POLARIS OF THE SNOWS by Charles B Stilson
3. Polaris Makes a Promise
Both stood transfixed for a long moment—the man with the wonder that followed his anger, the woman with horror. Polaris drew a deep breath and stepped a hesitating pace forward.
The woman threw out her hands in a gesture of loathing.
“Murderer!” she said in a low, deep voice, choked with grief. “Oh, my brother; my poor brother!” She threw herself on the snow, sobbing terribly.
Rooted to the spot by her repelling gesture, Polaris watched her. So one of the men had been her brother. Which one? His naturally clear mind began to reassert itself.
“Lady,” he called softly. He did not attempt to go nearer to her.
She raised her face from her arms, crept to her knees, and stared at him stonily. “Well, murderer, finish your work,” she said. “I am ready. Ah, what had he—what had they done that you should take their lives?”
“Listen to me, lady,” said Polaris quietly. “You saw me—kill. Was that man your brother?”
The girl did not answer, but continued to gaze at him with horror-stricken eyes. Her mouth quivered pitifully.
“If that man was your brother, then I killed him, and with reason,” pursued Polaris calmly. “If he was not, then of your brother’s death, at least, I am guiltless. I did but punish his slayer.”
“His slayer! What are you saying?” gasped the girl.
Polaris snapped open the breech of his revolver and emptied its cartridges into his hand. He took the other revolver from its holster and emptied it also. He laid the cartridge in his hand and extended it.
“See,” he said, “there are twelve cartridges, but only one empty shell. Only two shots were fired—one by the man whom I killed, the other by me.” He saw that he had her attention, and repeated his question: “Was that man your brother?”
“No,” she answered.
“Then, you see, I could not have shot your brother,” said Polaris. His face grew stern with the memory of the scene he had witnessed. “They quarrelled, your brother and the other man. I came behind the drift yonder and saw them. I might have stopped them—but, lady, they were the first men I had ever seen, save only one. I was bound by surprise. The other man was stronger. He struck your brother into the crevasse. He would have shot me, but my mind returned to me, and with anger at that which I saw, and I killed him.
“In proof, lady, see—the snow between me and the spot yonder where they stood is untracked. I have been no nearer.”
Wonderingly the girl followed with her eyes and the direction of his pointing finger. She comprehended.
“I—I believe you have told me the truth,” she faltered. “They had quarrelled. But—but—you said they were the first men you had ever seen. How—what—”
Polaris crossed the intervening slope and stood at her side.
“That is a long tale, lady,” he said simply. “You are in distress. I would help you. Let us go to your camp. Come.”
The girl raised her eyes to his, and they gazed long at one another. Polaris saw a slender figure of nearly his own height. She was clad in heavy woollen garments. A hooded cap framed the long oval of her face.
The eyes that looked into his were steady and grey. Long eyes they were, delicately turned at the corners. Her nose was straight and high, its end tilted ever so slightly. Full, crimson lips and a firm little chin peeped over the collar of her jacket. A wisp of chestnut hair swept her high brow and added its tale to a face that would have been accounted beautiful in any land.
In the eyes of Polaris she was divinity.
The girl saw a young giant in the flower of his manhood. Clad in splendid white furs of fox and bear, with a necklace of teeth of the polar bear for adornment, he resembled those magnificent barbarians of the Northland’s ancient sagas.
His yellow hair had grown long, and fell about his shoulders under his fox-skin cap. The clean-cut lines of his face scarce were shaded by its growth of red-gold beard and moustache. Except for the guns at his belt he might have been a young chief of vikings. His countenance was at once eager, thoughtful, and determined.
Barbaric and strange as he seemed, the girl found in his face that which she might trust. She removed a mitten and extended a small, white hand to him. Falling on one knee in the snow, Polaris kissed it, with the grace of a knight of old doing homage to his lady fair.
The girl flashed him another wondering glance from her long, grey eyes that set all his senses tingling. Side by side they passed over the ridge.
Disaster had overtaken the camp which lay on the other side. Camp it was by courtesy only—a miserable shelter of blankets and robes, propped with pieces of broken sledge, a few utensils, the partially devoured carcass of a small seal, and a tiny fire, kindled from fragments of the sledge. In the snow some distance from the fire lay the stiffened bodies of several sledge dogs, sinister evidence of the hopelessness of the campers’ position.
Polaris turned questioningly to the girl.
“We were lost in the storm,” she said. “We left the ship, meaning to be gone only a few hours, and then were lost in the blinding snow. That was three days ago. How many miles we wandered I do not know. The dogs became crazed and turned upon us. The men shot them. Oh, there seems so little hope in this terrible land!” She shuddered. “But you—where did you come from?”
“Do not lose heart, lady,” replied Polaris. “Always, in every land, there is hope. There must be. I have lived here all my life. I have come up from the far south. I know but one path—the path to the north, to the world of men. Now I will fetch my sledge up, and then we shall talk and decide. We will find your ship. I, Polaris, promise you that.”
He turned from her to the fire, and cast on its dying embers more fragments of the splintered sledge. His eyes shone. He muttered to himself: “A ship, a ship! Ah, but my father’s God is good to his son!”
He set off across the snow slopes to bring up the pack.
CONTINUES NEXT WEEK