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father always keeps well provisioned. From this chamber a narrow passage
leads up to the surface of the ground, thus providing two exits; but, of
course, the one above ground cannot be used now, owing to the snow."

Pearl, who had been listening breathlessly to this description of José's
hiding place, leaned back with a sigh of relief. "Then it looks as if
José might be all right for the present. I do hope so for all our

She sat silent for a few moments, apparently turning over something in
her mind. When she spoke again her manner showed a certain
embarrassment. "Do - do you know," she asked rather hesitatingly, "how
they got the information?"

"No," he replied. "And that is what is puzzling all of us, but they have
so far refused to tell us."

Almost she uttered a prayer of thankfulness. She very strongly suspected
that the only way Hanson could have secured the information was through
her mother's inveterate habit of eavesdropping, a weakness of hers which
she had failed to hide from her daughter, and a feeling almost of
gratitude came over Pearl that so far Hanson had been decent enough to
spare that poor babbler.

She took a last sip of coffee and rose from the table. "I must go down
to the other cabin," she said, reluctance in her heart, if not in her

"I will go with you" - Seagreave rose with alacrity to accompany
her - "and get the fires builded. It should really have been done long
ago. But what am I thinking of? Wait a moment." He clapped his hand to
his pocket. "One never knows what avenues of cleverness and cunning a
great temptation may open up." He laughed a little. "On that wild drive
to the Mont d'Or I insisted on José removing your necklace and all your
rings with which he had decked himself. I dare say it cost him
immeasurable pangs, but he had no time to express them. As I was driving
he passed them over to Hugh, and when we reached here Hugh gave them to
me. He explained that in attempting to give them to you he might be
seen, and if he were it might lead to some embarrassing questions."

He drew from his pocket first the emeralds and then the rings, laying
them carefully upon the table, where they formed a glittering heap.

"I don't think it is possible that José withheld anything," Seagreave
continued. "He would not dare, and I am quite sure that neither Hughie
nor I dropped even a ring when he gave them to me. Still I would be very
much obliged if you will look them over and see if they are intact."

At the sight of her treasures Pearl uttered an exclamation of pleasure
and fingered them lovingly, laying the emeralds against her cheek with a
gesture that was almost a caress. "Thank you. Oh, it was good of you to
think of them at such a time and rescue them for me." Her soft, sliding
voice was warm with gratitude. "They are all here." She slipped the
rings on her fingers, her eyes dreaming on them. She fastened the
emeralds about her neck and hid them beneath her gown, pressing them
against her flesh as if she found pleasure in their cold contact.

She lifted her eyes to him; her smile was languourously ardent;
impulsively she caught his hand and held it for a moment against her
cheek. He started and she felt him tremble. Then hastily he withdrew his
hand, murmuring at the same time a confused, almost inarticulate
protest; but Pearl did not wait to hear it. She had risen abruptly and,
catching up her cloak and wrapping it hastily about her, had opened the
door before he could reach it and had stepped out into the snow.

Seagreave, who had paused a moment to close the door behind them, heard
her utter a sharp exclamation and turned quickly.

"Dios!" she cried. "Dios! What is it?"

She had fallen back against the wall of the cabin and was gazing about
her with a strange and startled expression. Seagreave's eye reflected it
as he too stared about him with a look not yet of alarm but of wild,
deep wonder. For the moment, at least, all things were the same. Above
them the peaks towered whitely in the sullen, gray sky. On a level with
their eyes, the illimitable forests of bare, black trees mingling with
the denser and more compact shapes of the evergreens, stretched away
over the hillsides, casting their long blue shadows on the snow-covered
ground until they wore blurred indistinguishably in the violet haze of
distance. Unchanged, and yet so strong was the presage of some
unimagined and disastrous event, that when a long shiver ran through the
earth Pearl screamed aloud, and, stumbling toward Seagreave, reached out
gropingly for his hand.

For the second that they waited the earth, too, seemed to wait, a
solemn, awe-filled moment of incalculable change, a tense moment, as if
the unknown, mysterious forces of nature were gathering themselves
together for some mighty, unprecedented effort.

Then shiver after shiver shook the ground, the earth trembled as if in
some deep convulsion, the white peaks seemed bowing and bending - then a
roar as of many waters, the air darkened and earth and sky seemed filled
with the mass of the mountains slipping down - down to chaos.

Pearl had ceased to scream and had fallen to her knees, clinging
desperately to Seagreave. Her face was blanched white with terror, and
she was muttering incoherent prayers.

As for Harry, he had forgotten her, forgotten himself, and was living
through moments or centuries, he knew not, which, of wonder and horror.

And what a sight! It was not simply a great mountain of snow slipping
thunderously down to the valleys beneath; but in its ever gathering
momentum and incredible velocity it tore great rocks from the ground and
either snapped off trees as if they had been straws, or wholly uprooted
them, and now was a fast-flying mass of snow, earth, trees and rocks
whirling and hurtling through the air.

A huge rock had, as if forcibly detaching itself, flown off from the
avalanche and buried itself in the ground only a few feet beyond Harry
and Pearl, and more than one uprooted tree lay near them. Death had
missed them by only a few paces.

Not realizing her immunity even after the air had begun to clear, and
still panic-stricken and fearful of what might still occur, Pearl
continued to moan and pray until Seagreave, who had been so dazed that
he had been almost in a state of trance, again became aware of her
presence and, partially realizing her piteous state of terror, lifted
her in his arms and, wrapping them about her, endeavored to soothe her
and allay her fears, although he had not yet sufficiently recovered
himself to know fully what he was doing, and was merely following the
instinct of protection.

It was impossible for him to realize the mundane again immediately after
these undreamed of and supernormal experiences. Holding Pearl, who still
clung to him frantically, cowering and trembling against him, he leaned
upon the rough, projecting walls of his cabin and gazed with awed and
still unbelieving eyes into this new and formless world, yet obscured
with flying snow.

Gradually as the air cleared he saw that a new world, indeed, lay before
them. "Look, look, Pearl," he cried, hoping to rouse her from her state
of blind fright. "It has been an avalanche and it is over now."

"No, no," she moaned, and buried her head more deeply in his shoulder.
"I dare not look up. It will come again."

"No, it doesn't happen twice. It is over now and we are safe and the
cabin is safe."

And yet, in spite of himself, he sympathized with her fear more than he
would have admitted either to himself or her. Anything seemed possible
to him now. He had looked upon a miracle. He had seen those immutable
peaks, as stable as Time, bend and bow in their strange, cosmic dance,
for the change in the position of one had created the illusory effect of
a change in all.

"Come, look up, Pearl," he urged. "It is all over and everything is
changed. Look up and get accustomed to it."

Everything was indeed changed. For a few yards before the cabin his path
with its white, smooth walls was intact, but beyond that lay an
incredibly smooth expanse of bare earth. The road was obliterated; the
vast projecting rock ledges which had overshadowed it had disappeared.
They had all been razed or else uprooted like the rocks and trees and
carried on in that irresistible rush. The light poured baldly down upon
a hillside bare and blank and utterly featureless. But far down the road
where the bridge had spanned the cañon there rose a vast white mountain,
effectually cutting them off from all communication with the village

Nothing remained of familiar surroundings. This was, indeed, a new
world. At last Seagreave roused himself from his stunned contemplation
of it and bent himself to the task of coaxing Pearl to lift her head and
gaze upon it, too.

At last she did so, but at the sight of that bare and unfamiliar
hillside her terrors again overcame her. "Come," she cried, dragging at
his arm, "we must go - go - get away from here. Dios! Are you mad? It is
the end of the world. Come quickly."

"Where?" asked Seagreave gently.

"Home," she cried wildly. "To the church. We can at least die

Seagreave shook his head, his eyes on that white wall - that snow
mountain which rose from the edge of the crevasse and seemed almost to
touch the sky. "Listen, Pearl," he spoke more earnestly now, as if to
force some appreciation of the situation upon her mind. "This cabin is
the only thing upon the mountain. The avalanche has carried everything
else away."

"Not my father's cabin, too," she peered down the hill curiously, yet
fearfully, in a fascinated horror. "Oh, but it is true. It is gone. Oh,
what shall we do? But we must get down to the camp. Come, come."

But for once Seagreave seemed scarcely to hear her. He had leaned out
from the sheltering wall and was scanning with a measuring and
speculative eye the white heap that rose from the edge of the cañon and
seemed almost to touch the lowering and sullen sky.

"Thank God, the camp is safe," he murmured. "The cañon must have saved
it, or else it would have been wiped off the earth just as Gallito's
cabin has been. But it has swept the bridge away, of course."

"Oh, come." Pearl dragged at his sleeve. "I can't stay here. I am

"Pearl," and there were both anxiety and tenderness in his voice. "You
must understand. Try to realize that there is no way to get down."

"But there must be some way," she insisted, "with snow-shoes - "

He shook his head gently but definitely. "There is no way. We might as
well face it." He cast another long look at the sky. "It is the season
for the thaws, the big thaws, but, even so, it will take time to melt
down that mountain out there. No, it is useless to argue," as Pearl
began again her futile rebellion against the inexorable forces of
nature, "but what am I thinking of?" in quick self-reproach. "You must
not stay out here in the cold any longer. Come." He threw open the cabin

But if Pearl heard him she gave no sign, but still leaned weakly, almost
inertly, against the walls of the cabin, gazing down the hillside with
dazed and still frightened eyes.

Seeing her condition, Seagreave wasted no more words, but lifted her in
his arms and carried her into the room they had so recently left. There
he placed her in a chair and pushed it near the fire and she sat
shivering and cowering, her hands outstretched to the blaze.

The light from the fire streamed through the room and Pearl, cheered and
restored more by that homely and familiar radiance than by any words of
comfort he might have uttered, gradually sank further and further back
in her chair and presently closed her eyes. It seemed to him that she
slept. At first her rest was fitful, broken by exclamations and starts,
but each time that she opened her eyes she saw the familiar and
unchanged surroundings, and Seagreave sitting near her; and, reassured,
her sleep became more natural and restful.

When she awoke it was to find herself alone. Seagreave had left, but she
could hear him moving about in the next room, near at hand if she needed
him. He was evidently bringing in some logs for the fire.

"As if nothing had happened," she muttered, "and things will go on just
the same. We shall eat; we shall sleep. How can it be?"

She got up and began to walk up and down the room. She was young, she
was strong, and the shock of those few moments of wonder and horror had
almost worn off. Her active brain was alert and normal again, and she
thought deeply as she walked to and fro, considering all possible phases
of her present situation.

Then, ceasing to pace back and forth, she leaned against the window and
looked out. The strange, new world lay before her, an earth bereft of
its familiar forests, and which must send forth from its teeming heart a
new growth of tender, springtime shoots to cover its nakedness. And as
she gazed the sun burst through the gray clouds and poured down upon the
wide, bare hillside an unbroken flood of golden splendor.

Hearing a slight sound behind her, she turned quickly. Seagreave had
entered and, approaching the window, stood looking at the white sloping
plain without.

"I couldn't chop any more wood," he said. "It seemed too commonplace
after this thing that we have seen. But you - how are you?"

"I'm all right," she returned. But she did not meet his eyes; her black
lashes lay long on her cheek; her cheek burned. She realized in a
confused way that there was some change in their relative positions. She
had always felt because of his reticence, his withdrawal into self, his
diffidence in approaching her, easily mistress of any situation which
might arise between them; but since those moments when they two had
gazed upon the avalanche, and she in her terror had flung herself upon
his breast, and had wrapped her arms about him and buried her face in
his shoulder, he had assumed not only the tone but the manner of
authority and had adopted again a natural habit of command, dropped or
laid aside from indifference or inertia, but instinctively resumed when
through some powerful feeling he became again his normal self, alive and
alert, vigorous and enthusiastic. It was as if he had suddenly awakened
to a whole world of new possibilities and new opportunities.

Beneath his long, steady gaze her own eyelids fluttered and fell; her
cheeks flushed a deeper rose; her heart beat madly. She was furious at
herself for these revealing weaknesses, and yet she, too, was conscious
of new, undreamed-of possibilities, sweet, poignantly sweet.

"Pearl," his voice was low, shaken by the emotion which had overtaken
both of them, "do you know that, as far as you and I are concerned, we
are the only living human beings in all our world?"

She looked at him and, unknown to herself, her face still held its glow
of rapture; her eyes were pools of love.

Her little rill of laughter was broken and shaken as falling water. "The
sheriff didn't get us, and yet we're prisoners, prisoners of the snow."

"And you, my jailer, will you be kind to me?" But there was nothing
pleading in his tone. It rang instead with exultant triumph.

"Why, Pearl" - a virile note of power as if some long-dreamed-of mastery
were his at last swelled like a diapason through his voice - "we're in
for a thaw, a big thaw, but it will take time to melt down that mountain
out there in the crevasse; and you and I are here - alone - for a
fortnight, at least a fortnight." He emphasized the words, lingering
over them as if they afforded him delight.

"A fortnight! Here! Alone with you!" she cried. "Never, never. There
must be a way - " she murmured confusedly and ran to the window to hide
her agitation and embarrassment, pulling the curtain hastily aside and
looking out unseeingly over the hills. She was trembling from head to

The wind had risen and was wailing and shrieking over the bare hill and
the air was dim with flying snow; but the spring that hours before had
kissed her cheek and touched her lips like a song rose now in Pearl's
heart. She pressed her tightly clasped hands against her breast and
closed her eyes. A new world! And she and Harry were in it together - and


The dawns rose, the suns set, after the avalanche as before, and Pearl
and Seagreave, alone in the cabin, isolated from the world of human
beings, took up their lives together, together and yet apart, in the
great, encompassing silence of this white and winter-locked world.

Winter-locked, yes, but all the mighty, unseen forces of Nature were set
toward spring. Nothing could stop or retard them now. Under sullen,
lowering skies; beneath the blasts which swept down from the peaks; in
spite of flying snow; unseen, unsuspected, in the darkness and stillness
and warmth of the earth, the transformation was going on. The tender,
young banners of green were almost ready for the decking of the trees,
and almost completed was the weaving of pink and blue and lavender
carpets of wild flowers for the hillsides.

And the spring that had arisen glorious in Pearl's heart when she had
realized that she and Harry were prisoners of the avalanche was still
resurgent. For the first day or two of their isolation she lived,
breathed, moved in the splendor of her heart's dream. It encompassed her
with the warmth and radiance of a flood of sunshine.

In spite of her protests and appeals, Seagreave would not permit her to
help much with the household tasks, but busied himself almost constantly
with them, maintaining with a sort of methodical pleasure the inspired
order of his cabin. It is possible that he gave to each task a more
exhaustive and undeviating attention than even he considered necessary,
and this to cover the sense of embarrassment he felt in adapting himself
not only to this pervasive, feminine presence, but to the exigencies of
an unwonted companionship hedged about with restrictions.

He often felt as if he were entertaining a bird of brilliant tropical
plumage in his cabin, as if it had flown thither from glowing southern
lands and brought with it sensuous memories of color and fragrance, and
wafts of sandalwood.

Sometimes he and Pearl walked about on the barren hillside, constantly
washed more bare of snow by the daily rains which had begun to fall, and
sometimes he read aloud to her a little, but in spite of Pearl's
intelligence she had never cared much for books. She craved no record of
another's emotions and struggles and passions. No life at second hand
for her. She was absorbed in the living.

But if in the day there were many tasks to be done, and Harry could
occupy more or less time in the hewing of wood and carrying of water,
and all of the practical duties which that phrase may stand for, there
were long evenings when he and Pearl sat in the firelight, their speech
and their silence alike punctuated by the wail of the mountain wind
about the cabin and the singing of the burning logs upon the hearth.

And it was during those evening hours that Seagreave felt most the
shyness which her constant presence induced in him. By day he busied
himself in securing her comfort, but by night he was tormented by his
own chivalrous and fastidious thought of her, by his desire to reassure
her mind, without words, if possible, as to the consequences of their

But sometimes after he had lighted her candle and she had said
good-night, and had entered the little room where she slept, he would
either sit beside the glowing embers or else build up afresh the great
fire which was never permitted to die out night or day during the winter
months, his thoughts full of her, dwelling on her, clinging to the
memories of the day.

José's personality had been neither ubiquitous nor dominating. Seagreave
had noticed him no more about the cabin than he had the little mountain
brook which purled its way down the hill; but now his housemate was
feminine, and with every passing hour he was more conscious of it. At
night, after Pearl had gone to bed, he felt her presence as definitely
as though she were still there. Some quality of her individuality
lingered and haunted the room and haunted his thoughts as the sweet,
unfamiliar odor of an exotic blossom permeates the atmosphere and
remains, even when the flower is gone.

And as for Pearl, whether she walked on the barren hillsides or dreamed
by the fire, or stood at the window watching Harry chop wood or carry
water from the rushing mountain brook, her mind held but one thought,
her heart but one image - him.

The studious abstraction, the ordered calm which characterized
Seagreave's cabin, made fragrant by burning pine logs and fresh with the
cold winds from the mountain tops, had altered by imperceptible and
subtle gradations until the atmosphere was now strangely electrical,
throbbing with vital life, glowing with warmth and color. In outer
semblance nothing was changed, no more than was the appearance of the
world outside, and yet beneath the surface of the lives in the cabin, as
beneath the surface of the earth without, all the mighty forces of
Nature were bent to one end.

Without, the spring thaws which were to melt down the mountain of snow
in the ravine below were no longer presaged, but at hand. The rain fell
for hours each day, but the dull and weeping skies, the heavy air,
oppressed Seagreave's spirits and made him now sad and listless, but for
the most part curiously restless.

Strive as he would, he could not escape nor ignore it, this atmosphere
of the exotic which filled his cabin, the atmosphere of Pearl's beauty
and magnetism and of her love for him. He did not recognize it as that.
He only felt it as some strange, disturbing element which, while it
troubled his thought, yet claimed it. His growing love for her filled
him with a sort of terror. It seemed to him a mounting tide which would
sweep him, he knew not whither, and with all the strength of his nature
he struggled to hold to the resolution he had made the first day they
were alone in the cabin, not to press his love upon her until she had
left the shelter of his roof and was back again with her father.

One evening the two sat in the cabin together, as usual, Seagreave on
one side of the fire reading - that is, his eyes were upon the book and
he seemed apparently absorbed in its contents - but in reality his entire
thought was focused upon Pearl, who sat opposite him in a low chair, her
hands clasped idly in her lap, and he struggled desperately to maintain
his attitude of friendly comradeship when he addressed her.

The leaping of the flames on the hearth made quaint arabesques of shadow
on the rough walls and the wind sighed and sobbed in the chimney. Thus
they sat for an hour or two in silence and then Seagreave lifted his
eyes and stole one of his swift and frequent glances at Pearl. Something
he saw riveted his attention and he continued to gaze, forgetful of his
book, of his past resolutions, of anything in the world but her.

She was just loosening the cord which bound the throat of a small black
leather bag, and while he watched her she poured its contents into her
lap and sat bending over a handful of loose and sparkling jewels. She
was not aware of his scrutiny, but sat in complete absorption, her dark,
shining head bent over them, lifting them, turning them this way and
that to catch the firelight, letting them trickle through her long,
brown fingers.

There, sparkling in the fire-glow, was the desire of the world, the
white, streaming flame of diamonds, the heart's blood of rubies, and
sapphires - the blue of the sea and the sky - all their life and radiance
imprisoned in a dew-drop.

"How beautiful they are!" he cried involuntarily, but what he really
meant was, "How beautiful you are!"

She started and looked up at him in surprise. "Yes, they are," she said.
"I have been gathering them for a long time. There are only a few, but
every one is flawless."

"I never considered jewels before." He bent forward the better to see
them. "I have often seen women wear them, but I just regarded them as a
part of their decoration. Yet I can understand now why you love them.
They are very beautiful, unset that way." He looked at her deeply. "But
I believe it is for some reason deeper than that that they have a
fascination for you. You are like them."

She let them fall like drops of rainbow water through her fingers; then
she lifted her lashes. "Am I hard and cold like them?" She sent darting
and dazzling full in his eyes her baffling, heart-shivering smile.

He did not answer at once, and she, still gazing at him, saw that he

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Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 16 of 20)