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Title:Isobel
Author:JamesOliverCurwood

ReleaseDate:October,2004[EBook#6715][Yes,wearemorethanoneyear
aheadofschedule][ThisfilewasfirstpostedonJanuary19,2003]
Edition:10
Language:English
Charactersetencoding:Latin1


***STARTOFTHEPROJECTGUTENBERGEBOOK,ISOBEL***

ThiseBookwasproducedbyNormWolcott.

Isobel
ARomanceoftheNorthernTrail
byJamesOliverCurwood,1913
TOCARLOTTAWHOISWITHMEANDTOVIOLAWHOFILLSFOR
MEADREAMOFTHEFUTUREIAFFECTIONATELYDEDICATETHIS
BOOK


I
THEMOSTTERRIBLETHINGINTHEWORLD
AtPointFullerton,onethousandmilesstraightnorthofcivilization,Sergeant
WilliamMacVeighwrotewiththestubendofapencilbetweenhisfingersthe
lastwordsofhissemi-annualreporttotheCommissioneroftheRoyal
NorthwestMountedPoliceatRegina.
Heconcluded:
“IbegtosaythatIhavemadeeveryefforttorundownScottieDeane,the
murderer.Ihavenotgivenuphopeoffindinghim,butIbelievethathehasgone
frommyterritoryandisprobablynowsomewherewithinthelimitsoftheFort
Churchillpatrol.Wehavehuntedthecountryforthreehundredmilessouth
alongtheshoreofHudson’sBaytoEskimoPoint,andasfarnorthasWagner
Inlet.WithinthreemonthswehavemadethreepatrolswestoftheBay,
unravelingsixteenhundredmileswithoutfindingourmanorwordofhim.I
respectfullyadviseaclosewatchofthepatrolssouthoftheBarrenLands.”
“There!”saidMacVeighaloud,straighteninghisroundedshoulderswithagroan
ofrelief.“It’sdone.”
Fromhisbunkinacornerofthelittlewindandstormbeatencabinwhich
representedLawatthetopendoftheearthPrivatePelliterliftedaheadwearily
fromhissickbedandsaid:“I’mbloomin’gladofit,Mac.Nowmebbeyou’ll
givemeadrinkofwaterandshootthatdevilishhuskiethatkeepshowlingevery


nowandthenoutthereasthoughdeathwasafterme.”
“Nervous?”saidMacVeigh,stretchinghisstrongyoungframewithanothersigh
ofsatisfaction.“Whatifyouhadtowritethistwiceayear?”Andhepointedat
thereport.
“Itisn’tanylongerthanthelettersyouwrotetothatgirlofyours—”
Pelliterstoppedshort.Therewasamomentofembarrassingsilence.Thenhe
added,bluntly,andwithahandreachingout:“Ibegyourpardon,Mac.It’sthis
fever.Iforgotforamomentthat—thatyoutwo—hadbroken.”


“That’sallright,”saidMacVeigh,withaquiverinhisvoice,asheturnedforthe
water.
“Yousee,”headded,returningwithatincup,“thisreportisdifferent.When
you’rewritingtotheBigMogulhimselfsomethinggetsonyournerves.Andit
hasbeenabadyearwithus,Pelly.WefelldownonScottie,andlettheraiders
fromthatwhalergetawayfromus.And—ByJo,Iforgottomentionthe
wolves!”
“PutinaP.S.,”suggestedPelliter.
“AP.S.tohisRoyalNibs!”criedMacVeigh,staringincredulouslyathismate.
“There’snouseoffeelingyourpulseanymore,Pelly.Thefever’sgotyou.
You’resureoutofyourhead.”
Hespokecheerfully,tryingtobringasmiletotheother’spaleface.Pelliter
droppedbackwithasigh.
“No—thereisn’tanyusefeelingmypulse,”herepeated.“Itisn’tsickness,Bill
—notsicknessoftheordinarysort.It’sinmybrain—that’swhereitis.Thinkof
it—ninemonthsuphere,andneveraglimpseofawhiteman’sfaceexcept
yours.Ninemonthswithoutthesoundofawoman’svoice.Ninemonthsofjust
thatdead,grayworldoutthere,withthenorthernlightshissingatuseverynight
likesnakesandtheblackrocksstaringatusasthey’vestaredforamillion
centuries.Theremaybegloryinit,butthat’sall.We’re‘eroesallright,but
there’snooneknowsitbutourselvesandthesixhundredandforty-nineother
menoftheRoyalMounted.MyGod,whatI’dgiveforthesightofagirl’sface,
forjustamoment’stouchofherhand!Itwoulddriveoutthisfever,forit’sthe
feverofloneliness,Mac—asortofmadness,andit’ssplittingmy‘ead.”
“Tush,tush!”saidMacVeigh,takinghismate’shand.“Wakeup,Pelly!Thinkof
what’scoming.Onlyafewmonthsmoreofit,andwe’llbechanged.Andthen—
thinkofwhataheavenyou’llbeentering.You’llbeabletoenjoyitmorethan
theotherfellows,forthey’veneverhadthis.AndI’mgoingtobringyoubacka
letter—fromthelittlegirl—”
Pelliter’sfacebrightened.
“Godblessher!”heexclaimed.“There’llbelettersfromher—adozenofthem.
She’swaitedalongtimeforme,andshe’struetothebottomofherdearheart.


You’vegotmylettersafe?”
“Yes.”
MacVeighwentbacktotheroughlittletableandaddedstillfurthertohisreport
totheCommissioneroftheRoyalMountedinthefollowingwords:
“Pelliterissickwithastrangetroubleinhishead.AttimesIhavebeenafraid
hewasgoingmad,andifhelivesIadvisehistransfersouthatanearlydate.I
amleavingforChurchilltwoweeksaheadoftheusualtimeinordertoget
medicines.IalsowishtoaddawordtowhatIsaidaboutwolvesinmylast
report.Wehaveseemthemrepeatedlyinpacksoffromfiftytoonethousand.
Latethisautumnapackattackedalargeherdoftravelingcariboufifteenmiles
infromtheBay,andwecountedtheremandsofonehundredandsixtyanimals
killedoveradistanceoflessthanthreemiles.Itismyopinionthatthewolves
killatleastfivethousandcaribouinthispatroleachyear.
“Ihavethehonortobe,sir,
“Yourobedientservant,”WILLIAMMACVEIGH,Sergeant,“Inchargeof
detachment.”
Hefoldedthereport,placeditwithothertreasuresinthewaterproofrubberbag
whichalwayswentintohispack,andreturnedtoPelliter’sside.
“Ihatetoleaveyoualone,Pelly,”hesaid.“ButI’llmakeafasttripofit—four
hundredandfiftymilesovertheice,andI’lldoitintendaysorbust.Thenten
daysback,mebbetwoweeks,andyou’llhavethemedicinesandtheletters.
Hurrah!”
“Hurrah!”criedPelliter.
Heturnedhisfacealittletothewall.SomethingroseupinMacVeigh’sthroat
andchokedhimashegrippedPelliter’shand.
“MyGod,Bill,isthatthesun?”suddenlycriedPelliter.
MacVeighwheeledtowardtheonewindowofthecabin.Thesickmantumbled
fromhisbunk.Togethertheystoodforamomentatthewindow,staringfarto
thesouthandeast,whereafaintredrimofgoldshotupthroughtheleadensky.


“It’sthesun,”saidMacVeigh,likeonespeakingaprayer.
“Thefirstinfourmonths,”breathedPelliter.
Likestarvingmenthetwogazedthroughthewindow.Thegoldenlightlingered
forafewmoments,thendiedaway.Pelliterwentbacktohisbunk.
Halfanhourlaterfourdogs,asledge,andamanweremovingswiftlythrough
thedeadandsilentgloomofArcticday.SergeantMacVeighwasonhiswayto
FortChurchill,morethanfourhundredmilesaway.
Thisistheloneliestjourneyintheworld,thetripdownfromthesolitarylittle
wind-beatencabinatPointFullertontoFortChurchill.Thatcabinhasbutone
rivalinthewholeoftheNorthland—theothercabinatHerschelIsland,atthe
mouthoftheFirth,wheretwenty-onewoodencrossesmarktwenty-onewhite
men’sgraves.ButwhalerscometoHerschel.Unlessbyaccident,ortobreakthe
laws,theynevercomeintheneighborhoodofFullerton.ItisatFullertonthat
mendieofthemostterriblethingintheworld—loneliness.Inthelittlecabin
menhavegonemad.
ThegloomytruthoppressedMacVeighasheguidedhisdogteamovertheice
intothesouth.HewasafraidforPelliter.HeprayedthatPellitermightseethe
sunnowandthen.Ontheseconddayhestoppedatacacheoffishwhichthey
hadputupintheearlyautumnfordogfeed.Hestoppedatasecondcacheonthe
fifthday,andspentthesixthnightatanEskimoiglooatBlindEskimoPoint.
LateentheninthdayhecameintoFortChurchill,withanaverageoffiftymiles
adaytohiscredit.
FromFullertonmencameinnearerdeadthanalivewhentheymadethehazard
inwinter.MacVeigh’sfacewasrawfromthebeatofthewind.Hiseyeswere
red.Hehadatouchofrunner’scramp.Hesleptfortwenty-fourhoursinawarm
bedwithoutstirring.Whenheawokeheragedatthecommandingofficerofthe
barrackforlettinghimsleepsolong,atethreemealsinone,anddiduphis
businessinahurry.
Hisheartwarmedwithpleasurewhenhesortedoutofhismailninelettersfor
Pelliter,alladdressedinthesamesmall,girlishhand.Therewasnoneforhimself
—noneofthesortwhichPelliterwasreceiving,andthesickeningloneliness
withinhimgrewalmostsuffocating.


Helaughedsoftlyashebrokealaw.HeopenedoneofPelliter’sletters—thelast
onewritten—andcalmlyreadit.Itwasfilledwiththesweettendernessofa
girl’slove,andtearscameintohisredeyes.Thenhesatdownandansweredit.
HetoldthegirlaboutPelliter,andconfessedtoherthathehadopenedherlast
letter.Andthechiefofwhathesaidwasthatitwouldbeaglorioussurprisetoa
manwhowasgoingmad(onlyheusedlonelinessinplaceofmadness)ifshe
wouldcomeuptoChurchillthefollowingspringandmarryhimthere.Hetold
herthathehadopenedherletterbecausehelovedPellitermorethanmostmen
lovedtheirbrothers.Thenheresealedtheletter,gavehismailtothe
superintendent,packedhismedicinesandsupplies,andmadereadytoreturn.
OnthissamedaytherecameintoChurchillahalfbreedwhohadbeenhunting
whitefoxesnearBlindEskimo,andwhonowandthendidscoutworkforthe
department.Hebroughttheinformationthathehadseenawhitemananda
whitewomantenmilessouthoftheMaguseRiver.ThenewsthrilledMacVeigh.
“I’llstopattheEskimocamp,”hesaidtothesuperintendent.“It’sworth
investigating,forIneverknewofawhitewomannorthofsixtyinthiscountry.It
mightbeScottieDeane.”
“Notverylikely,”repliedthesuperintendent.“Scottieisatallman,straightand
powerful.Coujagsaysthismanwasnotallerthanhimself,andwalkedlikea
hunchback.Butiftherearewhitepeopleouttheretheirhistoryisworth
knowing.”
ThefollowingmorningMacVeighstartednorth.Hereachedthehalf-dozen
iglooswhichmadeuptheEskimovillagelatethethirdday.Bye-Bye,thechief
man,offeredhimnoencouragement,MacVeighgavehimapoundofbacon,and
inreturnforthemagnificentpresentBye-Byetoldhimthathehadseennowhite
people.MacVeighgavehimanotherpound,andBye-Byeaddedthathehadnot
heardofanywhitepeople.Helistenedwiththelifelessstareofawalruswhile
MacVeighimpresseduponhimthathewasgoinginlandthenextmorningto
searchforwhitepeoplewhomhehadheardwerethere.Thatnight,inablinding
snow-storm,Bye-Byedisappearedfromcamp.
MacVeighlefthisdogstorestupattheigloovillageandswungnorthweston
snowshoeswiththebreakofarcticdawn,whichwasbutlittlebetterthanthe
nightitself.HeplannedtocontinueinthisdirectionuntilhestrucktheBarren,
thenpatrolinawidecirclethatwouldbringhimbacktotheEskimocampthe


nextnight.Fromthefirsthewashandicappedbythestorm.HelostBye-Bye’s
snowshoetracksahundredyardsfromtheigloos.Allthatdayhesearchedin
shelteredplacesforsignsofacamportrail.Intheafternoonthewinddiedaway,
theskycleared,andinthewakeofthecalmthecoldbecamesointensethattrees
crackedwithreportslikepistolshots.
Hestoppedtobuildafireofscrubbushandeathissupperontheedgeofthe
Barrenjustasthecoldstarsbeganblazingoverhishead.Itwasawhite,still
night.Thesoutherntimberlinelayfarbehindhim,andtothenorththerewasno
timberforthreehundredmiles.Betweenthoselinestherewasnolife,andso
therewasnosound.OnthewesttheBarrenthrustitselfdowninalongfinger
tenmilesinwidth,andacrossthatMacVeighwouldhavetostriketoreachthe
woodedcountrybeyond.Itwasovertherethathehadthegreatesthopeof
discoveringatrail.Afterhehadfinishedhissupperheloadedhispipe,andsat
hunchedcloseuptohisfire,staringoutovertheBarren.Forsomereasonhewas
filledwithastrangeanduncomfortableemotion,andhewishedthathehad
broughtalongoneofhistireddogstokeephimcompany.
Hewasaccustomedtoloneliness;hehadlaughedinthefaceofthingsthathad
drivenothermenmad.Butto-nightthereseemedtobesomethingabouthimthat
hehadneverknownbefore,somethingthatwormeditswaydeepdownintohis
soulandmadehispulsebeatfaster.HethoughtofPelliteronhisfeverbed,of
ScottieDeane,andthenofhimself.Afterall,wastheremuchtochoosebetween
thethreeofthem?
Apictureroseslowlybeforehiminthebush-fire,andinthatpicturehesaw
Scottie,theman-huntedman,fightingagreatfighttokeephimselffrombeing
hungbytheneckuntilhewasdead;andthenhesawPelliter,dyingofthe
sicknesswhichcomesofloneliness,andbeyondthosetwo,likeapalecameo
appearingforamomentoutofgloom,hesawthepictureofaface.Itwasagirl’s
face,anditwasgoneinaninstant.Hehadhopedagainsthopethatshewould
writetohimagain.Butshehadfailedhim.
Herosetohisfeetwithalittlelaugh,partlyofjoyandpartlyofpain,ashe
thoughtofthetrueheartthatwaswaitingforPelliter.Hetiedonhissnowshoes
andstruckoutovertheBarren.Hemovedswiftly,lookingsharplyaheadofhim.
Thenightgrewbrighter,thestarsmorebrilliant.Thezipp,zipp,zippofthetails
ofhissnowshoeswastheonlysoundheheardexceptthefirstfaint,hissing
monotoneoftheaurorainthenorthernskies,whichcametohimlikethe


shiveringrunofsteelsledgerunnersonhardsnow.
Inplaceofsoundthenightabouthimbegantofillwithghostlylife.Hisshadow
beckonedandgrimacedaheadofhim,andthestuntedbushseemedtomove.His
eyeswerealertandquesting.Withinhimselfhereasonedthathewouldsee
nothing,andyetsomeunusualinstinctmovedhimtocaution.Atregular
intervalshestoppedtolistenandtosnifftheairforanodorofsmoke.Moreand
morehebecamelikeabeastofprey.Heleftthelastbushbehindhim.Aheadof
himthestarlitspacewasnowunbrokenbyasingleshadow.Weirdwhispers
camewithalowwindthatwasgatheringinthenorth.
SuddenlyMacVeighstoppedandswunghisrifleintothecrookofhisarm.
Somethingthatwasnotthewindhadcomeupoutofthenight.Heliftedhisfur
capfromhisearsandlistened.Hehearditagain,faintly,thefrostysingingof
sledgerunners.ThesledgewasapproachingfromtheopenBarren,andhe
clearedforaction.Hetookoffhisheavyfurmittensandsnappedthemtohis
belt,replacedthemwithhislightservicegloves,andexaminedhisrevolverto
seethatthecylinderwasnotfrozen.Thenhestoodsilentandwaited.


II
BILLYMEETSTHEWOMAN
Outofthegloomasledgeapproachedslowly.Ittookformatlastinadim
shadow,andMacVeighsawthatitwouldpassveryneartohim.Hemadeout,
oneafteranother,ahumanfigure,threedogs,andthetoboggan.Therewas
somethingappallinginthequietofthisspecteroflifeloomingupoutofthe
night.Hecouldnolongerhearthesledge,thoughitwaswithinfiftypacesof
him.Thefigureinadvancewalkedslowlyandwithbowedhead,andthedogs
andthesledgefollowedinaghostlyline.Humanleaderandanimalswere
oblivioustoMacVeigh,silentandstaringinthewhitenight.Theywereopposite
himbeforehemoved.
Thenhestrodeoutquickly,withaloudholloa.Atthesoundofhisvoicethere
followedalowcry,thedogsstoppedintheirtraces,andthefigureranbackto
thesledge.MacVeighdrewhisrevolver.Halfadozenlongstridesandhehad
reachedthesledge.Fromtheoppositesideawhitefacestaredathim,andwith
onehandrestingontheheavilyladensledge,andhisrevolveratlevelwithhis
waist,MacVeighstaredbackinspeechlessastonishment.
Forthegreat,dark,frightenedeyesthatlookedacrossathim,andthewhite,
staringfaceherecognizedastheeyesandthefaceofawoman.Foramomenthe
wasunabletomoveorspeak,andthewomanraisedherhandsandpushedback
herfurhoodsothathesawherhairshimmeringinthestarlight.Shewasawhite
woman.Suddenlyhesawsomethinginherfacethatstruckhimwithachill,and
helookeddownatthethingunderhishand.Itwasalong,roughbox.Hedrew
backastep.
“GoodGod!”hesaid.“Areyoualone?”
Shebowedherhead,andheheardhervoiceinahalfsob.
“Yes—alone.”
Hepassedquicklyaroundtoherside.“IamSergeantMacVeigh,oftheRoyal
Mounted,”hesaid,gently.“Tellme,whereareyougoing,andhowdoesit
happenthatyouareouthereintheBarren—alone.”


Herhoodhadfallenuponhershoulder,andsheliftedherfacefulltoMacVeigh.
Thestarsshoneinhereyes.Theywerewonderfuleyes,andnowtheywerefilled
withpain.AnditwasawonderfulfacetoMacVeigh,whohadnotseenawhite
woman’sfacefornearlyayear.Shewasyoung,soyoungthatinthepaleglowof
thenightshelookedalmostlikeagirl,andinhereyesandmouthandtheupturn
ofherchintherewassomethingsolikethatotherfaceofwhichhehaddreamed
thathereachedoutandtookhertwohesitatinghandsinhisown,andasked
again:
“Whereareyougoing,andwhyareyououthere—alone?”
“Iamgoing—downthere,”shesaid,turningherheadtowardthetimberline.“I
amgoingwithhim—myhusband—”
Hervoicechokedher,and,drawingherhandssuddenlyfromhim,shewentto
thesledgeandstoodfacinghim.Foramomenttherewasaglowofdefiancein
hereyes,asthoughshefearedhimandwasreadytofightforherselfandher
dead.Thedogsslunkinatherfeet,andMacVeighsawthegleamoftheirnaked
fangsinthestarlight.
“Hediedthreedaysago,”shefinished,quietly,“andIamtakinghimbacktomy
people,downontheLittleSeul.”
“Itistwohundredmiles,”saidMacVeigh,lookingatherasifsheweremad.
“Youwilldie.”
“Ihavetraveledtwodays,”repliedthewoman.“Iamgoingon.”
“Twodays—acrosstheBarren!”
MacVeighlookedatthebox,grimandterribleintheghostlyradiancethatfell
uponit.Thenhelookedatthewoman.Shehadbowedherheaduponherbreast,
andhershininghairfelllooseanddisheveled.Hesawthepatheticdroopofher
tiredshoulders,andknewthatshewascrying.Inthatmomentathrillingwarmth
floodedeveryfiberofhisbody,andthegloryofthisthathadcometohimfrom
outoftheBarrenheldhimmute.Tohimwomanwasallthatwasgloriousand
good.Thepitilesslonelinessofhislifehadplacedthemnexttoangelsinhis
codeofthings,andbeforehimnowhesawallthathehadeverdreamedofinthe
loveandloyaltyofwomanhoodandofwifehood.


Thebowedlittlefigurebeforehimwasfacingdeathforthemanshehadloved,
andwhowasdead.Inawayheknewthatshewasmad.Andyethermadness
wasthemadnessofadevotionthatwasbeyondfear,ofafaithfulnessthatmade
nomeasureofstormandcoldandstarvation;andhewasfilledwithadesireto
gouptoherasshestoodcrumpledandexhaustedagainstthebox,totakeher
closeinhisarmsandtellherthatofsuchalovehehadbuiltforhimselfthe
visionswhichhadkepthimaliveinhisloneliness.Shelookedpatheticallylikea
child.
“Come,littlegirl,”hesaid.“We’llgoon.I’llseeyousafelyonyourwaytothe
LittleSeul.Youmustn’tgoalone.You’dneverreachyourpeoplealive.MyGod,
ifIwerehe—”
Hestoppedatthefrightenedlookinthewhitefacesheliftedtohim.
“What?”sheasked.
“Nothing—onlyit’shardforamantodieandloseawomanlikeyou,”said
MacVeigh.“There—letmeliftyouuponthebox.”
“Thedogscannotpulltheload,”sheobjected.“Ihavehelpedthem—”
“Iftheycan’t,Ican,”helaughed,softly;andwithaquickmovementhepicked
herupandseatedheronthesledge.Hestrippedoffhispackandplaceditbehind
her,andthenhegaveherhisrifle.Thewomanlookedstraightathimwitha
tense,whitefaceassheplacedtheweaponacrossherlap.
“YoucanshootmeifIdon’tdomyduty,”saidMacVeigh.Hetriedtohidethe
happinessthatcametohiminthiscompanionshipofwoman,butittrembledin
hisvoice.Hestoppedsuddenly,listening.
“Whatwasthat?”
“Iheardnothing,”saidthewoman.Herfacewasdeadlywhite.Hereyeshad
grownblack.
MacVeighturned,withawordtothedogs.Hepickeduptheendofthebabiche
ropewithwhichthewomanhadassistedthemtodragtheirload,andsetoff
acrosstheBarren.Thepresenceofthedeadhadalwaysbeenoppressivetohim,
butto-nightitwasotherwise.Hisfatigueofthedaywasgone,andinspiteofthe


thinghewashelpingtodragbehindhimhewasfilledwithastrangeelation.He
wasinthepresenceofawoman.Nowandthenheturnedhisheadtolookather.
Hecouldfeelherbehindhim,andthesoundofherlowvoicewhenshespoketo
thedogswaslikemusictohim.Hewantedtoburstforthinthewildsongwith
whichheandPelliterhadkeptuptheircourageinthelittlecabin,buthethrottled
hisdesireandwhistledinstead.Hewonderedhowthewomanandthedogshad
draggedthesledge.Itsankdeepinthesoftdrift-snow,andtaxedhisstrength.
Nowandthenhepausedtorest,andatlastthewomanjumpedfromthesledge
andcametohisside.
“Iamgoingtowalk,”shesaid.“Theloadistooheavy.”
“Thesnowissoft,”repliedMacVeigh.“Come.”
Heheldouthishandtoher;and,withthesamestrange,whitelookinherface,
thewomangavehimherown.Sheglancedbackuneasilytowardthebox,and
MacVeighunderstood.Hepressedherfingersalittletighteranddrewhernearer
tohim.Handinhand,theyresumedtheirwayacrosstheBarren.MacVeighsaid
nothing,buthisbloodwasrunninglikefirethroughhisbody.Thelittlehandhe
heldtrembledandstarteduneasily.Onceortwiceittriedtodrawitselfaway,and
hehelditcloser.Afterthatitremainedsubmissivelyinhisown,warmand
thrilling.Lookingdown,hecouldseetheprofileofthewoman’sface.
Along,shiningtressofherhairhadfreeditselffromunderherhood,andthe
lightwindlifteditsothatitfellacrosshisarm.Likeathiefheraisedittohis
lips,whilethewomanlookedstraightaheadtowherethetimberlinebeganto
showinathin,blackstreak.Hischeeksburned,halfwithshame,halfwith
tumultuousjoy.Thenhestraightenedhisshouldersandshookthefloatingtress
fromhisarm.
Three-quartersofanhourlatertheycametothefirstofthetimber.Hestillheld
herhand.Hewasstillholdingit,withthebrilliantstarlightfallinguponthem,
whenhischinshotsuddenlyintotheairagain,alertandfighting,andhecried,
softly:
“Whatwasthat?”
“Nothing,”saidthewoman.“Iheardnothing—unlessitwasthewindinthe
trees.”


Shedrewawayfromhim.Thedogswhinedandslunkclosetothebox.Across
theBarrencamealow,wailingwind.
“Thestormiscomingback,”saidMacVeigh.“ItmusthavebeenthewindthatI
heard.”


III
INHONOROFTHELIVING
ForafewmomentsafterutteringthosewordsBillystoodsilentlisteningfora
soundthatwasnotthelowmoaningofthewindfaroutontheBarren.Hewas
surethathehadheardit—somethingverynear,almostathisfeet,andyetitwas
asoundwhichhecouldnotplaceorunderstand.Helookedatthewoman.She
wasgazingsteadilyathim.
“Ihearitnow,”shesaid.“Itisthewind.Ithasfrightenedme.Itmakessuch
terriblesoundsattimes—outontheBarren.Alittlewhileago—Ithought—I
heard—achildcrying—”
Billysawherclutchahandatherthroat,andtherewerebothterrorandgriefin
theeyesthatneverforaninstantlefthisface.Heunderstood.Shewasalmost
readytogivewayundertheterriblestrainoftheBarren.Hesmiledather,and
spokeinavoicethathemighthaveusedtoalittlechild.
“Youaretired,littlegirl?”
“Yes—yes—Iamtired—”
“Andhungryandcold?”
“Yes.”
“Thenwewillcampinthetimber.”
Theywentonuntiltheycametoagrowthofsprucesodensethatitformeda
shelterfrombothsnowandwind,withathickcarpetofbrownneedlesunder
foot.Theywereshutoutfromthestars,andinthedarknessMacVeighbeganto
whistlecheerfully.Heunstrappedhispackandspreadoutoneofhisblankets
closetotheboxandwrappedtheotheraboutthewoman’sshoulders.
“YousitherewhileImakeafire,”hesaid.
Hepiledupdryneedlesoverapreciousbitofhisbirchbarkandstruckaflame.


Intheglowinglighthefoundotherfuel,andaddedtothefireuntilthecrackling
blazeleapedashighashishead.Thewoman’sfacewashidden,andshelooked
asthoughshehadfallenasleepinthewarmthofthefire.Forhalfanhour
MacVeighdraggedinfueluntilhehadagreatpileofitinreadiness.
Thenheforkedoutadeepbedofburningcoalsandsoontheodorofcoffeeand
fryingbaconarousedhiscompanion.Sheraisedherheadandthrewbackthe
blanketwithwhichhehadcoveredhershoulders.Itwaswarmwhereshesat,
andshetookoffherhoodwhilehesmiledathercompanionablyfromoverthe
fire.Herreddish-brownhairtumbledabouthershoulders,ripplingandglistening
inthefireglow,andforafewmomentsshesatwithitfallinglooselyabouther,
withhereyesuponMacVeigh.Thenshegathereditbetweenherfingers,and
MacVeighwatchedherwhileshedivideditintoshiningstrandsandpleatedit
intoabigbraid.
“Supperisready,”hesaid.“Willyoueatitthere?”
Shenodded,andforthefirsttimeshesmiledathim.Hebroughtbaconand
breadandcoffeeandotherthingsfromhispackandplacedthemonafolded
blanketbetweenthem.Hesatoppositeher,cross-legged.Forthefirsttimehe
noticedthathereyeswereblueandthattherewasaflushinhercheeks.The
flushdeepenedashelookedather,andshesmiledathimagain.
Thesmile,themomentarydroopingofhereyes,sethisheartleaping,andfora
littlewhilehewasunconsciousoftasteinthefoodheswallowed.Hetoldherof
hispostawayupatPointFullerton,andofPelliter,whowasdyingofloneliness.
“It’sbeenalongtimesinceI’veseenawomanlikeyou,”heconfided.“Andit
seemslikeheaven.Youdon’tknowhowlonelyIam!”Hisvoicetrembled.“I
wishthatPellitercouldseeyou—justforamoment,”headded.“Itwouldmake
himliveagain.”
Somethinginthesoftglowofhereyesurgedotherwordstohislips.
“Mebbeyoudon’tknowwhatitmeansnottoseeawhitewomanin—in—all
thistime,”hewenton.“Youwon’tthinkthatI’vegonemad,willyou,orthat
I’msayingordoinganythingthat’swrong?I’mtryingtoholdmyselfback,butI
feellikeshouting,I’mthatglad.IfPellitercouldseeyou—”Hereached
suddenlyinhispocketanddrewoutthepreciouspacketofletters.“He’sgota
girldownsouth—justlikeyou,”hesaid.“Thesearefromher.IfIget‘emupin


timethey’llbringhimround.It’snotmedicinehewants.It’swoman—justa
sightofher,andsoundofher,andatouchofherhand.”
Shereachedacrossandtooktheletters.Inthefirelighthesawthatherhandwas
trembling.
“Arethey—married?”sheasked,softly.
“No,butthey’regoingtobe,”hecried,triumphantly.“She’sthemostbeautiful
thingintheworld,nextto—”
Hepaused,andshefinishedforhim.
“Nexttooneothergirl—whoisyours.”
“No,Iwasn’tgoingtosaythat.Youwon’tthinkImeanwrong,willyou,ifItell
you?Iwasgoingtosaynextto—you.Foryou’vecomeoutoftheblizzard—
likeanangeltogivemenewhope.Iwassortofbrokewhenyoucame.Ifyou
disappearednowandIneversawyouagainI’dgobackandfighttherestofmy
timeout,an’dreamofpleasantthings.Gawd!Doyouknowamanhastobeput
upherebeforeheknowsthatlifeisn’tthesunan’themoonan’thestarsan’the
airwebreathe.It’swoman—justwoman.”
Hewasreturningtheletterstohispocket.Thewoman’svoicewasclearand
gentle.ToBillyitroselikesweetestmusicabovethecracklingofthefireandthe
murmuringofthewindinthesprucetops.
“Menlikeyou—oughttohaveawomantocarefor,”shesaid.“Hewaslike
that.”
“Youmean—”Hiseyessoughtthelong,darkbox.
“Yes—hewaslikethat.”
“Iknowhowyoufeel,”hesaid;andforamomenthedidnotlookather.“I’ve
gonethrough—alotofit.Fatheran’motherandasister.Motherwasthelast,
andIwasn’tmuchmorethanakid—eighteen,Iguess—butitdon’tseemmuch
morethanyesterday.Whenyoucomeuphereandyoudon’tseethesunfor
monthsnorawhitefaceforayearormoreitbringsupallthosethingspretty
muchasthoughtheyhappenedonlyalittlewhileago.’”


“Allofthemare—dead?”sheasked.
“Allbutone.Shewrotetomeforalongtime,andIthoughtshe’dkeepher
word.Pelly—that’sPelliter—thinkswe’vejusthadamisunderstanding,and
thatshe’llwriteagain.Ihaven’ttoldhimthatsheturnedmedowntomarry
anotherfellow.Ididn’twanttomakehimthinkanyunpleasantthingsabouthis
owngirl.You’reapttodothatwhenyou’realmostdyingofloneliness.”
Thewoman’seyeswereshining.Sheleanedalittletowardhim.
“Youshouldbeglad,”shesaid.“Ifsheturnedyoudownshewouldn’thavebeen
worthyofyou—afterward.Shewasn’tatruewoman.Ifshehadbeen,herlove
wouldn’thavegrowncoldbecauseyouwereaway.Itmustn’tspoilyourfaith—
becausethatis—beautiful.”
Hehadputahandintohispocketagain,anddrewoutnowathinpackage
wrappedinbuckskin.Hisfacewaslikeaboy’s.
“Imighthave—ifIhadn’tmetyou,”hesaid.“I’dliketoletyouknow—some
way—whatyou’vedoneforme.Youandthis.”
Hehadunfoldedthebuckskin,andgaveittoher.Initwerethebigbluepetals
anddried,stemofablueflower.
“Ablueflower!”shesaid.
“Yes.Youknowwhatitmeans.TheIndianscalliti-o-waka,orsomethinglike
that,becausetheybelievethatitistheflowerspiritofthepurestandmost
beautifulthingintheworld.Ihavecalleditwoman.”
Helaughed,andtherewasajoyoussortofnoteinthelaugh.
“Youmaythinkmealittlemad,”hesaid,“butdoyoucareifItellyouaboutthat
blueflower?”
Thewomannodded.TherewasalittlequiveratherthroatwhichBillydidnot
see.
“IwasawayupontheGreatBear,”hesaid,“andfortendaysandtennightsI
wasincamp—alone—laidupwithasprainedankle.Itwasawildandgloomy


place,shutinbybarrenridgemountains,withstuntedblackspruceallabout,and
thosesprucewerehauntedbyowlsthatmademybloodruncoldnights.The
seconddayIfoundcompany.Itwasablueflower.Itgrewclosetomytent,as
highasmyknee,andduringthedayIusedtospreadoutmyblanketclosetoit
andliethereandsmoke.Andtheblueflowerwouldwaveonitsslenderstem,
an’bobatme,an’talkinsignlanguagethatIimaginedIunderstood.Sometimes
itwassofunnyandvivaciousthatIlaughed,andthenitseemedtobeinviting
metoadance.Andatothertimesitwasjustbeautifulandstill,andseemed
listeningtowhattheforestwassaying—andonceortwice,Ithought,itmight
bepraying.Lonelinessmakesafellowfoolish,youknow.Withthegoingofthe
sunmyblueflowerwouldalwaysfolditspetalsandgotosleep,likealittlechild
tiredoutbytheday’splay,andafterthatIwouldfeelterriblylonely.Butitwas
alwaysawakeagainwhenIrolledoutinthemorning.Atlastthetimecame
whenIwaswellenoughtoleave.OntheninthnightIwatchedmyblueflower
gotosleepforthelasttime.ThenIpacked.ThesunwasupwhenIwentaway
thenextmorning,andfromalittledistanceIturnedandlookedback.IsupposeI
wasfoolish,andweakforaman,butIfeltlikecrying.Blueflowerhadtaught
memanythingsIhadnotknownbefore.Ithadmademethink.AndwhenI
lookedbackitwasinapoolofsunlight,anditwaswavingatme!Itseemedto
methatitwascalling—callingmeback—andIrantoitandpickeditfromthe
stem,andithasbeenwithmeeversincethathour.IthasbeenmyBiblean’my
comrade,an’I’veknownitwasthespiritofthepurestandthemostbeautiful
thingintheworld—woman.I—”Hisvoicebrokealittle.“I—Imaybefoolish,
butI’dliketohaveyoutakeit,an’keepit—always—forme.”
Hecouldseenowthequiverofherlipsasshelookedacrossathim.
“Yes,Iwilltakeit,”shesaid.“Iwilltakeitandkeepit—always.”
“I’vebeenkeepingitforawoman—somewhere,”hesaid.“Foolishidea,wasn’t
it?AndI’vebeentellingyouallthis,whenIwanttohearwhathappenedback
there,andwhatyouaregoingtodowhenyoureachyourpeople.Doyoumind
—tellingme?”
“Hedied—that’sall,”shereplied,fightingtospeakcalmly.“Ipromisedtotake
himback—tomypeople,AndwhenIgetthere—Idon’tknow—whatIshall—
do—”
Shecaughtherbreath.Alowsobbrokefromherlips.


“Youdon’tknow—whatyouwilldo—”
Billy’svoicesoundedstrangeeventohimself.Herosetohisfeetandlooked
downintoherupturnedface,hishandsclenched,hisbodytremblingwiththe
fighthewasmaking.Wordscametohislipsandwereforcedbackagain—
wordswhichalmostwonintheirstruggletotellheragainthatshehadcometo
himfromoutoftheBarrenlikeanangel,thatwithintheshortspacesincetheir
meetinghehadlivedalifetime,andthathelovedherasnomanhadeverloveda
womanbefore.Herblueeyeslookedathimquestioninglyashestoodaboveher.
Andthenhesawthethingwhichforamomenthehadforgotten—thelong,
roughboxatthewoman’sback.Hisfingersdugdeeperintohispalms,andwith
agaspingbreathheturnedaway.Ahundredpacesbackinthesprucehehad
foundabarerockwitharedbakneeshvinegrowingoverit.Withhisknifehecut
offanarmful,andwhenhereturnedwithitintothelightofthefirethebakneesh
glowedlikeamassofcrimsonflowers.Thewomanhadrisentoherfeet,and
lookedathimspeechlesslyashescatteredthevineoverthebox.Heturnedto
herandsaid,softly:
“Inhonorofthedead!”
Thecolorhadfadedfromherface,buthereyesshonelikestars.Billyadvanced
towardherwithhishandsreachingout.Butsuddenlyhestoppedandstood
listening.Afteramomentheturnedandaskedagain:
“Whatwasthat?”
“Iheardthedogs—andthewind,”shereplied.
“It’ssomethingcrackinginmyhead,Iguess,”saidMacVeigh.“Itsoundedlike
—”Hepassedahandoverhisforeheadandlookedatthedogshuddledindeep
sleepbesidethesledge.Thewomandidnotseetheshiverthatpassedthrough
him.Helaughedcheerfully,andseizedhisax.
“Nowforthecamp,”heannounced.“We’regoingtogetthestormwithinan
hour.”
Ontheboxthewomancarriedasmalltent,andhepitcheditclosetothefire,
fillingtheinteriortwofeetdeepwithcedarandbalsamboughs.Hisownsilk
servicetentheputbackinthedeepershadowsofthespruce.Whenhehad


finishedhelookedquestioninglyatthewomanandthenatthebox.
“Ifthereisroom—Iwouldlikeitinthere—withme,”shesaid,andwhileshe
stoodwithherfacetothefirehedraggedtheboxintothetent.Thenhepiled
freshfueluponthefireandcametobidhergoodnight.Herfacewaspaleand
haggardnow,butshesmiledathim,andtoMacVeighshewasthemostbeautiful
thingintheworld.Withinhimselfhefeltthathehadknownherforyearsand
years,andhetookherhandsandlookeddownintoherblueeyesandsaid,
almostinawhisper:
“WillyouforgivemeifI’mdoingwrong?Youdon’tknowhowlonesomeI’ve
been,andhowlonesomeIam,andwhatitmeanstometolookoncemoreintoa
woman’sface.Idon’twanttohurtyou,andI’d—I’d”—hisvoicebrokealittle
—“I’dgivehimbacklifeifIcould,justbecauseI’veseenyouandknowyou
and—andloveyou.”
Shestartedanddrewaquick,sharpbreaththatcamealmostinalowcry.
“Forgiveme,littlegirl,”hewenton.“Imaybealittlemad.IguessIam.ButI’d
dieforyou,andI’mgoingtoseeyousafelydowntoyourpeople—and—and—
Iwonder—Iwonder—ifyou’dkissmegoodnight—”
Hereyesneverlefthisface.Theyweredazzlinglyblueinthefirelight.Slowly
shedrewherhandsawayfromhim,stilllookingstraightintohiseyes,andthen
sheplacedthemagainsteachofhisarmsandslowlyliftedherfacetohim.
Reverentlyhebentandkissedher.
“Godblessyou!”hewhispered.
Forhoursafterthathesatbesidethefire.Thewindcameupstrongeracrossthe
Barren;thestormbrokefreshfromthenorth,thespruceandthebalsamwailed
overhishead,andhecouldhearthemoaningsweepoftheblizzardoutinthe
openspaces.Butthesoundscametohimnowlikeanewkindofmusic,andhis
heartthrobbedandhissoulwaswarmwithjoyashelookedatthelittletent
whereintherelaysleepingthewomanwhomheloved.
Hestillfeltthewarmthofherlips,hesawagainandagainthebluesoftnessthat
hadcomeforaninstantintohereyes,andhethankedGodforthewonderful
happinessthathadcometohim.Forthesweetnessofthewoman’slipsandthe
greatersweetnessofherblueeyestoldhimwhatlifeheldforhimnow.Aday’s


journeytothesouthwasanIndiancamp.Hewouldtakeherthere,andwould
hirerunnerstocarryupPelliter’smedicinesandhisletters.Thenhewouldgoon
—withthewoman—andhelaughedsoftlyandjoyouslyatthegloriousnews
whichhewouldtakebacktoPelliteralittlelater.Forthekissburnedonhislips,
theblueeyessmiledathimstillfromoutofthefirelitgloom,andheknew
nothingbuthope.
Itwaslate,almostmidnight,whenhewenttobed.Withthestormwailingand
twistingmorefiercelyabouthim,hefellasleep.Anditwaslatewhenheawoke.
Theforestwasfilledwithamoaningsound.Thefirewaslow.Beyondittheflap
ofthewoman’stentwasstilldown,andheputonfreshfuelquietly,sothathe
wouldnotawakenher.Helookedathiswatchandfoundthathehadbeen
sleepingfornearlysevenhours.Thenhereturnedtohistenttogetthethingsfor
breakfast.Halfadozenpacesfromthedoorflaphestoppedinsudden
astonishment.
Hangingtohistentintheformofagreatwreathwastheredbakneeshwhichhe
hadcutthenightbefore,andoverit,scrawledincharcoalonthesilk,there
staredathimthecrudelywrittenwords:
“Inhonoroftheliving.”
Withalowcryhesprangbacktowardtheothertent,andthen,assuddenashis
movement,thereflasheduponhimthesignificanceofthebakneeshwreath.The
womanwassayingtohimwhatshehadnotspokeninwords.Shehadcomeout
inthenightwhilehewasasleepandhadhungthewreathwherehewouldseeit
inthemorning.Thebloodrushedwarmandjoyousthroughhisbody,andwith
somethingwhichwasnotalaugh,butwhichwasanexultantbreathfromthe
soulitself,hestraightenedhimself,andhishandfellinitsoldtricktohis
revolverholster.Itwasempty.
Hedraggedouthisblankets,buttheweaponwasnotbetweenthem.Helooked
intothecornerwherehehadplacedhisrifle.That,too,wasgone.Hisfacegrew
tenseandwhiteashewalkedslowlybeyondthefiretothewoman’stent.With
hisearattheflaphelistened.Therewasnosoundwithin—nosoundof
movement,oflife,ofasleeper’sbreath;andlikeonewhofearedtoreveala
terriblepicturehedrewbacktheflap.Thebalsambedwhichhehadmadeforthe
womanwasempty,andacrossithadbeendrawnthebigroughbox.Hestepped
inside.Theboxwasopen—andempty,exceptforamassofwornandhard-


packedbalsamboughsinthebottom.Inanotherinstantthetruthburstinallits
forceuponMacVeigh.Theboxhadheldlife,andthewoman—
Somethingonthesideoftheboxcaughthiseyes.Itwasafoldedbitofpaper,
pinnedwherehemustseeit.Hetoreitoffandstaggeredwithitbackintothe
lightofday.Alow,hardcrycamefromhislipsashereadwhatthewomanhad
writtentohim:
“MayGodblessyouforbeinggoodtome.Inthestormmehavegone—my
husbandandI.Wordcametousthatyouwereonourtrail,andwesawyourfire
outontheBarren.Myhusbandmadetheboxformetokeepmefromcoldand
storm.Whenwesawyouwechangedplaces,andsoyoumetmewithmydead.
Hecouldhavekilledyou—adozentimes,butyouweregoodtome,andsoyou
live.SomedaymayGodgiveyouagoodwomanwhowillloveyouasIlove
him.Hekilledaman,butkillingisnotalwaysmurder.Wehavetakenyour
weapons,andthestormwillcoverourtrail.Butyouwouldnotfollow.Iknow
that.Foryouknowwhatitmeanstoloveawoman,andsoyouknowwhatlife
meanstoawomanwhenshelovesaman.MRS.ISOBELDEANE.”


IV
THEMAN-HUNTERS
LikeonedazedbyablowBillyreadoncemorethewordswhichIsobelDeane
hadleftforhim.Hemadenosoundafterthatfirstcrythathadbrokenfromhis
lips,butstoodlookingintothecracklingflamesofthefireuntilasuddenlashof
thewindwhippedthenotefrombetweenhisfingersandsentitscurryingaway
inawhitevolleyoffinesnow.Thelossofthenoteawokehimtoaction.He
startedtopursuethebitofpaper,thenstoppedandlaughed.Itwasashort,
mirthlesslaugh,thekindofalaughwithwhichastrongmancoverspain.He
returnedtothetentagainandlookedin.Heflungbackthetentflapssothatthe
lightcouldenterandhecouldseeintothebox.Afewhoursbeforethatboxhad
hiddenScottieDeane,themurderer.Andshewashiswife!Heturnedbackto
thefire,andhesawagaintheredbakneeshhangingoverhistentflap,andthe
wordsshehadscrawledwiththeendofacharredstick,“Inhonoroftheliving.”
Thatmeanthim.Somethingthickanduncomfortableroseinhisthroat,anda
blurthatwasnotcausedbysnoworwindfilledhiseyes.Shehadmadea
magnificentfight.Andshehadwon.Anditsuddenlyoccurredtohimthatwhat
shehadsaidinthenotewastrue,andthatScottieDeanecouldeasilyhavekilled
him.Thenextmomenthewonderedwhyhehadnotdonethat.Deanehadtaken
abigchanceinallowinghimtolive.Theyhadonlyafewhours’startofhim,
andtheirtrailcouldnotbeentirelyobliteratedbythestorm.Deanewouldbe
hamperedinhisflightbythepresenceofhiswife.Hecouldstillfollowand
overtakethem.Theyhadtakenhisweapons,butthiswouldnotbethefirsttime
thathehadgoneafterhismanwithoutweapons.
Swiftlythereactionworkedinhim.Heranbeyondthefire,andcircledquickly
untilhecameuponthetrailoftheoutgoingsledge.Itwasstillquitedistinct.
Deeperintheforestitcouldbeeasilyfollowed.Somethingflutteredathisfeet.It
wasIsobelDeane’snote.Hepickeditup,andagainhiseyesfelluponthoselast
wordsthatshehadwritten:Butyouwouldnotfollow.Iknowthat.Foryou
knowwhatitmeanstoloveawoman,andsoyouknowwhatlifemeanstoa
womanwhenshelovesaman.ThatwaswhyScottieDeanehadnotkilledhim.
Itwasbecauseofthewoman.Andshehadfaithinhim!Thistimehefoldedthe
noteandplaceditinhispocket,wheretheblueflowerhadbeen.Thenhewent
slowlybacktothefire.


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