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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Yukon Trail - Chapter 6. Sheba Sings--And Two Men Listen
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The Yukon Trail - Chapter 6. Sheba Sings--And Two Men Listen Post by :REMbraNT Category :Long Stories Author :William Macleod Raine Date :May 2012 Read :1579

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The Yukon Trail - Chapter 6. Sheba Sings--And Two Men Listen

CHAPTER VI. SHEBA SINGS--AND TWO MEN LISTEN

Elliot did not see Miss O'Neill next morning until she appeared in the dining-room for breakfast. He timed himself to get through so as to join her when she left. They strolled out to the deck together.

"Did you sleep well?" he asked.

"After I fell asleep. It took me a long time. I kept seeing you on the traverse."

He came abruptly to what was on his mind. "I have an apology to make, Miss O'Neill. If I made light of your danger yesterday, it was because I was afraid you might break down. I had to seem unsympathetic rather than risk that."

She smiled forgiveness. "All you said was that I might have sprained my wrist. It was true too. I might have--and I did." Sheba showed a white linen bandage tied tightly around her wrist.

"Does it pain much?"

"Not so much now. It throbbed a good deal last night."

"Your whole weight came on it with a wrench. No wonder it hurt."

Sheba noticed that the Hannah was drawing up to a wharf and the passengers were lining up with their belongings. "Is this where we change?"

"Those of us going to Kusiak transfer here. But there's no hurry. We wait at this landing two hours."

Gordon helped Sheba move her baggage to the other boat and joined her on deck. They were both strangers in the land. Their only common acquaintance was Macdonald and he was letting Mrs. Mallory absorb his attention just now. Left to their own resources the two young people naturally drifted together a good deal.

This suited Elliot. He found his companion wholly delightful, not the less because she was so different from the girls he knew at home. She could be frank, and even shyly audacious on occasion, but she held a little note of reserve he felt bound to respect. Her experience of the world had clearly been limited. She was not at all sure of herself, of the proper degree of intimacy to permit herself with a strange and likable young man who had done her so signal a service.

Macdonald left the boat twenty miles below Kusiak with Mrs. Mallory and the Selfridges. A chauffeur with a motor-car was waiting on the wharf to run them to town, but he gave the wheel to Macdonald and took the seat beside the driver.

The little miner Strong grinned across to Elliot, who was standing beside Miss O'Neill at the boat rail.

"That's Mac all over. He hires a fellow to run his car--brings him up here from Seattle--and then takes the wheel himself every time he rides. I don't somehow see Mac sitting back and letting another man run the machine."

It was close to noon before the river boat turned a bend and steamed up to the wharf at Kusiak. The place was an undistinguished little log town that rambled back from the river up the hill in a hit-or-miss fashion. Its main street ran a tortuous course parallel to the stream.

Half of the town, it seemed, was down to meet the boat.

"Are you going to the hotel or direct to your cousin's?" Gordon asked Miss O'Neill.

"To my cousin's. I fancy she's down here to meet me. It was arranged that I come on this boat."

There was much waving of handkerchiefs and shouting back and forth as the steamer slowly drew close to the landing.

Elliot caught a glimpse of the only people in Kusiak he had known before coming in, but though he waved to them he saw they did not recognize him. After the usual delay about getting ashore he walked down the gangway carrying the suitcases of the Irish girl. Sheba followed at his heels. On the wharf he came face to face with a slender, well-dressed young woman.

"Diane!" he cried.

She stared at him. "You! What in Heaven's name are you doing here, Gordon Elliot?" she demanded, and before he could answer had seized both hands and turned excitedly to call a stocky man near. "Peter--Peter! Guess who's here?"

"Hello, Paget!" grinned Gordon, and he shook hands with the husband of Diane.

Elliot turned to introduce his friend, but she anticipated him.

"Cousin Diane," she said shyly. "Don't you know me?"

Mrs. Paget swooped down upon the girl and smothered her in her embrace.

"This is Sheba--little Sheba that I have told you so often about, Peter," she cried. "Glory be, I'm glad to see you, child." And Diane kissed her again warmly. "You two met on the boat, of course, coming in, I hope you didn't let her get lonesome, Gordon. Look after Sheba's suitcases, Peter. You'll come to dinner to-night, Gordon--at seven."

"I'm in the kind hands of my countrywoman," laughed Gordon. "I'll certainly be on hand."

"But what in the world are you doing here? You're the last man I'd have expected to see."

"I'm in the service of the Government, and I've been sent in on business."

"Well, I'm going to say something original, dear people," Mrs. Paget replied. "It's a small world, isn't it?"

While he was dressing for dinner later in the day, Elliot recalled early memories of the Pagets. He had known Diane ever since they had been youngsters together at school. He remembered her as a restless, wiry little thing, keen as a knife-blade. She had developed into a very pretty girl, alive, ambitious, energetic, with a shrewd eye to the main chance. Always popular socially, she had surprised everybody by refusing the catch of the town to marry a young mining engineer without a penny. Gordon was in college at the time, but during the next long vacation he had fraternized a good deal with the Peter Pagets. The young married people had been very much in love with each other, but not too preoccupied to take the college boy into their happiness as a comrade. Diane always had been a manager, and she liked playing older sister to so nice a lad. He had been on a footing friendly enough to drop in unannounced whenever he took the fancy. If they were out, or about to go out, the freedom of the den, a magazine, and good tobacco had been his. Then the Arctic gold-fields had claimed Paget and his bride. That had been more than ten years ago, and until to-day Gordon had not seen them since.

While Elliot was brushing his dinner coat before the open window of the room assigned him at the hotel, somebody came out to the porch below. The voice of a woman floated faintly to him.

"Seen Diane's Irish beauty yet, Ned?"

"Yes," a man answered.

The woman laughed softly. "Mrs. Mallory came up on the same boat with her." The inflection suggested that the words were meant not to tell a fact, but some less obvious inference.

"Oh, you women!" the man commented good-naturedly.

"She's wonderfully pretty, and of course Diane will make the most of her. But Mrs. Mallory is a woman among ten thousand."

"I'd choose the girl if it were me," said the man.

"But it isn't you. We'll see what we'll see."

They were moving up the street and Gordon heard no more. What he had heard was not clear to him. Why should any importance attach to the fact that Mrs. Mallory and Sheba O'Neill had come up the river on the same boat? Yet he was vaguely disturbed by the insinuation that in some way Diane was entering her cousin as a rival of the older woman. He resented the idea that the fine, young personality of the Irish girl was being cheapened by management on the part of Diane Paget.

Elliot was not the only dinner guest at the Paget home that evening. He found Colby Macdonald sitting in the living-room with Sheba. She came quickly forward to meet the newly arrived guest.

"Mr. Macdonald has been telling me about my father. He knew him on Frenchman Creek where they both worked claims," explained the girl.

The big mining man made no comment and added nothing to what she said. There were times when his face was about as expressive as a stone wall. Except for a hard wariness in the eyes it told nothing now.

The dinner went off very well. Diane and Peter had a great many questions to ask Gordon about old friends. By the time these had been answered Macdonald was chatting easily with Sheba. The man had been in many out-of-the-way corners of the world, had taken part in much that was dramatic and interesting. If the experience of the Irish girl had been small, her imagination had none the less gone questing beyond the narrow bars of her life upon amazing adventure. She listened with glowing eyes to the strange tales this man of magnificent horizons had to tell. Never before had she come into contact with any one like him.

The others too succumbed to his charm. He dominated that little dining-room because he was a sixty-horse-power dynamo. For all his bulk he was as lean as a panther and as sinewy. There was virility in the very economy of his motions, in the reticence of his speech. Not even a fool could have read weakness there. When he followed Sheba into the living-room, power trod in his long, easy stride.

Paget was superintendent of the Lucky Strike, a mine owned principally by Macdonald. The two talked business for a few minutes over their cigars, but Diane interrupted gayly to bring them back into the circle. Adroitly she started Macdonald on the account of a rescue of two men lost in a blizzard the year before. He had the gift of dramatizing his story, of selecting only effective details. There was no suggestion of boasting. If he happened to be the hero of any of his stories the fact was of no importance to him. It was merely a detail of the picture he was sketching.

Gordon interrupted with a question a story he was telling of a fight he had seen between two bull moose.

"Did you say that was while you were on the way over to inspect the Kamatlah coal-fields for the first time?"

The eyes of the young man were quick with interest.

"Yes."

"Four years ago last spring?"

Macdonald looked at him with a wary steadiness. Some doubt had found lodgment in his mind. Before he could voice it, if, indeed, he had any such intention, Elliot broke in swiftly,--

"Don't answer that question. I asked it without proper thought. I am a special agent of the General Land Office sent up to investigate the Macdonald coal claims and kindred interests."

Slowly the rigor of the big Scotchman's steely eyes relaxed to a smile that was genial and disarming. If this news hit him hard he gave no sign of it. And that it was an unexpected blow there could be no doubt.

"Glad you've come, Mr. Elliot. We ask nothing but fair play. Tell the truth, and we'll thank you. The men who own the Macdonald group of claims have nothing to conceal. I'll answer that question. I meant to say two years ago last spring."

His voice was easy and his gaze unwavering as he made the correction, yet everybody in the room except Sheba knew he was deliberately lying to cover the slip. For the admission that he had inspected the Kamatlah field just before his dummies had filed upon it would at least tend to aggravate suspicion that the entries were not _bona-fide_.

It was rather an awkward moment. Diane blamed herself because she had brought the men together socially. Why had she not asked Gordon more explicitly what his business was? Peter grinned a little uncomfortably. It was Sheba who quite unconsciously relieved the situation.

"But what about the big moose, Mr. Macdonald? What did it do then?"

The Alaskan went back to his story. He was talking for Sheba alone, for the young girl with eager, fascinated eyes which flashed with sympathy as they devoured selected glimpses of his wild, turbulent career. Her clean, brave spirit was throwing a glamour over the man. She saw him with other eyes than Elliot's. The Government official admired him tremendously. Macdonald was an empire-builder. He blazed trails for others to follow in safety. But Gordon could guess how callously his path was strewn with brutality, with the effects of an ethical color-blindness largely selfish, though even he did not know that the man's primitive jungle code of wolf eat wolf had played havoc with Sheba's young life many years before.

Diane, satisfied that Macdonald had scored, called upon Sheba.

"I want you to sing for us, dear, if you will."

Sheba accompanied herself. The voice of the girl had no unusual range, but it was singularly sweet and full of the poignant feeling that expresses the haunting pathos of her race.


"It's well I know ye, Sheve Cross, ye weary, stony hill,
An' I'm tired, och, I'm tired to be looking on ye still.
For here I live the near side an' he is on the far,
An' all your heights and hollows are between us, so they are.
Och anee!"


Gordon, as he listened, felt the strange hunger of that homesick cry steal through his blood. He saw his own emotions reflected in the face of the Scotch-Canadian, who was watching with a tense interest the slim, young figure at the piano, the girl whose eyes were soft and dewy with the mysticism of her people, were still luminous with the poetry of the child in spite of the years that heralded her a woman.

Elliot intercepted the triumphant sweep of Diane's glance from Macdonald to her husband. In a flash it lit up for him the words he had heard on the hotel porch. Diane, an inveterate matchmaker, intended her cousin to marry Colby Macdonald. No doubt she thought she was doing a fine thing for the girl. He was a millionaire, the biggest figure in the Northwest. His iron will ran the town and district as though the people were chattels of his. Back of him were some of the biggest financial interests in the United States.

But the gorge of Elliot rose. The man, after all, was a law-breaker, a menace to civilization. He was a survivor by reason of his strength from the primitive wolf-pack. Already the special agent had heard many strange stories of how this man of steel had risen to supremacy by trampling down lesser men with whom he had had dealings, of terrible battles from which his lean, powerful body had emerged bloody and battered, but victorious. The very look of his hard, gray eyes was dominant and masterful. He would win, no matter how. It came to Gordon's rebel heart that if Macdonald wanted this lovely Irish girl,--and the young man never doubted that the Scotchman would want her,--he would reach out and gather in Sheba just as if she were a coal mine or a placer prospect.

All this surged through the mind of the young man while the singer was on the first line of the second stanza.


"But if 't was only Sheve Cross to climb from foot to crown,
I'd soon be up an' over that, I'd soon be runnin' down.
Then sure the great ould sea itself is there beyont the bar,
An' all the windy wathers are between us, so they are.
Och anee!"


The rich, soft, young voice with its Irish brogue died away. The little audience paid the singer the tribute of silence. She herself was the first to speak.

"'Divided' is the name of it. A namesake of mine, Moira O'Neill, wrote it," she explained.

"It's a beautiful song, and I thank ye for singing it," Macdonald said simply. "It minds me of my own barefoot days by the Tay."

Later in the evening the two dinner guests walked back to the hotel together. The two subjects uppermost in the minds of both were not mentioned by either. They discussed casually the cost of living in the North, the raising of strawberries at Kusiak, and the best way to treat the mosquito nuisance, but neither of them referred to the Macdonald coal claims or to Sheba O'Neill.

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