From the pole on the Lookout the home-made flag hung in pathetic bleached tatters, like lifeless grey hair down the back of an old woman. Beneath it, on driftwood left over from the signal fires, sat the watchers. A faint breath from the dead ashes mingled with the freshness of the evening air and added an indefinable touch of loneliness. Little Loll, tired out from his long, vain watching, curled up against Ellen's knee and went to sleep. Shags, dark and witch-like against the glowing sky, flew in long, low lines toward the cliffs. There was no sound except the eternal murmur of the surf.
The opal tints deepened, . . . then faded to a dull amethyst. Just above the line of the sea the blood-red sun stood out against the haze like an immense weirdly-luminous balloon. The women watched it sinking, . . . sinking. It seemed pregnant with awesome, universal mysteries—this dully-growing crimson ball of the sun whose descent marked the close of the day.
"Oh, Jeanie, Jeanie!" Suddenly the low cry quivered on the hush of the night. Ellen's brave spirit had succumbed at last to the awful, beautiful, loneliness. She sank her head on her sister's shoulder and clasping her arms about Jean, vainly tried to still the surge of grief that shook her.
"Jeanie!" she sobbed. "He's dead. Shane—my husband—is dead! If—if he were living—he would have come—to me—today!"
The tattered flag on the pole above stirred to an awakening breeze. . . . The midnight sun touched the rim of the sea, and lingered to kiss with blood-red lips the cruel waters that have taken many men. . . . Then it doubled back on its track and slowly, perceptibly, rose again, as if reluctant to lose sight of the lonely Lookout where Lollie, fully awake now, was trying to gather two sobbing women into his thin, little-boy arms.
An hour later, Ellen, worn out by the vigil of the night before and the long watching on the Lookout, lay on the blankets of her bed fully dressed. Lollie slumbered beside her, his tumbled red head in the crook of his arm. It was Jean's night to watch, and she sat before the table, the revolver ready to her hand. Her shoulders drooped and her eyes were heavy-lidded and swollen from weeping. She rested her elbows on the table and dropped her face in her hands. Numbed by their grief and disappointment, both women for the time being had relaxed their caution, and for the first time in days, the table had not been placed across the closed door of the White Chief's room.
For an hour the girl sat immovable. . . . Then she glanced up at the clock. It had stopped. Ellen had forgotten to wind it. Jean wondered dully how they were now to tell the time. There was no other timepiece on the Island. But time didn't matter. Nothing mattered now. She dropped her face again in her hands. . . . Her head was very heavy. . . . Her arms slipped slowly until they rested on the table. . . . Her head settled forward until it lay upon them. . . . There came a long, tired sigh, and then the regular breathing of the sleeper. . . .
The sun of late morning was streaming in through the little north window when the door off the living-room softly opened. The tall figure of the White Chief stood a moment as he looked in at the quiet forms before him. A gleam of triumph showed in his narrow eyes as they came to rest on the pistol lying before the dark bowed head of the girl at the table. His nostrils twitched and his lip lifted in his wolfish smile. He tip-toed cautiously until his avid hand closed on the weapon.
In the middle of the room he paused, and with an air of satisfaction turned it over and over in his hands. There was a movement on the bed in the corner, and abruptly Ellen sat upright, her wide gaze on the man before her.
"Good morning!" He smiled at her derisively. His instinct for effective poses asserting itself, he began showing off his aptitude with the revolver. He twirled it, with elaborate carelessness, on his trigger finger, and with one movement of his wrist, stopped it, at the same time drawing a bead on the shining gold-scales above the window.
"I've been trying to get my hands on this for days," he said conversationally, turning to her again. "Your aim is a little too sure for me to take any chances." He looked at the weapon in his hand. "You know, my dear, I have never really believed in that popular fallacy concerning women and force—that a club and long hair go together. Still, you never can tell. . . . As a persuader this is a bit better than a club, but—" he shrugged his shoulders contemptuously, "I'll not need it—here." He extracted the three cartridges from the revolver and tossed it easily to the bed.
"Oh-o-o Ellen!" Jean's despairing voice struck through the room as she woke and found the pistol gone.
The trader glanced from one to the other. "I am indeed a fortunate man," he laughed, "to be cast upon an island with two charming women. Some might think it an embarrassment of riches—but I. . . ." He allowed a significant silence to sink in.
Ellen had risen from the bed and stood beside her sister, a hand resting protectingly on the girl's shoulder. The White Chief crossed to the table and seated himself on the edge of it, one foot swinging free.
"You're both going to think a lot of me before we're taken off Kon Klayu," he told them. "Oh, yes, we'll be taken off, my dears, but not by your husband, Mrs. Boreland." He ignored Ellen's cry and proceeded:
"I was a little afraid the first week that he might, by sheer Irish luck, have escaped the storm and be turning up here—but it's too late now. I'll wager you're a widow."
He seemed to be enjoying himself immensely as his pale eyes lingered first on one and then on the other woman before him.
"The pale white rose, and the dewy red bud," his vibrant voice went on mockingly. "Oh, do not be alarmed—" as they both shrank back—"I'm not going to be crude. I have plenty of time—plenty of time— Oh, you would, would you!" He broke off with a sudden snarl, as Ellen, infuriated by his manner, snatched up the empty revolver and hurled it with all her strength at his head.
He dodged, and with one panther-like movement, leaped at her, his arms closing like a vice about her shoulders.
As if maddened by her struggles he crushed her to him and pinioning her wrists in one powerful hand, he embedded the other in her loose hair and brutally drew her head back until her face was upturned to his. A moment he bent above her, crouching, feral, then he thrust his dark bearded face against hers and shut off her screams.
At the first intimation of the man's violence Jean had rushed to her sister's aid and was beating him with wildly impotent hands, calling despairingly to Lollie, to Swimming Wolf, even to Gregg. Then like a young tigress she sprang at him from behind trying to get a hold on his neck so that she might drag him from Ellen.
But the man was impervious to everything outside the circle of his arms.
"Oh, Swimming Wolf! Oh, help! Help us!" Jean's desperate screams rang out again as she heard the sound of hasty footsteps on the porch outside.
She leaped for the door, but before her hand touched the latch it was flung open and against the blinding sunshine loomed the tall figure of Shane Boreland.
With one bound he crossed the living-room. There came the sound of a blow, . . . struggling, . . . a sudden choked cry, and Shane's gasping words:
"God . . . you cur . . . come . . . in the open . . . I'll kill you!"
Two writhing, panting figures reeled about the living-room. . . . They broke. . . . Shane, livid with rage, side-stepped, and with the agility of a wild-cat leaped again at his adversary. His arm encircled and tightened about the trader's neck. Kilbuck turned in the grip and chest to chest they swayed, strained, their tentative blows rendered impotent by their very nearness to each other. With twistings of legs and sudden saggings of bodies they sought to get each other prostrate. The hot breath whistling from their gaping mouths made the only human sounds. Wheeling, lurching they fought swiftly about the room, knocking over chairs, . . . the table . . . sweeping the stove from its foundation. Then Shane's ankle turned as his foot encountered the fallen revolver, and he lost his balance.
In that instant the trader had him down—was upon him, slugging viciously with both fists. From the first there was no science in the fight. Both men inflamed—one with a long-denied passion for revenge, the other with hatred for one he had wronged, had reverted to the primitive lust to gouge, to claw, to kill with bare hands. They rolled about the floor, first one on top, then the other, striking, tearing at each other's throats, their very blind fury defeating their purpose. . . . Again a turn found them on their feet, and like snarling beasts they bounded back to the attack. Shirts were torn from their backs, warm, gummy blood on their sweating bared bodies rendered their grips insecure. . . . After what seemed to the watchers a frenzied eternity, their efforts began slowly to slacken. Their grips became more feeble, their hoarse rasping gasps for breath more labored. . . . The Chief attempted groggily to dodge a blow. Shane recovered his balance, rushed him low, and closed. A moment they swayed together, then slowly the trader was lifted off his feet; a sudden twist of Shane's shoulders, a heave, and the Chief was slammed against the edge of the overturned table, his arm striking heavily. Even as he went down Shane was on top of him, his hands fastened in a death grip about Kilbuck's throat. The man's face began to turn purple, his pale narrow eyes widened slowly, horribly until they seemed starting from the sockets.
Then Jean screamed.
"Gregg! Kayak! Stop him! Don't let him commit murder!"
The sound of the girl's voice broke the spell that had bound the spectators standing in the doorway. Kayak Bill and Harlan strode into the cabin and between them tore Boreland from his enemy and placed him on the bed in the corner, where Ellen and Lollie took charge of him. The insensible White Chief was carried into the next room and put in Kayak's bunk. Breathing heavily from exertion Kayak Bill stepped back to look at him.
"That lyin' skunk's so crooked he cain't lay straight in bed, Gregg. I was honin' somethin' powerful to horn in on that little shindy—but I reckon Shane's bunged him up conside'ble," he drawled with immense satisfaction, as he leaned over and felt the trader's arm. "'Pears like he's got a busted flipper, and I know his noggin is sure addled. Get some water, Gregg. I mout as well bring the durned squaw-pirate back to life, 'cause when he's well again, I aim to knock hell outen him myself——"
Kayak turned to find that his remarks had fallen on the empty air, for Gregg and Jean, standing amid the ruins of the dish cupboard, were oblivious to all the world except each other. His hazel eyes roved to the bed where Ellen and Loll were welcoming Shane as if he had returned from the dead. Kayak stood a moment.
"'Pears like I'm playin' a lone hand here," he said wistfully as he started for the water that was to revive the White Chief.
"Oh, Kayak! Kayak!" came Lollie's shout as he burrowed out from between his parents. "It's your turn now to get some lovin'. Wait a minute!" And the little fellow sprang from one end of the bed into Kayak's arms. A second later both Ellen and Jean were welcoming him with a warmth of affection that sent his new sombrero flying and made his old hair-seal waistcoat slip half-way off his shoulders. Delighted but unprepared for such demonstrations, Kayak was at a loss how to meet them. His cheeks turned fiery red, and though his eyes were glowing he backed away the moment they released him and began earnestly to readjust his worn waistcoat.
"By he—hen, Lady," he managed to say with some semblance of his old nonchalance, as he fumbled with a torn buttonhole. "I—I—" he glared accusingly at the hair-seal garment, "I believe this durned thing is—is—is a-sufferin' from poverty o' the buttons, or—or maybe enlargement o' the buttonholes!" And in the laughter that greeted his statement he went off to care for the White Chief.
Joy in the reunion and an hour's rest put Shane on his feet again. While the women gathered up their few belongings, they learned how the old whale-boat in which the men had left Kon Klayu had held together, seemingly by a miracle, during the first part of the storm, but later had been driven out of its course. When Shane finally landed at a cannery fifty miles from Katleean the boat was abandoned and they were taken to the trading post in the canoes of some fishing Indians. There they learned of the White Chief's trip on the Silver Fox and set about getting the Hoonah off the beach at the lagoon. The tides of June being higher than usual they had little trouble, but it took days to calk the seams and put the schooner in shape for the trip.
"We were within fifty miles of here yesterday when the wind died down, El," Shane told his wife, "and myself doing my best to make it on our wedding anniversary! I knew you'd be expecting me, little fellow." He patted her hand. "Well," he continued after some strictly personal remarks, "I suppose we'll have to take Kilbuck to a doctor before we go to Katleean—damn him, I ought to kill him, though. There's an M.D. at the cannery this summer. I want the blackguard fixed up so I can settle with him later." He drew a new corn cob from his pocket and cramming it with tobacco, lit it. "But I tell you, girls," he went on between puffs of the keenest enjoyment, "Kayak and I had the biggest surprise of our lives the day before we left Katleean!" He turned to Gregg and made a ludicrous confidential attempt to wink a swollen eye. "A cannery steamer put in and landed no less person than his royal nibs—the president of the Alaska Fur and Trading Company!"
This announcement was received with no particular enthusiasm by either of his listeners. He went on:
"We got close as paving bricks right off the reel, and he's going to finance the mining of Kon Klayu!" He stopped to note the effect of this statement. "We left him at the post looking into the business methods of the White Chief. The cannery steamer will be back in ten days and we'll all strike out for San Francisco together and get our outfit. We'll be back here at Kon Klayu this fall to begin operations." There was a dismayed exclamation from Ellen; a delighted one from Jean. "Oh, cheer up, El," he said to his wife. "You and I won't have to come unless we want to. We've already appointed the old man's son resident manager. He wants the job—is crazy about it in fact. Turn around girls, and I'll present him to you—Mr. Gregg Harlan, ladies!" With a grand flourish Shane indicated the flushing young man. "Why he chose to keep it a secret all these months, he hasn't told us yet, but—perhaps Jean will find out!" Laughing at the incredulous look on Ellen's face he limped out to the shed where Kayak Bill was doing up samples of ore to take aboard the Hoonah lying just off the bluff.
At midnight the schooner was rippling gently over the long swells into an atmosphere of golden sunset light that flooded the sky and crinkled along the wavetops in shimmering, mellow orange. Up in the bow of the Hoonah silhouetted against the glow, old Kayak Bill stood alone. In his hazel eyes was the wistful look that crept there sometimes when he watched the domestic happiness of those about him. A-top the cabin by the mainmast Jean and Gregg stood looking back over the lengthening stretch of water. Kon Klayu lay, an oblong of jade in the amber light, ringed with a wreath of foam. A single gull winnowed across the vision calling a wistful question, and from the Lookout the tattered flag flung itself out on the breeze as if in farewell. Jean's happy voice came to him from where she snuggled in the circle of Harlan's arm.
Kayak Bill let his gaze wander to the stern where Shane and Ellen stood together at the wheel: Despite Boreland's battered countenance his chin was up in his old jaunty and debonaire manner. The wind ruffled the hair on his bare head. One hand managed the steering gear. The other arm lay across his wife's shoulders.
Kayak, watching shook his head gently.
"I always hearn tell," he spoke softly to himself, "that the only difference a-tween happy marriages and unhappy ones is that the happy ones keeps their bickerin's private like—but I don't know, . . . I don't know . . ."
A moment more he looked at the prospector and his wife, then he turned away and his old eyes gazed out across the tinted ocean spaces to that something which had always seemed to beckon him from beyond the sunset glow. Lost in his dreaming the old man did not hear Shane's eager voice as he released the wheel a moment and pointed off the bow to where, beyond the rim of the sea, lay the northwest coast of Alaska.
"It's up there in the Valley of the Kuskokwim, El! They've made a brand new strike and are getting ten dollars to the pan!" He looked down at her and went on in his most coaxing Irish way. "Darlin', when we get Loll in school, and Jean and Gregg and Kayak safely settled on Kon Klayu . . ." he hesitated, then finished eagerly, "Sure El, it would do us the world of good to go up there, little fellow, . . . just to take a bit of a look. . . ." He straightened, his eyes alight with the old questing expression, his face turned to the northwest, his spirit already faring forth across sea and land to the beckoning Valley of the Kuskokwim.