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 --"

"Marie --"

"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."

"Of me?"

"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.