"You say," asked Maitland, as they surveyed the cañon, "that she went down the stream?"
"She said she was goin' down. I showed her how to cut across the mountains an' avoid the big bend, I've got no reason to suspicion that she didn't go w'ere she said."
"Nevertheless," said Maitland, "it is barely possible that she may have changed her mind and gone up the cañon."
"Yep, the female mind does often change unexpected like," returned the other, "but w'ether she went up or down, the only place for us to look, I take it, is down, for if she's alive, if she got out of the cañon and is above us, nacherly she'd follow it down yere an' we'd a seed her by this time. If she didn't git out of the cañon, why, all that's left of her is bound to be down stream."
Maitland nodded, he understood.
"We'd better go down then," continued Kirkby, whose reasoning was flawless except that it made no allowance for the human-divine interposition that had been Enid Maitland's salvation. "An' if we don't find no traces of her down stream, we kin come back here an' go up."
It was a hard desperate journey the two men took. One of them followed the stream at its level, the other tramped along in the mountains high above the high water mark of the day before. If they had needed any evidence of the power of that cloud burst and storm, they found it in the cañon. In some places where it was narrow and rocky, the pass had been fearfully scoured; at other places the whole aspect of it was changed. The place was a welter of up-rooted trees, logs jammed together in fantastic shapes; it was as if some wanton besom of destruction had swept the narrow rift.
Ever as they went they called and called. The broken obstructions of the way made their progress slow; what they would have passed over ordinarily in half a day, they had not traversed by nightfall and they had seen nothing. They camped that night far down the cañon and in the morning with hearts growing heavier every hour they resumed their search.
About noon of the second day they came to an immense log jam where the stream now broadened and made a sudden turn before it plunged over a fall of perhaps two hundred feet into the lake. It was the end of their quest. If they did not find her there, they would never find her anywhere, they thought. With still hearts and bated breath they climbed out over the log jam and scrutinized it. A brownish gray patch concealed beneath the great pines caught their eyes. They made their way to it.
"It's a b'ar, a big grizzly," exclaimed Kirkby.
The huge brute was battered out of all semblance of life, but that it was a grizzly bear was clearly evident. Further on the two men caught sight suddenly of a dash of blue. Kirkby stepped over to it, lifted it in his hand and silently extended it to Maitland. It was a sweater, a woman's sweater. They recognized it at once. The old man shook his head. Maitland groaned aloud.
"See yere," said Kirkby, pointing to the ragged and torn garment where evidences of discoloration still remained, "looks like there'd bin blood on it."
"Heavens!" cried Maitland, "not that bear, I'd rather anything than that."
"W'atever it is, she's gone," said the old man with solemn finality.
"Her body may be in these logs here – "
"Or in the lake," answered Kirkby gloomily; "but w'erever she is we can't git to her now."
"We must come back with dynamite to break up this jam and – "
"Yep," nodded the old man, "we'll do all that, of course, but now, arter we search this jam o' logs I guess there's nothin' to do but go back, an' the quicker we git back to the settlement, the quicker we can git back here. I think we kin strike acrost the mountains an' save a day an' a half. There's no need of us goin' back up the cañon now, I take it."
"No," answered the other. "The quicker the better, as you say, and we can head off George and the others that way."
They searched the pile eagerly, prying under it, peering into it, upsetting it, so far as they could with their naked hands, but with little result, for they found nothing else. They had to camp another day and next morning they hurried straight over the mountains, reaching the settlement almost as soon as the others. Maitland with furious energy at once organized a relief party. They hurried back to the logs, tore the jam to pieces, searched it carefully and found nothing. To drag the lake was impossible; it was hundreds of feet deep and while they worked it froze. The weather had changed some days before, heavy snows had already fallen, they had to get out of the mountains without further delay or else be frozen up to die. Then and not till then did Maitland give up hope. He had refrained from wiring to Philadelphia, but when he reached a telegraph line some ten days after the cloud burst, he sent a long message east, breaking to his brother the awful tidings.
And in all that they did he and Kirkby, two of the shrewdest and most experienced of men, showed with singular exactitude how easy it is for the wisest and most capable of men to make mistakes, to leave the plain trail, to fail to deduce the truth from the facts presented. Yet it is difficult to point to a fault in their reasoning, or to find anything left undone in the search.
Enid had started down the cañon, near the end of it they had discovered one of her garments which they could not conceive any reason for her taking off. It was near the battered body of one of the biggest grizzlies that either man had ever seen, it held evidence of blood stains upon it still, they had found no body, but they were as profoundly sure that the mangled remains of the poor girl lay within the depths of that mountain lake as if they had actually seen her there. The logic was all flawless.
It so happened that on that November morning, when the telegram was approaching him, Mr. Stephen Maitland had a caller. He came at an unusually early hour. Mr. Stephen Maitland, who was no longer an early riser, had indeed just finished his breakfast when the card of Mr. James Armstrong of Colorado was handed to him.
"This, I suppose," he thought testily, "is one of the results of Enid's wanderings into that God-forsaken land. Did you ask the man his business, James?" he said aloud to the footman.
"Yes, sir; he said he wanted to see you on important business, and when I made bold to ask him what business, he said it was none of mine, and for me to take the message to you, sir."
"Impudent," growled Mr. Maitland.
"Yes, sir; but he is the kind of a gentleman you don't talk back to, sir."
"Well, you go back and tell him that you have given me his card, and I should like to know what he wishes to see me about, that I am very busy this morning and unless it is a matter of importance – you understand?"
"I suppose now I shall have the whole west unloaded upon me; every vagabond friend of Robert's and people who meet Enid," he thought, but his reveries were shortly interrupted by the return of the man.
"If you please, sir," began James hesitatingly, as he re-entered the room, "he says his business is about the young lady, sir."
"Confound his impudence!" exclaimed Mr. Maitland, more and more annoyed at what he was pleased to characterize mentally as western assurance. "Where is he?"
"In the hall, sir."
"Show him into the library and say I shall be down in a moment."
"Very good, sir."
It was a decidedly wrathful individual who confronted Stephen Maitland a few moments afterwards in the library, for Armstrong was not accustomed to such cavalier treatment, and had Maitland been other than Enid's father he would have given more outward expression of his indignation over the discourtesy in his reception.
"Mr. James Armstrong, I believe," began Mr. Maitland, looking at the card in his hand.
"Er – from Colorado?"
"And proud of it."
"Ah, I dare say. I believe you wished to see me about – "
"Your daughter, sir."
"And in what way are you concerned about her, sir?"
"I wish to make her my wife."
"What!" exclaimed the older man in a voice equally divided between horror and astonishment. "How dare you, sir? You amaze, me beyond measure with your infernal impudence."
"Excuse me, Mr. Maitland," interposed Armstrong quickly and with great spirit and determination, "but where I come from we don't allow anybody to talk to us in this way. You are Enid's father and a much older man than I, but I can't permit you to – "
"Sir," said the astounded Maitland, drawing himself up at this bold flouting, "you may be a very worthy young man, I have no doubt of it, but it is out of the question. My daughter – "
Again a less excited hearer might have noticed the emphasis on the pronoun.
"Why, she is half way engaged to me now," interrupted the younger man with a certain contemptuous amusement in his voice. "Look here, Mr. Maitland, I've knocked around the world a good deal, I know what's what, I know all about you Eastern people, and I don't fancy you any more than you fancy me. Miss Enid is quite unspoiled yet and that is why I want her. I'm well able to take care of her too; I don't know what you've got or how you got it, but I can come near laying down dollar for dollar with you and mine's all clean money, mines, cattle, lumber, and it's all good money. I made it myself. I left her in the mountains three weeks ago with her promise that she would think very seriously of my suit. After I came back to Denver – I was called east – I made up my mind that I'd come here when I'd finished my business and have it out with you. Now you can treat me like a dog if you want to, but if you expect to keep peace in the family you'd better not, for I tell you plainly whether you give your consent or not I mean to win her. All I want is her consent, and I've pretty nearly got that."
Mr. Stephen Maitland was black with wrath at this clear, unequivocal, determined statement of the case from Armstrong's point of view.
"I would rather see her dead," he exclaimed with angry stubbornness, "than married to a man like you. How dare you force yourself into my house and insult me in this way? Were I not so old a man I would show you, I would give you a taste of your own manner."
The old man's white mustache fairly quivered with what he believed to be righteous indignation. He stepped over to the other and looked hard at him, his eyes blazing, his ruddy cheeks redder than ever. The two men confronted each other unblenchingly for a moment, then Mr. Maitland touched a bell button in the wall by his side. Instantly the footman made his appearance.
"James," said the old man, his voice shaking and his knees trembling with passion, which he did not quite succeed in controlling despite a desperate effort, "show this – er – gentleman the door. Good morning, sir, our first and last interview is over."
He bowed with ceremonious politeness as he spoke, becoming more and more composed as he felt himself mastering the situation. And Armstrong, to do him justice, knew a gentleman when he saw him, and secretly admired the older man and began to feel a touch of shame at his own rude way of putting things.
"Beg pardon, sir," said the footman, breaking the awkward silence, "but here is a telegram that has just come, sir."
There was nothing for Armstrong to do or say. Indeed, having expressed himself so unrestrainedly to his rapidly increasing regret, as the old man took the telegram he turned away in considerable discomfiture, James bowing before him at the door opening into the hall and following him as he slowly passed out. Mr. Stephen Maitland mechanically and with great deliberation and with no premonition of evil tidings, tore open the yellow envelope and glanced at the dispatch. Neither the visitor nor the footman had got out of sight or hearing when they heard the old man groan and fall back helplessly into a chair. Both men turned and ran back to the door, for there was that in the exclamation which gave rise to instant apprehension. Stephen Maitland now as white as death sat collapsed in the chair gasping for breath, his hand on his heart. The telegram lay open on the floor. Armstrong recognized the seriousness of the situation, and in three steps was by the other's side.
"What is it?" he asked eagerly, his hatred and resentment vanished at the sight of the old man's ghastly, stricken countenance.
"Enid!" gasped her father. "I said I would rather see her – dead, but – it is not true – I – "
James Armstrong was a man of prompt decision. Without a moment's hesitation he picked up the telegram; it was full and explicit, thus it read:
"We were encamped last week in the mountains. Enid went down the cañon for a day's fishing alone. A sudden cloud burst filled the cañon, washed away the camp. Enid undoubtedly got caught in the torrent and was drowned. We have found some of her clothing but not her body. Have searched every foot of the cañon. Think body has got into the lake now frozen. Snow falling, mountains impassable, will search for her in the spring when the winter breaks. I am following this telegram in person by first train. Would rather have died a thousand deaths than had this happen. God help us.""Robert Maitland."
Armstrong read it, stared at it a moment frowning heavily, passed it over to the footman and turned to the stricken father.
"Old man, I loved her," he said simply. "I love her still, I believe that she loves me. They haven't found her body, clothes mean nothing, I'll find her, I'll search the mountains until I do. Don't give way, something tells me that she's alive, and I'll find her."
"If you do," said the broken old man, crushed by the swift and awful response to his thoughtless exclamation, "and she loves you, you shall have her for your wife."
"It doesn't need that to make me find her," answered Armstrong grimly. "She is a woman, lost in the mountains in the winter, alone. They shouldn't have given up the search; I'll find her as there is a God above me whether she's for me or not."
A good deal of a man this James Armstrong of Colorado, in spite of many things in his past of which he thought so little that he lacked the grace to be ashamed of them. Stephen Maitland looked at him with a certain respect and a growing hope, as he stood there in the library stern, resolute, strong.
Recognition – or some other more potent instantaneous force – brought the woman to a sitting position. The man drew back to give her freedom of action, as she lifted herself on her hands. It was moments before complete consciousness of her situation came to her; the surprise was yet too great. She saw things dimly through a whirl of driving rain, of a rushing mighty wind, of a seething sea of water, but presently it was all plain to her again. She had caught no fair view of the man who had shot the bear as he splashed through the creek and tramped, across the rocks and trees down the cañon, at least she had not seen his front face, but she recognized him immediately. The thought tinged with color for a moment, her pallid cheek.
"I fell into the torrent," she said feebly, putting her hand to her head and striving by speech to put aside that awful remembrance.
"You didn't fall in," was the answer. "It was a cloud burst, you were caught in it."
"I didn't know."
"Of course not, how should you."
"And how came I here?"
"I was lucky enough to pull you out."
"Did you jump into the flood for me?"
The man nodded.
"That's twice you have saved my life this day," said the girl, forcing herself woman-like to the topic that she hated.
"It's nothing," deprecated the other.
"It may be nothing to you, but it is a great deal to me," was the answer. "And now what is to be done?"
"We must get out of here at once," said the man. "You need shelter, food, a fire. Can you walk?"
"I don't know."
"Let me help you." He rose to his feet, reached down to her, took her hands in the strong grasp of his own and raised her lightly to her feet in an effortless way which showed his great strength. She did not more than put the weight of her body slightly on her left foot when a spasm of pain shot through her, she swerved and would have fallen had he not caught her. He sat her gently on the rock.
"My foot," she said piteously. "I don't know what's the matter with it."
Her high boots were tightly laced of course, but he could see that her left foot had been badly mauled or sprained, already the slender ankle was swelling visibly. He examined it swiftly a moment. It might be a sprain, it might be the result of some violent thrust against the rocks, some whirling tree trunks might have caught and crushed her foot, but there was no good in speculating as to causes; the present patent fact was that she could not walk, all the rest was at that moment unimportant. This unfortunate accident made him the more anxious to get her to a place of shelter without delay. It would be necessary to take off her boot and give the wounded member proper treatment. For the present the tight shoe acted as a bandage, which was well.
When the man had withdrawn himself from the world, he had inwardly resolved that no human being should ever invade his domain or share his solitude, and during his long sojourn in the wilderness his determination had not weakened. Now his consuming desire was to get this woman, whom fortune – good or ill! – had thrown upon his hands, to his house without delay. There was nothing he could do for her out there in the rain. Every drop of whiskey was gone; they were just two half-drowned, sodden bits of humanity cast up on that rocky shore, and one was a helpless woman.
"Do you know where your camp is?" he asked at last.
He did not wish to take her to her own camp, he had a strange instinct of possession in her. In some way he felt he had obtained a right to deal with her as he would; he had saved her life twice, once by chance, the other as the result of deliberate and heroic endeavor, and yet his honor and his manhood obliged him to offer to take her to her own people if he could. Hence the question, the answer to which he waited so eagerly.
"It's down the cañon. I am one of Mr. Robert Maitland's party."
The man nodded. He didn't know Robert Maitland from Adam, and he cared nothing about him.
"How far down?" he asked.
"I don't know; how far is it from here to where you – where – where we – "
"About a mile," he replied quickly, fully understanding her reason for faltering.
"Then I think I must have come at least five miles from the camp this morning."
"It will be four miles away then," said the man.
The girl nodded.
"I couldn't carry you that far," he murmured half to himself. "I question if there is any camp left there anyway. Where was it, down by the water's edge?"
"Every vestige will have been swept away by that, look at it," he pointed over to the lake.
"What must we do?" she asked instantly, depending upon his greater strength, his larger experience, his masculine force.
"I shall have to take you to my camp."
"Is it far?"
"About a mile or a mile and a half from here."
"I can't walk that far."
"No, I suppose not. You wouldn't be willing to stay here while I went down and hunted for your camp?"
The girl clutched at him.
"I couldn't be left here for a moment alone," she said in sudden fever of alarm. "I never was afraid before, but now – "
"All right," he said, gently patting her as he would a child, "we'll go up to my camp and then I will try to find your people and – "
"But I tell you I can't walk!"
"You don't have to walk," said the man.
He did not make any apology for his next action, he just stooped down and disregarding her faint protests and objections, picked her up in his arms. She was by no means a light burden, and he did not run away with her as the heroes of romances do. But he was a man far beyond the average in strength, and with a stout heart and a resolute courage that had always carried him successfully through whatever he attempted, and he had need of all his qualities, physical and mental, before he finished that awful journey.
The woman struggled a little at first, then finally resigned herself to the situation; indeed, she thought swiftly, there was nothing else to do; she had no choice, she could not have been left alone there in the rocks in that rain, she could not walk. He was doing the only thing possible. The compulsion of the inevitable was upon them both.
They went slowly. The man often stopped for rest, at which times he would seat her carefully upon some prostrate tree, or some rounded boulder, until he was ready to resume his task. He did not bother her with explanation, discussion or other conversation, for which she was most thankful. Once or twice during the slow progress she tried to walk, but the slightest pressure on her wounded foot nearly caused her to faint. He made no complaint about his burden and she found it after all pleasant to be upheld by such powerful arms; she was so sick, so tired, so worn out, and there was such assurance of strength and safety in his firm hold of her.
By and by, in the last stage of their journey, her head dropped on his shoulder and she actually fell into an uneasy troubled sleep. He did not know whether she slumbered or whether she had fainted again. He did not dare to stop to find out, his strength was almost spent; in this last effort the strain upon his muscles was almost as great as it had been in the whirlpool. For the second time that day the sweat stood out on his forehead, his legs trembled under him. How he made the last five hundred feet up the steep wall to a certain broad shelf perhaps an acre in extent where he had built his hut among the mountains, he never knew; but the last remnant of his force was spent when he finally opened the unlatched door with his foot, carried her into the log hut and laid her upon the bed or bunk built against one wall of the cabin.
Yet the way he put her down was characteristic of the man. That last vestige of strength had served him well. He did not drop her as a less thoughtful and less determined man might have done; he laid her there as gently and as tenderly as if she weighed nothing, and as if he had carried her nowhere. So quiet and easy was his handling of her that she did not wake up at once.
So soon as she was out of his arms, he stood up and stared at her in great alarm which soon gave way to reassurance. She had not fainted; there was a little tinge of color in her cheek that had rubbed up against his rough wet shoulder; she was asleep, her regular breathing told him that. Sleep was of course the very best medicine for her and yet she should not be allowed to sleep until she had got rid of her wet clothing and until something had been done for her wounded foot. It was indeed an embarrassing situation.
He surveyed her for a few moments wondering how best to begin. Then realizing the necessity for immediate action, he bent over and woke her up. Again she stared at him in bewilderment until he spoke.
"This is my house," he said, "we are home."
"Home!" sobbed the girl.
"Under shelter, then," said the man. "You are very tired and very sleepy, but there is something to be done. You must take off those wet clothes at once, you must have something to eat, and I must have a look at that foot, and then you can have your sleep out."
The girl stared at him; his program, if a radical one under the circumstances, was nevertheless a rational one, indeed the only one. How was it to be carried out? The man easily divined her thoughts.
"There is another room in this house, a store room, I cook in there," he said. "I am going in there now to get you something to eat, meanwhile you must undress yourself and go to bed."
He went to a rude set of box-like shelves draped with a curtain, apparently his own handiwork, against the wall, and brought from it a long and somewhat shapeless woolen gown.
"You can wear this to sleep in," he continued. "First of all, though, I am going to have a look at that foot."
He bent down to where her wounded foot lay extended on the bed.
"Wait!" said the girl, lifting herself on her arm and as she did so he lifted his head and answered her direct gaze with his own. "I am a woman, absolutely alone, entirely at your mercy, you are stronger than I, I have no choice but to do what you bid me. And in addition to the natural weakness of my sex I am the more helpless from this foot. What do you intend to do with me? How do you mean to treat me?"
It was a bold, a splendid question and it evoked the answer it merited.
"As God is my judge," said the man quietly, "just as you ought to be treated, as I would want another to treat my mother, or my sister, or my wife – " she noticed how curiously his lips suddenly tightened at that word – "if I had one. I never harmed a woman in my life," he continued more earnestly, "only one, that is," he corrected himself, and once again she marked that peculiar contraction of the lips. "And I could not help that," he added.
"I trust you," said the girl at last after gazing at him long and hard as if to search out the secrets of his very soul. "You have saved my life and things dearer will be safe with you. I have to trust you."
"I hope," came the quick comment, "that it is not only for that. I don't want to be trusted upon compulsion."
"You must have fought terribly for my life in the flood," was the answer. "I can remember what it was now, and you carried me over the rocks and the mountains without faltering. Only a man could do what you have done. I trust you anyway."
"Thank you," said the man briefly as he bent over the injured foot again.
The boot laced up the front, the short skirt left all plainly visible. With deft fingers he undid the sodden knot and unlaced it, then stood hesitatingly for a moment.
"I don't like to cut your only pair of shoes," he said as he made a slight motion to draw it off, and then observing the spasm of pain, he stopped. "Needs must," he continued, taking out his knife and slitting the leather.
He did it very carefully so as not to ruin the boot beyond repair, and finally succeeded in getting it off without giving her too much pain. And she was not so tired or so miserable as to be unaware of his gentleness. His manner, matter-of-fact, business-like, if he had been a doctor one would have called it professional, distinctly pleased her in this trying and unusual position. Her stocking was stained with blood. The man rose to his feet, took from a rude home-made chair a light Mexican blanket and laid it considerately across the girl.
"Now if you can manage to get off your stocking, yourself, I will see what can be done," he said turning away.
It was the work of a few seconds for her to comply with his request. Hanging the wet stocking carefully over a chair back, he drew back the blanket a little and carefully inspected the poor little foot. He saw at once that it was not an ordinary sprained ankle, but it seemed to him that her foot had been caught between two tossing logs, and had been badly bruised. It was very painful, but would not take so long to heal as a sprain. The little foot, normally so white, was now black and blue and the skin had been roughly torn and broken. He brought a basin of cold water and a towel and washed off the blood, the girl fighting down the pain and successfully stifling any outcry.
"Now," he said, "you must put on this gown and get into bed. By the time you are ready for it I will have some broth for you and then we will bandage that foot. I shall not come in here for some time, you will be quite alone and safe."
He turned and left the room, shutting the door after him as he went out. For a second time that day Enid Maitland undressed herself and this time nervously and in great haste. She was almost too excited and apprehensive to recall the painful circumstances attendant upon her first disrobing. She said she trusted the man absolutely, yet she would not have been human if she had not looked most anxiously toward that closed door. He made plenty of noise in the other room, bustling about as if to reassure her.
She could not rest the weight of her body on her left foot and getting rid of her wet clothes was a somewhat slow process in spite of her hurry, made more so by her extreme nervousness. The gown he gave her was far too big for her, but soft and warm and exquisitely clean. It draped her slight figure completely. Leaving her sodden garments where they had fallen, for she was not equal to anything else, she wrapped herself in the folds of the big gown and managed to get into bed. For all its rude appearance it was a very comfortable sleeping place, there were springs and a good mattress. The unbleached sheets were clean; although they had been rough dried, there was a delicious sense of comfort and rest in her position. She had scarcely composed herself when he knocked loudly upon her door.
"May I come in?" he asked.
When she bade him enter she saw he had in his hand a saucepan full of some steaming broth. She wondered how he had made it in such a hurry, but after he poured it into a granite ware cup and offered it to her, she took it without question. It was thick, warming and nourishing. He stood by her and insisted that she take more and more. Finally she rebelled.
"Well, perhaps that will do for to-night," he said, "now let's have a look at your foot."
She observed that he had laid on the table a long roll of white cloth; she could not know that he had torn up one of his sheets to make bandages, but so it was. He took the little foot tenderly in his hands.
"I am going to hurt you," he said, "I am going to find out if there is anything more than a bruise, any bones broken."
There was no denying that he did pain her exquisitely.
"I can't help it," he said as she cried aloud. "I have got to see what's the matter, I am almost through now."
"Go on, I can bear it," she said faintly. "I feel so much better anyway now that I am dry and warm."
"So far as I can determine," said the man at last, "it is only a bad ugly bruise; the skin is torn, it has been battered, but it is neither sprained nor broken and I don't think it is going to be very serious. Now I am going to bathe it in the hottest water you can bear, and then I will bandage it and let you go to sleep."