Then came that unforgetable drive to the ranch, when she put her hand in his—and on this hour he dwelt long, searching his mind deeply in order that no grain of its golden store of incident should escape him. His throat again began to ache with a full sense of the loss he was inflicting upon himself. "'Tis a lonely trail I'm takm' for your sake, darlin'," he whispered, "but 'tis all for the best."
Slowly the train creaked and circled up the heights, following the sharp turnings of the stream, passing small towns which were in effect summer camps of pleasure-seekers, on and upward into the moist heights where the grass was yet green and the slopes gay with flowers. A mood of exaltation came upon the doomed man as he rose. This was the place to die—up here where the affairs of men sank into insignificance like the sound of the mills and the rumble of trains. Here the centuries circled like swallows and the personal was lost in the ocean of silence.
At one of these towns which stood almost at the summit of the pass the conductor brought a telegram, and Mart seized it with eager, trembling hands. It was (as he expected) a warning from Bertha. She implored him to let the mine go and to return by the next train.
He was too nerveless of fingers to put the sheet back within its envelope, and so thrust it, a crumpled mass, into his pocket. It was as if her hand was at his shoulder, her voice in his ear, but he did not falter. To go back now would be but a renewal of his torture. There could not come a better time to go—to go and leave no suspicion of his purpose behind him.
Just over the summit, at a bare little station, the train was held for orders, and Haney, who was again suffocating and almost blind, took another dose of the mysterious drug, and with its effect returned to a dim perception of his surroundings. He was able vaguely to recall that a trail which began just back of the depot mounted the hill towards his largest mine. A desire to see Williams, his faithful partner, his most loyal friend, came over him, and, rising to his feet, he painfully crept down the aisle to the rear of the car and dropped off unnoticed, just as the conductor's warning cry started a rush for the train.
As the last coach disappeared round the turn the essential bleak loneliness of the place returned. The station seemed deserted by every human being, even the operator was lost to sight, and the gambler, utterly solitary, with clouded brain and laboring breath, turned towards the height, his left leg dragging like a shackle.
For the first half-mile the way was easy, and by moving slowly he suffered less pain than he had expected. Around him the frost - smitten aspens were shivering in the wind, their sparse leaves dangling like coins of red - and - yellow gold, and all the billowing land below, to the west, was iridescent with green and flame-color and crimson. A voiceless regret, a dim, wide-reaching, wistful sadness came over him, but did not shake his resolution. He had but to look down at his crippled body to know that the beauty of the world was no longer his to enjoy. His days were now but days of pain.
He had always loved the heights. From the time he had first sighted this range he had never failed to experience a peculiar exaltation as he mounted above the ranch and the mine. Gambler and night-owl though he had been, he had often spent his afternoons on horseback riding high above the camps, and now some small part of his love of the upper air came back to lead him towards his grave. With face turned to the solitudes of the snows, with ever-faltering steps, he commenced his challenging march towards death.
At the first sharp up-raise in the way his heart began to pound and he swayed blindly to and fro, unable to proceed. For an instant he looked down in dismay at the rocky, waiting earth, a most inhospitable grave. A few minutes' rest against a tree, and his brain cleared. "Higher—I must go higher," he said to himself; "they'll find me here."
As he rose he could see the town spread wide on the hill-tops beneath him—the cabins mere cubes, the mill a child's toy. He could discern men like ants moving to and fro as if in some special excitement—but he did not concern himself with the cause. His one thought was to mount—to blend with the firs and the rocks. He drew the phial from his pocket and held it in his hand in readiness, with a dull fear that the chemical would prove too small, too weak, to end his pain.
It was utterly silent and appallingly lonely on this side of the great peak. Hunters were few and prospectors were seldom seen. These upward - looping trails led to no mine — only to abandoned prospect holes — for no mineral had ever been found on the western slope. The copses held no life other than a few minute squirrels, and no sound broke the silence save the insolent cry of an occasional jay or camp-bird. To die here was surely to die alone and to lie alone, as the fallen cedar lies, wrought upon by the wind and the snows and the rain.
Nevertheless, his suicidal idea persisted. It had become the one final, overpowering, directing resolution. There is no passion more persistent than that which leads to self-destruction. In the midst of the blinding swirl of his thought he maintained his purpose to put himself above the world of human effort and to become a brother of the clod, to mix forever with the mould.
Slowly he dragged himself upward, foot by foot, seeking the friendly helter and obscurity of a grove of firs just above him. Twice he sank to his knees, a numbing pain at the base of his brain, his breath roaring, his lips dry, but each time he rose and struggled on, eager to reach the green and grateful shelter of the forest, filled with desire to thrust himself into its solitude; and when at last he felt the chill of the shadow and realized that he was surely hidden from all the world, he turned, poised for an instant on a mound where the trail doubled sharply, gave one long, slow glance around, then hurled himself down the rocky slope. Even as he leaped his heart seemed to burst and he fell like a clod and lay without further motion. It was as if he had been smitten in flight by a rifle-ball, i Around him the small animals of the wood'frolicked, and the jay called inquiringly, but he neither saw nor heard. He was himself but a gasping creature, with reason entirely engaged in the blind struggle which the physical organism was instinctively making to continue in its wonted ways. All the world and all his desires, save a longing for his fair young wife, were lost out of his mind, and he thought of Bertha only in a dim and formless way—feeling his need of her and dumbly wondering why she did not come. In final, desperate agony, he lifted the phial of strychnine to his lips, hoping that it might put an end to his suffering; but before this act was completed a sweet, devouring flood of forgetfulness swept over him, his hand dropped, and the unopened bottle rolled away out of his reach. Then the golden sunlight darkened out of his sky, and he died—as the desert lion dies—alone.
When they found him two days later he lay with his head pillowed upon his left arm, his right hand outspread upon the pine leaves—palm upward as if to show its emptiness. A bird—the roguish gray magpie—had stolen away the phial as if in consideration of the dead man's wish, and no sign of his last despairing act was visible to those who looked into his face. His going was well planned. Self-murder was never written opposite the name of Marshall Haney.