A Wild-Goose Chase (Balmer)/Chapter 22



PRICE LATHAM was dead; and of the dead, says the adage, let nothing unless good be spoken. The adage rules—and should rule—those who return from the Arctic if it rules no others. For in the Arctic men are tried as nowhere else, and under the strangest conditions. Therefore, the deeds of the dead man, as told by his companions, were made to conform more closely to the requirements of decency and of honour than to the facts.

Accordingly it has been related in those records read by slippered people warm between their radiators and blazing log fires that Price Latham, the sportsman who led the Viborg party into the North, gave his life in a desperate attempt to reach the Canadian exploration ship Kadiack to bring relief to his starving companions. He died of exposure and exhaustion after suffering an accident. It added to his honour, rather than detracted from it, that when he set out on his lonely journey he must have supposed the ship to be many hundreds of miles away.

The news of Price Latham's death and the safety of the rest of the Viborg party, together with the news of the death of Ian Thomas and the return of Hedon, were telegraphed from Alaska early in August, when the Kadiack, with Hedon and the seven from the Viborg, reached Nome, after having been freed from the ice below Victoria Island in June.

Before the end of August, therefore, Geoff and his sister reached home; Eric came with them. Since Geoff and Margaret had given up their apartment before leaving for the Viborg, they now went to Mrs. Thomas' where Eric was invited also. He delayed there long enough to relate to Mrs. Thomas what he could of her husband's last year; then Eric went east to report to the society which had sent him to the Arctic. Margaret remained at the Thomas home. There she received Eric's telegram from Washington telling her of his appointment to a permanent position on the staff of the Smithsonian Institution with a salary which would be more than Margaret and he would need; and immediately after sending his news, he returned to her.

So in the same room in which he and Margaret met, they were married. On the days after the wedding, which was with few witnesses besides Koehler and McNeal and Brunton, Geoff moved down to the club to his rooms there. The suite assigned him was the one which, till the year before, had been Price Latham's; and after moving in Geoff lay in the window seat thinking of himself as he was the last time he lounged there and as he was now.

The newspapers were brought to his door and idly he opened them. Margaret's marriage, of course, had given the papers opportunity to review the stories of the Aurora and the Viborg. Besides the large picture of Margaret there was a small sketch of Hedon and a list of his explorations and scientific achievements. Mention was also made of new evidence found by him that descendants of the lost Greenland people still survive among the Eskimo tribes of the American Arctic, as other explorers had suggested.

However, he was entirely overshadowed on the page by reviews of the doings of Price Latham—his polo, motoring, golf and racket championships and records; his hunts after big game; finally his noble death under desperate conditions which daunted his companions long accustomed to the Arctic.

The tone of the newspapers was the same as the tone of the friends who had spoken to Geoff of his sister's wedding. It implied that Margaret could not have known her mind when, before going into the Arctic, she had preferred Hedon to Latham. Further it implied that Margaret must have found out her mistake too late, when there had been nothing for her to do but to marry Hedon.

Geoff crumpled up the papers and threw them on the floor. He looked at his watch and hurried out of the club and down to the railroad station. That afternoon Margaret and Eric were setting off for their honeymoon on Eric's assignment from the Smithsonian Institution to travel through China and Tibet.

Geoff found them and said his hearty good-byes to Eric; and then he took his sister aside.

"Meg," he said, "what I want you to tell me is this: How did you know the difference between Price and Eric before we went into the Arctic?"

"You'll know," his sister said, "when the time comes for you to decide between girls."

He bent and kissed her. "Tell you one thing. If I'm doubtful, I don't marry till the girl goes with me into the Arctic. Good-bye, Meg! Good-bye, Eric, old fellow! Good-bye, both of you together!"