Still keeping the other covered, Newbold stepped over to the table, pulled out the drawer and drew from it the locket. Enid remembered she had hastily thrust it there when he had handed it to her and there it had lain unnoted and forgotten. It was quite evident to her what was toward now. Newbold had recognized the other man, explanations were inevitable. With his left hand Newbold sought the catch of the locket and pressed the spring. In two steps he faced Armstrong with the open locket thrust toward him.
"Your picture?" he asked.
"Do you know the locket?"
"I gave it to a woman named Louise Rosser five or six years ago."
"Yes, she was crazy in love with me but – "
With diabolic malice Armstrong left the sentence uncompleted. The inference he meant should be drawn from his reticence was obvious.
"I took it from her dead body," gritted out Newbold.
"She was beside herself with love for me, an old affair, you know," said Armstrong more explicitly, thinking to use a spear with a double barb to pierce the woman's and the man's heart alike. That he defamed the dead was of no moment then. "She wanted to leave you," he ran on glibly, "she wanted me to take her back and – "
"Untrue," burst forth from Enid Maitland's lips. "A slanderous, dastardly, cowardly untruth."
But the men paid no attention to her in their excitement, perhaps they did not even hear her. Newbold thrust his pistol violently forward.
"Would you murder me as you murdered the woman?" gibed Armstrong in bitter taunt.
Then Enid Maitland found it in her heart to urge Newbold to kill him where he stood, but she had no time if she could have carried out her design, for Newbold flung the weapon from him and the next moment the two men leaped upon each other, straining, struggling, clawing, battling like savage beasts, each seeking to clasp his fingers around the throat of the other and then twist and crush until life was gone.
Saying nothing, fighting in a grim silence that was terrible, they reeled crashing about the little room. No two men on earth could have been better matched, yet Newbold had a slight advantage in height and strength, as he had also the advantage in simple life and splendid condition. Armstrong's hate and fierce temper counterbalanced these at first and with arms locked and legs twined, with teeth clenched and eyes blinded and pulses throbbing and hearts beating, they strove together.
The woman shrank back against the wall and stared frightened. She feared for her lover, she feared for herself. Strange primitive feelings throbbed in her veins. It was an old situation, when two male animals fought for supremacy and the ownership of a female, whose destiny was entirely removed from her own hands.
Armstrong had shown himself in his true colors at last. She would have nothing to hope from him if he were the victor and she even wondered in terror what might happen to her if the man she loved triumphed after the passions aroused in such a battle. She grew sick and giddy, her bosom rose and fell, her breath came fast as she followed the panting, struggling, clinging, grinding figures about the room.
At first there had been no advantage to either, but now after five minutes – or was it hours? – of fierce fighting, the strength and superior condition of her lover began to tell. He was forcing the other backward. Slowly, inch by inch, foot by foot, step by step, he mastered him. The two intertwining figures were broadside to her now, she could see their faces inflamed by the lust of the battle, engorged, blood red with hate and fury. There was a look of exultation in one and the shadow of approaching disaster in the other. But the consciousness that he was being mastered ever so little only increased Armstrong's determination and he fought back with the frenzy, the strength of a maddened gorilla, and again for a space the issue was in doubt. But not for long.
The table, a heavy, cumbersome, four-legged affair, solid almost as a rock, stood in the way. Newbold at last backed Armstrong up against it and by superhuman effort bent him over it, held him with one arm and using the table as a support, wrenched his left hand free, and sunk his fingers around the other's throat. It was all up with Armstrong. It was only a question of time now.
"Now," Newbold guttered out hoarsely, "you slandered the dead woman I married, and you insulted the living one I love. Take back what you said before you die."
"I forgive him," cried Enid Maitland. "Oh, don't kill him before my eyes."
Armstrong was past speech. The inveteracy of his hatred could be seen even in his fast glazing eyes, the indomitableness of his purpose yet spoke in the negative shake of his head. He could die, but he would die in his hate and in his purpose.
Enid ran to the two, she grappled Newbold's arm with both her own and strove with all her might to tear it away from the other's throat. Her lover paid no more attention to her than if a summer breeze had touched him. Armstrong grew black in the face, his limbs relaxed, another second or two and it would have been over with him.
Once more the door was thrown open, through it two snow covered men entered. One swift glance told them all, one of them at least had expected it. On the one side Kirkby, on the other Maitland, tore Newbold away from his prey just in time to save Armstrong's life. Indeed the latter was so far gone that he fell from the table to the floor unconscious, choking, almost dying. It was Enid Maitland who received his head in her arms and helped bring him back to life while the panting Newbold stood staring dully at the woman he loved and the man he hated on the floor at his feet.
"Why did you interfere?" when at last he got his breath again, asked Newbold of Maitland who still held him firmly although restraint was now unnecessary, the heat and fire of his passion being somewhat gone out of him. "I meant to kill him."
"He'd oughter die sure nuff," drawled old Kirkby, rising from where he had been kneeling by Armstrong's side, "but I don't know's how you're bound to be his executioner. He's all right now, Miss Enid," said the old man. "Here" – he took a pillow from the bunk and slipped it under his head and then extending his hands he lifted the excited almost distraught woman to her feet – "tain't fittin' for you to tend on him."
"Oh," exclaimed Enid, her limbs trembling, the blood flowing away from her heart, her face deathly white, fighting against the faintness that came with the reaction, while old Kirkby supported and encouraged her. "I thank God you came. I don't know what would have happened if you had not."
"Has this man mistreated you?" asked Robert Maitland, suddenly tightening his grip upon his hard breathing but unresisting passive prisoner.
"No, no," answered his niece. "He has been everything that a man should be."
"And Armstrong?" continued her uncle.
"No, not even he."
"I came in time, thank God!" ejaculated Newbold.
By this time Armstrong had recovered consciousness. To his other causes for hatred were now added chagrin, mortification, shame. He had been overcome. He would have been a dead man and by Newbold's hands if the others had not interfered. He almost wished they had let his enemy alone. Well, he had lost everything but a chance for revenge on them all.
"She has been alone here with this man in this cabin for a month," he said thickly. "I was willing to take her in spite of that, but – "
"He made that damned suggestion before," cried Newbold, his rage returning. "I don't know who you are – "
"My name is Robert Maitland, and I am this girl's uncle."
"Well, if you were her father, I could only swear – "
"It isn't necessary to swear anything," answered Maitland serenely. "I know this child. And I believe I'm beginning to find out this man."
"Thank you, Uncle Robert," said Enid gratefully, coming nearer to him as she spoke. "No man could have done more for me than Mr. Newbold has, and no one could have been more considerate of me. As for you," she turned on, Armstrong, who now slowly got to his feet, "your insinuations against me are on a par with your charges against the dead woman, beneath contempt."
"What did he say about her?" asked Old Kirkby.
"You know my story?" asked Newbold.
"He said that my wife had been unfaithful to me – with him – and that he had refused to take her back."
"And it was true," snarled Armstrong.
It was all Maitland could do to check Newbold's rush, but in the end it was old Kirkby who most effectively interposed.
"That's a damned lie," he said quietly with his usual drawling voice.
"You can say so," laughed Armstrong, "but that doesn't alter the facts."
"An' I can prove it," answered the old man triumphantly.
It was coming, the secret that she had tried to conceal was about to be revealed, thought Enid. She made a movement toward the old man. She opened her mouth to bid him be silent and then stopped. It would be useless she knew. The determination was no longer hers. The direction of affairs had been withdrawn from her. After all it was better that the unloving wife should be proved faithful, even if her husband's cherished memory of her love for him had to be destroyed thereby. Helpless she listened knowing full well what the old frontiersman's next word would be.
"Prove it!" mocked Armstrong. "How?"
"By your own hand, out of your own mouth, you dog," thundered old Kirkby. "Miss Enid, w'ere are them letters I give you?"
"I – I – " faltered the girl, but there was no escape from the keen glance of the old man, her hand went to the bosom of her tunic.
"Letters!" exclaimed Armstrong. "What letters?"
"These," answered Enid Maitland, holding up the packet.
Armstrong reached for them but Kirkby again interposed.
"No, you don't," he said dryly. "Them ain't for your eyes yit. Mr. Newbold, I found them letters on the little shelf w'ere your wife first struck w'en she fell over onto the butte w'ere she died. I figgered out her dress was tore open there an' them letters she was carryin' fell out an' lodged there. We had ropes an' we went down over the rocks that way. I went first an' I picked 'em up. I never told nobody about it an' I never showed 'em to a single human bein' until I give 'em to Miss Maitland at the camp."
"Why not?" asked Newbold, taking the letters.
"There wasn't no good tellin' nobody then, jest fer the sake o' stirrin' up trouble."
"But why did you give them to her at last?"
"Because I was afeered she might fall in love with Armstrong. I supposed she'd know his writin', but w'en she didn't I jest let her keep 'em anyway. I knowed it'd all come out somehow; there is a God above us in spite of all the damned scoundrels on earth like this un."
"Are these letters addressed to my dead wife?" asked Newbold.
"They are," answered Enid Maitland; "look and see."
"And did Mr. Armstrong write them?"
"He'll deny it, I suppose," answered Kirkby.
"But I am familiar with his handwriting," said Maitland.
Taking the still unopened packet from Newbold he opened it, examined one of the letters and handed them all back.
"There is no doubt about it," he said. "It's Armstrong's hand, I'll swear to it."
"Oh, I'll acknowledge them," said Armstrong, seeing the absolute futility of further denial. He had forgotten all about the letters. He had not dreamed they were in existence. "You've got me beat between you, the cards are stacked against me, I've done my damndest – " and indeed that was true.
Well, he had played a great game, battling for a high stake he had stuck at nothing. A career in which some good had mingled with much bad was now at an end. He had lost utterly, would he show himself a good loser?
"Mr. Armstrong," said Newbold, quietly extending his hand, "here are your letters."
"What do you mean?"
"I am not in the habit of reading letters addressed to other people without permission and when the recipient of them is dead long since, I am doubly bound."
"You're a damned fool," cried Armstrong contemptuously.
"That kind of a charge from your kind of a man is perhaps the highest compliment you could pay me. I don't know whether I shall ever get rid of the doubt you have tried to lodge in my soul about my dead wife, but – "
"There ain't no doubt about it," protested old Kirkby earnestly. "I've read them letters a hundred times over, havin' no scruples whatsomever, an' in every one of 'em he was beggin' an' pleadin' with her to go away with him an' fightin' her refusal to do it. I guess I've got to admit that she didn't love you none, Newbold, an' she did love this here wuthless Armstrong, but for the sake of her reputation I'll prove to you all from them letters of hisn, from his own words, that there didn't live a cleaner hearted, more virtuous, upright feemale than that there wife of yourn, even if she didn't love you. It's God's truth an' you kin take it from me."
"Mr. Armstrong," cried Enid Maitland, interposing at this juncture, "not very long ago I told you I liked you better than any man I had ever seen, I thought perhaps I might have loved you, and that was true. You have played the coward's part and the liar's part in this room – "
"Did I fight him like a coward?" asked Armstrong.
"No," answered Newbold for her, remembering the struggle, "you fought like a man."
Singular perversion of language and thought there! If two struggled like wild beasts that was fighting like men!
"But let that pass," continued the woman. "I don't deny your physical courage, but I am going to appeal to another kind of a courage which I believe you possess. You have showed your evil side here in this room, but I don't believe that's the only side you have, else I couldn't even have liked you in the past. You have made a charge against two women, one dead and one living. It makes little difference what you say about me; I need no defense and no justification in the eyes of those here who love me and for the rest of the world I don't care. But you have slain this man's confidence in a woman he once loved, and whom he thought loved him. As you are a man, tell him that it was a lie and that she was innocent of anything else although she did love you."
What a singular situation, an observer who knew all might have reflected? Here was Enid Maitland pleading for the good name of the woman who had married the man she now loved, and whom by rights she should have jealously hated.
"You ask me more than I can," faltered Armstrong, yet greatly moved by this touching appeal to his better self.
"Let him speak no word," protested Newbold quickly. "I wouldn't believe him on his oath."
"Steady now, steady," interposed Kirkby with his frontier instinct for fair play. "The man's down, Newbold, don't hit him now."
"Give him a chance," added Maitland earnestly.
"You would not believe me, eh?" laughed Armstrong horribly; "well then this is what I say, whether it is true or a lie you can be the judge."
What was he about to say? They all recognized instinctively that his forthcoming deliverance would be a final one. Would good or evil dominate him now? Enid Maitland had made her plea and it had been a powerful one; the man did truly love the woman who urged him, there was nothing left for him but a chance that she should think a little better of him than he merited, he had come to the end of his resources. And Enid Maitland spoke again as he hesitated.
"Oh, think, think before you speak," she cried.
"If I thought," answered Armstrong quickly, "I should go mad. Newbold, your wife was as pure as the snow. That she loved me I cannot and will not deny. She married you in a fit of jealousy and anger after a quarrel between us in which I was to blame, and when I came back to the camp in your absence I strove to make it up and used every argument that I possessed to get her to leave you and to go with me. Although she had no love for you she was too good and too true a woman for that. Now you've got the truth, damn you; believe it or not as you like. Miss Maitland," he added swiftly, "if I had met you sooner, I might have been a better man. Good-by."
He turned suddenly and none preventing, indeed it was not possible, he ran to the outer door; as he did so his hand snatched something that lay on the chest of drawers. There was a flash of light as he drew in his arm but none saw what it was. In a few seconds he was outside the door. The table was between old Kirkby and the exit, Maitland and Newbold were nearest. The old man came to his senses first.
"After him," he cried, "he means – "
But before anybody could stir, the dull report of a pistol came through the open door!
They found Armstrong lying on his back in the snowy path, his face as white as the drift that pillowed his head, Newbold's heavy revolver still clutched in his right hand and a bloody, welling smudge on his left breast over his heart. It was the woman who broke the silence.
"Oh," she sobbed, "It can't be – "
"Dead," said Maitland solemnly.
"And it might have been by my hand," muttered Newbold to himself in horror.
"He'll never cause no more trouble to nobody in this world, Miss Enid an' gents," said old Kirkby gravely. "Well, he was a damned fool an' a damned villain in some ways," continued the old frontiersman reflectively in the silence broken otherwise only by the woman's sobbing breaths, "but he had some of the qualities that go to make a man, an' I ain't doubtin' but what them last words of hisn was mighty near true. Ef he had met a gal like you earlier in his life he mought have been a different man."
The great library was the prettiest room in Robert Maitland's magnificent mansion in Denver's most favored residence section. It was a long, low studded room with a heavy beamed ceiling. The low book cases, about five feet high, ran between all the windows and doors on all sides of the room. At one end there was a huge open fireplace built of rough stone, and as it was winter a cheerful fire of logs blazed on the hearth. It was a man's room preëminently. The drawing room across the hall was Mrs. Maitland's domain, but the library reflected her husband's picturesque if somewhat erratic taste. On the walls there were pictures of the west by Remington, Marchand, Dunton, Dixon and others, and to set them off finely mounted heads of bear and deer and buffalo. Swords and other arms stood here and there. The writing table was massive and the chairs easy, comfortable and inviting. The floor was strewn with robes and rugs. From the windows facing westward, since the house was set on a high hill, one could see the great rampart of the range.
There were three men in the room on that brilliant morning early in January something like a month after these adventures in the mountains which have been so veraciously set forth. Two of them were the brothers Maitland, the third was Newbold.
The shock produced upon Enid Maitland by the death of Armstrong, together with the tremendous episodes that had preceded it, had utterly prostrated her. They had spent the night at the hut in the mountains and had decided that the woman must be taken back to the settlements in some way at all hazards.
The wit of old Kirkby had effected a solution of the problem. Using a means certainly as old as Napoleon and the passage of his cannon over the Great St. Bernard – and perhaps as old as Hannibal! – they had made a rude sled from the trunk of a pine which they hollowed out and provided with a back and runners. There was no lack of fur robes and blankets for her comfort.
Wherever it was practicable the three men hitched themselves to the sled with ropes and dragged it and Enid over the snow. Of course for miles down the cañon it was impossible to use the sled. When the way was comparatively easy the woman supported by the two men, Newbold and Maitland, made shift to get along afoot. When it became too difficult for her, Newbold picked her up as he had done before and assisted by Maitland carried her bodily to the next resting place. At these times Kirkby looked after the sled.
They had managed to reach the temporary hut in the old camp the first night and rested there. They gathered up their sleeping bags and tents and resumed their journey in the morning. They were strong men, and, save for old Kirkby, young. It was a desperate endeavor but they carried it through.
When they hit the open trails the sledding was easy and they made great progress. After a week of terrific going they struck the railroad and the next day found them all safe in Maitland's house in Denver.
To Mr. Stephen Maitland his daughter was as one who had risen from the dead. And indeed when he first saw her she looked like death itself. No one had known how terrible that journey had been to the woman. Her three faithful attendants had surmised something, but in spite of all even they did not realize that in these last days she had been sustained only by the most violent effort of her will. She had no sooner reached the house, greeted her father, her aunt and the children than she collapsed utterly.
The wonder was, said the physician, not that she did it then but that she had not done it before. For a short time it appeared as if her illness might be serious, but youth, vigor, a strong body and a good constitution, a heart now free from care and apprehension and a great desire to live and love and be loved, worked wonders.
Newbold had enjoyed no opportunity for private conversation with the woman he loved, which was perhaps just as well. He had the task of readjusting himself to changed conditions; not only to a different environment, but to strange and unusual departures from his long cherished view points.
He could no longer doubt Armstrong's final testimony to the purity of his wife, although he had burned the letters unread, and by the same token he could no longer cherish the dream that she had loved him and him alone. Those words that had preceded that pistol shot had made it possible for him to take Enid Maitland as his wife without doing violence to his sense of honor or his self-respect. Armstrong had made that much reparation. And Newbold could not doubt that the other had known what would be the result of his speech and had chosen his words deliberately. Score that last action to his credit. He was a sensitive man, however; he realized the brutal and beastlike part he and Armstrong had both played before this woman they both loved, how they had battled like savage animals and how but for a lucky interposition he would have added murder to his other disabilities.
He was honest enough to say to himself that he would have done the same thing over under the same circumstances, but that did not absolve his conscience. He did not know how the woman looked at the transaction or looked at him, for he had not enjoyed one moment alone with her to enable him to find out.
They had buried Armstrong in the snow, Robert Maitland saying over him a brief but fervent petition in which even Newbold joined. Enid Maitland herself had repeated eloquently to her Uncle and old Kirkby that night before the fire the story of her rescue from the flood by this man, how he had carried her in the storm to the hut and how he had treated her since, and Maitland had afterwards repeated her account to his brother in Denver.
Maitland had insisted that Newbold share his hospitality, but that young man had refused. Kirkby had a little place not far from Denver and easily accessible to it and the old man had gladly taken the younger one with him. Newbold had been in a fever of anxiety over Enid Maitland's illness, but his alarm had soon been dispelled by the physician's assurance and there was nothing now left for him but to wait until she could see him. He inquired for her morning and evening at the great house on the hill, he kept her room a bower of beauty with priceless blossoms, but he had sent no word.
Robert Maitland had promised to let him know, however, so soon as Enid could see him and it was in pursuance of a telephone message that he was in the library that morning.
He had not yet become accustomed to the world, he had lived so long alone that he had grown somewhat shy and retiring, the habits and customs of years were not to be lightly thrown aside in a week or a month. He had sought no interview with Enid's father heretofore, indeed had rather avoided it, but on this morning he had asked for it, and when Robert Maitland would have withdrawn he begged him to remain.
"Mr. Maitland," Newbold began, "I presume that you know my unfortunate history."
"I have heard the general outlines of it, sir, from my brother and others," answered the other kindly.
"I need not dwell upon it further then. Although my hair is tinged with gray and doubtless I look much older, I was only twenty-eight on my last birthday. I was not born in this section of the country, my home was in Baltimore."
"Do you by any chance belong to the Maryland Newbolds, sir?"
"They are distantly related to a most excellent family of the same name in Philadelphia, I believe?"
"I have always understood that to be the truth."
"Ah, a very satisfactory connection indeed," said Stephen Maitland with no little satisfaction. "Proceed, sir."
"There is nothing much else to say about myself, except that I love your daughter and with your permission I want her for my wife."
Mr. Stephen Maitland had thought long and seriously over the state of affairs. He had proposed in his desperation to give Enid's hand to Armstrong if he found her. It had been impossible to keep secret the story of her adventure, her rescue and the death of Armstrong. It was natural and inevitable that gossip should have busied itself with her name. It would therefore have been somewhat difficult for Mr. Maitland to have withheld his consent to her marriage to almost any reputable man who had been thrown so intimately with her, but when the man was so unexceptionably born and bred as Newbold, what had appeared as a more or less disagreeable duty, almost an imperative imposition, became a pleasure!
Mr. Maitland was no bad judge of men when his prejudices were not rampant and he looked with much satisfaction on the fine, clean limbed, clear eyed, vigorous man who was at present suing for his daughter's hand. Newbold had shaved his beard and had cropped close his mustache, he was dressed in the habits of civilization and he was almost metamorphosed. His shyness wore away as he talked and his inherited ease of manner and his birthright of good breeding came back to him and sat easily upon him.
Under the circumstances the very best thing that could happen would be a marriage between the two; indeed, to be quite honest, Mr. Stephen Maitland would have felt that perhaps under any circumstances his daughter could do no better than commit herself to a man like this.
"I shall never attempt," he said at last, "to constrain my daughter. I think I have learned something by my touch with this life here, perhaps we of Philadelphia need a little broadening in airs more free. I am sure that she would never give her hand without her heart, and therefore, she must decide this matter herself. From her own lips you shall have your answer."
"But you, sir; I confess that I should feel easier and happier if I had your sanction and approval."
"Steve," said Mr. Robert Maitland, as the other hesitated, not because he intended to refuse but because he was loath to say the word that so far as he was concerned would give his daughter into another man's keeping, "I think you can trust Newbold. There are men here who knew him years ago; there is abundant evidence and testimony as to his qualities; I vouch for him."
"Robert," answered his brother, "I need no such testimony; the way in which he saved Enid, the way he comported himself during that period of isolation with her, his present bearing – in short, sir, if a father is ever glad to give away his daughter, I might say that I should be glad to entrust her to you. I believe you to be a man of honor and a gentleman, your family is almost as old as my own, as for the disparity in our fortunes, I can easily remedy that."
Newbold smiled at Enid's father, but it was a pleasant smile, albeit with a trace of mockery and a trace of triumph in it.
"Mr. Maitland I am more grateful to you than I can say for your consent and approval which I shall do my best to merit. I think I may claim to have won your daughter's heart, to have added to that your sanction completes my happiness. As for the disparity in our fortunes, while your generosity touches me profoundly, I hardly think that you need be under any uneasiness as to our material welfare."
"What do you mean?"
"I am a mining engineer, sir; I didn't live five years alone in the mountains of Colorado for nothing."
"Pray explain yourself, sir."
"Did you find gold in the hills?" asked Robert Maitland, quicker to understand.
"The richest veins on the continent," answered Newbold.
"And nobody knows anything about it?"
"Not a soul."
"Have you located the claims?"
"We'll go back as soon as the snow melts," said the younger Maitland, "and take them up. You are sure?"
"But I don't quite understand?" queried Mr. Stephen Maitland.
"He means," said his brother, "that he has discovered gold."
"And silver too," interposed Newbold.
"In unlimited quantities," continued the other Maitland.
"Your daughter will have more money than she knows what to do with, sir," smiled Newbold.
"God bless me!" exclaimed the Philadelphian.
"And that, whether she marries me or not, for the richest claim of all is to be taken out in her name," added her lover.
Mr. Stephen Maitland shook the other by the hand vigorously.
"I congratulate you," he said, "you have beaten me on all points. I must therefore regard you as the most eligible of suitors. Gold in these mountains, well, well!"
"And may I see your daughter and plead my cause in person, sir?" asked Newbold.
"Certainly, certainly. Robert, will you oblige me – "