Glen of the High North by H. A. Cody
Chapter IV. Beyond the Great White Pass
The train was on the point of pulling out from the little coast town of Skagway on its run inland of one hundred and ten miles. There had been much bustle and excitement ever since the steamer landed early that morning. But now everything was in readiness, the signal had been given, and the train began to move.
Reynolds was comfortably seated and looking out of the open window, when Frontier Samson came and sat down by his side. The old prospector was much out of breath and panting heavily.
"I nearly missed the train," he explained. "She was movin' when I swung on board."
"Sight-seeing, eh?" Reynolds queried.
"That's about it, I guess. Watchin' a mix-up, an' gittin' Curly out of a scrape. That's what delayed me."
"What was the trouble?"
"Oh, the same old story. Curly kin never mind his own bizness. He's allus pokin' his nose into other people's affairs. He's too sassy."
"Where is he now?"
"In the smoker. I had to drag him along with me, an' that's what made me late."
"Why didn't you leave him behind?"
"I should have done that. But it's the Brotherhood, ye see, that made me do it. That feller ain't safe runnin' at large, an' somebody's got to keep an eye on him, 'specially up here."
"It seems to me that you have undertaken a big task," and Reynolds smiled.
"Indeed I have an' no one knows that better'n me. If I had my way, he'd be shipped off to some Penitentiary. That's the right place for the likes of him. An' he'll land thar some day, as sure as guns. But in the meantime somebody's got to watch him."
Reynolds made no reply. In fact, he hardly heard his companion's last words, for his eyes were riveted upon the wonderful sights around him. Above towered the peaks of the White Pass Range, grand and majestic. Away to the left, and far above, could be seen the railway track, twisting along the mountain side like a thin dark thread. It seemed incredible that the train could make such a tremendous climb.
"Do we go up there?" he asked in amazement.
"Sure. We'll be thar in a short time, but it takes four engines, though, to tug us up. Then ye'll see something that'll make ye wonder. Guess thar's nuthin' like it in the hull world. We'll go up three thousand feet, an' it'll be the nearest to heaven that some of the chaps on this train'll ever be. Jist look at that, now!"
Reynolds was indeed looking. Far down below a few cabins appeared like little toy houses, while away beyond could be seen the blue cold waters of the North Pacific. The air was becoming keen. But it was bracing and stimulating.
"Say, I'd like to paint that!" he mused half aloud. "It is grand, stupendous, appalling! And what a work to build this road! How was it ever done!"
"It sartinly was, young man. It cost a mint of money, to say nuthin' of the lives sacrificed. Thar was some mighty bad accidents on this bit of road, though thar was some funny ones, too. I often have a good laugh to meself whenever I think of one of the stories that was told."
"What was it?" Reynolds asked. He was interested in everything now.
"Wall, ye see, the company that built this road was considered mighty mean, an' ground the men down to the last cent. One day a big blast went off before its time, an' a feller was blown high into the air. Everybody thought fer sure that thar wouldn't be a speck of him left. But strange to say, in about fifteen minutes he came down pat on his feet, an' but fer a few bruises an' a bad shakin' up he was as chipper as ye please. He got another shock, though, at the end of the week which nearly put him out of bizness."
The old man paused, and a smile overspread his face as he gazed thoughtfully out of the window.
"Yes," he continued, "it sartinly was some shock, an' no mistake. When he went to the office to be paid fer his week's work, he found that the company had docked him two-bits fer the fifteen minutes he was absent on that air-trip when the blast went off. Now, what d'ye think of that?"
"Close shaving, I should say," was the reply. "It's a good yarn, though, and worth remembering. But, my, isn't that a wonderful sight!" And Reynolds motioned to the great mountains away in the distance. "We seem to be surrounded by them."
"So we are, young man. Ye can't escape 'em in the north any more'n ye kin git clear of the sky-scrapers in New York. But them over thar are the work of the Almighty, an' a grand job He made of 'em. This hull land reminds me of a big cathedral; the woods an' valleys are the aisles, an' the mountains are the spires pointin' man to heaven. I tell ye, it's a great place out alone on the hills to worship. Yer not cramped thar, an' it doesn't matter what kind of clothes ye have on. It's wonderful the sights ye see an' the things ye hear. Talk about music! Why, ye have the finest in the world when nature's big organ gits to work, 'specially at night. I've shivered from head to toe when the wind was rippin' an' roarin' through the woods, down the valleys, an' along the mountain passes. That's the music fer me!"
"You seem to love this country," Reynolds remarked, as he noted the intense admiration upon his companion's face.
"I sartinly do, young man. It grips me jist as soon as I cross this range. Thar's nuthin' like it to my way of thinkin', though it takes ye years to find it out. Yet, it doesn't altogether satisfy the soul, although it helps. Thar's something within a man that needs more'n the mountains an' the wonderful things around him. But, thar, I must see what Curly's doin'. He may be up to some more mischief."
Although Reynolds was much interested in the scenery and in listening to the philosophy of the old prospector, yet his mind turned continually to Glen, for it was by that name he now thought of her. He knew that she was on the train, for he had seen her as she stepped aboard but a few minutes before it left the coast. She had passed close to where he was standing, carrying a grip in her hand. He had caught sight of the leather tag fastened to the handle of the grip, and had strained his eyes in a futile effort to read the name written thereon. He was determined in some manner to find out what that name was, as he feared lest he should lose her altogether when the journey by rail was ended. He must have something more definite than the one word Glen.
This opportunity was afforded him when he entered the principal hotel of the little town of Whitehorse at the terminus of the railway. It was just across the street from the station, and when he arrived at the office she was there before him, and about to enter her name in the hotel register. He stood by her side and watched her write. It was a firm sun-browned hand that held the pen, and she wrote in a rapid business-like way. "Glen Weston" were the only words Reynolds saw there as he wrote his own name a minute later below hers. She had not even mentioned where she was from--that space was left blank. He also noticed that the hotel clerk seemed to know who she was, for he was more affable to her than to anyone else. She asked him if her father had yet arrived, and she appeared disappointed when he answered in the negative.
The name "Glen Weston" kept running through Reynolds' mind all that evening. He liked it, and it suited her admirably, so he thought. But who was she, and where was she going? That was what he wished to know.
The town of Whitehorse was of considerable interest to Reynolds as he strolled that evening through its various streets. It was a surprise to him as well, for he had not expected to find such a settled community. He had imagined that all such towns in the north were wild and almost lawless places, abounding in desperate characters, ready to shoot on the slightest provocation. But here all was order, and it was little different from one of the many small conventional towns in Eastern Canada. There were several up-to-date stores, a large post office, bank, churches, and comfortable dwelling houses, though many of the latter were built of logs. The Royal Northwest Mounted Police had their large barracks at the rear of the town under the brow of a high hill, where all day long the flag of the clustered crosses floated from its tall white staff in the centre of the square.
It was the time of year when the light of day reaches far into the night, and deep darkness is unknown. The sun merely dips for a few hours below the mountain Crests, and skims along the horizon, thus illuminating the western sky, and holding back the heavy draperies of night. The light on the far-off ranges and the glory of the distant heavens fascinated Reynolds. He had beheld many beautiful sunsets, but never such a one as this, and his entire soul was stirred within him.
Leaving the level of the town, he climbed the hill, and there on the edge of the steep bank he feasted his eyes upon the wonderful panorama stretched out before him. Like a silver thread the river wound its sinuous way between its steep banks, and faded from view amidst its setting of dark firs and jack-pines; around rose the mountains, their great sides either bathed in the glow of evening, or lying sombre and grim, telling of crouching valleys and funnel-like draws from which the light of day had retreated. And below lay the little town, silent save for the occasional bark of a dog, or the shrill voices of children away to the right.
For some time Reynolds remained here. He was in no hurry to go elsewhere, for the evening was mild and conducive to thought. There was nothing to take him back to the hotel, and he preferred to be out of doors. Just what he was to do next he had no clear idea. He knew that somewhere out from this town was the new mining camp for which he had started. But where it was and how to reach it he had not the faintest knowledge. In truth, he had never been sufficiently interested to make any inquiries, even from Frontier Samson. What had become of the prospector, he wondered, as he had not seen him since his arrival in town. And where was Glen? He had followed her this far, and was he to lose her after all? She had aroused him to action, and caused him to take this long and apparently foolish journey. But he had not spoken a word to her, and so far as he knew she was totally unaware of his existence. He smiled at the thought, and wondered what his friend, the editor, would say if he knew of it. And what about his search for the missing man, Henry Redmond? Instead of throwing himself earnestly and actively into the quest he was frittering away his time, following the will-o'-the-wisp of a fancy, and going daft over a mere slip of a girl who moved serenely apart from his world of thought and being. He called himself a fool and chided himself over and over again. But for all that, he was unable to tear her out of his heart and mind. She seemed to belong to him, and to no one else.
"I believe that my experiences in France have affected my brain," he muttered, as he at length rose to his feet. "I am sure I was not like this before the war. But here I am now dazzled and mystified by a fair face, a pair of sparkling eyes, and the charm of a name. This will never do. I must shake off this fascination, or I shall be good for nothing."
He walked rapidly down the hill, and then along a trail that wound through a thicket of small fir trees. This brought him in a few minutes to one of the streets leading straight to the river. He walked slower now, much interested in the quaint log houses, with here and there a miner's or a prospector's tent. Presently he saw before him a large building, with galvanized roof and sides. People were entering the place, and drawing nearer, the sound of music fell upon his ears. A band was playing, he could easily tell, and it was dancing music at that.
Reaching the building, Reynolds paused and listened. The music was good, the best he had heard in a long time. Through an open door he could see men playing billiards and pool. It was a lively and an attractive scene, which caused him to enter and stand for a while near the door watching the games. No one paid any attention to him, and from what he observed there were others like himself, strangers, who found the time hanging heavily on their hands, and had dropped into the place for the sake of companionship. There were several large tables, and these were all occupied by eager players. Nearby was a bar, where drinks of various kinds were being served. The room was brilliantly lighted by electricity, and the whole atmosphere of the place was most congenial.
At one end of the billiard room were two doors, and here a number of people were standing watching the dancing that was going on in the main part of the building. Reynolds presently joined them, and he was greatly surprised at the size of the room, and the number of people upon the floor. There was a gallery immediately overhead, and here the band was placed.
For a few minutes Reynolds stood and watched the dancers in a somewhat indifferent manner. He learned from a man standing by his side that this building belonged to a town club, and that such dances were not uncommon, at which most of the people attended.
At first Reynolds could not recognize anyone he knew, but as he watched, he gave a great start, for there but a short distance away was Glen, and her partner was none other than the rascal, Curly. He could hardly believe his eyes, and he followed them most intently as they moved about the room. He felt certain now that Glen was the girl mentioned by Curly on the steamer in his conversation with Frontier Samson. He had found her, and was it to her liking? he wondered. He recalled her pale face and agitated manner as Curly boarded the vessel along the coast. Was he the cause of her distress, or was it someone else? It seemed then as if she wished to keep clear of the fellow, and her seclusion during the remainder of the voyage lent color to this idea. But here she was dancing with him, and apparently enjoying herself. All this puzzled Reynolds as he stood there, unheeding everything else save those special two.
When the music ceased, Glen and Curly walked across the room and sat down but a short distance from the door. Reynolds could see the girl's face most plainly now, and he could tell at a glance that she was unhappy. Curly, on the other hand, was very animated and did all of the talking. He was speaking in a low voice and seemed very much in earnest. Occasionally the girl shook her head, and looked uneasily around as if fearful lest someone should overhear what was being said. At length, however, as she glanced to her right, her face brightened, and the light of joy leaped into her eyes. Reynolds also turned his head, and he was surprised to see, standing not far away, a tall and powerfully-built Indian. Where he had come from Reynolds had not the least idea, but there he was, clad in a soft buckskin suit, motionless, and heeding no one except the young girl sitting by Curly's side. His placid face relaxed a little, however, as Glen moved swiftly to where he was standing and spoke to him in a low voice. The Indian merely nodded in reply, and without even glancing around upon the curious watchers in the room, he at once followed the girl as she passed out of the building through a side door which opened upon the street.