He could not have told how long he slept that night. Dreams came to him in his restless slumber, and always they awakened him, so that he was looking at the stars again and trying not to think. In spite of the grief in his soul they were pleasant dreams, as though some gentle force were at work in him subconsciously to wipe away the shadows of tragedy. Mary Standish was with him again, between the mountains at Skagway; she was at his side in the heart of the tundras, the sun in her shining hair and eyes, and all about them the wonder of wild roses and purple iris and white seas of sedge-cotton and yellow-eyed daisies, and birds singing in the gladness of summer. He heard the birds. And he heard the girl’s voice, answering them in her happiness and turning that happiness from the radiance of her eyes upon him. When he awoke, it was with a little cry, as if someone had stabbed him; and Olaf was building a fire, and dawn was breaking in rose-gleams over the mountains.
This first night and dawn in the heard of his wilderness, with the new import of life gleaming down at him from the mighty peaks of the Chugach and Kenai ranges, marked the beginning of that uplift which drew Alan out of the pit into which he had fallen. He understood, now, how it was that through many long years his father had worshiped the memory of a woman who had died, it seemed to him, an infinity ago. Unnumbered times he had seen the miracle of her presence in his father’s eyes, and once, when they had stood overlooking a sun-filled valley back in the mountains, the elder Holt had said:
“Twenty-seven years ago the twelfth day of last month, mother went with me through this valley, Alan. Do you see the little bend in the creek, with the great rock in the sun? We rested there—before you were born!”
He had spoken of that day as if it had been but yesterday. And Alan recalled the strange happiness in his father’s face as he had looked down upon something in the valley which no other but himself could see.
And it was happiness, the same strange, soul-aching happiness, that began to build itself a house close up against the grief in Alan’s heart. It would never be a house quite empty. Never again would he be alone. He knew at last it was an undying part of him, as it had been a part of his father, clinging to him in sweet pain, encouraging him, pressing gently upon him the beginning of a great faith that somewhere beyond was a place to meet again. In the many days that followed, it grew in him, but in a way no man or woman could see. It was a secret about which he built a wall, setting it apart from that stoical placidity of his nature which some people called indifference. Olaf could see farther than others, because he had known Alan’s father as a brother. It had always been that way with the elder Holt—straight, clean, deep-breathing, and with a smile on his lips in times of hurt.