Ax in hand, Wardour approached
"If I could only cut the thoughts
out of me," he said to himself, "as
I am going to cut the billets
out of this wood!" He attacked
the bed-place with the ax, like
a man who well knew the use of
his instrument. "Oh me!" he thought,
sadly, "if I had only been born
a carpenter instead of a gentleman!
A good ax, Master Bateson--I
wonder where you got it? Something
like a grip, my man, on this
handle. Poor Crayford! his words
stick in my throat. A fine fellow!
a noble fellow! No use thinking,
no use regretting; what is said,
is said. Work! work! work!"
plank fell out on the floor.
He laughed over
the easy task of destruction. "Aha!
young Aldersley! It doesn't take
much to demolish your bed-place.
I'll have it down! I would have
the whole hut down, if they would
only give me the chance of chopping
A long strip of wood fell to
his ax--long enough to require
cutting in two. He turned it,
and stooped over it. Something
caught his eye--letters carved
in the wood. He looked closer.
The letters were very faintly
and badly cut. He could only
make out the first three of them;
and even of those he was not
quite certain. They looked like
C L A--if they looked like anything.
He threw down the strip of wood
"D--n the fellow
(whoever he is) who cut this!
he carve _that_ name, of all
the names in the world?"
to go on again with
his self-imposed labor. He was
ashamed of his own outburst.
He looked eagerly for the ax. "Work,
work! Nothing for it but work." He
found the ax, and went on again.
He cut out another plank.
He stopped, and looked at it
There was carving again, on
this plank. The letters F. and
A. appeared on it.
He put down the ax. There were
vague misgivings in him which
he was not able to realize. The
state of his own mind was fast
becoming a puzzle to him.
"More carving," he said to
himself. "That's the way these
young idlers employ their long
hours. F. A.? Those must be _his_
initials--Frank Aldersley. Who
c arved the letters on the other
plank? Frank Aldersley, too?"
He turned the piece of wood
in his hand nearer to the light,
and looked lower down it. More
carving again, lower down! Under
the initials F. A. were two more
"C. B.?" he repeated to himself. "His
sweet heart's initials, I suppose?
Of course--at his age--his sweetheart's
He paused once more. A spasm
of inner pain showed the shadow
of its mysterious passage, outwardly
on his face.
"_Her_ cipher is C. B.," he
said, in low, broken tones. "C.
He waited, with the plank in
his hand; repeating the name
over and over again, as if it
was a question he was putting
the plank, and turned deadly
pale in a moment. His
eyes wandered furtively backward
and forward between the strip
of wood on the floor and the
half-demolished berth. "Oh, God!
what has come to me now?" he
said to himself, in a whisper.
He snatched up the ax, with a
strange cry--something between
rage and terror. He tried--fiercely,
desperately tried--to go on with
his work. No! strong as he was,
he could not use the ax. His
hands were helpless; they trembled
incessantly. He went to the fire;
he held his hands over it. They
still trembled incessantly; they
infected the rest of him. He
shuddered all over. He knew fear.
His own thoughts terrified him.
"Crayford!" he cried out. "Crayford!
come here, and let's go hunting."
No friendly voice answered
him. No friendly face showed
itself at the door.
An interval passed; and there
came over him another change.
He recovered his self-possession
almost as suddenly as he had
lost it. A smile--a horrid, deforming,
unnatural smile--spread slowly,
stealthily, devilishly over his
face. He left the fire; he put
the ax away softly in a corner;
he sat down in his old place,
deliberately self-abandoned to
a frenzy of vindictive joy. He
had found the man! There, at
the end of the world--there,
at the last fight of the Arctic
voyagers against starvation and
death, he had found the man!
The minutes passed.
He became conscious, on a sudden,
of a freezing stream of air pouring
into the room.
He turned, and saw Crayford
opening the door of the hut.
A man was behind him. Wardour
rose eagerly, and looked over
Was it--could it be--the man
who had carved the letters on
the plank? Yes! Frank Aldersley!