The Mountain Decides
Grim Nature weighs a man's great love against his paralyzing fear
SHE could not resist stopping once more at the window to fill her lungs with the crisp, sweet air, and her eyes grew misty as they devoured the mountains’ awesome loveliness: the thundering Bow river, jade green, filigreed with silver and ridden by foaming crests, that swept her rapt gaze on to timbered slopes, with glaciers creeping down them, to range on range of mighty ridges, blotched with snow and soaring dizzily to silver crags and pinnacles, chaste against the inviolable turquoise.
Her breast rose, and she flung back her head in ecstasy. Ahhh!
Freedom. Beauty. Delectable words.’ Dreamed of, hungered for, fought for, despaired of, and it last, in the teeth of everything. realized ... for three short weeks. And one of them was gone.
As the cool fragrance of the pine-clad wilderness embraced her. she threw off her kimono that it might caress her wholly.
She was a thing to delight the eye. Delicate and slender: mauve mules; slim, stockinged legs, gaygartered: intimate garments so beloved of the heart of woman, all of sheer silk and bought by months -no, years —of fierce denial.
Oh, if this loveliness, the freedom and the sweet companionship of the week past could go on forever! The dingy roominghouse in which she lived, the barren round of street-car, office, street-car. boredom, seemed in retrospect like Hades.
If only she possessed no conscience: if she could but bring herself to handle this new problem in the ruthless, singleminded spirit she had used to bring about her tiny, perfect holiday. But she could not. To her dismay she realized she did not know whether she cared, whether she could care, for this Garth Rhodes, in the way she knew she must, if ever she could give herself in happiness to any man.
He would ask her soon, she was sure—she always knew when they were going to propose —and she wanted to say ‘yes’, she knew that, too. Never to interrupt this glorious round of days, to go on, on and on, to all the joys he drew for her.
But did she want to marry him? To be h¡3 wife. Husband and wife . . . ever and ever . . children . . .
The words danced between her and the mountain ® 3^e want him? Would she have wanted him
i he had happened to be poor? Or was she merely willing o accept him as a foregone adjunct of the happiness he eld in his gift? She could not answer. She only knew sne wanted to keep on, not to go back to the barren round from which 3he came.
A pure Irish temperament, dominated by a stern upbnnging in her dead mother’s sister’s home, and chastened by six years as stenographer to the ever changing salesmen of a dry-goods house, had born in her a cagy caution, a profound distrust of all things, including her own motives.
As she finished her unpacking she catechised herself unmercifully.
He was altogether delightful, she was certain. And he was terrifyingly in love with her. Though he had not yet declared himself, since they had met casually on the tram at Montreal, he had pursued her heart with all the means at the disposal of a cultured and sophisticated gentleman, drawing her golden pictures of what life ould be, watching her every whim that he might gratify
it, and above all evidencing a profound sympathy for those illogical but so important vagaries of a woman’s heart . . .
One by one she put her things away, knowing for the first time in her life the joy of properly appointed quarters. She remembered the purchasing of every article; each exquisite, each bought at a skinflint bargain, that her equipment for this one fruition of her life should be impeccable. She laid out the dinner gown of daffodil chiffon, thinking, with a small catch in her throat, how for months she had watched it, while the price crept down and down, for the last while almost agonising lest so wonderful a bargain be snapped up before it came within her meagre scope.
She bathed and dressed, each step a ceremony to be enjoyed to the full, because drab years loomed near, and memories must serve her then.
When all was done she stood before her mirror—and was satisfied; a slim, straight form, not short, nor lacking the sweet curves of womanhood, the gown of living
yellow with black shoes and hose a perfect foil for her; a face from a Luxor tomb, small, hollow-cheeked and dark, the skin like cream, the short, soft hair a dusky halo.
Though men, such men as she could meet, had always pursued her, in the drab setting of her work and home she had not dreamed she was so lovely. She went to the window again, breathing deep and stretching bare arms above her in a sort of anguished ecstasy—the eternal woman suppliant before the inexorable cosmos. Then she turned and went out swiftly.
Rhodes was waiting on the terrace, his slight, tall figure in its faultless dinner clothes bent somewhat from the crossing of his hands behind him, and his face lit eagerly as he saw her come.
He eyed her for a long moment. “You make me think of black cats, daffodils and ivory,” he said. Then, with a quick intensifying of his tone that made her heart leap “D’you know how beautiful you are?” She had colored at his ardor, and her eyes fell. “I—didn’t. But I think I do, now ...” She raised her head, and was surprised to catch a tiny shade of pain upon him.
A lean, pale face, lips curved and sensitive, almost beautiful, a high-bridged nose that in another face might have been hawkish, sunk cheeks, with pale gold hair, but, dominating it all, two warm gray eyes, serene and gentle, that met hers quite unwaveringly, but in which as her flush deepened there sprang a swift, hot flame.
But he smiled at once, pointing to the lovely valley of the Bow with the bright river winding in majestic sweeps to where the ridges heaved.
“I never saw anything like that intense violet haze that seems to hang in all the distances. I wonder if it’s because the air’s so clear, just as the clear depth makes the sea blue?” Though the terrace was thronged with people, it was easy to look past and over them, and feel as if they were alone together in all that space and beauty.
“Isn’t it simply gloriousT’ she said.
“Yes.” His soul was in his voice. But he was not looking at the mountains.
Then Dick Neal cantered into view, riding a lean, mean pinto with a pink nose and one white eye.
Dick usually rode that cayuse when he came down in the evening, and it often chose the moment when he passed the terrace to display a fine technique in bucking. It was seldom seen to buck elsewhere. To-day, though, for some reason, it did not quieten after a few vindictive pig-jumps, but proceeded to exhaust a comprehensive repertoire of equine devilment.
Dick stayed gaily, and a murmur of admiration rose. Melody’s eyes shone and she seized Rhodes arm in her excitement as with the thud of hoofs, snortings and the creak of leather, the frantic pinto with the laughing Dick astride whirled nearer. Then, with a ferocious ‘sunfish’, it was by the terrace parapet, and coming from a high pig-jump, Dick’s spurred foot caught the rail, unseating him. He knew he was gone, yelled, kicked free of the stirrup and allowed the next buck to pitch him up, when with a yank on the horn, and touching the stone rail with a foot in passing, he leaped clear, landing with a flying stagger close to them. He almost fell, but recovered and saw Melody . . .
“I always knew that horse had sense," he drawled, as
he swept off his big hat. “But that’s the first time ever he introduced me to a lady.”
Melody blushed once more at the directness and frank admiration of his tone. He laughed, his big teeth white in the lean mahogany of his face, then flashed a quick, appraising look at Rhodes, nodded to Melody, jammed his hat on his black curls and vaulted the rail to where the pinto drooped. Swinging up, he wheeled and cantered up the trail, turning as he entered the timber to wave his hat to her.
“Wasn’t that lovely!” she said with delight.
“Splendid! Good looking beggar, too. Extraordinary venom about the way these western ponies buck, and yet so quiet, after.
“Yes. It frightened me a bit.” She gazed bright-eyed at the pinto’s white-blotched quarters, flashing now and then between the sombre pines.
Dick and his father were an institution in the Rockies. The old man had a tidy fortune, and gave Dick the best of education—Ridley, and the Military College. But the mountains were in Dick’s blood, and they held him. The two lived in a big log house with a housekeeper and a Chinese cook, and Dick followed his father’s trade, prospecting, leading hunters after grizzly, goat or bighorn, or seeking alone some record head for the great museums. He knew neither sickness, restraint nor want, singing his way through life with a vibrant joy, half fierce, half childlike.
The terrace was clearing now, the people going in to dinner.
“Would you prefer to wait a little?” Rhodes inquired.
“Oh, no. I’m hungry.”
“Baby! But I’m glad, for I’d ordered something very special for seven o’clock.”
It was late September, and the nights were very cold. After dinner they sat in the small music room, she in a deep chair of profound blue velvet, under a stand lamp. The soft glow, and her yellow gown against the blue, struck a note so vivid that the colours seemed almost to burn.
One by one the other people drifted from the room till they were alone. By and by, he went to the piano and played softly. A stronger call than words could sound came to her through the tones his hands coaxed from the keys. Then he struck a firmer chord, threw back his head and in a deep voice of the mellifluous color that only a man’s can hold swung into the Berceuse from ‘Jocelyn.’
Awake not yet from thy repose,
A sweet dream spirit hovers near thee . . .
Melody felt swept away on some exquisite tide. Whether it was her hunger to perpetuate her happiness, whether she loved him, or whether she was ravished by his singing, she could not have told. But she knew that she was lost, and a swift fear possessed her with the conviction that he would ask her now.
The notes died, and the last echo faded.' He sat a moment with his bright head bowed, his hands upon the keys. Then he rose and came over, sitting on the divan close to her.
“Melody. I hope you are as happy as I am, to-night. You’ve come to me like something from a brighter world. I was feeling disheartened, desperately tired—of life, I mean, not work or things—I’d almost lost all interest. That’s one thing money does—kills all desire, all interest. But now I’m wondering how long I reasonably may hope to live ... if life can be as it has been since you got on the train at Montreal.”
Her heart raced. It was coming. And she didn’t know. She didn’t know if she could give herself. Only that she
wanted to go on with her new happiness. If only he’d kiss her first, perhaps she’d know, then . . .
“It’s hard to say the things I feel. There are things that you should know before ...”
He broke off and looked toward the door, starting slightly. There was a knot of people there, attracted by the music. They came in.
“Did that music come from here?” a girl asked. “It was exquisite! Won’t you please play some more?”
He smiled and shook his head. “I seldom do—now. It’s hard for me ... ”
There was a dark, lithe, sunburned fellow with her, and he saw surprisedly that it was Dick Neal—he of the bucking horse.
Dick had galloped furiously home and changed, driving back in the car. In the well cut dinner jacket, Rhodes had at first not recognized the laughing mountain man.
“We’ve met before, eh?” Dick said now. “I’m Dick Neal,” he indicated the fluffy blonde beside him. “Meet Miss Milane.”
To bridge the moment Rhodes said: “My name’s Rhodes.”
Then Neal’s eyes sought Melody in the big blue chair. She, too, had failed to recognise him in his more formal dress.
“I think you’ve already been introduced sufficiently,” smiled Rhodes; “but may I present Mr. Neal? Miss Vinner.”
“You got home safely,” she ventured, remembering the pink-nosed cayuse.
Dick’s teeth gleamed. “I’m not often piled, Miss Vinner ...” A virile aura seemed to envelop the fellow, like a tangible thing. As he pulled up a chair and sat down close to her, Melody had a sensation of being possessed. Rhodes placed a chair for the girl and drew up one for himself.
“Handsome beggar,” he thought, watching Dick’s sprawling grace, his tanned face and the blue eyes laughing into Melody’s. “What a pair!”
“It was you who guided Sladen’s party over the Jackknife, I believe, Neal?”
The Sladen vanquishing of the high ‘Jack-knife’ Pass was one of the mightiest epics of the Rockies.
Dick nodded. “I know the darned old mountains pretty well by now; better than almost anybody, I’m told. By the way, you any relative of ‘Ace’ Rhodes, the, red-hot war pilot?”
Rhodes smiled sadly, shaking his head. “No.” No relative of his.
“Yours must be a splendid life, Neal. There’s something satisfying about these mountains. It comes stealing over one after you’ve been in them a little time ...”
“There is. It gets you. You should be out on the Wolverine, all alone, at night, sometime, at the full of the moon, when there’s no wind. Then you’d know what silence is ... ”
COON Melody forgot herself in drawled tales of pine and ridge and avalanche and grizzlies, of high adventure, swift-flowing life, in the clean mountains, till at last the little Milane girl, whom Dick had brought, not comforted by his frank capitulation to the svelte, dark, vital girl in yellow, remarked petulantly that it was past midnight and she had promised her mamma to go upstairs at eleven.
Dick rose reluctantly. “You goin’ to ride, any, while you’re in Banff?”
“We’d planned to make the Wolverine trip.”
“Ummm. Five days, eh?” He flashed an appraising look at Rhodes. “Look here. Let me take you two off alone for that five days. I’ll show you places no tourist crowd’ll ever see. Come on!”
“Oh, I’d love to!” exclaimed Melody.
“By all means,” Rhodes chimed in. “That would be splendid! It’s very kind of you, Neal.”
Neal nodded his acknowledgment, a little ungraciously, Melody thought.
“Fine, then. I can’t start for a day or two, though. We’ve an engineer inspecting some claims of ours. Does that matter?”
“Oh no. We’re holidaying, aren’t we?” Rhodes glanced at Melody.
Dick smiled down on her. “I’ll be down to-morrow. May I see you?” There was no mistaking his enthusiasm, and she nodded. “To-morrow, then,” he said.
His teeth gleamed and he turned and took the Milane girl’s arm, bending low to talk to her, and barely acknowledging Rhodes’ courteous “Good night.”
When his limber form had gone, there was a silence. Turning enthusiastically to Rhodes, Melody was surprised to see again that pained look in his eyes. It was as though he looked on sunlight from a prison cell, knowing hope vain. He came back with a little start, then rose, extending both his hands to her.
“A perfect evening, Melody! You’ve . . . been happy?”
“Oh yes. He’s rather wonderful, don’t you think?” “Yes. He’s living. Some of us are . . . worse than dead.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
He bit his lip a moment. “Nothing that could touch you, I think...” His voice was deep, and infinitely tender. Continued on page 58
Continued from page 13
"You’re one of those who're living . . . dearest.”
But the spell which had been on her when he sang was wholly, gone, swept by the mountain winds Dick brought, and her eyes flashed warning as she took a swift step backward.
He bowed his head. "Could ljorder anything sent up to you? Tea? A little fruit ...”
IT was a crystal, sunny morning. The air was icy, tanged with the aroma of pines. It bit the nostrils, and the world was fresh and fragrant as a newly opened rose.
They wound in single file along a narrow trail, Dick Neal, in chaps and buckskin coat and high-crowned cowboy hat, lounging astride a rangy dun ahead, and Rhodes, in workmanlike and well-worn riding kit, behind her on a ewe-necked sorrel.
On all sides reared the Rockies, stupendous, stark, grim, unutterably pure and lonely. They fell away beside her, down, down and down, past timbered slopes to river-threaded valley, and all around they heaved and soared to glittering spires serene in infinite remoteness. The whole terrific universe of mountains bred no sound, and save for the 'Creak', 'Creak,' 'Creak,' of leather and the deliberate, flat 'Clack,' of unshod hoofs on stone, the hush was absolute.
Melody sat her horse and struggled with a sense of complete unreality.
Dick had capitualted to her as swiftly and completely as had Rhodes. More than once, during the past four days, only by the exercise of the utmost of her feminine resources had she prevented one or ocher of them from proposing to her.
Complex and indefinable as had been her feelings as to Rhodes alone, with Dick’s impetuous advent they became chaotic. To be swept from such poverty of spirit to such riches, and yet not to know her own heart . . . The two men were so widely different, and yet for her so similar, in that each offered a new, free life, no more to hunger, no more to bruise her spirit by eternal, hopeless fluttering against the bars of inexorable circumstance. Two doors to the same cage, and she knew where neither led . . .
An hour since, they had left the great luxurious hotel, and in ten minutes had been swallowed by primeval wilderness bearing no marks of man. Soon Dick led off the trail, winding his way on a sidehill, with a sheer drop below into the valley. It made her catch her breath a little, but Dick was obviously quite unconcerned and the ponies made no sign of any nervousness, so she reassured herself without much effort.
By and by she half turned in her saddle, resting her hand on her horse’s croup and calling over her shoulder back to Rhodes. “You’re very quiet.” He made no answer and she turned to look.
He was sitting rigid in his saddle, holding desperately to the horn, his jaw hardset, so that the flesh gleamed white upon the knotted muscles. His eyes were screwed tight shut and, though the air was chill, she saw the sweat stand on his brow. He had not heard her speak, seemed quite unconscious of her presence.
“Garth!” she called sharply. “Are you all right?”
He opened his eyes, saw her slewed round in her saddle, and smiled faintly. “I beg your pardon,’ he said, in a strained voice. Then she saw his gaze go to the precipice beside him. He drew into himself convulsively, crouching in the saddle, and his eyes closed.
She turned away hurriedly, with a profound sense of shock and chagrin.
Then the ledge widened and Dick reined back beside her, lounging in the saddle, one spurred boot hooked carelessly around the horn, the other dangling over
space. He turned to her and smiled. “This is the life! How'd you like to live here always, with the hotel for the high spots and all this for the rest?”
There was no mistaking his meaning. She did not answer. In the last minutes all her joy had turned to something barren. The savor had left it.
By and by, the ledge spread into a wide, level platform, floored with loose
“Came round this way specially to show you this,” said Dick, cocking his leg over the horn and slipping to earth. “Finest view bar none east of the Divide.” Before she could dismount he reached and lifted her bodily clear of the saddle, and held her for a moment before he put her down. She did not strive to free herself, but met his eyes, trying to divine what might be behind them. She saw them light at her submission, and he whispered, “Darlin’l” then let her go as the sorrel cleared the bend.
Rhodes held his pony close to the rocky wall, not dismounting till he was as far from the precipice as he could get. el
On the far side of the bench a levk fang of rock thrust into space. Died strolled to its very tip, turned an e beckoned to them. “Come see!” h called.
She hesitated, her heart in her throat at the tremendous void against which he stood, quite at his ease. For a moment she hung back, but clenching her teeth and mastering with some effort her slightly weakening knees, she went with short, careful steps to him and laid her hand on his arm, most glad of its firm strength. She was almost afraid to look down, but he held her very firmly and she let her eyes fall. "Ohhhhl" she gasped. Her mouth went dry as her gaze swooped downward sickeningly.
Space, void and menacing, sinking to blue-veiled depths of dark green timber with a lake that gleamed like a silver shield.
When she had regained her poise, the entrancing beauty of the view obsessed her, flooding her spirit to the swift extinction of the shadow that had been there. Thinking Rhodes was behind her, she turned. “Isn’t it tremendous, Garth?
See how much deeper the haze--”
But he was not there.
He stood on the bench, well back even from where the tongue began to jut. His hands hung by his side, his chin was raised a little. She smiled, waiting for him to come to share the loveliness. Of Dick who held her so compellingly she was hardly conscious. Rhodes saw her waiting, took a step, another—a short one. Then he stopped. She saw his knuckles whiten, his pale face grow ashen.
Beside her Dick said: “Come on, Rhodes. There’s quite a little drop here. It’s worth seeing.”
But he did not come. He looked at them pitifully, gave a little smile, made one small step and stopped again. He licked his lips, swallowed, and stood, with a look on his face that struck into her heart like a cold stab. Horror was there; shame, and a despairing piteousness. Then his face turned upward to the sky. He did not move again, but stood there as though suppliant to heaven.
Dick’s voice was incredulous and cutting. “Oh, I sec! All right.” He turned away, leaning above her so that his face was near her hair, and pointing: “See, ’way down the valley, this side, the long waterfall shooting out? That’s where we’re going.”
She nodded, but turned away, walking to her pony.
Rhodes was leaning on his saddle, with his hands clasped round the horn, staring across the horse’s back to the far peaks. Seeing her come, he smiled, and seemed to hesitate, or to grope for words.
Though she strove to be herself, she
knew that her response was distant. She had nearly married him. A weakling, a quitter, a man without mastery of himself. As a mere fellow human she could sympathize with and pity him, but as her husband she knew she would have hated him; and she was sickened by the narrowness with which she had escaped such hurt. But the sensation was momentary. It couldn’t be. There must be some mistake. Then there flashed through her mind certain inexplicable remarks he’d made. “Things you ought to know— Worse than dead—” She went to him, facing him above the horse’s back.
“What is it, Garth?” she said, kindly and a little pleadingly. “Are you ill or something?”
She was startled at the grateful glow that instantly suffused his face. “Er— you see—” he faltered. But then his face set. He straightened up, smiled his grave smile and said decisively. “No, Melody. I’m not ill, or anything.”
Their eyes met. Neither wavered; and for all her woman’s shrewdness she saw nothing that she had not seen before— when she had wondered if she loved him.
Now Dick stepped up with her horse’s bridle, holding her stirrup, and as she mounted he snapped over his shoulder to Rhodes: “You sit still on your pony! Don’t ever interfere with him when you’re on a ledge, or you will bust your neck, sure.”
She saw Rhodes turn white again, but he made no other sign that he had heard, turning to mount. She found herself restraining a wild desire to cut Dick with her quirt across his handsome face.
She was glad that the trails were usually so narrow that they had to ride in single file. Dick’s laugh, his exuberance, irritated her. Her mind was jangled and quite incoherent, and she had a feeling of profound exasperation. Was there any unadulterated joy in life? No sooner was she free of drabness and restraint than she had been plunged into a mental turmoil, a dilemma that perturbed her to the exclusion of all else. She was obsessed by the determination that she would not return to her barren round of typewriters and corpse-faced men in street cars, but opposing this was the unquenchable conviction that she would be miserable if she married for any other reason than because she loved.
They filed on through the tranquil mountains; on sparsely timbered hillsides, along the crests of hog-backed ridges, down steep moraines, through brooks, and up the other side, on shalestrewn sidehills, winding a tortuous way toward the slim, white silver of the waterfall. The sun was high when Dick pulled up on a broad shelf grown with gnarled and stunted pines.
“Here we are. We’ll boil the pot here. There’s a bit of grazing for the horses on the sunny side. I discovered this fall myself. Nobody but the trappers in the winter comes here. It’s too rough for the brokers and the fat blondes who go on the routine rides.”
Rhodes with the pack ponies debouched into the space, and Dick slipped the hitch from one load and pulled out the axe.
“Going to make a fire?” asked Rhodes, as though there had been no untoward happening that day.
“Yes,” said Dick shortly, and turned his back on him.
Rhodes gathered a heap of twigs, and made busy breaking larger sticks across his knee. Melody lay on the fragrant carpet of pine needles, gazing at the snows and striving to clarify her thoughts. When Rhodes lit his fire the smoke came to her nostrils with a bitter tang, and in the years that followed, the reek of woodsmoke would bring her instantly a living vision of the little plateau with its windgnarled pines and Garth kneeling by the fire from which the blue skein wound.
His chopping done, Dick came behind her. “Stroll round and see the fall, while the pot boils?”
She rose in acquiescence, and turned to Rhodes. “Coming, Garth?”
He nodded, smiling.
Dick looked him up and down. “Farther round, the path gets devilish narrow, with a clean drop,” he said pointedly. His tone made clear that he did not endorse Melody’s invitation, and also that he thought his comment would ensure Garth’s absence.
There was a moment’s tenseness, while Rhodes stood with his lip between his teeth. Then Dick took her arm and led to where the bench narrowed and the trees died out.
On their left was a sheer rock wall, from whose base for some twenty feet receded one of those broken slopes made by the sliding down of fragments, and which ended in a clean drop to the river two hundred feet or so below. After the terrific heights which they had skirted, this seemed almost puny. Dick led along the top of the slope, close to the cliff. The traveling was easy, though somewhat rough. Melody glanced behind her and saw that Garth had followed, walking most carefully, one hand pressed on the wall of rock.
Picking his way among the fragments, suddenly Dick stopped short, flinging up his head like a startled buck. For a split second she was mystified. Then she felt what had arrested the keener sense of the mountaineer. The rocks were moving under theml
There came an awful grinding sound, some fragments rolled, and suddenly the entire slope dropped sickeningly several feet, and the bits that made it began to slide toward the brink. Half the plateau, with their fire, plunged into space, and a great slab of the rocky wall beside them broke from the parent cliff and moved down with the rubble, pushing the three before it.
Melody screamed as she lost her footing, saw Dick claw madly as the moving rocks betrayed his feet, and the three of them with the huge slab of rock behind slid quite deliberately toward the precipice where the fragments that had made the slope poured over with a roar like thunder. She struggled to regain her footing, looked up and saw the monolith above her start to topple, flinched from it and then recoiled in terror as the brink drew nearer inexorably. Nearer it came. Nearer. But the movement slowed . , . stopped. The rattle of a few still falling fragments sounded. Then the silence closed, as the mountain settled to repose until the river gnawing at its foot should undermine it once again.
For many moments Melody lay motionless, terrified lest the slightest move should recommence that awful sliding.
Then the voice of Rhodes behind her said: “Melody. You all right?”
She sat up, turning. He was close to her, sprawled at the cliff edge.
“Ohhhhl” she gasped. “What was it?” “Lord knows? But it wasn’t my fault,” he said wryly, regarding the blood which trickled from a cut in his hand. “You all right, Neal?”
Dick moved beside her and sat up, crouching under a shoulder of the overhanging slab. “My God!” he said.
They were almost at the edge of the precipice, on a sloping ledge no more than ten feet long by four, all that remained of the path they had been traveling. Behind them hung the rock that had parted from the wall, and which alone had saved them from being swept off by the hurtling stone. Where the plateau had been was now a sheer cliff, and the trail ahead of them had disappeared.
Dick had crawled to the edge, and was lying on his stomach, looking down, and to, and fro. Then he sat up and got to his knees as far as the overhanging rock would let him. He reached to its upper edge, tried it with his hands, then drew himself up slowly to peer over. But at once with a rattling roar a ton or two of loose stone shot past them into space. He ducked and crammed himself against Melody, hurling her upon Rhodes.
“Steady on, man!” said the latter sharply.
Dick turned glaring. “I couldn’t help it.”
“I don’t mean the rock. I mean crowding Melody that way.”
“Aw, shut up. Man alive, we’re caught! Trapped, I tell you! There’s no way out of this There’s just a heap of loose stuff behind us on the ledge. Back of that it goes up sheer a hundred feet and down each side.”
“Can’t we climb down below?”
“I can’t! It’s overhanging devilishly. Perhaps you can!” There was no mistaking his allusion, but Rhodes ignored the sneer, and looked thoughtful. “Well?” Dick prodded.
“Someone’ll see us.”
“Huh. Noone comes here in summer, ever. And they won’t begin to wonder about you for ten days, knowing you’re with me, and that we’ve grub and horses.”
“Ah! The horses! They’ll go home.” “They won’t. There’s grazing for three months where I left ’em. We can’t get out. Can’t even make a start!” His voice rose to a queer squeak. “We’re scuppered! To think ...”
“Don’t panic, anyway,” Rhodes cut him off, and Dick recoiled as though he had been lashed, turning a turkey red.
“Oh! That from you ...”
Rhodes ignored him. “This is too ridiculous,” he said, turning to Melody, whose presence Dick seemed to have forgotten. “We’ll look around and figuré out some way ...”
TT was sunset, six hours since the rockslide had entrapped them. The living gold upon the peaks across the gorge was swiftly turning to a sullen red. A chill crept on the air, and the sonorous rushing of the little fall behind them served but to accentuate the mountain’s awesome quiet.
Melody must have been dozing, for she came back to reality with a little start. She ached in every bone. Already she was meticulously familiar with the details of the view from their grim eyrie. As she moved uneasily, Rhodes, who, with arms folded, leaned against the rock, smiled at her. Dick sat huddled with his chin between his knees, sullenly glaring into space. They had all three exhausted all there was to say about the situation.
To Melody, though, after the fright of the phenomenon had passed off, it was all quite unreal. She felt it merely a thrilling episode, one more in her wonderful holiday, which could soon be ended in some quite ordinary fashion. Her mind had been much more occupied with the searching of her heart for a decision which she knew she soon must make.
But as the gold on the peaks waned to red, the red paled to saffron, the saffron chilled to icy blue, the stars came out and the cold began to bite into her limbs, the truth came to her with the shock of a physical blow.
They had been lying on that rocky ledge all afternoon because there was no way of escape from it! Not Dick, who seemed to have forgotten her, glaring so sullenly into space, nor Garth, who smiled into her eyes whenever he could catch them, could discover any avenue. Perhaps no one would come. Dick had said this. Then they’d be there days— weeks! They’d starve! Already she was ravenous. If it went on they’d die. An ironic humor in it struck her. For four days she had been wracked mentally by the effort to decide whether she cared enough for either man to spend the rest of her life with him. Now—at the
thought her mouth parched—she would Spend the remaining short span with them together! Oh, preposterous! Soon they’d get out and go back to her delightful room at the hotel. She’d bathe and put on the daffodil dress Garth liked so much. She’d have dinner with Garth. He was nice . . . But he was no man. He was a weakling, afraid to go near the edge. Shut his eyes. Couldn’t force him-
self to go, even though Dick sneered . . . Dick was sort of callous. He was awfully handsome, though, and so gay and brave. He'd walk on the thin edge of abysmal emptiness, and chat. But he seemed to have forgotten her . . . She shivered violently.
Garth sat up and took off his coat. “Cold? I’m not a bit.”
In spite of her vehement protests he wrapped it round her shoulders.
Dick turned and saw. His face was drawn and sullen. But as he saw Rhodes’ arm about her his eyes gleamed, and he unbuttoned his coat slowly and took it off, wrapping it round her legs.
“Can’t we do something, Neal?” said Rhodes.
It seemed to jerk Dick back to the reality. He swallowed, and licked his lips, furtively glancing over his shoulder at the purpling gorge, the peaks now dark against the icy sky on which new stars appeared. He shook his head, and his eyes widened. “God knows! It’s hopeless ...”
“Sit up close to her . . . Dick. Keep her warm, any way.”
They pressed close to her, one on either side, and she curled herself into the nearest approach to comfort she could effect.
The dark came down and the hours dragged by. Sometimes she dozed, to waken cramped and painful, to move position and sink again into uneasy stupor. Once Garth’s voice said “All right Melody?” His hand slipped into hers, squeezing it. A warm flood seemed to surge from it into her heart.
Once or twice she was awake again. There was a bright moon, and someone gently drawing the coats around her.
She came slowly from oblivion with the sensation that something warm was gently pressed upon her lips—that someone was kissing her.
She opened her eyes and saw the peaks across the gorge stand black against a golden shield, as the sun climbed up behind them. Even in that moment she was conscious of the loveliness, and of the icy purity of the air she breathed.
Then a figure rose between her and the flaming sky. It was Rhodes. He stood for a moment with his hands a little apart from his sides and his face turned upward. Then deliberately he stepped off the edge, flung up his arms and disappeared.
Her wild scream made an eagle leap from its perch to flight. Pain shot through her stiff and almost frozen limbs, but she crouched on the brink and peered down. Nothing—save the swirling river laced with white and dotted with the black of boulders far below. Directly under her she saw the clear green of a deep-looking pool, clear of rocks. Perhaps he had managed to hit that. How long she stared she did not know, but a hand touched her and she rose to face Dick, red-eyed, blue-lipped, his teeth a-chatter.
“W-w-what is it? Where’s Rhodes?”
Her eyes were wide. “He jumped off. This minute. I saw him go! Ohhhh. Horridi” She covered her face with her hands,
"Crazy. That’s the kind he was . . . There’s not a chance. Two hundred feet. The river’s full of boulders, cold ...”
Then she saw an envelope held down by a stone. It was an old letter with the address crossed out, and ‘Melody’ written over it.
With hands that fumbled hopelessly from cold she took out the sheet. He had written on the back of the original.
The moon is bright enough now, to write. It seems we’re up against it. But the river is below. The only chance is to try the drop. It’s one in a million; but there is a chance—and it is all there is.
Life’s a queer business, Melody. There’s an uncanny constructiveness about it.
I mean that this thing that’s happened might have been arranged especially for | me.
You see, I was a sort of airman, in the war. I was shot down from twenty thousand feet, hit and paralyzed, but managed to straighten her at the last moment so that she didn’t kill me . . . It would have been better if she had. I was worse than dead. My nerve was absolutely shattered. 1 couldn't play polo, drive a car anything. At first a slammed door would make the sweat break out on me. Heights were my bugbear—couldn’t even look out of a window. My life was Hades. The eternal solicitousness of people maddened me.
I began to lose my self-respect. Even thought of suicide. Then a neurological chap told me that il I could master the fear of falling I'd be all right, as that was the root of my trouble.
So I came to the mountains and swore I vvouldn t go down till I had mastered myself. You saw what happened; how futile. I couldn't beat it. My legs just wouldn’t take me to the precipice. But I think that tor you I can do this thing. If by some miracle 1 come through, I'll have my self-respect again. If not—that will be better for me than the way I’ve lived.
I'm not sure whether I can do it. But when the sun comes I shall try.
Of course you know I love you. These things arc not hidden.
So good-bye, my Melody. The rest is with Allah.’
She turned the letter over numbly. The original address was typed there. “Lieutenant Colonel Garth. I. Rhodes, Y.C., D.S.O., M.C.’
Dick, who had been reading ovei her shoulder, breathed, “ ‘Ace’ Rhodes! My Lord!”
His voice was like a spark to petrol. She wheeled upon him fiercely, “And you hurt him you bully!”
I 'HE hot sun, shooting from over the peaks and warming her gratefully. Thirst, and sick hunger. Dick crouching in the angle and swallowing eternally, his half closed eyes peering down the gorge. A great bald eagle sweeping past with sonorous wings. Pain in her body, in her eyes. But warmth in her heart and music in her ears. Garth . . . lover. Over and over again.
The sun overhead, and savage heat. Her brain throbbing, throbbing. Dick looking at her queerly, and she edging away to the far end of the ledge. Hours after endless hours in a silence that pressed on her eardrums.
The glow on the far peaks and the chill creeping again on the air—and the fear of night.
She crouched against the rocks, suck-
ing a pebble—she remembered reading that this would aid thirst—watching the living gold.
Dick was stretched on his back.
Suddenly she sat up. “A-hooooo-ah" Like the echo of her own thoughts came an infinitely distant hail.
She seized Dick, shaking him desperately, and he sat up with a scowl and made to speak. She held up her hand.
He started up, his eyes ablaze. “By God, that’s an Indian calling! He’s made it! Rhodes made it!”
Then he shook his head and slumped; “T’isn’t possible. We’re hearing things!”
He was up again. His voice cracked and climbed queerly. “That’s Tom Two Eagles! We’re safe! We're safe!”
/\FTER a while there was a shout 1 V above them. Melody looked up at the cliff that rose a hundred feet behind. Garth stood on its very brink, his figure black against the jade and turquoise of the evening sky. He saw her and raised his hand.
She crouched on the rock, while Dick yelled hoarse directions about a descending rope. Her heart sang and her breath came fast. The five peaks glowing against the turquoise seemed like the gold spires of thç castle of her life-long dreams.