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setting off her beauty, pleased me. It seemed to augur well for her
artistic sense.

"May I sit down here?" I asked her, going to the pile of scarlet rugs
and cushions in the corner.

"Oh yes, Meester Treevor, sit down," and she came hastily forward to
rearrange them for me with Oriental politeness. I sat down, drawing up
my legs as I best could, and pointed to a place beside me.

"Come and sit down, Suzee," I said; "I have something to show you
now."

She came and sat beside me, but not very close, with her knees raised
and her smooth lissom little hands clasped round them. Her almond eyes
grew almost round with curiosity. I had brought with me a small
portfolio of some of my sketches with the object of introducing the
subject of her posing for me. I opened it and drew out the topmost
sketch. It was the figure of a young Italian girl lying on a green
bank beneath some vines. She was not wholly undraped, but most of her
attire was on the bank beside her, and the rest was of a transparent
gauzy nature suited to the heat suggested in the sunlit picture.

The moment Suzee's eyes fell upon it she gave a shriek of dismay and
covered her face with her hands. Over any portion I could still see
of it spread the Eastern's equivalent of a blush: a sort of dull heavy
red that seems to thicken the tissues.

"What is the matter?" I asked, surveying her in surprise. There was
nothing in the picture which would cause the least embarrassment to
any English girl.

"Oh, Treevor, it is dreadful to look at things like that," she
exclaimed, moving her fingers before her face and looking at me with
one eye through them. Then she made some rapid passes over her head,
as if to ward off the evil spirits I had conjured up.

I laughed.

"You may think so, Suzee," I said; "but in our country, and many
others, these 'things,' as you call them, are not only very much
looked at, but also admired, and bought and sold for great sums. What
do you see so very bad in it?"

Suzee ventured to peer through her fingers with both eyes at the
fearful object.

"Dreadful!" she exclaimed again, quickly shutting her fingers. "It is
a very bad woman, is it not?"

"No," I said, somewhat nettled; "certainly not. This was quite a
respectable girl. I have quantities of these portraits and sketches.
Look here," and I opened the portfolio and spread out several pictures
on the rug.

Suzee drew herself together, tightly pursed up her and looked down at
them with alarm, - as if I had let loose a number of snakes.

"They are very, very wicked things," she said, primly as a dissenting
minister's wife; and lowered her eyelids till the lashes lay like
black silk on the cheeks.

I gathered the offending sketches together and pushed them back under
cover.

"I wanted you to pose for me," I said, "that I might have your
picture, too; but I expect you won't do so for me?"

"I! I!" said Suzee, with virtuous indignation, "be put on paper like
that? I would die first." Her face had thickened all over as the blood
went into it. Her eyes looked stormy, alluring.

I leant towards her suddenly as we sat side by side, put my arms round
her waist, drew her to me, and pressed my lips on the ridiculous
little screwed-up mouth, with a sudden access of passion that left her
breathless.

"You are a horrid little humbug, and goose, and prude," I said,
laughing, as I released her. "What do you think of letting me kiss you
like that, then? Is that wrong?"

Suzee sighed heavily, swaying her pliable body only a very little way
from me.

"It may be - a little" she admitted; "but it's not like the pictures."

"Oh! It's not so bad - not so wicked?" I asked mockingly.

"Oh no, not nearly," she returned decisively.

"Well," I answered, "many people would think it much worse. Those
girls who have let me draw them would not let me kiss them - some of
them," I added. "So, you see, it's a matter of opinion and idea. Now,
will you say why the picture is so much worse than a kiss?"

"A kiss," murmured Suzee, "is just between two people. It is done, and
no one knows. It is gone." She spread out her hands and waved them in
the air with an expressive gesture. "Those things remain a monument of
shame for ever and ever."

I laughed. I was beginning to see there was not much chance of a
picture, but other prospects seemed fair. In life one must always take
exactly what it offers, and neither refuse its goods nor ask for more,
either in addition or exchange. Sitka would give me something, but
perhaps not a picture as I had hoped.

I looked at her in silence for some seconds, musing on her curious
beauty.

"I shall call you 'Sitkar-i-buccheesh,'" I said after a minute.

Suzee looked frightened and made a rapid pass over her head.

"What is that?" she asked. "It sounds a devil's name."

"It only means the gift of Sitka," I answered. "This city has given
you to me, has it not? or it will," I added in a lower tone.

I put my arm round her again, and she leant towards me as a flower
swayed by the breeze, her head drooped and rested against my shoulder.

"If it were the name of a devil," I said laughing, "it would suit you.
I believe you are an awful little devil."

"All women are devils," returned Suzee placidly.

I did not answer, but Viola's face swam suddenly before my vision - a
face all white and gold and rose and with eyes of celestial blue.

"What would your husband say to all this?" I asked jestingly.

"He will never know. I tell him quite different. He believes
everything I say."

Involuntarily I felt a little chill of disgust pass through me. Deceit
of any kind specially repels me, and deceit towards some one trusting,
confident, is the worst of all.

Perhaps she read my thoughts instinctively, for she said next, in a
pleading note, to enlist my sympathies:

"He is very, very cruel, he beats me all the time."

I looked down at her as she lay in the cradle of my arm, a little
sceptical.

From what I knew of the Chinese character it did not seem at all
likely that Hop Lee did beat his wife; moreover, the delicate,
fragile, untouched beauty of the girl did not allow one to imagine she
had suffered, or could suffer much violence.

Again she seemed to feel my doubt of her, for she pushed up suddenly
her sleeve with some trouble from one velvet-skinned arm and pushed it
up before my eyes. There was a deep dull crimson mark upon it the size
of a half-crown.

"Unbeliever! Look at this bruise."

I looked at it, then at her steadily.

"Suzee, did your husband make that bruise?"

"Yes. He pinched me so hard in a rage with me," she said a little
sulkily.

"Give me your arm," I said.

She held it out reluctantly. I looked at the bruise, then I rolled the
sleeve back a little farther, and in it found a heavy gold bangle with
a boss on one side corresponding with the size of the mark on the
flesh.

"I think it is the gold bracelet your kind old husband gave you that
you have pressed into the flesh," I said, "that has marked it. That is
about what his cruelty to you amounts to." I dropped her arm
contemptuously, and rose suddenly.

She had succeeded in dispelling for the moment the charm of her
beauty. Her prudery, her deceit, her lies made up to me a peculiarly
obnoxious mixture.

She sprang up, too, as I rose and threw herself on her knees,
clasping her arms round mine so that I could not move.

"Oh Treevor, I do love you so much. You are my real master, not he. A
woman loves a man who conquers her, but not by buying her. But because
he is better and stronger than she. Because he has great muscles, as
you have, and could kill her, and because she can't deceive him,
because he sees all her lies, as you do. Yes, Treevor, I love you now
very much indeed. Come here again, kiss me again."

But somehow her pleading did not move me. The moment when I had been
drawn to her had gone by, swallowed up in a feeling of disgust.

I stooped down and unlocked her hands and put her back among her
cushions.

"Good-bye, Suzee, for to-day," I said. "To-morrow I will come and take
you for a walk. You must let me go now. I do not want to stay any
longer."

She looked at me in silence, but did not offer to move from where I
had put her.

I gathered up my portfolio and left the room, went down the stairs and
through the passage and courtyard to the sun-filled street.

I went on slowly, and after a time found myself close to the church
again. I went in, for the interior interested me, and found service
was being held. A Russian priest, wholly in white clothing, stood
before the altar, the cross light from the aisle windows falling on
the long twist of fair hair that lay upon his shoulders. The whole air
was full of incense that rose in white clouds to the domed roof. I sat
down near the door and listened while the priest intoned a Latin hymn.
The figure of the young priest at the altar attracted me. I thought I
should like a sketch of it; but I hesitated to take one of him in the
church, even surreptitiously, so I fixed the picture of him as he
stood there on my eyes as far as I could, and then, in a convenient
pause of the service, quietly slipped outside.

Near the church was a great outcrop of rock surmounted by a
weather-beaten tree. In the shade thrown by these I got out a sheet of
loose paper and made a sketch of the fair, long-haired priest, with
the quaint frame building of the church, its green copper dome and
bell tower and double gold crosses behind him.

After I had been there some time I was suddenly surprised by Morley.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed. "You here? Why, I thought you would be in the
arms of the fair Suzee by this time."

"So I might have been," I answered, looking up from the sketch, "but I
got put off somehow, so I left her and went to church instead!"

Morley burst out laughing.

"You _are_ the funniest fellow," he exclaimed, taking his seat beside
me on the ground and clasping his hands round his knees. "So Suzee has
offended you, has she? Do you know, I think that's where we ordinary
people get ahead of fellows like you. You are too sensitive. We're not
so particular. When I'm stuck on Mary Ann it doesn't matter to me what
she says or does. It doesn't interfere with my happiness."

I went on painting in silence.

"Funny those chaps look with their long hair, don't they?" he remarked
after a moment, as I painted the light on the priest's long curl.

"Very picturesque, don't you think?" I said.

"No, I don't," returned the Briton stoutly. "I think it's beastly."

I laughed this time, and having completed the portrait, slipped it
into my portfolio and prepared to put away my paints.

"Don't you want any dinner?" asked Morley. "You must be hungry."

"Well, I hadn't thought of it," I answered. "But, now you mention it,
perhaps I am. Do you know of any place where one can get anything?"

"There's one place at the end of the town where you can have soup and
bread," replied Morley, and we started off to find it.

Later on, towards ten o'clock, when we were leaving the little, frame,
sailors' restaurant, I looked up to the western sky and saw that
strange colour in it of the Alaskan sunset that I have never found in
any other sky, a bright magenta, or deep heather pink, a crude colour
rather like an aniline dye, but brilliant and arresting in the clean,
clear gold of the heavens.

Great ribs and bars and long flat lines of it lay all across the West.
No other cloud, no other colour appeared anywhere in the sky. It was
painted in those two tints alone; the brightest magenta conceivable
and living gold.

Walking back slowly to the ship, I gazed at it with interest. No other
sky that I could recall ever shows this tone of colour. Pink, scarlet,
rose, and all the shades of blood or flame-colour are familiar in
every sunset, but this curious tint seemed to belong to Alaska alone.

I watched it glow and deepen, then fade, and softly disappear as the
sun dipped below the horizon.




CHAPTER III

IN THE WOOD


The next evening, after dinner, I left the ship and made my way to
Suzee's place to take her for the promised walk.

It was just seven when I stepped ashore, and light of the purest, most
exquisite gold lay over everything. The air had that special quality
of Alaska which I have never met anywhere else, an extreme humidity;
it hung upon the cheek as a mist hangs, only it was clear as crystal,
brilliant as a yellow diamond.

There was no wind, not a breath ruffled the stillness nor stirred the
motionless blue water.

The exquisite chain of islands off the mainland was mirrored in the
still, shining depths, and lifted their delicate outlines clothed with
fir and larch, soft as half-forgotten dreams, against the transparent
blue of the sky. Sitka was placid and restful, the streets quiet and
empty as I walked along in the sunny silence.

Suzee was at the door waiting for me. She had dressed herself
differently, entirely in yellow. The yellow silk of the little square
jacket contrasted well with her midnight hair, and the only dash of
other colour in the picture she presented was the blue stone in her
earrings.

"Good evening, Treevor," she said, smiling up at me. And I bent down
and pressed my lips to those little, soft, curved ones she put up for
me.

We started out at once. Suzee told me we were going for a long way to
see the wood, and had the important air of a person going on a lengthy
expedition. She had brought a Japanese sunshade with her which she put
up, and certainly the hot light falling through the rice-paper had a
wonderfully beautiful effect on her creamy skin and soft yellow silk
clothing. She walked easily, only with rather short steps. As she was
of the lower class, there had been no question of the "golden lilies"
or distortion of the feet for her, and they were small and prettily
shaped, bare, save for a sort of sandal, or as the Indians call them,
"guaraches," bound under the sole.

We passed up the main street and soon after turned into a narrow
winding road that leads along the coast, Sitka being on a promontory,
with a beautiful azure bay running inland behind it.

Our path ran sometimes inland, through portions of wood, part of that
great impenetrable primeval forest that at one time completely covered
the whole of Sitka, sometimes quite on the edge of the water. Here
there were rocks and boulders, and little coves of white sand and
stretches of miniature beaches, with the lip of the bay resting on
them.

Infinitesimal waves broke on the sunny white sand with a low musical
tinkle, across the bay one could see the delicate chain of islands
rising with their feathery trees into the blue, warding off the
breakers and the storms of the open sea beyond. In here, the peaceful
water murmured to itself and repeated tales of the beginning of the
world, of the first gold dawn that broke upon the earth, and of later
days, when the sombre black forests came to the water's edge and none
knew them but the great black bear, and when the seals played
joyously, undisturbed, in the fog-banks off the islands. I was in the
mood to appreciate deeply the beauty of the scene, and all the objects
round seemed to speak to me of their inner meaning, but my companion
was not at all moved by, nor interested in her surroundings. She
helped to make the picture more strange and lovely as she sat by me on
a rock, with her shining clothes and brilliant face under the gay
sunshade, but mentally she jarred on me by her complete indifference
to any influence of the scene. I almost wished I were alone here, to
sit upon this tremendous shore and dream.

"You are dull, Treevor," she exclaimed pettishly. "You really are."

I had kissed her twice in the last ten minutes, but she hated my eyes
to wander for a moment from her face to the sea. She hated the least
reference apparently to the landscape. As long as I was talking to
her and about her, admiring her dress or her hair, she was satisfied.

"Come along," she said impatiently; "let us go on to the wood, leave
off looking at that stupid sea."

I rose reluctantly and we followed the road which turned inland again.
The wood was a world of grey shadows. As we entered by a narrow trail
leading from the road, the golden day outside was soon closed from us
by the thick veils of hanging creeper and parasitical plants of all
sorts that entwined round the gnarled and aged trees, and crossing and
re-crossing from one to the other, netted them together.

Over the creepers again had grown grey-green lichens and long, shaggy
moss, so that strands and fringes of it fell on every side, filling
the interstices of the gigantic web that stretched from tree to tree,
excluding the light of the sunlit sky.

Beneath, the lower branches of the trees were sad and sodden,
overgrown with lichen, clogged with hanging wreaths of moss. A river
ran through the wood and at times, swelled by the melting snows,
burst, evidently, in roaring flood over its banks.

Everywhere there were traces of recent floods, roots washed bare and
places where the swirling waters had heaped up their débris of sticks
and mud-stained leaves. All along the damp ground the lowest branches
of the trees, weighted with tangled moss, trailed, broken and bruised
by the fierce rush of the current. The trees themselves seemed
centuries old, bent and gnarled and twisted into grotesque and ghostly
forms. In the dim twilight reigning here one could fancy one stood in
some hideous torture-chamber, surrounded by writhing and distorted
figures. There an elbow, there a withered arm, a fist clenched in
agony, seemed protruding from the sombre, sad-clothed trees, so
weirdly knotted and twisted were the old cinder-hued boughs.

As we neared the river we could hear it rushing by long before we
could see it, so thick was the undergrowth that hung low over it.

It seemed as if we might be approaching the black Styx through this
melancholy wood where all seemed weeping in torn veils and
ash-coloured garments.

No touch of depression affected my companion; she seemed as insensible
to the grey solemnity, the dim mystery of the wood, as she had been to
the vivid glory of the sea. She slipped a little velvet hand into
mine, and when we drew near to the hidden Styx, murmured softly:

"We will find a dry place, Treevor, on the other side, and sit down
among the trees. Then you must take me in your arms and I will be your
own Suzee. I do not want my old husband any more."

I stopped and looked down upon her. Not even the sad light could dim
the soft brilliance of her face. It seemed to bloom out of the ashy
shadows like an exquisite flower. Her eyes were wells of fire beneath
their velvet blackness.

"Do you love me very much?" I asked.

"Oh, yes, so much," she answered with passionate emphasis. "You are so
beautiful. Never have I seen any one so beautiful, and so tall and so
strong. Oh, it is _pain_ to me to love you so much."

And indeed she became quite white, as she drew her hand from mine and
clasped both of hers upon her breast as if to still some agony there.

My own heart beat hard. The grey wood seemed to lose its ashy tone and
become warm and rosy round us. I bent over her and took her up wholly
in my arms, and she laughed and threw hers around me in wild delight.

"Carry me, Treevor, over the bridge and up the slope at the side. It
is so nice to feel you carrying me."

It was no difficulty to carry her, and the waves of electricity from
her joyous little soul rushed through me till my arms and all the
veins of my body seemed alight and burning.

I ran with her, over the narrow bridge and up the slope, where, as she
said, there was drier ground. And there, on a bed of leaves under some
tangled branches, I fell on my knees with her still clasped to my
breast, and covered her small satin-skinned face with kisses.

"I am yours now. You must not let me go. I only want to look and look
at your face. I wish I could tell you how I love you. Oh, Treevor, I
can't tell you...."

As I looked down, breathless with running and kisses and the fires she
had kindled within me, I saw how her bosom heaved beneath the yellow
jacket, how all the delicate curves of her breast seemed broken up
with panting sighs and longing to express in words all that her body
expressed so much better.

"Darling, there is no need to tell me. I know." And I put my hand
round her soft column of throat, feeling all its quick pulses
throbbing hard into the palm of my hand.

"Put your head down on my heart, Treevor. Lie down beside me; now let
us think we have drunk a little opium, just a little, and we are going
to sleep through a long night together. Hush! What is that? Did you
hear anything?"

She lifted my hand from her throat and sat up, listening.

I had not heard anything. I had been too absorbed. All had vanished
now from me, except the fervent beauty of the girl before me.

The sea of desire had closed over my head, sealing the senses to
outside things; I drew her towards me impatiently.

"It is nothing," I murmured. "I heard nothing." But she sat up, gazing
straight across a small cleared space in front of us to where the
impenetrable thicket of undergrowth again stood forward like grey
screens between the twisted tree trunks.

"Yes, there was something; there, opposite! Look, something is
moving!" I followed her eyes and saw a strand of loose moss quiver and
heard a twig break in the quiet round us. We both watched the
undergrowth across the open space intently. For a second nothing
moved, then the boughs parted in front of us, and through the great
lichen streamers and rugged bands of grey-green moss depending from
them, peered an old, drawn-looking face.

Suzee gave a piercing shriek of dismay, and started to her feet.

"My husband!" she gasped.

I sprang to my feet, and my right hand went to my hip pocket. The head
pushed through the thicket, and a bent and aged form followed slowly.
I drew out my revolver, but the figure of the old man straightened
itself up and he waved his hand impatiently, as if deprecating
violence.

"Sir, I have come after my wife," he said, in a low, broken tone.

I slipped the weapon back in my pocket. I had had an idea that he
might attack Suzee, but voice and face showed he was in a different
mood.

Suzee clung to my hand on her knees, crying and trembling.

"Go and sit over there," he said peremptorily to her, pointing to the
other side of the glade, far enough from us to be out of hearing.

She did not move, only clung and shivered and wept as before.

I bent over her, loosening my hand.

"Do as he says," I whispered; "no harm can come to you while I am
here."

Suzee let go my fingers reluctantly and crept away, sobbing, to the
opposite edge of the thicket. The old Chinaman motioned me to sit
down. I did so, mechanically wondering whether his calmness was a ruse
under cover of which he would suddenly stab me. He sat down, too,
stiffly, beside me, resting on his heels, and his hard, wrinkled hands
supporting his withered face.

"Now," he said, in a thin old voice; "look at me! I am an old man, you
are a young one. You are strong, you are well; you are rich too, I
think." He looked critically over me. "You have everything that I have
not, already. Why do you come here to rob an old man of all he has in
this world?"

I felt myself colour with anger. All the blood in my body seemed to
rush to my head and stand singing in my ears.

I felt a furious impulse to knock him aside out of my way; but his age
and weakness held me motionless.

"All my youth, when I was strong and good-looking as you are now, and
women loved me, I worked hard like a slave, and starved and saved.
When others played I toiled, when they spent I hoarded up. What was I
saving for? That I might buy myself _that_." He waved his hand in the
direction of Suzee, sitting in a little crumpled heap against a
gnarled tree opposite us.

"I bought her," he went on with increasing excitement. "I bought her
from a woman who would have let her out, night by night, to
foreigners. I have given her a good home, she does no hard work. She
has a child, she has fine clothes. I work still all day and every day
that I may give money to her. She is my one joy, my treasure; don't
take her away from me, don't do it. You have all the world before you,
and all the women in it that are without husbands. Go to them, leave
me my wife in peace."

Tears were rolling fast down his face now, his clasped hands quivered
with emotion.

"When I was a young man I would not take any pleasure. No, pleasure
means money, and I was saving. When I am old I will buy, I said. It


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