dollars," he
said. "Five hundred--if it's spot cash."
"And the outfit?"
"Let me see. Harness is practically new; buggy first-class. I'll make it
an even seven hundred for the whole business; outfit and team."
There was a brief silence. As a rule, a man drawing the salary of the
Geological Survey does not spend seven hundred dollars lightly. He bridles
his impulses to own fine driving-horses until at least he has tried them.
And this sum, just at that time, meant something of a drain on Tisdale's
bank account. He knew if he bought the Weatherbee tract and reclaimed it,
he must hedge on his personal expenses for a year or two; he had even
talked with Banks a little about a loan to open the project and keep it
moving until the next season's clean-up, when the Aurora should make good.
He stirred, with a quick upward lift of his head, and looked once more in
the direction of the station.
The girl rose and began to walk the platform.
Tisdale swung back and met the trader's calculating gaze. "Where is your
bank?" he asked.
The business was quickly transacted and, when Lighter and his customer
stepped out of the bank, Harry was there, driving the bays slowly up and
down the street. In the moment they waited for him to draw up, the trader
looked Tisdale over again. "Your easiest way to get this team over to the
Sound is to drive through Snoqualmie Pass, the way you came."
"But," said Tisdale, knitting his brows, "I told you I wanted this team to
drive to the Wenatchee valley."
"You can't drive on through the Cascades from there and, if you try to
ship these colts aboard a Great Northern train, you'll have trouble."
"I shall probably leave them to winter in the valley. Unless"--Tisdale
paused, smiling at the afterthought--"I decide to sell them to young
Morganstein when I get back to Seattle."
Lighter laughed dryly. "I thought so. I sized you up all right at the
start. I says to myself: 'He don't look like a feller to run a bluff,' and
I says: 'Young Morganstein ain't the sort to pick up any second-hand
outfit,' but I thought all along you was his man."
"I see." The humor played softly in Tisdale's face. "I see. But you
Lighter's lids narrowed again skeptically. "Those letters you showed to
identify yourself cinched it. Why, one was signed by his brother-in-law,
Miles Feversham, and your draft was on the Seattle National where the
Morgansteins bank. But it's all right; I got my price." He nudged Tisdale
slyly and, laughing again, moved to the heads of the team. "Now, sir,
watch your chance; they're chain lightning the minute you touch the seat."
Tisdale was ready. At last he felt the tug of the lines in his grasp, the
hot wind stung his face, and he was speeding back in the direction of the
station. The girl came to the edge of the platform as he approached, and
while the solitary man from the freight office caught the first
opportunity to store the baggage under the seat, and the second to lift in
the basket of samples from Bailey's orchard, she tied her veil more snugly
under her chin and stood measuring the team with the sparkles breaking in
her eyes. Then she gathered her skirts in one hand and laid the other
lightly on the seat.
"Don't try to help me," she said breathlessly. "Just hold them." And the
next instant she was up beside him, and her laugh fluted in exhilaration
as they whirled away.
Kittitas fell far behind. They were racing directly across the seven miles
of level towards a pass in a lofty range that marked the road to
Wenatchee. Far to the left lines of poplars showed where the irrigating
canals below Ellensburg watered the plain, and on the right the dunes and
bluffs of the unseen Columbia broke the horizon. But the girl was watching
Tisdale's management of the horses. "What beauties!" she exclaimed. "And
Nip and Tuck!" Her lips rippled merriment. "How well named. Wait, be--
care--ful--they are going to take that ho-le. Oh, would you mind giving
those reins to me?"
"I wish I could." He shook his head, while the amusement played gently at
the corners of his mouth. "I know all about a team of huskies, and it
doesn't make much difference what I have under a saddle, but these kittens
in harness are rather out of my line."
"Then trust yourself to me; please do. I used to drive just such a pair."
"Oh, but your hands couldn't stand this, and those gloves would be ribbons
in half an hour."
"They are heavier than they look; besides, there are the shops at
Wenatchee!" As if this settled the matter she said: "But we must change
places. Now." She slipped into his seat as he rose, and took the reins
dexterously, with a tightening grip, in her hands. "Whoa, whoa, Nip!" Her
voice deepened a little. "Steady, Tuck, steady! That's right; be a man."
There was another silent interval while he watched her handling of the
team, then, "I did not know there could be a pair in all the world so like
Pedro and Don Jose," she said, and the exhilaration softened in her face.
"They were my ponies given me the birthday I was seventeen. A long time
ago--" she sighed and flashed him a side-glance, shaking her head--"but I
shall never forget. We lived in San Francisco, and my father and I tried
them that morning in Golden Gate park. The roads were simply perfect, and
the sea beach at low tide was like a hardwood floor. After that we drove
for the week-end to Monterey, then through the redwoods to Santa Cruz and
everywhere." She paused reminiscently. "Those California hotels are fine.
They pride themselves on their orchestras, and wherever we went, we found
friends to enjoy the dancing evenings after table d'hote. That was in the
winter, but it was more delightful in the spring. We drove far south then,
through Menlo Park and Palo Alto, where the great meadows were vivid with
alfalfa, and fields on fields were yellow with poppies or blue with
lupine; on and on into the peach and almond country. I can see those
blossoming orchards now; the air was flooded with perfume."
Her glance moved from the horses out over the sage-covered levels, and the
contrast must have dropped like a curtain on her picture, for the light in
her face died. Tisdale's look followed the road up from the plain and
rested on the higher country; his eyes gathered their far-seeing gaze. He
had been suddenly reminded of Weatherbee. It was in those California
orchards he had spent his early life. He had known that scent of the
blossoming almond; those fields of poppies and lupine had been his
playground when he was a child. It was at the university at Palo Alto that
he had taken his engineering course; and it was at one of those gay
hotels, on a holiday and through some fellow student, he had met the woman
who had spoiled his life.
The moment passed. One of the horses broke, and instantly the driver was
alert. And while she alternately admonished and upbraided, with a firm
manipulation of the reins, the humor began to play again in Tisdale's
face. They were approaching the point where the road met the highway from
Ellensburg, and in the irrigated sections that began to divide the
unreclaimed land, harvesters were reaping and binding; from a farther
field came the noise of a threshing machine; presently, as the bays turned
into the thoroughfare, the way was blocked by a great flock of sheep.
"Oh," she exclaimed, "there must be thousands of them; how can the ones in
the center breathe? Whoa, Nip, whoa now! Do you think you are one of those
lambs? And there's no chance to go around; it is fenced with barbed wire
on both sides; we simply must drive through, No, let me, please. Steady,
now, Tuck, steady, whoa."
They had passed the mounted herders, and the colts broke their way
playfully, dancing, curveting with bowing necks, into the midst of the
flock. Soon the figures of the advance shepherds loomed through the dust.
They were turning the sheep into a harvested field. They rolled in over
the yellow stubble like a foaming sea. Far away, outlined like a sail
against an island rick, the night tent of these nomads was already
Tisdale laughed softly. "Well, madam, that was skilful piloting. A bidarka
couldn't have been safer riding in a skiddery sea."
"A bidarka?" she questioned, ruffling her brows.
Tisdale nodded. "One of those small skin canoes the Alaskan natives use.
And it's touchy as a duck; comes bobbing up here and there, but right-side
up every time. And it's frail looking, frail as an eggshell, yet I would
stake a bidarka against a lifeboat in a surf. Do you know?"--he went on
after a moment--"I would like to see you in one, racing out with the
whitecaps up there in Bering Sea; your face all wet with spray, and your
hair tucked away in the hood of a gray fox parka. Nothing else would show;
the rest of you would be stowed below in a wonderful little water-tight
"It sounds delightful," she said, and the sparkles broke in her eyes.
After that there was a long silence. The bays fell into an even trot. The
mountains loomed near, then before them, on the limits of the plain, a
mighty herd of cattle closed the road. The girl rose a little in her place
and looked over that moving sea of backs. "We must drive through again,"
she said. "It's going to be stifling but there's no possible way around.
No," she protested, when he would have taken the reins, "I'm able. I
learned once, years ago, on a great ranch in southern California. I'd
rather." She settled in her seat smiling a little. "It's in the blood."
Tisdale reached and took the whip. They had passed the drivers and were
pushing into the herd. Sometimes a red-eyed brute turned with lowered
horns and dripping mouth, then backed slowly out of the way of the team.
Sometimes, in a thicker press, an animal wheeled close to the tires and,
stemming the current, sounded a protest. But the young horses, less
playful now, divided the great herd and came at last safely out of the
smother. The road began to lift, as they rounded the first rampart of the
range, and Tisdale's glance fell to her hands. "Those gloves are done for,
as I expected," he exclaimed. "I'll wager your palms are blistered. Come,
own they hurt."
She nodded. "But it was worth it, though you may drive now, if you wish.
It's my wrists; they have been so long out of practice. You don't know how
"So," he said, when he had taken the reins, "so you are as fond of horses
"Horses like these, yes. I haven't felt as happy and young since I gave up
Pedro and Don Jose."
Tisdale turned a little to look in her face. She had said "young" with the
tone of one whose youth is past, yet the most conservative judge could not
place her age a day over twenty-five. And she was so buoyant, so vibrant.
His pulses quickened. It was as though currents of her vitality were being
continually transmitted through his veins.
As they ascended, the plain unfolded like a map below; harvest fields,
pastures of feeding cattle or sheep, meadows of alfalfa, unreclaimed
reaches of sage-brush, and, far off among her shade-trees, the roofs of
Ellensburg reflecting the late sun. Above the opposite range that hemmed
the valley southward some thunder-heads crowded fast towards a loftier
snow-peak. Far away across the divide, white, symmetrical, wrought of
alabaster, inlaid with opal, lifted a peerless dome.
"Mount Rainier!" exclaimed Tisdale.
"I knew it." Her voice vibrated softly. "Even at this distance I knew. It
was like seeing unexpectedly, in an unfamiliar country, the head of a
noble friend lifting above the crowd."
Tisdale's glance returned to her face. Surprise and understanding shone
softly in his own. She turned, and met the look with a smile. It was then,
for the first time, he discovered unsounded depths through the subdued
lights of her eyes. "You must have known old Rainier intimately," he said.
She shook her head. "Not nearer than Puget Sound. But I have a marvelous
view from my hotel windows in Seattle, and often in long summer twilights
from the deck of Mr. Morganstein's yacht, I've watched the changing Alpine
glow on the mountain. I always draw my south curtains first, at Vivian
Court, to see whether the dome is clear or promises a wet day. I've
learned a mountain, surely as a person, has individuality; every cloud
effect is to me a different mood, and sometimes, when I've been most
unhappy or hard-pressed, the sight of Rainier rising so serene, so pure,
so high above the fretting clouds, has given me new courage. Can you
understand that, Mr. Tisdale? How a mountain can become an influence, an
inspiration, in a life?"
"I think so, yes." Tisdale paused, then added quietly: "But I would like
to be the first to show you old Rainier at close range."
At this she moved a little; he felt the invisible barrier stiffen between
them. "Mr. Morganstein promised to motor us through to the National Park
Inn when the new Government road was finished, but we've been waiting for
the heavy summer travel to be over. It has been like the road to Mecca
since the foot of the mountain has been accessible."
There was a silence, during which Tisdale watched the pulling team. Her
manner of reminding him of his position was unmistakable, but it was her
frequent reference to young Morganstein that began to nettle him. Why
should she wish specially to motor to Rainier with that black-browed,
querulous nabob? Why had she so often sailed on his yacht? And why should
she ever have been unhappy and hard-pressed, as she had confessed? She who
was so clearly created for happiness. But to Tisdale her camaraderie with
Nature was charming. It was so very rare. A few of the women he had known
hitherto had been capable of it, but they had lived rugged lives; the
wilderness gave them little else. And of all the men whom he had made his
friends through an eventful career, there was only Foster who sometimes
felt the magnitude of high places,--and there had been David Weatherbee.
At this thought of Weatherbee his brows clouded, and that last letter, the
one that had reached him at Nome and which he still carried in his breast
pocket, seemed suddenly to gather a vital quality. It was as though it
cried out: "I can't stand these everlasting ice peaks, Hollis; they crowd
Miss Armitage sat obliviously looking off once more across the valley. The
thunder-heads, denser now and driving in legions along the opposite
heights, stormed over the snow peak and assailed the far, shining dome.
"Oh," she exclaimed, "see Rainier now! That blackest cloud is lifting over
the summit. Rain is streaming from it like a veil of gauze; but the dome
still shines through like a transfigured face!"
Tisdale's glance rested a moment on the wonder. His face cleared. "If we
were on the other side of the Cascades," he said, "that weather-cap would
mean a storm before many hours; but here, in this country of little rain,
I presume it is only a threat."
The bays began to round a curve and presently Rainier, the lesser heights,
all the valley of Kittitas, closed from sight. They had reached the timber
belt; poplars threaded the parks of pine, and young growths of fir, like
the stiff groves of a toy village, gathered hold on the sharp mountain
slopes. Sometimes the voice of a creek, hurrying down the canyon to join
the Yakima, broke the stillness, or a desert wind found its way in and
went wailing up the water-course. And sometimes in a rocky place, the
hoof-beats of the horses, the noise of the wheels, struck an echo from
spur to spur. Then Tisdale commenced to whistle cautiously, in fragments
at first, with his glance on the playing ears of the colts, until
satisfied they rather liked it, he settled into a definite tune, but with
the flutelike intonations of one who loves and is accustomed to make his
He knew that this woman beside him, since they had left the civilization
of the valley behind, half repented her adventure. He felt the barrier
strengthen to a wall, over which, uncertain, a little afraid, she watched
him. At last, having finished the tune, he turned and surprised the covert
look from under her curling black lashes.
"I hope," he said, and the amusement broke softly in his face, "all this
appraisal is showing a little to my credit."
The color flamed pinkly in her face. She looked away. "I was wondering if
you blamed me. I've been so unconservative--so--so--even daring. Is it not
"No, Miss Armitage, I understand how you had to decide, in a moment, to
take that eastbound train in Snoqualmie Pass, and that you believed it
would be possible to motor or stage across to Wenatchee from the Milwaukee
"Yes, but," she persisted, "you think, having learned my mistake, I should
have stayed on the freight train as far as Ellensburg, where I could have
waited for the next passenger back to Seattle."
"If you had, you would have disappointed me. That would have completely
spoiled my estimate of you."
"Your estimate of me?" she questioned.
"Yes." He paused and his glance moved slowly, a little absently, up the
unfolding gorge. "It's a fancy of mine to compare a woman, on sight, with
some kind of flower. It may be a lily or a rose or perhaps it's a
flaunting tulip. Once, up in the heart of the Alaska forest, it was just a
sweet wood anemone." He paused again, looking off through the trees, and a
hint of tenderness touched his mouth. "For instance," he went on, and his
voice quickened, "there is your friend, Mrs. Feversham. I never have met
her, but I've seen her a good many times, and she always reminds me of one
of those rich, dark roses florists call Black Prince. And there's her
sister, who makes me think of a fine, creamy hyacinth; the sturdy sort,
able to stand on its own stem without a prop. And they are exotics, both
of them; their personality, wherever they are, has the effect of a strong
He paused again, so long that this time his listener ventured to prompt
him. "And I?" she asked.
"You?" He turned, and the color flushed through his tan. "Why, you are
like nothing in the world but a certain Alaska violet I once stumbled on.
It was out of season, on a bleak mountainside, where, at the close of a
miserable day, I was forced to make camp. A little thing stimulates a man
sometimes, and the sight of that flower blooming there when violet time
was gone, lifting its head next to a snow-field, nodding so pluckily,
holding its own against the bitter wind, buoyed me through a desperate
She turned her face to look down through the treetops at the complaining
stream. Presently she said: "That is better than an estimate; it is a
tribute. I wish I might hope to live up to it, but sooner or later," and
the vibration played softly in her voice, "I am going to disappoint you."
Tisdale laughed, shaking his head. "My first impressions are the ones that
count," he said simply. "But do you want to turn back now?"
"N--o, unless you--do."
Tisdale laughed again mellowly. "Then it's all right. We are going to see
this trip through. But I wish I could show you that Alaska mountainside in
midsummer. Imagine violets on violets, thousands of them, springing
everywhere in the vivid new grass. You can't avoid crushing some, no
matter how carefully you pick your steps. There's a rocky seat half-way up
on a level spur, where you might rest, and I would fill your lap with
those violets, big, long-stemmed ones, till the blue lights danced in your
They were doing that now, and her laugh fluted softly through the wood.
For that moment the barrier between them lost substance; it became the
sheerest tissue, a curtain of gauze. Then the aloofness for which he
waited settled on her. She looked away, her glance again seeking the
stream. "I can't imagine anything more delightful," she said.
A rough and steep breadth of road opened before them, and for a while the
bays held his attention, then in a better stretch, he felt her swift
side-glance again reading his face. "Do you know," she said, "you are not
at all the kind of man I was led to expect."
"No?" He turned interestedly, with the amusement shading the corners of
his mouth. "What did you hear?"
"Why, I heard that you were the hardest man in the world to know; the most
Tisdale's laugh rang, a low note from the depths of his mellow heart. "And
you believed that?"
She nodded, and he caught the blue sparkles under her drooping lids. "You
know how Mrs. Feversham has tried her best to know you; how she sent you
invitations repeatedly to dinner or for an evening at Juneau, Valdez,
Fairbanks, and you invariably made some excuse."
"Oh, but that's easily explained. Summers, when she timed her visits to
Alaska, I was busy getting my party into the field. The working season up
there is short."
"But winters, at Seattle and in Washington even, it has been the same."
"Winters, why, winters, I have my geological reports to get in shape for
the printer; interminable proofs to go over; and there are so many
necessary people to meet in connection with my work. Then, too, if the
season has been spent in opening country of special interest, I like to
prepare a paper for the geographical society; that keeps me in touch with
"Old friends," she repeated after a moment. "Do you know it was one of
them, or rather one of your closest friends, who encouraged my delusion in
regard to you?"
"No, how was it?"
"Why, he said you were the hardest man in the world to turn, a man of iron
when once you made up your mind, but that Mrs. Feversham was right; you
were shy. He had known you to go miles around, on occasion, to avoid a
town, just to escape meeting a woman. And he told us--of course I can
repeat it since it is so ridiculously untrue--that it was easier to bridle
a trapped moose than to lead you to a ballroom; but that once there, no
doubt you would gentle fine."
She leaned back in her seat, laughing softly, though it was obviously a
joke at her own expense as well as Tisdale's. "And I believed it," she
added. "I believed it--every word."
Tisdale laughed too, a deep undernote. "That sounds like Billy Foster. I
wager it was Foster. Was it?" he asked.
She nodded affirmatively.
"Then Foster has met you." Tisdale's voice rang a little. "He knows you,
"Yes, he could hardly help knowing me. His business interests are with my
closest friends, the Morgansteins; they think a great deal of him. And he
happens to play a remarkably good hand at bridge; we always depend on him
to make up a table when he is in town."
Tisdale's eyes rested a thoughtful moment on the road ahead. Strange
Foster never had mentioned her. But that showed how blind, how completely
infatuated with the Spanish woman the boy was. His face set austerely.
Then suddenly he started; his grasp tightened on the reins so that the
colts sprang to the sharp grade. "Do you happen to know that enchantress,
too?" he asked.
"Whom?" questioned Miss Armitage.
"I mean Mrs. Weatherbee. I believe she counts the Morgansteins among her
friends, and you said you were staying at Vivian Court, where her
"Oh, yes, I know--her. I"--the color flamed and went in her face; her
glance fell once more to the steep slope, searching out the narrowing
stream through the trees. "I--'ve known Beatriz Weatherbee all my life.
I--I think a great deal of her."
"Madam, madam!" Tisdale protested, "don't tell me that. You have known
her, lived near her, perhaps, in California, those years when you were
growing up; shared the intimacies young girls enjoy. I understand all
that, but don't say you care anything for her now."
Miss Armitage lifted her face. Her eyes did not sparkle then; they flamed.
"Why shouldn't I, Mr. Tisdale? And who are you to disparage Beatriz
Weatherbee? You never have known her. What right have you to condemn her?"
"This right, Miss Armitage; she destroyed David Weatherbee. And I know
what a life was lost, what a man was sacrificed."
A NIGHT ON THE MOUNTAIN ROAD
They drove on for a long interval in silence. The colts, sobered by the
sharp pull to the divide, kept an even pace now that they had struck the
down-grade, and Tisdale's gaze, hard still, uncompromising, remained fixed
absently on the winding road. Once, when the woman beside him ventured to
look in his face, she drew herself a little more erect and aloof. She must
have seen the futility of her effort to defend her friend, and the fire
that had flashed in her eyes had as quickly died. It was as though she
felt the iron out-cropping in this man and shrank from him baffled, almost
afraid. Yet she held her head high, and the delicate lines, etched again
at the corners of her mouth, gave it a saving touch of decision or
But suddenly Hollis drew the horses in. Miss Armitage caught a great
breath. The way was blocked by a fallen pine tree, which, toppling from
the bluff they were skirting, had carried down a strip of the road and
started an incipient slide. "We can't drive around," he said at last, and
the humor broke the grim lines of his mouth. "We've got to go through."
She looked hastily back along the curve, then ahead down the steep
mountainside. "We never could turn in this pla--ace, but it isn't possible
to drive through. Fate is against us."
"Why, I think Fate favored us. She built this barricade, but she left us
an open door. I must unhitch, though, to get these kittens through."
As he spoke he put the reins in her hands and, springing out, felt under
the seat for the halters. The girl's glance moved swiftly along the
tilting pine, searching for that door. The top of the tree, with its
debris of branches, rested prone on the slope below the road; but the
trunk was supported by a shoulder of the bluff on which it had stood. This
left a low and narrow portal under the clean bole between the first thick
bough and the wall. "But the buggy!" she exclaimed.
"That's the trouble." Tisdale found one halter as he spoke and reached for
the other. "It is getting this trap over that will take time. But I pledge
myself to see you through these mountains before dark; and when we strike
the levels of the Columbia, these colts are going to make their record."
"You mean we can't hope to reach Wenatchee before dark?" Her voice shook
a little. "And there isn't a house in sight--anywhere. Mr. Tisdale, we
haven't even seen another traveler on this road."
"Well, this is luck!" He was drawing a coil of new rope from under the
seat. "This is luck! Lighter must have meant to picket his horses. Did I
tell you he was starting to drive these bays through to the fair at North
Yakima? And here is a hatchet--he expected to cut fire-wood--and this
looks like his lunch-box. Yes,"--and he lifted the lid to glance in--"here
are biscuits, sliced ham, all we need. Lighter must have intended to spend
a night on the road. And here is that second hitching-strap. Now, we are
all right: the outfit is complete."
He took the precaution to tie one of the horses before he commenced to
unfasten the traces, and he worked swiftly, dexterously, while the girl
watched him, directing him sometimes from her seat in the buggy. Presently
he lifted the remaining strap, but before he could snap the hook in the
ring, the colt's ears flattened back, and he gripped Tisdale's hand.
Instantly Miss Armitage snatched the whip and was on her feet. "Whoa,
Nip," she cried, and cut the vixen lightly between the ears. "Whoa, now,
The young horse released his hold and broke forward, with Hollis dragging
at the bit. He ducked with the colt under the barrier and, keeping his
feet with difficulty, ran hugging the bluff. Rocks, slipping beneath the
bay's incautious hoofs, rattled down the steep slope. Finally mastered by
that tugging weight, he settled to an unstable pace and so passed the
break in the road.
Miss Armitage had left the buggy. She followed to the opening and stood
watching Tisdale until, unable to find a safe hitching-place, he turned
another bend. The remaining horse pulled at his halter and neighed shrilly
for his mate. She went to him. After a moment she untied him and led him
through the passage. He followed easily, crowding her sometimes, yet
choosing his steps with the caution of a superior animal in a hard
situation. Midway over the break in the road, where it was narrowest, he
halted with a forefoot on a perilous table of granite, feeling, testing
its stability. "That's right, be careful," she admonished, allowing the
strap to slacken while she, herself, balanced her weight on the rocking
slab. "But it is safe enough--you see. Now, now, Tuck, come on."
But as she started on, Tisdale reappeared at the curve and, waving her
hand to reassure him, she took an incautious step. The slab, relieved
suddenly of her weight, tilted back and at the same instant caught on its
lowered edge the weight of the following horse. He backed off, jerking the
halter taut, but she kept her hold, springing again to the surface of the
rock. Loose splinters of granite began to clatter down the slope; then, in
the moment she paused to gather her equilibrium, she felt Tisdale's arm
reaching around to take the strap. "Creep by me," he said quietly. "No,
between me and the bluff, sidewise; there's room." She gained safe ground
and stood waiting while he brought the bay across. A last rain of rock
struck an answering echo through the gorge.
"What made you?" he asked. "You knew I would hurry back. What made you?
handicapped, too, by those skirts and abominable heels."
"I saw you were hurt--the vixen meant to hurt--and I knew I could manage
Tuck. I--I thought you might need me."
Her breath was coming hard and quick; her eyes were big and shadowy and,
looking into their depths, the light began to play softly in his own. "You
thought right," he said. "I am going to."
He turned to lead the horse around to the cleft where he had left his
mate. Miss Armitage followed. She regarded his broad back, pursing her
lips a little and ruffling her brows. "It is only a bruise," he said
presently over his shoulder, "and it served me right. Lighter warned me of
Nevertheless the handkerchief with which he had wrapped the bruise was
showing a red stain, and past the break in the road he changed the halter
to his left hand. The hitching-place he had chosen was in a cleft formed
by a divided spur of the mountain. It was roofed by the boughs of two
pines, and the boles of the trees offered secure hold. She seated herself
on a boulder, set benchwise against the rocky wall, and watched him
critically while he tied the second horse.
"How pleasant," she said intrepidly; "it is like coming unexpectedly into
a room ready furnished in brown and green."
Tisdale turned. "I could make you comfortable in this pocket, if it came
to that," he said. "It's sheltered and level as a floor, and I could make
you a bed, springy and fragrant, of boughs; the camp-fire would close the
door. And you needn't go hungry with Lighter's lunch and your apples; or
thirsty with my drinking-cup to fill down there at the stream."
Even before he finished speaking her brows arched in protest, and he felt
the invisible barrier stiffen hard as a wall. "We really must hurry, Mr.
Tisdale," she said, rising. "Though it may be impossible to reach
Wenatchee to-night, we must find some sort of house. And where there is a
house, there must be housekeeping and"--her voice wavered--"a woman."
"Of course," he answered. "And we have at least two hours of daylight
left. Don't worry; I am going now to hurry that carriage around."
He had said "of course," but while he went back to the buggy, his mind
reviewed the sordid shelters he had found in just such solitudes, where a
woman's housekeeping was the exception. Men in communities employed camp
cooks, but most prospectors, ranchers, and cattlemen depended on
themselves. There had been times when he himself had been forced to make
bread. He had learned that first winter he had spent in Alaska with
Weatherbee. At the thought of that experimental mixture, he smiled grimly.
Then, suddenly, he imagined this gently nurtured woman confronted by a
night in such a shack as they had occupied. He saw her waiting expectantly
for that impossible chaperon; and, grasping the situation, struggling
pluckily to cover her amazement and dismay; he saw himself and Weatherbee
nerving each other to offer her that miserable fare. He hoped they would
find a housekeeper at the first house on that mountain road, but that
lunch of Lighter's gave him a sense of security, like a reserve fund,
inadequate, yet something against imminent panic.
Miss Armitage did not return to her seat when he was gone. She fell to
pacing the level; to the upper spur and back; to the lower wall and
return; then, finally, it was a few yards further to the bend, to discover
what progress Tisdale had made. The buggy was not yet in sight, but the
new rope stretched diagonally from beyond the breach in the road to a
standing tree on the bluff above her, and he was at work with the hatchet,
cutting away an upright bough on the fallen pine. Other broken limbs,
gathered from the debris, were piled along the slide to build up the edge.
When his branch dropped, he sprang down and dragged it lengthwise to
reinforce the rest. Presently he was on the log again, reaching now for
the buggy tongue, he set his knee as a brace on the stump of the limb,
his muscular body bent, lifted, strained. Then the front wheels rolled up
across the bole; he slipped to the ground and grasped the outer one,
steadying it down. After a moment, when he had taken in the slack of the
line, the remaining tires slowly followed, and he began to ease the
vehicle along the patched roadway. The rain of rock was renewed; fragments
of granite shifted under the bulkhead of boughs; the buggy heeled lower,
lower; then, at the final angle, began to right while the rope strung
taut. The narrowest point was passed, and Tisdale stopped a breathing
It was characteristic of the man to see the humor of the situation in that
moment while he stood wiping the perspiration from his face. Jove, how
Foster would enjoy seeing him labor like this for a girl. He imagined the
boy sitting up there at some coign of vantage on the bluff, admonishing,
advising him dryly, while he laughed in his sleeve. It was undeniably
funny. Alone, with one of Lighter's saddle-horses under him, his baggage
secured behind the saddle, he might have been threading the dunes of the
Columbia now. This incipient slide need not have caused him ten minutes'
delay, and eight, nine o'clock at the latest, would have found him putting
up for the night at the hotel in Wenatchee. But here he was hardly over
the divide; it was almost sunset, but he was dragging a buggy by hand
around a mountain top. He hoped Foster never would find out what he had
paid for these bays--the team of huskies that had carried him the long
trek from Nome to the Aurora mine and on through Rainy Pass had cost less.
Still, under the circumstances, would not Foster himself have done the
same? She was no ordinary woman; she was more than pretty, more than
attractive; there was no woman like her in all the world. To travel this
little journey with her, listen to her, watch her charms unfold, was worth
the price. And if it had fallen to Foster, if he were here now to feel the
spell of her, that Spanish woman would lose her hold. Then he remembered
that Foster knew her; she had admitted that. It was inconceivable, but he
had known her at the time he confessed his infatuation for Weatherbee's
wife. The amusement went out of Tisdale's face. He bent, frowning, to free
the buggy of the rope.
It was then Miss Armitage, exhilarated at his success, hurried forward
from the bend. "Oh," she cried radiantly, "how resourceful, how strong you
are. It looked simply impossible; I couldn't guess what you meant to do,
and now we have only to hitch the team and drive on to Wenatchee. But,"
she added gravely and shook her head, "it was defying Fate."
He turned, regarding her from under still cloudy brows, though the genial
lines began to deepen anew. "I told you Fate was on our side. She threw
those boughs there in easy reach. She might as well have said: 'There's
some lumber I cut for you; now mend your road.'"
"Perhaps, well, perhaps," the girl laughed softly. "But if Fate had said
that to any other man, at least to any man I know, he would not have
But the Columbia was still far off when darkness closed, and with sunset
the thunder-heads they had watched across the Kittitas Valley gathered
behind them. It was as though armies encamped on the heights they had
left, waiting for night to pass. Then searchlights began to play on the
lower country; there was skirmishing along the skyline; blades flashed.
At last, between the lightning flashes, the blackness was so dense it was
hardly possible for Tisdale to see the road, and he could not trust the
nervous team to keep the track; it was necessary to stop, at least to wait
until the moon should rise. But while he was preparing to tell her so, the
silence was broken by the barking of a dog. Instantly it was swelled by a
deeper baying, and the echo rang a continuous clamor through the gorge.
Then a faint illumination brought out in silhouette a final bluff ahead;
rounding it, they saw a low-roofed habitation, and in the open door a
woman with a lamp.
One of the dogs stood bristling and growling beside her; the other,
barking furiously, sprang from the porch so that for a moment Tisdale was
busy with the plunging team. Then the woman spoke, and the setter,
whimpering, snapping furtively, crept back to her feet.
"We have been delayed by an accident," Tisdale explained briefly, "and I
want you to take this lady in for the night. Make her comfortable as
possible, and I will see it is worth your while."
"This ain't much of a road-house." The woman held the lamp higher to
scrutinize the lady's face. "We only got one room, an' the best I can do
is to double up with the kids an' give you my bed."
"That will do very well," answered Tisdale quickly. "I can take care of
myself. Of course there's a stable somewhere out here in the dark, and a
bale or two of hay."
"No, we got a shed up, but we're short on feed. We're short on 'bout
everything: flour, potatoes, bacon, beans. We've just took up this here
claim, an' things ain't growed. But my man's gone down to Wenatchee to
fetch a load." Then, seeing this fact was hardly one to solace her
transient guests, she laughed shortly and went into the cabin to set the
lamp on a table and bring a lantern that hung on the farther wall.
Tisdale turned to help Miss Armitage down. "We may be able to find better
accommodations towards the Columbia, when the moon rises," he said, "but I
can't be as sure of another--chaperon." Then, looking into her face, he
added in his minor key: "I am sorry, but you will make the best of things,
I know. And the night will pass. Come."
She slipped down beside him and stood holding her skirts out of the
powdery soil, while her wide eyes searched that interior through the open
door. Tisdale lifted the baggage from the buggy to the porch, then the
woman returned with the lantern and, followed by the dogs, went to show
him where he might stable the horses. After a moment Miss Armitage
ventured up the low steps to the threshold. It was a portable cabin such
as she had noticed from the train window at intervals where construction
was incomplete along the new railroad. It was battered and weak, showing
old earmarks of transportation, but it was furnished with a rusty
cook-stove, some bench chairs, and two beds, which stood in the farther
corners and nearly filled that half of the room. A few heavy dishes, the
part of a loaf of bread, and several slices of indifferently fried bacon
were on the table, between the lamp and a bucket containing a little
water. Presently, still holding her skirts, she crossed the grimy floor
and stood inspecting with a mingled fascination and dread those ancient
beds. Both were destitute of linen, but one was supplied with a tumbled
heap of coarse, brown blankets. In the other, beneath a frayed comforter,
two small boys were sleeping. Their sun-baked faces were overhung with
thatches of streaked blond hair, and one restless arm, throwing off the
sodden cover, partly exposed the child's day attire, an unclean denim
blouse tucked into overalls. She turned in sudden panic and hurried back
to the porch.
In a little while she noticed her suitcase, opened it, and found her
cologne; with this she drenched a fresh handkerchief and began to bathe
her face and hands. Then she drew one of the bench chairs through the
doorway and, seating herself with her back to the room, kept on dabbing
her lips and her cheeks with the cool, delicately pungent perfume, and so
gathered up the remnants of her scattered fortitude. Finally, when the
lantern glimmered again, and she was able to distinguish the two returning
figures, she had laid aside her hat and coat, and she was ready to smile,
if not radiantly at least encouragingly, at Tisdale as he came up the
The woman went in to shake out and spread the blankets with a pretence at
making the bed, and he followed to the threshold, where he took a swift
and closer inventory of the room. Its resources were even more meager than
he had supposed. He swung around and looked up through the darkness
towards that sheltered cleft they had left near the Pass. He did not say
anything, but the girl watching him answered his thought. "I wish it had
been possible. It would have been delightful--the ground was like a
carpet, clean and soft and fragrant--under those pines."
"I wish we had even had the forethought to bring down an armful of those
boughs. But, after all, it might have been worse. At least you need not go
hungry, with that lunch of Lighter's and your apples, to say nothing of
the sandwiches I asked the steward to make before I left the train. And
to-morrow, when you are safe with your friends at Wenatchee, you are going
to forget this miserable experience like an unpleasant dream."
"I am not ungrateful," she said quickly. "I enjoyed every moment of that
drive. And besides the apples, I have tea. I always tuck a little in my
suitcase when we are touring with Mrs. Feversham, because she uses a
She bent as she spoke, to find the tea, which she produced together with a
small kettle and alcohol burner. Her evident desire to contribute her
share, the fine show of courage that accepted and made the best of the
inevitable, went straight to Tisdale's heart. "Tea," he repeated mellowly,
"tea and all the outfit. Well, that was mighty thoughtful of you. I won't
even have to make a fire. But wait a minute; I am going to lift that table
out here where it is cooler."
With two seats, there was barely room for it on the porch. Then, while he
filled the kettle and lighted the burner, she spread the cloth, a fine
damask towel supplied also from her baggage. On the whole it was a rather
gay little supper and, considering the limitations of the menu, it bridged
a long interval. Tisdale, who had been accustomed to drink tea black and
bitter on a hard trail, but habitually refused it socially, tasted his cup
with deliberation. "Miss Armitage," he exclaimed, "you can't delude me.
Whatever this beverage may be, I am sure it is no ordinary tea."
She was pouring a second cup when his glance fell from her face to her
hands. They were delicately made, artistic, with wilful little thumbs, yet
they impressed him with a certain resourcefulness, a strength in reserve.
Suddenly the light from the lantern which he had hung on a nail in the
wall above the table, struck an exceedingly large ruby she wore on her
left hand. It glowed blood-red, scintillated, flamed. He saw the stone was
mounted with diamonds in a unique setting of some foreign workmanship, and
he told himself it was probably an heirloom; it was too massive, too
ornate for a betrothal ring; still he moved uneasily and set the cup down
untasted. His eyes returned to her face, questioning, doubting. He was
like a musician surprised to detect in a beautiful symphony the first
After that the conversation lagged. It was not cool on the porch. A
broadside of lightning sweeping the cabin showed it stood in a narrow
valley walled by precipitous, barren slopes and widening gulfwise towards
the Columbia desert. The pent air seemed surcharged. It was as though that
table was set in a space between running dynamos, and when a stronger
flash came, Miss Armitage instinctively grasped her chair, holding herself
from contact with an unseen and terrible force. Once, during an interlude,
the silence was broken by a strange, faint cry.
"Did you hear?" she asked breathlessly. "What was it?"
Tisdale smiled into her troubled eyes. "Why, just a cougar; lonesome, I
guess, and calling his mate. But it's all right. Sounds carry in these
mountain gorges, and his cry was picked up by some cross wind miles from
here. Look at those dogs! They wouldn't stay curled up there on the ground
asleep, too indifferent to prick up an ear, if a cougar, or even a coyote,
Still she was not wholly reassured. She leaned forward, listening, trying
to fathom the darkness with a lurking terror in her eyes. At last, when
Tisdale rose to say good night, she, too, left her chair. She laid her
hand on the edge of the table as though that might steady her voice. "Are
you going to the stable?" she asked. "Did you find a possible bed?"
Hollis laughed. "You needn't trouble about me. I am the sort of fellow to
find the soft side of a plank. Yes, it's true. There have been times when
I've slept luxuriously on a board, with just my coat rolled up for a
There was a brief pause while her imagination grasped the thought; then:
"You must have been very tired," she said.
"I was," he answered dryly and reached to take the lantern from the wall.
At the foot of the steps he halted and put the light down to pick up his
bag, which he opened. "Here's a bunch of my handkerchiefs," he said. "They
are bigger than yours. They should make you at least a pillow-case. Good
The setter rose to follow inquiringly at his heels; the lantern swung
gently to his tread and, as his shape disappeared in the gloom, his
whistle, sweet, soft, almost tender, fluted back to her. It was the "Good
night" from the opera of _Martha_. And Miss Armitage smiled in the face of
Fear and turned resolutely to go in.
But the next moment she was back again over the threshold. "Mr. Tisdale!"
she called, and the currents held so long in check surged in her voice.
Instantly the lantern swung an arc. He came quickly back to the steps.
"Well," he said, breaking the pause, "what is the trouble?"
"I know I must seem foolish--but--please don't go--yet." Her position on
the edge of the porch brought her face almost on a level with his. Her
eyes in the semi-darkness were luminously big; her face, her whole body
quivered. She leaned a little towards him, and her nearness, the low,
vibrant intensity of her voice, set his pulses singing.
"I really can't stay in that room," she explained. "Those beds all but
touch, and she, the mother, has crowded in, dressed as she is, to sleep
with the children. There isn't any air to breathe. I--I really can't make
myself lie down--there. I had rather spend the night here on the piazza.
Tisdale laughed his short, mellow note. "You mean you are afraid of the
dark, or is it the cougar?"
"It's both and the lightning, too. There! See how it plays along those
awful heights; javelins of it; whole broadsides. I know it is foolish, but
I can't help feeling it is following me. It singles me out, threatens me
as though I am--guilty."
"Guilty? You? Of what?" Tisdale put down the lantern and came up the
steps. "See here, Miss Armitage, come take your chair." He moved it around
from the table and laid his hand on her arm, impelling her into the seat.
"Now face it out. Those flashes of heat lightning are about as dangerous
as the Aurora Borealis. You ought to know that."
Then, because the personal contact had set his blood racing, he moved away
to the edge of the porch and stood frowning off up the gorge. He knew she
covered her face with her hands; he believed she was crying, and he
desired beyond all reason to take her to his heart and quiet her. He only
said: "But I understand. I have seen strong men just as foolish before an
electrical storm, and the bravest woman I ever knew lost her grip one
still morning just from solitude."
There was another silence, then suddenly she lifted her head. "I am
sorry," she said, "but it is all over. I shall try my best not to annoy
you any more."
"Annoy me? Why, you haven't. What makes you think that?" Tisdale turned,
and the mellowness stole into his voice. "I didn't expect you to creep in
and go to sleep tranquilly alongside that bunch of sage."
At this she smiled. "You have found a flower to fit even her."
"I never made a misfit--yet," he answered and waited, looking into her
face, reading her through.
"But you have doubts," she supplemented, "and I warned you I should
disappoint you. I warned you at the start."
Tisdale laughed again, softly. "The odds were all against that Alaska
violet," he said, "but she weathered it through." And seating himself on
the steps, he looked up again to the night-enshrouded Pass. The air was
cooler; a light wind, drawing down from the divide, brought a hint of
dampness; it was raining somewhere, far off. "My doubts are all right," he
added, "and I am going to stay here as long as you want me to."
THE BRAVEST WOMAN HE EVER KNEW
Presently, during one of the interludes when darkness enveloped the gulf,
she began to entertain Tisdale with an experience in the Sierras, a little
adventure on one of those journeys with her father, when she had driven
Pedro and Don Jose. But though she told the story with composure, even
with a certain vivacity and charm, as she might have narrated it to a
small and intimate audience in any safe drawing-room, her self-control was
a transparency through which he saw her anxiety manoeuvering, in spite of
his promise, to keep him there.
"Strange, is it not?" she went on, "how things will take the gloss of
humor, looking back. That cloudburst was anything but funny at the time;
it was miserably exasperating to stand there drenched, with the
comfortable quarters of the mining company in sight, cut off by an
impassable washout. And it was wretched driving all those miles to our
hotel in wet clothes, with not so much as a dry rug to cover us; yet
afterwards, whenever I tried to tell about it, I failed to gain a shred of
sympathy. People laughed, as you are doing now."
"And you laughed with them," answered Tisdale quickly, "because looking
back you caught the right perspective. It is always so. Another incident
that seemed trivial in passing will loom up behind us like a cliff on the
horizon. And it is so with people. The man who held the foreground through
sheer egoism sinks to his proper place in obscurity, while a little,
white-faced woman we knew for a day stands out of the past like a
His brows clouded; he turned from the lantern light to look off again to
the shrouded mountain tops. "And looking back," he added, "the man you
thought you knew better than the rest, the partner, friend, to whom, when
you were reminded and it suited your convenience, you were ready to do a
service, stands out from the shadows clearly defined. It is under the test
of those high lights behind that his character shines. You wonder at his
greatness. His personality takes a stronger, closer hold, and you would
give the rest of your life just to go back and travel the old, hard road
again with him."
There was a long silence, broken once more by that far, wailing cry on the
wind. Miss Armitage started. She laid her hand on Tisdale's shoulder, the
nearest object, in a tightening grip, while for a breathless moment she
leaned forward, trying to penetrate the darkness of the gorge. The action
seemed to remind him of her presence, and he turned to look at her.
"Frightened again?" he asked.
Her hand fell; she settled back in her seat. "N-o, not very much, but it
took me off guard. It sounds so desolate, so--so--supernatural; like the
cry of a doomed soul."
Tisdale smiled. "That describes it, but you never have heard it at close
She shivered; her glance moved again in apprehension to the
night-enshrouded Pass. "Have you, Mr. Tisdale?"
"Yes, lonesome nights by a mountain camp-fire, with just the wind piping
down a ravine, or a cataract breaking over a spur to fill the interlude."
"Oh, that must have been terrifying," and the shiver crept into her voice.
"But what did you do?"
"Why, I hurried to pull the embers together and throw on more spruce
boughs. A cougar is cautious around a fire."
There was another silence, then, "I was thinking of your little,
white-faced woman," said Miss Armitage. "She baffles me. Was she your
bravest woman or just your anemone? Would you mind telling me?"
"So you were thinking of her. That's odd; so was I." Tisdale changed his
position, turning to lean on the edge of the porch with his elbow resting
on the floor. "But it was that Gordon setter there that reminded me of
her. Her dog had the same points, though he had been better trained." He
paused briefly, then said: "She was both. She was like that small, white
flower which grows in the shelter of the Alaska woods--sweet and modest
and frail looking--yet she was the bravest woman and the strongest when it
came to endurance I ever knew."
"It happened, of course, in Alaska," Miss Armitage ventured, breaking the
pause. "You knew her there?"
"Yes, it was in Alaska and about five years ago. The season I gave up
getting rich in a hurry and went back to geological work. I had spent the
winter on the Tanana with David Weatherbee. We had staked a promising
placer, and we were ready to begin sluicing with the first spring thaw,
when he sold his interest unexpectedly to meet an obligation down in the
States. That nettled me, and I sold out my own share to the same men and
accepted a position with the department, who had written to ask me to take
charge of a party working above Seward. Weatherbee started with me, but I
left him to prospect along the headwaters of the Susitna. My surveys kept
me in the neighborhood of Turnagain Arm until midsummer, when I moved camp
up the river to the mouth of an unexplored tributary. It was the kind of
stream to lure a prospector or a sportsman, clear, rapid, broken by
riffles and sand-bars, while the grassy shores looked favorable for elk or
caribou. To bridge the delay while the last pack-horses straggled in and
the men were busy pitching tents and putting things into shape, I decided
to go on a short hunting trip. I traveled light, with only a single
blanket rolled compactly for my shoulder strap, in case the short night
should overtake me, with a generous lunch that Sandy, the cook, had
supplied, but at the end of two hours' steady tramping I had sighted
nothing. I had reached a wooded ravine and a snow-peak, apparently the
source of the stream, closed the top of the gorge. It was the heart of the
wilderness, over a hundred miles from a settlement and off the track of
road-houses, but a few rods on I came upon the flume and dump of a placer
mine. The miner's cabin stood a little farther up the bank under a clump
of spruce, but the place seemed abandoned. Then I noticed some berry
bushes near the sluice had been lately snapped off, where some heavy
animal had pushed through, and a moment later, in the moist soil at a
small spillway, I picked up the trail of a large bear.
"The tracks led me up the rough path towards the cabin, but midway I came
to a fallen tree. It must have been down a week or more, but no attempt
had been made to clear the trail or to cut through, so, pushing up over
the matted boughs, I leaped from the bole to avoid the litter beyond. At
the same instant I saw under me, wedged in the broken branches, the body
of my bear. He was a huge grizzly, and must have made an easy and ugly
target as he lumbered across the barricade. I found one bullet had taken
him nearly between the eyes, while another had lodged in the shoulder. And
it was plain the shots were aimed from the window, with the rifle probably
resting on the sill.
"As I went on up the path, the loud baying of a dog came from the cabin,
then a woman's face, young and small and very white, appeared at the
window. Seeing me, she turned quickly and threw open the door. The next
instant her hand fell to the neck of a fine Gordon setter and, tugging at
his collar, she drew back and stood surveying me from head to foot. 'It's
all right, madam,' I said, stopping before her. 'Don't try to hold him.
The bear won't trouble you any more. You made a mighty fine shot.'
"'Oh,' she said, and let the dog go, 'I am so glad you have come.' And she
sank into a chair, shaking and sobbing."
"You mean," exclaimed Miss Armitage breathlessly, "it was she who killed
Tisdale nodded gently. "I wish I could make you understand the situation.
She was not a sportswoman. She was city bred and had been carefully
reared--accustomed to have things done for her. I saw this at a glance.
Only her extremity and the fear that the dog would be hurt nerved her to
"Oh, I see, I see," said Miss Armitage. "Fate had brought her, left her in
that solitary place--alone."
"Fate?" Tisdale questioned. "Well, perhaps, but not maliciously; not in
jest. On second thought I would not lay it to Fate at all. You see, she
had come voluntarily, willingly, though blindly enough. She was one of the
few women who are capable of a great love."
Tisdale waited, but the woman beside him had no more to say. "I saw I must
give her time to gather her self-control," he went on, "so I turned my
attention to the setter, who was alternately springing on me and excitedly
wagging his tail. I like a good dog, and I soon had him familiarly
snuffing my pockets; then he stretched himself playfully, with an
inquiring, almost human yawn; but suddenly remembering the bear, he stood
pointing, head up, forepaw lifted, and made a rush, baying furiously.
"'It's all right, madam,' I repeated and stepped into the room. 'You made
a fine shot, and that bearskin is going to make a great rug for your
"She lifted her face, downing a last sob, and gave me a brave little
smile. 'It isn't altogether the bear,' she explained. 'It's partly because
I haven't seen any one for so long, and partly because, for a moment, I
thought you were my husband. I've been worried about him. He has been gone
over three weeks, and he never stayed longer than five days before. But it
was a relief to have you come.'
"It sounds differently when I repeat it. You lose the sweet shyness of her
face, the appeal in her eyes not yet dry, and that soft minor chord in her
voice that reminds me now of a wood-thrush.
"'I understand,' I hurried to say, 'the solitude has grown intolerable. I
know what that means, I have lived so long in the eternal stillness
sometimes that the first patter of a rain on the leaves came like the
tramp of an army, and the snapping of a twig rang sharp as a pistol shot.'
"'You do understand,' she said. 'You have been through it. And, of course,
you see my husband had to leave me. The trail up the canyon is the merest
thread. It would have been impossible for me, and I should have only
hindered him, now, when every day counts.'
"'You mean,' I said, 'he has left his placer to prospect for the main lode
above?' And she answered yes. That every gravel bar made a better showing;
the last trip had taken him above the tree line, and this time he expected
to prospect along the glacier at the source of the stream. Sometimes
erosions laid veins open, and any hour 'he might stumble on riches.' She
smiled again, though her lip trembled, then said it was his limited outfit
that troubled her most. He had taken only a light blanket and a small
allowance of bacon and bread.
"'But,' I reassured her, 'there is almost a certainty he has found game at
this season of the year.'
"She looked at the rifle she had set by the window against the wall. 'I
haven't been able to persuade him to take the gun,' she explained, 'for a
long time. He doesn't hunt any more.' She stopped, watching me, and locked
her slim hands. Then, 'He is greatly changed,' she went on. 'The last time
he came home, he hardly noticed me. He spent the whole evening sitting
with his eyes fixed on the floor--without a word. And the next morning,
before I was awake, he was gone.'
"At last her real fear was clear to me. There is a terrible fascination
about those Alaska gold streams. Each gravel bar has just showing enough
to lead a man on and on. He hugs the belief from hour to hour he is on the
brink of a great find, until he has eyes for nothing but the colors in the
sand. He forgets hunger, weariness, everything, and finally, if rescue
fails him, he sinks in complete collapse. More than once I had come on
such a wreck, straying demented, babbling, all but famished in the hills.
And I was sorry for that little woman. I understood the pitch she must
have reached to speak so freely to a passing stranger. But it was hard to
find just the right thing to say, and while I stood choosing words, she
hurried to explain that two days before she had taken the dog and tramped
up-stream as far as she had dared, hoping to meet her husband, and that
she had intended to go even farther that day, but had been prevented, as I
saw, by the bear, who had prowled about the cabin the greater part of the
night. The setter's continual barking and growling had failed to drive him
"'If you had gone this morning,' I said, 'I should have missed you; then I
shouldn't have known about your husband. I am on my way up this canyon,
and I shall look for him. And, when I find him, I shall do my best to
bring him in touch with the outside world again.'"
Tisdale paused. The abrupt slope that over-topped the portable cabin began
to take shape in the darkness. It had the appearance of a sail looming
through fog. Then the shadows scattered, and the belated moon, lifting
over the dunes beyond the Columbia, silvered the mouth of the gorge. It
was as though that other distant canyon, of which he was thinking, opened
before him into unknown solitudes.
Miss Armitage leaned forward, watching his face, waiting for the issue of
"And you found him?" she asked at last.
"Yes. In the end." Tisdale's glance returned and, meeting hers, the grim
lines in his face relaxed. "But there was a long and rough tramp first.
She urged me to take the setter, and I saw the advantage in having a good
dog with me on such a search; any cleft, or thicket, or sprinkle of
boulders, might easily conceal a man's body from one passing only a few
feet off--but, much as he favored me, he was not to be coaxed far from his
mistress; so I suggested she should go, too.
"'Oh,' she said, catching at the chance, 'do you think Jerry can make up
for the delay, if I do? I will travel my best, I promise you.' And she led
the way, picking up the faint trail and setting a pace that I knew must
soon tire her, while the dog brushed by us, bounding ahead and rushing
back and expressing his satisfaction in all sorts of manoeuvers.
"In a little while, above the timber--the tree line is low on those Alaska
mountainsides--we came to a broad, grassy bog set deep between two spurs,
and she was forced to give me the lead. Then the canyon walls grew
steeper, lifting into rugged knobs. Sometimes I lost the prospector's
trail in a rock-choked torrent and picked it up again, where it hung like
a thin ribbon on a heather-grown slope; but it never wound or doubled if
there was foothold ahead. It led up stairs of graywacke, along the brink
of slaty cliffs that dropped sheer, hundreds of feet to the stream below.
Still she kept on pluckily, and whenever I turned to help her, I found her
there at my elbow, ready. Now and then in breadths of level, where it was
possible to walk abreast, we talked a little, but most of the distance was
covered in silence. I felt more and more sorry for her. She was so eager,
patient, watchful, forever scanning the pitches on either side. And if the
setter made a sudden break, scenting a bare perhaps, or starting a
ptarmigan, she always stopped, waiting with a light in her face; and when
he jogged back to her heels, the expectation settled into patience again.
"Finally we came to a rill where I urged her to rest; and when I had
spread my blanket on a boulder, she took the seat, leaning comfortably
against a higher rock, and watched me while I opened the tin box in which
Sandy had stored my lunch. She told me my cook made a good sandwich and
knew how to fry a bird Southern fashion. Then she spoke of the Virginia
town where she had lived before her marriage. The trip west had been her
wedding journey, and her husband, who was an architect, had intended to
open an office in a new town on Puget Sound, but at Seattle he caught the
"'The future looked very certain and brilliant then,' she said, with her
smile, 'but as long as I have my husband, nothing else counts. I could
live out my life, be happy here in this wilderness, anywhere, with him. If
I could only have him back--as he used to be.'"
Tisdale's voice softened, vibrating gently, so that the pathos of it all
must have impressed the coldest listener. The woman beside him trembled
and lifted her hand to her throat.
"I can't remember all she told me," he went on, "but her husband had left
her in Seattle when he started north, and the next season, when he failed
to return for her, she had sailed to Seward in search of him. She had
tried to influence him to give up the placer, when she saw the change in
him; at least to go down to one of the coast towns and take up the work
for which he had prepared, but he had delayed, with promises, until he was
beyond listening to her.
"'Of course he may stumble on riches any hour, as he believes,' she said
finally, 'but not all the comforts or luxuries in the world are worth the
price.' She did not break down, as she had in the cabin, but somehow I
could hear the tears falling in her voice. I can yet, and see them big and
shining deep in her eyes.
"But she was off again, making up the delay, before I could fasten my
pack, and when I overtook her in a level stretch and halted a moment to
frolic with the dog, her face brightened. Then she spoke of a little trick
she had taught him,--to go and meet his master and fetch his hat to her.
Sometimes she had hidden it in shrubs, or among rocks, but invariably he
had brought it home.
"At last we made a turn and saw the front of the glacier that closed the
top of the gorge. The stream gushed from a cavern at the foot, and above
the noise of water sounded the grinding and roaring of subterranean forces
at work. Once in a while a stone was hurled through. But that is
impossible to explain. You must have been on intimate terms with a glacier
to grasp the magnitude. Still, try to imagine the ice arching that cave
like a bridge and lifting back, rimmed in moraine, far and away to the
great white dome. And it was all wrapped in a fine Alpine splendor, so
that she stopped beside me in a sort of hushed wonder to look. But I could
hear her breath, laboring hard and quick, and she rocked uncertainly on
her feet. I laid my hand on her arm to steady her. It was time we turned
back. For half an hour I had been gathering courage to tell her so. While
I hesitated, allowing her a few minutes to take in the glory, the setter
ran nosing ahead, up over the wreckage along the edge of the glacier, and
on across the bridge. I waited until he disappeared in a small pocket,
then began: 'You know, madam, what all this color means. These twilights
linger, and it will be easier traveling down-grade, but we must hurry, to
have you home before dark.'
"She turned to answer but stopped, looking beyond me to the bridge. Then I
saw the setter had caught her attention. He was coming back. His black
body moved in strong relief against the ice-field, and I noticed he had
something in his mouth. It seemed about the size and color of a grouse,--a
ptarmigan, no doubt. Then it flashed over me the thing was a hat. At the
same moment I felt her tremble, and I had just time to see that her face
had gone white, when she sank against me, a dead weight. I carried her a
few yards to a bank of heather and laid her down, and while I was filling
my folding cup at the stream, the dog bounded over the rocks and dropped
the thing on her breast. It was a hat, a gray felt with a good brim, such
as a prospector, or indeed any man who lives in the open, favors; but the
setter's actions,--he alternately rushed towards the glacier and back to
his mistress, with short yelps,--warned me to be careful, and I tucked the
hat out of sight, between two stones. The dog had it out instantly, bent
on giving it to her, but I snatched it from him and threw it into the
torrent, where it struck upright, floating lightly on the brim, and lodged
in a shallow. He followed and came bounding back with it, while I was
raising the cup to her lips, and I had barely a chance to crowd it into my
blanket roll when she opened her eyes. 'He had Louis' hat,' she said and
drifted into unconsciousness again.
"I took my flask from my pocket and, blaming myself for bringing her that
hard trip, mixed a draught. It revived her, and in a moment she started
up. 'Where is the hat?' she asked, looking about her. 'Jerry had it on the
"At the sound of her voice, the dog, who had been trying to get at the
hat, commenced his manoeuvers to attract her across the gorge, bounding
ahead, calling her with his short, excited barks, and making all the signs
of a hunting dog impatient to lead to the quarry. She tried to get to her
feet, but I put my hand on her shoulder. 'Wait, madam,' I said. 'You must
rest a little longer before you try to start back. You were so tired you
fainted. And your eyes must have played you a trick.'
"'You mean,' she began and stopped.
"I am not much of a dissembler, and I found it hard to meet her look, but
I answered with all the assurance I could muster. 'I mean, madam, you are
mistaken about that hat.'
"She waited a moment, watching the setter, then her glance moved back
incredulously to me. 'Then what excites Jerry?' she asked.
"'Why,' I hurried to answer, 'just another bunch, of ptarmigan, probably.
But while you are resting here, I will go over into that pocket to satisfy
"The setter, content with my company, ran ahead, and I followed him across
the ice-bridge. The pocket was thickly strewn with broken rock, but at the
upper end there was a clear space grown with heather. And it was there, as
I feared, between a bluff and a solitary thumb-shaped boulder that the dog
had found his master."
Tisdale paused, looking off again with clouding brows to the stormy
heights. Eastward the moon in a clear sky threw a soft illumination on the
desert. The cry of the cougar had ceased. The electrical display was less
brilliant; it seemed farther off. Miss Armitage moved a little and waited,
watching his face.
"But of course," she ventured at last, "you mixed another draught from
your emergency flask. The stimulant saved his life."
"No." Tisdale's glance came slowly back. "He was beyond any help. A square
of canvas was set obliquely on the glacier side, and that and the blanket
which covered him proved the place was his camp; but the only traces of
food were a few cracker or bread crumbs in a trap made of twigs, and a
marmot skin and a bunch of ptarmigan feathers to show the primitive
contrivance had worked. There was no wood in the neighborhood, but the
ashes of a small fire showed he must have carried fuel from the belt of
spruce half-way down the gorge. If he had made such a trip and not gone on
to the cabin, it clearly proved his mental condition. Still in the end
there had been a glimmer of light, for he had torn a leaf from his
notebook and written first his wife's name and then a line, out of which I
was only able to pick the words 'give' and 'help' and 'States.' Evidently
he had tried to put the paper into his poke, which had dropped, untied,
from his hand with the pencil he had used. The sack was nearly full; it
had fallen upright in a fold of the blanket, so only a little of the gold,
which was very coarse and rough and bright, had spilled. I made all this
inventory almost at a glance, and saw directly he had left his pan and
shovel in the gravels of a stream that cascaded over the wall and through
the pocket to join the creek below the glacier. Then it came over me that
I must keep the truth from her until she was safely back at the cabin, and
I put the poke in my pocket and hurried to do what I could.
"The setter hampered me and was frantic when I turned away, alternately
following me a few yards, whining and begging, and rushing back to his
master. Finally he stopped on the farther side of the ice-bridge and set
up a prolonged cry. His mistress had come to meet me and she waited at the
crossing, supporting herself with her hands on a great boulder, shoulders
forward, breath hushed, watching me with her soul in her eyes. At last I
reached her. 'Madam,' I began, but the words caught in my throat. I turned
and looked up at the splendor on the mountain. The air drew sharp across
the ice, but a sudden heat swept me; I was wet with perspiration from head
to foot. 'Madam,' and I forced myself to meet her eyes, 'it is just as I
expected; the dog found--nothing.'
"She straightened herself slowly, still watching me, then suddenly threw
her arms against the rock and dropped her face. 'Come,' I said, 'we must
start back. Come, I want to hurry through to my camp for a horse.'
"This promise was all she needed to call up her supreme self-control, and
she lifted her face with a smile that cut me worse than any tears. 'I'm
not ungrateful,' she said, 'but--I felt so sure, from the first, you would
"'And you felt right,' I hurried to answer. 'Trust me to bring him
"I whistled the setter, and she called repeatedly, but he refused to
follow. When we started down the trail, he watched us from his post at the
farther end of the ice-bridge, whining and baying, and the moment she
stopped at the first turn to look back, he streaked off once more for that
pocket. 'Never mind,' I said, and helped her over a rough place, 'Jerry
knows he is a good traveler. He will be home before you.' But it was plain
to me he would not, and try as I might to hurry her out of range of his
cry, it belled again soon, and the cliffs caught it over and over and
passed it on to us far down the gorge."
There was one of those speaking silences in which the great heart of the
man found expression, and the woman beside him, following his gaze, sifted
the cloudy Pass. She seemed in that moment to see that other canyon,
stretching down from the glacier, and those two skirting the edge of
cliffs, treading broken stairs, pursued by the cry of the setter into the
gathering gloom of the Arctic night.
"It grew very cold in that gorge," he went on, "and I blamed myself for
taking her that trip more and more. She never complained, never stopped,
except to look back and listen for the dog, but shadows deepened under her
eyes; the patient lines seemed chiseled where they had been only lightly
drawn, and when she caught me watching her and coaxed up her poor little
smile, I could have picked her up in my arms and carried her the rest of
the way. But we reached the tree-line before she came to her limit. It was
at the turn in a cliff, and I stopped, looking down across the tops of a
belt of spruce, to locate the cabin. 'There it is,' I said. 'You see that
little brown patch down there in the blur of green. That is your house.
You are almost home.'
"She moved a step to see better and stumbled, and she only saved herself
by catching my arm in both hands. Then her whole body fell to shaking. I
felt unnerved a little, for that matter. It was a dangerous place. I had
been recklessly foolish to delay her there. But when I had found a safe
seat for her around the cliff, the shivering kept up, chill after chill,
and I mixed a draught for her, as I had at the glacier.
"'This will warm your blood,' I said, holding the cup for her. 'Come,
madam, we must fight the cold off for another hour; that should see you
home. After I have made a good fire, I am going to show you what a fine
little supper I can prepare. Bear steaks at this season are prime.'
"I laughed to encourage her, and because the chills were still obstinate,
I hurried to unstrap my blanket to wrap around her. And I only remembered
the hat when it dropped at her feet. She did not cry out but sat like a
marble woman, with her eyes fixed on it. Then, after a while, she bent and
lifted it and began to shape it gently with her numb little fingers. She
was beyond tears, and the white stillness of her face made me more
helpless than any sobbing. I could think of nothing to say to comfort her
and turned away, looking off in the direction of the cabin. It seemed
suddenly a long distance off.
"Finally she spoke, slowly at first, convincing herself. 'Jerry did bring
it across the ice-bridge. He found Louis and stayed to watch, as I
thought. Sir, now tell me the truth.'
"I turned back to her, and it came bluntly enough. Then I explained it was
not an accident or anything terrible; that the end had come easily,
probably the previous night, of heart failure. 'But I couldn't nerve
myself to tell you up there,' I said, 'with all those miles of hard travel
before you; and I am going back to-morrow, as I promised, to bring him
"She had nothing to say but rose and held out her hand. In a little while
I began to lead her down through the belt of spruce. I moved very slowly,
choosing steps, for she paid no attention to her footing. Her hand rested
limply in mine, and she stumbled, like one whose light has gone out in a
Tisdale's story was finished, but Miss Armitage waited, listening. It was
as though in the silence she heard his unexpressed thoughts.
"But her life was wrecked," she said at last. "She never could forget.
Think of it! The terror of those weeks; the long-drawn suspense. She
should not have stayed in Alaska. She should have gone home at the
beginning. She was not able to help her husband. Her influence was lost."
"True," Tisdale answered slowly. "Long before that day I found her, she
must have known it was a losing fight. But the glory of the battle is not
always to the victor. And she blamed herself that she had not gone north
with her husband at the start. You see she loved him, and love with that
kind of woman means self-sacrifice; she counted it a privilege to have
been there, to have faced the worst with him, done what she could."
Miss Armitage straightened, lifting her head with that movement of a
flower shaken on its stem. "Every woman owes it to herself to keep her
self-respect," she said. "She owes it to her family--the past and future
generations of her race--to make the most of her life."
"And she made the most of hers," responded Tisdale quickly. "That was her
crowning year." He hesitated, then said quietly, with his upward look from
under slightly frowning brows: "And it was just that reason, the debt to
her race, that buoyed her all the way through. It controlled her there at
the glacier and gave her strength to turn back, when the setter refused to
come. Afterwards, in mid-winter, when news of the birth of her son came
down from Seward, I understood."
An emotion like a transparent shadow crossed his listener's face. "That
changes everything," she said. "But of course you returned the next day
with a horse to do as you promised, and afterwards helped her out to
"I saw Louis Barbour buried, yes." Tisdale's glance traveled off again to
the distant Pass. "We chose a low mound, sheltered by a solitary spruce,
between the cabin and the creek, and I inscribed his name and the date on
the trunk of the tree. But my time belonged to the Government. I had a
party in the field, and the Alaska season is short. It fell to David
Weatherbee to see her down to Seward."
"To David Weatherbee?" Miss Armitage started. Protest fluctuated with the
surprise in her voice. "But I see, I see!" and she settled back in her
seat. "You sent him word. He had known her previously."
"No. When I left him early in the spring, he intended to prospect down the
headwaters of the Susitna, you remember, and I was carrying my surveys
back from the lower valley. We were working toward each other, and I
expected to meet him any day. In fact, I had mail for him at my camp that
had come by way of Seward, so I hardly was surprised the next morning,
when I made the last turn below the glacier with my horse to see old
Weatherbee coming over the ice-bridge.
"He had made a discovery at the source of that little tributary, where the
erosion of the glacier had opened a rich vein, and on following the stream
through graywackes and slate to the first gravelled fissure, he had found
the storage plant for his placer gold. He was on his way out to have the
claim recorded and get supplies and mail when he heard the baying setter
and, rounding the mouth of the pocket, saw the camp and the dead
prospector. Afterwards, when he had talked with the woman waiting down the
canyon, he asked to see her husband's poke and compared the gold with the
sample he had panned. It was the same, coarse and rough, with little
scraps of quartz clinging to the bigger flakes sometimes, and he insisted
the strike was Barbour's. He tried to persuade her to make the entry, but
she refused, and finally they compromised with a partnership."
"So they were partners." Miss Armitage paused, then went on with a touch
of frostiness: "And they traveled those miles of wilderness alone, for
days together, out to the coast."
"Yes." Tisdale's glance, coming back, challenged hers. "Sometimes the
wilderness enforces a social code of her own. Miss Armitage,"--his voice
vibrated softly,--"I wish you had known David Weatherbee. But imagine Sir
Galahad, that whitest knight of the whole Round Table, Sir Galahad on that
Alaska trail, to-day. And Weatherbee was doubly anxious to reach Seward.
There was a letter from his wife in that packet of mail I gave him. She
had written she was taking the opportunity to travel as far as Seward with
some friends, who were making the summer tour of the coast. But he was
ready to cut the trip into short and easy stages to see Mrs. Barbour
through. 'It's all right,' he said at the start. 'Leave it to me. I am
going to take this lady to my wife.'"
"And--at Seward?" questioned Miss Armitage, breaking the pause.
"At Seward his wife failed him. But he rented a snug cottage of some
people going out to the States and had the good fortune to find a motherly
woman, who knew something about nursing, to stay with Mrs. Barbour. It was
Christmas when her father arrived from Virginia to help her home, and it
was spring before she was able to make the sea voyage as far as Seattle."
"Expenses, in those new, frontier towns, are so impossible; I hope her
father was able"--she halted, then added hurriedly, flushing under
Tisdale's searching eyes, "but, of course, in any case, he reimbursed Mr.
"He did, you may be sure, if there was any need. But you have forgotten
that poke of Barbour's. There was dust enough to have carried her through
even an Alaska winter; but an old Nevada miner, on the strength of that
showing, paid her twenty thousand dollars outright for her interest in the
Miss Armitage drew a deep breath. "And David Weatherbee, too? He sold his
share--did he not--and stayed on at Seward?"
"Yes, he wasted the best weeks of the season in Seward, waiting for his
wife. But she never came. She wrote she had changed her mind. He showed me
that letter one night at the close of the season when he stopped at my
camp on his way back to the Tanana. It was short but long enough to remind
him there were accounts pressing; one particularly that she called a 'debt
of honor.' She hadn't specified, but I guessed directly she had been
accepting loans from her friends, and I saw it was that that had worried
him. To raise the necessary money, he had been obliged to realize on the
new placer. His partner had been waiting to go in to the claim with him,
and Weatherbee's sudden offer to sell made the mining man suspicious. He
refused to buy at any price. Then David found an old prospector whom he
had once befriended and made a deal with him. It was five hundred dollars
down, and two thousand out of the first year's clean-up. And he sent all
of the ready money to her and started in to make a new stake below
Discovery. But the inevitable stampede had followed on the Nevada man's
heels, and the strike turned out small.
"It was one of those rich pockets we find sometimes along a glacier that
make fortunes for the first men, while the rank and file pan out defeat
and disappointment. There was the quartz body above, stringers and veins
of it reaching through the graywackes and slate, but to handle it
Weatherbee must set up a stamp-mill; and only a line of pack-mules from
the Andes, and another line of steamships could transport the ore to the
nearest smelter, on Puget Sound. So--he took up the long trek northward
again, to the Tanana. Think of it! The irony of it!"
Tisdale rose and turned on the step to look down at her. The light from
the lantern intensified the furrows between his brooding eyes. "And think
what it meant to Weatherbee to have seen, as he had, day after day, hour
after hour, the heart of another man's wife laid bare, while to his own he
himself was simply a source of revenue."
Miss Armitage too rose and stood meeting his look. Her lip trembled a
little, but the blue lights flamed in her eyes. "You believe that," she
said, and her voice dropped into an unexpected note. "You believe he threw
away that rich discovery for the few hundreds of dollars he sent his wife;
but I know--she was told--differently. She thought he was glad to--escape--
at so small a price. He wrote he was glad she had reconsidered that trip;
Alaska was no place for her."
"Madam," Tisdale remonstrated softly, "you couldn't judge David Weatherbee
literally by his letters. If you had ever felt his personality, you would
have caught the undercurrent, deep and strong, sweeping between the lines.
It wasn't himself that counted; it was what was best for her. You couldn't
estimate him by other men; he stood, like your white mountain, alone above
the crowd. And he set a pedestal higher than himself and raised his wife
there to worship and glorify. A word from her at any time would have
turned the balance and brought him home; her presence, her sympathy, even
that last season at the Aurora mine, would have brought him through. I
wish you had seen his face that day I met him below the glacier and had
told him about the woman waiting down the gorge. 'My God, Tisdale,' he
said, 'suppose it had been my wife.'"
Miss Armitage stood another moment, locking her hands one over the other
in a tightening grip. Her lip trembled again, but the words failed. She
turned and walked uncertainly the few steps to the end of the porch.
"You believe she might have influenced him, but I do not. Oh, I see, I
see, how you have measured him by your own great heart. But"--she turned
towards him and went on slowly, her voice fluctuating in little, steadying
pauses--"even if you were right, you might be generous; you might try to
imagine her side. Suppose she had not guessed his--need--of her; been able
to read, as you did, between the lines. Sometimes a woman waits to be
told. A proud woman does." She came back the few steps. "Beatriz
Weatherbee isn't the kind of woman you think she is. She has faults, of
course, but she has tried to make the best of her life. If she made a
mistake--or thought she had--no one else knew it. She braved it through.
She's been high-strung, too."
Tisdale put up his hand. "Don't say any more; don't try to excuse her to
me. It's of no use. Good night." But a few feet from the porch he stopped
to add, less grimly: "I should have said good morning. You see how that
pyramid stands out against that pale streak of horizon. There is only time
for a nap before sunrise. Day is breaking."
She was silent, but something in the intensity of her gaze, the unspoken
appeal that had also a hint of dread, the stillness of her small face,
white in the uncertain light when so lately he had seen it sparkle and
glow, brought him back.
"I've tired you out," he said. "I shouldn't have told you that story. But
this outlook to-night reminded me of that other canyon, and I thought it
might help to bridge over the time. There's nothing can tide one through
an unpleasant situation like hearing about some one who fared worse. And I
hadn't meant to go so far into details. I'm sorry," and he held out his
hand, "but it was your interest, sympathy, something about you, that drew
She did not answer directly. She seemed to need the moment to find her
voice and bring it under control. Then, "Any one must have been
interested," she said, and drew away her hand. "You have the
story-teller's gift. And I want to thank you for making it all so clear
to me; it was a revelation."
THE DUNES OF THE COLUMBIA
Behind them, as Tisdale drove down, the heights they had crossed were
still shrouded in thunder-caps, but before them the end of the Wenatchee
range lifted clear-cut, in a mighty promontory, from the face of the
desert. Already the morning sun gave a promise of heat, and as the bays
rounded a knoll, Miss Armitage raised her hands to shade her eyes.
"What color!" she exclaimed. "How barbarous! How ages old! But don't say
this is the Columbia, Mr. Tisdale. I know it is the Nile. Those are the
ruins of Thebes. In a moment we shall see the rest of the pyramids and the
Tisdale brought the horses around a sand-pit in the road which began to
parallel the river, rolling wide and swift and intensely blue, where the
rapids ceased, then he glanced at the other shore, where fantastic columns
and broken walls of granite rose like a ruined city through a red glory.
"It is worth coming from New York to see, but you have traveled abroad. Do
you know, that disappoints me. A true American should see America first."
"Then I confess." The girl laughed softly. "I haven't been nearer the Nile
than a lantern-slide lecture and the moving-picture show. But my father
knew Egypt when he was a boy; maybe I've inherited some memories, too."
Her enthusiasm was irresistible. Looking into her glowing face, the
mirth-provoking lines broke and re-formed at the corners of his own mouth
"But," he explained after a moment, "this desert of the Columbia is not
old; it's tremendously new; so new that Nature hasn't had time to take the
scaffolding away. You know--do you not--this was all once a great inland
sea? Countless glacial streams brought wash down from the mountains,
filling the shallows with the finest alluvial earth. Then, in some big
upheaval, one or perhaps several of these volcanic peaks poured down a
strata of lava and ash. As the ice tongues receded, the streams gradually
dried; only the larger ones, fed far back in the range, are left to-day."
"How interesting!" Her glance swept upward and backward along the heights
and returned to the levels. "And naturally, as the bed of the sea was laid
bare, these last streams found the lowest depression, the channel of the
Her quickness, her evident desire to grasp the great scheme of things,
which other women received with poorly veiled indifference, often hurried
to evade, warmed his scientist soul. "Yes," he answered, "Nature
remembered, while she was busy, to construct the main flume. She might as
well have said, when it was finished: 'Here are some garden tracts I
reclaimed for you. Now get to work; show what you can do.'"
"And are you going to?" Her voice caught a little; she watched his face
covertly yet expectantly, her breath arrested, with parted lips.
"Perhaps. I am on my way to find a certain garden spot that belonged to
David Weatherbee. He knew more about reclamation than I, for he grew up
among your California orchards, but I have the plans he drew; I ought to
be able to see his project through."
"You mean you may buy the land, Mr. Tisdale, if--things--are as you
"Yes, provided I have Mrs. Weatherbee's price."
"What do you consider the tract is worth?"
"I couldn't make a fair estimate before I have been over the ground.
Seattle promoters are listing Wenatchee fruit lands now, but the
Weatherbee tract is off the main valley. Still, the railroad passes within
a few miles, and the property must have made some advance since he bought
the quarter section. That was over nine years ago. He was a student at
Stanford then and spent a summer vacation up here in the Cascades with a
party of engineers who were running surveys for the Great Northern. One
day he was riding along a high ridge at the top of one of those arid
gulfs, when he came to a bubbling spring. It was so cool and pleasant up
there above the desert heat that he set up a little camp of his own in the
shade of some pine trees that rimmed the pool, and the rest of the season
he rode to and from his work. Then he began to see the possibilities of
that alluvial pocket under irrigation, and before he went back to college
he secured the quarter section. That was his final year, and he expected
to return the next summer and open the project. But his whole future was
changed by that unfortunate marriage. His wife was not the kind of woman
to follow him into the desert and share inevitable discomfort and hardship
until his scheme should mature. He began to plan a little Eden for her at
the core, and to secure more capital he went to Alaska. He hoped to make a
rich strike and come back in a year or two with plenty of money to hurry
the project through. You know how near he came to it once, and why he
failed. And that was not the only time. But every year he stayed in the
north, his scheme took a stronger hold on him. He used to spend long
Arctic nights elaborating, making over his plans. He thought and brooded
on them so much that finally, when the end came, up there in the Chugach
snows, he set up an orchard of spruce twigs--"
"I know, I know," interrupted Miss Armitage. "Please don't tell it over
again. I--can't--bear it." And she sank against the back of the seat,
shuddering, and covered her eyes with her hands.
Tisdale looked at her, puzzled. "Again?" he repeated. "But I see you must
have heard the story through Mr. Feversham. I told it at the clubhouse the
night he was in Seattle."
"It's impossible to explain; you never could understand." She sat erect,
but Tisdale felt her body tremble, and she went on swiftly, with little
breaks and catches: "You don't know the hold your story has on me. I've
dreamed it all over at night; I've wakened cold and wet with perspiration
from head to foot, as though I--too--were struggling through those frozen
solitudes. I've been afraid to sleep sometimes, the dread of facing--it--
is so strong."
Watching her, a sudden tenderness rose through the wonder in Tisdale's
"So you dreamed you were fighting it through with me; that's strange. But
I see the story was too hard for you; Feversham shouldn't have told it."
He paused and his brows clouded. "I wish I could make Weatherbee's wife
dream it," he broke out. "It might teach her what he endured. I have gone
over the ground with her in imagination, mile after mile, that long trek
from Nome. I have seen her done for, whimpering in a corner, like the
weakest husky in the team, there at the Aurora mine, and at her limit
again up in Rainy Pass. And once lately, the night of the club supper,
while I was lying awake in my room, looking off through the window to the
harbor lights and the stars, I heard her crying deeply from the heart. She
did not seem like herself then, but a different woman I was mighty sorry
Miss Armitage turned and met his look, questioning, hardly comprehending.
"That sounds occult," she said.
"Does it? Well, perhaps it is. But a man who has lived in the big spaces
has his senses sharpened. He sees farther; feels more."
There was a silent moment. The colts, topping a low dune, felt the
pressure of the fills on the down-grade, and the nigh horse broke, turning
the front wheel into a tangle of sage. "Mr. Tisdale," she cried a little
tremulously, "do you think this is a catboat, tacking into a squall?
Please, please let me drive."
Her effort was supreme. It relieved the tension, and when the change was
made, she drew to the edge of the seat, holding her head high like that
intrepid flower to which he had compared her.
"You mean," she said evenly, "the terrible silence of your big spaces keys
up the subjective mind. That, of course, was the trouble with Mrs.
Barbour's husband. He allowed it to dominate him. But a man like you"--and
she gave him her swift, direct look, and the shadow of a smile touched her
mouth--"well-balanced, strong, would have kept the danger down. I should
never be afraid--for you. But," she hurried on, "I can understand too how
in the great solitudes some men are drawn together. You have shown me. I
did not know before I heard your story how much a man can endure for a
Tisdale looked off over the desert. "Friendship up there does mean
something," he answered quietly. "Mere companionship in the Alaska
wilderness is a test. I don't know whether it's the darkness of those
interminable winters, or the monotony that plays on a man's nerves, but I
have seen the closest partners get beyond speaking to each other. It's a
life to bring out the good and the bad in a man; a life to make men hate;
and it can forge two men together. But David Weatherbee never had an
enemy. He never failed a man. In a crisis he was great. If things had been
reversed"--he set his lips, his face hardened--"if Weatherbee had been in
my place, there at Nome, with a letter of mine in his hands, he wouldn't
have thrown away those four days."
"Yes, he would. Consider. He must have taken time to prepare for that
terrible journey. How else could he have carried it through?" She leaned
forward a little, compelling his glance, trying to reason down the tragedy
in his face.
"How can you blame yourself?" she finished brokenly. "You must not. I will
"Thank you for saying that." Tisdale's rugged features worked. He laid his
hand for an instant over hers. "If any one in the world can set me right
with myself, it is you."
After that they both were silent. They began to round the bold promontory
at the end of the Wenatchee range; the Badger loomed on the rim of the
desert, then Old Baldy seemed to swing his sheer front like an opened
portal to let the blue flood of the Columbia through. The interest crept
back to her face. Between them and those guardian peaks a steel bridge,
fine as a spider web, was etched on the river, then a first orchard broke
the areas of sage, the rows of young trees radiating from a small, new
dwelling, like a geometrical pattern. Finally she said: "I would like to
know a little more about Mrs. Barbour. Did you ever see her again, Mr.
Tisdale? Or the child?"
"Oh, yes. I made it a point the next winter, when I was in Washington, to
run down into Virginia and look them up. And I have always kept in touch
with them. She sends me new pictures of the boy every year. He keeps her
busy. He was a rugged little chap at the start, did his best to grow, and
bright!"--Tisdale paused, shaking his head, while the humorous lines
deepened--"But he had to be vigorous to carry the name she gave him. Did I
tell you it was Weatherbee Tisdale? Think of shouldering the names of two
full-sized men on that atom. But she picked a nice diminutive out of it--
"It was a great christening party," he went on reminiscently. "She
arranged it when she passed through Seattle and had several hours to wait
for her train. The ceremony was at Trinity, that stone church on the first
hill, and the Bishop of Alaska, who was waiting too, officiated. I was in
town at the time, getting my outfit together for another season in the
north, but Weatherbee had to assume his responsibilities by proxy."
"Do you mean David Weatherbee was the child's godfather?"
"One of them, yes." Tisdale paused, and his brows clouded. "I wish the boy
had been his own. That would have been his salvation. If David Weatherbee
had had a son, he would be here with us now, to-day."
Miss Armitage was silent. She looked off up the unfolding watercourse, and
the great weariness Tisdale had noticed that hour before dawn settled
again on her face.
He laid his hand on the reins. "You are tired out," he said. "Come, give
the lines to me. You've deceived me with all that fine show of spirits,
but I've been selfish, or I must have seen. The truth is, I've been
humoring this hand."
"You mean," she said quickly, "this vixen did hurt you yesterday more than