“I am sorry. But they were stupid and difficult to pass.”
“Only by chance did I happen to see it all, my child. Otherwise the ship’s regulations would have compelled me to send you ashore. You were frightened. You can not deny that. You were running away from something!”
He was amazed at the childish simplicity with which she answered him.
“Yes, I was running away—from something.”
Her eyes were beautifully clear and unafraid, and yet again he sensed the thrill of the fight she was making.
“And you will not tell me why—or from what you were escaping?”
“I can not—tonight. I may do so before we reach Nome. But—it is possible—”
“That I shall never reach Nome.”
Suddenly she caught one of his hands in both her own. Her fingers clung to him, and with a little note of fierceness in her voice she hugged the hand to her breast. “I know just how good you have been to me,” she cried. “I should like to tell you why I came aboard—like that. But I can not. Look! Look at those wonderful mountains!” With one free hand she pointed.
“Behind them and beyond them lie the romance and adventure and mystery of centuries, and for nearly thirty years you have been very near those things, Captain Rifle. No man will ever see again what you have seen or feel what you have felt, or forget what you have had to forget. I know it. And after all that, can’t you—won’t you—forget the strange manner in which I came aboard this ship? It is such a simple, little thing to put out of your mind, so trivial, so unimportant when you look back—and think. Please Captain Rifle—please!”
So quickly that he scarcely sensed the happening of it she pressed his hand to her lips. Their warm thrill came and went in an instant, leaving him speechless, his resolution gone.
“I love you because you have been so good to me,” she whispered, and as suddenly as she had kissed his hand, she was gone, leaving him alone at the rail.
Alan Holt saw the slim figure of the girl silhouetted against the vivid light of the open doorway of the upper-deck salon. He was not watching her, nor did he look closely at the exceedingly attractive picture which she made as she paused there for an instant after leaving Captain Rifle. To him she was only one of the five hundred human atoms that went to make up the tremendously interesting life of one of the first ships of the season going north. Fate, through the suave agency of the purser, had brought him into a bit closer proximity to her than the others; that was all. For two days her seat in the dining-salon had been at the same table, not quite opposite him. As she had missed both breakfast hours, and he had skipped two luncheons, the requirements of neighborliness and of courtesy had not imposed more than a dozen words of speech upon them. This was very satisfactory to Alan. He was not talkative or communicative of his own free will. There was a certain cynicism back of his love of silence. He was a good listener and a first-rate analyst. Some people, he knew, were born to talk; and others, to trim the balance, were burdened with the necessity of holding their tongues. For him silence was not a burden.