Robinson Crusoe when he discovered the famous footprint of Man Friday in the sand was not more astonished at what met his vision than Newbold on that winter morning. For there, in the virgin whiteness, were the tracks of a man!
He stopped dead with a sudden contraction of the heart. Humanity other than he and she in that wilderness? It could not be! For a moment he doubted the evidence of his own senses. He shook his pack loose from his shoulders and bent down to examine the tracks to read if he could their indications. He could see that some one had come up the cañon, that someone had leaned against the wall, that someone had gone on. Where had he gone?
To follow the new trail was child's play for him. He ran by the side of it until he reached the knoll. The stranger had stopped again, he had shifted from one foot to another, evidently he had been looking about him seeking someone, only Enid Maitland of course. The trail ran forward to the edge of the frozen lake, there the man had put on his snow shoes, there he had sped across the lake like an arrow and like an arrow himself, although he had left behind his own snow shoes, Newbold ran upon his track. Fortunately the snow crest upbore him. The trail ran straight to the foot of the rocky stairs. The newcomer had easily found his way there.
With beating heart and throbbing pulse, Newbold himself bounded up the acclivity after the stranger, marking as he did so evidences of the other's prior ascent. Reaching the top like him he ran down the narrow path and in his turn laid his hand upon the door.
He was not mistaken, he heard voices within. He listened a second and then flung it open, and as the other had done, he entered.
Way back on the trail, old Kirkby and Robert Maitland, the storm having ceased, were rapidly climbing up the cañon. Fate was bringing all the actors of the little drama within the shadow of her hand.
The noise of the opening of the door and the in-rush of cold air that followed awoke Enid Maitland to instant action. She rose to her feet and faced the entrance through which she expected Newbold to reappear – for of course the newcomer must be he – and for the life of her she could not help that radiating flash of joy at that momentary anticipation which fairly transfigured her being; although if she had stopped to reflect she would have remembered that not in the whole course of their acquaintance had Newbold ever entered her room at any time without knocking and receiving permission.
Some of that joy yet lingered in her lovely face when she tardily recognized the newcomer in the half light. Armstrong, scarcely waiting to close the door, sprang forward joyfully with his hands outstretched.
"Enid!" he cried.
Naturally he thought the look of expectant happiness he had surprised upon her face was for him and he accounted for its sudden disappearance by the shock of his unexpected, unannounced, abrupt, entrance.
The warm color had flushed her face, but as she stared at him her aspect rapidly changed. She grew paler. The happy light that had shone in her eyes faded away and as he approached her she shrank back.
"You!" she exclaimed almost in terror.
"Yes," he answered smilingly, "I have found you at last. Thank God you are safe and well. Oh, if you could only know the agonies I have gone through. I thought I loved you when I left you six weeks ago, but now – "
In eager impetuosity he drew nearer to her. Another moment and he would have taken her in his arms, but she would have none of him.
"Stop," she said with a cold and inflexible sternness that gave pause even to his buoyant joyful assurance.
"Why, what's the matter?"
"The matter? Everything, but – "
"No evasions, please," continued the man still cheerfully but with a growing misgiving. His suspicions in abeyance for the moment because of his joy at seeing her alive and well arose with renewed force. "I left you practically pledged to me," he resumed.
"Not so fast," answered Enid Maitland, determined to combat the slightest attempt to establish a binding claim upon her.
"Isn't it true?" asked Armstrong. "Here, wait," he said before she could answer, "I am half frozen, I have been searching for you since early morning in the storm." He unbuttoned and unbelted his huge fur coat as he spoke and threw it carelessly on the floor by his Winchester leaning against the wall. "Now," he resumed, "I can talk better."
"You must have something to eat then," said the girl.
She was glad of the interruption since she was playing for time. She did not quite know how the interview would end, he had come upon her so unexpectedly and she had never formulated how she should say to him that which she felt she must say. She must have time to think, to collect herself, which he on his part was quite willing to give her, for he was not much better prepared for the interview than she. He really was hungry and tired; his early journey had been foolhardy and in the highest degree dangerous. The violence of his admiration for her, added to the excitement of her presence and the probable nearness of Newbold as to whose whereabouts he wondered, were not conducive to rapid recuperation. It would be comfort to him also to have food and time.
"Sit down," she said. "I shall be back in a moment."
The fire of the morning was still burning in the stove in the kitchen; to heat a can of soup, to make him some buttered toast and hot coffee were the tasks of a few moments. She brought them back to him, set them on the table before him and bade him fall to.
"By Jove," exclaimed the man after a little time as he began to eat hastily but with great relish what she had prepared, while she stood over him watching him silently, "this is cozy. A warm, comfortable room, something to eat served by the finest woman in the world, the prettiest girl on earth to look at – what more could a man desire? This is the way it's going to be always in the future."
"You have no warrant whatever for saying or hoping that," answered the girl slowly but decisively.
"Have I not?" asked the man quickly. "Did you not say to me a little while ago that you liked me better than any man you had ever met and that I might win you if I could? Well, I can, and what's more I will in spite of yourself." He laughed. "Why, the memory of that kiss I stole from you makes me mad." He pushed away the things before him and rose to his feet once more. "Come, give me another," he said; "it isn't in the power of woman to stand out against a love like mine."
"Louise Newbold did," she answered very quietly, but with the swiftness and the dexterity of a sword thrust by a master hand, a mighty arm.
Armstrong stared at her in open-mouthed astonishment.
"What do you know about Louise Rosser or Newbold?" he asked at last.
"All that I want to know."
"And did that damned hound tell you?"
"If you mean Mr. Newbold, he never mentioned your name, he does not know you exist."
"Where is he now?" thundered the man.
"Have no fear," answered the woman calmly, "he has gone to the settlements to tell them I am safe and to seek help to get me out of the mountains."
"Fear!" exclaimed Armstrong, proudly, "I fear nothing on earth. For years, ever since I heard his name in fact, I have longed to meet him. I want to know who told you about that woman, Kirkby?"
"He never mentioned your name in connection with her."
"But you must have heard it somewhere," cried the man thoroughly bewildered. "The birds of the air didn't tell it to you, did they?"
"She told me herself," answered Enid Maitland.
"She told you! Why, she's been dead in her grave five years, shot to death by that murderous dog of a husband of hers."
"A word with you, Mr. Armstrong," said the woman with great spirit. "You can't talk that way about Mr. Newbold; he saved my life twice over, from a bear and then in the cloud burst which caught me in the cañon."
"That evens up a little," said Armstrong. "Perhaps for your sake I will spare him."
"You!" laughed the woman contemptuously. "Spare him! Be advised, look to yourself; if he ever finds out what I know, I don't believe any power on earth could save you."
"Oh," said Armstrong carelessly enough, although he was consumed with hate and jealousy and raging against her clearly evident disdain, "I can take care of myself, I guess. Anyway, I only want to talk about you, not about him or her. Your father – "
"Is he well?"
"Well enough, but heart-broken, crushed. I happened to be in his house in Philadelphia when the telegram came from your uncle that you were lost and probably dead. I had just asked him for your hand," he added, smiling grimly at the recollection.
"You had no right to do that."
"I know that."
"It was not, it is not, his to give."
"Still, when I won you I thought it would be pleasant all around if he knew and approved."
"And did he?"
"Not then, he literally drove me out of the house; but afterward he said if I could find you I could have you; and I have found you and I will have you whether you like it or not."
"Never," said the woman decisively.
The situation had got on Armstrong's nerves, and he must perforce show himself in his true colors. His only resources were his strength, not of mind but of body. He made another most damaging mistake at this juncture.
"We are alone here, and I am master, remember," he said meaningly. "Come, let's make it up. Give me a kiss for my pains and – "
"I have been alone here for a month with another man," answered Enid Maitland, who was strangely unafraid in spite of his threat. "A gentleman, he has never so much as offered to touch my hand without my permission; the contrast is quite to your disadvantage."
"Are you jealous of Louise Rosser?" asked Armstrong, suddenly seeing that he was losing ground and casting about desperately to account for it, and to recover what was escaping him. "Why, that was nothing, a mere boy and girl affair," he ran on with specious good humor, as if it were all a trifle. "The woman was, I hate to say it, just crazy in love with me, but I really never cared anything especially for her, it was just a harmless sort of flirtation anyway. She afterward married this man Newbold and that's all there was about it."
The truth would not serve him and in his desperation and desire he staked everything on this astounding lie. The woman he loved looked at him with her face as rigid as a mask.
"You won't hold that against me, will you?" pleaded the man. "I told you that I'd been a man among men, yes among women, too, here in this rough country and that I wasn't worthy of you; there are lots of things in my past that I ought to be ashamed of and I am, and the more I see you the more ashamed I grow, but as for loving any one else all that I've ever thought or felt or experienced before now is just nothing."
And this indeed was true, and even Enid Maitland with all her prejudice could realize and understand it. Out of the same mouth, it was said of old, proceeded blessing and cursing, and from these same lips came truth and falsehood; but the power of the truth to influence this woman was as nothing to the power of falsehood. She could never have loved him, she now knew; a better man had won her affections, a nobler being claimed her heart; but if Armstrong had told the truth regarding his relationship to Newbold's wife and then had completed it with his passionate avowal of his present love for her, she would have at least admired him and respected him.
"You have not told me the truth," she answered directly, "you have deliberately been false."
"Can't you see," protested the man, drawing nearer to her, "how much I love you?"
"Oh, that, yes I suppose that is true; so far as you can love anyone I will admit that you do love me."
"So far as I can love anyone?" he repeated after her. "Give me a chance and I'll show you."
"But you haven't told the truth about Mrs. Newbold. You have calumniated the dead, you have sought to shelter yourself by throwing the burden of a guilty passion upon the weaker vessel, it isn't man-like, it isn't – "
Armstrong was a bold fighter, quick and prompt in his decisions. He made another effort to set himself right. He staked his all on another throw of the dice, which he began to feel were somehow loaded against him.
"You are right," he admitted, wondering anxiously how much the woman really knew. "It wasn't true, it was a coward's act, I am ashamed of it. I'm so mad with love for you that I scarcely know what I am doing, but I will make a clean breast of it now. I loved Louise Rosser after a fashion before ever Newbold came on the scene. We were pledged to each other, a foolish quarrel arose, she was jealous of other girls – "
"And had she no right to be?"
"Oh, I suppose so. We broke it off anyway, and then she married Newbold, out of pique, I suppose, or what you will. I thought I was heart-broken at the time, it did hit me pretty hard; it was five or six years ago, I was a youngster then, I am a man now. The woman has been dead long since. There was some cock-and-bull story about her falling off a cliff and her husband being compelled to shoot her. I didn't half believe it at the time and naturally I have been waiting to get even with him. I have been hating him for five years, but he has been good to you and we will let bygones be bygones. What do I care for Louise Rosser, or for him, or for what he did to her, now? I am sorry that I said what I did, but you will have to charge it to my blinding passion for you. I can truthfully say that you are the one woman that I have ever craved with all my heart. I will do anything, be anything, to win you."
It was very brilliantly done, he had not told a single untruth, he had admitted much, but he had withheld the essentials after all. He was playing against desperate odds, he had no knowledge of how much she knew, or where she had learned anything. Everyone about the mining camp where she had lived had known of his love for Louise Rosser, but he had not supposed there was a single human soul who had been privy to its later developments, and he could not figure out any way by which Enid Maitland could have learned by any possibility any more of the story than he had told her. He had calculated swiftly and with the utmost nicety, just how much he should confess. He was a keen witted, clever man and he was fighting for what he held most dear, but his eagerness and zeal, as they have often done, overrode his judgment, and he made another mistake at this juncture. His evil genius was at his elbow.
"You must remember," he continued, "that you have been alone here in these mountains with a man for over a month; the world – "
"What, what do you mean?" exclaimed the girl, who indeed knew very well what he meant, but who would not admit the possibility.
"It's not every man," he added, blindly rushing to his doom, "that would care for you or want you – after that."
He received a sudden and terrible enlightenment.
"You coward," she cried, with upraised hand, whether in protest or to strike him neither ever knew, for at that moment the door opened the second time that morning to admit another man.
The sudden entrant upon a quarrel between others is invariably at a disadvantage. Usually he is unaware of the cause of difference and generally he has no idea of the stage of development of the affair that has been reached. Newbold suffered from this lack of knowledge and to these disadvantages were added others. For instance, he had not the faintest idea as to who or what was the stranger. The room was not very light in the day time, Armstrong happened to be standing with his back to it at some distance from the window by the side of which Enid stood. Six years naturally and inevitably make some difference in a man's appearance and it is not to be wondered that at first Newbold did not recognize the man before him as the original of the face in his wife's locket, although he had studied that face over and over again. A nearer scrutiny, a longer study would have enlightened him of course, but for the present he saw nothing but a stranger visibly perturbed on one side and the woman he loved apparently fiercely resentful, sternly indignant, confronting the other with an upraised hand.
The man, whoever he was, had affronted her, had aroused her indignation, perhaps had insulted her, that was plain. He went swiftly to her side, he interposed himself between her and the man.
"Enid," he asked, and his easy use of the name was a revelation and an illumination to Armstrong, "who is this man, what has he done?"
It was Armstrong who replied. If Newbold were in the dark, not so he; although they had never spoken, he had seen Newbold. He recognized him instantly, indeed recognized or not the newcomer could be no other than he. There was doubtless no other man in the mountains. He had expected to find him when he approached the hut and was ready for him.
To the fire of his ancient hatred and jealousy was added a new fuel that increased its heat and flame. This man had come between Armstrong and the woman he loved before and had got away unscathed, evidently he had come between him and this new woman he loved. Well, he should be made to suffer for it this time and by Armstrong's own hands. The instant Newbold had entered the room Armstrong had thirsted to leap upon him and he meant to do it. One or the other of them, he swore in his heart, should never leave that room alive.
But Newbold should have his chance. Armstrong was as brave, as fearless, as intrepid, as any man on earth. There was much that was admirable in his character; he would not take any man at a disadvantage in an encounter such as he proposed. He would not hesitate to rob a man of his wife if he could and he would not shrink from any deceit necessary to gain his purpose with a woman, for good or evil, but he had his own ideas of honor, he would not shoot an enemy in the back for instance.
Singular perversion, this, to which some minds are liable! To take from a man his wife by subtle and underhand methods, to rob him of that which makes life dear and sweet – there was nothing dishonorable in that! But to take his life, a thing of infinitely less moment, by the same process – that was not to be thought of. In Armstrong's code it was right, it was imperative, to confront a man with the truth and take the consequences; but to confront a woman with a lie and take her body and soul, if so be she might be gained, was equally admirable. And there are other souls than Armstrong's in which this moral inconsistency and obliquity about men and women has lodgment.
Armstrong confronted Newbold therefore, lustful of battle; he yearned to leap upon him, his fingers itched to grasp him, then trembled slightly as he rubbed them nervously against his thumbs; his face protruded a little, his eyes narrowed.
"My name is Armstrong," he said, determined to precipitate the issue without further delay and flinging the words at the other in a tone of hectoring defiance which, however, strange to say, did not seem to affect Newbold in exactly the degree he had anticipated.
Yet the name was an illumination to Newbold, though not at all in the way the speaker had fancied; the recollection of it was the one fact concerning the woman he loved that rankled in the solitary's mind. He had often wanted to ask Enid Maitland what she had meant by that chance allusion to Armstrong which she had made in the beginning of their acquaintance, but he had refrained. At first he had no right to question her, there could be no natural end to their affections; and latterly when their hearts had been disclosed to each other in the wild, tempestuous, passionate scenes of the last two or three days, he had had things of greater moment to engage his attention, subjects of more importance to discuss with her.
He had for the time being forgotten Armstrong and he had not before known what jealousy was until he had entered that room. To have seen her with any man would have given him acute pain, perhaps just because he had been so long withdrawn from human society, but to see her with this man who flashed instantly into his recollection upon the utterance of his name was an added exasperation.
Newbold turned to the woman, to whom indeed he had addressed his question in the first place, and there was something in his movement which bespoke a galling, almost contemptuous, obliviousness to the presence of the other man which was indeed hard for him to bear.
Hate begets hate. He was quite conscious of Armstrong's antagonism, which was entirely undisguised and open and which was growing greater with every passing moment. The score against Newbold was running up in the mind of his visitor.
"Ah," coolly said the owner of the cabin to the latest of his two guests, "I do remember Miss Maitland did mention your name the first day she spent here. Is he a – a friend of yours?" he asked of the woman.
"Not now," answered Enid Maitland.
She too was in a strange state of perturbation on account of the dilemma in which she found herself involved. She was determined not to betray the unconscious confidence of the dead. She hoped fervently that Newbold would not recognize Armstrong as the man of the locket, but if he did she was resolute that he should not also be recognized as the man of the letters, at least not by her act. Newbold was ignorant of the existence of those letters and she did not intend that he should be enlightened so far as she could prevent it. But she was keen enough to see that the first recognition would be inevitable; she even admitted the fact that Armstrong would probably precipitate it himself. Well, no human soul, not even their writer, knew that she had the letters except old Kirkby and he was far away. She wished that she had destroyed them; she had determined to do so at the first convenient opportunity. Before that, however, she intended to show them not to Newbold but to Armstrong, to disclose his perfidy, to convict him of the falsehood he had told her and to justify herself even in his eyes for the action she had taken.
Mingled with all these quick reflections was a deadly fear. She was quick to perceive the hatred Armstrong cherished against Newbold on the one hand because of the old love affair, the long standing grudge breaking into sudden life; on the other because of her own failure to come to Armstrong's hand and her love for Newbold which she had no desire to conceal. The cumulation of all these passionate antagonisms would only make him the more desperate, she knew.
Whether or not Newbold found out Armstrong's connection with his past love there was sufficient provocation in the present to evoke all the oppugnation and resentment of his nature. Enid felt as she might if the puncheons of the floor had been sticks of dynamite with active detonators in every heel that pressed them; as if the slightest movement on the part of anyone would bring about an explosion.
The tensity of the situation was bewildering to her. It had come upon her with such startling force; the unexpected arrival of Armstrong, of all the men on earth the one who ought not to be there, and then the equally startling arrival of Newbold, of whom perhaps the same might have been said. If Newbold had only gone on, if he had not come back, if she had been rescued by her uncle or old Kirkby – But "ifs" were idle, she had to face a present situation to which she was utterly unequal.
She had entirely repudiated Armstrong, that was one sure point; she knew how guilty he had been toward Newbold's wife, that was another; she realized how he had deceived her, that was the third. These eliminated the man from her affections. But it is one thing to thrust a man out of your heart and another to thrust him out of your life; he was still there. And by no means the sport of blind fate, Armstrong intended to have something to say as to the course of events, to use his own powers to determine the issue.
Of but one thing besides her hatred for Armstrong was Enid Maitland absolutely certain; she would never disclose to the man she loved the fact that the woman, the memory of whose supposed passion he cherished, had been unfaithful to him in heart if not in deed. Nothing could wrest that secret from her. She had been infected by Newbold's quixotic ideas, the contagion of his perversion of common sense had fastened itself upon her. She would not have been human either if she had not experienced a thrill of pride and joy at the possibility that in some way, of which she yet swore she would not be the instrument blind or otherwise, the facts might be disclosed which would enable Newbold to claim her openly and honorably, without hesitation before or remorse after, as his wife. This fascinating flash of expectant hopeful feeling she thought unworthy of her and strove to fight it down, but with manifest impossibility.
It has taken time to set these things down; to speak or to write is a slow process and the ratio between outward expressions and inward is as great as that between light and sound. Questions and answers between these three followed as swiftly as thrust and parry between accomplished swordsmen, and yet between each demand and reply they had time to entertain these swift thoughts – as the drowning compass life experiences in seconds!
"I may not be her friend," said Armstrong steadily, "but she left me in these mountains a month ago with more than a half way promise to marry me, and I have sought her through the snows to claim the fulfillment."
"You never told me that," exclaimed Newbold sternly and again addressing the woman rather than the man.
"There was nothing to tell," she answered quickly. "I was a young girl, heart free. I liked this man, perhaps because he was so different from those to whom I had been accustomed and when he pressed his suit upon me, I told him the truth. I did not love him, I did not know whether I might grow to care for him or not; if I did, I should marry him and if I did not no power on earth could make me. And now – I hate him!"
She flung the hard and bitter words at him savagely.
Armstrong was beside himself with fury at her remark, and Newbold's cool indifference to him personally was unendurable. In battle such as he waged he had the mistaken idea that anything was fair. He could not really tell whether it was love of woman or hate of man that was most dominant; he saw at once the state of affairs between the two. He could hurt the man and the woman with one statement; what might be its ulterior effect he did not stop to consider; perhaps if he had he would not have cared greatly then. He realized anyway that since Newbold's arrival his chance with Enid was gone; perhaps whether Newbold were alive or dead it was gone forever, although Armstrong did not think that, he was not capable of thinking very far into the future in his then condition, the present bulked too large for that.
"I did not think after that kiss in the road that you would go back on me this way, Enid," he said quickly.
"The kiss in the road!" cried Newbold, staring again at the woman.
"You coward," repeated she, with one swift envenomed glance at the other man and then she turned to her lover. She laid her hand upon his arm, she lifted her face up to him. "As God is my judge," she cried, her voice rising with the tragic intensity of the moment and thrilling with indignant protest, "he took it from me like the thief and the coward he was and he tells it now like the liar he is. We were riding side by side, I was utterly unsuspicious, I thought him a gentleman, he caught me and kissed me before I knew it, I drove him from me. That's all."
"I believe you," said Newbold gently, and then, for the second time, he addressed himself to Armstrong. "You came doubtless to rescue Miss Maitland, and in so far your purpose was admirable and you deserve thanks and respect, but no further. This is my cabin, your words and your conduct render you unwelcome here. Miss Maitland is under my protection, if you will come outside I will be glad to talk with you further."
"Under your protection?" sneered Armstrong, completely beside himself. "After a month with you alone I take it she needs no further protection."
Newbold did not leap upon the man for that mordant insult to the woman, his approach was slow, relentless, terrible. Eight or ten feet separated them. Armstrong met him half way, his impetuosity was the greater, he sprang forward, turned about, faced the full light from the narrow window.
"Well," he cried, "have you got anything to say or do about it?"
For Newbold had stopped, appalled. He stood staring as if petrified; recognition, recollection rushed over him. Now and at last he knew the man. The face that confronted him was the same face that had stared out at him from the locket he had taken from the bruised breast of his dead wife, which had been a mystery to him for all these years.
"Well," tauntingly asked Armstrong again, "what are you waiting for, are you afraid?"
From Newbold's belt depended a holster and a heavy revolver. As Armstrong made to attack him he flashed it out with astonishing quickness and presented it. The newcomer was unarmed, his Winchester leaned against the wall by his fur coat and he had no pistol.
"If you move a step forward or backward," said Newbold with deadly calm, "I will kill you without mercy."
"So you'd take advantage of a weaponless man, would you?" sneered Armstrong.
"Oh, for God's sake," cried the woman, "don't kill him."
"You both misjudge me," was the answer. "I shall take no advantage of this man. I would disdain to do so if it were necessary, but before the last resort I must have speech with him, and this is the only way in which I can keep him quiet for a moment, if as I suspect, his hate measures with mine."
"You have the advantage," protested Armstrong. "Say your say and get it over with. I've waited all these years for a chance to kill you and my patience is exhausted."