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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Alaskan: A Novel Of The North - Chapter 22
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The Alaskan: A Novel Of The North - Chapter 22 Post by :Joe_Coon Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2130

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The Alaskan: A Novel Of The North - Chapter 22

CHAPTER XXII

At the desk in Alan's living-room sat Rossland, when the door opened behind him and the master of the range came in. He was not disturbed when he saw who it was, and rose to meet him. His coat was off, his sleeves rolled up, and it was evident he was making no effort to conceal his freedom with Alan's books and papers.

He advanced, holding out a hand. This was not the same Rossland who had told Alan to attend to his own business on board the _Nome_. His attitude was that of one greeting a friend, smiling and affable even before he spoke. Something inspired Alan to return the smile. Behind that smile he was admiring the man's nerve. His hand met Rossland's casually, but there was no uncertainty in the warmth of the other's grip.

"How d' do, Paris, old boy?" he greeted good-humoredly. "Saw you going in to Helen a few minutes ago, so I've been waiting for you. She's a little frightened. And we can't blame her. Menelaus is mightily upset. But mind me, Holt, I'm not blaming you. I'm too good a sport. Clever, I call it--damned clever. She's enough to turn any man's head. I only wish I were in your boots right now. I'd have turned traitor myself aboard the _Nome if she had shown an inclination."

He proffered a cigar, a big, fat cigar with a gold band. It was inspiration again that made Alan accept it and light it. His blood was racing. But Rossland saw nothing of that. He observed only the nod, the cool smile on Alan's lips, the apparent nonchalance with which he was meeting the situation. It pleased Graham's agent. He reseated himself in the desk-chair and motioned Alan to another chair near him.

"I thought you were badly hurt," said Alan. "Nasty knife wound you got."

Rossland shrugged his shoulders. "There you have it again, Holt--the hell of letting a pretty face run away with you. One of the Thlinkit girls down in the steerage, you know. Lovely little thing, wasn't she? Tricked her into my cabin all right, but she wasn't like some other Indian girls I've known. The next night a brother, or sweetheart, or whoever it was got me through the open port. It wasn't bad. I was out of the hospital within a week. Lucky I was put there, too. Otherwise I wouldn't have seen Mrs. Graham one morning--through the window. What a little our fortunes hang to at times, eh? If it hadn't been for the girl and the knife and the hospital, I wouldn't be here now, and Graham wouldn't be bleeding his heart out with impatience--and you, Holt, wouldn't be facing the biggest opportunity that will ever come into your life."

"I'm afraid I don't understand," said Alan, hiding his face in the smoke of his cigar and speaking with an apparent indifference which had its effect upon Rossland. "Your presence inclines me to believe that luck has rather turned against me. Where can my advantage be?"

A grim seriousness settled in Rossland's eyes, and his voice became cool and hard. "Holt, as two men who are not afraid to meet unusual situations, we may as well call a spade a spade in this matter, don't you think so?"

"Decidedly," said Alan.

"You know that Mary Standish is really Mary Standish Graham, John Graham's wife?"

"Yes."

"And you probably know--now--why she jumped into the sea, and why she ran away from Graham."

"I do."

"That saves a lot of talk. But there is another side to the story which you probably don't know, and I am here to tell it to you. John Graham doesn't care for a dollar of the Standish fortune. It's the girl he wants, and has always wanted. She has grown up under his eyes. From the day she was fourteen years old he has lived and planned with the thought of possessing her. You know how he got her to marry him, and you know what happened afterward. But it makes no difference to him whether she hates him or not. He _wants her. And this"--he swept his arms out, "is the most beautiful place in the world in which to have her returned to him. I've been figuring from your books. Your property isn't worth over a hundred thousand dollars as it stands on hoof today. I'm here to offer you five times that for it. In other words, Graham is willing to forfeit all action he might have personally against you for stealing his wife, and in place of that will pay you five hundred thousand dollars for the privilege of having his honeymoon here, and making of this place a country estate where his wife may reside indefinitely, subject to her husband's visits when he is so inclined. There will be a stipulation, of course, requiring that the personal details of the deal be kept strictly confidential, and that you leave the country. Do I make myself clear?"

Alan rose to his feet and paced thoughtfully across the room. At least, Rossland measured his action as one of sudden, intensive reflection as he watched him, smiling complacently at the effect of his knock-out proposition upon the other. He had not minced matters. He had come to the point without an effort at bargaining, and he possessed sufficient dramatic sense to appreciate what the offer of half a million dollars meant to an individual who was struggling for existence at the edge of a raw frontier. Alan stood with his back toward him, facing a window. His voice was oddly strained when he answered. But that was quite natural, too, Rossland thought.

"I am wondering if I understand you," he said. "Do you mean that if I sell Graham the range, leave it bag and baggage, and agree to keep my mouth shut thereafter, he will give me half a million dollars?"

"That is the price. You are to take your people with you. Graham has his own."

Alan tried to laugh. "I think I see the point--now. He isn't paying five hundred thousand for Miss Standish--I mean Mrs. Graham. He's paying it for the _isolation_."

"Exactly. It was a last-minute hunch with him--to settle the matter peaceably. We started up here to get his wife. You understand, to _get her, and settle the matter with you in a different way from the one we're using now. You hit the word when you said 'isolation.' What a damn fool a man can make of himself over a pretty face! Think of it--half a million dollars!"

"It sounds unreal," mused Alan, keeping his face to the window. "Why should he offer so much?"

"You must keep the stipulation in mind, Holt. That is an important part of the deal. You are to keep your mouth shut. Buying the range at a normal price wouldn't guarantee it. But when you accept a sum like that, you're a partner in the other end of the transaction, and your health depends upon keeping the matter quiet. Simple enough, isn't it?"

Alan turned back to the table. His face was pale. He tried to keep smoke in front of his eyes. "Of course, I don't suppose he'd allow Mrs. Graham to escape back to the States--where she might do a little upsetting on her own account?"

"He isn't throwing the money away," replied Rossland significantly.

"She would remain here indefinitely?"

"Indefinitely."

"Probably never would return."

"Strange how squarely you hit the nail on the head! Why should she return? The world believes she is dead. Papers were full of it. The little secret of her being alive is all our own. And this will be a beautiful summering place for Graham. Magnificent climate. Lovely flowers. Birds. And the girl he has watched grow up, and wanted, since she was fourteen."

"And who hates him."

"True."

"Who was tricked into marrying him, and who would rather die than live with him as his wife."

"But it's up to Graham to keep her alive, Holt. That's not our business. If she dies, I imagine you will have an opportunity to get your range back pretty cheap."

Rossland held a paper out to Alan.

"Here's partial payment--two hundred and fifty thousand. I have the papers here, on the desk, ready to sign. As soon as you give possession, I'll return to Tanana with you and make the remaining payment."

Alan took the check. "I guess only a fool would refuse an offer like this, Rossland."

"Yes, only a fool."

"_And I am that fool_."

So quietly did Alan speak that for an instant the significance of his words did not fall with full force upon Rossland. The smoke cleared away from before Alan's face. His cigar dropped to the floor, and he stepped on it with his foot. The check followed it in torn scraps. The fury he had held back with almost superhuman effort blazed in his eyes.

"If I could have Graham where you are now--_in that chair_--I'd give ten years of my life, Rossland. I would kill him. And you--_you_--"

He stepped back a pace, as if to put himself out of striking distance of the beast who was staring at him in amazement.

"What you have said about her should condemn you to death. And I would kill you here, in this room, if it wasn't necessary for you to take my message back to Graham. Tell him that Mary Standish--_not Mary Graham--is as pure and clean and as sweet as the day she was born. Tell him that she belongs to _me_. I love her. She is mine--do you understand? And all the money in the world couldn't buy one hair from her head. I'm going to take her back to the States. She is going to get a square deal, and the world is going to know her story. She has nothing to conceal. Absolutely nothing. Tell that to John Graham for me."

He advanced upon Rossland, who had risen from his chair; his hands were clenched, his face a mask of iron.

"Get out! Go before I flay you within an inch of your rotten life!"

The energy which every fiber in him yearned to expend upon Rossland sent the table crashing back in an overturned wreck against the wall.

"Go--before I kill you!"

He was advancing, even as the words of warning came from his lips, and the man before him, an awe-stricken mass of flesh that had forgotten power and courage in the face of a deadly and unexpected menace, backed quickly to the door and escaped. He made for the corrals, and Alan watched from his door until he saw him departing southward, accompanied by two men who bore packs on their shoulders. Not until then did Rossland gather his nerve sufficiently to stop and look back. His breathless voice carried something unintelligible to Alan. But he did not return for his coat and hat.

The reaction came to Alan when he saw the wreck he had made of the table. Another moment or two and the devil in him would have been at work. He hated Rossland. He hated him now only a little less than he hated John Graham, and that he had let him go seemed a miracle to him. He felt the strain he had been under. But he was glad. Some little god of common sense had overruled his passion, and he had acted wisely. Graham would now get his message, and there could be no misunderstanding of purpose between them.

He was staring at the disordered papers on his desk when a movement at the door turned him about. Mary Standish stood before him.

"You sent him away," she cried softly.

Her eyes were shining, her lips parted, her face lit up with a beautiful glow. She saw the overturned table, Rossland's hat and coat on a chair, the evidence of what had happened and the quickness of his flight; and then she turned her face to Alan again, and what he saw broke down the last of that grim resolution which he had measured for himself, so that in a moment he was at her side, and had her in his arms. She made no effort to free herself as she had done in the cottonwoods, but turned her mouth up for him to kiss, and then hid her face against his shoulder--while he, fighting vainly to find utterance for the thousand words in his throat, stood stroking her hair, and then buried his face in it, crying out at last in the warm sweetness of it that he loved her, and was going to fight for her, and that no power on earth could take her away from him now. And these things he repeated until she raised her flushed face from his breast, and let him kiss her lips once more, and then freed herself gently from his arms.

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