The Iron Trail

Language: English
Published: 5 days ago
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The ship stole through the darkness with extremest caution, feeling her way past bay and promontory. Around her was none of that phosphorescent glow which lies above the open ocean, even on the darkest night, for the mountains ran down to the channel on either side. In places they overhung, and where they lay upturned against the dim sky it could be seen that they were mantled with heavy timber. All day long the NEBRASKA had made her way through an endless succession of straits and sounds, now squeezing through an inlet so narrow that the somber spruce trees seemed to be within a short stone's-throw, again plowing across some open reach where the pulse of the north Pacific could be felt. Out through the openings to seaward stretched the restless ocean, on across uncounted leagues, to Saghalien and the rim of Russia's prison-yard.

Always near at hand was the deep green of the Canadian forests, denser, darker than a tropic jungle, for this was the land of "plenty waters." The hillsides were carpeted knee-deep with moss, wet to saturation. Out of every gulch came a brawling stream whipped to milk-white frenzy; snow lay heavy upon the higher levels, while now and then from farther inland peered a glacier, like some dead monster crushed between the granite peaks. There were villages, too, and fishing-stations, and mines and quarries. These burst suddenly upon the view, then slipped past with dreamlike swiftness. Other ships swung into sight, rushed by, and were swallowed up in the labyrinthine maze astern.

Those passengers of the Nebraska who had never before traversed the "Inside Passage" were loud in the praises of its picturesqueness, while those to whom the route was familiar seemed to find an ever-fresh fascination in its shifting scenes.

Among the latter was Murray O'Neil. The whole north coast from Flattery to St. Elias was as well mapped in his mind as the face of an old friend, yet he was forever discovering new vistas, surprising panoramas, amazing variations of color and topography. The mysterious rifts and passageways that opened and closed as if to lure the ship astray, the trackless confusion of islets, the siren song of the waterfalls, the silent hills and glaciers and snow-soaked forests—all appealed to him strongly, for he was at heart a dreamer.

Yet he did not forget that scenery such as this, lovely as it is by day, may be dangerous at night, for he knew the weakness of steel hulls. On some sides his experience and business training had made him sternly practical and prosaic. Ships aroused no manner of enthusiasm in him except as means to an end. Railroads had no glamour of romance in his eyes, for, having built a number of them, he had outlived all poetic notions regarding the "iron horse," and once the rails were laid he was apt to lose interest in them. Nevertheless, he was almost poetic in his own quiet way, interweaving practical thoughts with fanciful visions, and he loved his dreams. He was dreaming now as he leaned upon the bridge rail of the Nebraska, peering into the gloom with watchful eyes....