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