“I must not tell,” she whispered.
“But I shall make you tell,” he replied, and his voice rang.
“Oh no, you cannot,” she said.
“I can—with just one word!”
Her eyes were great, starry, shadowy gulfs, dark in the white beauty of her face. She was calm now. She had strength. She invited him to speak the word, and the wistful, tremulous quiver of her lips was for his earnest thought of her.
“Wait—a—little,” said Shefford, unsteadily. “I’ll come to that presently. Tell me this—have you ever thought of being free?”
“Free!” she echoed, and there was singular depth and richness in her voice. That was the first spark of fire he had struck from her. “Long ago, the minute I was unwatched, I’d have leaped from a wall had I dared. Oh, I wasn’t afraid. I’d love to die that way. But I never dared.”
“Why?” queried Shefford, piercingly.
She was silent then.
“Suppose I offered to give you freedom that meant life?”
“Oh, my friend, don’t ask me any more.”
“I know, I can see—you want to tell me—you need to tell.”
“But I daren’t.”
“Won’t you trust me?”
“I do—I do.”
“Then tell me.”
The moment had come. How sad, tragic, yet glorious for him! It would be like a magic touch upon this lovely, cold, white ghost of Fay Larkin, transforming her into a living, breathing girl. He held his love as a thing aloof, and, as such, intangible because of the living death she believed she lived, it had no warmth and intimacy for them. What might it not become with a lightning flash of revelation? He dreaded, yet he was driven to speak. He waited, swallowing hard, fighting the tumultuous storm of emotion, and his eyes dimmed.
“What did I come to this country for?” he asked, suddenly, in ringing, powerful voice.
“To find a girl,” she whispered.
“I’ve found her!”
She began to shake. He saw a white hand go to her breast.
“Where is Surprise Valley? . . . How were you taken from Jane Withersteen and Lassiter? . . . I know they’re alive. But where?”
She seemed to turn to stone.
“Fay!—Fay Larkin! . . . I know you!” he cried, brokenly.
She slipped off the stone to her knees, swayed forward blindly with her hands reaching out, her head falling back to let the moon fall full upon the beautiful, snow-white, tragically convulsed face.
XIII. THE STORY OF SURPRISE VALLEY
" . . . Oh, I remember so well! Even now I dream of it sometimes. I hear the roll and crash of falling rock—like thunder. . . . We rode and rode. Then the horses fell. Uncle Jim took me in his arms and started up the cliff. Mother Jane climbed close after us. They kept looking back. Down there in the gray valley carne the Mormons. I see the first one now. He rode a white horse. That was Tull. Oh, I remember so well! And I was five or six years old.