The next morning the search was resumed. Sandy drew a crude map of certain hidden places up the east coast where drifts and cross-currents tossed the flotsam of the sea, and Alan set out for these shores with Olaf at the wheel of the Norden. It was sunset when they returned, and in the calm of a wonderful evening, with the comforting peace of the mountains smiling down at them, Olaf believed the time had come to speak what was in his mind. He spoke first of the weird tricks of the Alaskan waters, and of strange forces deep down under the surface which he had never had explained to him, and of how he had lost a cask once upon a time, and a week later had run upon it well upon its way to Japan. He emphasized the hide-and-seek playfulness of the undertows and the treachery of them.
Then he came bluntly to the point of the matter. It would be better if Mary Standish never did come ashore. It would be days—probably weeks—if it ever happened at all, and there would be nothing about her for Alan to recognize. Better a peaceful resting-place at the bottom of the sea. That was what he called it—“a peaceful resting-place”—and in his earnestness to soothe another’s grief he blundered still more deeply into the horror of it all, describing certain details of what flesh and bone could and could not stand, until Alan felt like clubbing him beyond the power of speech. He was glad when he saw the McCormick cabin.
Sandy was waiting for them when they waded ashore. Something unusual was in his face, Alan thought, and for a moment his heart waited in suspense. But the Scotchman shook his head negatively and went close to Olaf Ericksen. Alan did not see the look that passed between them. He went to the cabin, and Ellen McCormick put a hand on his arm when he entered. It was an unusual thing for her to do. And there was a glow in her eyes which had not been there last night, and a flush in her cheeks, and a new, strange note in her voice when she spoke to him. It was almost exultation, something she was trying to keep back.
“You—you didn’t find her?” she asked.
“No.” His voice was tired and a little old. “Do you think I shall ever find her?”
“Not as you have expected,” she answered quietly. “She will never come like that.” She seemed to be making an effort. “You—you would give a great deal to have her back, Mr. Holt?”
Her question was childish in its absurdity, and she was like a child looking at him as she did in this moment. He forced a smile to his lips and nodded.
“Of course. Everything I possess.”
Her voice trembled. It was odd she should ask these questions. But the probing did not sting him; it was not a woman’s curiosity that inspired them, and the comforting softness in her voice did him good. He had not realized before how much he wanted to answer that question, not only for himself, but for someone else—aloud.