Then he saw Alan go into the cabin where Rossland was, and softly his fingers drummed upon the ancient tom-tom which lay at his side. His eyes fixed themselves upon the distant mountains, and under his breath he mumbled the old chant of battle, dead and forgotten except in Sokwenna’s brain, and after that his eyes closed, and again the vision grew out of darkness like a picture for him, a vision of twisting trails and of fighting men gathering with their faces set for war.
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.”