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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Yukon Trail - Chapter 12. Sheba Says "Perhaps"
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The Yukon Trail - Chapter 12. Sheba Says 'Perhaps' Post by :REMbraNT Category :Long Stories Author :William Macleod Raine Date :May 2012 Read :2631

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The Yukon Trail - Chapter 12. Sheba Says "Perhaps"


Obeying the orders of the general in command, Peter took himself to his den with the excuse that he had blue-prints to work over. Presently Diane said she thought she heard one of the children crying and left to investigate.

The Scotchman strode to the fireplace and stood looking down into the glowing coals. He seemed in no hurry to break the silence and Sheba glanced at his strong, brooding face a little apprehensively. Her excitement showed in the color that was beating into her cheeks. She knew of only one subject that would call for so formal a private talk between her and Macdonald, and any discussion of this she would very much have liked to postpone.

He turned from the fire to Sheba. It was characteristic of him that he plunged straight at what he wanted to say.

"I've asked to see you alone, Miss O'Neill, because I want to make a confession and restitution--to begin with," he told her abruptly.

She had a sense of suddenly stilled pulses. "That sounds very serious." The young woman smiled faintly.

His face of chiseled granite masked all emotion. It kept under lock and key the insurgent impulses that moved him when he looked into the sloe eyes charged with reserve. Back of them, he felt, was the mystery of purity, of maidenhood. He longed to know her better, to find out and to appropriate for himself the woman that lay behind the fine veil of flesh. She seemed to him delicate as a flame and as vivid. There would come a day when her innocent, passional nature would respond to the love of a man as a waiting harp does to skillful fingers.

"My story goes away back to the Klondike days. I told you that I knew your father on Frenchman Creek, but I didn't say much about knowing him on Bonanza."

"Mr. Strong has told me something about the days on Bonanza, and I knew you would tell me more some day--when you wanted to speak about it." She was seated in a low chair and the white throat lifted toward him was round as that of a bird.

"Your father was among the first of those who stampeded to Bonanza. He and Strong took up a claim together. I bought out the interest of your father."

"You told me that."

His masterful eyes fastened to hers. "I didn't tell you that I took advantage of him. He was--not well. I used that against him in the bargaining. He wanted ready money, and I tempted him."

"Do you mean that you--wronged him?"

"Yes. I cheated him." He was resolved to gloss over nothing, to offer no excuses. "I didn't know there was gold on his claim, but I had what we call a hunch. I took his claim without giving value received."

It was her turn now to look into the fire and think. From the letters of her father, from talks with old-timers she knew how in the stampedes every man's hand had been for himself, how keen-edged had been the passion for gold, a veritable lust that corroded the souls of men.

"But--I don't understand." Her brave, steady eyes looked directly into those of Macdonald. "If he felt you had--done him a wrong--why did he come to you when he was ill?"

"He was coming to demand justice of me. On the way he suffered exposure and caught pneumonia. The word reached us, and Strong and I brought him to our cabin."

"You faced a blizzard to bring him in. Mr. Strong told me how you risked your life by carrying him through the storm--how you wouldn't give up and leave him, though you were weak and staggering yourself. He says it was a miracle you ever got through."

The big mine-owner brushed this aside as of no importance. "We don't leave sick men to die in a blizzard up North. But that's not the point."

"I think it has a bearing on the matter--that you saved him from the blizzard--and took him in--and nursed him like a brother till he died."

"I'm not heartless," said Macdonald impatiently. "Of course I did that. I had to do it. I couldn't do less."

"Or more," she suggested. "You may have made a hard bargain with him, but you wiped that out later."

"That's just what I didn't do. Don't think my conscience is troubling me. I'm not such a mush-brained fool. If it had not been for you I would never have thought of it again. But you are his daughter. What I cheated him out of belongs to you--and you are my friend."

"Don't use that word about what you did, please. He wasn't a child. If you got the best of him in a bargain, I don't think father would think of it that way."

The difficulty was that he could not tell her the truth about her father's weakness for drink and how he had played upon it. He bridged all explanations and passed to the thing he meant to do in reparation.

"The money I cleaned up from that claim belongs to you, Miss O'Neill. You will oblige me by taking it."

From his pocket he took a folded paper and handed it to her. Sheba opened it doubtfully. The paper contained a typewritten statement and to it was attached a check by means of a clip. The check was made out to her and signed by Colby Macdonald. The amount it called for was one hundred and eighty-three thousand four hundred and thirty-one dollars.

"Oh, I couldn't take this, Mr. Macdonald--I couldn't. It doesn't belong to me," she cried.

"It belongs to you--and you're going to take it."

"I wouldn't know what to do with so much."

"The bank will take care of it for you until you decide. So that's settled." He passed definitely from the subject. "There's something else I want to say to you, Miss O'Neill."

Some change in his voice warned her. The girl slanted a quick, shy glance at him.

"I want to know if you'll marry me, Miss O'Neill," he shot at her abruptly. Then, without giving her time to answer, he pushed on: "I'm older than you--by twenty-five years. Always I've lived on the frontiers. I've had to take the world by the throat and shake from it what I wanted. So I've grown hard and willful. All the sweet, fine things of life I've missed. But with you beside me I'm not too old to find them yet--if you'll show me the way, Sheba."

A wave of color swept into her face, but her eyes never faltered from his. "I'm not quite sure," she said in a low voice.

"You mean--whether you love me?"

She nodded. "I--admire you more than any man I ever met. You are a great man, strong and powerful,--and I am so insignificant beside you. I--am drawn to you--so much. But--I am not sure."

Afterward, when she thought of it, Sheba wondered at the direct ease of his proposal. In the romances she had read, men were shy and embarrassed and fearful of the issue. But Colby Macdonald had known what he wanted to say and had said it as coolly and as readily as if it had been a business detail. She was the one that had blushed and stammered and found a difficulty in expressing herself.

"I'm going away for two days. Perhaps when I come back you will know, Sheba. Take your time. Marriage is serious business. I want you to remember that my life has been very different from yours. You'll hear all sorts of things about me. Some of them are true. There is this difference between a man and a good woman. He fights and falls and fights again and wins. But a good woman is finer. She has never known the failure that drags one through slime and mud. Her goodness is born in her; she doesn't have to fight for it."

The girl smiled a little tremulously. "Doesn't she? We're not all angel, you know."

"I hope you're not. There will need to be a lot of the human in you to make allowances for Colby Macdonald," he replied with an answering smile.

When he said good-bye it was with a warm, strong handshake.

"I'll be back in two days. Perhaps you'll have good news for me then," he suggested.

The dark, silken lashes of her eyes lifted shyly to meet his.

"Perhaps," she said.

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