He found a roll of tar paper with which to mend the hole in the roof and helped Ellen shift the dunnage bags which had been wetted by the water. They worked in silence for some time.
Suddenly Ellen stopped in her operations. She rested her palms on the floor and looked up at Harlan. In the candle-lit gloom of the loft he could see that her eyes were twinkling. A new friendliness was in the ingenuous smile she gave him.
"Gregg," she said in a tone that finally admitted him to her friendship, "remember—there isn't a man living who cannot be benefited by having a good, sound scolding once in a while." . . .
And so the days passed until the end of January. They were stormy ones for the most part, yet no ruby sand showed on the beach of Kon Klayu. One clear, cold morning Harlan and Jean were gathering shellfish among the boulders on Sunset Point. The air was strangely still and under the pale sunshine the sapphire waters were tinged with rose and lavender. They had long been accustomed to those tricks played with sea and clouds by the magician Mirage, and today the crest of each billow was magnified until, on the horizon the points seemed to leap up into the sky. Above a lucid space in the southwest a mass of silver and amethyst tinted clouds moved slowly and spread out like a platform. They sat on a flat boulder to watch the changing beauty of the colors. Their daily forays for shellfish had deepened their love of the sea—its ways of mystery that were ever bringing to their attention some new loveliness of form and tint. Now, before their incredulous eyes there appeared rising from the cloud bank the illusion of graciously rounded domes, spires, minarets, and the next instant they were gazing on a city of enchantment softly reflected in a pearly sea—a silvery city of fantasy like an exquisite shadowy drawing of some foreign land. . . . They sat silent, entranced. How long the vision lingered neither of them knew. . . . Then a breeze fanned their faces and in a twinkling the city of dreams vanished.
They raced back to the cabin with their news but found the others on the porch. They too had witnessed the phenomenon. Kayak Bill alone showed no surprise.
"That's what sourdoughs up here calls 'The Silent City,'" he drawled. "Alasky folks have been seein' it for yars. One time I saw it above Muir glacier, and one time when I was a-crusin' in the Bering Sea. Sailors calls it a mirrage. If I don't miss my guess, there'll be hell a-poppin' in the way of a storm purty soon."
Kayak was right. Within twenty-tour hours the worst southwest gale experienced racked the Island. The strange reverberating roll from the south Cliffs beat with weird insistence on their ears for three long days and nights. When the weather cleared the immediate need for shellfish sent Jean and Harlan out among the rocks again.
They were coming home from Skeleton Rib with their pails full of "gumboots," making a desultory search for pay-sand, which no one had seen for weeks. They left the beach and turned toward the little lake visible from the cabin porch. The storm had shifted the cannon-ball shaped boulders which characterized that part of the shore, stripped the tundra of every sign of vegetation, and exposed the brown turf beneath. Gregg in restoring his knife to his pocket, dropped it. As he stooped to pick it up a look of astonishment crossed his face. He sank on his knees and eagerly scanned the brown surface beneath.
"Jean!" There was excitement in his voice as he beckoned her. "Look!"
The girl rushed to his side. She bent to look and caught her breath.
The dark surface of the turf was flecked with glittering colors of gold.
Once again gold cast its magic spell over the Island of Kon Klayu. The daily food hunting was alternated with preparations for mining the gold-bearing turf—the top of which had caught, like the nap of a blanket, the flakes of yellow metal washed up by the storms of years. Though the men knew they had not yet found the source of the Island gold, they were confident there was a small fortune in sight.
In his enthusiasm Boreland put behind him for a time the growing hatred for the White Chief of Katleean that was slowly eating into his heart, and with Kayak Bill and Harlan went about the "dead work" that preceded the actual mining. There were puddling-boxes and sluices to be built at the edge of the little lake off Skeleton Rib, and the top of the gold-carrying turf was to be cut up into squares and piled like cordwood until they were ready to shred it and run it through the sluices.
While the work went on everyone kept a sharp lookout for cannery ships going west, for along the Alaskan coast the first sign of spring is the coming of the fishing fleet from the States.
"Of course February is a month too early," said Harlan one evening as they sat about the supper table discussing the possibilities of rescue, "but we ought to have some way of attracting attention. We might put up a flag-pole on the Lookout, but—" he shrugged his shoulders, "we have no flag."
"If you men get the pole up, I'll see that you have a flag," Ellen promised.
No one had been well supplied with clothes in the beginning of the Island adventure, and gradually Ellen had used every available piece of cloth to eke out the worn and patched garments, which despite all her efforts, turned her family into tatterdemalions. But she took what was left to put together her flag: some flour sacks, an old blue shirt of Shane's and a red blanket that could hardly be spared. The men hunted for days among the drift of the beach before finding a log the proper length and shape for their purpose, but at the end of a week the pole was in place.
The hoisting of the flag for the first time was made an event which demanded the presence of every member of the party on the Lookout. Sudden, poignant emotion stirred the six tattered figures that stood about the pole as the crude banner unfurled its stars and stripes to the strong breeze. Home-made and heavy it was, but it fluttered above them, the emblem that has ever stood for hope, for freedom, for justice, and there was that in the sight of the flag which caused the men to stand with bared heads, while Ellen and Jean viewed it through a mist of tears.
"Oh, surely, surely now, some ship will sight it and come in!" proclaimed Jean, as she turned to scan the sea, her face alight with the faith inspired by the faded colors.
It was the latter part of March before the smoke of the first cannery boat was seen moving slowly to the westward. Though the vessel was so far away the watchers knew their low Island could hardly be seen from its deck, the mere fact that ships were beginning to navigate the northern sea promised well, and the flag was kept flying from the Lookout day and night, its stars turned down as a sign of distress.
It was decided that Jean and Harlan should attend to the evening signal fires. There was little darkness in the nights, for already the long Alaska daylight had set in, but by placing half-dry seaweed on the driftwood flame a great smoke resulted that, it was hoped, might be seen by passing vessels.
It was good to sit about the fire looking down on the sea while the dusk crept in, and now that Ellen had, to some extent, modified her opinions regarding Harlan, there was nothing to hinder the growing of a delightful, outdoor companionship that made the hours pass with miraculous rapidity for the two young fire tenders. Past hardships and hunger were forgotten up there on the Lookout. The evenings became hours of confidences when they discussed their plans, their dreams, their budding philosophies of life. They came to know each other's moods and each other's thoughts and that magic of shared adventures which can be more binding than love.
One night Gregg told her of his early ambition to be a mining engineer, his year at a mid-western school of mines, where his studies were terminated, he admitted with entire frankness, by a request to leave. He told her also of his return home to San Francisco, and the subsequent years of aimless drifting which ended in the final break with his father.
"I can see now," he concluded, "that poor old dad had good reason for disappointment. As a last resort he sent me to Katleean hoping that I'd get some sense jolted into me—but—well, I didn't, Jean, until . . . until the Hoonah put into the bay. I've been wondering what he is thinking now. . . . He hasn't had a word from me since August, although, of course, he hears from Katleean—" He checked himself, pausing a moment as if he were on the point of telling her something else. Then: "Dad is—he's interested in the Alaska Fur Trading Company, you know."
But Jean's mind was already intent on the young man's future.
"Now you are going to wake up and do something, though," she declared with a decisive movement of her little head. "I don't care much for what you've told me of your past, Gregg," she admitted frankly, "but—" she waved her hand with a gesture of dismissal—"up here it isn't yesterday that counts, it's today and tomorrow. This is a wonderful new land to begin in——"
"And you just watch me do it, Jean!" he interrupted her enthusiastically. As if he already felt the need of action he rose from the ground and thrusting his hands in his pockets, began walking up and down before her. "I've done a lot of thinking over there in my little Hut—a lot of it, and I know this country has gotten a hold on me, some way. It's mine from now on. There's something about it that makes me feel alive. I want to get out and hustle like the dev—dickens. Honestly, if it wasn't for you and Ellen and Loll, I could be glad we have been put up against it here on Kon Klayu! I've actually enjoyed the fighting for food and warmth and shelter! . . . We'll all have a good stake when we leave here, Jean, but already I'm planning to come back. I have a few ideas about mining that I'd like to try out."
The girl looked up at him, her eyes glowing with interest. Encouraged, he took his place once more by the signal fire and began in detail his plans for the further prospecting and development of the Island.
But not all their hours on the Lookout were spent in the discussion of mining. They seemed to have the whole world to themselves up there—an enchanted world, cool, redolent of hidden sprouting green things and the smell of driftwood smoke; a world tinctured with a sheer beauty that neither of them had ever known before. They had reached the stage in their companionship where sometimes they sat silent for long minutes, only occasionally looking across the fire at each other with the smile of understanding that is often better than speech. Sometimes they laughed together as only youth can laugh, over inconsequential things, and sometimes he sang to her—songs of the sea, men's songs at first, but these gave place later to the songs of sentiment that may, when the singer choose, be made more intimate, more tenderly personal than the most personal spoken word.
Jean, after she had gone down to her little bunk at night, often lay there wondering how, under the circumstances, she could be so happy, especially since the food situation was becoming more desperate each day. But, with the exception of occasional lapses into acute anxiety, she was strangely content and confident for the future.
One morning she was awakened by Loll's excited whisper.
"Jean! Oh J-e-a-n! Do you hear anything?" The youngster was standing beside her bunk, the early light falling on his red head, his ear raised alertly after the manner of the little dog in a famous phonograph advertisement. She roused herself drowsily and sat up to listen. Above the sound of the surf on the beach came the faint wild call of gulls.
"Oh, Loll, winter's gone!" she exclaimed just above a whisper. "The birds have come back to nest!"
She bounded out of bed and a moment later the two slipped quietly out to the porch. The light fall of snow had already been gone for weeks. It was a glorious morning of sunshine and sparkling sea. Looking up she saw against the cobalt sky the white wings of sea-gulls—the harbingers of spring.
Her happiness in the sight was somewhat lessened as the sound of coughing came from inside the cabin. Everyone but Ellen appeared to be standing well the enforced diet of bread and shellfish upon which they were now living. Sometimes Jean was worried over her sister's condition. She suspected that never from the first had Ellen eaten her full share of the food, even when they had had beans and rice and oatmeal. Her sister could not eat the tough "gumboots" and her only nourishment was obtained from bread and black coffee. Ellen still went about her household tasks, but it took her longer to do them now and it was evident to Jean's critical eye that her strength was waning. Meat—meat was what she needed, the girl thought. The pigeon—once she suggested to Ellen that it might be killed, but her sister opposed the idea so violently that Jean never mentioned it again.
One day Harlan brought down a sea-gull with a stone. Jean hopefully cooked it, but the flesh was so tainted with fish that no one could eat it. The sea-parrots had returned to the Island but these wary little birds kept far out over the water.
There came a morning when Ellen did not get up for breakfast. The men left early for the lake. They were devoting all their time to their mining, and secure in the thought that they had struck something rich, they were eager for the clean-up; but to Jean, stepping quietly about her household tasks, gold did not seem valuable now. It made no difference how much they found—it would not buy them one ounce of nourishing food—and nourishing food was what Ellen must have, and soon.
The girl tip-toed to the bed and looked down at her sister's face, white and thin against the tumbled mass of golden-brown hair. There was something small and very girlish-looking about Ellen as she lay there—and something suggestive of a great weariness. Jean felt a sudden tenderness for her—a desire to clasp her sister in her strong young arms and shield her, from what she could not tell. She stooped and softly kissed the small, work-stained hand that lay outside the blanket.
As she continued her work, the plan which had often before suggested itself to her, now returned. Ellen's peculiar conduct in regard to the pigeon precluded her mentioning it to her sister. She took a sheet of thin paper and in painstaking, minute characters wrote a message. She would attach it to the pigeon and turn the bird loose. Perhaps it might fly back to Katleean, and then, surely, if the White Chief found her message he would make an effort to come at once.
Half an hour later she had the pigeon on the beach below the cabin. She was urging it to fly, but the bird merely spread its wings and fluttered about. Fearing that the long confinement had deprived it of the power of flight, Jean was redoubling her efforts, when Loll came running along the sand.
"Gee Whiz, Jean!" he yelled, "What-cha doing with my pigeon? Can't you see he can't fly good yet? Dad clipped his wings that time one of them got caught in the hinge of his cage." And Lollie, with coaxing noises and terms of endearment proceeded to gather his pet into his arms.
Obliged by Ellen's illness to assume the responsibilities of the larder Jean was surprised and dismayed at the small amount of food that was left them. She tried to banish the fears that this knowledge brought her by talking cheerfully of the certainty of procuring seabird eggs.
Spring had the effect of coming suddenly. The yellow grass and bare branches which had greeted them for so many months changed seemingly overnight. The adventurers awakened one morning to find that the alders had burst into pungent, sticky little green leaves and the tundra had taken on a tinge of emerald. When the Indian celery had grown a foot in height Jean and Loll brought an arm-load to the cabin. The girl remembered that Senott at Katleean had told her "him plenty good eatin' when salmon run." Everyone craved something green and though the celery was hollow-stalked, very watery and of a strong musky taste and odor, they ate it, because, as Loll put it, it felt like green stuff going down, anyway.
Ducks and geese flew over the Island so low that the sibilant sound of their wings could be heard from the porch. Shane often tried to kill one with a stone, but without success. He and Kayak Bill had long ago used all the ammunition for their revolvers endeavoring to shoot hair-seals off the south end. Shane's revolver finally disappeared entirely. One day, however, after he had stood long by Ellen's bed, he went out to the shed. Jean coming upon him there had found him thoughtfully twirling the weapon on his finger—his trigger finger as he had often called it. Although he announced that there were no more cartridges for it the girl later came upon five wrapped in a bandana handkerchief.
When at last the flowers began to bud, Jean and her nephew climbed the gulch trail to the top of the Island where Kobuk lay under the tundra on the crest of the hill. The lone tree, so like a woman with wind-blown hair, had lost one of its branches during the winter gales, but it still stood, as if looking out across Kobuk's grave to the far-away, illimitable skyline; ever looking, Jean thought, as she was, for a ship that never came.
She and Lollie made Kobuk's resting place a bed of transplanted violets and iris and dog-tooth lilies. When the work was finished, Lollie stood leaning on the club he had begun to carry, as his one desire in life at this period was to emulate Robinson Crusoe. He looked thoughtfully down at the grave for some time.
"Perhaps, after all, Jean, it's better that Kobuk died," he said at last. "We'd have nothing to feed him now, poor old Kobuk, and he'd be hungry, like us." He raised his thin little face to watch a sea-parrot flying overhead with a fish in its bill.
Jean leaned against the tree, one of her recurrent floods of hopelessness sweeping her. Far down the tundra toward the north she could see the flag-pole on the Lookout. The tattered home-made flag hung dispiritedly in the still sunny air, and the smoke of the signal fire was a mere straight-rising wisp. The calls of happy mating gulls came to mock her—gulls replete with the bountiful food of the sea. Today she was hungry, so hungry that every atom of her body cried for food, hot, nourishing food which she had not known for months. And Ellen, back there at the cabin, was growing weaker and weaker each day.
The girl's eyes dully followed the low-flying sea-parrots. In a half conscious way she noticed that many of them came toward the crest of the hill and disappeared. Sea-parrots were not as fishy tasting as gulls, as she had heard Kayak Bill say. If only they had some way of killing these birds perhaps the broth and the flesh might bring back Ellen's strength.
"Jean, isn't that the place the old bear came up the hill?" Lollie's voice broke in on her thoughts. He was pointing to the scrubby growth on the brow of the hill where she had first seen the bear of Kon Klayu. "Let's go over and see."
As they walked toward the ridge their feet made no sound on the soft tundra. They peered down hill into the shady recesses under the stunted alder and salmon-berry bushes. Jean's nostrils twitched as there was wafted up to her the strong, acrid odor which lingers about the places of nesting birds. As her eyes became accustomed to the dimness, she ventured a remark which died abruptly as she caught her breath. Beneath the low canopy of branches the ground was bare of vegetation, and on the cool brown earth, packed hard by the patter of webbed feet, a dozen or more sea-parrots were sitting not fifteen slanting feet below!
At the sight of them Loll dropped to his hands and knees and, club in hand, crept cautiously down under the low-growing bushes. Inch by inch he drew nearer to the birds. . . . Then, with a swift movement he was in the midst of wildly flapping wings, clubbing fiercely at crimson-beaked heads.
Jean, fearing that he was in danger, threw herself on the ground and tried to wriggle forward to him, but the low growth made the passage of her larger body impossible. She drew herself back and called frantically to the boy. She could hear the commotion and see the parrots one by one flying clumsily out as they escaped from the spot where he fought. With a shout of encouragement to him she made another attempt to crawl under the brush. At that moment Loll's freckled face was thrust through the undergrowth. He turned to tug at something, grunting and straining as if trying to free it from the tangle.
"Jean! I've got 'em! I've got 'em!" he yelled.
A second later he was standing before her, breathless, his blouse torn from his shoulders, his face scratched. In his bleeding little hands he held five dead sea-parrots. "Killed 'em with my club, Jean, just like Robinson Crusoe, 'cause they can't fly away quick under there!" he explained. "They've all got little tunnels under there, too—nests I think they are, but I couldn't reach the end of 'em when I put in my arm!"
An hour later Jean was attending to the cooking of the birds. When skinned, only the breast was found to be edible. The meat when cooked was coarse and dark red, but it was a palatable sea-parrot and dumpling mulligan that the girl evolved.
When the men returned from Skeleton Rib that night there was more rejoicing over the food than there was over the fact that at last everything was in readiness at the lake for the first clean-up. Three puddling-boxes stood full of the soft brown muck that had once been turf. The sluices were in place ready for the water that would be turned into them the following day, and the tools, wheelbarrow and the cart had been drawn aside, clearing the space for action.
"Tomorrow, boys, we'll be bringing home hi-yu gold!" Shane asserted confidently at supper. "And before the end of the week we'll all have enough to go anywhere we wish. Now that we are certain of plenty of birds sure our hearts should be light as feathers—for a boat will surely be along soon!"
On the Lookout that night Jean said good-night early to Harlan. As she came down the hill to the cabin she stopped to look at the wide-spreading ocean. The sun had gone down in a strange sea mist and below her the waters heaved dim and vast and ghost-like in the twilight. There was a hushed feeling in the air. It may have been that she was more tired than usual, for when she slipped into her little bunk she fell into a heavy sleep almost as soon as her head touched the pillow.
It was Shane's incredulous shout that awakened her.
"Kayak! Come here!"
She could hear Kayak Bill moving quickly toward the door in the living-room.
"Ellen, you come out, too!" It was evident that Shane was laboring under an intense astonishment.
The girl clambered out of her bunk and flinging on a kimono, started for the porch. Before she reached the door Kayak Bill's unbelieving exclamation sounded:
"By—hell! The lake—" he paused in sheer leaden amazement. "The lake is gone!"
On the porch all eyes were turned toward the south where the silver of the little lake off Skeleton Rib had always glimmered through its screen of alders. There was no friendly sparkle of water this morning, and gone were the trees that bordered the shore nearest the beach. Instead, a strange desolation, more noticeable because of the brilliant sunshine, hung over the spot, which now showed a vague-reddish brown in the distance. It had the sickening effect of an empty socket from which the eye has been torn.
The bewildered look on Kayak's face was slowly changing to one of enlightenment.
"Folks," he said quietly. "We're lucky to be alive this morning. There's been a tidal wave!"
His eye was taking in the length of the beach that lay between the cabin and the lake. There was a weird look of alteration about it, as if a giant hand had tampered with it during the night. Piles of drift-logs were stacked up far inland, and the vegetation on the banks above the beach was flattened and in many instances swept completely away. Close at hand—not twenty feet from the cabin—lay windrows of seaweed, left there by the spent wash of the great wave. Death, swift, sweeping, terrible, had been diverted only by the high bank that stood below the cabin.
It seemed incredible, monstrous, that they all should have slept peacefully while the mass of water was rolling in on them from the deep. Kayak Bill, who had once seen a tidal wave on Bering Sea, pictured it advancing in the grey unnatural night from the far reaches of the ocean, growing larger and larger as it neared the shallows off Kon Klayu, and then, tossing its dancing crest to the sky in gigantic abandon, curling down from aloft in green-white, crushing splendor and flinging itself far over the beachline in its endeavor to encompass them all.
Without waiting for breakfast the men went down to the spot where the little lake had been. Nothing but a dark ooze remained. Every block of gold-carrying turf, every puddling-box, sluice and tool had been carried out to sea. The work of weeks had come to naught. Their last hope of gold was gone.
During the gloomy fortnight that followed it was the food supply, however, and not the calamity of the tidal wave that was subject of the most discussion. With the exception of flour there was little left of the outfit that had been landed on Kon Klayu, and to the consternation and chagrin of the men, they discovered that Loll was the only one who could slip up on the sea-parrots and kill them with a club. Shane and Harlan and even Kayak Bill tried it repeatedly with no success. They were unable to creep down under the low-growing brush in a manner stealthy enough to reach the birds. Even Loll found it impossible to approach them in the open, and they grew more wary day by day. Six people depended on the child for nourishing food, and Lollie, after that first wild morning when he had discovered his ability to kill the birds, found his tender heart revolting against his bloody task.
Ellen, slowly recovering her strength now that sea-parrot broth had been added to the daily fare, had become painfully intuitive in the matter of all those phases of the situation which Shane and the others clumsily tried to keep from her. Though apparently asleep, she knew the instant that Shane crept from his bed in the very early mornings before the sun had dried the dew on the tundra. She could hear him tip-toe into Lollie's bunk and with forced lightness call softly:
"Come, Loll, son. Hop up now. We must be after the birds this fine morning!"
"Oh, dad! I don't want to kill any more—I can't do it, dad! . . . Let this morning go by . . . please!" . . .
"Whist, lad! Your mother'll hear you. Come along now, son, we'll talk it over on the outside."
"Oh, please, please . . ."
Quickly Ellen would put her fingers over her ears that she might not hear the beseeching little-boy voice, but she knew the moment Shane lifted the reluctant child from his warm bunk, and she knew, too, that Shane's heart must be aching with the pity of it, as was her own.
One morning, thinking they had gone, she raised her head to note the hour. There was the sound of a quick step on the porch outside.
"Oh, dad!" came Lollie's pleading tones, and Ellen knew just how his grey eyes, big now in his small thin face, were raised to his father's, "dad, if you could see them down there under the leaves, strutting so cute-like and innocent in front of their little tunnel nests getting ready for their babies!" Then with passionate intensity: "Today . . . couldn't you just let me off for to-day, dad?" Inspired, perhaps, by some shade of feeling in Shane's eyes he went on with hurried, promising emphasis: "An' tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, dad, I'll feel like getting lots of 'em! Honest, maybe I will!"
Ellen, with a moan of mental anguish, buried her face in her pillow and covered her ears to shut out the rest. That her boy, friend and lover of all wild things, was obliged, against his will, to slaughter birds in order that they might live seemed more than she could bear.
And as if to add to the hopelessness of the situation, daily now steamers and sailing vessels passed far out on the North Pacific, but none swerved in its course. There was nothing to hinder the Hoonah's coming—nothing but the word of the White Chief of Katleean. Ellen chafed inwardly as the long, light days and nights dragged by. Help must come soon, and for some time she had been counting the hours until the pigeon's wing-feathers should grow out again. As soon as the bird could fly she was going to take it to the Lookout and speed it on its way with her message of capitulation to Paul Kilbuck.
The long sunny days of May passed, turning Kon Klayu into a garden of wild flowers. It was violet time with great bunches of purple blossoms nodding against the hillsides. Above the beachline rice-grass waved luxuriantly. Indian celery thrust its graceful, creamy parasols above beach forget-me-nots, strawberry blooms, black lilies, blue geraniums and thick carpets of delicate wee flowers that have no names. The green of the tundra on top of the Island was splashed with yellow buttercups and pink and lavender daisies, and on every little brown pool and lake floated golden lilies. The warm salt wind from the sea stirred the fragrance of it all—the flowers, the moist tundra, the sun-warmed sand into a perfume that is the breath of Alaska; a clean, invigorating perfume that once known can never be forgotten. It is charged with that indefinable charm, that hint of promise, which is so much a part of the great North country.
To Jean and Gregg, racing along the beaches on their various hunts for food, it brought a joy of spring that, when they were in the open, made them forget completely the growing seriousness of their situation. Nearly every day now the air was softly, embracingly warm, and owing to the scarcity of garments, no one was wearing more than was necessary. The men had long been going barefooted, and Jean, as soon as the weather and the nature of her work permitted it, put her only remaining pair of worn shoes in the loft against the day when she should leave Kon Klayu. She, too, went barefooted for the most part, delighting in the feel of the cool sand against her feet, but she carried with her the hair-seal moccasins given her by Add-'em-up Sam's widow at Katleean. These she put on to walk over stones or along the tundra.
As the sea-parrots were daily growing more wary, and Lollie had now to exercise the greatest caution to get near enough to club them, the need of eggs became imperative. One day Jean and Harlan were racing along the beach headed for the south cliffs to make their accustomed search. A rope coiled about the young man's waist held to him a bucket which dangled and bobbed as he ran. The afternoon was sunny and a fresh sea wind lifted the hair on their bare heads. The surf ringed the grey sands at their feet with long foaming lines.
"It's so beautiful, so beautiful, this land and sea, Gregg, that I feel today must bring us some good luck!" Jean, out of sheer exuberance, was skimming along ahead, her arms outspread, her chin high, as she dipped and leaped in imitation of Senott's sea-gull dance which she had seen at the Potlatch.
"Wait a minute, wild girl!" called Harlan, endeavoring to accomplish the feat of rolling up a trouser leg as he hobbled. "Come back here!" His voice took on an exaggerated tone of threat. "Don't you realize that a squaw's place is three steps to the rear!"
In answer to his shout she turned, and laughingly waited for him. He advanced, suddenly assuming the slouching, shoulder-swinging gait of the "bad man," his brows drawn and fierce, his chin thrust out.
"Don't cross muh, woman!" he hissed, melodramatically. "I tell yuh, I'm rough, an' I'm tough, an' I'm from Katleean! Muh bite is poi-sson, an' muh s-s-s-ting is d-e-a-t-h! To the rear, I say!"
Quick as a flash the girl bent, and catching up a long streamer of damp kelp tossed it about his neck, retaining her hold on it as she ran ahead.
"Speak not to me of the rear, Man!" she intoned boastfully. "I am Xun, the Unfettered! Xun, the Woman-of-the-North-Wind! Men move not in the North except by my will. My breath in their lungs brings oblivion. My voice in their ears—and the trail—is—empty! Come!"
Laughing derisively at his pawing efforts to dislodge the clammy kelp, she drew him along until the streamer broke. Then still talking their happy nonsense, they trotted side by side toward the cliffs.
Half a mile farther on Jean sat down on a spherical boulder and donned her moccasins. Afterward they turned in from the beach, crossed a flat sweep of tundra and ascended the hill to the top of the Island. As they walked toward the edge of the cliffs the shrill chorus of thousands of sea-birds grew louder.
"O-o-o-o!" there was a little bell-like shiver in the girl's voice. "There's no sound in all the world so wild, so suggestive of the mystery of the untamed, as the calling of nesting gulls, Gregg!" They stood on the promontory with the winged things dipping and swirling all about them. Jean continued slowly, as if trying to put into words some illusive feeling. "Sometimes—it frightens me—I don't know why—and at the same time, it fills me with such a sense of freedom and lightness that often, just for a little moment, I almost believe I too might rise into the air and balance myself against the breeze with them!"
Harlan had never seen the nesting grounds of gulls in season, but Jean, before coming to Kon Klayu, had once gone ashore on a gull island during laying time.
"For weeks afterward," she told him, "every night when I closed my eyes I could see the green waving grass and grey sand dotted with hundreds and hundreds of crude nests. Each nest contained from one to three eggs, larger than duck eggs, and of a nile-green color closely speckled with brown, yellow and lavender. Why, they were so near together, Gregg, that it was difficult to step without crushing the eggs!"
With the memory of the gull island in her mind, she started with Harlan to traverse the stretch of green back of the promontory.
Back and forth for a square mile they went, searching the flat above the cliffs. Gulls, flying above, eyed them curiously, making strange human sounds. Occasionally one alighted on the ground. As often as this happened they raced hopefully to the spot but found nothing but grass blades bending from the wind.
"It's no use, Jean," Harlan decided, after two hours' vain effort. "It's too early for them to lay. Let's go back to the edge of the cliffs. The shags lay earlier, I believe, only their nests are so blamed hard to get at down there."
Jean was not enthusiastic about shag nests.
"They fill me with melancholy—those long-necked, black creatures, Gregg," she said uneasily. "Lollie and I call them witch-birds. I remember last fall we used to sit on the porch steps in the afterglow, watching them—strings of dusky, witch-birds, speeding silent and low over the darkening water to the cliffs. But, if you wish," she added, "we'll go and see."
They headed for the windy heights overlooking the ocean, where nodding tundra grass fringed the space beyond. Harlan took her hand as they crept close to the edge. They peered down through the cloud of wild fowl that swarmed in uncounted thousands before their eyes. Three hundred feet below, deliberate blue rollers, with spray-laced tops swept in and broke against the rocks, the impact sending whitened water high into the air. The face of the cliff was plastered with seabirds: murres, gulls, sea-parrots and cormorants. Harlan threw a stone down and the air became black with them, leaving the numbers in the rocks apparently the same. Sea-parrots flew in from the water and disappeared under the overhanging sod at the top. Mingled with the breath of the ocean was the wild, unforgetable odor that clings to the places where seabirds roost.
Suddenly Harlan spoke. "There are shags eggs down there, Jean, but the cliff right here is too steep for us to get them. I couldn't even let you down over the edge on the rope. But I'll tie one end to you and we'll go along here until we find a place from which I can descend, perhaps."
They drew back from their perilous position, and after making fast the rope about Jean's waist, proceeded, stopping at intervals to lie flat and look down over the rim of space.
They were feeling their way along the highest part of the Island, when suddenly at their feet the tundra opened in a deep cleft not over five feet wide. It began six yards or more back from the edge and led down between crumbling, rocky walls at a fearful incline, to a ledge thirty feet below.
Jean drew back with a cry at the sense of peril that came over her, but Harlan looked eagerly down.
"By Jove, there are a lot of eggs on that ledge," he announced enthusiastically, "and we can get them!" He hesitated a moment, considering. His eyes sought hers. "You're not strong enough to lower me down to the ledge, Jean, but—would—would you be frightened if I should let you down to them?"
For one awful moment the sea and sky and birds swirled together as the girl stood, steeped in fear. Then the raucous cries of the gulls penetrated her consciousness like shrieking voices calling: "Coward! Quitter!"
Harlan was saying convincingly: "I wouldn't let you fall, Jean. My arms are strong as a blacksmith's—" he flexed the muscles beneath his thin shirt—"and see, there's a depression here at the head of the chasm. I can stand in it and brace myself!"
Ten minutes later Jean, with her heart beating fearfully, stood facing Harlan, as she prepared to back down the steep rocky slide.
THE SECRET OF THE CLIFFS
As she felt herself going down step by step, Jean kept her eyes resolutely shut. She steadied herself with outstretched arms and hands just touching each wall of the cleft. The rope tightened about her, as inch by inch Gregg let it out from above. Gradually as all went well, curiosity overcame her fear and she opened her eyes. At that instant there came a whirr and a flapping of wings that set her heart thumping again, and out from the overhanging tundra on top of the cliff an astonished sea-parrot flew, so close that the tip of his wing stung her cheek. She could hear other birds below and about her beating their wings and hurling themselves in alarm from their resting places. Far beneath the billows detoned against the crags. With hands and feet now she clung to the rough juttings of rock as she was being lowered. Harlan's voice, shouting encouragement, gradually became fainter. At last she felt her feet strike the flat of the ledge.
With a gasp of relief she straightened and turned to look about her. She stood high on a narrow shelf thrust out from the sheer-rising cliff. Before her face swarms of birds fanned the air, their wrangle and jangle sounding almost in her ears. The wind stirred the acrid smells about her. At her feet were several crude nests of sticks. They contained eggs smaller than hen's eggs and of a pale greenish color. They were the first she had seen for nine months and the sight sent a thrill through her. With a little laugh at her own enthusiasm she untied the bucket at her waist and carefully worked her way from nest to nest as she gathered them.
Jean, not being one of those who find themselves affected by heights, quickly became accustomed to her perilous shelf above the sea. After tucking a large silk handkerchief about the eggs to insure their safety, she sat down on the ledge to look about her. Every nook and cranny in the surrounding rocks was alive with birds. Close to her, long-necked shags on wide-spread wings balanced with dusky gracefulness before sailing away through the myriad screaming gulls. Dignified murres, their backs to the sea, sat soldier-like in the crevices like plumb-bobs from their perches. Huge-beaked sea-parrots squatted with comical solemnity or flapped quickly away toward the outer reaches of the ocean where thousands of their kind floated on the water like a black cloud. These were the love-days in bird-land—the mating time for all feathered things. Sitting there, the girl felt a sudden kindred friendliness for all these small creatures—a feeling of at-one-ness and sympathy with their little lives and nest-making ambitions.
As she became more at home on her ledge she began to look about her with a view to exploring further. She lay flat on the rock and peered down. Below her on the floor of the sea, now exposed by the falling tide, she saw dozens of the strange, perfectly round boulders that had become so familiar to all on Kon Klayu. They were of assorted sizes, and where they lay thickest there was no seaweed or kelp. . . . After some minutes she became aware that from one end of her ledge where it joined the cliff, and running parallel to it, rough, out-jutting rocks slanted downward in a crude, natural stairway, almost to the beach. With care, she told herself, after a long scrutiny, she might make the descent. The rope about her she knew could not reach to the bottom of the cliff. She would untie it and trust entirely to her clinging hands and prehensile moccasined feet. She stood up, suddenly confident of her own powers in this element. Cupping her hands about her mouth she shouted to Harlan informing him of her intention. Evidently he did not hear her, or else she could not hear his answer. After waiting a few minutes she untied the rope from about her and cautiously began the descent.
Very slowly and carefully she lowered herself, her feet and hands clinging tenaciously. The keen salt wind ballooned her ragged skirts about her. Occasionally when her foot slipped and showers of loosened particles rolled down startling birds from their perches in screaming clouds, she could feel the blood pounding in her temples in momentary fright. At first she marveled at her own daring—then she reveled in it.
As she descended she began to experience that thrill which comes to those who tread where no other human foot has trodden, who look on scenes no other human eye has visioned. She felt sure she was the first to visit this part of Kon Klayu, for the steep cliffs at the south were inaccessible both from the east and from the west side of the Island, even at the lowest tide. And in all the tales of Kon Klayu she had heard, no one had ever mentioned the chasm down which she had come to the ledge. In this section of tidal waves and occasional heavy earthquakes, it was possible that the cleft had opened up recently.
At last she felt her feet on the beach below. She straightened and turned to face the ocean. The waters were sewn with jagged rocks and long-running reefs. Sleek-haired seals bobbed up to look humanly at her. A thin, high-rising jet of water afar out bespoke the presence of a whale. Back of her loomed the precipitous wall of the cliff. She gasped at her own daring as her eye followed the rough stairway down which she had descended. A moment she wondered, with dismay, if she could possibly climb back again; a moment she pictured her plight should she be caught here when the tide came in and covered the narrow beach; then her attention was drawn by that which lay farther along. She ran forward, wending her way in and out between the giant balls of stone that lay about her.
At the base of the precipice just ahead of her, and level with the sea floor, she saw a huge opening. As she approached, it widened, grew higher, until she round herself peering into the yawning mouth of a sea cavern fifty feet wide and half that in height. Like monster peas in a giant's open mouth lay the spherical boulders on the bottom of the cave.
She was frightened, yet fascinated by her discovery. She hesitated a moment then advanced slowly into the cool dampness of the place. As far ahead as her eye could pierce the dimness, the balls of stone lay catching the light on their rounded surfaces. The walls closed in about her, as she walked. Water dripped on her. Her feet splashed through puddles in the uneven, hard bottom, but here there was no trace of the seaweed that draped the rocks in all other parts of the Island.
The sound of breakers booming against the reefs came to her in the cavern with a strange reverberating effect. The underground way ran on apparently with an upward slant as far as she could see. She longed for a light so that she might explore further. . . . After some minutes advance into the deepening gloom, a feeling of timidity began to assail her. She paused leaning against a lobsided boulder. The absence of life, the stillness, the Stygian darkness ahead seemed suddenly ominous. She turned and saw the mouth of the cavern far back of her. Like an oblong frame it enclosed a small bright picture of beach and sunlit sea. Undoubtedly, she thought, when the tide was full, the ocean rushed in along the floor of the cave. Perhaps, when it was stormy, it rolled the giant balls of stone backward and forward.
Once more she glanced toward the unknown inner recesses of the cavern; then, with a little shiver, began making her way back toward the light again.
Her foot went down with a quick splash into a water-filled depression, and in shaking the drops from her moccasin she noted that the strings were untied. She stooped to fasten them; her eyes now perfectly accustomed to the dim light, caught a dull gleam at the edge of the pool. She was conscious of a wild thumping of her heart—an eager trembling of the hand she instinctively reached forward.
"No, no! It can't be," she temporized aloud, as if to fortify herself against disappointment. She forced herself to finish tying her moccasin, and even looked to the security of the other one before she hesitantly reached over and put her fingers on the object that had attracted her. She held it up to the light.
"Gold! Oh, it is gold!" she breathed.
In her hand lay a flat piece of yellow metal, smaller than the nugget Lollie had found, but of the same character. She dropped to her knees and with unsteady eagerness searched the bottom of the shallow pool for other nuggets. Her trembling fingers encountered another one, and still another! Then her luck seemingly came to an end.
The floor of the cave was strangely worn and filled with numerous depressions into which the sand had settled. Jean finally dipped her hands into the pool again and brought up perhaps a cupful. She ran with it out to the beach and spread it out over a boulder. It was black, showing tiny garnet-like particles, and here and there the sun glinted on colors of gold!
She gathered the precious sand together again and stuffed it into the pocket of her shirt, then swiftly set off toward the spot where she could ascend the cliff.
Suddenly she remembered Gregg waiting for her at the top. She gasped, dismayed by the knowledge that she had been totally unconscious of the passage of time. Had she been gone an hour, two—or perhaps more? What was he thinking? Perhaps he had tried to descend the cleft after her and had fallen. Perhaps he was even now lying on the ledge broken—dead.
Trying to shut out these unwelcome thoughts which took away all the joy of her discovery, she hastily began her scrambling ascent of the steep incline.
She had gone only a few feet when a shout halted her. Glancing up she saw Gregg's relieved face above her.
"Thank heaven, your're safe, Jean!" he shouted, and with reckless disregard of consequences he began to slide from the ledge toward her. "I thought you'd fallen down the precipice, when I pulled on the rope and found you not there!"
He landed on the beach at her feet. The tense look on his face faded as his eyes devoured her.
"Lord, girl, what ever made you do such a thing! I rushed back toward Skeleton Rib and met Kayak Bill coming this way. He let me down to the ledge—for I couldn't get down any other way. He's up there now waiting for us. Doggone you, anyway, you little rascal!"—he laughed shakily, grasping her by the shoulders,—"you nearly scared me to death!"
"But just see what I've found!" Jean opened her hand suddenly, and with the three nuggets lying on it raised it toward his eyes. Then without waiting for him to look at them, she thrust them into his hand and began to drag him toward the mouth of the cave.
Half an hour later two wild, troglodytic figures were giving vent to their joy by capering and dancing about the floor of the cavern.
"Jean, you've struck it rich! You've found the source of the gold of Kon Klayu!" Harlan shouted for the fifth time. "It's better than beach mining! It's better than Shane ever dreamed! I know enough to venture that this whole blessed little isle must have a base of igneous rock and the formation of this south end, especially, is impregnated with a network of gold-bearing dykes! Why, anyone could see that by the walls of this cave!" He bent, scooped up a handful of sand, and with eager, shining eyes watched while he spread it over his palm.
"Just imagine this hollow during one of our terrific sou'westers, Jean," he went on, looking about him. "The monster billows crashing into this cavern, rolling the boulders along the bottom, grinding them along this gold-bearing formation! By Jove, the action is the same as that in a stamp mill, almost! The gold is freed, becomes mixed with the sands, and sooner or later is carried out and concentrated along certain zones on the Island."
"But away goes all the mystery of our Island, too, Gregg!" Jean's voice carried a hint of regret. "That accounts for the strange, rolling sounds we used to hear during the storms, and for the giant balls of stone, and for everything!"
They filled their pockets with samples of the sand to take home to Shane, and ascended to the ledge. From thence, with the assistance of Kayak Bill and the rope they mounted one after the other to the top of the precipice.
The old man listened to their story of the cavern in silence, though his eyes were glowing.
"By . . . hell, from what yore a-tellin' 'o me, children, you sure have struck it rich!" he drawled at the end.
Jean threw her arms impulsively about his neck and landed a kiss on his ear.
"We all have struck it rich, you old dear! We'll stake the whole little Island of Kon Klayu, and if we can ever get to the States to get an outfit, we'll come back here and work it."
Jean knew that any show of affection caused Kayak acute, wriggling embarrassment. He backed away from her now, his cheeks fiery red. To cover his momentary confusion his hazel eye impaled Harlan's ragged back, which was showing the effects of his rapid slide down the cliff.
"Young man," he declared with slow solemnity. "The bosom o' yore pants is showing conside'ble wear an' tear." Gregg whirled to face him, but before he could utter a word, Kayak, now master of himself once more, drawled on: "It never rains but it pours, I reckon. I plumb forgot to tell you, Gregg, that just a-fore you drug me up here this afternoon, me and Boreland was a-mouchin round just south of Skeleton Rib and durned if we didn't come across the old whaleboat, high and dry with celery bushes a-growin' up around her. She's stove in some, but we can fix her—and I reckon we'll be settin' sail for the mainland in a couple o' weeks!"
THE PIGEON'S FLIGHT
Wonderful as it was, the discovery of the gold took second place with the finding of the whaleboat. Gold had no more value than sand on Kon Klayu, unless the adventurers were rescued, and the whaleboat meant at least a chance of rescue, provided it could be made tight enough to float. It is true that with summer coming on there would be an abundance of eggs, sea-parrots and later on berries, for already the north end of the Island was white with strawberry blossoms—but flour and coffee were now all that remained of the supplies, and the flour was low in the barrel. Help must come before another winter set in.
Ellen, in her first joy over the discovery of the whaleboat, had joined eagerly in the plans which the three men discussed at the cabin. She saw herself freed at last from the terrible necessity of summoning Paul Kilbuck. The pigeon could fly—she had tested it. In another week she would have sent it with the message that meant life to her family, but death to her own peace and happiness. But now—in her relief the last vestige of her illness fell from her. She felt strong again, ready to take up her work about the cabin. She found herself, for the first time, able to look normally on the smoke-grey creature, seeing it as a bird, and not as a hated, yet horribly cherished representative of the White Chief of Katleean.
It was slow work putting the old and battered whaleboat in repair. Ellen had not seen the craft since its recovery, but Shane had told her that every seam needed recalking. There was no oakum for the purpose, so she tore up some garments that neither she nor Jean could spare. He spoke casually of a cracked plank or two that would be strengthened by tacking pieces of canvas and tin both inside and out.
After several days Ellen noticed that Harlan and Kayak Bill ceased to talk of the proposed trip, although Shane still kept up a brave front and spoke confidently, in her presence at least, of landing at Katleean. She began to feel vaguely uneasy.
One morning when Jean and Lollie had gone off to gather gull eggs, which were now found in small quantities, Ellen decided to take lunch to the men who were working on the whaleboat a mile and a half away.
As she approached the spot she saw the upturned hull of the boat lying upon the sand. No one was in sight. She gasped as she saw the battered condition of the craft. One end seemed splintered and a jagged hole showed plainly in the bottom. Three other holes had been mended with tin. The next instant she was aware that the three men were sitting on the other side of the whaleboat, resting probably. Their voices floated out to her distinctly.
"We mout as well face the music, boys," Kayak Bill was saying. "We're up against the damn'dest bit o' coast in Alasky, and in a rotten tub like this it's a ten to one chance we're takin' but——"
At this point, to Ellen's vexation, the paper containing the lunch burst apart letting half a dozen gull eggs, which formed the principal part of it, fall to the sand. Instinctively she stooped to gather them. The next words that came to her told her that Shane and Kayak were discussing the unwritten law of the North—the law of the cache. In a land where food is the god supreme, this law has made itself. White and native alike bow before it. It means life. The food cache, no matter where found, is inviolate. Than robbing a cache there is no more foul or cowardly crime. And ranked with the cache robber is the man who goes back on his promise, or fails, through neglect, to furnish food to those who depend on him. Death, Ellen knew, is the penalty for both crimes in the remote places of Alaska. As she went forward she heard the White Chief's name and some words that were unintelligible to her. Then Shane came to his feet. He was speaking in a voice toneless, dispassionate, but weighted with finality.
"I'll do it, but I don't need a gun, by God!" From his pocket he drew his revolver which he had taken that morning in the hope of getting a seal. He laid it across his other palm. "I have five shots left—but I'm going to do it with my hands on his throat!"
As he finished speaking Harlan and Kayak Bill stood up also. The young man turned and saw Ellen coming toward them. There was a moment's dissembling as Shane returned the pistol to his pocket, then he greeted her with a cheeriness which in no way deceived her.
She said nothing that might betray her comprehension of the situation, but as soon as she could, retraced her steps to the cabin.
She knew now that while it was in her power to prevent it she could never allow her men to put to sea in the unseaworthy whaleboat. One chance in ten, Kayak had said. Even during the best weather they had known on Kon Klayu she herself had seen a gale blow up in two hours. One chance in ten. The words repeated themselves in her brain. And if they did make the mainland—what then? "I don't need a gun. . . . I'll do it with my hands on his throat!" . . . The clash between Shane and the White Chief was inevitable now, no matter how the meeting came about. She was enough of a frontier woman to appreciate this. She would summon Kilbuck at once, before her men had a chance to risk their lives, and when she had sent her message, she would tell Shane her whole miserable story beginning with the night of the Potlatch dance. He might lose faith in her; he might despise her, but she knew that he would fight for her.
She took out pen and paper and sat before the table to write her message to the White Chief. She must make it so urgent that he would come at once before the whaleboat was launched again. She wrote several, but discarded them. At last she was satisfied. Folding the paper tightly she slipped it into the little finger of a thin kid glove she had cut off for the purpose. Then she went out to the pigeon's cage.
With the fluttering bird in her arms, she ascended the trail to the Lookout. At the top the home-made flag flung its tatters out in the sunshine. Ellen noted that it blew toward Katleean. The wind, then, was favorable. The trader should have her message by morning. And in two more days—she shook her head, not permitting herself to think further.
A few minutes she stood looking seaward. Then she held the bird out in both hands and with all her strength tossed it into the air.
Fluttering wildly, it recovered its balance, circled narrowly, rose a few feet and—settled down on the tundra before her. It took a few limping steps. Ellen was puzzled at its behavior. Perhaps she had tied the message too tightly about its leg. She would readjust it and urge the bird to flight again.
With outstretched hands she advanced toward it and tried to imprison it between her hands, but the pigeon flapped along ahead of her just out of reach. After some minutes' running back and forth over the short grass she caught it, and with her back to the flagpole, sat down on a piece of firewood to loosen the string about the creature's leg. So intent was she on her work that she did not at once hear the sound of approaching footsteps. When she did turn her head quickly it was to look up into the anger-lighted eyes of her husband.
He reached roughly across her shoulder and with one hand grasped the pigeon by the legs. With the other he thrust toward her two pieces of thin writing paper.
"Now, perhaps, you will explain these!" he said in a voice that fluctuated strangely from his intense effort to control himself.
Dazed by the unexpected turn of affairs Ellen rose and mechanically took the sheets. They were two half completed notes to the White Chief—notes she had discarded. She must have overlooked them when she burned the others. What had she said in her anxiety to bring Kilbuck immediately to Kon Klayu? What had she said to arouse Shane's sleeping devil of jealousy which she had known often during the first years of their married life? "Paul Kilbuck,"—the words stood out black in her large handwriting. As she read the words she slipped the other paper over them. "I want you now——"
"So you want him now, do you?" Mocking fury sounded in Shane's voice. "You want him now, this fine, squaw-man lover of yours who left you to starve! God, what a blind fool I've been—but I can see it all now. I remember his whisperings to you that day we left Katleean—" He snatched the papers from her hand and thrust them into his pocket with a bitter laugh. "I'll deliver your loving message myself just before I choke—him——"
"Stop, Shane!" Suddenly Ellen was herself again. She knew nothing that had happened between her and the White Chief was one tenth as dishonorable as the things Shane's jealous imagination pictured. She stepped over to him and laid a hand on his trembling arm. "I can explain these half written notes," she said quietly. "I can explain everything, Shane."
She looked up into his tense, passionate face. He must have seen something in her blue eyes that claimed him, for he asked more reasonably:
"Tell me, then."
Beginning with her distrust of the trader she did tell him. She ended with her attempt that afternoon to send the pigeon with a message urgent enough to bring the White Chief to their rescue before Shane and his partners had sailed away in the leaky whaleboat.
When she finished Shane made no comment. She waited. Was it possible he did not believe her? A long minute went by . . . and then another. . . . Obeying an impulse she did not understand she swiftly took the pigeon from him and tossed it once more into the air.
It readjusted itself and rose confidently. There was a swift movement as Shane whipped his revolver from his pocket. Before the bird had flown twenty feet he fired. The first shot missed, but the second brought the smoke-grey pigeon to the ground.
A moment later Ellen felt her husband's arms about her.
"God love you, little fellow." There was tenderness, contrition and a great relief in his tones as he laid his cheek against her hair. "Sure, nothing matters now that I know it's myself you're still in love with and not that damnable blackguard in Katleean!" . . .
For an hour they sat on the log below the flagpole, explaining, mutually forgiving, planning. Shane, with Irish logic, chose to see in the death of the pigeon, a riddance to all adverse circumstances. He seemed suddenly endowed with a new faith concerning the trip in the whaleboat and succeeded in imparting some of his enthusiasm to his wife.
"Luck is with me, El. I tell you I can feel it in my bones. The devil himself can't keep me from making Katleean now," he declared confidently as they walked hand in hand toward the trail that led down to the cabin.
As if fortune had at last decided in their favor, the days went sunnily by. Gulls began to lay by the thousands. Loll was relieved of his hated task of killing sea-parrots, for Harlan discovered that when the birds began to lay, he could urge them from their tunnel nests with a long stick, and capture them. The whaleboat, repaired and recalked, was launched and brought down to the beach before the cabin. All was in readiness, at last, for the journey.
The evening before they were to set sail Jean went up the hill to the Lookout to help with the last signal fire she and Gregg would build together. The night air, soft and scented, was like a caress to the senses. Sea and sky were luminous with the rose and amethyst tinting of Alaskan nights. The three plaintive descending notes of the golden-crown sounded from the alders along the crest of the hill.
When she reached the top she found a camp-fire glowing above the ashes of past flames. Gregg had preceded her and at her coming he tossed his old blanket coat to the tundra for her to sit upon. He took his place beside her. Their usual gay exchange of badinage had failed them tonight. For a time they sat silent, with arm-clasped knees, looking into the vermilion heart of the fire. All day the shadow of approaching separation had weighed the spirits of each with heartache and anxiety. Yet each knew that in this hour tonight there was some potent quality, some indefinable magnetic thing that seemed to charge the air with sweetly mysterious emotions.
People of the cities, worn with the artificialities of civilization feel the need of some powerful stimulus to arouse emotion: Love is often born of the wine cup and a dusky, cushioned corner; of music; of the dance. When the glamour of these is removed—love dies. But inborn in the heart of every man is a love-dream—a dream of some day finding that mate who shall battle cheerfully side by side with him against environment; that mate whose courage, whose understanding, whose faith shall enable him to laugh at the buffetings of Fate and go unafraid down the years with the light of dreams in his eyes.
Perhaps with Jean and Gregg it was the subconscious knowledge of the fulfillment of this universal dream that kept them happy during all the lean months on Kon Klayu. They had shared elemental things; together they had hunted food that they might live, battled against storms, endured hardships. Together they had sung and laughed and made a playtime of it all, and slowly there had grown up between them a love as clean and wholesome as the summer winds that swept the tundra of their Island. Hitherto they had felt no need of caresses or words to express their joy in one another. They had been happy as children are happy, with no thought of tomorrow. They had parted each night knowing that morning would bring them together again. But now . . .
Jean, looking into the flame of the fire, dropped her chin in her cupped hands. Incongruously, it seemed to her, at that instant there flashed into her mind the memory of a day on an Island trail, when she and Gregg had come suddenly on a sea vista of heart-stopping beauty. His eyes had sought hers in quick, silent appreciation of it. She could not tell why this simple incident should suddenly seem so intangibly beautiful, but she knew now that it was a moment out of life that they two would share forever. There had been other times when they had sung together under the golden winter stars—fleeting, rapturous spaces when she had been conscious that not only their voices, but in some way their spirits blended. But now . . . he was going away into the gravest danger—into death perhaps. . . .
She overcame a quick impulse to reach out, to feel him under her hands, to hold him back.
Gregg rose to place another log on the fire. He brushed his hands one against the other and thrust them deep into his pockets. She felt his dark eyes compelling her own, and raised her face from her hands. Neither spoke, but for a long tempestuous moment they looked at each other. Something perilously sweet and magnetic drew her. Even as she rose Gregg was at her side. She felt his arms close about her with eager tenderness. She stood against him within his hold, tremulous, thrilling to his nearness, yet even in the ecstasy of it, realizing that their separation was now made more poignantly unbearable.
"Jean . . ." a little hoarsely he said her name, and she was aware that his heart was beating as wildly as her own. "Jean, you—you are so dear to me! When I come back, could you—will you marry me?"
His arms tightened about her as his head bent to hers. In answer she raised her face to his, and in the first joyous enchantment of young love met his kiss.
Two hours later she lay in her little bunk steeped in glad tumultuous memories of those last moments on the Lookout. Her spirit fared forth on the wings of her love into the future—a future made beautiful beyond her girlish dreams. She told herself it was not possible that other men and women loved as she and Gregg; not Ellen and Shane, . . . not anyone. . . . All at once she became conscious that in the living-room her sister and brother-in-law were still talking, though everyone else had long since gone to bed. The indistinct murmur of their voices mingled with the metallic clicking sound that informed her Shane was again oiling his revolver. Then his words came to her with low distinctness:
"El, I'm going to leave this with you. There are three cartridges left in it, and if—if—I don't come back and no help comes to you before another winter . . . you know—little fellow—you know what to do."
THE JUSTICE OF THE SEA
Because there is no night in the Northland in June, dawn on Kon Klayu was but a tender merging of golden twilight into amber and rose and blue, with the sun reappearing within an hour of his setting, kissing the summer sea into sparking sheets of silver and jade. The little green Island with its girdle of creaming surf had never seemed so beautiful as in the early morning of the day Shane and Kayak and Harlan sailed away in search of help. The electricity of adventure, of hope was in the air, and the wind was as soft and balmy as a breath from tropic seas.
After the last good-bye had been said, Ellen, Jean and Loll stood on the beach below the cabin watching the little whaleboat riding the long, gentle swells just outside the line of breakers. The tin patches on the frail sides glinted bravely in the sunshine, the mended old Christopher Columbus sail caught the breeze, and slenderly outlined against it were the forms of Shane and Harlan waving a cheerful farewell to the watchers. Kayak Bill, his hand on the tiller and his face turned resolutely away, headed the pathetic craft out into the treacherously smiling North Pacific and laid his course for Katleean.
The boat was slowly lost in the sunny silver distance, and the sisters, arm in arm, turned and listlessly followed the trail back to the cabin. Lollie walking on ahead, brushed the tears from his eyes and squared his narrow shoulders as if already he had assumed the responsibilities of the man of the family.
The door of the cabin stood open and the sun made a great rectangle of light on the floor. It was very quiet—and lonely. The loneliness was new to both women and it hurt like a pain in their souls. It seemed impossible that nowhere on the Island were the men to whom they were so accustomed.
Ellen began picking up the dishes which were standing as she had left them after the early breakfast. Jean helped her. When the work was over there seemed nothing left but the aching emptiness of waiting.
The long day wore away at last. Tomorrow, if the wind held favorable and all went well, Ellen and Jean assured each other repeatedly, the whaleboat would reach Katleean, and in two more days a ship might come for them.
At twilight Jean climbed alone to the Lookout. The sunny day had faded in a grey mist. Afar down toward the south cliffs the tree so like a waiting woman stood out against it in weird, life-like appeal. The flat desolation of the plateau was marked by the tundra trail that led across the Island to the Hut—the trail along which Gregg had so often come to meet her. She had not dreamed that life could hold so much of emptiness nor that longing for a loved one could be so intense as to be almost a physical pain. She sank down beside the dull ashes of last night's fire. The loneliness was almost unbearable.
From the pocket in her blouse she took a folded paper. Gregg had pressed it into her hand as he left that morning. She unfolded it. It was a verse from some poet unknown to her. "Read it when I am gone," he had whispered to her.
"When I am standing on a mountain crest, Or hold the tiller in the dashing spray, My love of you leaps foaming in my breast, Shouts with the winds and sweeps to their foray; . . . I laugh aloud for love of you, Glad that our love is fellow to rough weather— No fretful orchid hothoused from the dew, But hale and hardy as the highland heather, Rejoicing in the wind that stings and thrills, Comrade of the ocean, playmate of the hills."
Before Jean had finished, her shoulders had straightened. She felt strangely comforted, lifted out of herself. Surely, she thought, nothing but happiness could come of a love like this. Even the elements must be kind to one who loved so. Back in her little bunk she thought of him out on the dark sea in an open boat with only the night for a covering, and to calm her fears she repeated over and over again the words of the verse he had left her.
Her faith was sorely tried the next morning when she woke to the old familiar roar of wind and wave, and felt the cabin trembling in the blasts of a gale. She saw, with alarm, that Ellen was not in her bed. On investigating, Jean found her out on the beach standing bareheaded while the wind wound her garments about her, loosening the strands of her braided hair and pelting her with rain and flying spray. Ellen was gazing, in a fascination of dread, at the green-back waves humping their backs like fearful monsters, chasing one another in to the line of foaming breakers that spent themselves at her feet.
Jean slipped her hand into her sister's and drew her back to the cabin. When they entered Loll was up making a fire in the Yukon stove.
The day wore on. The storm increased, though it never became as violent as some they had experienced during the winter. The direction of the wind was favorable to their sailors. Both women knew that no make-shift craft could live in such a sea, yet they hoped with an intensity akin to despair that Shane had made the shelter of Katleean Bay before the full fury of the storm was reached.
Night came on darker than usual, low scudding clouds and flying wavetops seeming to mingle. Waves sheeted with foam faded ghost-like into the tossing greyness. Drifts of rain blew stingingly in from the sea. Cruel and cold the waters appeared now to Jean's anxious eyes, and she found herself repeating again the lines of Gregg's verse, as if it had become the tenets of her faith.
The second day of the storm passed as did the first, except that evening brought a surcease of rain. The clouds in the west began to lift. The sisters drawn closer by their common, mounting dread, slept together that night, one on each side of Loll.
It was long before sleep visited Jean. But presently she was dreaming that she dangled at the end of a rope over the cliff above the cavern, trying to snatch nuggets from the rocky ledges. The wind blew her body hither and thither, as she clutched the jutting crags. She tried vainly to secure a foot or hand-hold. From above Gregg's voice was calling, calling her plaintively, weirdly. She tried to make out his words but could not. The wind blew them far away, and only a faint, wild "Awh-hoo-oo-oo-oo!" came to her. Then her rope began to slip and she was falling, falling interminably past the face of the precipice, past shags' nests, past thousands of flapping birds who shrieked tauntingly at her. With a convulsive movement she tried to spring to the rock shelf below her—tried so hard that she woke trembling and in a cold perspiration of dream-fear, with her heart pumping so loudly that she could hear it.
The wind had died down and only the muffled beating of the great combers on far seaward bars was audible, but—of a sudden she was bolt upright in bed, listening with every sense alert. On the island, where they three were the only human beings, someone, something was calling. Above the sound of the sea it came—the haunting, long-drawn cry of her dream:
But this was no dream. The cry came again, one minute apparently from the depths of the ocean, then from the Lookout above the cabin. It came nearer, growing more appalling, more mysterious in its possibilities. It filled her with fearful, inchoate imaginings. . . .
In an agony of terror she reached out and shook her sister's shoulder.
"Ellen! Ellen!" she whispered tensely. "Listen! Some one is calling!"
Ellen awakened out of a belated sleep, raised on her elbow and tossed the long loose hair from her face.
Again came the unearthly: "Awh-hoo-oo-oo!" rising thin and high and dying away on the falling inflection.
Ellen's face went paler as she listened. She lingered a moment, then sprang out of bed. Slipping her hand beneath her pillow she drew forth the revolver and started for the door. Jean crawled gently over the sleeping Lollie and followed.
They stood on the porch in the freshness of the dawn searching the familiar landscape for some sign of life. The storm had cleared away and long scarf-like clouds streaked the intense blue above. Once out in the open Jean's mind was cleared of its phantoms. But a sudden shock went through her when, from just over the bank, the call came again.
Almost immediately there appeared in the trail the strange, tottering form of a man. He advanced haltingly as if spent from some long struggle, his bare, black head sunk on his chest, his damp garments clinging to him.
"Stop!" Ellen's voice rang out. "Tell me who you are and where you are from!"
The man raised his head. At the sight of the two women standing in their white robes, their loose hair floating about them, a spasm of mortal terror crossed his dark face.
"Kus-ta-ka! Kus-ta-ka!"  he yelled, at the same time throwing up his arms and turning to run weakly down the trail.
Ellen covered the staggering figure with her revolver, but Jean caught her hand. "Don't, El! Be careful!" she cried breathlessly. "Can't you see—it's our old friend! It's Swimming Wolf from Katleean!"
She sprang along the trail after him calling: "Wolf! Oh, Swimming Wolf! Don't run away from us! Don't you know your friends?"
The man terrified by something, she knew not what, kept up his feeble running gait. She overtook him and grasped his shirt. The big Indian collapsed on the sand. His hand closed painfully over her arm while his wild black eyes searched her face. At the touch his look gave place to one of relief.
"Ugh! Little squaw with white feet!" he gasped. "Swimming Wolf think you all the same dead—think all you people dead. Long time you have no grub." He pinched her arm again as if to reassure himself that she was flesh and blood and not the kus-ta-ka, the ghost he had thought her. He continued: "Long time now, Swimming Wolf no grub too." He opened his mouth and pointed a shaking finger down his throat. "No grub, no water, no sleep, t'ree day." He held up three fingers turning his head slowly from side to side. "T'ree day lost. Plenty tired."
His voice was weary, plaintive, as only an Indian voice can be. Jean wondered how she had for one instant attributed his Indian cry to supernatural powers—she who had often heard him calling to members of his tribe along the shores of Katleean.
Noting his weak condition, the girl checked the eager questions that rose to her lips, and when Ellen came up, between them they managed to get the worn man to the cabin. They fed him bread and hot sea-parrot broth. He ate ravenously as much as Ellen thought good for him, but when she tried to induce him to lie down in Kayak Bill's bunk, he shook his head, and started unsteadily for the door.
"No, no!" he said sharply. "You come along. Other man with Swimming Wolf."
They followed him down the trail to the beach and turned with him toward Sunset Point. He paid no attention to their eager questions, but suddenly stopped and pointed ahead. In the maw of the surf inside the Point a whaleboat was churning. At the sight of it cries of alarm broke from the women's throats, but again the Indian shook his head.
"Him not there," he assured them. "Him up there!" He indicated the high-tide-line. He lurched along beside them, intent on taking them to where his friend lay.
They saw the still dark form lying prone on the edge of the rice-grass where Swimming Wolf had dragged it. Ellen, with a bottle of water and some bread in her hand, ran forward toward the prostrate man. Within a few feet of him, Jean saw her check herself and shrink back. Then, reluctantly the girl thought, she went on. Jean quickened her pace.
As she approached Ellen turned swiftly to her.
"Jean!" she said hardly above her breath. "Look!"
Jean gazed with incredulous eyes into the face on the sand. The black beard was matted with seawater. Below the bandaged forehead two weary grey eyes opened. A moment a faint look of surprise crept into them. Then they closed again and the man lay still as death.
"Oh-o-o!" Jean's voice held an uncontrollable quiver. "Oh-o-o! It's the White Chief of Katleean!"
BENEATH THE BLOOD-RED SUN
A week had gone by since the day the White Chief and Swimming Wolf had been cast up on the shores of Kon Klayu. The women, with the help of the Indian, had lifted the inert form of the dazed man to a mattress at the spot where they had found him, and dragged it literally inch by inch along the beach to the cabin. They put him to bed in Kayak's bunk in the little room off the living-room.
For Ellen and Jean the days were filled with intangible doubt and mounting fear, for no sail whitened off Kon Klayu. Added to the acute anxiety in regard to their men was now the problem of the White Chief of Katleean. What queer twist of Fate had tossed the trader, helpless and without food, on the Island where his very life depended on those he had left to starve? And, if their men were lost at sea, what would happen to them when Kilbuck recovered his strength?
Gradually, from the disjointed utterances of the superstitious Indian and from their own knowledge of the trader, they were able to piece together the story of the White Chief's mishap,—not the story as Swimming Wolf knew it, tinged with eerie Thlinget superstition and mystery—but the prosaic version of the white man, who sees everything through logical eyes, and is ever explaining away all that is mysterious in life and much that is interesting.
The White Chief, sometimes going for months without liquor, had, as they knew, periods when he drank as no other man in all Alaska. Curiously enough, he never gave way to his desire while at Katleean, but with one faithful native to attend him, he would go aboard some visiting vessel, and there sink himself into the oblivion brought about by quantities of hootch.
It was in the latter part of May that a schooner, the Silver Fox, came to anchor in the Bay of Katleean. The owner and captain was a German, bound for Cook's Inlet with a load of gasoline and enough equipment to start an illicit still at Turn-again-arm. Paul Kilbuck, after nearly a year of abstinence, succumbed to his craving, and with Swimming Wolf, sought the cabin of the Silver Fox. After two days of the German's liquid hospitality, he was ready for any mad adventure. Doubtless the thought of Ellen and her family must have been with him during the winter. Perhaps he had some inchoate drunken plan of seeking her when he put to sea with the potvaliant captain of the Silver Fox; but six hours from the post he collapsed in a stupor on the captain's bunk.
Tales of the North are replete with instances of the incredible recklessness of men drunk on the pale liquor of that land—men who, sailing along the dangerous coast, lash the wheels of their vessels, and leaving all sail set, go below for a day's carousal; men who drain the very liquid from the compass to satisfy their burning thirst when hootch is gone. So it was no surprise to the women to learn that the storm which swept the Island so soon after the departure of the three men, had broken upon the Silver Fox when all hands, except the faithful Swimming Wolf, were too far gone in drink to man the craft.
As he talked, the Indian, with expressive eyes and hands, acted out each step of his story. He told how the wind increased; how he lashed the wheel and all alone tried to reef the bellying canvass, letting it fall as it would at last. With a few words and many dramatic gestures, he made known how the trader, roused from a two-day stupor by the pitching of the vessel and the banging of the boom sticks, had staggered up out of the cabin, and been struck by the heavily swinging boom of the mainsail.
The captain and the three sailors crawled to the deck soon after, where the freshness of the rising gale undoubtedly cleared their brains somewhat. They tried to make things ship-shape to weather the storm. The captain was just about to cut the tow-line that still bound the trader's whaleboat to the stern of the Silver Fox, when suddenly volumes of black smoke came pouring out of the cabin.
Swimming Wolf was never able to give a white man's reason which would explain the fire that started in the hold of the schooner where the gasoline was stored. He swore it was the kus-ta-ka who kindled the flame, the kus-ta-ka who knocked the White Chief on the head and made him fall "all same dead." That he finally got the trader into the whaleboat and escaped the burning vessel while the crew departed in their own small boat was evident. There was but one oar, and the craft was blown hither and thither on the tossing sea at the wind's will. In the dawn of the third day Swimming Wolf had been able to beach it on the rocky shore off which he found himself.
The Indian had no idea where he was landing, and when he saw the white-robed figures appear on the rickety porch of the cabin, it was not surprising that he thought them ghosts.
Further questioning of Swimming Wolf revealed the fact that at Katleean, two drunken sailors had run the Hoonah ashore in the lagoon on one of the highest tides of the fall. Though uninjured, it would have required some work to get the little craft off again; so there, evidently, she had remained.
"But Swimming Wolf, why didn't the White Chief get another boat and come with our provisions? Why didn't the Indians come for us? Didn't anyone care whether we starved or not?"
The Wolf looked at Ellen with that stolid, blank expression an Indian assumes when he does not wish to be questioned.
"Me dun know. Me dun know." He shook his head. "Indian have no boat. Kilbuck, he Big Chief. He all time say: 'Mind you business or Indian get no grub. Tomorrow I go.' He all time say 'Tomorrow.'"
Tomorrow! From the lips of Kayak Bill who knew his Alaska, Ellen and Jean knew what tragedies lie behind that word. From waiting on wind and tide and the next steamer to go someplace, from waiting on summer or winter to do something, from waiting on an indifferent government to act on something, people of the North have found that Alaska has become essentially a Land of Tomorrow! A month in Alaska becomes as a day in the States.
Humanity demanded that the two women do their best for the man who had brought about their present perilous situation, though he had forfeited all claim to womanly sympathy. Ellen could not bring herself to go near the White Chief after he was placed in Kayak's bunk, but she directed Swimming Wolf, who nursed and fed him. At first Kilbuck lay in a stupor, but suddenly, at the end of twenty-four hours, he came out of his daze. Jean, going into his room, encountered his narrow grey eyes looking up at her with their normal expression.
He recovered quickly from the blow on the head, and on a diet of bread and broth rapidly regained his strength. The women avoided him whenever possible, but Loll, on whom once more they were dependent for sea-parrots, found time to sit beside him, asking about his friends at Katleean, and in turn telling the trader all his small affairs of the day. As time went by he must have given the man a fair idea of the struggle for existence during the winter on Kon Klayu.
Kilbuck, for the most part, was silent. He made no effort to explain his failure to keep his promises. His strange, grey eyes, whenever it was possible, followed the movements of Ellen and Jean. Sometimes the women could hear him, indistinctly, questioning Lollie.
The fourth day Swimming Wolf assisted him to the porch where he sat looking a long time at the sun-kissed sea. The fifth day, with the Indian's help, he took a walk on the beach. What he thought of the situation Ellen and Jean had no means of knowing, but as they watched him rapidly regaining his old arrogant manner, vague fears crept insiduously into their minds. At the end of the week he was issuing his orders to Swimming Wolf with all the ease and certainty of one in supreme command.
One afternoon Ellen sat on the porch trying to piece together the remnants of a little shirt for Loll. Jean and the boy were off with Swimming Wolf gathering food. The White Chief had gone to his room some time before. Ellen's heart was heavy with anxiety for her husband. If he were alive, he should by now have returned to her. If he were dead. . . . For some minutes she was oblivious to all about her as she strove to thrust this thought from her mind. The incipient menace of the White Chief's presence hovered about her, though so far he had never by word or look betrayed any sentimental interest in her since his advent on the Island. Perhaps by now, she told herself hopefully, time and his illness had changed him for the better. Perhaps——
Something caused her to turn her head toward the cabin door back of her. Against the portal stood the White Chief. His hand was hooked beneath his scarlet belt in the old familiar manner. His narrow, pale eyes were fastened upon her in a way she had known in Katleean. She felt suddenly that he had taken in every detail of her appearance—her heavy braided hair, her worn and faded blouse, her short ragged skirt, and her feet incased in home-made moccasins of canvas. She felt a rush of hot blood rising to her hair. He noted it and smiled, his sardonic, thin-lipped smile. The peculiar warmth that crept into his eyes caused Ellen's heart to contract with a realization of appalling possibilities. A small, inward panic took possession of her.
She rose abruptly and ran swiftly up the hillside trail to the Lookout. She knew now that she was not dealing with a sick man. She and her sister were practically at the mercy of Paul Kilbuck.
She resolved to keep her suspicions from Jean as long as possible, but that evening as they were sitting together in the living-room, after Lollie had climbed into bed, the girl kept glancing apprehensively toward the closed door that shut off the sleeping place of the trader.
"Ellen," she said, hardly above a whisper. "I don't think he's as ill now as he would have us believe." She nodded toward the closed door. "We ought to ask him to move over to the Hut with Swimming Wolf now. . . . Ellen—I'm growing dreadfully afraid of him. . . . Oh!" She started nervously at a sound from the other room.
"I wish we had some way of locking that door." In a low voice Ellen thus admitted her own uneasiness, while her gaze wandered about the room. "We might put the table in front of it, and then if he did try to come through in the night, we would hear him."
Cautiously the two women lifted the table and placed the inadequate barrier across the door.
"From now on, Jean, only one of us will sleep, while the other watches—just to be ready, you know. If he makes one suspicious move—" she broke off and patted almost lovingly the revolver she had drawn from an inside pocket of her blouse.
Noting the look of fear that had crept into Jean's eyes since her suspicions had been confirmed, Ellen added: "But it won't be much longer, Jeanie, this waiting. Surely Shane will come in a day or two. It's nearly the twenty-first of June."
The twenty-first of June, the longest and most beautiful day of the year in the North, was also the anniversary of Ellen's wedding. Never during the last ten years had Shane forgotten it. Never had he failed to bring her some little surprise, to arrange some extra pleasure for her. For the past two weeks this thought had been with Ellen constantly, comforting her, promising her. By some complex, womanish process she had come to believe that on the twenty-first of June Shane, if alive, must come to her. As she and Jean lay awake whispering during the long, light nights, she had instilled some of her faith into the girl's mind. If they could but keep the trader from any untoward action until then, they both felt that all would be well.
During the days that followed the sisters never left each other's side. Swimming Wolf and Lollie procured the food. The Wolf chopped the wood and attended to other like duties about the cabin. The White Chief did nothing, except lounge on Kayak's bunk. In response to Ellen's suggestion that he move to the Hut on the other side of the Island he had merely looked into her eyes and smiled.
Since recovering his strength he had begun to take long walks about the beaches. Ellen feared that sometime he might come upon their cavern and learn the secret of the gold of Kon Klayu, but Jean assured her that there was no approach from either side of the precipice. The only way to the cave lay by way of the cleft.
As time dragged on the strain of uncertainty became almost more than the women could bear. Sometimes as they sat about the table eating the wild food which was their only sustenance now, Ellen could hardly control her impulse to hurl at the enigmatic man opposite her the questions that rose to her lips. Why was he so silent? For what was he waiting? What did he think of their situation? What did he mean to do with them?
She realized that they could not go on indefinitely as they were now. Something must happen to relieve the tension. She had reached a point where any word, any action that might give her a clew to the trader's intentions, was welcome. She began to long intensely that he might do something which would give her an excuse to use the revolver she carried constantly beneath her blouse.
But beyond looks and an occasional cryptic smile, he did nothing to alarm either of the women. Yet his very silence and inaction were more ominous than threats. He instilled in them a crawling dread, a growing terror and uncertainty that was worse than anything they had hitherto known.
The twenty-first of June dawned beautiful and clear. It had been Ellen's turn to watch all night and she was a-stir early, happier and more cheerful than she had been for months. Today—today Shane must come. She was sure he would come. He had never failed her, She woke Jean and Loll, and with that undying instinct which prompts every true woman to make a feast for her returning man, Ellen prepared an extra amount of the poor fare at her command: gumboot hash, boiled eggs and sea-parrot.
Shortly after the mid-day meal the White Chief, now fully recovered, went off with Swimming Wolf in the direction of the south cliffs. Ellen with her sister and Lollie climbed hopefully to the Lookout to begin their watching.
In the bright sunshine the sea below heaved gently and stretched away to the horizon where, today, the dim outline of the amethyst range showed. Afar out the smoke of a west-bound steamer smudged the sky faintly, lending a suggestion of human nearness to the scene that cheered the waiting ones. Nearly three weeks had gone by since the men had left the Island, and the weather, with the exception of the one storm, had been calm. Today, certainly, Shane would come—if he were alive.
Eagerly, hopefully they talked of his arrival as they sat scanning the ocean toward Katleean. The soft breeze died away. The sea took on the smooth shimmer of undulating satin. From afternoon down to sunset the day grew in beauty.
Time went by and the passing of each hour lessened somewhat the measure of their blind faith and hope. Their talk became desultory. The blue and silver of afternoon gave way to the blue and gold of approaching evening. The tide came in and the amber sky took on the luminous tints of rose and jade, cobalt and orange. The heaving, chameleon sea, unruffled by a breath of wind, gave back the colors quivering, burnished, opalescent, like the bowl of an abalone shell. They, on the Lookout, felt themselves alone inside the tinted bubble of the world. Ellen's day was waning in an enthralling splendor that rendered the watchers speechless; it numbed them by its exquisite beauty so incongruous with their own growing sense of hopelessness. Ellen's day was waning, and yet there was no sign of Shane.