"I'm not afraid with you. But if you go away Oh, I can't stand it. You
don't know - you don't know." She buried her face in her hands.
He had to swallow down his sympathy before he went on. "Yes, I know.
But you must be brave. You must think of every minute as being one
nearer to the time of my return."
"You will think me a dreadful coward, and I am. But I can't help it. I
AM afraid to stay alone. There's nothing in the world but mountains of
snow. They are horrible - like death - except when you are here."
Her child eyes coaxed him to stay. The mad longing was in him to kiss
the rosy little mouth with the queer alluring droop to its corners. It
was a strange thing how, with that arched twist to her eyebrows and
with that smile which came and went like sunshine in her eyes, she
toppled his lifelong creed. The cardinal tenet of his faith had been a
belief in strength. He had first been drawn to Virginia by reason of
her pluck and her power. Yet this child's very weakness was her
fountain of strength. She cried out with pain, and he counted it an
asset of virtue in her. She acknowledged herself a coward, and his
heart went out to her because of it. The battle assignments of life
were not for the soft curves and shy winsomeness of this dainty lamb.
"You will be brave. I expect you to be brave, lieutenant." Words of
love and comfort were crowding to his brain, but he would not let them
"How long will you be gone?" she sobbed.
"I may possibly get back before midnight, but you mustn't begin to
expect me until to-morrow morning, perhaps not till to-morrow
"Oh, I couldn't - I couldn't stay here at night alone. Don't go, please.
I'll not get hungry, truly I won't, and to-morrow they will find us."
He rose, his face working. "I MUST go, child. It's the thing to do. I
wish to Heaven it weren't. You must think of yourself as quite safe
here. You ARE safe. Don't make it hard for me to go, dear."
"I AM a coward. But I can't help it. There is so much snow - and the
mountains are so big." She tried valiantly to crush down her sobs. "But
go. I'll - I'll not be afraid."
He buried her little hands in his two big ones and looked deep into her
eyes. "Every minute of the time I am away from you I shall be with you
in spirit. You'll not be alone any minute of the day or night. Whether
you are awake or asleep I shall be with you."
"I'll try to remember that," she answered, smiling up at him but with a
She put him up some lunch while he made his simple preparations. To the
end of the trench she walked with him, neither of them saying a word.
The moment of parting had come.
She looked up at him with a crooked wavering little smile. She wanted
to be brave, but she could not trust herself to say a word.
"Remember, dear. I am not leaving you. My body has gone on an errand.
That is all."
Just now she found small comfort in this sophistry, but she did not
tell him so.
"I - I'll remember." She gulped down a sob and still smiled through the
mist that filmed her sight.
In his face she could see how much he was moved at her distress. Always
a creature of impulse, one mastered her now, the need to let her
weakness rest on his strength. Her arms slipped quickly round his neck
and her head lay buried on his shoulder. He held her tight, eyes
shining, the desire of her held in leash behind set teeth, the while
sobs shook her soft round body in gusts.
"My lamb - my sweet precious lamb," she heard him murmur in anguish.
From some deep sex trait it comforted her that he suffered. With the
mother instinct she began to regain control of herself that she might
"It will not be for long," she assured him. "And every step of your way
I shall pray for, your safety," she whispered.
He held her at arm's length while his gaze devoured her, then silently
he wheeled away and plunged waist deep into the drifts. As long as he
was in sight he saw her standing there, waving her handkerchief to him
in encouragement. Her slight, dark figure, outlined against the snow,
was the last thing his eyes fell upon before he turned a corner of the
gulch and dropped downward toward the plains.
But when he was surely gone, after one fearful look at the white sea
which encompassed her, the girl fled to the cabin, slammed the door
after her, and flung herself on the bed to weep out her lonely terror
in an ecstasy of tears. She had spent the first violence of her grief,
and was sitting crouched on the rug before the open fire when the sound
of a footstep, crunching the snow, startled her. The door opened, to
let in the man who had just left her.
"You are back - already," she cried, her tear? stained face lifted
"Yes," he smiled' from the doorway. "Come here, little partner."
And when she had obediently joined him her eye followed his finger up
the mountain-trail to a bend round which men and horses were coming.
"It's a relief-party," he said, and caught up his field-glasses to look
them over more certainly. Two men on horseback, leading a third animal,
were breaking a way down the trail, black spots against the background
of white. "I guess Fort Salvation's about to be relieved," he added
grimly, following the party through the glasses.
She touched the back of his hand with a finger. "Are you glad?" she
"No, by Heaven!" he cried, lowering his glasses swiftly.
As he looked into her eyes the blood rushed to his brain with a surge.
Her face turned to his unconsciously, and their lips met.
"And I don't even know your name," she murmured.
"Waring Ridgway; and yours?"
"Aline Hope," she said absently. Then a hot Rush ran over the girlish
face. "No, no, I had forgotten. I was married last week."
The gates of paradise, open for two days, clanged to on Ridgway. He
stared out with unseeing eyes into the silent wastes of snow. The
roaring in his ears and the mountainsides that churned before his eyes
were reflections of the blizzard raging within him.
"I'll never forget - never," he heard her falter, and her voice was a
thousand miles away.
From the storm within him he was aroused by a startled cry from the
girl at his side. Her fascinated gaze was fixed on the summit of the
ridge above them. There was a warning crackle. The overhanging comb
snapped, slid slowly down, and broke off. With gathering momentum it
descended, sweeping into its heart rocks, trees, and debris. A terrific
roar filled the air as the great white cloud came tearing down like an
Ridgway caught her round the waist and flung the girl against the wall
of the cabin, protecting her with his body. The avalanche was upon
them, splitting great trees to kindling-wood in the fury of its rush.
The concussion of the wind shattered every window to fragments, almost
tore the cabin from its foundations. Only the extreme tail of the slide
touched them, yet they were buried deep in flying snow.
He found no great difficulty in digging a way out, and when he lifted
her to the surface she was conscious. Yet she was pale even to the lips
and trembled like an aspen in the summer breeze, clinging to him for
His cheerful voice rang like a bugle to her shocked brain.
"It's all past. We're safe now, dear - quite safe."
The first of the trail-breakers had dismounted and was plowing his way
hurriedly to the cabin, but neither of them saw him as he came up the
"Are you sure?" She shuddered, her hands still in his. "Wasn't it
awful? I thought - " Her sentence trailed out unfinished.
"Are you unhurt, Aline?" cried the newcomer. And when he saw she was,
he added: "Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is
good: for His mercy endureth forever. He saved them for His name's
sake, that He might make His mighty power to be known."
At sound of the voice they turned and saw the man hurrying toward them.
He was tall, gray, and seventy, of massive frame and gaunt, still
straight and vigorous, with the hooked nose and piercing eyes of a
hawk. At first glance he looked always the bird of prey, but at the
next as invariably the wolf, an effect produced by the salient reaching
jaw and the glint of white teeth bared for a lip smile. Just now he was
touched to a rare emotion. His hands trembled and an expression of
shaken thankfulness rested in his face.
Aline, still with Ridgway's strong arms about her, slowly came back to
the inexorable facts of life.
"You - here?"
"As soon as we could get through - and thank God in time."
"I would have died, except for - " This brought her immediately to an
introduction, and after she had quietly released herself the man who
had saved her heard himself being formally presented: "Mr. Ridgway, I
want you to meet my husband, Mr. Harley."
Ridgway turned to Simon Harley a face of hammered steel and bowed,
putting his hands deliberately behind his back.
"I've been expecting you at Mesa, Mr. Harley," he said rigidly. "I'll
be glad to have the pleasure of welcoming you there."
The great financier was wondering where he had heard the man's name
before, but he only said gravely: "You have a claim on me I can never
forget, Mr. Ridgway."
Scornfully the other disdained this proffer. "Not at all. You owe me
nothing, Mr. Harley - absolutely nothing. What I have done I have done
for her. It is between her and me."
At this moment the mind of Harley fitted the name Ridgway to its niche
in his brain. So this was the audacious filibuster who had dared to
fire on the trust flag, the man he had come West to ruin and to humble.
"I think you will have to include me, Mr. Ridgway," he said suavely.
"What is done for my wife is done, also, for me."
CHAPTER 6. ON THE SNOW-TRAIL
Aline had passed into the house, moved by an instinct which shrank from
publicity in the inevitable personal meeting between her and her
husband. Now, Harley, with the cavalier nod of dismissal, which only a
multimillionaire can afford, followed her and closed the door. A
passionate rush of blood swept Ridgway's face. He saw red as he stood
there with eyes burning into that door which had been shut in his face.
The nails of his clenched fingers bit into his palms, and his muscles
gathered themselves tensely. He had been cast aside, barred from the
woman he loved by this septuagenarian, as carelessly as if he had no
And it came home to him that now he had no claim, none before the law
and society. They had walked in Arcadia where shepherds pipe. They had
taken life for granted as do the creatures of the woods, forgetful of
the edicts of a world that had seemed far and remote. But that world
had obtruded itself and shattered their dream. In the person of Simon
Harley it had shut the door which was to separate him and her. Hitherto
he had taken from life what he had wanted, but already he was grappling
with the blind fear of a fate for once too strong for him.
"Well, I'm damned if it isn't Waring Ridgway," called a mellow voice
from across the gulch.
The man named turned, and gradually the set lines of his jaw relaxed.
"I didn't notice it was you, Sam. Better bring the horses across this
side of that fringe of aspens."
The dismounted horseman followed directions and brought the floundering
horses through, and after leaving them in the cleared place where
Ridgway had cut his firewood he strolled leisurely forward to meet the
mine-owner. He was a youngish man, broad of shoulder and slender of
waist, a trifle bowed in the legs from much riding, but with an elastic
sufficiency that promised him the man for an emergency, a pledge which
his steady steel-blue eyes, with the humorous lines about the corners,
served to make more valuable. His apparel suggested the careless
efficiency of the cow-man, from the high-heeled boots into which were
thrust his corduroys to the broad-brimmed white Stetson set on his
sunreddened wavy hair. A man's man, one would vote him at first sight,
and subsequent impressions would not contradict the first.
"Didn't know you were down in this neck of woods, Waring," he said
pleasantly, as they shook hands.
An onlooker might have noticed that both of them gripped hands heartily
and looked each other squarely in the eye.
"I came down on business and got caught in the blizzard on my way back.
Came on her freezing in the machine and brought her here along with me.
I had my eye on that slide. The snow up there didn't look good to me,
and the grub was about out, anyhow, so I was heading for the C B Ranch
when I sighted you."
"Golden luck for her. I knew it was a chance in a million that she was
still alive, but Harley wanted to take it. Say, that old fellow's made
of steel wire. Two of my boys are plugging along a mile or two behind
us, but he stayed right with the game to a finish - and him
seventy-three, mind you, and a New Yorker at that. The old boy rides
like he was born in a saddle," said Sam Yesler with enthusiasm.
"I never said he was a quitter," conceded Ridgway ungraciously.
"You're right he ain't. And say, but he's fond of his wife. Soon as he
struck the ranch the old man butted out again into the blizzard to get
her - slipped out before we knew it. The boys rounded him up wandering
round the big pasture, and none too soon neither. All the time we had
to keep herd on him to keep him from taking another whirl at it. He was
like a crazy man to tackle it, though he must a-known it was suicide.
Funny how a man takes a shine to a woman and thinks the sun rises and
sets by her. Far, as I have been able to make out women are much of a
sameness, though I ain't setting up for a judge. Like as not this woman
don't care a hand's turn for him."
"Why should she? He bought her with his millions, I suppose. What right
has an old man like that with one foot in the grave to pick out a child
and marry her? I tell you, Sam, there's something ghastly about it."
"Oh, well, I reckon when she sold herself she knew what she was
getting. It's about an even thing - six of one and half a dozen of the
other. There must be something rotten about a woman who will do a thing
of that sort."
"Wait till you've seen her before passing judgment. And after you have
you'll apologize if you're a white man for thinking such a thing about
her," the miner said hotly.
Yesler looked at his friend in amiable surprise. "I don't reckon we
need to quarrel about Simon Harley's matrimonial affairs, do we?" he
"Not unless you want to say any harm of that lamb."
A glitter of mischief gleamed from the cattleman's eyes. "Meaning
"You know who I mean. I tell you she's an angel from heaven, pure as
the driven snow."
"And I tell you that I'll take your word for it without quarreling with
you," was the goodhumored retort. "What's up, anyhow? I never saw you
so touchy before. You're a regular pepper-box."
The rescuers had brought food with them, and the party ate lunch before
starting back. The cow-punchers of the C B had now joined them, both of
them, as well as their horses, very tired with the heavy travel.
"This here Marathon race business through three-foot snow ain't for
invalids like me and Husky," one of them said cheerfully, with his
mouth full of sandwich. "We're also rans, and don't even show for
Yet though two of them had, temporarily at least, been rescued from
imminent danger, and success beyond their expectations had met the
others, it was a silent party. A blanket of depression seemed to rest
upon it, which the good stories of Yesler and the genial nonsense of
his man, Chinn, were unable to lift. Three of them, at least, were
brooding over what the morning had brought forth, and trying to realize
what it might mean for them.
"We'd best be going, I expect," said Yesler at last. "We've got a right
heavy bit of work cut out for us, and the horses are through feeding.
We can't get started any too soon for me."
Ridgway nodded silently. He knew that the stockman was dubious, as he
himself was, about being able to make the return trip in safety. The
horses were tired; so, too, were the men who had broken the heavy trail
for so many miles, with the exception of Sam himself, who seemed built
of whipcord and elastic. They would be greatly encumbered by the woman,
for she would certainly give out during the journey. The one point in
their favor was that they could follow a trail which had already been
Simon Harley helped his wife into the boy's saddle on the back of the
animal they had led, but his inexperience had to give way to Yesler's
skill in fitting the stirrups to the proper length for her feet. To
Ridgway, who had held himself aloof during this preparation, the
stockman now turned with a wave of his hand toward his horse.
"You ride, Waring."
"No, I'm fresh."
"All right. We'll take turns."
Ridgway led the party across the gulch, following the trail that had
been swept by the slide. The cowboys followed him, next came Harley,
his wife, and in the rear the cattleman. They descended the draw, and
presently dipped over rolling ground to the plain beyond. The
procession plowed steadily forward mile after mile, the pomes
floundering through drifts after the man ahead.
Chinn, who had watched him breasting the soft heavy blanket that lay on
the ground so deep and hemmed them in, turned to his companion.
"On the way coming I told you, Husky, we had the best man in Montana at
our head. We got that beat now to a fare-you-well. We got the two best
in this party, by crickey."
"He's got the guts, all right, but there ain't nothing on two legs can
keep it up much longer," replied the other. "If you want to know, I'm
about all in myself."
"Here, too," grunted the other. "And so's the bronc."
It was not, however, until dusk was beginning to fall that the leader
stopped. Yesler's voice brought him up short in his tracks.
"Hold on, Waring. The lady's down."
Ridgway strode back past the exhausted cowboys and Harley, the latter
so beaten with fatigue that he could scarce cling to the pommel of his
"I saw it coming. She's been done for a long time, but she hung on like
a thoroughbred," explained Yesler from the snow-bank where Aline had
He had her in his arms and was trying to get at a flask of whisky in
"All right. I'll take care of her, Sam. You go ahead with your horse
and break trail. I don't like the way this wind is rising. It's wiping
out the path you made when you broke through. How far's the ranch now?"
"Close to five miles."
Both men had lowered their voices almost to a whisper.
"It's going to be a near thing, Sam. Your men are played out. Harley
will never make it without help. From now on every mile will be worse
than the last."
Yesler nodded quietly. "Some one has got to go ahead for help. That's
the only way."
"It will have to be you, of course. You know the road best and can get
back quickest. Better take her pony. It's the fittest."
The owner of the C B hesitated an instant before he answered. He was
the last man in the world to desert a comrade that was down, but his
common sense told him his friend had spoken wisely. The only chance for
the party was to get help to it from the ranch.
"All right. If anybody plays out beside her try to keep him going. If
it comes to a showdown leave him for me to pick up. Don't let him stop
the whole outfit."
"Sure. Better leave me that bottle of whisky. So-long."
"You're going to ride, I reckon?"
"Yes. I'll have to."
"Get up on my horse and I'll give her to you. That's right Well, I'll
see you later."
And with that the stockman was gone. For long they could see him,
plunging slowly forward through the drifts, getting always smaller and
smaller, till distance and the growing darkness swallowed him.
Presently the girl in Ridgway's arms opened her eyes.
"I heard what you and he said," she told him quietly.
"About what?" he smiled down into the white face that looked up into
"You know. About our danger. I'm not afraid, not the least little bit."
"You needn't be. We're coming through, all right. Sam will make it to
the ranch. He's a man in a million."
"I don't mean that. I'm not afraid, anyway, whether we do or not."
"Why?" he asked, his heart beating wildly.
"I don't know, but I'm not," she murmured with drowsy content.
But he knew if she did not. Her fear had passed because he was there,
holding her in his arms, fighting to the last ounce of power in him for
her life. She felt he would never leave her, and that, if it came to
the worst, she would pass from life with him close to her. Again he
knew that wild exultant beat of blood no woman before this one had ever
stirred in him.
Harley was the first to give up. He lurched forward and slipped from
the saddle to the snow, and could not be cursed into rising. The man
behind dismounted, put down his burden, and dragged the old man to his
"Here! This won't do. You've got to stick it out."
"I can't. I've reached my limit." Then testily: "'Are not my days few?
Cease then, and let me alone,'" he added wearily, with his everready
tag of Scripture.
The instant the other's hold on him relaxed the old man sank back.
Ridgway dragged him up and cuffed him like a troublesome child. He knew
this was no time for reasoning.
"Are you going to lie down and quit, you old loafer? I tell you the
ranch is only a mile or two. Here, get into the saddle."
By sheer strength the younger man hoisted him into the seat. He was
very tired himself, but the vital sap of youth in him still ran strong
in his blood. For a few yards farther they pushed on before Harley slid
down again and his horse stopped.
Ridgway passed him by, guiding his bronco in a half-circle through the
"I'll send back help for you," he promised.
"It will be too late, but save her - save her," the old man begged.
"I will," called back the other between set teeth.
Chinn was the next to drop out, and after him the one he called Husky.
Both their horses had been abandoned a mile or two back, too exhausted
to continue. Each of them Ridgway urged to stick to the trail and come
on as fast as they could.
He knew the horse he was riding could not much longer keep going with
the double weight, and when at length its strength gave out completely
he went on afoot, carrying her in his arms as on that eventful night
when he had saved her from the blizzard.
It was so the rescue-party found him, still staggering forward with her
like a man in a sleep, flesh and blood and muscles all protestant
against the cruelty of his indomitable will that urged them on in spite
of themselves. In a dream he heard Yesler's cheery voice, gave up his
burden to one of the rescuers, and found himself being lifted to a
fresh horse. From this dream he awakened to find himself before the
great fire of the living-room of the ranch-house, wakened from it only
long enough to know that somebody was undressing him and helping him
Nature, with her instinct for renewing life, saw to it that Ridgway
slept round the clock. He arose fit for anything. His body, hard as
nails, suffered no reaction from the terrific strain he had put upon
it, and he went down to his breakfast with an appetite ravenous for
whatever good things Yesler's Chinese cook might have prepared for him.
He found his host already at work on a juicy steak.
"Mornin'," nodded that gentleman. "Hope you feel as good as you look."
"I'm all right, barring a little stiffness in my muscles. I'll feel
good as the wheat when I've got outside of the twin steak to that one
Yesler touched a bell, whereupon a soft-footed Oriental appeared,
turned almond eyes on his proprietor, took orders and padded silently
back to his kingdom - the kitchen. Almost immediately he reappeared with
a bowl of oatmeal and a pitcher of cream.
"Go to it, Waring."
His host waved him the freedom of the diningroom, and Ridgway fell to.
Never before had food tasted so good. He had been too sleepy to eat
last night, but now he made amends. The steak, the muffins, the coffee,
were all beyond praise, and when he came to the buckwheat hot cakes,
sandwiched with butter and drenched with real maple syrup, his
satisfied soul rose up and called Hop Lee blessed. When he had
finished, Sam capped the climax by shoving toward him his case of
Ridgway's eyes glistened. "I haven't smoked for days," he explained,
and after the smoke had begun to rise, he added: "Ask what you will,
even to the half of my kingdom, it's yours."