Lon McFane was a bit grumpy, what of losing his tobacco pouch, or else he might have told me, before we got to it, something about the cabin at Surprise Lake. All day, turn and turn about, we had spelled each other at going to the fore and breaking trail for the dogs. It was heavy snowshoe work, and did not tend to make a man voluble, yet Lon McFane might have found breath enough at noon, when we stopped to boil coffee, with which to tell me. But he didn’t. Surprise Lake? it was Surprise Cabin to me. I had never heard of it before. I confess I was a bit tired. I had been looking for Lon to stop and make camp any time for an hour; but I had too much pride to suggest making camp or to ask him his intentions; and yet he was my man, lured at a handsome wage to mush my dogs for me and to obey my commands. I guess I was a bit grumpy myself. He said nothing, and I was resolved to ask nothing, even if we tramped on all night.
We came upon the cabin abruptly. For a week of trail we had met no one, and, in my mind, there had been little likelihood of meeting any one for a week to come. And yet there it was, right before my eyes, a cabin, with a dim light in the window and smoke curling up from the chimney.
“Why didn’t you tell me —” I began, but was interrupted by Lon, who muttered —
“Surprise Lake — it lies up a small feeder half a mile on. It’s only a pond.”
“Yes, but the cabin — who lives in it?”
“A woman,” was the answer, and the next moment Lon had rapped on the door, and a woman’s voice bade him enter.
“Have you seen Dave recently?” she asked.
“Nope,” Lon answered carelessly. “I’ve been in the other direction, down Circle City way. Dave’s up Dawson way, ain’t he?”
The woman nodded, and Lon fell to unharnessing the dogs, while I unlashed the sled and carried the camp outfit into the cabin. The cabin was a large, one-room affair, and the woman was evidently alone in it. She pointed to the stove, where water was already boiling, and Lon set about the preparation of supper, while I opened the fish-bag and fed the dogs. I looked for Lon to introduce us, and was vexed that he did not, for they were evidently old friends.
“You are Lon McFane, aren’t you?” I heard her ask him. “Why, I remember you now. The last time I saw you it was on a steamboat, wasn’t it? I remember . . . ”
Her speech seemed suddenly to be frozen by the spectacle of dread which, I knew, from the tenor I saw mounting in her eyes, must be on her inner vision. To my astonishment, Lon was affected by her words and manner. His face showed desperate, for all his voice sounded hearty and genial, as he said —
“The last time we met was at Dawson, Queen’s Jubilee, or Birthday, or something — don’t you remember? — the canoe races in the river, and the obstacle races down the main street?”
The terror faded out of her eyes and her whole body relaxed. “Oh, yes, I do remember,” she said. “And you won one of the canoe races.”
“How’s Dave been makin’ it lately? Strikin’ it as rich as ever, I suppose?” Lon asked, with apparent irrelevance.
She smiled and nodded, and then, noticing that I had unlashed the bed roll, she indicated the end of the cabin where I might spread it. Her own bunk, I noticed, was made up at the opposite end.
“I thought it was Dave coming when I heard your dogs,” she said.
After that she said nothing, contenting herself with watching Lon’s cooking operations, and listening the while as for the sound of dogs along the trail. I lay back on the blankets and smoked and watched. Here was mystery; I could make that much out, but no more could I make out. Why in the deuce hadn’t Lon given me the tip before we arrived? I looked at her face, unnoticed by her, and the longer I looked the harder it was to take my eyes away. It was a wonderfully beautiful face, unearthly, I may say, with a light in it or an expression or something “that was never on land or sea.” Fear and terror had completely vanished, and it was a placidly beautiful face — if by “placid” one can characterize that intangible and occult something that I cannot say was a radiance or a light any more than I can say it was an expression.
Abruptly, as if for the first time, she became aware of my presence.
“Have you seen Dave recently?” she asked me. It was on the tip of my tongue to say “Dave who?” when Lon coughed in the smoke that arose from the sizzling bacon. The bacon might have caused that cough, but I took it as a hint and left my question unasked. “No, I haven’t,” I answered. “I’m new in this part of the country —”
“But you don’t mean to say,” she interrupted, “that you’ve never heard of Dave — of Big Dave Walsh?”
“You see,” I apologised, “I’m new in the country. I’ve put in most of my time in the Lower Country, down Nome way.”
“Tell him about Dave,” she said to Lon.
Lon seemed put out, but he began in that hearty, genial manner that I had noticed before. It seemed a shade too hearty and genial, and it irritated me.
“Oh, Dave is a fine man,” he said. “He’s a man, every inch of him, and he stands six feet four in his socks. His word is as good as his bond. The man lies who ever says Dave told a lie, and that man will have to fight with me, too, as well — if there’s anything left of him when Dave gets done with him. For Dave is a fighter. Oh, yes, he’s a scrapper from way back. He got a grizzly with a ‘38 popgun. He got clawed some, but he knew what he was doin’. He went into the cave on purpose to get that grizzly. ‘Fraid of nothing. Free an’ easy with his money, or his last shirt an’ match when out of money. Why, he drained Surprise Lake here in three weeks an’ took out ninety thousand, didn’t he?” She flushed and nodded her head proudly. Through his recital she had followed every word with keenest interest. “An’ I must say,” Lon went on, “that I was disappointed sore on not meeting Dave here to-night.”
Lon served supper at one end of the table of whip-sawed spruce, and we fell to eating. A howling of the dogs took the woman to the door. She opened it an inch and listened.
“Where is Dave Walsh?” I asked, in an undertone.
“Dead,” Lon answered. “In hell, maybe. I don’t know. Shut up.”
“But you just said that you expected to meet him here to-night,” I challenged.
“Oh, shut up, can’t you,” was Lon’s reply, in the same cautious undertone.
The woman had closed the door and was returning, and I sat and meditated upon the fact that this man who told me to shut up received from me a salary of two hundred and fifty dollars a month and his board.
Lon washed the dishes, while I smoked and watched the woman. She seemed more beautiful than ever — strangely and weirdly beautiful, it is true. After looking at her steadfastly for five minutes, I was compelled to come back to the real world and to glance at Lon McFane. This enabled me to know, without discussion, that the woman, too, was real. At first I had taken her for the wife of Dave Walsh; but if Dave Walsh were dead, as Lon had said, then she could be only his widow.
It was early to bed, for we faced a long day on the morrow; and as Lon crawled in beside me under the blankets, I ventured a question.
“That woman’s crazy, isn’t she?”
“Crazy as a loon,” he answered.
And before I could formulate my next question, Lon McFane, I swear, was off to sleep. He always went to sleep that way — just crawled into the blankets, closed his eyes, and was off, a demure little heavy breathing rising on the air. Lon never snored.
And in the morning it was quick breakfast, feed the dogs, load the sled, and hit the trail. We said good-bye as we pulled out, and the woman stood in the doorway and watched us off. I carried the vision of her unearthly beauty away with me, just under my eyelids, and all I had to do, any time, was to close them and see her again. The way was unbroken, Surprise Lake being far off the travelled trails, and Lon and I took turn about at beating down the feathery snow with our big, webbed shoes so that the dogs could travel. “But you said you expected to meet Dave Walsh at the cabin,” trembled on the tip of my tongue a score of times. I did not utter it. I could wait until we knocked off in the middle of the day. And when the middle of the day came, we went right on, for, as Lon explained, there was a camp of moose hunters at the forks of the Teelee, and we could make there by dark. But we didn’t make there by dark, for Bright, the lead-dog, broke his shoulder-blade, and we lost an hour over him before we shot him. Then, crossing a timber jam on the frozen bed of the Teelee, the sled suffered a wrenching capsize, and it was a case of make camp and repair the runner. I cooked supper and fed the dogs while Lon made the repairs, and together we got in the night’s supply of ice and firewood. Then we sat on our blankets, our moccasins steaming on upended sticks before the fire, and had our evening smoke.
“You didn’t know her?” Lon queried suddenly. I shook my head.
“You noticed the colour of her hair and eyes and her complexion, well, that’s where she got her name — she was like the first warm glow of a golden sunrise. She was called Flush of Gold. Ever heard of her?”
Somewhere I had a confused and misty remembrance of having heard the name, yet it meant nothing to me. “Flush of Gold,” I repeated; “sounds like the name of a dance-house girl.” Lon shook his head. “No, she was a good woman, at least in that sense, though she sinned greatly just the same.”
“But why do you speak always of her in the past tense, as though she were dead?”
“Because of the darkness on her soul that is the same as the darkness of death. The Flush of Gold that I knew, that Dawson knew, and that Forty Mile knew before that, is dead. That dumb, lunatic creature we saw last night was not Flush of Gold.”
“And Dave?” I queried.
“He built that cabin,” Lon answered, “He built it for her . . . and for himself. He is dead. She is waiting for him there. She half believes he is not dead. But who can know the whim of a crazed mind? Maybe she wholly believes he is not dead. At any rate, she waits for him there in the cabin he built. Who would rouse the dead? Then who would rouse the living that are dead? Not I, and that is why I let on to expect to meet Dave Walsh there last night. I’ll bet a stack that I’d a been more surprised than she if I had met him there last night.”
“I do not understand,” I said. “Begin at the beginning, as a white man should, and tell me the whole tale.”
And Lon began. “Victor Chauvet was an old Frenchman — born in the south of France. He came to California in the days of gold. He was a pioneer. He found no gold, but, instead, became a maker of bottled sunshine — in short, a grape-grower and wine-maker. Also, he followed gold excitements. That is what brought him to Alaska in the early days, and over the Chilcoot and down the Yukon long before the Carmack strike. The old town site of Ten Mile was Chauvet’s. He carried the first mail into Arctic City. He staked those coal-mines on the Porcupine a dozen years ago. He grubstaked Loftus into the Nippennuck Country. Now it happened that Victor Chauvet was a good Catholic, loving two things in this world, wine and woman. Wine of all kinds he loved, but of woman, only one, and she was the mother of Marie Chauvet.”
Here I groaned aloud, having meditated beyond self-control over the fact that I paid this man two hundred and fifty dollars a month.
“What’s the matter now?” he demanded.
“Matter?” I complained. “I thought you were telling the story of Flush of Gold. I don’t want a biography of your old French wine-bibber.”
Lon calmly lighted his pipe, took one good puff, then put the pipe aside. “And you asked me to begin at the beginning,” he said.
“Yes,” said I; “the beginning.”
“And the beginning of Flush of Gold is the old French wine-bibber, for he was the father of Marie Chauvet, and Marie Chauvet was the Flush of Gold. What more do you want? Victor Chauvet never had much luck to speak of. He managed to live, and to get along, and to take good care of Marie, who resembled the one woman he had loved. He took very good care of her. Flush of Gold was the pet name he gave her. Flush of Gold Creek was named after her — Flush of Gold town site, too. The old man was great on town sites, only he never landed them.
“Now, honestly,” Lon said, with one of his lightning changes, “you’ve seen her, what do you think of her — of her looks, I mean? How does she strike your beauty sense?”
“She is remarkably beautiful,” I said. “I never saw anything like her in my life. In spite of the fact, last night, that I guessed she was mad, I could not keep my eyes off of her. It wasn’t curiosity. It was wonder, sheer wonder, she was so strangely beautiful.”
“She was more strangely beautiful before the darkness fell upon her,” Lon said softly. “She was truly the Flush of Gold. She turned all men’s hearts . . . and heads. She recalls, with an effort, that I once won a canoe race at Dawson — I, who once loved her, and was told by her of her love for me. It was her beauty that made all men love her. She’d ‘a’ got the apple from Paris, on application, and there wouldn’t have been any Trojan War, and to top it off she’d have thrown Paris down. And now she lives in darkness, and she who was always fickle, for the first time is constant — and constant to a shade, to a dead man she does not realize is dead.
“And this is the way it was. You remember what I said last night of Dave Walsh — Big Dave Walsh? He was all that I said, and more, many times more. He came into this country in the late eighties — that’s a pioneer for you. He was twenty years old then. He was a young bull. When he was twenty-five he could lift clear of the ground thirteen fifty-pound sacks of flour. At first, each fall of the year, famine drove him out. It was a lone land in those days. No river steamboats, no grub, nothing but salmon bellies and rabbit tracks. But after famine chased him out three years, he said he’d had enough of being chased; and the next year he stayed. He lived on straight meat when he was lucky enough to get it; he ate eleven dogs that winter; but he stayed. And the next winter he stayed, and the next. He never did leave the country again. He was a bull, a great bull. He could kill the strongest man in the country with hard work. He could outpack a Chilcat Indian, he could outpaddle a Stick, and he could travel all day with wet feet when the thermometer registered fifty below zero, and that’s going some, I tell you, for vitality. You’d freeze your feet at twenty-five below if you wet them and tried to keep on.
“Dave Walsh was a bull for strength. And yet he was soft and easy-natured. Anybody could do him, the latest short-horn in camp could lie his last dollar out of him. ‘But it doesn’t worry me,’ he had a way of laughing off his softness; ‘it doesn’t keep me awake nights.’ Now don’t get the idea that he had no backbone. You remember about the bear he went after with the popgun. When it came to fighting Dave was the blamedest ever. He was the limit, if by that I may describe his unlimitedness when he got into action, he was easy and kind with the weak, but the strong had to give trail when he went by. And he was a man that men liked, which is the finest word of all, a man’s man.
“Dave never took part in the big stampede to Dawson when Carmack made the Bonanza strike. You see, Dave was just then over on Mammon Creek strikin’ it himself. He discovered Mammon Creek. Cleaned eighty-four thousand up that winter, and opened up the claim so that it promised a couple of hundred thousand for the next winter. Then, summer bein’ on and the ground sloshy, he took a trip up the Yukon to Dawson to see what Carmack’s strike looked like. And there he saw Flush of Gold. I remember the night. I shall always remember. It was something sudden, and it makes one shiver to think of a strong man with all the strength withered out of him by one glance from the soft eyes of a weak, blond, female creature like Flush of Gold. It was at her dad’s cabin, old Victor Chauvet’s. Some friend had brought Dave along to talk over town sites on Mammon Creek. But little talking did he do, and what he did was mostly gibberish. I tell you the sight of Flush of Gold had sent Dave clean daffy. Old Victor Chauvet insisted after Dave left that he had been drunk. And so he had. He was drunk, but Flush of Gold was the strong drink that made him so.
“That settled it, that first glimpse he caught of her. He did not start back down the Yukon in a week, as he had intended. He lingered on a month, two months, all summer. And we who had suffered understood, and wondered what the outcome would be. Undoubtedly, in our minds, it seemed that Flush of Gold had met her master. And why not? There was romance sprinkled all over Dave Walsh. He was a Mammon King, he had made the Mammon Creek strike; he was an old sour dough, one of the oldest pioneers in the land — men turned to look at him when he went by, and said to one another in awed undertones, ‘There goes Dave Walsh.’ And why not? He stood six feet four; he had yellow hair himself that curled on his neck; and he was a bull — a yellow-maned bull just turned thirty-one.
“And Flush of Gold loved him, and, having danced him through a whole summer’s courtship, at the end their engagement was made known. The fall of the year was at hand, Dave had to be back for the winter’s work on Mammon Creek, and Flush of Gold refused to be married right away. Dave put Dusky Burns in charge of the Mammon Creek claim, and himself lingered on in Dawson. Little use. She wanted her freedom a while longer; she must have it, and she would not marry until next year. And so, on the first ice, Dave Walsh went alone down the Yukon behind his dogs, with the understanding that the marriage would take place when he arrived on the first steamboat of the next year.
“Now Dave was as true as the Pole Star, and she was as false as a magnetic needle in a cargo of loadstone. Dave was as steady and solid as she was fickle and fly-away, and in some way Dave, who never doubted anybody, doubted her. It was the jealousy of his love, perhaps, and maybe it was the message ticked off from her soul to his; but at any rate Dave was worried by fear of her inconstancy. He was afraid to trust her till the next year, he had so to trust her, and he was pretty well beside himself. Some of it I got from old Victor Chauvet afterwards, and from all that I have pieced together I conclude that there was something of a scene before Dave pulled north with his dogs. He stood up before the old Frenchman, with Flush of Gold beside him, and announced that they were plighted to each other. He was very dramatic, with fire in his eyes, old Victor said. He talked something about ‘until death do us part’; and old Victor especially remembered that at one place Dave took her by the shoulder with his great paw and almost shook her as he said: ‘Even unto death are you mine, and I would rise from the grave to claim you.’ Old Victor distinctly remembered those words ‘Even unto death are you mine, and I would rise from the grave to claim you.’ And he told me afterwards that Flush of Gold was pretty badly frightened, and that he afterwards took Dave to one side privately and told him that that wasn’t the way to hold Flush of Gold — that he must humour her and gentle her if he wanted to keep her.
“There is no discussion in my mind but that Flush of Gold was frightened. She was a savage herself in her treatment of men, while men had always treated her as a soft and tender and too utterly-utter something that must not be hurt. She didn’t know what harshness was . . . until Dave Walsh, standing his six feet four, a big bull, gripped her and pawed her and assured her that she was his until death, and then some. And besides, in Dawson, that winter, was a music-player — one of those macaroni-eating, greasy-tenor-Eye-talian-dago propositions — and Flush of Gold lost her heart to him. Maybe it was only fascination — I don’t know. Sometimes it seems to me that she really did love Dave Walsh. Perhaps it was because he had frightened her with that even-unto-death, rise-from-the-grave stunt of his that she in the end inclined to the dago music-player. But it is all guesswork, and the facts are, sufficient. He wasn’t a dago; he was a Russian count — this was straight; and he wasn’t a professional piano-player or anything of the sort. He played the violin and the piano, and he sang — sang well — but it was for his own pleasure and for the pleasure of those he sang for. He had money, too — and right here let me say that Flush of Gold never cared a rap for money. She was fickle, but she was never sordid.
“But to be getting along. She was plighted to Dave, and Dave was coming up on the first steamboat to get her — that was the summer of ‘98, and the first steamboat was to be expected the middle of June. And Flush of Gold was afraid to throw Dave down and face him afterwards. It was all planned suddenly. The Russian music-player, the Count, was her obedient slave. She planned it, I know. I learned as much from old Victor afterwards. The Count took his orders from her, and caught that first steamboat down. It was the Golden Rocket. And so did Flush of Gold catch it. And so did I. I was going to Circle City, and I was flabbergasted when I found Flush of Gold on board. I didn’t see her name down on the passenger list. She was with the Count fellow all the time, happy and smiling, and I noticed that the Count fellow was down on the list as having his wife along. There it was, state-room, number, and all. The first I knew that he was married, only I didn’t see anything of the wife . . . unless Flush of Gold was so counted. I wondered if they’d got married ashore before starting. There’d been talk about them in Dawson, you see, and bets had been laid that the Count fellow had cut Dave out.
“I talked with the purser. He didn’t know anything more about it than I did; he didn’t know Flush of Gold, anyway, and besides, he was almost rushed to death. You know what a Yukon steamboat is, but you can’t guess what the Golden Rocket was when it left Dawson that June of 1898. She was a hummer. Being the first steamer out, she carried all the scurvy patients and hospital wrecks. Then she must have carried a couple of millions of Klondike dust and nuggets, to say nothing of a packed and jammed passenger list, deck passengers galore, and bucks and squaws and dogs without end. And she was loaded down to the guards with freight and baggage. There was a mountain of the same on the fore-lower-deck, and each little stop along the way added to it. I saw the box come aboard at Teelee Portage, and I knew it for what it was, though I little guessed the joker that was in it. And they piled it on top of everything else on the fore-lower-deck, and they didn’t pile it any too securely either. The mate expected to come back to it again, and then forgot about it. I thought at the time that there was something familiar about the big husky dog that climbed over the baggage and freight and lay down next to the box. And then we passed the Glendale, bound up for Dawson. As she saluted us, I thought of Dave on board of her and hurrying to Dawson to Flush of Gold. I turned and looked at her where she stood by the rail. Her eyes were bright, but she looked a bit frightened by the sight of the other steamer, and she was leaning closely to the Count fellow as for protection. She needn’t have leaned so safely against him, and I needn’t have been so sure of a disappointed Dave Walsh arriving at Dawson. For Dave Walsh wasn’t on the Glendale. There were a lot of things I didn’t know, but was soon to know — for instance, that the pair were not yet married. Inside half an hour preparations for the marriage took place. What of the sick men in the main cabin, and of the crowded condition of the Golden Rocket, the likeliest place for the ceremony was found forward, on the lower deck, in an open space next to the rail and gang-plank and shaded by the mountain of freight with the big box on top and the sleeping dog beside it. There was a missionary on board, getting off at Eagle City, which was the next step, so they had to use him quick. That’s what they’d planned to do, get married on the boat.
“But I’ve run ahead of the facts. The reason Dave Walsh wasn’t on the Glendale was because he was on the Golden Rocket. It was this way. After loiterin’ in Dawson on account of Flush of Gold, he went down to Mammon Creek on the ice. And there he found Dusky Burns doing so well with the claim, there was no need for him to be around. So he put some grub on the sled, harnessed the dogs, took an Indian along, and pulled out for Surprise Lake. He always had a liking for that section. Maybe you don’t know how the creek turned out to be a four-flusher; but the prospects were good at the time, and Dave proceeded to build his cabin and hers. That’s the cabin we slept in. After he finished it, he went off on a moose hunt to the forks of the Teelee, takin’ the Indian along.
“And this is what happened. Came on a cold snap. The juice went down forty, fifty, sixty below zero. I remember that snap — I was at Forty Mile; and I remember the very day. At eleven o’clock in the morning the spirit thermometer at the N. A. T. & T. Company’s store went down to seventy-five below zero. And that morning, near the forks of the Teelee, Dave Walsh was out after moose with that blessed Indian of his. I got it all from the Indian afterwards — we made a trip over the ice together to Dyea. That morning Mr. Indian broke through the ice and wet himself to the waist. Of course he began to freeze right away. The proper thing was to build a fire. But Dave Walsh was a bull. It was only half a mile to camp, where a fire was already burning. What was the good of building another? He threw Mr. Indian over his shoulder — and ran with him — half a mile — with the thermometer at seventy-five below. You know what that means. Suicide. There’s no other name for it. Why, that buck Indian weighed over two hundred himself, and Dave ran half a mile with him. Of course he froze his lungs. Must have frozen them near solid. It was a tomfool trick for any man to do. And anyway, after lingering horribly for several weeks, Dave Walsh died.
“The Indian didn’t know what to do with the corpse. Ordinarily he’d have buried him and let it go at that. But he knew that Dave Walsh was a big man, worth lots of money, a hi-yu skookum chief. Likewise he’d seen the bodies of other hi-yu skookums carted around the country like they were worth something. So he decided to take Dave’s body to Forty Mile, which was Dave’s headquarters. You know how the ice is on the grass roots in this country — well, the Indian planted Dave under a foot of soil — in short, he put Dave on ice. Dave could have stayed there a thousand years and still been the same old Dave. You understand — just the same as a refrigerator. Then the Indian brings over a whipsaw from the cabin at Surprise Lake and makes lumber enough for the box. Also, waiting for the thaw, he goes out and shoots about ten thousand pounds of moose. This he keeps on ice, too. Came the thaw. The Teelee broke. He built a raft and loaded it with the meat, the big box with Dave inside, and Dave’s team of dogs, and away they went down the Teelee.
“The raft got caught on a timber jam and hung up two days. It was scorching hot weather, and Mr. Indian nearly lost his moose meat. So when he got to Teelee Portage he figured a steamboat would get to Forty Mile quicker than his raft. He transferred his cargo, and there you are, fore-lower deck of the Golden Rocket, Flush of Gold being married, and Dave Walsh in his big box casting the shade for her. And there’s one thing I clean forgot. No wonder I thought the husky dog that came aboard at Teelee Portage was familiar. It was Pee-lat, Dave Walsh’s lead-dog and favourite — a terrible fighter, too. He was lying down beside the box.
“Flush of Gold caught sight of me, called me over, shook hands with me, and introduced me to the Count. She was beautiful. I was as mad for her then as ever. She smiled into my eyes and said I must sign as one of the witnesses. And there was no refusing her. She was ever a child, cruel as children are cruel. Also, she told me she was in possession of the only two bottles of champagne in Dawson — or that had been in Dawson the night before; and before I knew it I was scheduled to drink her and the Count’s health. Everybody crowded round, the captain of the steamboat, very prominent, trying to ring in on the wine, I guess. It was a funny wedding. On the upper deck the hospital wrecks, with various feet in the grave, gathered and looked down to see. There were Indians all jammed in the circle, too, big bucks, and their squaws and kids, to say nothing of about twenty-five snarling wolf-dogs. The missionary lined the two of them up and started in with the service. And just then a dog-fight started, high up on the pile of freight — Pee-lat lying beside the big box, and a white-haired brute belonging to one of the Indians. The fight wasn’t explosive at all. The brutes just snarled at each other from a distance — tapping at each other long-distance, you know, saying dast and dassent, dast and dassent. The noise was rather disturbing, but you could hear the missionary’s voice above it.
“There was no particularly easy way of getting at the two dogs, except from the other side of the pile. But nobody was on that side — everybody watching the ceremony, you see. Even then everything might have been all right if the captain hadn’t thrown a club at the dogs. That was what precipitated everything. As I say, if the captain hadn’t thrown that club, nothing might have happened.
“The missionary had just reached the point where he was saying ‘In sickness and in health,’ and ‘Till death us do part.’ And just then the captain threw the club. I saw the whole thing. It landed on Pee-lat, and at that instant the white brute jumped him. The club caused it. Their two bodies struck the box, and it began to slide, its lower end tilting down. It was a long oblong box, and it slid down slowly until it reached the perpendicular, when it came down on the run. The onlookers on that side the circle had time to get out from under. Flush of Gold and the Count, on the opposite side of the circle, were facing the box; the missionary had his back to it. The box must have fallen ten feet straight up and down, and it hit end on.
“Now mind you, not one of us knew that Dave Walsh was dead. We thought he was on the Glendale, bound for Dawson. The missionary had edged off to one side, and so Flush of Gold faced the box when it struck. It was like in a play. It couldn’t have been better planned. It struck on end, and on the right end; the whole front of the box came off; and out swept Dave Walsh on his feet, partly wrapped in a blanket, his yellow hair flying and showing bright in the sun. Right out of the box, on his feet, he swept upon Flush of Gold. She didn’t know he was dead, but it was unmistakable, after hanging up two days on a timber jam, that he was rising all right from the dead to claim her. Possibly that is what she thought. At any rate, the sight froze her. She couldn’t move. She just sort of wilted and watched Dave Walsh coming for her! And he got her. It looked almost as though he threw his arms around her, but whether or not this happened, down to the deck they went together. We had to drag Dave Walsh’s body clear before we could get hold of her. She was in a faint, but it would have been just as well if she had never come out of that faint; for when she did, she fell to screaming the way insane people do. She kept it up for hours, till she was exhausted. Oh, yes, she recovered. You saw her last night, and know how much recovered she is. She is not violent, it is true, but she lives in darkness. She believes that she is waiting for Dave Walsh, and so she waits in the cabin he built for her. She is no longer fickle. It is nine years now that she has been faithful to Dave Walsh, and the outlook is that she’ll be faithful to him to the end.”
Lon McFane pulled down the top of the blankets and prepared to crawl in.
“We have her grub hauled to her each year,” he added, “and in general keep an eye on her. Last night was the first time she ever recognized me, though.”
“Who are the we?” I asked.
“Oh,” was the answer, “the Count and old Victor Chauvet and me. Do you know, I think the Count is the one to be really sorry for. Dave Walsh never did know that she was false to him. And she does not suffer. Her darkness is merciful to her.”
I lay silently under the blankets for the space of a minute.
“Is the Count still in the country?” I asked.
But there was a gentle sound of heavy breathing, and I knew Lon McFane was asleep.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11