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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Yukon Trail - Chapter 14. Genevieve Mallory Takes A Hand
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The Yukon Trail - Chapter 14. Genevieve Mallory Takes A Hand Post by :REMbraNT Category :Long Stories Author :William Macleod Raine Date :May 2012 Read :981

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The Yukon Trail - Chapter 14. Genevieve Mallory Takes A Hand

CHAPTER XIV. GENEVIEVE MALLORY TAKES A HAND

Inside of an hour the news of the engagement of Macdonald was all over Kusiak. It was through a telephone receiver that the gossip was buzzed to Mrs. Mallory by a friend who owed her a little stab. The voice of Genevieve Mallory registered faint amusement, but as soon as she had hung up, her face fell into haggard lines. She had staked a year of her waning youth on winning the big mining man of Kusiak, together with all the money that she had been able to scrape up for a campaign outfit. Moreover, she liked him.

It was not in the picture that she should fall desperately in love with any man. A woman of the world, she was sheathed in the plate armor of selfishness. But she was as near to loving Macdonald as was possible for her. She had a great deal of admiration for his iron strength, for the grit of the man. No woman could twist him around her finger, yet it was possible to lead him a long way in the direction one wanted.

Mrs. Mallory sat down in the hall beside the telephone, her fingers laced about one crossed knee. She knew that if Sheba O'Neill had not come on the scene, Macdonald would have asked her to marry him. He had been moving slowly toward her for months. They understood each other and were at ease together. Between them was a strong physical affinity. Both were good-tempered and were wise enough to expect human imperfection.

Then Diane Paget had brought in this slim, young cousin of hers and Colby Macdonald had been fascinated by the mystery of her innocent youth. Mrs. Mallory was like steel beneath the soft and indolent surface. Swiftly she mapped her plan of attack. The Alaskan could not be moved, but it might be possible to startle the girl into breaking the engagement. Genevieve Mallory would have used the weapon at hand without scruple in any case, but she justified herself on the ground that such a marriage could result only in unhappiness.

But before she made any move Mrs. Mallory intended to be sure of her facts. It was like her to go to headquarters for information. She got Macdonald on the wire.

"I've just heard something nice about you. Do tell me it's true," she said, her voice warm with sympathy.

Macdonald laughed with an almost boyish embarrassment. "It's true, I reckon."

"I'm so glad. She's a lovely girl. The sweetest thing that ever lived. I'm sure you'll be happy. I always did think you would make a perfect husband. Of course, I'm simply green with envy of her."

Her little ripple of laughter was gay and care-free. The man at the other end of the line never had liked her better. Since he was not a fool he had guessed pretty closely how things stood with her. She was a game little sport, he told himself approvingly. It appealed to him immensely that she could take such a facer and come up smiling.

There were no signs of worry wrinkles on her face when the maid admitted a caller half an hour later. Oliver Dustin was the name on the card. He was a remittance man, a tame little parlor pet whose vocation was to fetch and carry for pretty women, and by some odd trick of fate he had been sifted into the Northland. Mrs. Mallory had tolerated him rather scornfully, but to-day she smiled upon him.

Propped up by pillows, she reclined luxuriously on a lounge. A thin spiral of smoke rose like incense to the ceiling from her lips. The slow, regular rise and fall of her breathing beneath the filmy lace of her gown accented the perfect fullness of bust and throat.

Dustin helped himself to a cigarette and made himself comfortable.

She set herself to win him. He was immensely flattered at her awakened interest. When she called him by his first name, he wagged all over like a pleased puppy.

It came to him after a time that she was considering him for a confidential mission. He assured her eagerly that there was no trouble too great for him to take if he could be of any service to her. She hesitated and doubted and at last as a special favor to him accepted his offer. Their heads were close in whispered talk for a few minutes, at the end of which Dustin left the room with his chin in the air. He was a knight errant in the employ of the most attractive woman north of fifty-three.

When Elliot took the down-river boat he found Oliver Dustin was a fellow passenger. The little man smoked an occasional cigar with the land agent and aired his views on politics and affairs social. He left the boat at the big bend. Without giving him much of his thought Gordon was a little surprised that the voluble remittance man had not told him where he was going.

Not till a week later did Elliot return up the river. He was asleep at the time the Sarah passed the big bend, but next morning he discovered that Selfridge and Dustin had come aboard during the night. In the afternoon he came upon a real surprise when he found Meteetse and her little boy Colmac seated upon a box on the lower deck where freight for local points was stored.

His guess was that they were local passengers, but wharf after wharf slipped behind them and the two still remained on board. They appeared to know nobody else on the Sarah, though once Gordon met Dustin just as he was hurrying away from the Indian woman. The little remittance man took the pains to explain to Elliot later that he was trying to find out whether the Indians knew any English.

Meteetse transferred with the other Kusiak passengers at the river junction. The field agent was not the only one on board who wondered where she was going. Selfridge was consumed with curiosity, and when she and the boy got off at Kusiak, he could restrain himself no longer. Gordon saw Wally talking with her. Meteetse showed him an envelope which evidently had an address written upon it, for the little man pointed out to her the direction in which she must go.

Since leaving Kusiak nearly two weeks before, no word had reached Gordon of Sheba. As soon as he had finished dinner at the hotel, he walked out to the Paget house and sent in his card.

Sheba came into the hall to meet him from the living-room where she had been sitting with the man she expected to marry next week. She gave a little murmur of pleasure at sight of him and held out both hands.

"I was afraid you weren't going to get back in time. I'm so glad," she told him warmly.

He managed to achieve a smile. "When is the great day?"

"Next Thursday. Of course, we're as busy as can be, but Diane says--"

A ring at the door interrupted her. Sheba stepped forward and let in an Indian woman with a little boy clinging to her hand.

"You Miss O'Neill?" she asked.

"Yes."

From the folds of her shawl she drew a letter. The girl glanced at the address, then opened and read what was written. She looked up, puzzled, first at the comely, flatfooted Indian woman and afterward at the handsome little brown-faced papoose. She turned to Gordon.

"This letter says I am to ask this woman who is the father of her boy. What does it mean?"

Gordon knew instantly what it meant, though he could not guess who had dealt the blow. He hesitated for an answer, and in his embarrassment she felt that which began to ring a bell of warning in her heart.

The impulse to spare her pain was stronger in him than the desire that she should know the truth.

"Send her away," he urged. "Don't ask any questions. She has been sent to hurt you."

A fawnlike fear flashed into the startled eyes. "To hurt me?"

"I am afraid so."

"But--why? I have done nobody any harm." She seemed to hold even her breathing in suspense. Only a pulse beat wildly in her white throat like the heart of an imprisoned thrush.

"Perhaps some of Macdonald's enemies," he suggested.

And at that there came a star-flash into the soft eyes and a lifted tilt to the chin cut fine as a cameo. She turned proudly to the Indian woman.

"What is it that you have to tell me about this boy's father?"

Meteetse began to speak. At the first mention of Macdonald's name Sheba's eyes dilated. Her smile, her sweet, glad pleasure at Gordon's arrival, were already gone like the flame of a blown candle. Clearly her heart was a-flutter, in fear of she knew not what. When the Indian woman told how she had first crossed the path of Macdonald, the color flamed into the cheeks of the Irish girl, but as the story progressed, the blood ebbed even from her lips.

With a swift movement of her fingers she flashed on the hall light. Her gaze searched the brown, shiny face of the little chap. She read there an affidavit of the truth of his mother's tale. The boy had his father's trick of squinting a slant look at anything he found interesting. It was impossible to see him and not recognize Colby Macdonald reincarnated.

"What is your name?" asked Sheba suddenly.

The youngster hung back shyly among the folds of the Indian woman's skirt. "Colmac," he said at last softly.

"Come!" Sheba flung open the door of the living-room and ushered them in.

Macdonald, pacing restlessly up and down the room during her absence, pulled up in his stride. He stood frowning at the native woman, then his eyes passed to Elliot and fastened upon him. The face of the Scotchman might have been chipped from granite. It was grim as that of a hanging judge.

Gordon started to explain, then stopped with a shrug. What was the use? The man would never believe him in the world.

"I'll remember this," the Alaskan promised his rival. There was a cold glitter in his eyes, a sudden flare of the devil that was blood-chilling.

"It's true, then," broke in Sheba. "You're a--a squawman. You belong to this woman."

"Nothing of the kind," he cried roughly. "That's been ended for years."

"Ended?" Sheba drew Colmac forward by the wrist. "Do you deny that this is your boy?"

The big Alaskan brushed this aside as of no moment. "I dare say he is. Anyhow I'm paying for his keep. What of it? That's all finished and done with."

"How can it be done with when--when she's the mother of your child, your wife before God?" The live eyes attacked him from the dusk that framed the oval of her pale face. Standing there straight as an aspen, the beautiful bosom rising and falling quickly while the storm waves beat through her blood, Sheba O'Neill had never made more appeal to the strong, lawless man who desired her for his wife.

"You don't understand." Macdonald's big fists were clenched so savagely that the knuckles stood out white from the brown tan of the flesh. "This is a man's country. It's new--close to nature. What he wants he takes--if he's strong enough. I'm elemental. I--"

"You wanted her--and you took her. Now you want me--and I suppose you'll take me too." Her scornful words had the sting of a whiplash.

"I've lived as all men live who have red blood in them. This woman is an incident. I've been aboveboard. She can't say I ever promised more than I've given. I've kept her and the boy. It's been no secret. If you had asked, I would have told you the whole story."

"Does that excuse you?"

"I don't need any excuse. I'm a man. That's excuse enough. You've been brought up among a lot of conventions and social lies. The one big fact you want to set your teeth into now is that I love you, that there isn't another woman on God's earth for me, and that there never will be again."

Her eyes flashed battle. "The one big fact I'm facing is that you have insulted me--that you insult me again when you mention love with that woman and boy in the room. You belong to them--go to them--and leave me alone." She had been fighting for self-control, to curb her growing resentment, but now it flamed passionately into words. "I hate the sight of you. Why don't you go--all of you--and leave me in peace?"

It was a cry of bruised pride and wounded love. Elliot touched the Indian woman on the shoulder. Meteetse turned stolidly and walked out of the room, still leading Colmac by the hand. The young man followed.

Macdonald closed the door behind them, then strode frowning up and down the room. The fear was growing on him that for all his great driving power he could not shake this slim girl from the view to which she clung. If the situation had not been so serious, it would have struck him as ridiculous. His relation with Meteetse had been natural enough. He believed that he had acted very honorably to her. Many a man would have left her in the lurch to take care of the youngster by herself. But he had acknowledged his obligation. He was paying his debt scrupulously, and because of it the story had risen to confront him. He felt that it was an unjust blow of fate. Punishment was falling upon him, not for what he had done, but because he had scorned to make a secret of it.

He knew that he must justify himself before Sheba or lose her. As she stood in the dusk so tall and rigid, he knew her heart was steel to him. Her finely chiseled face had the look of race. Never had the spell of her been more upon him. He crushed back a keen-edged desire to take her supple young body into his arms and kiss her till the scarlet ran into her cheeks like splashes of wine.

"You haven't the proper slant on this, Sheba. Alaska is the last frontier. It's the dropping-off place. You're north of fifty-three."

"Am I north of the Ten Commandments?" she demanded with the inexorable judgment of youth. "Did you leave the moral code at home when you came in over the ice?"

He smiled a little. "Morality is the average conduct of the average man at a given time and place. It is based on custom and expediency. The rules made for Drogheda won't fit Dawson or Nome. The laws made to protect young women in Ireland would be absurd if applied to half-breed squaws in Alaska. Meteetse does not hold herself disgraced but honored. She counts her boy far superior to the other youngsters of the village, and he is so considered by the tribe. I am told she lords it over her sisters."

A faint flush of anger had crept into her cheeks. "Your view of morality puts us on a level with the animals. I will not discuss the subject, if you please."

"We must discuss it. I must get you to see that Meteetse and what she stood for in my life have nothing to do with us. They belong to my past. She doesn't exist for either of us--isn't in any way a part of my present or future."

"She exists for me," answered Sheba listlessly. She felt suddenly old and weary. "But I can't talk about it. Please go. I want to be alone."

Again Macdonald paced restlessly down the room and back. He moved with a long, easy, tireless stride. The man was one among ten thousand, dominant, virile, every ounce of him strong as tested steel. But he felt as if all his energy were caged.

"Why don't you go?" the girl pleaded. "It's no use to stay."

He stopped in front of her. "I'm going to marry you, Sheba. Don't think I'll let that meddler interfere with our happiness. You're mine."

"No. Never!" she cried. "I'll take the boat and go home first."

"You've promised to marry me. You're going to keep your word and be glad of it all your life."

She shook her head. "No."

"Yes." Macdonald had always shown remarkable restraint with her. He had kissed her seldom, and always with a kind of awe at her young purity. Now he caught her by the shoulders. His eyes, deep in their sockets, mirrored the passionate desire of his heart.

The color flamed into her face. She looked hot to the touch, an active volcano ready to erupt. There was an odd feeling in her mind that this big man was a stranger to her.

"Take your hands from me," she ordered.

"Do you think I'm going to give you up now--now, after I've won you--because of a damfool scruple in your pretty head? You don't know me. It's too late. I love you--and I'm going to protect both of us from your prudishness."

His arms closed on her and he crushed her to him, looking down hungrily into the dark, little face.

"Let me go," she cried fiercely, struggling to free herself.

For answer he kissed the red lips, the flaming cheeks, the angry eyes. Then, coming to his senses, he pushed her from him, turned, and strode heavily from the room.

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