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The Heart of Thunder Mountain
by Edfrid A. Bingham
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He looked down at the poor, small foot in its ragged shoe; yes, that was the foot that was "sprained." And how it had trudged, and dragged itself along for him, when every bone and muscle of her body ached! He looked at her hands, thin even in their swollenness, raw and bleeding, hard as a laborer's on the palms. How they had toiled and bled for him! For him! And what about him? What about Philip Haig?

He leaned back from her, and closed his eyes. And suddenly it seemed as if something fell away from them, as if something that had bound and imprisoned and blinded him had been rudely shattered. In one terrible, torturing revelation he saw clearly what he had been, what he had done, what a miserable wreck he had made of life, what a pitiable, dwarfed, misshapen thing his soul had become in comparison with the soul of this girl whom he had despised. He saw that he had lived a life of almost untouched egoism, setting his own wrongs above all the other wrongs in the world, counting his own griefs the greatest of all griefs, nursing his own tragedy as if it had been the first tragedy and the last. Bitterly, remorselessly he reviewed his selfishness, his hatred, his senseless rage, the heartlessness wrought by himself in a nature that had been, in the beginning, as pure, if not as precious and fine and beautiful, as hers.

And that was not all. He had taken woman for the special object of his hatred. He had made himself believe that all women were alike. Was there, then, only one kind of woman in a world filled with many kinds of men? Because he had been a fool, because he had been deceived by one woman, he had concluded, in his folly, that every woman was a vampire or a parasite,—"a rag and a bone and a hank of hair"!

And now there lay before him indeed (and the words took on a new and more terrible meaning) "a rag and a bone and a hank of hair." Yes, this was all that was left of her. This was what he had made of the most joyous and most beautiful creature that had ever crossed his path; this was the best he could do for one who had had the misfortune to love him and the courage to tell him so. This was his work! His memory went back to that day before the post-office. How beautiful she was then, how strangely beautiful, coming out of that halo of light by the side of the golden outlaw. Something had stirred within him then, as it had stirred again and again: at Huntington's when she reached for his revolver; in his cottage that last afternoon of her nursing. And he had repulsed it, put it down, and trampled on it, as if it had been an execrable thing instead of the very treasure he had been seeking all his life without knowing what he sought. And now he recognized it for what it was—too late!

He bent nearer to her, listening.

"Philip! Philip!" she was saying, in tender, coaxing accents, with that quivering of her chin that had many times been almost irresistible.

Then came the final break-up of everything within him. He felt lifted as upon a flood, and a wild and passionate longing surged through all his being. He leaned swiftly over her, and clasped her in his arms, and pressed her hot cheek against his own. And then—it was unendurable; he felt one of her arms softly encircling his neck. There was just one gentle pressure, and then the arm fell to her side, and her head sank weakly away from him. He laid her back tenderly on her hard bed.

He sat up again, looking at her and listening. She rambled on in half-coherent speech. She had not heard him cry out her name; or if she had heard him it had been only a part of her fevered dreams. And this was the crowning bitterness: that he should want to speak to her, to tell her that he loved her, and she could not hear; that he was too late, and she would never know.

He leaped to his feet in a whirling tempest of rage. He stumbled to the mouth of the cave, and thrust himself half through the barricade, and looked out into the wilderness of snow, and stood shaking his fist at it, quivering with passion, and uttering the wildest imprecations upon the world, upon the outlaw, and upon himself. And gradually they centered upon himself alone; and he stood presently, as it were, naked before God, with something like a prayer unspoken, a silent, voiceless petition rising from his tortured soul.

He became calm after that. A curious peace, it seemed, had flowed in upon him. Mechanically he renewed the fire, brought water and held it to Marion's lips, and eased her position on the bed. Then he sat by her side to wait!

Well, this was the end. She would be going soon,—to-morrow, or the day after. He glanced toward the shelf where Marion's rifle and his revolver lay. She would not be there now to snatch the weapon from his hand! But she would be waiting for him. And there came back to him the strange feeling he had experienced in his cottage—the pressure of her hand still warm on his own—her hand helping up and up and out of the Valley of the Shadow. And her hand would be stretched out for him—in the Beyond—

* * * * *

It must have been about the middle of the next forenoon—he had ceased to reckon time, and there were no more notches cut on the black wall of the cave—when Philip, sitting at Marion's side, observed a curious, restless movement of her head. She had lain all morning in a stupor, very still, with only an occasional murmur from her dry lips. But now, moving her head from side to side, she tried to lift it, as if to listen.

"What is it, Marion?" asked Haig, leaning close to her.

"Listen!" she whispered.

He obeyed her, or pretended to, and turned an ear toward the mouth of the cavern. The wind was up with its wailing and its snarls and shrieks. He heard it for a moment, then looked at her again.

"My poor girl! My poor Marion!" he said.

"Listen!" she repeated, with a touching emphasis, almost childish, almost petulant.

He heard the storm.

"Yes, Marion," he said, humoring her.

"Can't you hear it?" she pleaded. "Listen!"

It was the delirium again; she was hearing things that were not, except in her disordered mind. Perhaps—he had read somewhere that the dying, those of them that are pure at heart, sometimes hear the calling of the—

"Somebody's—coming!" she cried in the thinnest, most childlike treble. Her face shone; she tried to sit up; she raised one hand feebly toward him.

"Please lie down, dear!" pleaded Haig, pressing her gently back.

She resisted him, smiling and frowning at the same time.

"Be—very—still. And—listen!" she persisted.

To please her, he sat erect, and listened. They were very still then, one of her hands between both of his. And the storm was raging. It was wilder, wilder. All the fury of Thunder Mountain seemed to be behind the wind that came shrieking and bellowing down the gulch.

The seconds passed, with dead silence in the cave, and that bedlam let loose outside.

Then suddenly Haig lifted his head. What was it? There seemed to have come—No, it was but a mocking voice of the hurricane, one of the myriad voices of that wintry inferno, mocking them with a half-human cry. He looked sadly down at Marion, and saw that wondrous smile again upon her emaciated face. Oh, but this was maddening! Yet because she wished it, he listened again. And then, out of that tumult—very faint and far—

"My God! My God!" he shouted.

He leaped to his feet. He forgot his crutches. He flung himself across the floor of the cave in three reckless bounds, flung himself on the barrier of logs and limbs, clawing it like a maniac, or a wild beast, tore his way through it, and stood in the snow on the platform, calling into the storm, shrieking, bellowing, out-shrieking and out-bellowing the storm, swaying dizzily in the wind, and clutching at the air before him in a frenzy.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE MAN WHO DID NOT FORGET

Out of the tempest came the answering halloo; and Haig redoubled his outcries. Twice it came, whipped and broken by the wind; and then there was but the wind itself. Exhausted by his efforts, and sick of desperation and despair, Haig sank back weakly against the rock. Round and round him whirled the snow; across his face the wind cut him with savage lashes; in his ears there was nothing, nothing but the storm. Then, all grew black before him. After all, it had been an hallucination; he had been as mad as Marion in her delirium; he had peopled the storm with imaginary beings, had given the wind a voice it did not know. Crushed by disappointment, acknowledging the end, he was sinking down upon the snow-covered platform, when, suddenly—

"Hal-lo-o-o!"

It was nearer and louder than before. Haig straightened up, and again filled the tumultuous air with hoarse cries. Once more the voice came; and then out of the white chaos at the right of the cave, almost level with the platform, a dark form appeared, striding forward with a peculiar swinging motion, clumsily but sure.

Haig uttered one more call that dribbled into a sobbing cry.

"All—right!" answered the figure, in a smothered tone.

Huge, hunchbacked and cumbersome, the figure shuffled up the slight slope between the level of the snow and the snowy platform, and halted. A mittened hand went up to its head, and brushed the snow from the face.

"Pete!" cried Haig.

He attempted to move forward, stumbled, lunged toward the Indian, and collapsed in his arms. Pete, holding him, looked around until he saw the opening of the cave, and fairly carried Haig inside. For a few seconds, seeing nothing in the sudden change from the dazzling whiteness of the snow to the dim red light of the cavern, Pete stood still. Then Haig stiffened, stood erect, and pushed the Indian from him.

"There! Look!" he gasped, pointing to where Marion lay, wild-eyed on the bed, wrapped in her blankets. Then he sank down on the floor, with his back against the wall, and gave himself up to dizziness and exhaustion.

Pete quickly removed his thick mittens, unstrapped the bundle that rested on his back, and took off the snowshoes that had caused his approach over the snow to appear so like a lumbering animal's. Flinging all these on the floor, he went swiftly to Marion's side, and knelt there.

"Sick?" he asked.

She did not answer, but stared at him, and smiled.

"Listen!" she whispered. "Somebody—coming!"

Pete stood up, and looked at Haig.

"How long like this?" he asked.

"I forget. Three or four days."

"You well?"

"Yes," Haig answered weakly.

Pete came closer, and pointed to the leg that Haig kept thrust stiffly out before him.

"Broke?"

"Yes."

"How long?"

"Six weeks."

The Indian asked no more questions just then, but hastened to open his pack. First he found a bottle of whisky, and made Haig take a long drink. Pete believed in two remedies for all human ills. He had a brew of herbs that he had inherited from his tribal ancestors, his sole inheritance besides his iron body. This brew was good for fevers; and whisky was good for everything else. Having doctored Haig with the whisky, he now turned to Marion with the brew. From a flask he poured some of the dark brown liquid into a cup, let it come just to a boil among the embers of the fire, and when it had cooled a little placed it to Marion's lips. It was bitter, and she tried to draw away from it, but Pete forced her gently to drain the cup.

Whatever the brew might be worth, the whisky certainly was efficacious. Haig sat erect, and began hurling questions at the Indian.

"How did you get in here—in God's name?" was the first.

"Black Lake country."

"But how did you get in there?"

"Simpson's Pass."

Haig stared at him. He knew that to reach Simpson's Pass the Indian must have gone far south below the canyon of the Big Bear, made a wide detour over the lower range, and ascended to the Pass around the shoulder of Big Bear Mountain. He had never heard of the Pass being crossed in winter, and it was almost unbelievable.

"But the snow!" he exclaimed.

Pete pointed to the snowshoes.

"But the Pass doesn't let into the Black Lake country," said Haig. "There's another range of mountains."

"Yes. I come over them."

"How long did it take you?"

"I been four weeks. But most of time looking in forest down there."

"But how did you find us?"

The Indian drew from his pocket a ragged and soiled piece of paper, and spread it out on the floor. It was a crude map, with Paradise Park outlined at one side, and at the other a labyrinth of lines and stars and crosses. The stars were peaks, the crosses were foothills, and the lines were creeks and valleys. Through the maze ran one heavier line that indicated the trail through the Black Lake country up to the cliff at the back of Thunder Mountain.

"Old Parker made it," said Pete.

"Tell me all!" commanded Haig. "But wait!" He pointed to Marion.

Marion's babbling had slowly subsided, and ceased. Pete rose and went to her noiselessly on his moccasined feet; and after looking at her a moment stepped cautiously back.

"She quiet now. Sleep soon," he said.

And it was so. The next time he slipped over to her, the girl's eyes were closed, and soon she had sunk into a profound slumber from which she did not awake until late the next morning.

Meanwhile Pete took up his story. Smythe had delivered Marion's message, and had told them what he feared. Claire's knowledge of the state of Marion's heart and mind enabled her to guess the worst, but Seth scouted the idea of her trying to reach the top of Thunder Mountain, or of Murray permitting her to try it. So two days were lost before the alarm was sounded by Murray, who, after two attempts to reach the top of the mountain, had given up and ridden to the Park for help.

The whole valley responded to the call, and the most desperate efforts were made to reach the plateau, but the storms that Haig and Marion had heard in their sheltered gulch were of such fury and continuity that the hardiest of the ranchmen were unable to prevail against them. Huntington, half-crazed by the thought of the two days he had allowed to be lost, had gone farther than any of the others, and had been rescued with difficulty by some of his neighbors, who found him lying senseless at the foot of the ascent to the Devil's Chair, where the wind had hurled him back down the slope. Smythe was among those who saved him, for the little tutor had let the last stage go without him, and was one of the most reckless in the attacks on the mountain.

All these efforts having failed, and the winter having fallen with exceptional suddenness and severity, even. Huntington was forced to accept the general opinion that nothing more could be done; that they could only wait for summer, when they could go to the mountain top and bring back Marion's body—and doubtless Haig's too. And so, said Huntington, the feud was ended.

One person alone in the Park refused to admit all this. Pete was forced indeed to admit it in theory, but he was resolved to prove it or disprove it on his own account. He had studied Thunder Mountain from the ridge above the ranch house all that day of Sunnysides' escape, and the next. And he remembered now that a period of calm had followed the storm on that second day. If Haig or Marion, or both of them, had by chance reached the flat top in that interval, they might have crossed, and might be now somewhere in the forests on the other side.

He went to Parker, talked with him long about the character of the Black Lake country, induced him to draw the crude map, and then visited Seth and Claire. Seth shook his head gloomily, but Claire eagerly proceeded to assemble enough supplies to have loaded down a pack horse. There followed a pitifully comical struggle with her before her "first aid" was reduced to what Pete could carry in his canvas knapsack,—a small roll of underwear, needles and thread, bandages and a packet of household medicines in addition to Pete's own selection of a strip of bacon, a dozen onions, two score of vegetable soup tablets, two cans of condensed milk, small quantities of coffee and tea, salt and pepper, two cakes of soap and (especially insisted on by Pete) a plug of black tobacco and a pipe.

All these supplies Pete had saved untouched, living himself on game shot on the long journey. For nearly five weeks he had struggled against unbelievable hardships, fighting like primitive man against the fiercest enmity of nature; had searched the whole Black Lake country; and that day, slowly following the direction of the trail up through the narrowing gulch among the tree tops, the smell of smoke was brought to his nostrils on the wind, and he traced it along the foot of the cliff.

"But did you really expect to find us alive?" asked Haig.

"No."

"Then why did you do all this?"

"All I could do. Indian never forgets."

Thereupon he brought out Haig's pipe and his own, and they smoked over it in silence, late into the night.

Marion awoke the next morning with another look in her eyes. Her fever was still high, but she was no longer delirious. Too feeble to ask questions, she only smiled, and took obediently the remainder of the potion that Pete poured from his flask and heated in the tin-cup among the embers. On her wakening again it was seen that the fever was broken. But life in her was only a tiny flame, at times the merest spark that every gust of wind through the cavern threatened to extinguish. Hour after hour Haig and the Indian watched it, the one in such anguish as the repentant murderer suffers as he kneels over the poor victim of his rage, the other in stolid resignation, seeing that perhaps he had come too late.

But the spark was the bravest little spark in the world; and it did not go out. In time Pete dared to give Marion a little weakened milk; and then, when she responded to the milk, a few sips of soup that was scarcely thicker than water. And thus from day to day they nursed her back to some recognizable shadow of what she had been two months before.

There came an evening when they sat down to a veritable feast. Haig had stubbornly refused to taste any of the delicacies in Pete's store, excepting salt and pepper. Besides, with seasoning, the venison was no longer quite repugnant to his palate; and he and the Indian did very well on that until the feast was spread. And it was a feast remembered. There was soup, to begin with, drunk from the two cups they now possessed; then a rabbit stew, seasoned with SALT AND PEPPER, and flavored with an ONION; and black coffee (very black indeed, to be quite exact). Then Haig's and Pete's pipes were lighted; and the Indian must tell them again the story of the rescue; and let the wind howl its savagest!

"Poor Claire!" said Marion, with a tremulous little laugh, when Pete told her how the knapsack was packed.

And Haig looked across at her dizzily, as if the fumes of the strong tobacco had gone to his head.

* * * * *

Their situation was still miserable enough, but the Indian contrived to make it less unendurable. He knew some knacks of cookery that availed to make their venison and rabbit palatable; and the tea and coffee cheered them beyond all possibility of expression. No longer required to toil; with clean underwear; with soap for her blackened face and hands, Marion recovered her strength, or much of it, with amazing swiftness. Pete made a rough coat and even a skirt for her of deerskin. The coat was of double thickness, and very warm indeed, and so she gave back to Haig the remnant of the leather coat she had been wearing, which was now needed to cover his ragged corduroy. Then came moccasins, and better crutches for Haig; and so they settled down with new courage for what they thought would be a long wait through the implacable winter.

Haig kept his secret, or supposed he was keeping it. Marion did not indeed remember how he had taken her in his arms in her delirium; rather, if there was a faint but insistent recollection of the embrace it was intangible and unreal. She had dreamed so often of that longed-for embrace that the reality was inseparable from the imagined. Nor was she aware of the revelation that had come to Haig, as if a dazzling light had broken through the walls of the cavern. But though he might keep his secret he could not conceal from her the change that had come over him, the tenderness and wonder and humility that had succeeded his hardness and scepticism and belligerency. She detected that alteration in every look he gave her, in every movement he made in waiting upon her, in every tone of his speech, though the words were the most commonplace. And in her great faith she was not surprised. But she was thrilled. The knowledge ran through her veins like a living fire, a better nourishment than food, a more potent cure than any medicine.

So the long days, not quite so long as they used to be, marched on. Despite the skilful services of Pete they were still always cold, always hungry, always weary for want of sleep, and always dirty and unkempt. Then there came a day when Pete astonished them. He brought in from the forest certain small limbs of tough wood, and began to trim them and bend them into shapes that they were presently able to recognize. Snowshoes!

"You don't mean—Can we do it?" cried Haig incredulously.

"Can't stay here," was Pete's short reply.

True; they could not stay there; it was just what Haig had been thinking, or trying to avoid thinking. But how would Marion be able to endure that terrible journey over Simpson's Pass? For her part she said nothing, but her eyes met Philip's; she reached her hand to him, and he clasped it tightly.

Three weeks after Pete's arrival he began gradually to inure Haig and Marion to living and moving in the snow. He taught them to walk on snowshoes, to climb steep slopes on them, to pick their way among the trees. There were countless falls in deep drifts, and headlong plunges, and ungraceful wallowings in the snow. But they knew their lives depended on these labors, and they were even able to laugh at some of their awkward performances. These exercises were, moreover, very good for them. Ill-nourished though they were, the natural color crept back into their cheeks, the blood flowed briskly again, through their chilled veins, their muscles were strengthened by their struggles with the winds and the snow that still came on with unremitted vigor. Then Pete went a step farther in the preparations for the crucial test. Not only must they spend the greater part of the day outside the cave, but they must sleep, or try to sleep, a few hours every night in the snow, wrapped in their blankets, in holes scooped out under the lee of a snowbank, while the Indian stood guard nearby.

It was near the end of December when Pete thought his charges had become sufficiently hardened to undertake the long journey. The weather, if it had not moderated (it would not begin to moderate there until long after spring had brought out the flowers in the distant Park), had settled a little after its first fury. The storms came with less frequency, and the snow had assumed a certain stability with the steadily added weight. Both Marion and Haig bad mastered their snowshoes, and were able to travel slowly after Pete. Moreover, all the delicacies that Pete had brought had been consumed, despite their most careful husbanding, and even the meager supply of salt and pepper would soon be exhausted, leaving only the unseasoned venison of odious memory.

The night before the day set for their departure, Pete broiled strips of venison sufficient for a week or more, and stowed them in his knapsack. At dawn they were up, and eagerly making the final preparations. Haig and Marion, in their impatience, would have eaten nothing, but the Indian, true to his tribal habit of filling the stomach before a march, insisted that breakfast should be a methodical and leisurely business. From some recess he drew the last soup tablet, the last onion, and the last of the ground coffee, which he had clandestinely saved against this great event. The feast with which they had celebrated Marion's recovery was now repeated in celebration of their farewell to the cave,—the soup, the rabbit stew and the black coffee.

Then, when Pete had fastened their snowshoes securely on their moccasined feet, and had gone out to trample down the fresh snow on the platform before the cave, Haig and Marion stood together for a last look upon the scene of their sufferings. They looked at the dying fire, at the flattened beds of boughs, at the long row of notches on the wall, at the crutches lying among the firewood, at crumpled and ragged boots and bits of worn-out clothing.

"Good-by—you!" cried Marion, laughing tremulously, very near to tears.

"Yes, good-by!" said Haig.

That cave—what had it not meant for him! There was his Valley of the Shadow, into which he had again descended to seek and find the better part of him that he had left there long ago.

"Go on out, please!" he said presently. "I'll come in a minute."

She looked at him curiously, but obeyed. Haig waited till she had gone, and then shuffled clumsily on his snowshoes across the floor to where, beyond the fire, lay one of Marion's boots. It was a torn and misshapen thing, the sole worn through, the leather curled up from the open toe. He picked it up hastily, and with a swift glance at the mouth of the cavern, thrust it into an inside pocket of his leather coat.

* * * * *

It was a wonderful, thrilling, terrifying journey, filled with hardships and perils. Caution and sheer toil of travel held them to slow progress. They went through vast forests, among the very tops of the tall pines; they climbed wide, bare slopes where the winds had almost stripped the snow from the gaunt rocks; they descended into sheltered valleys where the deer went scurrying at their approach; they crossed deep gulches packed half-full of blown and drifted snow; they passed close to the edges of precipices where a false step would have sent them whirling down into white abysses spiked with pines. Storms overtook them, and forced them to remain many hours in such shelter as they could find. Sometimes they slept under overhanging rocks with a fire blazing at their feet, but more often the night was spent in burrows dug in the snow. Their supply of venison ran out, and a day was lost while Pete hunted and killed a deer, and cooked strips of its flesh, to be seasoned with the very last of their salt and pepper, and kept in his knapsack. But even Marion did not lose courage or once falter, though many times her heart was in her mouth and a cold sweat on her forehead as they passed some formidable and terrifying obstacle.

At length, on a bright and glittering day, when it seemed the storms had finally abandoned their enmity, they climbed slowly up the long slopes to Simpson's Pass, and stood at noon high above a wide and wonderful world of snow, with white mountains succeeding one another, range on range, as far as their eyes could reach before them and behind. And that afternoon, as they toiled around the shoulder of Big Bear Mountain, they stopped and gazed,—Marion with tears streaming down her cheeks, and Haig with his hands clenched tightly at his sides. For there, still far away below them, but there beyond all mistake, lay Paradise Park, very white and still and glittering in the sun; and off at the right was Thunder Mountain, squatting among the silver peaks, its sullen head half hidden by gray-black clouds.



CHAPTER XXIX

GHOSTS

The lamp had not been lighted in the sitting-room at Huntington's, but the pitch log blazing in the great fireplace reddened the farthest corners of the room, and flushed the somber faces of Seth and Claire. Their habit, in these days of grief, was to sit the winter evenings through almost in silence, their self-reproaches long since spent, their hopes turned to ashes, which Claire alone tried sometimes to fan into a glow. They had eaten their supper before twilight, without speech, and then, as always, waited wearily for sleep.

"It will be three months and two weeks to-morrow," she said, without looking away from the fire.

"Yes," answered Huntington.

"Isn't it possible she may have reached—"

"It's no use, Claire, thinking such things."

"But Pete! He hasn't come back, and maybe that means—"

She did not even finish the sentence, which simply faded away on her lips, a useless and foolish conjecture.

Another long silence followed. Seth's cigarette went out, and hung dead from his bearded lips, while he stared gloomily into the blaze. He sat with his back toward the front door. Claire, near a corner of the big stone chimney, leaned forward, her head inclined to one side, the cheek resting on her open hand, the elbow on her knee. Her eyes, which had been lifted from their long gazing at the fire at the moment she addressed her husband, were fixed on vacancy, looking past Huntington toward the door that led out upon the veranda, where the rising wind tossed little whirls of snow and dead leaves from the flower garden. She was torturing herself with a conjured vision of a wild, high place among snowbound rocks, in the midst of which a slender figure was slowly sinking down, and a white and stricken face was turned toward her. This was the vision that had become for her the settled picture of Marion's fate, a picture that was burned into her brain by many, many hours of imagining, day and night.

The wind was howling around the ranch house, wailing among the gables, shrieking across the chimney top. It rattled at the door, as if to fling it open with sudden violence. And what was that? A footstep on the veranda? She shivered; it was only her shaken nerves again! Then came another rattle at the door. It moved. It was flung open. And there was the figure of her dream, but strangely and fantastically clad; and with a face that glowed, and lips that were parted in a smile.

For a moment Claire did not move. Then slowly she lifted her head; her eyes grew round and staring, her mouth opened. Seth caught the look; it was one he had seen many times before.

"Claire!" he cried. "Stop that!"

His voice, perhaps, served to break the spell. Claire leaped to her feet. And the next instant there was a voice from the doorway.

"Hello!" said Marion cheerily, in a "good evening" kind of tone, as if she had returned from the post-office.

Huntington bounded from his chair, and whirled around with an oath,—one oath surely that was forgiven him. But past him, with a scream dashed Claire.

"Marion!" she shrieked.

"Marion!" bellowed Seth.

And then the two women were in each other's arms, and Seth grabbed one of Marion's hands, and the air was filled with hysterical cries and mighty, spluttered expletives. Then silence fell, while Claire and Marion wept without restraint, and Huntington searched for his handkerchief without finding it, and strode across the room and back, pounding one clenched hand into the palm of the other. But Marion presently tore herself out of Claire's embrace, and turned to grab an arm of Pete, who stood just outside the doorway, through which the wind unheeded was flinging snow and leaves into the room.

"Here he is!" cried Marion. "He did it!"

Claire promptly threw her arms around the Indian's neck, or as nearly around as she could reach, and stood on tiptoe to plant a kiss on his leathery cheek. Huntington too leaped on him, seizing his shoulder and hand, and dragging him farther into the room. Then he broke away, and ran for a bottle; and the two men clicked glasses and drank in silence. And two big chairs were drawn close to the fire for Pete and Marion; and while Claire sat crying softly, and Huntington, between "damns" and "hells," wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, and Pete sat impressive, Marion quickly narrated the chief incidents of her pursuit of Haig, their long imprisonment, and the rescue.

"But Haig! Where's he?" asked Huntington.

"He left us at the junction," answered Marion.

On that a moment of silence fell. Something in Marion's face told even Huntington to keep still. But Claire, seeing it, was secretly, wickedly, triumphantly glad. A very practical thought, however, came to her in time to prevent embarrassment, and Seth was sent bustling into the kitchen to relight the fire in the range. The cook had gone to bed, but Claire would get supper for them; for Pete must stay, she insisted. But at this the Indian rose, and said he must go to Haig, who had told him to hurry back for supper with him in the cottage.

"Well, then, Pete," said Huntington from the door of the kitchen, "you'll have another drink, anyhow. And you'll come up to-morrow to tell us how you found them, won't you?"

Pete promised; the whisky was solemnly drunk again; and the three others followed him to the door.

"But you must have a horse!" said Huntington.

So he jumped past him, and ran to the stable, bellowing for Williams.

"Now take off your coat, Marion!" cried Claire.

"No. Not here," said Marion. "You'll see why."

They waited before the blazing log for Huntington to return, whereupon he was sent to build a fire in Marion's room. When it was crackling finely, Marion, removed her deerskin coat and skirt. Claire stared at her, gasping; and then sank down on the bed in another fit of weeping. For Marion stood before her in rags and dirt.

"Oh, but you should have seen me the day Pete came!" cried Marion, with a pathetic little laugh. "I've actually got some flesh on my bones now."

Indescribable luxuries followed: a hot bath, wonderful clean garments, and Claire's happy fingers combing the tangles out of the tawny hair.

"But I'll never be really and truly clean again, Claire!" cried Marion ruefully, holding out her hands.

Claire clasped them tenderly, while Marion, on a sudden thought, related to her Haig's speech about baths; and they laughed together.

"You've so many things to tell me," said Claire, with a curiosity she could not quite repress.

"Yes," answered Marion, blushing.

It was nearly midnight when they sat down to supper, but none of them cared for time. Marion was not sleepy. She and Haig and Pete had slept well in a deserted cabin the last night of their journey, before a huge fire, in circumstances positively pleasant in comparison with what they had passed through. But she was hungry. As she never expected to be really and truly clean again, she doubted that she should ever get enough to eat. Claire did the best she could on that score, and that was something. There was chicken with cream gravy; and potatoes, baked in their skins, and seasoned with butter and salt and paprika; and three kinds of jelly to be spread on buttered toast; and angel cake. In the midst of the feast there were steps on the veranda, and a knock on the door; and Curly appeared, bearing two bottles of champagne.

"Mr. Haig says you're all to drink Pete's health, an' he ought to live to be a hundred," said Curly, grinning, and gazing in wonderment at Marion, whose exploit had caused her to assume somewhat the nature of a goddess in his simple mind.

When the door had closed on Curly, Huntington stood for a moment awkwardly holding the bottles, an expression almost of consternation on his face. He had once made some remarks about Haig's champagne. But he had the sense not to act the part of a skeleton at the feast. Pete's health was drunk by all; and might he live to be a hundred!

In another hour Marion was in bed, in a real bed, in her own pink room, between sweet, clean sheets, and warm again at last, but shivering in sheer excess of comfort, and crying a little perhaps from overwhelming joy. For she knew in her heart—something she could not yet tell even Claire.

* * * * *

Bill Craven was mending a bridle by the light of a smoky lantern in the stable, when he saw a ghost. It just opened the door, and walked in, and said, "How are you, Bill?" Craven fell backward off his stool, then leaped to his feet with a yell that caused a commotion among the barn swallows under the eaves, and brought Farrish and Curly tumbling down the ladder from the loft. Thereupon discipline, for which Haig had always been rather a stickler, suffered a bad half hour. They had given him up for lost; and had found on comparing experiences that each of them had many reasons for counting that loss his own. In the days following the attempts to rescue Miss Gaylord, these three had gone about the Park with chips on their shoulders, inviting any outspoken citizen to say to them anything that was not strictly proper and complimentary about Haig. So now, though the words were few after the first noisy demonstration, they were the kind of words that are worth hearing, from man to man.

Haig and Bill Craven presently compared notes in the matter of "busted" legs. Bill's had mended much sooner than Haig's, which was quite easily understood, considering the great difference in their circumstances. Curly had "nigh killed" the sorrels, getting the doctor for Craven, but they were all right now. "Fat and sassy," Curly added.

"I'll take some of that out of them, to-morrow," said Haig. "I'll want the sleigh, Farrish. Please look after it in the morning."

Then, seeing their impatience, he told them of Sunnysides' final escape, and of all the events that followed—as much as was good for them to know.

"But where's Pete?" asked Craven.

"He went to Huntington's with Miss Gaylord. He'll be along soon."

"Well, jest wait till we git our hands on that damned Indian!" cried Bill. "Eh, men?"

It was evident that there would be a considerable disturbance in the barn on Pete's arrival.

A few minutes later Haig had his surprise. On entering the cottage he first encountered Slim Jim in the outer room. Perhaps Jim's face turned a trifle yellower, perhaps his thin legs trembled a little under the sky-blue trousers; but that was about all, except the light that flickered an instant in his eyes.

"Glad you back!" he said simply. "Want supper?"

"Want supper! Why, you scrawny, evil-eyed heathen! Want supper! I want everything you've got to eat, and everything you haven't got, and don't you tell me there's 'vellee lil' either, or I'll break every bone in your body. And be quick about it too!"

Jim hurried into the kitchen with so much of a departure from his oriental poise that the first pan he picked up fell to the floor with a clatter. That was the most eloquent testimonial he could have given, unless it was the supper that was ready for Haig in an hour—and no "velle lil" supper at that—to his participation in the general rejoicing.

Haig, meanwhile, opened the inner door, stepped into the library-bedroom, and halted dead still on the threshold. At his entrance, a tall, thin young man, with a very pale face, rose like an automaton and stared at him. It was a question which of the two was the more amazed.

"Thursby!" cried Haig, recovering the more quickly.

"Haig!"

"Where did you come from?"

"From the other side of the world. And you?"

"From the very bowels of the earth, man!"

They walked slowly toward each other until they met, and clasped hands.

"You found him?" asked Haig, searching the other's face.

"In Singapore."

"And then?"

"He's dead."

"And she?"

"I've sent her back to her people in Devonshire."

Haig gripped hard the hand that was still clasped in his own, and there was a moment of silence.

"Well," said Haig, "we'll have a nip of whisky, and then—You've come back to take your ranch, of course."

"I came back for that, but I can't figure out that it's mine now."

"How's that?" asked Haig, pouring out the drinks.

"I left three hundred head of cattle, and now I learn there are thirteen hundred head, almost."

"Don't let that worry you. I've sold enough of the increase to bring back all the money they cost me. So we're quits."

"No."

"Why not?"

"Be sensible, Haig. First thing, why did you do it?"

"For the fun of it, partly."

"And after that?"

"Well, your fine ranch here wasn't making much money, and I thought you'd need a good deal, perhaps, before you got through with your—affair."

"And yet you say we're quits!"

"I'm satisfied."

"But I'm not. You'll take a half interest, and we'll go partners."

"No."

"I say yes," persisted Thursby. "But I'm forgetting to ask questions. How the devil did you get back?"

"I will a tale unfold will harrow up thy bones—and the rest of it," replied Haig, laughing. "But first: when did you arrive?"

"By the last stage in."

"And what have you told them—my pleasant neighbors?"

"Nothing. But they have the impression that I came for the final payment on the ranch, and that I remained because you were lost in the mountains."

"Good. Now, old man, I'll tell you how you can repay me in full for anything you may think I've done for you."

"Go on!"

"Are you ready to assume the responsibility for my acts? I mean in the matter of the land and cattle? The rest is still my affair."

"Most certainly."

"Well, then. I've very special reasons for needing peace with Huntington."

Thursby looked at him curiously. This from Philip Haig!

"And you want me to—"

"Don't misunderstand me. I've gone up there before, and I'm going again to-morrow. But I want to give Huntington a chance. So if you'll go to his house to-morrow morning, and tell him that I've finished, that the ranch is not mine, and—"

"But the ranch is yours—or half yours."

"Never mind about that now. We'll talk it over later. Just tell Huntington that the ranch is not mine, and never has been, and—whatever else you like. Then say to him that if he still wants to fight me I'll meet him anywhere, and we'll settle it. In any event, you will tell him, I'm coming to his place to-morrow afternoon, and I'll have no gun."

"I see."

"And you'll do it?"

"Of course. With all my heart."

And he made a thorough job of it. He told them—Huntington, Claire and Marion—that he had been in great trouble. What that trouble was concerned nobody but himself, but it was enough to send him around the world, reckless of everything but the immediate object of his pursuit. Philip Haig, an old friend, had volunteered to look after his ranch for him, and to provide him with money when he needed it. So, if Haig had seemed too aggressive and selfish in his methods, all that he had done had been done in a spirit of—he might say a spirit that was almost quixotic. And having done all this, increasing Thursby's holdings of cattle four times, Haig refused to accept anything for his time and labor, and insisted that their account was closed.

Marion had known nothing of all this, save for the hints she had received from Smythe, following the conversation overheard by him. Philip had told her nothing of it in recounting his adventures. With glistening eyes she looked from Claire to Huntington, where they sat open-mouthed, and was thrilled with pride and triumph. Claire at length turned, and looked at her, and smiled. As for Huntington, he was simply (as he explained afterwards, seeking to justify his ready acquiescence) flabbergasted.

"This has been a very bitter business, Thursby," he said. "It's cost me a lot of cattle and money, and I'll not take back a thing I've said about Haig's grabbing everything in sight, and ruining his neighbors. But I will say, after what you've told me, that—damn it, Thursby! he is a man."

"He's ready to fight with you or talk with you, as you wish."

Huntingdon eyed him suspiciously.

"Did Haig say that?" he demanded.

"He certainly did."

"Then tell him, if he's on the square, it'll be talk."

Claire, ignoring Thursby's presence, ran and snuggled close to Seth, while he put his arm around her. But it was at Marion, to Marion, that Seth looked, seeking the approval that he had never before been able to get from her. Their eyes met, and she nodded, smiling.

"Very well!" said Thursby. "He's coming to see you this afternoon."

"What?" cried Huntington.

"He's coming this afternoon. And he wished me to say explicitly that he will have no gun."

To Huntington this seemed almost incredible. He was heartily sick of the warfare, and glad of any way out of it that would not be too humiliating to himself. But Haig was coming to him; and this meant, surely, that something had occurred to his enemy that would make the event easy for himself, if not quite free from embarrassment. He looked again at Marion; and at last, seeing her radiant countenance, he understood that this was her achievement, that it was for her Haig would be coming unarmed to the house of his bitter foe that afternoon.

"I'm ready," he said to Thursby, with an elation he was only partly able to conceal.

Smythe was the next visitor, arriving in a state of such contrition that Marion pitied him. His jaunty air was gone. He was quite unable to respond to Marion's gentle jesting, seeing that her cheeks were still sunken and pale, that the body whose graces he had so much admired was now palpably thin under her loose clothing. He had blamed himself bitterly for the disaster that had overtaken her, and his sufferings had been real and lasting.

"If I'd been half a man I'd never have let you go on alone that day," he said after she had greeted him brightly, giving him both her hands.

"Oh, indeed!" retorted Marion. "And what would you have done?"

"Gone with you."

"But I sent you back."

"I was a fool!"

"A fool to do as I told you, Mr. Smythe?" she demanded archly.

"Yes. You didn't know what you were doing."

"But I did know what I was doing."

This come with such depth of feeling that he knew he would no longer be able to bring her news of Philip Haig.

"Then I'm glad," he said simply.

Presently she told him her story; but much was omitted, especially the keenest of her sufferings, since remorse still haunted Smythe's solemn eyes.

"And what have you been doing?" she asked.

"Trying to read and study, but it's been no use."

"And you've lost a year in your career!"

"That's nothing. I can make it up, if you've forgiven me." She gave him her hand again.

"There's nothing to forgive!" she answered warmly. "You've been a good friend to me. I owe you—more than you know—more than I can tell you—now!"

On that she rose hurriedly, and went to her room for—a handkerchief. It was quite ten minutes before she returned to finish their talk, and to tell him that he must come to see her often through the long months of winter that remained.



CHAPTER XXX

THE LAMP RELIGHTED

Marion, at the window, was the first to see him; and what she saw caused her to clutch at her throat to stifle a cry. He was not on horseback, though the roads were quite passable, but in a sleigh; and there was a jingle of sleigh bells on the frosty air. He had come with the sorrels—for her—at last!

She opened the door for him, giving him her hand—was it possible?—a little shyly. Huntington, at Haig's entrance, rose from his chair before the fire; and Claire too, clinging to the chimney, scarce able to believe that there would not be such another scene as that of one evening long ago.

Silence, a little awkward for all of them, followed Marion's greeting, while the two men stood looking at each other. Then Haig walked direct to Huntington, frankly smiling.

"How are you, Huntington? And Mrs. Huntington?" he was saying quietly.

"All well," replied Huntington, rather stiffly, meaning to be very reserved in this business.

Claire inclined her head without speaking. Her blue eyes were round, her lips parted, and something of the old terror showed in her face, though she knew very well why Haig was there.

"Thursby has told you?" asked Haig.

"Yes," was Huntingdon's answer, still putting everything up to his enemy.

"Well then, Huntington, since you'll deal with Thursby now, I thought we might as well ask each other a few questions, and give straight answers."

"I'm ready," said Huntington gruffly.

"Thank you. First, did you drive that bunch of cattle off the cliff?"

"No. But did you scatter those twenty head of mine?"

"No. Both mere accidents undoubtedly. Second, did you advise setting an ambush for me?"

"No. That was—no matter who. I talked them out of it, and was sorry for it afterwards."

"But you did say you'd drive me out of the Park."

"Yes, and I'd have done it any way short of—"

"Sending me out in a coffin! But we all lost our tempers, of course."

"And with good reason on our side," retorted Huntington stoutly.

"Perhaps. But I'll ask you to remember that everything I did was open and aboveboard. If any of your cattle strayed, if any of your fences were cut, I had nothing to do with it."

"I believe you—now, after what Thursby's told me."

"Thank you. We make progress. But there are two things more. Who cut the fence of my winter pasture?"

For a moment Huntington was silent, his face reddening.

"I did that," he replied at length, half defiantly, but in great confusion.

"But why? There was nothing to be gained by that. There were no cattle in the pasture or near it."

Huntington hesitated, shifting his weight uneasily from his left foot to his right, and back again to the left. Then he looked at Marion, saw the appeal in her eyes, and plunged.

"I wanted to make you angry."

"To make me angry?"

"To make you do something reckless."

Haig studied him, and saw that he was dealing with a man who was in some respects, and for all his physical strength, a boy—a child. He felt his anger rising, but put it down resolutely.

"That was very foolish, Huntington!" he said, with some sharpness. "It certainly made me furious, as you saw later at the post-office."

"But you were wrong to call me a liar and a thief. And that's something you've got to—"

"Got to what?" demanded Haig quickly.

Huntington did not answer at once. Claire's face, already as pale as it could well be, became drawn and ashen, while Marion, seeing the danger, unconsciously took a step forward, as if to throw herself between the two men. For some tense seconds Huntington and Haig faced each other belligerently.

"Got to what, Huntington?" repeated Haig. "There's nothing I've got to do."

Huntington had not meant the "got" in the sense in which it was taken by Haig. He had begun to say, "You've got to admit that was pretty hard." But his unfortunate pause on the uncompleted sentence had justified Haig in putting the worst possible construction on the objectionable phrase. And now Huntington could not finish it as he had intended, without seeming to back down, or weaken. Nor could he afford to drop the mischievous word for another. In his desperation he took the boldest course, and made a more aggressive speech by far than any he had rehearsed for the occasion, and forgotten.

"You've got to take that back!" he blurted out.

It was Haig's turn now to ponder deeply. His first impulse was to tell Huntington to go to the devil, and thereupon to walk out of the house. But he had come there to make peace; and he bethought himself in time that to give way to anger would only be to allow Huntington the first victory he had ever had over him. Besides—he turned toward Marion, and saw her face distorted with apprehension. That decided the issue.

"All in good time, Huntington," he said, with a smile. "Your actions certainly justified everything I said. What have you to say about your scheme to take my horse?"

Huntington groped in vain for one of the crushing retorts that he had valiantly prepared for this meeting. Then he caught Marion's eye again.

"That was a mistake," he said. "But I'm no thief and no liar."

"I grant you're honest enough, Huntington, when you stop to think. As for Sunnysides, he's settled that business for himself. And if you'll give me a straightforward answer on one more point, I'll acquit you of being a liar."

"What's that?"

"You killed my bull, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did! But it was a question of yours or mine. They were fighting, and mine was getting the worst of it."

"And it never occurred to you to let the best one win?"

"No. I was angry. It was the day that—" He caught himself, and looked in fresh alarm at Marion.

"The day that—" Haig prompted.

"No matter. I was angry. I'll pay you what the bull was worth."

"No. Settle that with Thursby. Is there anything more?"

"Nothing except the cause of the whole trouble. You took more than your share."

"We might talk all day and all night about that, and come to no understanding. But I'll tell you what I've done. I've suggested to Thursby that he and you and the rest of them go into a pool. There's enough pasture for all of you if—"

"That's an idea!" cried Huntington. "What does Thursby say?"

"He's willing. He doesn't like trouble as I—did. He'll even sell off some of his stock."

Huntington was silent a moment, looking doubtfully at Haig. Then the best of him rose to the occasion.

"I told Thursby that—I hadn't anything to take back, but that—you're a man, for all of it And if you—Damn it! There's my hand."

"Done!" said Haig heartily.

"Oh!" cried Claire, breaking away from the mantel, to which she clung through all the interview, trembling between hope and fear. She stepped up to Haig, her eyes shining through tears.

"Mine too!" she said, offering her hand to him.

But when it was all finished there was another awkward interval of silence. For years of controversy and enmity are not so quickly resolved into perfect peace. It was Haig who brought back a certain ease to them.

"Would you mind, Mrs. Huntington, if I asked Miss Gaylord to go for a drive with me?"

"Indeed, no!"

"And if she took dinner with me? I'll bring her back early."

"If Marion thinks—"

But Marion, who had stood silent and anxious until then, did not reply to Claire's glance of inquiry. She heard the last words as if in a dream. But dreams were coming true these days; miracle followed miracle. With a stifled cry she ran past them, and into her room. There she sank down on the edge of the bed, and crossed her hands over her breast, and stared at vacancy, her face burning, a mist before her eyes. Weakness overcame her for a moment. Then she leaped to her feet, dressed quickly for the drive, and went out befurred and radiant to put her arms around Claire and kiss her.

"You'll be welcome, Haig, if you want to—to come in any time," Huntington was saying awkwardly.

"I will!" replied Haig.

Then Philip and Marion were gone, and Seth and Claire stood staring at the door.

"Oh, I'm so happy, Seth!" cried Claire at last, holding up her arms to him.

"Umph!" said Huntington, submitting to her ecstatic endearments.

* * * * *

The Park glittered in its robe of white; the sun shone with cold brilliancy out of a steel-blue sky; the air was still and sparkling, stinging their cheeks into a glow as they sped down the valley. Under the runners of the sleigh the dry snow sang and crackled, and flew up in a fine shower like dust of diamonds beneath the swift feet of the sorrels.

Haig gave Marion no chance to say a word while the sleigh went swinging and bounding down the road, and the fields slipped past them in a dazzling succession. When he was not leaning forward to urge the sorrels to greater speed he was talking rapidly. He told her of the scenes at the stable and the cottage on his return, elaborating the description until Marion's laughter rang above the sounds of their swift traveling. He was talking to keep up his courage, and to postpone the speech that was in his heart and that now, after all, when the time had come, filled him with doubts and fears, and seemed to him the boldest thing he had ever set himself to do. For the first time in ten years he was afraid, and doubtful of himself.

The door of the cottage was thrown open by Slim Jim, in his newest and brightest costume of blue silk. Marion smiled at him as she passed, for she could not trust herself to speak; and then she was in that room whence she had gone one day in utter dejection, praying for a miracle. She stood for a few seconds looking around her, recognizing all the familiar objects: the bed where Haig had undergone his agonies, the table where the medicines had stood, the window and a glimpse of the slope outside, now white instead of yellowing green. There was a roaring fire, and tea things stood on the table.

Silence enveloped them while Philip helped her with her wraps, and saw her seated in an armchair before the fire. Despite the color that the cold drive had brought into her cheeks, her features were still pinched and pale. Many weeks would be required, a summer perhaps, to restore her to what she had been before her terrible experience. And yet she seemed to him more beautiful than ever. Watching her furtively and anxiously, he endured a raging conflict of emotions, recalling with a poignant feeling of shame all that he had said to her in that room and elsewhere, in return for what she had done for him. An impulse seized him to rush to the door and lock it, to turn on her savagely, forbidding her to leave him as he had forbidden her to come to him. For all the proofs he had had of her love and devotion seemed inadequate to quiet the doubts he now confessed. He found speech strangely difficult; he went out of the room twice to give quite unnecessary instructions to Jim; and returned to busy himself arranging things in the room that obviously needed no arranging.

"Thursby was good enough to go somewhere to-day, and let us have the cottage," he managed to say at length. "Do you mind if we are quite alone?"

"Philip!" she responded reproachfully. "How you talk!"

"Then we'll have tea."

He called the Chinaman, who brought in the steaming teapot, the hot milk, and the buttered toast. Marion poured the tea in silence. They drank, too, almost in silence, and nibbled at the toast, forgetful that two days before, and for three dreadful months, tea and toast and milk, served on a table laid with white linen, would have seemed like a heavenly dispensation. Their very experience in the cave, which had broken down so many barriers between them, seemed to have reared a new one that neither understood. It was Marion who made a beginning to scale that barrier.

"You have made Claire very happy, Philip," she said.

"That was easy," he answered.

"But it was grand!"

"And you too—a little?" he ventured.

"You know that, Philip!" And then, a little mischievously: "Remember I tried to make peace between you once."

"And a fine job you made of it!" he retorted.

Then they both laughed, and lapsed again into silence. But presently Haig arose, went to a cabinet standing against the wall, and brought back a faded photograph, which he handed to her.

"My father," he said.

She saw a face that seemed a little sad, but the kindest of eyes, with a half serious twinkle in them.

"The dear man!" she exclaimed softly.

"We were great friends," he said. "We used to take long walks together of a Sunday afternoon. He was a silent man, rather, and we did not talk much, but—shall I tell you one thing he used to say to me, often?"

"Yes, Philip."

"I believed it then. But things happened to make me think that father was mistaken. For ten years I didn't believe it at all."

"What was it, Philip?"

"He used to say: 'My boy, there's only one thing in the world that's worth while. And that is love.'"

"Why, that's what Daddy always said, almost his very words!" she cried, her eyes filling.

"If I only knew—" he began.

But she could endure no more. She rose swiftly to her feet, her eyes devouring him, her arms stretched out.

"Marion!" he cried, and leaped to catch her, and folded her close, as he had clasped her in the cave. But now the arms that stole up around his neck did not fall away weakly as before, but tightened, and held him.

A long time they remained thus, in a silence broken only by the crackling of the flames, which they did not hear, and the wind rising outside the cottage, for which they did not care. At length he put his fingers under her chin, and raised her head so that he could look into her eyes.

"I believe it now!" he said.

"It's true!" she answered, so low that he scarcely heard it.

"I love you!"

"I've loved you always!"

Then even in her joy the recollection of all that she had come through to this moment brought back that quivering of her chin, which had become only too familiar to him in days past. His head sank toward her, and their lips met.

After a while he led her back to her chair, and knelt down to look up at her. For there were other difficulties. He had nothing to give her, he said; neither riches nor family nor honor nor any future of which he could be assured. She stopped him, with a hand laid gently on his lips. He held it there, kissing it. How it had toiled and hurt for him, that little hand, still rough and scarred!

"Can you ever forgive me?" he pleaded.

"There's nothing to forgive, Philip. You did not understand."

"There! You're treating me like a child again!" he protested, smiling contentedly.

"And once you scolded me dreadfully for that!"

"But you were right. I've been a child; for ten years I've been a child that thought it was a man."

She did not reply to that, fearing to wound him. So another golden silence fell between them, while he held her hands, stroking the hard, cracked skin of them. After a while he brought a chair, and sat close by her side, and told her all that had been left untold,—about his boyhood, his ambitions, his ignorance and innocence, his work in Paris and the future it seemed to hold for him; and then the girl on the Seine boat, and what he saw one night in her apartment, and his despair; his father's death, and the wanderings that followed; and how the shy and introspective boy had become in one day a man of violence and desperation, his heart full of hatred and bitterness.

"And so I thought, Marion, that you were all alike; not alike in all things, but the virtuous more dangerous than the vicious, because more calculating and cold. You even—I thought you were the most dangerous of all. I knew you were good, but I said your goodness was only another form of selfishness, that you had been reared in luxury, and taught to expect as your right many things you had never earned and never could earn or deserve. I said—Wait, dear—I said that the man who should marry you would be nothing but a beast of burden, a slave. It was so difficult to believe you could be content with—"

"With love!" she whispered.

"But can you?" he demanded, a ghost of the old incredulity rising in spite of all.

"I haven't told you about Robert," she said softly. "He has wealth, and will have much more. He loves me. He offered me all, to do with it as I wished. I've known him all my life—almost. He's good too, poor Robert! But that day, after you'd told me that I must go back to New York at once, I—"

"Marion!" Haig cried.

"No, listen! I told him that day that I could never marry him. He couldn't understand—like you, Philip. He thought—dear Robert!—he thought that money—I know it's what they want most—so many women. But, Philip, dear heart! Don't you know that if a woman really loves there's nothing she won't do—on her hands and knees—to the end of the world? And if she has love, what else is there—that matters?"

"I didn't know," he answered, "and I couldn't have believed it until—that day in the cave, when you fell ill."

He told her then of the revelation that had come to him, and how he had taken her in his arms, in a fury of love and despair.

"But I thought it was a dream!" she murmured.

"No. I found you then—and myself—and thought it was too late!"

Later, across the table, when Slim Jim had brought in the after-dinner coffee, Haig looked at her gravely, and said:

"May I become very practical for a minute, Marion?"

"Yes, but not too practical."

"Well, it's like this: I've got—"

He paused to reach for her hand, to clasp it on the cloth.

"When, Marion?" he asked, leaning toward her.

"Oh, we must talk with Claire about that, mustn't we?" she protested, blushing. Then softly: "She's the only mother I've got, you see. And besides, there's no—"

"No, not even a justice of the peace!" he said, laughing. "We might strap on our old snowshoes, and go to Tellurium."

"The idea!"

"Well, listen. Do you know what I've been thinking?"

She shook her head.

"Paris."

"Paris?" she repeated, a little startled, after all that he had revealed to her.

"Yes. I've got a little money in the bank in Tellurium, and I—"

"You needn't be so proud of it!" she retorted. "So have I, in New York. So you needn't think it's your money I'm after, sir!"

They laughed, and then he had both her hands across the table.

"It isn't much, I assure you," he went on. "But it will do for a while in Paris. I mean—if you will go with me—to find my old master, or another. You know, Marion, he said to me many times: 'You're going to be a painter some day, mon petit; you're going to do big things, if you'll work, work, work.' And so—"

"You'll paint again!" she cried. "Oh, and I shall keep house for you! You may not believe it, but I'm a splendid cook. But I've got to have salt. You must earn enough to buy salt!"

"I'll try."

At that he rose, and went again to the cabinet from which he had brought the photograph, and returned with his hands behind his back.

"What do you suppose I've got for our mantelpiece—if we have such a thing in our attic?"

"What in the world, Philip?"

"Shut your eyes, please!"

She obeyed, and in the middle of the table he set down the tattered and grimy little boot that he had carried away from the cave.

"Now open!" he commanded.

"Oh!" she cried, staring at the eloquent memento.

Then she flung back her head, with a quick indrawing of her breath, and looked up at him through a bright mist that gathered in her eyes. And her face was radiant.

He went quickly to her, and leaned down to kiss her hair, her eyes, her lips; and her arms crept once more around his neck.



CHAPTER XXXI

SANGRE DE CRISTO

Late October in the San Luis, and the raw day near its close. Across the melancholy flats the north wind's plaintive note rose at intervals into a wailing cry. The thin grasses bent before it, the sagebrush took on new and fantastic shapes, and danced like demons to the tune. In gray-brown desolation the sand dunes rolled away to the foothills, far and violet and dim. All was cold and bleak and forbidding, and the sun itself appeared to be retiring eagerly from a scene so dreary and disheartening.

Then came magic. Sangre de Cristo, sharp against the eastern sky, began to change its hue. A pink flush came into the gleaming white. It grew deeper, darker, more vivid; it spread, and ran in richer and richer tints along the range. Now it was rose, and now vermilion, and at last a deep and living scarlet, staining the snowy slopes, and flowing like new blood down the gulches and ravines. The foothills caught the color, and the violets became purple and then red; the sand dunes caught it, and their gray-browns were overlaid with crimson; the flats too caught it, and the sagebrush bending low, and the grass quivering in the wind were touched with some reflection of that far-reaching hue. From the green along the river the color swept, indefinable and dim at first, then by degrees intensified upon the flats, across the sand dunes, among the hills until at length it was passionate and deep and indescribable on the Sangre de Cristo peaks.

A cowboy, searching for lost mavericks, rode slowly to the top of a low sand dune, reined up his pony, and sat silent in the midst of this solemn spectacle. He was not emotional. He was looking for calves, and "sore" at not finding them, and hungry, and far from the X bar O; and night was coming on. But he sat still in his saddle, removed his flopping sombrero, and looked toward the east. Bareheaded, the wind stinging his cheek and flinging dry sand in his eyes, he gazed and wondered at the familiar but never negligible mystery of Sangre de Cristo.

But suddenly he rose in his stirrups, and shaded his eyes with his hand to make out what it was that had caught his vision in that flood of red among the dunes. Again it came, a flash of yellow in the red. It was there, and gone. And then it came and lingered, as if inviting him, like a jewel in the sand, or rather, like a challenge and a taunt.

"So you're back, are you?" cried Larkin, of the X bar O. "Well, you c'n jest stay there. I'm done with you. You ain't no horse at all, damn you! You're a devil! But I wonder—"

Then Sunnysides was gone. At the same time the light paled on the distant peaks. The wind blew colder, and swept the color off the dunes. The flats darkened under the advancing shades of night. And Larkin, muttering, put spurs to his pony, and galloped away toward supper and bed.

THE END



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