On The Northern Ice
THE winter nights up at Sault Ste.
Marie are as white and luminous as
the Milky Way. The silence which
rests upon the solitude appears to
be white also. Even sound has been included
in Nature's arrestment, for, indeed, save the
still white frost, all things seem to be oblit-
erated. The stars have a poignant brightness,
but they belong to heaven and not to earth,
and between their immeasurable height and
the still ice rolls the ebon ether in vast, liquid
In such a place it is difficult to believe that
the world is actually peopled. It seems as if
it might be the dark of the day after Cain
killed Abel, and as if all of humanity's re-
mainder was huddled in affright away from
the awful spaciousness of Creation.
The night Ralph Hagadorn started out for
Echo Bay -- bent on a pleasant duty -- he
laughed to himself, and said that he did not
at all object to being the only man in the
world, so long as the world remained as un-
speakably beautiful as it was when he buckled
on his skates and shot away into the solitude.
He was bent on reaching his best friend in
time to act as groomsman, and business had
delayed him till time was at its briefest. So
he journeyed by night and journeyed alone,
and when the tang of the frost got at his
blood, he felt as a spirited horse feels when it
gets free of bit and bridle. The ice was as
glass, his skates were keen, his frame fit, and
his venture to his taste! So he laughed, and
cut through the air as a sharp stone cleaves the
water. He could hear the whistling of the
air as he cleft it.
As he went on and on in the black stillness,
he began to have fancies. He imagined him-
self enormously tall -- a great Viking of the
Northland, hastening over icy fiords to his love.
And that reminded him that he had a love
-- though, indeed, that thought was always
present with him as a background for other
thoughts. To be sure, he had not told her
that she was his love, for he had seen her only
a few times, and the auspicious occasion had
not yet presented itself. She lived at Echo
Bay also, and was to be the maid of honor to
his friend's bride -- which was one more
reason why he skated almost as swiftly as the
wind, and why, now and then, he let out a
shout of exultation.
The one cloud that crossed Hagadorn's sun
of expectancy was the knowledge that Marie
Beaujeu's father had money, and that Marie
lived in a house with two stories to it, and
wore otter skin about her throat and little
satin-lined mink boots on her feet when she
went sledding. Moreover, in the locket in
which she treasured a bit of her dead mother's
hair, there was a black pearl as big as a pea.
These things made it difficult -- perhaps im-
possible -- for Ralph Hagadorn to say more
than, "I love you." But that much he meant
to say though he were scourged with chagrin
for his temerity.
This determination grew upon him as he
swept along the ice under the starlight.
Venus made a glowing path toward the west
and seemed eager to reassure him. He was
sorry he could not skim down that avenue of
light which flowed from the love-star, but he
was forced to turn his back upon it and face
the black northeast.
It came to him with a shock that he was
not alone. His eyelashes were frosted and
his eyeballs blurred with the cold, so at first
he thought it might be an illusion. But when
he had rubbed his eyes hard, he made sure
that not very far in front of him was a long
white skater in fluttering garments who sped
over the ice as fast as ever werewolf went.
He called aloud, but there was no answer.
He shaped his hands and trumpeted through
them, but the silence was as before -- it was
complete. So then he gave chase, setting his
teeth hard and putting a tension on his firm
young muscles. But go however he would,
the white skater went faster. After a time,
as he glanced at the cold gleam of the north
star, he perceived that he was being led from
his direct path. For a moment he hesitated,
wondering if he would not better keep to his
road, but his weird companion seemed to
draw him on irresistibly, and finding it sweet
to follow, he followed.
Of course it came to him more than once
in that strange pursuit, that the white skater
was no earthly guide. Up in those latitudes
men see curious things when the hoar frost is
on the earth. Hagadorn's own father -- to
hark no further than that for an instance!
-- who lived up there with the Lake Superior
Indians, and worked in the copper mines, had
welcomed a woman at his hut one bitter
night, who was gone by morning, leaving wolf
tracks on the snow! Yes, it was so, and John
Fontanelle, the half-breed, could tell you
about it any day -- if he were alive. (Alack,
the snow where the wolf tracks were, is melted
Well, Hagadorn followed the white skater
all the night, and when the ice flushed pink
at dawn, and arrows of lovely light shot up into
the cold heavens, she was gone, and Haga-
dorn was at his destination. The sun climbed
arrogantly up to his place above all other
things, and as Hagadorn took off his skates
and glanced carelessly lakeward, he beheld a
great wind-rift in the ice, and the waves
showing blue and hungry between white fields.
Had he rushed along his intended path,
watching the stars to guide him, his glance
turned upward, all his body at magnificent
momentum, he must certainly have gone into
that cold grave.
How wonderful that it had been sweet to
follow the white skater, and that he followed!
His heart beat hard as he hurried to his
friend's house. But he encountered no wed-
ding furore. His friend met him as men
meet in houses of mourning.
"Is this your wedding face?" cried Haga-
dorn. "Why, man, starved as I am, I look
more like a bridegroom than you!"
"There's no wedding to-day!"
"No wedding! Why, you're not --"
"Marie Beaujeu died last night --"
"Died last night. She had been skating
in the afternoon, and she came home chilled
and wandering in her mind, as if the frost
had got in it somehow. She grew worse and
worse, and all the time she talked of you."
"We wondered what it meant. No one
knew you were lovers."
"I didn't know it myself; more's the pity.
At least, I didn't know --"
"She said you were on the ice, and that
you didn't know about the big breaking-up,
and she cried to us that the wind was off shore
and the rift widening. She cried over and
over again that you could come in by the old
French creek if you only knew --"
"I came in that way."
"But how did you come to do that? It's
out of the path. We thought perhaps --"
But Hagadorn broke in with his story and
told him all as it had come to pass.
That day they watched beside the maiden,
who lay with tapers at her head and at her
feet, and in the little church the bride who
might have been at her wedding said prayers
for her friend. They buried Marie Beaujeu
in her bridesmaid white, and Hagadorn was
before the altar with her, as he had intended
from the first! Then at midnight the lovers
who were to wed whispered their vows in the
gloom of the cold church, and walked together
through the snow to lay their bridal wreaths
upon a grave.
Three nights later, Hagadorn skated back
again to his home. They wanted him to go
by sunlight, but he had his way, and went
when Venus made her bright path on the ice.
The truth was, he had hoped for the com-
panionship of the white skater. But he did
not have it. His only companion was the
wind. The only voice he heard was the bay-
ing of a wolf on the north shore. The world
was as empty and as white as if God had just
created it, and the sun had not yet colored
nor man defiled it.
Next: Their Dear Little Ghost
Previous: The Shape Of Fear