HotFreeBooks.com
The Heart of Thunder Mountain
by Edfrid A. Bingham
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"What's up now?" ejaculated Haig.

And then he saw it. Twice before he had noted where a similar error might have been made, on other ledges farther up; and he himself had avoided them only by carefully studying the aspect of the declivity below him. Sunnysides had undoubtedly lost time through such mistakes; and now he was trapped. At the point where he stood, the shelf ended abruptly "in the air"; and between him and the exit at the other end of the platform was Haig. The trail had come down to about the middle of this platform, which was like an unrailed balcony, scarce three feet in width, with a high wall of rock on one side, and on the other a straight drop of twenty feet to a veritable chute of stones that terminated in a widespread litter of debris on the meadow.

"Caught like a rat!" cried Haig. "I've got you now!"

But what could he do with him? His rope was useless on that meager footing, where there was barely room for his horse to stand, much less for Haig to swing a noose. And worse: if Sunnysides was trapped, so was his enemy; for the horse was already, through fright or belligerency, moving slowly toward Haig. In a flash it was clear to Haig that the outlaw meant to have it out with him then and there; and that there would be no time to turn Trixy, and find the outlet into the valley.

"It's too bad, but—"

He drew his revolver, and waited. There was yet a chance, he thought, or hoped, that the horse would halt, and postpone the issue. He did not want to kill him; he had not come across Thunder Mountain to kill him; he had come to take him back to Paradise Park. And so he waited—fatally. The outlaw came slowly until half the space between him and Haig had been covered. Then, at a distance of perhaps a hundred feet, when no choice was left to him, Haig swung up his gun, and fired. At that very instant, Sunnysides uttered a savage cry, a shrill neigh ending in a scream; and, charged at the horse and rider in his path.

Haig fired again, and missed; threw himself forward on Trixy's neck, jerked the pony's head in toward the wall, and fired again; and missed. He tried to shoot once more, into the very face of the oncoming brute, but too late. There was a vision of flaming black eyes and white teeth, in a yellow blur; and then a tremendous impact, a crash. Trixy was flung back on her haunches, with one hind leg over the edge of the shelf, Haig barely hanging in the saddle. The outlaw leaped back, and lunged again; thrust himself between Trixy and the wall; toppled pony and rider off into the void; and passed on, with a shriek of triumphant rage.

Haig and Trixy turned in the air, struck the chute of stones and sand, and rolled over and over as they went down in a flying slide of debris. But Haig did not know that, for his head struck a stone at the first contact with the chute.

* * * * *

Sentience returned to him through mists of pain. He lay in a twisted heap on a patch of grass, surrounded by the scattered detritus of the cliff. At first he could not remember, and could not see. His head rang with pain, and his eyes were filled with dust, and with something wet. He managed presently to lift an arm and wipe his eyes with his hand; and saw dimly that the hand was covered with blood. His eyes then filled again; and he swept his sleeves across them and his forehead. That was better. Blinking, and wiping his face again and again, he looked dully around him until memory came back, and brought recognition of his plight.

He tried to sit up, but sank down quickly with a groan. One leg was bent almost double under the other, and would not move. This fact struck him at first as very queer—an inexplicable phenomenon. Then he tried it again. His left leg moved at his will, and that encouraged him. His right hip and part of the thigh too moved, but the leg below lay loose and dead.

The blood was in his eyes again. It exasperated him; he could do nothing unless he were able to see. He wiped his face again with his sleeve, then put his hand to his head, and winced a little as the fingers touched a gash just above the left temple, from which the blood still flowed. By turning his head he found that the blood ran down away from his eyes instead of into them. The new position also gave him a view of several things that held his attention.

First there was the clutter of stones around him. Then his eyes swept upward to the ledge whence he had come rolling down—how far? He calculated the distance curiously. Eighty feet—a hundred, surely. How did he come to be still alive? he wondered. And Trixy! Where was she.

Once more he tackled the problem of sitting up, and it became easier now in his full understanding of his condition. By ignoring the dead leg entirely, since it was of no further use to him, he contrived to raise himself with his hands on the ground behind him for support. Then with a jerk that brought a cry of pain, he sat erect, swaying but resolute. At this instant he heard a soft whinny behind him. Twisting himself around, he saw Trixy lying some twenty feet away, with her forelegs doubled up beneath her, and her head lifted and pointed toward him. He studied the little mare a moment.

"Trixy! Get up!" he commanded suspiciously.

She lifted her head higher, made a desperate effort to rise, sank back, and whinnied piteously.

"So! Yours too, eh! Nice fix, Trixy!"

He surveyed the scene. They were in a bright green meadow about two hundred yards in width and perhaps half a mile in length. Across the meadow from where he lay the black forest mounted toward the sky. At one end the vale narrowed into a mere ravine, which vanished upward in deep woods; at the other it widened to the forest, and by the way the pine-masses came down to this spot from both sides he knew that there the trail ran down the mountain toward the Black Lake country. The vale was very still under the bright blue sky; there was just a murmur in the forest; and no sound of birds came to his ears.

"A beautiful site—for a graveyard!" he said aloud, and smiled.

The blood still trickled into his eyes, and annoyed him greatly. It must be stopped, or he could do nothing that needed to be done. In an inside pocket of his coat he found a handkerchief, which he bound around his head, after he had wiped his face once more. The pain in his head had subsided to a dull throbbing, which did not matter. But—

"God! I'm thirsty!" he muttered.

He looked again across the meadow. The thread of water that he had seen from the top of the cliff was a considerable brook that ran silently through about the middle of the green. He measured the distance,—fifty or sixty yards, maybe seventy, or more. He could do it, by dragging himself along the ground, he thought. But was it worth the effort, and the pain? It would hurt him like the devil—that broken leg. Never did like pain; would probably howl; and that would not be nice, even with no creature but Trixy to hear him. No; he would stay where he was. Then suddenly he thought of Pete's whisky, and thrust his hand into his pocket, only to encounter fragments of glass.

"That's a lesson," he thought grimly. "Never carry whisky in glass bottles."

And now his roving eyes lighted once more on Trixy. No good letting her suffer. He would send her away first. On the thought, his hand went back to the holster at his hip; and stayed there, while his heart stood still, and a chill went over him, and thought ceased. The holster was empty.

After a while he was able to think about it. One of two things would happen to him. There were, very probably, mountain lions in those forests. But they were not the worst thing he faced. To be eaten were perhaps preferable to dying little by little, of hunger and thirst. He had been near starvation, twice in his life; and once he had been thirsty,—that is to say, thirsty,—and God save him from dying of thirst! But wait! He hesitated; then held his breath; and in a total suspension of thought slowly reached his hand down into a side pocket of his trousers. And then he almost yelled aloud for joy. His pocketknife was there!

Meanwhile—Trixy. It was cruel not to be able to end her suffering. What had become of the gun? It was in his hand when he toppled over the edge of the platform, and must have fallen with him. So it could not be far away, though perhaps buried out of sight. He began patiently to inspect every square foot of the ground around him, as far as he could trust his eyes to see clearly, separating the space into imaginary segments of a circle, and scrutinizing each of them until he had set apart every tuft of grass from every other tuft, and every stone from its neighbors. Minute after minute, with dogged perseverance, he kept himself at this exhausting task until the sweat was rolling down, his face, and his eyes burned deep in his head. Then suddenly something leaped inside of him,—some nerve that was quicker than thought in its response to vision.

"Ah!"

The gun lay against a stone, its muzzle upward, at a distance of about forty feet, beyond and somewhat to the left of Trixy. It would take some crawling; and that would hurt. But when he had fixed the gun's position in his mind, so that he might not miss it, he set his teeth together, and started.

No great distance, after all, is forty feet. That is to say, no great distance after you've covered it. And the pain did not matter now. He lay on the ground again, flattened out, panting and gazing up at the blue sky. The sweat stood in big cold drops on his face; and he trembled as if stricken with ague. He could not shoot in that condition; he must rest, and wait. But the thirst was torture now.

After a time, he turned himself half around in order to face Trixy, and rested his right elbow on the ground, with the gun up in the air.

"Good-by, Trixy!" he said softly.

But wait! How many shots left? He examined the revolver. Two! For an instant he was stricken again with dread. Then his left hand felt for the belt at his waist; and he laughed nervously. What a state he was in! There were cartridges to burn!

The gun came slowly down to an aim, then waved in his hand as he pulled the trigger.

"Hell!" he muttered.

He tried again, pulling himself together, and gritting his teeth. The second report rang out, and echoed high among the rocks. The mare's head fell, her body quivered, one hind foot kicked out; and she was gone.

Oh, yes! He could hit good horses! But not Sunnysides.

He ejected the exploded cartridges, and filled the chambers with fresh ones; then lay back and rested again, the gun still clutched in his hand. And why did he wait? To get strength, for one thing. He wanted to sit up to do it, since he could not stand. And then—there was another trouble. Four times before he had tried to do it, and something had happened,—something different and utterly unexpected each time had checked him. It had not so much mattered then, because he could afford to wait. But now—

He drew upon the last of his reserves of strength, and sat up—too suddenly. An excruciating pain shot through his injured leg, and radiated like flame through every nerve and tissue of his body. The revolver, half lifted, fell from his fingers. Swaying, he groped for it, clutched it again, and frantically raised it to his head. And when he felt the hard muzzle just above his ear, he pulled the trigger. And so the third report went ringing through the quiet valley, and Philip Haig sank backward on the greensward, and lay still.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE MIRACLE

Between two storms, the peace that lay upon the seared and battered head of Thunder Mountain, like the peace that comes to a sufferer between paroxysms of pain, was of a kind unknown to lower levels. In all the range of natural phenomena, in all the gamut of sensation, there is nothing else at once so beautiful, inspiring, and appalling as utter silence; and nothing else so rare. To the sea, the desert, and the peak it is given in few and perfect hours; but neither to the desert nor to the sea is it given in such transcendency as to the peak. And on no peak could silence ever have seemed so like a miracle as on the flat top of Thunder Mountain between two storms.

It were hazardous to say how far Marion was conscious of the beautiful, inspiring, and appalling nature of that silence. She was too deeply intent upon her purpose to be conscious of much besides the material difficulties in her path. She knew that on the gray-black surface of the mountain nothing stirred; that the winds were still; that no murmur of forest or ripple of water or soft pulsation of a living world was there. It was a dead place, dead these many ages; and all its associations in her mind were those of death and the living terror of death. But she was not afraid. True, she was beset by fears, but they only hovered over her, brushing her face with their black wings. True also, her eyes roved wide, as if at any instant something unknown and dreadful would come upon her out of that blue sky, from behind the next rock barrier, or up from the mountain's ugly heart itself. But these were superficial fears, and in her heart she was not afraid.

From the moment that she emerged upon the first terrace, where Haig had stood some hours before, she knew that she would not go back until (and unless) she found him. That had been her purpose from the beginning, from the time she ran down the hill above Huntington's, with Smythe following in alarm; but it had been hidden from her until, in the exaltation that ensued upon the finding of the ashes of Haig's fire, she drove her pony up the last ascent, and knew that if the mountain had claimed Philip it must claim her too.

But this thought was, in a sense, as superficial as her fears; for in her soul there lived a perfect faith. Through all her grief and jealousy and anger and despair she had never entirely lost the pure light of her star. She never doubted deeply that her love would triumph, even when reason told her that it had already failed; and the very words with which she had consented to leave the Park by the last stage were hollow, though they contained a prayer. She had prayed for a miracle; and the miracle had happened. Why should she be afraid?

So she was not surprised when the Twin Sisters welcomed her without so much as a gentle puff of wind upon her cheek; when the Devil's Chair, though she held her breath at sight of what lay below, was scarce more difficult than the ridge in Paradise Park; and when the central waste, where the storm had leaped on Haig, held no evil in store for her. The only obstacles encountered were those presented by the trail itself; and these, as Smythe had told her, though by no means trivial, were not insurmountable to one with a clear eye and steady nerves. It was never the trail itself that was deadly; it was the wind that would blow her into a chasm, the mist that would decoy her from the path, and the storm that would beat her down among the stones. But there was no wind, no mist, no storm; and if that was not a miracle—

Several times, to be sure, she missed the trail: once in the second field of loose stones, before she had become accustomed to the signs; once on a wide floor of solid rock, where Tuesday slipped and fell, and she rose a little stunned, and in a brief confusion; and once, the most alarming of all, when she was for half an hour lost in that granite wilderness that to Haig had suggested a cemetery of the gods. But faith sustained her, and her purpose stood in the stead of courage that might have faltered and even failed. The one moment when something like despair struck at her heart was that when she found the bruised and dirty saddle cast aside by the runaway, and thought at first that it was Philip's; and the one moment of real terror was that in which, on the summit of the last ridge, she looked back and saw that dark gray vapors were surging up out of the chasm below the Devil's Chair.

It chanced that in following the trail from the sharp turn on the last rock floor to the brink of the cliff (the last pyramid stands some fifty yards back from it), Marion arrived at about the same distance to the left of the drop-off as Haig had brought up at the right of it. From this point even less of the meadow was visible than Haig had seen at the first view, and the mass of fallen and tumbled granite appeared even more formidable. Her immediate sensation was of tragic despair, as the evidence of her eyes for one instant overwhelmed her faith. But where was Philip? And Sunnysides?

Then a suspicion flashed into her mind. Perhaps she had missed the trail,—the real trail. She could not have been mistaken in the signs; there was the last pyramid in plain view still from where she stood. But it was not unlikely that there was another trail from the sharp turn where she had been confused for a moment, another exit made necessary by the disruption of the cliff. She paused uncertainly, looking now at the great heap of stone below her,—a thousand feet of jagged rock and sliding sand,—and now back at the toilsome way she had come. And then her eyes were caught by something that held her spellbound with horror. Up to the rocky skyline from beyond the barrier she had lately crossed there swept a tumbling mist, as gray-black as the rock itself; and an instant after she felt a stinging blow of wind on her cheek, and heard a low whisper in the air around her.

She was roused by a sound that brought her up rigid and alert in the saddle. What was that? A faint report, as of a gun—from somewhere. She listened, turning her head slowly and cautiously, and holding her breath. A long time, it seemed to her, she listened; and heard only that warning whisper of the wind across the flat. But there! Another! It came up faintly from below, expiring at the very edge of the precipice. She peered guardedly down into the chasm, and saw nothing but the vast pile of debris, and a bit of green meadow over against the edge of the black forest. But it was a gun! She began now to examine the edge of the cliff. To her left it fell sheer away hundreds of feet to the lower masses of fallen stone; and there was no trail on that side. Dismounting, she led her horse slowly along the brink at her right; and so came at length to the spot where the trail dropped to the first incline. It seemed incredible; but then, even as the word framed itself in her mind, her heart bounded up into her throat. There—there—under her eyes were hoofprints, the print of steel shoes in the sand; and they went down, down, down. And, as if to remove the last of doubt and hesitancy, there came wavering up from below a third thin report, a little more distinct than the others, and undeniable.

She lifted her face toward the sky, and pressed her hands upon her breast.

"God help us! God help us—both!" she murmured.

Then she remounted Tuesday, and forced him over the edge of the cliff.

* * * * *

Haig lay on his back, his head against the stone by which he had recovered the coveted revolver. A handkerchief dyed red and blackened with powder stains lay against one cheek. His right hand still clutched the revolver.

He did not move, and she thought him dead. Then, through the blackness that enveloped her, she dully and slowly comprehended that his eyes were closed, not staring up at her. She knelt swiftly, and pressed her head to his breast; and then leaped to her feet with a wild outcry.

Tuesday stood a few yards away, with tail outstretched and nostrils distended, gazing affrightedly at the body of Trixy lying in her wretched heap. Marion ran to the saddle, and tore at the thongs that held her bundle; jerked it loose, and bore it quickly to Haig's side; and in a few seconds had placed the mouth of her whisky flask between Haig's lips, and let a little of the liquid trickle down his throat. But there was no response, and she stood up again, looking for water. The brook that had seemed so far away from Haig was at no distance for her flying feet; and she was back on the run with her sombrero filled. Dashing the water into Philip's face, she was off again for more. With this she bathed his face and neck and wrists; and then set herself to slapping the palms of his hands with her own.

Still there was no response. But when she pressed her head to his breast once more she was assured that she had not been mistaken; his heart was beating feebly—but beating. A second time she put the whisky flask to his lips; and returned to the limp hands, rubbing them, slapping them until her own burned and ached.

Hours it seemed, and ages flowing away into eternity. The sky was darkening, and from the top of Thunder Mountain came a muffled roar that was echoed back and forth across the valley. She looked up at the towering cliff, and trembled. And then, with the last fading reverberation, there came another sound that brought her leaning down close to Philip's face. Was it a sigh, or only—

"Philip! Philip! Philip!" she called, softly at first, then in a cry that rang across the meadow.

At last a quiver went through the limp figure; the eyes were opened, only to be quickly closed again, as if the light had hurt them. She called to him again, in pleading accents. The eyelids fluttered, and he looked up into the face of the girl bending over him. It was a puzzled, uncomprehending look. And thereupon his lips moved.

"Yes, Philip! What is it?"

"I don't understand," he whispered.

"It's Marion!" she cried. "Don't you know me?"

"But—where?"

"I don't know. Thunder Mountain."

"Yes, I know that!" he said, with a note of impatience. "Sunnysides and—all that. But—you?"

"I followed, and found you."

A weak smile flickered on his lips. She saw that he did not believe her.

"Look! Look!" she cried. "It's Marion. And yonder—is Tuesday."

He moved his head a little, and stared at the pony still standing fascinated and terrified by the stillness of poor Trixy.

"It's—impossible!" he muttered. "You couldn't—"

He made an effort to look up at the cliff down, which he had come.

"But it's quite true, Philip. I'm here."

But she saw that he was still groping in the dark. He lifted his right hand, and touched his head, while the expression of perplexity grew rather than lessened on his face. She saw that there was not only a gash in the left temple, but a furrow on the right side of his head, a swollen red streak where the hair had been burned away. And the black stains on the handkerchief, and the revolver clutched in his hand.

"Philip!" she said softly, reproachfully.

"I don't understand!" he reiterated, and closed his eyes.

She studied him, and the place where he lay, and the dead pony; the two wounds in his head, the bloody handkerchief—And it was only partly clear to her. He had fallen, and been hurt; but Philip, as she knew him, would have made nothing of that cut on his temple. Why, then, had he abandoned the pursuit, and tried to kill himself?

A groan escaped him.

"What is it, Philip?" she asked.

"You're hurting me!" he answered, opening his eyes again.

"Hurting you?" she exclaimed. "No! Where?"

"My leg's broken."

With a sharp cry she moved away from him, and saw that in her eagerness she had pressed against his right leg. For just a moment she was so concerned with the pain she had caused him that she did not realize the full significance of his answer. Then it came to her with a shock. She looked slowly around her: at the black forest on three sides of the little meadow; at the cliff on the other; at the terrible trail down which she had come, she scarce knew how; and at the storm clouds on Thunder Mountain.

He saw the thought in her face.

"You see, it's no use!" he said. "With a broken leg."

She met his eyes with a clear and steady gaze; and smiled. And that look he could not read.

"Now, then, Philip!" she said at length, rising quietly to her feet. "I'll go to work."

"To work?" he repeated.

"Of course!" she replied, with brave lightness. "There's a lot to do. First, there's your leg."

"Yes, it's broken," he answered sardonically.

"We'll mend it. And the cut on your head needs to be dressed. And I'm dreadfully hungry, and—"

She stopped, and the smile fled from her face, and the strength ran from her limbs.

"I told you. It's no use," said Haig.

But she had one resource of courage of which he was unaware: her faith.

"Well," she answered stoutly, "I've enough in my bundle for one meal anyhow. After that—who knows?"

"Will you give me a drink of water, please?"

She stooped quickly for her hat, the only vessel she had.

"Look in the roll on my saddle," he said. "Murray put some things there."

She glanced around uncertainly; then understood. The saddle was on Trixy still. But Trixy was dead, and she did not like the idea of touching her. She hesitated just the length of time required for an unpleasant smile to twist Haig's lips. She saw it, and her face flamed with shame. A fine start she was making! And it was only a dead horse! She walked resolutely to the prostrate body, hurriedly untied the roll of blankets, and returned running.

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" she cried, as she unrolled the bundle. "A cup! A pan! And bacon and bread! And matches."

"Murray," said Haig.

"Yes, I know. Mrs. Murray told me, but I'd forgotten."

She ran to the stream, and brought him a cupful of water; and another; and while he drank the second, she picked up his revolver, and carried it to a stone fully as far away as it had been when he crawled for it. He was on the point of calling her back, but thought better of it; to have done that would only have confirmed her suspicions.

"Now then, sir!" she began. "Your leg."

"What about it?"

"We've got to set it."

"That's absurd!"

"Why is it absurd?"

"You can't do it, in the first place."

"But I can. I've seen my father do it."

"It won't heal—in the fix we're in."

"We'll do our best," she rejoined bravely.

"Listen!" he said, with some sternness. "If it should knit, which I doubt, it will take six weeks or two months before I can use it. Do you know what will happen before two months—before one month—before two weeks, even?"

She only looked at him questioningly.

"Snow!" he said shortly.

She could find no answer, unless it were an answer that she dared not give him—yet.

"Well, then!" he said, with an air of finality. "You can't start to-night, of course. It's too late, and there's a storm going up there besides. But to-morrow morning—" He looked up at the cliff and frowned. "Perhaps Tuesday can make it. If he balks, you've got to do it on foot. The mountain let you pass once. Maybe it will spare you again. Maybe! God knows! But it's your only chance. I'm done for, and can't help you. It's sure death for you to stay here. It's sure death to try the trail into the Black Lake country. You have just one chance. You've got to take it to-morrow morning. And God help you for being such a fool!"

She heard him through, and smiled; and he noted, for his own information, that this smile of hers was getting on his nerves. What did she mean by it? There was something very superior about it, though very gentle and indulgent; and a thing or two she had said to him before flashed back into his mind. Was she trying to mother him? The thought made him angry.

"Well?" he demanded.

"Of course I'll not go!" she said simply.

"You will go!" he retorted wrathfully.

She knelt quickly at his side, and took one of his hands between both her own.

"Philip!" she said gently. "I know that—perhaps—it's a foolish question to ask. You mustn't call me silly. But—do you believe in miracles?"

"Miracles be damned!" he blurted out. "I'll see—"

She put her hand over his mouth.

"Listen, Philip!" she went on. "I prayed for a miracle, and it has happened. Perhaps there'll be another; who knows? We'll wait and see. If nothing happens, why—Do you think I'm afraid?"

He made no answer, and she needed none.



CHAPTER XXIV

HAIG'S ARGUMENT

When she had unsaddled Tuesday, and left him grazing near the "camp," Marion set out with Murray's hatchet and knife to cut splints for Haig's broken leg. Haig watched her run across the meadow, leap the brook, and hurry on to a grove of quaking aspens at the edge of the forest. Then he lay back to consider the logic of the situation, with the following result, which appeared to him unanswerable:

First. The girl yonder had already saved his life once, and was doing her best, though against impossible odds, to save it again. Her motive was one that need not be dwelt upon in this fatal crisis. The fact remained that for him she was facing certain death, and he must do all in his power to save her. That was the starting point from which all reckonings must be made.

Second. His own case was hopeless. Long before he should be able to move from where he lay, the valley would be buried in snow to half the height of those pines yonder. If she remained with him her case would be hopeless too. Death would be inevitable for both of them: death from starvation, from exposure, from cold. They had neither food, nor proper clothing, nor shelter of any kind. The hardiest mountaineer would not dream, of attempting to pass eight or nine months of winter in a place like that, even with his two arms and two legs free. He, with his broken leg, and she, a woman, would not survive an eighth or a ninth of that period.

Third. The chances of rescue. There would be no search for him, he reflected with a grim smile. But for Marion, undoubtedly. To-morrow morning, Marion not having returned, Murray would start out to find her. There was not one chance in a thousand that, at this season, there would be such another day as the one now ending, and ending in storm. But suppose that Murray should make his way across the summit, and find them. Murray could do nothing for a man with a broken leg at the bottom of a gulch with a cliff on one side and miles on miles of mountain forest on the other sides. As for Marion, if she would not go at his, Haig's, command, she would certainly pay little heed to Murray. So Murray would accomplish nothing. However, it would not come to that. Murray would be driven back by the winds. He would ride down to the Park and give the alarm. Search parties would be formed, and they would assail the mountain. But fifty men would be no stronger than one man on Thunder Mountain. It was just possible that some of them might force their way across the flat between storms. But every day that possibility, such as it was, would grow less. It would be madness for the girl to wait. She had crossed the mountain once; she knew the way; and if the winds should permit rescuers to come to her they would permit her to go to them. It was her only chance, however desperate; to remain where she was meant certain death.

Fourth. She would not, it was quite clear, stir from his side as long as he was alive. Therefore he must do quickly what he had tried to do before.

The idea was so familiar to him by now that it required no contemplation. He raised his head, and looked toward the stone where his revolver lay; and then toward the aspen grove where Marion labored. His gaze rested on her for some minutes. It was too late for her to start to-night, even if there were no storm on the mountain. And if he did it now she would face a night of solitude and terror, perhaps would not live through it. He would wait till morning; and when she should have gone for wood, or water—

She came back presently with an armload of small limbs she had hacked from the youngest trees. Her left hand bled where she had awkwardly struck it with the hatchet; and there were tears in her eyes, which she tried to conceal from him. He was sorry for her—and angry. It was not his fault; he had done all he could, even to brutality.

"Did you tell Huntington, or his wife, what you were going to do?" was his first speech.

"No. But I sent Mr. Smythe—he rode with me as far as Norton's—I sent him back with a message that I was going to stop the night at Murray's."

"And the Murrays? What did you tell them?"

"That I'd be back before night. But why do you ask?"

"I'm thinking that Smythe is a fool, and Murray is a blockhead."

"They did all they could to stop me," she answered quietly.

She had begun to strip the bark and twigs from the green limbs; and he watched her crude efforts for a moment.

"I think I might manage that part of it," he said at length. "You must build a fire."

She started to obey him, but stopped short, and looked at him in sudden fear and suspicion.

"No, you can trust me with the knife," he said. "I promise."

She handed the limbs and the knife to him; and he saw that her hands trembled.

"You'll find plenty of dead wood at the edge of the forest," he said. "Don't venture far among the trees."

The shadows were deepening along the other side of the meadow, and he watched her a little anxiously while she made half a dozen trips for dry limbs and small chunks of half-rotted logs. And now she felt a curious thrill as she began to employ the knowledge she had gained on her camping expedition. She had never dreamed that it would be so useful to her! And she found new courage in thinking, while she worked, how all her life she had been undergoing preparation, training, education for this hour. She wished that she might run to Philip and tell him all this—and of her faith! But he would not understand her.

Soon a fine fire was crackling on the grass, against one of the largest stones that had fallen from the cliff. Then she brought a small package from her bundle, and made a cup of hot chocolate for Haig and another for herself. This, with a small slice of bread for each of them, made their supper for that day; for such provisions as they possessed must be treasured scrupulously.

Haig had by this time finished trimming the aspen sticks; and by the fading light of day and the red light of the fire they set to work to mend the broken leg. Between them they knew something of surgery: she by recollecting all that she had seen in her father's office, where she had more than once helped Doctor Gaylord with his needles and bandages; he by recalling experiences on battlefields, in lumber camps, and in various rough places of the world. She brought his blankets, and helped him to move until he lay flat on them, with his head propped against a stone. Then the leg was stripped, and the ordeal began.

It was not the pain so much as the uselessness of it that exasperated Haig; and he was tempted to drive her away from him, and have no more of it. But this, he realized, would only have caused more arguments, and tears, and protestations, and perhaps the revelation of his purpose. So he endured it to satisfy and divert her.

Luckily the fracture was a simple one; and with strips of linen for which Marion sacrificed some of her scanty supply of clothing, and the thin sticks of tough aspen wood, the leg was bound straight and firm.

"If we only knew!" said Marion at last, leaning back to contemplate her work.

"Knew what?" he asked between his teeth.

"If it's right!"

Between pain and rage he could not answer her; and thinking that he was near to a collapse, she ran for water and bathed his face, and gave him a little of the precious whisky that remained in her flask. After that he lay quiet, and she went to her preparations for the night.

The vale now lay in deep blackness, impenetrable walls of it beyond the red circle of firelight. The cliff made a dim, dark line against the blue-black sky; the forest on the other side a ragged tracery. The stars were few, and far. A low breeze murmured among the pines, and swept softly, but very cold, across the meadow. Marion began to feel the chill; and having wrapped Philip's blanket tight around him, and spread over him the leather coat she had found in his bundle, she heaped more wood on the fire, and sat down before it, with her blankets around her, and her rifle at her side, to watch and wait.

She was very tired, but she dared not lie down to sleep. A long time she sat there, glancing now and then at Haig, where he lay very still, and oftener out into the blackness. But drowsiness gradually overcame her, and her head sank forward on her uplifted knees.

She was awakened by a terrifying cry that rang shivering across the valley. She started to her feet, and listened. It must have been a dream, she thought. No! There it was again—a cry that started low, like a child's peevish wail, and ended in a piercing scream. She grabbed up her rifle, and stood peering into the darkness.

"Don't be afraid!" said the voice of Haig from the edge of the firelight. "It's only a bobcat. He'll not come near the fire."

"Thank you—Philip!" she answered. Then, with a nervous laugh: "It did frighten me, though!"

She stood a moment, still listening. But the cry came no more.

"Aren't you sleeping?" she asked softly.

"No."

With trembling limbs, and eyes fixed on the darkness from whence had come the scream, she stepped cautiously to the pile of wood, and threw more limbs and bits of logs into the blaze. Then she seated herself again, resolved that she would not fall asleep. But presently she started to her feet in another panic at sight of a dark form moving in the blackness. But it was only Tuesday, coming nearer to the fire, as if he too had been alarmed by the wild beast's cry. She settled down once more to her vigil, her rifle across her lap.

In spite of her resolution, her head sank to her knees again, and she was aroused at length by the cold. It bit through the blankets and clothing into the flesh of her limbs; sharp shivers ran up and down her back; and she was very miserable. Rising stiffly, she walked a while before the fire until she stumbled from weariness; then sat down again, and nodded, only to be waked by the frost gnawing at her flesh. Again and again she slept and woke in accentuated misery. But finally she saw, with unspeakable relief, that the stars were paling in their blue-black vault. She turned toward Thunder Mountain, and watched the dim line of the cliff sharpening against the whitening sky. Yet all was blackness in the gulch, and it seemed a long time before a soft gray light began to steal in upon the red light of the fire, and a new crispness came into the air. She waited until she could make out the forms of trees across the valley, shrouded in thin morning mist, before she threw the last few sticks of wood on the dying fire, and crept to the side of Haig, where she lay down close beside him, with her blankets wrapped around her. There she fell into a heavy sleep, and did not waken until the sun, rising above Thunder Mountain, shone warm in her face.

For some seconds she lay luxuriating in the warmth that seemed incredible after that night of cold and terror. Then she moved softly, raised herself on one elbow, and looked at Philip. He slept. His face was haggard under his three days' growth of beard. She leaned over him, and pressed her lips ever so lightly to his forehead. He did not stir.

Tuesday grazed a few yards away; the vale lay green and peaceful in the sunlight; and from the pine woods, where that hideous cry had lifted in the night, came now only the gentle murmur of the breeze in the massed foliage. By contrast with the chill horror of the night, the scene was positively exhilarating; and Marion rose to her work with hope throbbing through every vein, and courage singing along every nerve of her body.

First she fetched wood to renew the fire, now only a heap of smouldering embers. That done, she went to make her toilet in the brook, with the soap and towel she had stowed in her bundle for the shooting trip. Poor Seth! she thought, with a momentary pang; he would not get the deer he wanted, after all. And by this thought was set in motion a little current of regrets that filled her mind until it was diverted by the stream. She had intended only to wash her face and hands, now grimy after her labors at the fire. But chance led her to a deep, still pool with a bottom of fine sand and a tiny shore of pebbles that seemed to have been designed for bathing. Temptation seized her, and on the very impulse, seeing that a clump of willows screened her from the camp, she eagerly undressed, and plunged into the water, uttering quick gasps at the cold contact, and short-clipped shrieks of pleasure.

And so, behold a marvel! Three days ago, in the security and familiarity of the Park, where no hardships or perils threatened, and where she knew that Philip was safe in his cottage across the ridge, and that her own pink bedroom awaited her at night, so deep was she in dejection that nothing could have induced an outburst of mere physical enjoyment such as this. But now, while Philip lay on his blankets, a prisoner in that narrow vale, and death stood at her side uncovered and undisguised, her spirits rose as they had never risen since her confession, on Mount Avalanche, and if Haig had been listening he might have heard her low laughter across the meadow.

Had she yet failed to realize her situation? Or was it that tragedy had put on its comic mask, and laughed at death? The truth is simple. Her faith had triumphed over what seemed to be insuperable obstacles; and she was with Philip, for better or for worse. A miracle had been wrought; and miracles are not meaningless, or idle, or without purpose. It was a feeling perhaps unknown to man, who is merely a reasoning creature, much given to material consideration of natural causes and effects, and so compelled by his limitations to grope in outer darkness. And it was not so much a feeling as an instinct, and not so much an instinct as a law, of which she was the involuntary instrument. Her purpose was so strong within her that there was no need of thought; and so she did not think.

Leaping to the pebbly bank, she rubbed herself swiftly with the towel, and felt the glow of health rushing through her body, all pink and gleaming in the sun. Then she dressed, and combed her hair; rinsed and wrung out the towel, and hung it on the willow-limbs to dry; and started back toward the camp in the highest spirits, and eager for service. And then, at twenty paces, she was stricken cold and rigid by the sight that met her unsuspecting eyes.

Haig had left his blankets, and was now dragging himself like a wounded animal along the earth. Already he had covered more than half the distance to the rock on which his revolver lay; and it seemed as if she would stand rooted there in helpless horror until he reached it. Then, with an incautious cry, she bounded forward. Haig heard her, and flung himself toward the stone with reckless determination. Where he had inches, Marion had yards to go; it was a race that might, in another age, have done credit to the ingenuity of a Roman emperor. If Philip was mad with pain and anger, Marion was frantic with fear and love. It seemed to her that the turf gripped her feet, that the wind in her face would strangle her, that her skirts were leaden sheets around her knees. And she barely resisted falling in a senseless heap when, at ten yards from the goal, she saw that she would be too late.

He beat her to the rock by merely a few seconds; but he was fairly spent. His fingers bled where he had dug them into the sand; the sweat rolled down his face; and exhaustion bound him as with bands of iron. Yet he was able to reach for the gun, and clutch it; and with a final effort that seemed to tear the heart from his breast, he dragged the weapon under him, pressed the muzzle upward, pulled the trigger, at the very instant that Marion threw herself upon him.

There was a muffled report, the fumes stung their eyes and nostrils, and for a moment both lay still. Then Marion felt a movement under her, and guessed that Haig was fumbling with the revolver. An indescribable energy seized her, something tigerish in its fury, and beyond her own proper powers, so that she flung him over on his back as if he had been a child in strength and size. With both hands she gripped the wrist below the clutched revolver, and while she held it away from his body she drew her own body over his, and threw herself on his extended arm, between his hand and his breast.

There was a savage struggle still, the man affirming his right to die, and the woman denying it. But the issue could not be long in doubt; for Haig's strength was at the ebb, while Marion's flowed in from earth and air and sky, from the future and from the past. And she wore him down at last, until the revolver dropped from his grasp, his eyelids closed, his limbs relaxed, and he lay still. Waiting a moment for certainty, she cautiously loosened one of her hands from his wrist, and grabbed the revolver, and flung it with all her might. Then, seeing it land twenty feet away on the grass, she rolled away from him, and sat up panting, hollow-eyed, disheveled, and trembling on the verge of a collapse.

For some seconds there was no sound but their labored breathing; and not until Haig opened his eyes and looked at her, with a hunted, baffled, and still defiant expression in their somber depths, did Marion break down. Then suddenly, after a premonitory quivering of her chin, she buried her face in her hands, and wept without more effort at restraint, in utter abandonment to her agony. Haig watched, at first in anger, and then in some confusion of emotions. Once before he had looked upon her thus bowed and shaken; and now as then he felt a strange upheaval, and an unfathomable sensation that had no likeness to anything he had ever before experienced. He wanted very much to speak to her, but could not trust himself; and after all, what was there to be said?

It was she who rescued him from irresolution. She dropped her hands from her face, and cried out in a voice that was broken with sobbing: "Why, Philip, why did you do that?"

"Why?" he asked, in something like amazement.

"Yes."

"I've already told you why."

"But—no—you haven't told me!"

"It was to save you—for one thing."

"To save me?"

"I told you that your only chance is to go at once."

"But I told you I wouldn't go!"

"I know. That's the reason."

"But—don't you know, Philip, that—don't you see that—if you killed yourself you'd—kill me too?"

There should have been no necessity for these words. Perhaps any other man in the world, certainly most men of far less intelligence and less acuteness of feeling, would have known long ago just what she meant. He knew, indeed, that this girl loved him; but he did not believe that she or any other woman was capable of the sacrifice implied in her answer.

"You mean that—you would have—" He hesitated.

"Yes."

There ensued a silence that fell like a mist between them, through which neither knew the way. She saw that he had begun, by ever so little, to understand; and she feared to say more lest a wrong word should overtake a right one. As for Haig, his incredulity persisted notwithstanding the unquestionable sincerity of her speech. He did not doubt that she contemplated, in this moment of emotion, the complete and final sacrifice. But he was quite convinced that she would take a different view of the situation when the test should come. She did not yet appreciate, he argued, the peril of their position; she had not realized the hazard of her adventure or she never would have undertaken it; and undoubtedly she still thought there would be a way out for them. Under such a delusion it was easy for her, he concluded, to talk about dying with him. But she was tragically in error. His eyes lifted to the cliff. She should have been up there on her return hours ago. Now it was too late again; for the clouds were black and ugly on the summit, and a distant roaring came to his ears; and he knew what was happening or in preparation in the middle of the flat. But he must find a way to send her up that trail at dawn the next day; and his gaze dropped to where the revolver lay just visible in the thin grass into which she had thrown it.



CHAPTER XXV

DIANA

Still no speech came to either of them. After a while Marion rose silently, and went about her work. First, however, she sought the revolver in the grass, and carried it, with her rifle, to the clump of willows by the brook, where both weapons were safely beyond the present limits of Philip's powers. Then she returned to him with her towel, one end of it wetted and soaped.

"May I, please?" she asked, smiling down at him.

"If you wish," he answered.

She knelt, and began to wash the grime from his face, to cleanse the wound on his head, and readjust the bandage. Then his hands, after another trip to the stream to rub out the soiled end of the towel; and she was still busy with one of them, when she started back with a cry. His coat had opened wider, and she saw that his shirt was stained with blood. She had forgotten the revolver-shot!

"It's nothing," said Haig. "Only a flesh wound, I think."

"But why didn't you tell me!" she cried, almost with anger in her alarm.

"It doesn't matter, does it?"

"Let me see it, quick!" she commanded.

He looked at her a moment, then opened the front of his flannel shirt and of the undershirt, and disclosed a flesh wound where the bullet had cut a streak across his chest. Marion bent close, and touched it with her fingers.

"Oh!" she sighed at last, in deep relief.

Haig's reply was a laugh of which the irony did not escape her.

"Philip!" she cried reproachfully.

"Well, isn't it rather droll—and ludicrous, when you come to think of it? First, Sunnysides' punch in my stomach. And now, with my head cut open by a stone, and a broken leg, and two bullet-wounds—I've still got a splendid appetite. I ought to be on exhibition somewhere!"

His sardonic humor hurt her worse than his anger; and she went quickly to the brook to cleanse the towel again. Returning presently, she washed the new wound, and bandaged it; then examined the splints on the broken leg to assure herself that, as nearly as she could determine, no serious damage had been done to it by his reckless crawl; and finally brought his blankets, and insisted on making a sort of bed for him. After that she cooked two slices of bacon, and on this, with a little bread, they made their first meal of the day. And this brought her to the next and most pressing problem.

"Will you help me think, Philip?" she asked, when they had eaten.

"About what?"

"Food."

"What's in the larder?"

She smiled at his tone, in spite of her own seriousness.

"Bacon—perhaps enough for three days, with the bread, if we don't eat much; and chocolate for four or five breakfasts. That's all."

"And then?"

"Are there deer in those forests, do you think?"

"Very likely. This is an un-hunted country, I imagine."

"Great!" she cried.

"What do you propose to do? Whistle for them?"

She could afford to smile at that.

"Didn't you see my rifle?"

"Just now—yes. What's it for?"

"You'll see."

"Diana of Thunder Mountain, eh? Well, I'm ready to admit you're some huntress. But deer! That's another thing."

The color flooded her cheeks.

"Cousin Seth taught me to shoot," she answered, turning her face away. "I killed a deer on Mount Avalanche."

"But where did Cousin Seth learn to shoot? The last time he—"

"Please, Philip!"

"Well, when you've brought down your deer, what will you do with it?"

The color deserted her face at that.

"I watched him do it," she said, shuddering at the recollection.

"But you can't do that alone."

"I've got to," she replied simply. And then, on a sudden thought: "There should be grouse too, shouldn't there?"

"Perhaps."

"I learned to kill grouse with my rifle."

He looked at her with a wicked grin. This time he had her!

"How many cartridges have you?" he asked.

She ran for her belt, and counted the cartridges.

"Twenty-seven."

"So. If you never miss, you'll get twenty-seven grouse. That would mean twenty-seven, meals. One meal a day, twenty-seven days. I'd still be on my back, our ammunition would be gone, and—"

"Don't!" she cried, in tears. "I wasn't thinking."

"Never mind!" he replied, almost gently. "But we'll deny ourselves the grouse."

"Yes, it's got to be the deer. I'll begin now."

"No, there's something else that must be done first."

"What is it?"

"We've got to move."

"For shelter, you mean?"

"Partly. But look there!"

He pointed to the dead body of Trixy.

"It will be easier—and perhaps even nicer—to move me than poor Trixy. See that big pine yonder—the one that stands out from the forest? Well, you and Tuesday must drag me there."

"But how?"

He explained his plan to her, and she set herself at once to executing it. And her spirits rose again; for she thought he had abandoned his desperate resolution. So, indeed, he had—for the moment. But he had deliberately beguiled her; their situation he knew to be quite unchanged in its inevitable termination, since a food supply would save them from starvation only to deliver them to the snow; and he must disarm her of suspicion in order to find a way to send her back on the trail. For he had reflected on the implication of tragic finality in the speech that had surprised and disturbed him; and he did not doubt that when the time should come, and she should find herself alone, her high resolve would prove to have been mere emotional exaggeration.

Mounted on Tuesday, Marion attacked the boughs of a small pine with the hatchet until she had severed three large branches, to which she tied Haig's rope, and hauled them back to the camp. Of these branches Haig contrived a crude drag, on which he crawled, and lay flat; the free end of the rope was hitched to the horn of Tuesday's saddle; and the journey was begun. Twice the saddle slipped, and progress was interrupted while Marion tightened the cinches. Once the drag itself came to pieces, and Haig was left sprawling on the ground. But eventually, with no more serious injury to Haig than a bruised elbow, not counting his torn clothing, they reached the goal.

There Marion made a wide bed against the exposed top roots of the tree, filling the spaces among the pine boughs with moss, and placing the two saddles at the head for pillows. Night had come before she had completed this labor, and gathered another supply of dead limbs and rotted logs, and cooked their meager supper. Then she wrapped Haig in his blankets, and rolled herself in her own, and lay down at his side. What with watching and replenishing the fire, and listening to night-cries heard or imagined, and waking from restless slumber chilled to the bone, she slept as little as on the preceding night, and was glad of the dawn, which came peacefully enough on the heels of a storm that raged on Thunder Mountain and sent a cold and beating rain upon the valley.

This day brought its own bitter disappointment. After her bath in the clear pool among the willows, and their mere taste of bacon and bread in the name of breakfast, and a promise exacted from Haig, as a condition of her leaving him, that he would do nothing of which she would disapprove, she set out to get her deer. Rifle on shoulder, and eyes alert, she skirted the edge of the wood along the base of the cliff, through tall grasses of a golden green, among yellowing aspen groves, and under a fair blue sky. But presently she plunged into the thick of the forest, of which the trees towered to a height exceeding that of any she had ever seen before. In their tops the breeze was singing sonorously, but among their massive boles the silence was so tense that twigs cracking under her feet sounded like gun-shots echoing through the dim aisles.

For some hours she wandered fruitlessly in that dark labyrinth, not only mindful of Philip's warning that she must not penetrate too deep into its depth, but fearful on her own account of an encounter with some such wild beast as that whose cry had terrified her. In time the hollow indifference of the woods began to weigh upon her spirits, which had been high and hopeful on her setting out. Worn out at last, she was just on the point of turning back toward the camp, defeated, when she came upon an open space, a lovely little glade, in which the grass grew rank and green, unripened by the sun. She started to cross it, but stopped suddenly, staring straight ahead. In the very middle of the lush and silent glade, a young doe rose swiftly to its feet, and looked at her. Marion stood and looked at the doe. Then there was a streak of pale yellow across the grass, the forest closed around it, and the doe was gone. Thereupon, Marion remembered her rifle, and saw with something like surprise, to begin with, that it was pointed foolishly toward the ground. She gazed at it a moment, then sat plump down on the mossy earth, and cried.

"Oh, what a fool!" she groaned. "What a poor, silly little fool! I ought to starve, starve, starve!"

And on the words the hunger that she had bravely kept back rose and punished her. To be hungry in a world of plenty, where she had only to reach out and help herself! To think of Philip, hungry too, and depending on her, on her boasted prowess! Humiliation scorched her like a flame. And this was Marion Gaylord!

When she had recovered a little, she made directly for the open strip, having no more heart for her task, and nerving herself to confess the truth to Philip. Coming out upon the knoll through thick underbrush, she was startled by the leap of a rabbit from under her very feet; and before she was aware of what she was doing, she had thrown up her rifle, and fired. There was really no aim; the action was a gesture merely; and if she had tried to hit the rabbit she would have undoubtedly missed it clean. But the unlucky little beast, happening in the path of Marion's angry disgust, turned a somersault in the air, and fell dead.

"Of course!" cried Marion. "Of course I can kill rabbits." Then mercilessly: "A rabbit a day for twenty-seven days—" And rage choked her.

But she picked up her rabbit, and walked on. In half an hour she reached the camp, strode straight to the pine tree under which Haig lay, and held up before him the puny prize.

"Now I know you're proud of me!" she exclaimed, while her face crimsoned.

Haig smiled indulgently. It was a little better than he had expected.

"Don't be downcast!" he said. "I didn't think you'd get a deer the first day. You didn't even see one, I suppose."

"But I did, though! I had one right under my eyes, not thirty feet away. And what do you think I did?"

"Stood and looked at it, of course. That's buck fever."

"But it was only a tiny little doe!"

"Doe fever then, which is probably worse, if I know anything about—"

"That will do, Philip! You're laughing at me."

"Not at all. You've brought home something to eat, and that's more than I can do. Bunny looks big and fat. He'll make a fine dinner, and leave something for to-morrow."

"Thank you, Philip!" she said gratefully. "You make me feel as if I were not such a failure after all."

"If you'll trust me with the knife," he said in a tone that took some of the edge off her satisfaction, "I'll clean him for you."

She gave him the knife reluctantly, and did not leave his side until he had finished cleaning and cutting up the rabbit, when he handed the knife back to her with a gesture that made her blush again. Two things she did not know: that he had a knife in his pocket much better suited to his secret purpose; and that his purpose was a purpose no longer. But even he was not yet aware of this last.

It was not the next day, but the third, when the rabbit had been eaten to the bone, and the pangs of hunger prodded her, that Marion restored herself in her own eyes. In the edge of the forest, not more than two miles from the camp, she detected a mere brown patch in the browning bush. This time she did not forget her rifle. The brown patch moved just as she pulled the trigger; but when she reached the spot, in a fever of anxiety, she fairly shrieked to the wilderness. For there in the grass, still jerking spasmodically in its death agony, lay a doe, a larger one than that she had seen in the glade. No more "one a day for twenty-seven days!"

What followed haunted her dreams for many nights thereafter—a repulsive and sickening ordeal. She had seen Huntington do it, but then she had been able to turn her face away; and her hands—But necessity, responsibility, and pride, and perhaps some primitive instinct also, nerved her to the task. And she staggered back to camp, and stood before Philip, white and trembling, but triumphant.

"Take a drink of whisky!" ordered Haig sharply.

She obeyed him, gulping down the last of the precious contents of her flask.

"It's down there—covered with leaves!" she gasped out at length. "Will anything—disturb it before I can—take Tuesday and the rope?"

"Do you mean you've cleaned the whole deer?" he asked curiously.

She nodded, still shuddering.

"Well, you're a brick!" he said heartily. Then he added: "I thought perhaps a bobcat had stolen your—rabbit."

She laughed with him, and then was off with Tuesday to bring her quarry home. She was not strong enough to lift and fasten the carcass on the horse's back; but the route was through clean grass along the cliff, and Tuesday made short work of that, with the deer dragged at the end of the rope.

They had no salt, but there were a few rinds of bacon that Haig had told Marion to keep, and these were made to serve for seasoning. That venison, moreover, needed nothing to make it palatable; for they were ravenously hungry. Sprawled before the fire like savages, they feasted on a huge steak, broiled on two willow sticks, and well-browned on the outside at the start so that the tenderness was retained; and for an hour forgot. For so the stomach, at once the tyrant and the slave, has sometimes its hour of triumph, when heart and soul and brain are its willing captives, and the starkest fears and forebodings lose their sway, and death itself, though visible and near, has no power to ferment the grateful juices of the body.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE SNOW

In the night they were awakened by a terrific outburst on the mountain top, surpassing all they had yet heard since their arrival in the valley. The forest roared under the onslaughts of the wind that swept down through the gorge as through a funnel. Protected though the camp was, in a measure, fierce gusts now and then assailed it, and later the rain came, almost in torrents, beating through the canopy of foliage, and half-flooding the bed.

Marion, rising to renew the fire, felt that a sharp change had come in the atmosphere. It was colder than any night they had yet endured. Wrapped again in her blankets, she was unable to keep warm. Her feet, near the fire, were too hot, while her back and shoulders ached as if they had been packed in ice. Turn which way she would, on her back, on her side, or face downward, there was no relief from that acid cold. She did not complain, but cried softly, trying to hold back her sobs so that he should not hear her.

"You're cold," he said, hearing her nevertheless.

"A little—not very," she answered bravely.

But he knew very well how keenly she was suffering. His injured leg pained him almost beyond endurance, as if the frost had been concentrated there. There was nothing he could say or do for her or for himself.

Toward morning, the fury of the storm having abated, they slept a little, fitfully and uneasily, in the half-insensibility to suffering that complete exhaustion brings. But they were glad when the first gray light of morning stole in among the shadows and touched their eyelids. With one accord, as if in a common apprehension, and moved by a single fear, they raised their heads, and at the first glance about them, sat up staring.

The meadow lay white under its first coverlet of snow, the trees were draped in their winter mantles, their very bed had its downy quilt of snowflakes that had sifted through the branches of the tree.

"It's come," said Haig simply.

"Yes," she answered, in a voice that echoed a tragic calm.

"But it was due."

"Seth kept saying we'd have a hard and early winter."

"Huntington's not such a fool as he looks," retorted Haig drily, as he lay back to look up resignedly into the foliage, where white now mingled with the green.

For some time there was no more speech. Marion arose, and went silently about her work. She heaped wood on the fire until the flames leaped high, and the heat began to drive out the settled chill from her limbs, and she could move again without dull pain. Then to the brook; but her baths in the pool were ended. She washed face and hands, and brought back the wet towel for Philip. And breakfast was eaten almost in silence, and without appetite; for the good venison that had so rejoiced them the night before had already lost its flavor.

"Do you see the circles on the trees yonder, where the moss begins?" asked Haig at length.

"Yes," Marion answered.

"That's the snow line. It will lie thirty feet deep here."

She had no answer to that. But she was thinking. There must be a way. She had no idea what it would be; but there must be some way out of it.

When the camp had been cleaned up, and the pan and cup had been washed and put aside, and the fire replenished, she brought her rifle from its place behind the tree.

"I'm going for a walk," she said.

"Where?"

"I don't know. Down along the cliff perhaps. I may see another deer."

"Yes. You might as well. Deer meat will keep—longer than we—"

He checked the unnecessary speech. She rewarded him with a smile and left him.

And now he faced a curious situation within himself. He saw clearly, but strangely without sensation, that it was too late for Marion to attempt the passage of the mountain. Whatever chance she might have had before—and that was perhaps even less than the one in a thousand of which he had spoken—she had now no chance at all, supposing that he should force her to seek it by measures of desperation. And why had he delayed? He did not know. Had he weakened? Had his injuries taken something from his courage? He drew his treasured knife from his pocket, opened the largest of the three keen blades, and passed it slowly but lightly across his wrist. No; his hand was steady; he could do it without a tremor. He could have done it yesterday, the day before, or any day. Well, then; had he become sceptical of such a solution of his problem? Perhaps. Six times in his life he had attempted that solution, and always he had failed. And yet, what could have thwarted him when Marion was far away in the forest, and he lay quiet and undisturbed on his blankets, in full possession of his faculties?

By such process of elimination he arrived at the final question: was it she? Was it this girl that now stayed his hand, in spite of all his logic and clear vision and resolution? This girl, with her foolish faith, and misplaced love, and futile talk of miracles? Was it written that they should die together—written in some volume of the book of life into which he had never looked? Or was she right? And would there be—

He looked out again upon the gleaming whiteness of the meadow, at the snow line on the pines, at the remorseless mountain. He passed slowly in review again the chances of a rescue, the chances of their wintering in that (soon-to-be) snowbound valley, the chances of a—miracle. And he shook his head. The odds were beyond all reckoning; their fate was now as certain as if the cliff yonder, rent by another cataclysm, had tumbled down upon them while they slept. But he had known this in the very hour of his awakening to find her kneeling at his side; he had delayed giving her the one chance of escape. And so, was it because she had commanded him and he had unconsciously obeyed?

It was mystery; it was enigma. He tried to think if he had erred in any way, if there was any fault to be attributed to him. No; he had dealt more than fairly with this girl; he had spoken frankly and brutally; he had never once consciously, by word or look, enticed her. Unconsciously, perhaps; but how could he ever have foreseen such consequences of the infatuation of which he had become slowly and incredulously informed? He would have gone raging out of the Park, between two suns (and Thursby be damned!), if he had ever dreamt of this tragic end of her midsummer madness.

For two hours he lay thinking, torturing his brain for an explanation of this mystery, an understanding of this coil. And he was no nearer a solution than at the beginning, when his thoughts were interrupted by Marion. She came running out of the forest—not running, but fairly bounding, as if her feet were too light to rest on earth. Her face was flushed, her eyes danced with excitement. But then, seeing his grave and questioning face, she stopped short in front of him, suddenly embarrassed.

"Well?" he asked gently.

"Would—a cave do?"

Her voice trembled between timidity and shortness of breath.

"A cave?"

"Yes."

"What kind of a cave?"

"A big cave—really two caves joined together."

"Where?"

"In the cliff—down there."

She pointed in the direction from which she had come at full speed.

"How high above the level of the valley?"

She stared at him, and was again embarrassed.

"I forgot that!" she said, in deep chagrin. "But wait, please!" She looked around her. "I think—I know what you mean! It's higher up than the marks on the trees there, surely it is!"

"Tell me about it!"

"It's only a little way from here. There's a narrow, clear space all along between the forest and the cliff, where the grass grows high. But there's one place—I missed it before, when I was just looking for deer—where the cliff—How can I describe it? It sinks in, and there's a slope up to it, solid rock. And at the top of the slope I saw a black hole, and got off my pony to look in. The slope is easy to climb. Tuesday climbed it with me. The mouth of the cave is partly hidden by a rock that sticks out so that you can see the opening only from one side. The entrance is no bigger than the door of your stable. I was afraid at first, but—"

"You thought of your miracle," he suggested, with a smile.

"I knew something must be done, so I held my rifle ready, thinking it might be a wild beasts' den, and listened a minute, and went in. There's the big cave first, as large as the sitting-room and kitchen together at Cousin Seth's, and there's a smaller one at the side, with a narrow opening between them. The small one has an opening outside too, just big enough for me to squeeze through, and look out on the forest below."

"Was it cold in there? Did the wind blow through?"

"No, I think not. It seemed very dry and warm."

He looked at her intently, and so strangely that she blushed again, she knew not why.

"Who are you, anyhow?" he asked, in a curious tone.

"I?"

"Yes, you?"

"I don't understand," she faltered in confusion.

"No matter!" he said. "We'll try the cave."

He had no faith in the experiment. Even with food and shelter, there was still the cold that would steadily sap their strength, and stretch them lifeless before half the winter should have passed. But she should have her way; it would divert her mind from the inevitable; and they would, at least, be doing all their best. The trip to the cave would be hell for him, in his condition, but all that would be, at its worst, soon ended.

A whole day being needed for the removal, they ventured to wait until the following morning. Storms raged through all the night on Thunder Mountain, and they woke again in utter wretchedness to find another and heavier sheet of snow upon the meadow.

But Marion was soon up and at work in eagerness and hope. The fire and the broiled venison renewed them; and even the snow offered something by way of compensation, for Haig's journey on the freshly constructed drag was smoother over the snow than it had been in the first instance over the stone-littered earth. The ascent to the opening of the cave was, however, another matter; and there was imminent danger of Tuesday's sliding backward on the slippery rock, and crushing Haig beneath him. Twice, indeed, such a fatal accident was narrowly averted, and a less sure-footed animal than Tuesday would have resolved all Haig's doubts in one swift catastrophe. But there was no alternative, and Haig at length lay safe enough, though racked and exhausted, at the mouth of the cave; and when he had rested he raised himself on his elbows and looked around him.

The top of the slope was almost level, and made a kind of porch in front of their new abode, about thirty feet in length and of half that measurement in its greatest width. Haig calculated the height of the platform above the valley—fully forty feet. Below was the strip of grass, and then the forest towering high above them, protecting the cave, in some degree, from the winds that would come roaring down the gulch. At this height they should be able, in all probability, to defy the snows. With a sufficient store of food and fuel, and any kind of luck, there would have been—God! Was there a chance?

With his back to the wall! He had always been at his best against long odds. None of the adventures of the ten years that he counted as his life had ever been for any kind of gain; and the finest of them had been those in which there were the most tight places. So this coming struggle with the elements, though it should be a trial not of valor but of endurance and resourcefulness, lacking swift action and a culmination in one stirring hour, would once have allured him like a splendid game. And even now, for one instant, while he sat there keenly counting the forces on one side and the other, the pride of battle lighted up his features, and for that instant he was himself again. But a cruel and timely twinge in his injured leg recalled him to realities. His back was not to the wall; it was flat on the ground. He could not walk, he could not stand; and for weeks to come he would continue to be as helpless as in that moment. To endure a siege of eight months in the cave its garrison must have huge stores of food and fuel; pine boughs and moss in lieu of bedding; solid barricades at the entrances; and countless makeshifts for the comforts that were denied. And before he should be able to stir it would be too late. No, it was an idle dream; a month would see the end of both of them. So he lay back again, and looked up vacantly into the cold, blue sky.

But Marion, standing at one side and watching him, had seen that flicker of the fire within, and was grateful for it beyond all reason or belief. It was all she needed. Her hands were already raw and bleeding, but she would work them to the bone if he would only guide and advise and comfort her; and she knew now that she could trust him, since there was no longer any question whether she should go or stay.

All that day was spent in bringing up fresh boughs and moss for their beds, and in making them against the wall of the cavern where draughts would be the least likely to sweep over them; in bestowing their meager belongings; in hanging the venison from sticks thrust into a crevice in the rock; in finding the best place for the fire that must never be allowed to go down, and in planning the storage of food and fuel.

Marion had no pressing anxiety about food, now that she had brought in her first deer; but fuel was a different matter. To her own appreciation of the problem Haig, that evening after dinner, added some calculations that revealed it to her in its baldest aspects. The morning, too, disclosed another layer of snow upon the valley. The winter was coming on without pity, and each succeeding day would see its lines drawn a little closer round them. There was not an hour, not a moment to be lost.

At dawn she began, with Tuesday and the rope, to haul dead limbs and logs, the largest she was able to handle, going far at first in order to leave the nearest supplies for the last harvesting in deep snow. Under Haig's instructions, she filled all the space in the caves that would not be actually needed for their living quarters. Then she built the logs into a square and solid pile on the platform at one side of the entrance. These were not logs in any formidable sense, being for the most part half-rotted fragments of tree trunks that had long been decaying in the mold. But they were dry now, after the summer, and they made excellent slow-burning fuel. The dead limbs she cut up into small sticks, and filled the interstices of the heap, and all the space between it and the wall of rock. And eventually the whole platform was covered, and the slope on each side, until there was no longer room for Tuesday to mount to it, and barely room for Marion herself.

In the meantime, varying her exertions, she made several trips into the woods for deer. After many disappointments, she succeeded, before the snow became too deep for further expeditions, in bringing back to the cave a splendid buck and three young does. Haig made for her a rabbit snare, and taught her how to set it, and with this device she had the luck to add a dozen rabbits to their store. And all this time she was piling up every stick of wood that she could find space for, even making a great heap at the foot of the slope to be drawn upon before the snow should cover it.

Always the snow fell, steadily, remorselessly. Every night it snowed, and every day more or less, with intervals of brilliant sunshine. The wind blew with increasing violence, tossing the snow into huge drifts upon the meadow, which Marion still saw sometimes in her wood gathering, and sifting it in level masses among the trees, and flinging it in great banks against the cliff. Up and up crept the drifts and banks and levels until there came a day when she could do no more.

And that day it seemed that she could have done no more in any kind of weather, under any inspiration or necessity. The record of what she did is but a footnote to the page of what she suffered. Time after time she had sunk down in the snow and lain there exhausted until strength came to her again from somewhere, and then had risen manfully to her work. For it was a man's work she did, with a courage as much greater than a man's as her strength was less. She was strong, for a woman; she had lived all her life much out of doors; and she had entered upon this ordeal in perfect health. But her willingness outsped her powers; and when the snow had spared her by driving her into the cave, she fairly staggered and groped and leaned against the wall, and knew that if she should now collapse she would never rise again. But even in that climax of her suffering, when for a moment she dared not move, in fear of toppling over on the floor, and could not keep back her sobs, there was an answer ready when Haig called to her across the cave.

"What is it, Marion?" he asked softly.

"Tuesday!" she answered chokingly.

"What about Tuesday?"

"He's a good horse."

"Yes."

"He never balked or—hesitated. He never threw me—but once, and that wasn't his fault. It was—"

She stopped. And out of what black depths, and across what vistas of hope and despair and love and anguish, she looked back to that scene in the golden summer, in the Forbidden Pasture.

"Yes, I remember," said Haig.

Then she told him brokenly how she had just said farewell to Tuesday; how he stood at the foot of the slope, thin as a specter, belly-deep in snow, his nose lifted inquiringly toward her.

"Good-by, Tuesday!" she cried; and fled stumbling up the slope, her hands on her ears to shut out his plaintive whinny.

Haig watched her narrowly, and was not deceived. Through the first few days of Marion's struggles he had lain on his pallet in almost complete indifference, in full acceptance of the fate that awaited them; not callous to her sufferings, but resigned, as he thought, to endure what could not be prevented. Having resolved to humor her, he went from the extreme of resistance to the extreme of submission, and hardened his heart to endure what galled and humiliated and degraded him. Then anger seized him once more,—anger at Marion, anger at himself, anger at Thursby, anger at circumstances, chance and destiny: blinding and suffocating anger. To have been brought to this shameful state, to lie there watching a woman, a mere girl, perform these menial tasks for him—for him who had execrated and despised and scorned her sex—for him who had accepted such services grudgingly even from men—for him who had stalked around the world in defiant independence, indebted to no man and obligated to no woman: this was odious and intolerable. And it must be tolerated!

Marion knew nothing of this fiery ordeal through which Haig came. Even in the fiercest and most maddening moment of his agony, when honor and pride and self-respect were being reduced to ashes, he did not fail to realize that to cry out, to rave or curse or denunciate, would only be to add something cowardly and contemptible to the sum of his disgrace. He did not even cast a stealthy glance toward his revolver, where it lay in a niche in the cavern wall, though Marion was out in the snow somewhere, and could not have stopped him if he had crawled to seize it. That, too, would have been an act of cowardice and of infamy; and something deep within him now continually spoke for her, and for whatever it was she stood for in this chaos that was the end of all.

His fury slowly passed, and he had but emerged from its strangely purifying fire into a calm that was well-nigh as terrible, when she entered sobbing into the cave to tell him the pitiable little lie that all her visible distress was for a pony to whom she had said farewell. He saw her presently totter forward to put more fuel on the fire and begin to prepare their evening meal. With eyes from which the smoke of passion had now lifted, he saw what he had only vaguely seen before: that she was thin and haggard; that her pale face took on a hectic flush in the glow of the blazing pine; that her clothes were all in tatters, her riding-skirt slit in many places, her coat and flannel waist so worn, and torn that they barely covered her, and did indeed reveal one white shoulder through a gaping rent; that one dilapidated boot was quite out at toe; and that she was ill and faint and silent.

"Marion!" he called to her.

"Yes, Philip!" she answered, turning to look at him.

"Come here, please!"

She came and stood before him, unsteadily.

"Let me see your hands!"

She knelt, and held them out to him. Taking them in his own hands, which were then far softer and whiter than hers, he looked long at the raw and bleeding cracks, at the swollen joints, at the bruised and calloused fingers, at the nails (they were once so pink and polished) worn down to the quick, and at one nail that had been split back almost to its root.

"They're not very pretty, are they?" she said, with a weak little laugh that ended in a quiver of her chin.

He lifted the hands, the right one and then the left, and touched them with his lips. She was very weary and faint and miserable; and he had never done anything like that before; and so she drew back her hands, and buried her face in them, and sank sobbing on the floor.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE VOICE IN THE HURRICANE

Their sufferings, as the days went crawling into weeks, attained a certain dead level of wretchedness. At that level, should nothing worse befall, they felt that they might exist through the eight months of their imprisonment; beyond that level lay deliverance by death. So they kept a painstaking account of time, and made a sort of solemn ceremony of that hour when, as night let down its black curtain before the entrance of the cavern, Marion cut another notch in the wall, and they clasped hands in a brave effort at good cheer, and said to each other, "One more! One more!"

The cold had steadily increased until it was just barely endurable. By day it was possible to combat it in some measure, but at night they were stung and tortured by the frost that invaded the cave, and defied their meager clothing. If they tried lying closely side by side with their blankets spread over them, the cold crept under the coverings, and bit through their garments into their emaciated limbs. If they wrapped themselves tightly in the blankets, one pair to each, and lay near the fire, they were able to catch only a few fitful moments of sleep before the frost on one side and the heat on the other forced them to move.

At inexorable intervals the fire must be replenished. Heavy with sleep that was not sleep, feeble from lack of nourishment, and stiff from cold, Marion would rise and stumble to the nearest heap of wood, and carefully lay two or three pieces on the dying embers. The fire itself was to Marion a source of continual dread; for not only did it consume their precious and unrenewable supply of wood with a terrifying voracity, but she was fairly obsessed by the fear that she might let it go out. In that event they might never waken, clutched by the cold in their sleep; or wakening, find that something had happened to the matches. There remained a good store of these in the box enfolded carefully in a bit of cloth and a strip of deerskin, and bestowed in a high niche of the cavern; but there was sometimes moisture in the night winds, and there could be no absolute assurance that the matches would ignite in an emergency.

The winds blew irregularly, sometimes roaring through the cave, and filling it with a whirl of smoke and snow, and sometimes creeping along the floor with the malevolence and stealthiness of a serpent. Marion had blocked up the entrance with small logs and limbs, but the winds and draughts made scorn of this loose barrier. Her clothes were fast falling from her body. She essayed crude patchwork with strips of deerskin and pins of wood, but these efforts were rendered futile by wear and tear and the rotting of the cloth itself. She began to be embarrassed when her flesh showed through the rents in her garments; but Haig, with a mingling of frankness and tact that might indeed have been less easy in other circumstances, effectually helped her to banish all false modesty from a situation in which they were reduced to primitive habits and almost to primitive familiarities.

She was less able to accustom herself to the dirt, from which there was no escape, but which irked her nevertheless more than all else. She was no longer able to keep clean in any sense of cleanliness associated with civilization. Washing with water melted from snow, without soap or towels, had only the effect, as it seemed to her, to fix the grime more deeply in her skin. And the hair that had been her pride had now no more the golden lights in its tawny masses, and was becoming dark and harsh and sheenless in spite of her most assiduous attention.

"Don't worry!" said Haig one day, in a grim attempt at humor. "Just imagine you are a belle of the Eskimos."

"Philip! How can you?" she cried.

"Washing," he went on, "is only another error of civilization. I have seen whole tribes of most respectable aborigines that never bathed. And they seemed to be quite happy. It saves a lot of time. But that's another queer thing. The more time we need, the more we waste it on matters that are really unimportant. Like most of our attempts to improve on nature, it costs more than it's worth, and—"

"That will do, Philip!" she protested. "I can forget I'm hungry, but—ugh! not this!"

But she spoke too bravely about her hunger. Their food by this time had begun to pall. The good venison, of which they had eaten joyously at first, became tasteless and then disgusting. They had no salt. The bacon and the bread had long since been consumed, and the chocolate also. There was left nothing but the flesh of deer and rabbits. Marion stewed it, broiled it, baked it under hot ashes; and they even nibbled at it raw; but the time came when only the relentless pangs of hunger, the hunger of the animal, the sheer clamor of their stomachs could force them to eat the nauseating food. In consequence of this revulsion, they were always hungry; and sometimes, in spite of their resolution, they descended to torturing each other with talk of the good things there were in the world to eat.

"Claire makes the most gorgeous apple dumplings!" said Marion on one of these occasions.

"Apple dumplings? Ye-es," replied Haig judiciously. "But what about plain dumplings in chicken gravy?"

"Fricassee!" cried Marion.

"No. Maryland."

"Still, Philip, if I had my choice it wouldn't be chicken at all."

"What then?"

"Potatoes. Big, baked potatoes, split open, you know, with butter and salt and paprika."

"Or sweet potatoes swimming in butter."

"And salad—lettuce and tomatoes and oil and vinegar."

"And then pie. Think of blackberry pie!"

"And jam. I do love jam spread on toast."

"I'll tell you something," said Haig recklessly. "I could even eat sauerkraut!"

Their worst craving was for salt. Marion could fairly taste the spray of the Atlantic on the bathing beaches. She dreamt of salt,—barrels of salt and oceans of salt and caves she had read of in which salt hung in glittering stalactites. And Haig too. He described a desert where salt had risen to the surface and gleamed in crystals in the sand. And once he had lived a long time on salt pork, which he had thought the most insufferable food. But now! The taste of it came back to him, and went tingling through every nerve.

To free their minds from such tormenting memories, Haig went deep into his adventures, his wanderings, his search for excitements. He told her of strange lands and peoples, of the beautiful spots of the world, of battles and perils and escapes,—everything he had been through, with one exception. That—the story of Paris—was still a closed book to her. And similarly, there was one chapter of her life that she did not open to him. A certain delicacy, rendered more vital by their very situation, in which few delicacies could be maintained, restrained them from the uttermost self-revelation. The one subject that was not touched upon in the most intimate of their conversations was that dearest to Marion's heart and most incomprehensible to Haig's reason. Partly this avoidance was intuitive, and partly deliberate; where there was so much suffering that could not be escaped, they were scrupulous to inflict upon each other no unnecessary pain or embarrassment. Between a more common man and a less fastidious woman, placed in such propinquity, there would almost inevitably have been concessions and compromises but between these two there remained a barrier that might have been passed by Marion's unquestioning love, but never by Haig's inclinations, curbed as they had been through many years, and still reined in by his distrust.

The day came when it seemed safe for Haig to stand and to move a little about the cave. He had fashioned slowly a pair of rude crutches, if they could be so called,—two pine limbs trimmed down with his pocketknife, with their natural forks left to fit under his arms. Marion protested that he was attempting this feat much too soon, but she was compelled to watch him in an agony of suspense lest he should fall on the hard floor of the cave, or rest his weight on the injured leg, and so undo all that had cost them so much of care and labor. But caution restrained him; for he was aware of the danger, though he was also half-mad with impatience to be a man once more. Venturing only a few tentative steps at first, he steadily accustomed himself to movement with the aid of the awkward crutches, and in a few days was able to take up some of the work of their wretched habitation. Marion saw that this pleased him immensely, almost as if he had been a boy entrusted with a man's responsibility; and once, too, she saw him stand a long time before the row of notches on the wall, and thought his figure straightened, and a flush came into his pale cheek.

And then, in the sixth week of their imprisonment, Marion fell ill. She had caught a cold, which was not the first by any means, but much more severe than its predecessors. With watery eyes and red noses and distressing coughs they had become familiar, but this was plainly a more serious matter. For three days more she dragged herself about, trying to conceal her state from him and from herself, but crying softly when he did not see her.

One morning, as the dawn crept into the cavern, she tried as usual to rise from her hard bed, and fell back with a stifled moan. Haig heard her, and raised his head quickly, struck by an unaccustomed note in her low cry.

"What is it, Marion?" he asked in alarm.

"It's no use, dear!" she whispered. "I can't get up."

For a moment he lay stricken, incapable of thought. Not that the event was unexpected. He had been reckoning on that; he had seen her steadily failing, and knew that she could not go on indefinitely under such privations. And yet, when it came, it was appalling. The grayness of the cave settled down upon him like a pall. Once he would have been indifferent to it, resigned to the knowledge that it was inevitable. But now he had come, if not to share her hope, at least to sympathize with it, and to wish ardently for her sake that her faith might be justified. And it seemed a pitiable thing that she should have been deceived, an intolerable thing that she should die there so uselessly,—for him.

He moved over to her, and placed his hand on her forehead. It was burning hot.

"Water, please!" she gasped.

He hobbled to the entrance, and brought a cupful of snow, and melted it over the fire. She drank the water greedily, and begged for more. But he told her gently that she must wait a little while. Then he sat thinking. What should be done with fever? It would probably be pneumonia, or something as fatal. And it would take her as the north wind takes the drooping petals of a rose.

He bent over her, and tried to soothe her with such futile words as came. The look she gave him went straight into deep, dark cells of his being that he thought had been closed and sealed forever. She begged him to eat; he must cook his own breakfast. Oh, but he must eat, or he should not be able to help her, she said. She would be quite well in a day or two; she was sure of that; and he must not get sick too. After he had been so patient and so good to her!

Haig turned away with a groan, and tried to obey her. But eat? Eat that repulsive food that he had choked down these many days only to please her, only to subscribe to her foolish faith? He could not! But presently she raised her head, and saw that he was not eating, and chided him. Whereupon he swallowed some morsels of the venison, and assured her that he had eaten heartily.

All that day she lay there, her face flushed, her eyes gleaming with a brightness that was more than the brightness of her indomitable spirit. When she smiled up at him he turned his face away that she might not see what he knew was written on it. And then he realized how much that smile had come to mean to him—how all unawares he had come to covet and to prize it—how he had half-consciously of late resorted to unexpected words and gestures to coax it to her lips.

There was no sleep for either of them that night. The next day Marion grew steadily worse, and toward evening she became delirious. And there was no concealment in this delirium as there had been in his. All that he had not seen and heard and guessed before was now wholly revealed to him. He was permitted to see deep into the pure soul of the girl, into her very heart that was brimming over with love for him. His name came riding on every breath. It was Philip, Philip, Philip! And bit by bit, and fragment by fragment, he heard all the pitiful story of her love, of her petty stratagems, of the wicked little plot she had made, of the traps from which he had extricated himself, of the pretended sprain in her ankle, of her watching and waiting, of the anguish he had caused her, of her solitary communion with the stars on Mount Avalanche, of her dismissal of Hillyer, of her faith in the love that should not be denied and unrequited, of her prayers for a miracle that should bring him to her at last.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse