The situation was unprecedented. Never before in the history of the Great Northern had there been so heavy a snowfall in the Cascades; the sudden thaw following an ordinary precipitation must have looked serious, but the moving of this vast accumulation became appalling. All through that day, the second night the cannonading of avalanches continued, distant and near. At last came an interlude. The warm wind died out; at evening there was a promise of frost; and only the voice of the river disturbed the gorge. Dawn broke still and crisp and clear. The mountain tops shone in splendor, purple cliffs stood sharply defined against snow-covered slopes, and whole companies in the lower ranks of the trees had thrown off their white cloaks. It was a day to delight the soul, to rouse the heart, invite to deeds of emulation. Even Frederic was responsive, and when after breakfast Marcia broached a plan to scale the peak that loomed southeast of the pass, he grasped at the diversion. "We're pretty high up already, here at Scenic," he commented, surveying the dome from his chair on the hotel veranda. "Three or four thousand feet ought to put us on the summit. Have the chance, anyhow, to see that stalled train."
"Of course it wouldn't be an achievement like the ascent of Rainier," she tempered, "but we should have chances enough to use our alpenstocks before we're through; and it should be a magnificent view; all the great peaks from Oregon to British Columbia rising around."
"With the Columbia River below us," said Elizabeth, "and all those miles of desert. We might even catch a glimpse of your new Eden over there, Beatriz."
Mrs. Weatherbee nodded, with the sparkles breaking in her eyes. "I know this is the peak we watched the day I drove from Wenatchee. It rose white and shining at the top of Hesperides Vale, and it may have another name, but I called it the Everlasting Door."
Once since their arrival at Scenic Hot Springs they had followed, skeeing, an old abandoned railroad track, used by the Great Northern during the construction of the big tunnel, to the edge of the desired peak, and, at Marcia's suggestion, Frederic invited Lucky Banks to join the expedition in the capacity of captain and guide. The prospector admitted he felt "the need of a little exercise" and, having studied the mountain with field-glasses and consulted with the hotel proprietor, he consented to see them through. No doubt the opportunity to learn the situation of the Oriental Limited and the possibilities of getting in touch with Tisdale, should the train fail to move before his return from the summit, had influenced the little man's decision. A few spikes in his shoes, some hardtack and cheese with an emergency flask in his pockets, a coil of rope and a small hatchet that might serve equally well as an ice-ax or to clear undergrowth on the lower slopes, was ample equipment, and he was off to reconnoiter the mountainside fully an hour in advance of the packer whom Morganstein engaged for the first stage of the journey.
When the man arrived at the foot of the sharp ascent where he was to be relieved, Banks was finishing the piece of trail he had blazed and mushed diagonally up the slope to a rocky cleaver that stretched like a causeway from the timber to firm snow, but he returned with time to spare between the departure of the packer and the appearance of his party, to open the unwieldy load; from this he discarded two bottles of claret and another of port, with their wrappings of straw, a steamer-rug, some tins of pate de foie gras and other sundries that made for weight, but which the capitalist had considered essential to the comfort and success of the expedition. There still remained a well-stocked hamper, including thermos bottles of coffee and tea, and a second rug, which he rolled snugly in the oilskin cover and secured with shoulder-straps. The eliminated articles, that he cached under a log, were not missed until luncheon, which was served on a high, spur below the summit while Banks was absent making a last reconnaissance, and Frederic blamed the packer.
The spur was flanked above by a craggy buttress and broke below to an abyss which was divided by a narrow, tongue-like ridge, and over this, on a lower level of the opposite peak, appeared the steep roofs of the mountain station at the entrance to Cascade tunnel, where, on the tracks outside the portal, stood the stalled train. It seemed within speaking distance in that rare atmosphere, though several miles intervened.
After a while sounds of metal striking ice came from a point around the buttress; Banks was cutting steps. Then, following a silence, he appeared. But, on coming into the sunny westward exposure, he stopped, and with two fingers raised like a weather-vane, stood gazing down the canyon. His eyes began to scintillate like chippings of blue glacier.
Involuntarily every one turned in that direction, and Frederic reached to take his field-glasses from the shelf of the buttress they had converted into a table. But he saw nothing new to hold the attention except three or four gauzy streamers of smoke or vapor that floated in the lower gorge.
"Looks like a train starting up," he commented, "but the Limited gets the right of way as soon as there's a clear track."
Banks dropped his hand and moved a few steps to take the glasses from Morganstein. "You're right," he replied in his high, strained key. "It ain't any train moving; it's the Chinook waking up." He focussed on the Oriental Limited, then slowly swept the peak that overtopped the cars. "Likely they dasn't back her into the tunnel," he said. "The bore is long enough to take in the whole bunch, but if a slide toppled off that shoulder, it would pen 'em in and cut off the air. It looks better outside, my, yes."
"Here is your coffee, Mr. Banks," said Elizabeth, who had filled a cup from the thermos bottle, "and please take anything else you wish while I repack the basket. We are all waiting, you see, to go on."
The prospector paused to take the cup, then said: "I guess likely we won't make the summit this trip. We've got to hustle to get down before it turns soft."
"Oh, but we must make the summit," exclaimed Marcia, taking up her alpenstock. "Why, we are all but there."
"How does it look ahead?" inquired Frederic, walking along the buttress. "Heard you chopping ice."
"I was cutting steps across the tail end of a little glacier. It's a gliddery place, but the going looks all right once you get past. Well, likely you can make it," he added shrilly, "but you've got to be quick."
The life of the trail that sharpens a man's perceptives teaches him to read individuality swiftly, and this Alaskan who, the first day out on a long stampede, could have told the dominant trait of each husky in his team, knew his party as well as the risk. Golf and tennis, added to a naturally strong physique, had given the two sisters nerves of steel. Marcia, who had visited some of the great glaciers in the north, possessed the insight and coolness of a mountain explorer; and all the third woman lacked in physical endurance was more than made up in courage. The man, though enervated by over-indulgence, had the brute force, the animal instinct of self-preservation, to carry him through. So presently, when the buttress was passed, and the prospector uncoiled his rope, it was to Mrs. Feversham he gave the other end, placing Morganstein next, with Elizabeth at the center and Mrs. Weatherbee second. Once, twice, Banks felt her stumble, a sinking weight on the line, but in the instant he caught a twist in the slack and fixed his heels in the crust to turn, she had, in each case, recovered and come steadily on. It was only when the gliddery passage was made, the peril behind, that she sank down in momentary collapse.
Banks stopped to unfold his pocket-cup and take out his flask. "You look about done for," he said briskly. "My, yes, that little taste of glacier was your limit. But you ain't the kind to back out. No, ma'am, all you need is a little bracer to put you on your feet again, good as new."
"I never can go back," she said, and met his concerned look with wide and luminous eyes. "Unless—I'm carried. Never in the world."
Morganstein forced a laugh. It had a frosty sound; his lips were blue. "Excuse me," he responded. "Anywhere else I wouldn't hesitate, but here, I draw the line."
The prospector was holding the draught to her lips, and she took a swallow and pushed away the cup. It was brandy, raw, scalding, and it brought the color back to her face. "Thank you," she said, and forced a smile. "It is bracing; my tensions are all screwed. I feel like climbing on to—Mars."
Frederic laughed again. "You go on, Banks," he said, relieving him of the cup; "she's all right. You hurry ahead before one of those girls walks over a precipice."
He could not persuade her to take more of the liquor, so he himself drank the bracer, after which he put the cup and the flask, which Banks had left, away in his own pockets. She was up, whipping down her fear. "Come," she said, "we must hurry to overtake them."
Her steps, unsteady at first, grew sure and determined; she drew longer, deeper breaths; the pink of a wild rose flushed her cheeks. But Frederic, plodding abreast, laid his hand on her arm.
"See here," he said, "you can't keep this up; stop a minute. They've got to wait for us. George, that ambition of yours can spur you to the pace. Never saw so much spirit done up in a small package. Go off, sometime, like Fourth o' July fireworks." He chuckled, looking down at her with admiration in his round eyes. "Like you for it, though. George, it's just that has made you worth waiting for."
She gave him a quick glance and, setting her alpenstock, sprang from his detaining hand.
"See, they have reached the summit," she called. "They are waiting already for us. And see!" she exclaimed tensely, as he struggled after her. "It is going to be grand."
A vast company of peaks began to lift, tier on tier like an amphitheater, above the rim of the dome, while far eastward, as they cross-cut the rounding incline, stretched those tawny mountains that had the appearance of strange and watchful beasts, guarding the levels of the desert, bare of snow. Glimpses there were of the blue Columbia, the racy Wenatchee, but Weatherbee's pocket was closed. Then, presently, as they gained the summit, it was no longer an amphitheater into which they looked, but a billowing sea of cloud, out of which rose steep and inhospitable shores. Then, everywhere, far and away, shone opal-shaded islands of mystery.
"Oh," she said, with a little, sighing breath, "these are the Isles of the Blest. We have come through the Everlasting Door into the better country."
She stood looking off in rapture, but the man saw only the changing lights in her face. He turned a little, taking in the charm of pose, the lift of chin, parted lips, hand shading softly shining eyes. After a moment he answered: "Wish we had. Wish every other man you knew was left out, on the other side of the door."
Her hand fell, she gave him her sweeping look and moved to join the waiting group.
Banks came to meet them. "We've stayed to the limit; my, yes, it's the last call," he explained in his tense key. "There's a couple of places we don't want to see ourselves caught in when the thaw strikes. And they're getting a heavy rain down at the Springs now; likely up at the tunnel it's snow or hail." He paused, turning to send a final glance into the mist, then said: "Less than ten minutes ago I had a sight of that train, but you see now she's wiped off the map. It'll be a close race, my, yes. Give me that stick, ma'am; you can make better time on the down-grade holding on to me."
With this, he offered his able hand to Mrs. Weatherbee and, followed by the rest of the party, helped her swiftly down the slope. But clearly his mind was on the stalled train. "Likely, hugging the mountainside, they don't see how the snow crowds overhead," he said. "And I'd ought to have taken time to run over and give 'em a tip. I'm going to, I'm going to, soon's I get you down to that old railroad track where you can make it alone."
"Do you mean the Limited is in danger?" she asked, springing and tripping to his stride.
And Banks nodded grimly. "Yes, ma'am. It's a hard proposition, even to a man like Tisdale, who is used to breaking his own trail. He knows he's got to fight shy of the slides along that burned over switchback, but if he saw the box that train is in, he would just hike around to this side of the canyon, where the pitches are shorter, and the green trees stand some show to hold the snow, and work down to the old track to the Springs."
"Is Mr. Tisdale"'—her voice broke a little—"Mr. Hollis Tisdale on that train?"
"Likely, yes. He was snowbound on her in the Rockies, last I heard, and 'feeling fit as a moose.' Being penned up so long, he'd likely rather take a hike down to the hotel than not. It would be good for his health." And the little man piped his high, mirthless laugh.
She stumbled, and he felt the hand in his tremble, but the abrupt incline of the glacier had opened before them, and he believed she dreaded to re-cross the ice. "Keep cool," he admonished, releasing her to uncoil the rope again, "Stand steady. Just recollect if you came over this, you can get back."
But when, presently, the difficult passage safely made, they rounded the crag and gained the level shoulder where they had lunched, they seemed to have arrived at a different place. The lower canyon, which not two hours before had stretched into blue distance below them, was lost in the creeping sea of cloud; the abyss at their feet gathered immensity, and the top of the timbered ridge lifted midway like a strange, floating garden. The station at Cascade tunnel, all the opposite mountain, was obscured, then, while Banks stood re-coiling his rope, the sounds that had disturbed the guests at Scenic Hot Springs those previous nights rose, reverberating, through the hidden gorge. The Chinook had resumed its work.
The way below the spur broke in easy steps to the long and gradual slope that terminated above the cleaver of rock and, anxious to reach the unfortunate train, Banks hurried on. Marcia and Elizabeth trailed quickly after, but Mrs. Weatherbee remained seated on the shelving ledge at the foot of the crag. Frederic sank heavily into the place beside her and took out the flask.
"You are all in," he said. "Come, take this; it's diluted this time with snow."
But she gave him no attention, except to push aside the cup. She waited, listening, leaning forward a little as though her wide eyes could penetrate the pall. Then, torn by cross currents of wind, the cloud parted, and the mountain loomed like a phantom peak over the gulf. She started up and stood swaying gently on her feet while the trees, tall and spectral and cloaked in snow, opened rank on rank like a uniformed company. Lower still, the steep roofs of the station reflected a shaft of the sun, and the long line of cars appeared clearly defined, waiting still on the tracks outside the portal.
The rent in the cloud closed. She turned with a great, sighing breath. "Did you see?" she said. "The train is safe."
"Of course." And again, having himself taken the bracer, Frederic rose and returned the flask to his pocket. "So, that was troubling you; thought that train might have been struck. Guess if an avalanche had come down there, we'd have heard some noise. It's safe enough here," he added. "Top of this crag was built to shed snow like a church steeple."
"But why are we waiting?" And glancing around, she exclaimed in dismay: "The others have gone. See! They are almost out of sight."
She began to walk swiftly to the lower rim of the shoulder, and Frederic followed. Down the slope his sisters and Banks seemed to be moving through a film. They mingled with it indistinctly as the figures in faded tapestry. But Morganstein laid his hand on her arm to detain her. "What's your hurry?" he asked thickly. "All we got to do now is keep their trail. Tracks are clear as day."
"We shall delay them; they will wait."
She tried to pass him, but they had reached the step from the spur, and he swung around to block the narrow way. "Not yet," he said. "This is the moment I've been waiting for. First time in months you've given me a fair chance to speak to you. Always headed me off. I'm tired of being held at arm's length. I've been patient to the limit. I'm going to know now, to-day, before we go down from this mountain, how soon you are going to marry me."
She tried again to pass him but, taking incautious footing, slipped, and his arm saved her. "I don't care how soon it is," he went on, "or where. Quietly at your apartments, or a big church wedding. On board the first boat sailing for Yokohama, after those coal cases are settled, suits me."
She struggled to free herself, then managed to turn and face him, with her palms braced against his breast. His arm relaxed a little, so that he was able to look down in her lifted face. What he saw there was not altogether anger, though aversion was in her eyes; not surprise, not wholly derision, though her lips suggested a smile, but an indefinable something that baffled, mastered him. His arm fell. "Japan is fine in the spring," he said. "And we could take our time, coming back by way of Hawaii to see the big volcano, with another stop-over at Manila. Get home to begin housekeeping at the villa in midsummer."
"Oh," she exclaimed at last, "do you think I am a silly girl to be dazzled and tempted? Who knows nothing of marriage and the cost?"
"No," he responded quickly. "I think you are a mighty clever woman. But you've got to the point where you can't hedge any more. Banks has gone back on that option. If he won't buy, nobody else will. And it takes ready money to run a big ranch like that, even after the improvements are in. You can't realize on your orchards, even in the Wenatchee country, short of four years. So you'll have to marry me; only way out."
She gave him her swift, sweeping look, and the blue lights blazed in her eyes. "I will remember you are Elizabeth's brother," she said. "I will try to remember that. But please don't say any more. Every moment counts; come."
Morganstein laughed. As long as she parried, as long as she did not refuse outright to marry him, he must keep reasonably cool. He stooped to pick up the alpenstock she had dropped, then offered his hand down the step from the spur. "Sorry I put it just that way," he said. "I'm a plain business man; used to coming straight to the point; but I guess you've known how much I thought of you all these years. Had to keep on a high check-rein while Weatherbee lived, and tried my best, afterwards, to give him a year's grace, but you knew just the same. Know—don't you?—I might take my pick out of the dozen nicest girls in Seattle to-day. Only have to say the word. Not one in the bunch would turn me down. But I wouldn't have one of 'em for second choice. Nobody but you will do." He paused, then added with his narrow look: "And what I want, you ought to know that too, I get."
She met the look with a shake of the head and forced a smile. "Some things are not to be bought at any price. But, of course, I have seen—a woman does—" she went on hurriedly, withdrawing her hand. "There was a time, I confess, when I did consider—your way out. But I dared not take it; even then, I dared not."
"You dared not?" Frederic laughed again. "Never thought you were afraid of me. Never saw you afraid of anything. But I see. Miserable experience with Weatherbee made you little cautious. George, don't see how any man could have deserted you. Trust me to make it up to you. Marry me, and I'll show you such a good time Weatherbee won't amount to a bad dream."
"I do not wish to forget David Weatherbee," she said.
"George!" he exclaimed curiously. "Do you mean you ever really loved him? A man who left you, practically without a cent, before you were married a month."
"No." Her voice was low; her lip trembled a little. "No, I did not love him—as he deserved; as I was able to love." She paused, then went on with decision: "But he did not leave me unprovided for. David Weatherbee never deserted me. And, even though he had, though he had been the kind of man I believed him to be, it would make no difference. I could not marry you."
There was a silence during which they continued to follow the tracks that cross-cut the slope. But Morganstein's face was not pleasant to see. All the complaisancy of the egotist who has long and successfully shaped lives to his own ends was withdrawn; it left exposed the ugly inner side of the man. The trail was becoming soft; the damp of the Chinook began to envelop them; already the advancing film stretched like a curtain over the sun, and the three figures that had seemed parts of a shaken tapestry disappeared. Then, presently, Banks' voice, muffled like a voice under a blanket, rose through the pall. And Frederic stopped to put his hand to his mouth. "All right! Coming!" he answered, but the shout rebounded as though it had struck a sounding board.
After another plodding silence, the prospector's hail reached them again. It seemed farther off, and this time Morganstein did not respond. He stopped, however, and the woman beside him waited in expectation. "Suppose," he said slowly, "we are lost on this mountain to-night. Make a difference to-morrow—wouldn't it?—whether you would marry me or not."
The color rushed to her face and went; her breast rose and fell in deep, quick breaths, but she met his look fearlessly, lifting herself with the swaying movement from the balls of her feet that made her suddenly taller. "No." And her tone, the way in which she said it, must have stung even his small soul; then she added: "You are more brutal than I thought."
She turned after that and herself sent the belated response to Banks. But though she repeated the call twice, making a trumpet of her hands and with all the power of her voice, his hail did not reach them again. She started swiftly down. It was beginning to snow.
Frederic had nothing more to say. He moved on with her. It was as though each tried to out-travel the other, still they could not make up that delay. The snow fell in big, soft flakes that blurred the tracks they followed; soon they were completely blotted out, and though he strained his eyes continually, watching for the cleaver of rock they had climbed that morning, the landmark never appeared. Finally, at the same instant, they both stopped, listening. On the silence broke innumerable small sounds like many little hurrying feet. The mountain trembled slightly. "God Almighty!" he cried thickly. Then came the closer rush of a considerable body, not unlike sheep passing in a fog, and panic seized him. "We've got to keep on top," he shouted and, grasping her arm, he swung her around and began to run back up the slope.
In the face of this common peril, personality called a truce, and she pushed on with him blindly, leaving it to him to choose the way and set the pace. But their own tracks down the incline had filled with incredible swiftness; soon they were completely effaced. And, when the noise subsided, he stopped and looked about him, bewildered. He saw nothing but a breadth of sharply dipping slope, white, smooth as an unwritten scroll, over which hung the swaying, voluminous veil of the falling snow. He put his hands to his mouth then, and lifted his voice in a great hail. It brought no reply, but in the moment he waited, somewhere far below in those obscured depths, a great tree, splitting under tremendous pressure, crashed down, then quickly the terrific sweep and roar of a second mightier avalanche filled the hidden gorge.
Morganstein caught her arm once more. "We must get back to that shoulder where it's safe," he shouted. "Banks will come to look us up." After that, as they struggled on up the slope, he fell to saying over and over, as long as the reverberations lasted: "Almighty God!"
As they ascended, the snow fell less heavily and finally ceased. It became firm underfoot, and a cross wind, starting in puffs, struck their faces sharply with a promise of frost. Then strange hummocks began to rise. They were upheavals of ice, shrouded in snow. Sometimes a higher one presented a sheer front shading to bluish-green. They had not passed this point with Banks, but Morganstein shaped a course to a black pinnacle, lifting through the mist beyond, that he believed was the crag at the shoulder. She stumbled repeatedly on the rough surface. Her labored breathing in the great stillness, like the beat of a pendulum in an empty house, tried his strained nerves. He upbraided her for leaving her alpenstock down the slope. But she paid no attention. She looked back constantly; she was like a woman being led away from a locked door, moving reluctantly, listening against hope for a word or sign. So, at last, they came to the rock. It was not the crag, but a hanging promontory, where the mountain broke in a three-sided precipice. The cloud surged around it like an unplumbed sea.
They crept back, and Morganstein tried again to determine their position. They were too high, he concluded; they must work down a little to round the cliffs, so they took a course diagonally into the smother. Then he, too, began to lose alertness; he walked mechanically, taking the line of least resistance; his head sagged forward; he saw nothing but the hummocks before him. These grew larger; they changed to narrow ridges with fissures between. After a while, one of these breaks roused him. It was exceedingly deep; he could not see either end of it. The only way was to leap, and he did it clumsily. Then, with his alpenstock fixed, and his spiked heels set in the crust, he reached a hand to her. She was barely able to spring to the lower side, but it did not terrify her. One fear only possessed her. Her glance, seeking, returned to the hidden canyon. But soon they were confronted by a wider and still deeper chasm. It was impossible to cross it, though it seemed to narrow upwards in the direction of the summit. He took her arm and began to ascend, looking for a way over. The pitch grew steadily sharper. They entered the thinning edge of the cloud, and it became transparent like tissue of gold. Suddenly it parted, and Frederic stopped, blinded by the blaze of a red sunset on snow. He closed his eyes an instant, while, to avoid the glare, he turned his face. His first glance shocked him into a sense of great peril. The two fissures ran parallel, and they were ascending a tongue of ice between. Not far below, it narrowed to a point where the two crevasses, uniting, yawned in one. His knees weakened, but he managed to swing himself cautiously around. The causeway seemed to rock under his weight; then, shading his sight with his hand, he saw they were almost beneath the shoulder he had tried to reach. They had climbed too high, as he had believed, but also they had descended too far. And they had come directly down the glacier, to cross the upper end of which Banks had found it necessary to use a lifeline. "Be careful!" he whispered thickly, and laid his hand on her shoulder, impelling her on. "Be careful, but, for God's sake, hurry!"
He crowded her faster and faster up the incline; he dared not move abreast, it was so narrow. Sometimes he lifted her bodily, for with every step his panic grew. Beads of moisture gathered on his face, though the wind stiffened and sharpened; his own breath out-labored hers, and he cried again over and over: "God Almighty!" and "Almighty God!" Sometimes his tone was blasphemy and sometimes prayer.
But the moment came when she could not be farther pressed. Her shoulder trembled under his hold, her limbs gave, and she sank down, to her knees at first, then to her elbow. Even then she moved her head enough to look backward over the abyss. "The train," she whispered and, shuddering, dropped her face on her relaxed arm.
Morganstein ventured to glance back. Ragged fragments torn from the cloud below rose swirling across the opposite mountain top, and between their edges, like a picture in a frame, appeared briefly the roofs of the little station. But where the Oriental Limited had stood, the avalanche had passed. "God Almighty!" he repeated impotently, then immediately the sense of this appalling catastrophe whet the edge of his personal terror. "Come!" he cried; "come, you can't stop here. It's dangerous. Come, you'll freeze—or worse."
She was silent. She made no effort to rise or indeed to move. He began to press by her and on in the direction of that safe spur. But presently another dread assailed him; the dread of the city-bred man—accustomed to human intercourse, the swing of business, the stir of social life, to face great solitudes alone. This cross-fear became so strong it turned him back in a second panic. Then floundering to keep his equilibrium after an incautious step, he sat down heavily and found himself skidding towards the larger crevasse. He lifted his alpenstock and in a frenzy thrust it into the ice between his knees. It caught fast just short of the brink and held him astride, with heels dangling over the abyss. He worked away cautiously, laboriously, shaking in all his big, soft bulk; and would have given up further attempt to rescue Beatriz Weatherbee had he not at this moment discovered himself at her side.
He had not yet tried to rise to his feet, so safe-guarding himself with the alpenstock thrust once more in the ice, he paused to take the flask from his pocket and poured all that remained of the liquor into the cup. It was a little over half full. Possibly he remembered how lavish he had been with those previous draughts, for he looked at his companion with a kind of regret as he lifted the cup unsteadily to drink. Then, gathering the remnants of his courage, he put his arm under her head, raising it while he forced the small surplus of brandy he had left between her lips. She revived enough under the scalding swallow to push the cup away. Anywhere else he would have laughed at her feeble effort to throw off his touch; but he did not urge her to finish the draught, and, as he had done earlier that day, himself hastily drained the cup. He dropped it beside the empty flask and struggled up.
"Now," he said, "we've got to make that spur where it's safe. Come. It isn't far; just been up to that place where Banks helped us across; had to come back for you."
But he was obliged to lift her to her feet and to support her up the slope. And this, even though the tongue widened above them, threw him perilously close to the crevasse. Once, twice, the ice broke on the brink and dropped clinking down, down. It was impossible to make the leap again to the higher surface they had descended; unhampered, he must have been physically unfit. Behind them the cloud closed over the Pass and the mountain top under which the Oriental Limited had stood. His companion no longer looked back; she moved as mechanically though less certainly than one who walks in sleep. The fears that possessed him, that she herself had held so finely in check when they had followed Banks on this glacier, did not trouble her now. Her indifference to their extremity began to play on Frederic's unhinged nerves. This white, blue-lipped woman was not the Beatriz Weatherbee he had known; who had climbed the slope with him that morning, all exhilaration, spirit, charm; whose example had challenged his endurance and held his courage to the sticking point.
"Why don't you say something?" he complained. "Have you turned into ice? Now look where you step, can't you? Deuced fix you got us into, dreaming there in the clouds, when Lucky Banks had left the spur. Come on, you bloodless ghost; come, or I'll let you stay where you drop. Nice place to spend the night in. Almighty God!"
So, upbraiding her when she stumbled, blaming her for their plight, threatening to leave her if she should fall, and flaying himself on with renewed panic, he brought her to the top of the double crevasse and the prospector's crossing. But here, with the levels of the spur before them, her strength reached low ebb. This time he was not able to rouse her, and he threw down his alpenstock and took her in his arms, and went slipping and recovering the remaining steps. He stopped, winded, and stood her on her feet, but her body sagged limply against him, and the sight of her still face terrified him. He carried her a little farther, to the shelter of the crag, and laid her there. Then he dropped to his knees beside her, and grasping her shoulders shook her, at first slowly, then swiftly, with the roughness of despair.
"Wake up," he cried thickly. "Wake up! Don't you see we're out of that hole? Come, Banks will be here any minute. Come, wake up."
She made no response. The sun had set; it was growing bitterly cold, and there was little protection under the crag. It was a place where cross winds met. Torn fragments from the sea of cloud below drove against the pinnacle. It was like a lofty headland breasting rolling surf. Frederic stood erect and sent his voice down through the smother in a great shout. It brought no answer, and he settled helplessly on the shelf beside her. It began to hail furiously, and he dropped his face, shielding it in his arms.
The storm passed and, rousing himself, he searched his pockets vainly for a match to light his remaining cigar. Later he went through them again, hoping to find a piece of chocolate—he had carried some that morning—but this, too, was without result. He fell to cursing the packer, for appropriating the port and tinned things that were missing at lunch-time. But after that he did not talk any more and, in a little while, he stretched himself beside the unconscious figure at the foot of the crag. A second cloud lifted in a flurry of snow. Every hidden canyon sent out innumerable currents of air, and gales, meeting, lifted the powdery crust in swirls, wrapping them in a white sheet. Finally, from far off, mingling with the skirling pipes of the wind came a different, human sound. And, presently, when the call—if call it was—was repeated, the man sat up and looked dully around. But he made no effort to reply. He waited, listening stupidly, and the cry did not reach him again. Then, his glance falling to the woman, a ray of intelligence leaped in his eyes. He rose on his knees and moved her so there was room for his own bulk between her body and the rock. He had then, when he stretched himself on the snow, a windbreak.
The wind rushed screaming into the vast spaces beyond the mountain top, and returning, met the opposing forces from the canyon and instantly became a whirlwind. It cut like myriads of teeth; it struck two-edged with the swish, slash of a sword; and it lifted the advancing cloud in a mighty swirl, bellied it as though it had been a gigantic sail, and shook from its folds a deluge of hailstones followed by snow. Through it all a grotesque shape that seemed sometimes a huge, abnormal beetle and sometimes a beast, worked slowly around the crag, now crawling, now rearing upright with a futile napping of stiff wings, towards the two human figures. It was Lucky Banks, come to rescue them.
A heavier blast threw him on his face, but he rose to his knees and, creeping close, squared his shoulders to protect the slighter body. At the same time the significance of the position of Morganstein's unconscious bulk struck him. "You rat!" he cried with smothered fury. "You damn rat!"
Then he caught up a handful of snow with which he began to rub the woman's face. Afterwards he removed her gloves to manipulate her cold hands. He worked swiftly, with the deftness of practice, but the results were slow, and presently he took the rug from the pack he carried and covered her while he felt in Frederic's pockets for the flask he had neglected to return. "Likely there wasn't a drop left when she came to need it, you brute. And I'd like to leave you here to take your chances. You can thank your luck I've got to use you."
Banks keyed his voice high, between breaths, to out-scale the wind, but he did not wait for a reply. Before he finished speaking, he had opened his big, keen-bladed clasp-knife and commenced to cut broad strips from the rug. He passed some of these, not without effort, under Morganstein's body, trussing the arms. Then, wrapping the smaller figure snugly in the blanket, he lifted it on to the human toboggan he had made and bound it securely. Finally he converted the shoulder-straps of his pack into a sort of steering gear, to which he fastened his life-line.
These preparations had been quickly made. It was not yet dark when he worked this sled over the rim of the spur and began to descend the long slope. The violence of the wind was broken there, so that he was able to travel erect, drawing his load. After a while, when the flurry of snow had passed, a crust formed on the surface, and in steeper pitches he was obliged to let the toboggan forge ahead, using himself as a drag. With the change to colder temperature, there was no further danger of slides, and to avoid the avalanche that had turned Morganstein back, the prospector shaped his course more directly into the canyon. Soon he was below the clouds; between their ragged edges a few stars appeared. Beyond a buttress shone a ruddy illumination. Some firs stood against it darkly. It was the fire Marcia and Elizabeth were watching at the place where he had cached the surplus supplies that morning. It served as a beacon when the crispness ceased, and for an interval he was forced to mush laboriously through soft drifts. Then he came to a first bare spot. It was in crossing this rough ground that Frederic showed signs of returning consciousness. But Banks gave him no attention. He had caught a strange sound on the wind. Others, far off, rose while he listened. Presently, looking back beyond the end of the ridge that divided the upper gorge, he saw twinkling lights. They were the lanterns of the searchers at the wrecked train.
The little man did not exclaim. He did not pray. His was the anguish of soul which finds no expression.
KISMET. AN ACT OF GOD
Afterwards, some who compared the slope where the Oriental Limited had stood, with the terrible pitches along the lower switchback, said: "It was Fate;" and the defense in the damage suits against the Great Northern, which were decided in favor of the company, called that catastrophe at Cascade tunnel "An Act of God." In either solution, the fact that counted was that no avalanche had occurred at this point before; mountain men had regarded it as absolutely safe. At noon that day, a rumor reached the stalled train that a slide at the front had struck one of the rotaries. Laborers, at their own peril, had excavated the crew, but the plow was out of commission, and the track was buried sixty feet under fresh tons of snow and rock and fallen timber. The Limited could not move within forty-eight hours, perhaps three days.
Tisdale picked up his bag and went out to the observation platform. He knew that to attempt to follow the railroad through those swaths the avalanches had left, under the burned skeletons of trees ready to topple at the first pressure of other bodies of snow, was to take one's life needlessly in his hands; but there was another way. The slope from the track at the portal dipped through a park of hemlock and fir, and the blaze that had swept the lower mountainside had not reached this timber; the great boughs, like fishers' nets, supported their dripping accumulations. Also, at this altitude, there was no undergrowth. To make the drop directly into the canyon and follow the river down to Scenic Hot Springs meant little more to him than a bracing tramp of a few hours.
Snowshoes were a necessity, and the demand at the little station had long exceeded the supply, but the operator was able to furnish the length of bale rope Tisdale asked of him. From the office door, where he had curiously followed to see the line put to use, he watched the traveler secure two pliable branches of hemlock, of the same size, which he brought to the station platform, and, having stripped them of needles, bent into ovals. Then, laying aside one, he commenced to weave half of the rope net-wise, filling the space in the frame he held. A sudden intelligence leaped in the agent's face. "That's simple enough," he exclaimed. "And they'll carry you as far as you want to go."
Tisdale smiled, nodding, and picked up the remaining frame.
"Strange I never saw any one try the scheme before," the operator commented. "I've weathered a good many blockades up here; seen lots of fellows, men whose time was money, bucking it out to open track. But I bet the first time this idea struck you you were up against it. I bet it's a yarn worth listening to."
Tisdale glanced up; the genial lines deepened. "It was a situation to clear a man's head. There was snow from three to seven feet deep ahead of me and going soft. My snowshoes, lost with the outfit at a hole in a Yukon crossing, were swinging down-stream under the ice. I had two sea biscuit in my pocket and a few inches of dried venison, with the nearest road-house over fifty miles away."
"Well, that was hard luck," the agent shook his head gravely.
"It was the best kind of luck," responded Tisdale quickly, "to find myself with that rope in my hands and a nice little spruce on the bank to supply frames enough for a regiment. I was rigging a kind of derrick to ease my sled up the sharp pitch from the crossing."
"I see," said the operator thoughtfully, "and the sled broke through. Lost it and the outfit. But your dogs—saved them, didn't you?"
"All but two." Tisdale's brows contracted. "They were dragged under the ice before I could cut the traces. There was leather enough on the leaders to bind those shoes on, but"—and the humorous lines deepened again—"a couple of straps, from an old suitcase, if you happen to have one, would be an improvement."
The operator hurried into the office and, after a vigorous search among the miscellaneous articles stored under his desk, found an old valise, from which he detached the desired straps. Tisdale adjusted the improvised shoes. "I will send them back by a brakeman from Scenic Springs," he said, rising from his seat on the edge of the platform. "You can keep them for a pattern."
"All right," the operator laughed. "If you do, I'll have to lay in a stock of bale rope."
It was beginning to snow again, big, soft flakes, and the wind, skimming the drifts, speedily filled the broad, light rings Tisdale left in his wake. A passenger with a baby in his arms stood on the observation platform, and the child held out its mittened hands to him, crowing, with little springs. They had formed an acquaintance during the delay in the Rockies, which had grown to intimacy in the Cascades, and Hollis slipped the carrying strap of his bag over his shoulder and stopped to toss him a snowball, before he turned from the track. "Good-by, Joey," he said. "I am coming back for you if there's a chance."
The operator, shivering, closed the door. "Never saw such a man," he commented. "But if he's lived in Alaska, a Cascade blizzard would just be a light breeze to him." He paused to put a huge stick of wood in the stove, then, after the habit of solitary humanity, resumed his soliloquy. "I bet he's seen life. I bet, whoever he is, he's somewheres near the top of the ladder. I bet, in a bunch of men, he does the thinking. And I bet what he wants, I don't care what's piled in his way, he gets."
As he descended, the trees closed behind Tisdale, rank on rank, and were enveloped in the swaying curtain of the snow. Always a certain number surrounded him; they seemed to march with him like a bodyguard. But he was oblivious of the peril that from the higher peak had appeared so imminent to Lucky Banks. When the snow-cloud lifted, the Pass was still completely veiled from him, and the peak the prospector's party had ascended was then cut off by the intervening ridge. He had crossed the headwaters and was working along this slope down the watercourse, when the noise of the first avalanche startled the gorge. A little later a far shout came to his quick ear. He answered, but when another call reached him from a different point, high up beyond the ridge, he was silent. He knew a company, separated in the neighborhood of the slide, was trying to get into communication. Then, in the interval that he waited, listening, began the ominous roar of the mightier cataclysm. The mountain he had descended seemed to heave; its front gave way; the ridge on which he stood trembled at the concussion.
Instantly, before the clamor ceased and the first cries reached him, Tisdale knew what had occurred. His sense of location told him. Then the fact was pressed on him that some on the unfortunate train still survived. He saw that the course he had taken from the west portal was no longer possible, but by keeping the curve of the ridge which joined the mountain slope and formed the top of the gorge, and by working upward, he should be able to gain the upper edge of the slide where rose the human sounds. He took this way. His shoulder, turned a little, met the lower boughs with the dip and push of the practiced woodsman, and even on the up-grade the distance fell behind him swiftly. Always subconsciously, as he moved, he saw that baby crowing him a good-by, and the young father smiling Godspeed from the observation platform; sometimes the girl mother with tender brown eyes watched him from the background. Suppose their coach, which had directly preceded the observation car, had escaped; the snow-cloud, parting on the mountain top, showed that the roofs of the station still remained.
After a while he noticed two men working downward from the portal along the swath of the avalanche. One, he conjectured, was the operator, but they stopped some distance above him and commenced to remove sections of the debris. Then Hollis saw before him some brilliant spots on the snow. They proved to be only pieces of stained glass from a shattered transom. The side of the car with denuded window casings rested a few feet higher, and a corner of the top of the coach protruded from under the fallen skeleton of a fir. The voices now seemed all around him. Somewhere a man was shouting "Help!" Another groaned, cursing, and, deeper in the wreckage, rose a woman's muffled, continuous screaming. But, nearer than the rest, a child was crying piteously. He reached the intact portion of the crushed roof and found the baby sitting unhurt on a clear breadth of snow. The body of the father was pinned hopelessly beneath the tree, and the mother lay under the fragment of roof, an iron bar on her tender eyes. It was as though Destiny, having destroyed them, whimsically threw a charmed circle around this remaining atom of the family.
"Well, Joey," Tisdale said quietly, "I've come back for you."
Instantly the child stopped crying and turned to listen; then, seeing Tisdale, he began to crow, rocking his little body and catching up handsful of snow to demonstrate his delight. The hands and round bud of a mouth were blue.
"Cold, isn't it, Joey?" And he took the baby in his arms. "We can't find your coat and mittens, but here is a nice blanket."
He stooped, as he spoke, and pulled the blanket from under a broken door, and the child nestled its face in his neck, telling him in expressive, complaining sounds the story of his terror and discomfort.
A man burrowed out of the snow above the log. His leg was injured, but he began to creep, dragging it, in the direction of the woman's voice. "I'm coming, Mary," he cried. "For God's sake, stop."
Tisdale picked up a strip from the broken door and hurried to his aid. He put the child down and used the board as a shovel, and Joey, watching from the peephole in his blanket, laughed and crowed again. Up the slope the operator and his companion had extricated a brakeman, who, forgetting his own injuries, joined the little force of rescuers.
At last the cries ceased. Haste was no longer imperative. The remaining coaches were buried under tons of snow and debris. Weeks of labor, with relays of men, might not reach them all. And it was time to let the outside world know. The telephone lines were down, the telegraph out of commission, and Tisdale, with the baby to bear him company, started to carry the news to Scenic Hot Springs.
It had grown very cold when he rounded the top of the gorge. The arrested thaw hung in myriads of small icicles on every bough; they changed to rubies when the late sun blazed out briefly; the trees seemed strung with gems; the winds that gathered on the high dome above the upper canyon rushed across the summit of the ridge. They fluted every pipe, and, as though it were an enchanted forest, all the small pendants on all the branches changed to striking cymbals and silver bells. The baby slept as warm and safe in his blanket as though he had not left his mother's arms.
Once there came a momentary lull, and on the silence, far off—so far it seemed hardly more than a human breath drifting with the lighter current that still set towards him from the loftier peak—Tisdale heard some one calling him. His pulses missed their beat and raced on at fever heat. He believed, in that halting instant, it was Beatriz Weatherbee. Then the gale, making up for the pause, swept down in fury, and he hurried under the shelter of the ridge with the child. He told himself there had been no voice; it was an illusion. That the catastrophe, following so closely on his illness, had unhinged him a little. The Morganstein party had doubtless returned to Seattle at the beginning of the thaw; and even had Mrs. Weatherbee remained at Scenic Springs, it was not probable she had strayed far from the comfort and safety of the hotel. And recalling that night she had passed in the Wenatchee mountains, he smiled.
As twilight fell, a ruddy illumination outlined the ridge. He conjectured that the men he had heard early in the afternoon in the vicinity of the first slide were a party of belated hunters, who had camped in the upper canyon. They must have known of the greater avalanche; possibly of the disaster. They may have sent a messenger to the Springs and kindled this beacon to guide any one who might choose this way to bring the news from the portal. At least they would be able to direct him to the shortest out; serve him the cup of coffee of which he was in need. So, coming to the end of the ridge where the canyons met, he turned in the direction of the fire, and found—two waiting women.
Their presence alone was an explanation. Mrs. Feversham had only to say Lucky Banks had led their party, in the ascent of the peak that brilliant morning, and instantly everything was clear to Tisdale. The voice he had heard from the top of the ridge was not an illusion. She had called him.
"It was snowing," he said, interrupting the story, "but if they left the shadow of a trail, Banks found it. There are two of them, though, and up there—it's cold." Then, having gone a few steps, he remembered the child and came back to put him in Elizabeth's arms. "His father and mother are dead," he explained briefly, "but he hasn't a bruise. When he wakes, he is going to be hungry."
So, forgetting those wearing hours of rescue work, and without the coffee for which he had intended to ask, he started on the prospector's trail. In a little while, as he skirted the foot of the slide, he heard a great commotion on the slope beyond. It was Lucky Banks easing his human toboggan down the last pitch to the canyon floor.
The two men stood a silent moment scanning each other in the uncertain light across that load. Tisdale's eyes were searching for an answer to the question he could not ask, but the prospector, breathing hard, was trying to cover the emotion Tisdale's unexpected appearance had roused.
"Hello, Hollis," he said at last. "Is that you? I had to see after Dave's wife, but I thought likely, when I got her to camp, I'd take a little hike up to the tunnel and look you up."
But Tisdale, not finding the answer for which he looked, sank to his knee beside the load and loosened the straps. Then he lifted a corner of the rug that protected her face, and at the sight of it, so white, so still, his heart cried. "Little soldier!" he said over and over and, as though he hoped to warm them, laid his cheek gently to her blue lips. "You called me! I heard you. I failed you, too!"
Then a fluttering breath steadied him. Instantly the iron in the man cropped through. He felt her pulse, her heart, as though she had been some stranger from the unfortunate train and, moving her to a level place, fixed her head low and began firmly, with exceeding care, those expedients to eliminate the frost and start the circulation that Banks had already hurriedly tried. His great, warm personality enfolded her; he worked tirelessly, as though he was determined to infuse her numb veins with his own vigor. When the prospector would have aided him, he wished to do everything alone, and directed the miner's attention to Frederic Morganstein, who showed signs of returning consciousness.
But the intrepid little man failed to respond. "I guess likely he will pull through," he said dryly. "He had a pretty good shaking up coming down, and I'd better run around to camp and get a bottle of port I cached this morning. The snipe got away with my flask; used the last drop, likely, before she needed it." His voice took a higher pitch, and he added over his shoulder, as he started in the direction of the fire: "He made a windbreak of her."
When he returned presently with the wine, Frederic was filling the night with his complaints and groans. But neither of the men gave him any attention. That was left for Marcia, who had followed the prospector.
Beatriz Weatherbee was still unconscious. She was carried to the camp and laid in a sheltered place remote from the fire. Then Lucky Banks volunteered to go to Scenic Springs with the news of the train disaster, and to bring an extra man with lanterns and a stretcher. He was well on the way when Morganstein crept in. Marcia found him a seat on the end of a log and, wrapping the cached rug about him, regaled him with the recovered portion of the luncheon. But it was long after that when Beatriz Weatherbee's eyelids fluttered open. Tisdale drew a little more into the shadows, waiting, and the first to come within her range of vision was the child. He was sitting on his blanket in the strong glow, and just beyond him Elizabeth, who had found a tin of cream in the cache and had been feeding him, was putting away the cup. Joey faced the waking woman and, catching her look, he put out his hands, rocking gayly, and crowed. Instantly a flash of intelligence lighted her face. She smiled and tried to stretch out her arms. "Come!" she said.
Elizabeth caught up the child and placed him beside her on the rug. He put out his soft, moist fingers, touching her face curiously, with gathering doubt. Then, satisfied this was not his mother, as in the uncertain light he must have supposed, he drew back with a whimper and clung to Elizabeth.
At the same moment Mrs. Weatherbee's smile changed to disappointment. "His eyes are brown, Elizabeth," she said, "and my baby's were blue, like mine." And she turned her face, weeping; not hysterically, like a woman physically unstrung, but with the slow, deep sobs of a woman who has wakened from a dream of one whom she has greatly loved—and buried.
Tisdale had not seen Beatriz Weatherbee since she had been brought semi-conscious from the foot of the mountain, but he learned from the hotel physician the following morning that she was able to travel on the special train which was coming from Seattle to transport the Morganstein party home. The first inquiry, after news of the disaster reached the outside world, was from Joey's grandfather, a lumberman on Puget Sound. Put in communication with Tisdale, he telephoned he would arrive at the Springs on the special. So, leaving the child in charge of the housekeeper, Hollis returned to the west portal, to join the little force of rescuers. It was then no longer a question of life-saving, but of identification. The Swiss chalet, which had ceased to be the mecca of pleasure-seekers, had become a morgue.
But Lucky Banks, who went with him, had received a message from Mrs. Weatherbee, and in the interval that Tisdale was busy with long-distance and disposing of Joey, the prospector went up to her room. She was pale and very weak, but she smiled as he approached her couch and held out her hand. "No, the right one," she said, and added, taking it with a gentle pressure, "I know, now, what it is—to be cold."
The little man nodded. His face worked, and he hurried to conceal the maimed hand in his pocket. "But the doctor says you'll pull through good as new," he commented. "I am proud to know that; my, yes."
"And I am proud of you, Mr. Banks. It seems incredible, but Miss Morganstein told me you rescued her brother, too. I've tried and tried to remember, but I am not able. You must have carried me, at least, all of the way."
Banks glanced at Elizabeth, who was seated beyond the couch. She had laid a warning finger to her lips and shook her head. "That was dead easy coming downgrade," he answered. "And that little blow up there on the mountain top wasn't anything to speak of, alongside a regular Alaska blizzard. If I'd had to weight my pockets with rocks, that would have been something doing. I might have felt then that I was squaring myself with Dave Weatherbee."
"I understand," she said slowly, "but," and she smiled again, "I am grateful, Mr. Banks, just the same. Perhaps, since you loved David so much, you will regard it as a kind of compensation that I am going on with the project."
"Is that so?" The little man beamed. "Well, the house is all done and waiting, my, yes, whenever you are ready to move over."
"Why, Beatriz," said Elizabeth in alarm, "I am going to take that desert tract off your hands. I've been interested in reclamation work for months." And looking at Banks, she added significantly: "I am afraid she is talking too much."
"Likely," replied the prospector, rising, "and I am due to take a little hike up the canyon with Hollis Tisdale."
"Mr. Tisdale?" she asked, with a quick brightening of her face. "Then he is quite well again. Miss Morganstein told me he was saved—from that unfortunate train," and she added, shivering and closing her eyes, "I remember—that."
"I couldn't have got there in time," Banks hurried to explain, "even if you had given up making the summit. Likely I'd have got caught by the slide, and Hollis was half-way to the Springs and 'feeling fit as a moose' when it started. Well, good-by, ma'am; take care of yourself."
"Good-by, Mr. Banks," and she smiled once more. "You may expect me at Hesperides Vale in a few days; as soon as my things at Vivian Court are packed." And she added, with the color softly warming her cheek, "Mr. Tisdale might like to know that. He always wished to see David's project carried through."
And the little man replied from the door: "I'll tell him, ma'am, my, yes."
The special, which brought other seekers besides Joey's grandfather, also conveyed Jimmie Daniels. It was his last assignment with the Press; he and Geraldine were to be married within the week and assume the editorial position at Weatherbee. And he pushed up over Tisdale's trail, now become well broken, eager to make a final scoop and his best one. Hours later, when he should have been back at Scenic Hot Springs, rushing his copy through to his paper, he still remained on the slope below the west portal to carry out the brief and forceful instructions of the man who directed and dominated everybody; who knew in each emergency the one thing to do. Once Jimmie found himself aiding Banks to wrap a woman's body in a blanket to be lowered by tackle down the mountainside. She was young, not older than Geraldine, and the sight of her—rounded cheek, dimpled chin, arm so beautifully molded—all with the life snuffed out without a moment's warning—gave him a sensation of being smothered. He was seized with a compelling desire to get away, and to conquer his panic, he asked the prospector whether this man was not the superintendent of the mountain division.
The mining man replied: "No, that's the railroad boss over there with the gang handling the derrick; this is Tisdale, Hollis Tisdale of Alaska and Washington, D.C. You ought to have heard of him in your line of business if you never happened to see him before."
Then Jimmie, turning to look more directly at the stranger, hastily dropped his face. "You are right," he said softly, "I've known him by sight some time."
Afterwards, while they were having coffee with the station master, Daniels asked Banks how he and Tisdale happened to be at Cascade Tunnel. "I was putting in a little time at the Springs," Banks responded, "but Hollis was a passenger on the stalled train. He took a notion to hike down to the hotel just ahead of the slide."
"You mean that man who has taken charge out there," exclaimed the operator. "I had a talk with him before he started; he was rigging up some snowshoes. He said he was from Alaska, and I put him down for one of those bonanza kings."
"He is," said Banks in his high key. "What he don't know about minerals ain't worth knowing, and he owns one of the finest layouts in the north, Dave Weatherbee's bore."
"The Aurora mine," confirmed Daniels. "And I presume there isn't a man better known, or as well liked, in Alaska."
Banks nodded. "Dave and him was a team. The best known and the best liked in the whole country. And likely there's men on the top seats in Washington, D.C., would be glad of a chance to shake hands with Hollis Tisdale."
"I knew he was somewhere near the top," commented the operator. "He can handle men. I never saw such a fellow. Why, he must have got half-way to the Springs when the slide started, but he was back, climbing up along the edge of it to the wreck, almost before it quit thundering. And he took out a live baby, without a damage mark, and all its folks lying right there dead, before the rest of us got in earshot."
Daniels put down his sandwich and took out his neglected notebook. He gathered all the detail the ready operator could supply: how Tisdale had wrapped the child in a blanket and carried him from place to place, talking to him in his nice, friendly way, amusing him, keeping him quiet, while he worked with the strength of two men to liberate other survivors. And how, when none was left to save, he had taken the baby in his arms and gone to break trail to the Springs to send out news of the disaster. All that the station master and Banks could not tell him, with the name and prominence of Joey's family, Jimmie added later at the chalet, and he finished with a skilful reference to the papoose, killed by accident so many years before. It was a great story. It went into the paper as it stood. And when the day came to leave the Press office, the chief, shaking hands with his "novelist," said it was a fine scoop, and he had always known Jimmie had it in him to make good; he was sorry to lose him. But the Society Editor, reading between the lines, told him it was the greatest apology he could have made. She was proud of him.
At Vivian Court late that afternoon, Elizabeth read the story to Beatriz Weatherbee. Her couch was drawn into the sunny alcove, where, from her pillows, she might watch the changing light on Mount Rainier. Finally, when Elizabeth finished, Beatriz broke the silence. "He must have passed down the canyon while we were there."
"Yes, he did. He carried one end of your stretcher all the way to the Springs." Then Elizabeth asked: "Don't you remember the baby, either? He had brown eyes."
"I seem to remember a child," she answered slowly, "a baby sitting in the firelight, but"—and she shook her head, "I've dreamed so many dreams."
"He was a fact; a perfect dear. I should have adopted him, if his relatives hadn't been so prominent and rich. And you, too, fell instantly in love with him. You wanted him in your arms the moment you opened your eyes."
Elizabeth paused with a straight look from under her heavy brows and while she hesitated there was a knock at the door. She threw it open and a porter brought in one of those showy Japanese shrubs in an ornate jardiniere, such as Frederic Morganstein so often used as an expression of his regard. His card hung by a ribbon from a branch, like a present on a Christmas tree, and when the boy had gone, she untied it and carried it to Mrs. Weatherbee. "I wish you could marry Frederic and settle it all," she said. "Japan is lovely in the spring."
Beatriz, who had taken the card indifferently, allowed it to drop without reading it. Her glance rested again on the shining dome.
"I told him I would ask you to see him a few moments to-night," Elizabeth resumed. "He is feeling miserably. He says he was ill when we made the ascent that day and never should have left the hotel; his high temperature and the altitude affected his head. He believes he must have said things that offended or frightened you—things he wasn't responsible for." She paused, then, for a woman who had been so schooled to hold herself in hand as Elizabeth Morganstein, went on uncertainly: "He is just a plain business man, used to going straight to a point, but not many men care so much for a woman as he does for you. You could mold him like wax. He says all he wants now—if he did make a mistake—is a chance to wipe it out; start with a clean slate."
Mrs. Weatherbee rose from the couch. She stood a moment meeting Elizabeth's earnest look. The shadow of a smile touched her mouth, but well-springs of affection brimmed her eyes. "We cannot wipe out our mistakes, dear," she said. "They are indelible. We have to accept them, study them, use them as a rule from which to work out the problems of our lives. There is no going back, no starting over, if we have missed an easier way. Elizabeth, in one hour on that mountain I saw more of the true Frederic Morganstein than in all the years I had known him before. In the great moments of life, I should have no influence with him. Even for your sake, dear, I could not marry him. I do not want to see him any more."
There was a silence, then Elizabeth said: "In that case, I am going to ease things for you. I am going to buy that desert land. Now, don't say a word. I am going to pay you Lucky Banks' price, and, of course, for the improvements whatever is right."
"But it is not on the market," replied Beatriz. "I told you I had decided to live there. I hoped—you would like to go with me. For awhile, at least, you might find it interesting."
Elizabeth tried to dissuade her. It was ridiculous. It was monstrous. She was not strong enough. It would be throwing her life away, as surely as to transplant a tender orchid to that burning sage-brush country. But in the end she said: "Well, Bee, then I'll go with you."
BACK TO HESPERIDES VALE
The Mayor of Weatherbee stopped his new, six-passenger car at the curb in front of the completed brick block; not at the corner which was occupied by the Merchants' National Bank, but at the adjoining entrance, above which shone the neat gilt sign: "Madame Lucile's." He stood for a moment surveying the window display, which was exceedingly up-to-date, showing the prevailing color scheme of green or cerise in the millinery, softened by a background of mauve and taupe in the arrangement of the gowns. A card, placed unobtrusively in the corner of the plate glass, announced that Madame Lucile, formerly with Sedgewick-Wilson of Seattle, was prepared to give personal attention to all orders.
Bailey himself that day was equipped in a well-made suit from the tailoring establishment on the opposite side of the building. Though he had not yet gathered that avoirdupois which is associated with the dignity of office, there was in his square young frame an undeniable promise. Already he carried himself with the deliberation of a man whose future is assured, and his mouth took those upward curves of one who is humorously satisfied with himself and his world.
There were no customers when he entered, and since it was the hour when her assistant was out at lunch, Madame, attired in a gown of dark blue velvet, her black hair arranged with elaborate care, was alone in the shop. And Bailey's glance, having traveled the length of the soft green carpet to the farthest mirror, returned in final approval to her. "This certainly is swell," he said, "It's like a sample right out of Chicago. But I knew you could do it, the minute Mrs. Banks mentioned you. Why, the first time I saw you—it was on the street the day I struck Wenatchee—I told myself: 'This town can't be very wild and woolly if it can turn out anything as classy as that.'"
Madame laughed. "I must have looked like a moving fashion plate to attract attention that way. I feel a little over-dressed now, after wearing the uniform in Sedgewick-Wilson's so long; but Mrs. Banks said I ought to wear nice clothes to advertise the store."
Bailey tipped back his head at that, laughing softly. "I guess your silent partner is going to be the power behind the throne, all right."
Madame nodded, with the humor still lingering in her brown eyes. "But it was good advice. I sold a gown like this to my first customer this morning. And she had only come in to see millinery; she hadn't meant to look at gowns. But she liked this one the moment she saw it."
"Is that so? Well, I don't wonder. It certainly looks great—on you."
Madame flushed and turned her face to look off through the plate glass door. "Why," she exclaimed, "you didn't tell me your new automobile had come." She moved a few steps, sweeping the car with admiring eyes. "Isn't it luxurious though, and smart? But you deserve it; you deserve everything that's coming to you now, staying here, sticking it out as you have in the heat and sand. I often thought of it summer days while I was over on the Sound."
"You did?" questioned Bailey in pleased surprise. "Well, I am glad to know that. I wonder whether you ever thought over the time we tramped the railroad ties up to Leavenworth to that little dance?"
"Often," she responded quickly. "And how we came back in the Oleson wagon, riding behind with our heels hanging over, and the dust settling like powder on our party clothes. But I had the loveliest time. It was the starriest night, with moonlight coming home, and I danced every number."
"Seven times with me," returned the mayor.
"I wanted to learn the two-step," she explained hastily.
"And I wanted to teach you," he laughed. "But say, how would you like to take a little spin up the Leavenworth road this evening, in the new car?"
"Oh, that would be delightful." Madame Lucile glowed. "With a party?" she asked.
"Well, I thought of asking Daniels and his wife to go with us. I am on the way to the station now, to meet them. And Mrs. Weatherbee and Miss Morganstein are due on the same train. I promised Mr. Banks I would take them out to the Orchards in the machine; but we are to motor around to the new bungalow first, to leave the bride and Jimmie and have luncheon."
"I know. Mrs. Banks is going to have the table in that wide veranda looking down the river. I would like to be there when they find out that dear little bungalow is their wedding present. It was perfectly lovely of Mrs. Banks to think of it; and of you to give them that beautiful lot on the point. You can see Hesperides Vale for miles and miles to the lower gap."
Bailey smiled. "Mrs. Banks said it was a good way to use up the lumber that was left over from the ranch house. And that bungalow certainly makes a great showing for the town. It raised the value of the adjoining lots. I sold three before the shingles were on the walls, and the people who bought them thought they had a snap."
"All the same, it is a lovely present," said Madame Lucile.
"There's the train, whistling up the valley," said the mayor, but he paused to ask, almost with diffidence, as he turned to the door: "Say, what do you think of this tie?"
"I like it." She nodded, with a reassuring smile. "And it's a nice shade for you; it brings out the blue in your eyes."
The mayor laughed gaily. "I ought to wear it steady after that, but I am coming to black ones with a frock coat and silk hat. I am going to begin to-morrow, when those German scientists, on their way home from the Orient, stop to see Hesperides Vale."
"Oh, I hope you will wear this nice business suit, unless they come late in the afternoon. It seems more sensible here on the edge of the desert, and even if you are the first mayor to do it, I know, the world over, there isn't another as young."
Bailey grew thoughtful. "The mayor in Chicago always wore a Prince Albert. Why, that long coat and silk hat stood for the office. They were the most important part of him. But good-by," he said hastily, as the train whistled again, nearer, "I'll call for you at seven."
Ten minutes later, the mayor stood on the station platform shaking hands with Mrs. Weatherbee. "Say, I am surprised," he said. "I often wondered what you thought of the vale. Lighter told me how you drove those colts through that day, and I was disappointed not to hear from you. You didn't let me know you had an investment already, and it never occurred to me, afterwards, that you were our Mrs. Weatherbee."
Then, introductions being over, he assisted Miss Morganstein into the tonneau with the bridal couple and gave the seat in front to Mrs. Weatherbee. He drove very slowly up the new thoroughfare, past the Bailey building, where she expressed her astonishment at the inviting window display of the millinery store. He explained that offices for the Weatherbee Record had been reserved on the second floor, and that in the hall, in the third story, the first inaugural ball was to be given the following night. It had been postponed a few days until her arrival, and he hoped he might have the privilege of leading the grand march with her. And, Mrs. Weatherbee having thanked him, with the pleasure dancing in her eyes, Bailey pointed out the new city hospital, a tall, airy structure, brave in fresh paint, which was equipped with a resident physician and three trained nurses, including Miss Purdy, the milliner's sister, who was on her way from Washington to join the force.
After that they motored through the residence district, and Mrs. Weatherbee expressed greater wonder and delight at the rows of thrifty homes, each with its breadth of green lawn and budding shrubbery, where hardly six months ago had been unreclaimed acres of sage. And so, at last, they came to the city park, where the road wound smooth and firm between broad stretches of velvety green, broken by beds of blossoming tulips, nodding daffodils, clumps of landscape foliage putting forth new leaves. Sprinklers, supplied by a limpid canal that followed the drive, played here, there, everywhere, and under all this moisture and the warm rays of the spring sun, the light soil teemed with awakening life. Then, finally, the car skirted a low, broad mound, in which was set the source of the viaduct, a basin of masonry, brimming with water crystal clear and fed by two streams that gushed from a pedestal of stone on the farther rim. "How beautiful!" she exclaimed. "How incredible! And there is to be a statue to complete it. A faun, a water nymph, some figure to symbolize the spirit of the place."
"I can't tell you much about the statue," replied Bailey, watching the curve ahead. "Mr. Banks engaged the sculptor; some noted man in the east. He is carrying the responsibility; it was his idea. But it was to have been in place, ready to be unveiled by the fifteenth, and there was some delay."
After that, the mayor was silent, devoting his attention to the speeding car. They left the park and, taking the river road, arrived presently at the bungalow. The shingles still lacked staining, the roof was incomplete, but a sprinkler threw rainbow mist over the new lawn, which was beginning to show shades of green. A creeper, planted at the corner of the veranda, already sent out pale, crinkled shoots.
Lucky Banks came beaming down the steps, and Annabel, in a crisp frock of royal blue taffeta, stood smiling a welcome as the automobile stopped. Then Bailey, springing down to throw open the door of the tonneau, lifted his voice to say: "And this—is the home of the Editor of the Weatherbee Record and Mrs. Daniels."
They did not at once grasp his meaning, and the prospector made it clear as they went up to the veranda. "The house is a wedding present from Mrs. Banks," he said; "and Mr. Bailey, here, put up the lot, so's I thought this would come in handy; it will take quite a bunch of furniture."
There was a silent moment while Geraldine stood regarding the envelope he had put in her hand. She was looking her best in a trim, tailored suit of gray. There was a turquoise facing to the brim of her smart gray hat, but her only ornaments were a sorority pin fastened to the lapel of her coat and a gold button that secured her watch in the small breast pocket made for it. At last she looked up, an unusual flush warmed her face, and she began: "It's perfectly lovely of you—we are so surprised—we never can thank you enough."
But Jimmie turned away. He stood looking down the valley in the direction of that place, not very far off, where his mother had carried water up the steep slope in the burning desert sun. His forehead creased; he closed his lips tight over a rising sob. Then Geraldine laid her hand on his arm. "Do you understand what these people have done for us?" she asked unconventionally. "Did you hear?"
Jimmie swung around. His glance met Annabel's. "I can't explain how I feel about it," he burst out, "but I know if my mother could have been here now, it—this—would have paid her for all—she missed. I don't deserve it—but Geraldine does; and I pledge myself to stay by the Weatherbee Record as long as you want me to. I don't see how I can help making good."
Then Annabel, winking hard, hastily led the way over the house; and, presently, when the party returned to the table in the veranda, and the Japanese boy she had brought from the ranch house was successfully passing the fried chicken, she wanted to know about the wedding.
"Yes, we tried to have it quiet," responded Jimmie, "and we planned it so the taxi would just make our train; but the fellows caught on and were waiting for us at the station, full force, with their pocketfuls of rice and shoes. They hardly let us get aboard."
"Gracious!" exclaimed Annabel. "You might as well have been married in church. You'd have looked pretty in a train and veil," she said, addressing Geraldine, who was seated on her right. "Not but what you don't look nice in gray. And I like your suit real well; it's a fine piece of goods; the kind to stand the desert dust. But I would have liked to see you in white, with a blaze of lights and decorations and a crowd."
Geraldine laughed. "We had a nice little wedding, and the young men from the office made up for their noise. They gave the porter a handsome case of silver at the last moment, to bring to me."
"And," supplemented Jimmie, "there was a handsome silver tea service from the chief. He told her she had been a credit to the staff, and he would find it hard to replace her. Think of that coming from the head of a big daily. It makes me feel guilty. But she is to have full latitude in the new paper; society, clubs, equal suffrage if she says so; anything she writes goes with the Weatherbee Record."
"If I were you, I'd have that down in writing." Annabel looked from Daniels to the bride, and her lip curled whimsically. "They all talk that way at first, as though the earth turned round for one woman, and the whole crowd ought to stop to watch her go by. He pretends, so far as he is concerned, she can stump the county for prohibition or lead the suffragette parade, but, afterwards, he gets to taking the other view. Instead of thanking his lucky stars the nicest girl in the world picked him out of the bunch, he begins to think she naturally was proud that the best one wanted her. Then, before they've been married two years, he starts trying to make her over into some other kind of a woman. Why, I know one man right here in Hesperides Vale who set to making a Garden of Eden out of a sandhole in the mountains, just because it belonged to a certain girl." She paused an instant, while her glance moved to Banks, and the irony went out of her voice. "He could have bought the finest fruit ranch in the valley, all under irrigation and coming into bearing, for he had the money, but he went to wasting it on that piece of unreclaimed sage desert. And now that he has got it all in shape, he's talking of opening a big farm in Alaska."
Banks laughed uneasily. "The boys need it up there," he said in his high key. "Besides, I always get more fun out of making new ground over. It's such mighty good soil here in Hesperides Vale things grow themselves soon's the water is turned on. It don't leave a man enough to do. And we could take a little run down to the ranch, any time; we could count on always wintering here, my, yes."
Annabel smiled. "He thinks by mid-summer he can take me right into the interior, in that cranky red car. And I don't know but what I am ready to risk it; there are places I'd like to see—where he was caught his first winter in a blizzard, and where he picked up the nuggets for my necklace. You remember it—don't you?—Mrs. Daniels. I wore it that night in Seattle we went to hear Carmen."
"I certainly do remember. It was the most wonderful thing in the theater that night, and fit for an empress." Involuntarily Geraldine glanced down at her own solitary jewel. It flashed a lovely blue light as she moved her hand.
Annabel followed the glance. "Your ring is a beauty," she said. "Not many young men, just starting in business for themselves, would have thought they could afford a diamond like that."
Geraldine laughed, flushing a little. "It seems the finest in the world to me," she replied almost shyly. "And it ought to show higher light and color than any other; the way it was bought was so splendid."
"Do you mean the way the money was earned to buy it?" inquired Annabel.
Geraldine nodded. "It was the price, exactly, of his first magazine story. Perhaps you read it. It was published in the March issue of Sampson's, and the editors liked it so well they asked to see more of his work."
Jimmie looked at his wife in mingled protest and surprise. He had believed she, as well as himself, had wished to have that story quickly forgotten. "It is an Indian story," she pursued; "about a poor little papoose that was accidentally killed. It was a personal experience of Mr. Tisdale's."
Mrs. Banks had not read it, but the prospector pushed aside his sherbet glass and, laying his arms on the table, leaned towards Geraldine. "Was that papoose cached under a log?" he asked softly. "And was its mother berrying with a bunch of squaws up the ridge?"
"Yes," smiled Geraldine. "I see you have read it."
"No, but I heard a couple of men size it up aboard the train coming from Scenic Hot Springs. And once," he went on with gathering tenseness, "clear up the Tanana, I heard Dave and Hollis talking it over. My, yes, it seems like I can see them now; they was the huskiest, cleanest-cut, openest-faced team that ever mushed a trail. It was one of those nights when the stars come close and friendly, and the camp-fire blazes and crackles straight to heaven and sets a man thinking; and Tisdale started it by saying if he could cut one record out of his past he guessed the rest could bear daylight. Then Dave told him he was ready to stand by that one, too. And Hollis said it was knowing that had taken the edge off, but it hadn't put the breath back into that papoose. Of course he never suspicioned for a minute the kid was in the road when he jumped that log, and the heart went out of him when he picked it up and saw what he was responsible for. They had to tell me the whole story, and I wish you could have heard 'em. Dave smoothing things when Hollis got too hard on himself, and Hollis chipping in again for fear I wouldn't get full weight for Dave's part. And the story sure enough does hinge on him. Likely that's why Tisdale gave it to your magazine; to show up Dave Weatherbee. But those men on the train—they had the seat in front of me so's I heard it plain—lost their bearings. They left out Dave and put Hollis in a bad light. He was 'caught red-handed and never was brought to an honest trial.' And it was clear besides, being 'hand in glove with the Secretary of the Interior' he had a 'pull with the Federal court.' I couldn't stand for it." The prospector's voice reached high pitch, his forehead creased in many fine lines, his eyes scintillated their blue glacier lights, and he added, striking the table with his clenched hand, "I up and says: 'It's all a damn lie.'"
There was a silence. The self-possession and swiftness of the Japanese boy saved the sherbet glass and its contents, but the mayor, who had been interrupted in a confidential quotation of real estate values to Miss Morganstein, sat staring at Banks in amazement. A spark of admiration shot through the astonishment in Annabel's eyes then, catching the little man's aggressive glance, she covered her pride with her ironical smile. Mrs. Weatherbee was the only one who did not look at Banks. Her inscrutable face was turned to the valley. She might never have heard of Hollis Tisdale or, indeed, of David. But Elizabeth, who had kept the thread of both conversations, said: "You were right. There was a coroner's inquest that vindicated Mr. Tisdale at the time."