God's Country--And the Woman
James Oliver Curwood
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God's Country--And the Woman
By James Oliver Curwood
Author of "The Honor of the Big Snows," "Philip Steele," Etc.
Philip Weyman's buoyancy of heart was in face of the fact that he
had but recently looked upon Radisson's unpleasant death, and that
he was still in a country where the water flowed north. He laughed
and he sang. His heart bubbled over with cheer. He talked to
himself frankly and without embarrassment, asked himself
questions, answered them, discussed the beauties of nature and the
possibilities of storm as if there were three or four of him
instead of one.
At the top end of the world a man becomes a multiple being--if he
is white. Two years along the rim of the Arctic had taught Philip
the science by which a man may become acquainted with himself, and
in moments like the present, when both his mental and physical
spirits overflowed, he even went so far as to attempt poor
Radisson's "La Belle Marie" in the Frenchman's heavy basso,
something between a dog's sullen growl and the low rumble of
distant thunder. It made him cough. And then he laughed again,
scanning the narrowing sweep of the lake ahead of him.
He felt like a boy, and he chuckled as he thought of the definite
reason for it. For twenty-three months he had been like a piece of
rubber stretched to a tension--sometimes almost to the snapping
point. Now had come the reaction, and he was going HOME. Home! It
was that one word that caused a shadow to flit over his face, and
only once or twice had he forgotten and let it slip between his
lips. At least he was returning to civilization--getting AWAY from
the everlasting drone of breaking ice and the clack-clack tongue
of the Eskimo.
With the stub of a pencil Philip had figured out on a bit of paper
about where he was that morning. The whalebone hut of his last
Arctic camp was eight hundred miles due north. Fort Churchill,
over on Hudson's Bay, was four hundred miles to the east, and Fort
Resolution, on the Great Slave, was four hundred miles to the
west. On his map he had drawn a heavy circle about Prince Albert,
six hundred miles to the south. That was the nearest line of rail.
Six days back Radisson had died after a mouth's struggle with that
terrible thing they called "le mort rouge," or the Red Death.
Since then Philip had pointed his canoe straight UP the Dubawnt
waterways, and was a hundred and twenty miles nearer to
civilization. He had been through these waterways twice before,
and he knew that there was not a white man within a hundred and
fifty miles of him. And as for a white woman--
Weyman stopped his paddling where there was no current, and leaned
back in his canoe for a breathing space, and to fill his pipe. A
WHITE WOMAN! Would he stare at her like a fool when he saw her
again for the first time? Eighteen months ago he had seen a white
woman over at Fort Churchill--the English clerk's wife, thirty,
with a sprinkle of gray in her blond hair, and pale blue eyes.
Fresh from the Garden of Eden, he had wondered why the half-dozen
white men over there regarded her as they did. Long ago, in the
maddening gloom of the Arctic night, he had learned to understand.
At Fond du Lac, when Weyman had first come up into the forest
country, he had said to the factor: "It's glorious! It's God's
Country!" And the factor had turned his tired, empty eyes upon him
with the words: "It was--before SHE went. But no country is God's
Country without a woman," and then he took Philip to the lonely
grave under a huge lob-stick spruce, and told him in a few words
how one woman had made life for him. Even then Philip could not
fully understand. But he did now.
He resumed his paddling, his gray eyes alert. His aloneness and
the bigness of the world in which, so far as he knew, he was the
only human atom, did not weigh heavily upon him. He loved this
bigness and emptiness and the glory of solitude. It was middle
autumn, and close to noon of a day unmarred by cloud above, and
warm with sunlight. He was following close to the west shore of
the lake. The opposite shore was a mile away. He was so near to
the rock-lined beach that he could hear the soft throat-cries of
the moose-birds. And what he saw, so far as his eyes could see in
all directions, was "God's Country"--a glory of colour that was
like a great master painting. The birch had turned to red and
gold. From out of the rocks rose trees that were great crimson
splashes of mountain-ash berries framed against the dark lustre of
balsam and cedar and spruce.
Without reason, Philip was listening again to the quiet lifeless
words of Jasper, the factor over at Fond du Lac, as he described
the day when he and his young wife first came up through the
wonderland of the North. "No country is God's Country without a
woman!" He found the words running in an unpleasant monotone
through his brain. He had made up his mind that he would strike
Fond du Lac on his way down, for Jasper's words and the hopeless
picture he had made that day beside the little cross under the
spruce had made them brothers in a strange sort of way. Besides,
Jasper would furnish him with a couple of Indians, and a sledge
and dogs if the snows came early.
In a break between the rocks Philip saw a white strip of sand, and
turned his canoe in to shore. He had been paddling since five
o'clock, and in the six hours had made eighteen miles. Yet he felt
no fatigue as he stood up and stretched himself. He remembered how
different it had been four years ago when Hill, the Hudson's Bay
Company's man down at Prince Albert, had looked him over with
skeptical and uneasy eyes, encouraging him with the words: "You're
going to a funeral, young man, and it's your own. You won't make
God's House, much less Hudson's Bay!"
Weyman laughed joyously.
"Fooled 'em--fooled 'em all!" he told himself. "We'll wager a
dollar to a doughnut that we're the toughest looking specimen that
ever drifted down from Coronation Gulf, or any other gulf. A
DOUGHNUT! I'd trade a gold nugget as big as my fist for a doughnut
or a piece of pie right this minute. Doughnuts an' pie--real old
pumpkin pie--an' cranberry sauce, 'n' POTATOES! Good Lord, and
they're only six hundred miles away, carloads of 'em!"
He began to whistle as he pulled his rubber dunnage sack out of
the canoe. Suddenly he stopped, his eyes staring at the smooth
white floor of sand. A bear had been there before him, and quite
recently. Weyman had killed fresh meat the day before, but the
instinct of the naturalist and the woodsman kept him from singing
or whistling, two things which he was very much inclined to do on
this particular day. He had no suspicion that a bear which he was
destined never to see had become the greatest factor in his life.
He was philosopher enough to appreciate the value and importance
of little things, but the bear track did not keep him silent
because he regarded it as significant, because he wanted to kill.
He would have welcomed it to dinner, and would have talked to it
were it as affable and good-mannered as the big pop-eyed moose-
birds that were already flirting about near him.
He emptied a half of the contents of the rubber sack out on the
sand and made a selection for dinner, and he chuckled in his big
happiness as he saw how attenuated his list of supplies was
becoming. There was still a quarter of a pound of tea, no sugar,
no coffee, half a dozen pounds of flour, twenty-seven prunes
jealously guarded in a piece of narwhal skin, a little salt and
pepper mixed, and fresh caribou meat.
"It's a lovely day, and we'll have a treat for dinner," he
informed himself. "No need of starving. We'll have a real feast.
I'll cook SEVEN prunes instead of five!"
He built a small fire, hung two small pots over it, selected his
prunes, and measured out a tablespoonful of black tea. In the
respite he had while the water heated he dug a small mirror out of
the sack and looked at himself. His long, untrimmed hair was
blond, and the inch of stubble on his face was brick red. There
were tiny creases at the corners of his eyes, caused by the
blistering sleet and cold wind of the Arctic coast. He grimaced as
he studied himself. Then his face lighted up with sudden
"I've got it!" he exclaimed. "I need a shave! We'll use the prune
From the rubber bag he fished out his razor, a nubbin of soap, and
a towel. For fifteen minutes after that he sat cross-legged on the
sand, with the mirror on a rock, and worked. When he had finished
he inspected himself closely.
"You're not half bad," he concluded, and he spoke seriously now.
"Four years ago when you started up here you were thirty--and you
looked forty. Now you're thirty-four, and if it wasn't for the
snow lines in your eyes I'd say you were a day or two younger.
That's pretty good."
He had washed his face and was drying it with the towel when a
sound made him look over beyond the rocks. It was the crackling
sound made by a dead stick stepped upon, or a sapling broken down.
Either meant the bear.
Dropping the towel, he unbuttoned the flap to the holster of his
revolver, took a peep to see how long he could leave the water
before it would boil, and stepped cautiously in the direction of
the sound. A dozen paces beyond the bulwark of rocks he came upon
a fairly well-worn moose trail; surveying its direction from the
top of a boulder, he made up his mind that the bear was dining on
mountain-ash berries where he saw one of the huge crimson splashes
of the fruit a hundred yards away.
He went on quietly. Under the big ash tree there was no sign of a
feast, recent or old. He proceeded, the trail turning almost at
right angles from the ash tree, as if about to bury itself in the
deeper forest. His exploratory instinct led him on for another
hundred yards, when the trail swung once more to the left. He
heard the swift trickling run of water among rocks, and again a
sound. But his mind did not associate the sound which he heard
this time with the one made by the bear. It was not the breaking
of a stick or the snapping of brush. It was more a part of the
musical water-sound itself, a strange key struck once to interrupt
the monotone of a rushing stream.
Over a gray hog-back of limestone Philip climbed to look down into
a little valley of smooth-washed boulders and age-crumbled rock
through which the stream picked its way. He descended to the white
margin of sand and turned sharply to the right, where a little
pool had formed at the base of a huge rock. And there he stopped,
his heart in his throat, every fibre in his body charged with a
sudden electrical thrill at what he beheld. For a moment he was
powerless to move. He stood--and stared.
At the edge of the pool twenty steps from him was kneeling a
woman. Her back was toward him, and in that moment she was as
motionless as the rock that towered over her. Along with the
rippling drone of the stream, without reason on his part--without
time for thought-there leaped through his amazed brain the words
of Jasper, the factor, and he knew that he was looking upon the
miracle that makes "God's Country"--a white woman!
The sun shone down upon her bare head. Over her slightly bent
shoulders swept a glory of unbound hair that rippled to the sand.
Black tresses, even velvety as the crow's wing, might have meant
Cree or half-breed. But this at which he stared--all that he saw
of her--was the brown and gold of the autumnal tintings that had
painted pictures for him that day.
Slowly she raised her head, as if something had given her warning
of a presence behind, and as she hesitated in that birdlike,
listening poise a breath of wind from the little valley stirred
her hair in a shimmering veil that caught a hundred fires of the
sun. And then, as he crushed back his first impulse to cry out, to
speak to her, she rose erect beside the pool, her back still to
him, and hidden to the hips in her glorious hair.
Her movement revealed a towel partly spread out on the sand, and a
comb, a brush, and a small toilet bag. Philip did not see these.
She was turning, slowly, scanning the rocks beyond the valley.
Like a thing carven out of stone he stood, still speechless, still
staring, when she faced him.
A face like that into which Philip looked might have come to him
from out of some dream of paradise. It was a girl's face. Eyes of
the pure blue of the sky above met his own. Her lips were a little
parted and a little laughing. Before he had uttered a word, before
he could rise out of the stupidity of his wonder, the change came.
A fear that he could not have forgotten if he had lived through a
dozen centuries leaped into the lovely eyes. The half-laughing
lips grew tense with terror. Quick as the flash of powder there
had come into her face a look that was not that of one merely
startled. It was fear--horror--a great, gripping thing that for an
instant seemed to crush the life from her soul. In another moment
it was gone, and she swayed back against the face of the rock,
clutching a hand at her breast.
"My God, how I frightened you!" gasped Philip.
"Yes, you frightened me," she said.
Her white throat was bare, and he could see the throb of it as she
made a strong effort to speak steadily. Her eyes did not leave
him. As he advanced a step he saw that unconsciously she cringed
closer to the rock.
"You are not afraid--now?" he asked. "I wouldn't have frightened
you for the world. And sooner than hurt you I'd--I'd kill myself.
I just stumbled here by accident. And I haven't seen a white
woman--for two years. So I stared--stared--and stood there like a
Relief shot into her eyes at his words.
"Two years? What do you mean?"
"I've been up along the rim of h--I mean the Arctic, on a
government wild-goose chase," he explained. "And I'm just coming
"You're from the North?"
There was an eager emphasis in her question.
"Yes. Straight from Coronation Gulf. I ran ashore to cook a mess
of prunes. While the water was boiling I came down here after a
bear, and found YOU! My name is Philip Weyman; I haven't even an
Indian with me, and there are three things in the world I'd trade
that name for just now: One is pie, another is doughnuts, and the
She brushed back her hair, and the fear went from her eyes as she
looked at him.
"And the third?" she asked.
"Is the answer to a question," he finished. "How do YOU happen to
be here, six hundred miles from anywhere?"
She stepped out from the rock. And now he saw that she was almost
as tall as himself, and that she was as slim as a reed and as
beautifully poised as the wild narcissus that sways like music to
every call of the wind. She had tucked up her sleeves, baring her
round white arms close to the shoulders, and as she looked
steadily at him before answering his question she flung back the
shining masses of her hair and began to braid it. Her fear for him
was entirely gone. She was calm. And there was something in the
manner of her quiet and soul-deep study of him that held back
other words which he might have spoken.
In those few moments she had taken her place in his life. She
stood before him like a goddess, tall and slender and unafraid,
her head a gold-brown aureole, her face filled with a purity, a
beauty, and a STRENGTH that made him look at her speechless,
waiting for the sound of her voice. In her look there was neither
boldness nor suspicion. Her eyes were clear, deep pools of velvety
blue that defied him to lie to her, He felt that under those eyes
he could have knelt down upon the sand and emptied his soul of its
secrets for their inspection.
"It is not very strange that I should be here" she said at last.
"I have always lived here. It is my home."
"Yes, I believe that," breathed Philip. "It is the last thing in
the world that one would believe--but I do; I believe it.
Something--I don't know what--told me that you belonged to this
world as you stood there beside the rock. But I don't understand.
A thousand miles from a city--and you! It's unreal. It's almost
like the dreams I've been dreaming during the past eighteen
months, and the visions I've seen during that long, maddening
night up on the coast, when for five months we didn't see a glow
of the sun. But--you understand--it's hard to comprehend."
From her he glanced swiftly over the rocks of the coulee, as if
expecting to see some sign of the home she had spoken of, or at
least of some other human presence. She understood his questioning
look. "I am alone," she said.
The quality of her voice startled him more then her words. There
was a deeper, darker glow in her eyes as she watched their effect
upon him. She swept out a gleaming white arm, still moist with the
water of the pool, taking in the wide, autumn-tinted spaces about
"I am alone," she repeated, still keeping her eyes on his face.
"Entirely alone. That is why you startled me--why I was afraid.
This is my hiding-place, and I thought--"
He saw that she had spoken words that she would have recalled. She
hesitated. Her lips trembled. In that moment of suspense a little
gray ermine dislodged a stone from the rock ridge above them, and
at the sound of it as it struck behind her the girl gave a start,
and a quick flash of the old fear leaped for an instant into her
face. And now Philip beheld something in her which he had been too
bewildered and wonder-struck to observe before. Her first terror
had been so acute that he had failed to see what remained after
her fright had passed. But it was clear to him now, and the look
that came into his own face told her that he had made the
The beauty of her face, her eyes, her hair--the wonder of her
presence six hundred miles from civilization--had held him
spellbound. He had seen only the deep lustre and the wonderful
blue of her eyes. Now he saw that those eyes, exquisite in their
loveliness, were haunted by something which she was struggling to
fight back--a questing, hunted look that burned there steadily,
and of which he was not the cause. A deep-seated grief, a terror
far back, shone through the forced calmness with which she was
speaking to him. He knew that she was fighting with herself, that
the nervously twitching fingers at her breast told more than her
lips had confessed. He stepped nearer to her and held out a hand,
and when he spoke his voice was vibrant with the thing that made
men respect him and women have faith in him.
"Tell me--what you started to say," he entreated quietly. "This is
your hiding-place, and you thought--what? I think that I can
guess. You thought that I was some one else, whom you have reason
She did not answer. It was as if she had not yet completely
measured him. Her eyes told him that. They were not looking AT
him, but INTO him. And they were softly beautiful as wood violets.
He found himself looking steadily into them--close, so close that
he could have reached out and touched her. Slowly there came over
them a filmy softness. And then, marvellously, he saw the tears
gathering, as dew might gather over the sweet petals of a flower.
And still for a moment she did not speak. There came a little
quiver at her throat, and she caught herself with a quick, soft
"Yes, I thought you were some one else--whom I fear," she said
then. "But why should I tell you? You are from down there, from
what you please to call civilization. I should distrust you
because of that. So why--why should I tell you?"
In an instant Philip was at her side. In his rough, storm-beaten
hand he caught the white fingers that trembled at her breast. And
there was something about him now that made her completely
"Why?" he asked. "Listen, and I will tell you. Four years ago I
came up into this country from down there--the world they call
Civilization. I came up with every ideal and every dream I ever
had broken and crushed. And up here I found God's Country. I found
new ideals and new dreams. I am going back with them. But they can
never be broken as the others were--because--now--I have found
something that will make them live. And that something is YOU!
Don't let my words startle you. I mean them to be as pure as the
sun that shines over our heads. If I leave you now--if I never see
you again--you will have filled this wonderful world for me. And
if I could do something to prove this--to make you happier--why,
I'd thank God for having sent me ashore to cook a mess of prunes."
He released her hand, and stepped back from her.
"That is why you should tell me," he finished.
A swift change had come into her eyes and face. She was breathing
quickly. He saw the sudden throbbing of her throat. A flush of
colour had mounted into her cheeks. Her lips were parted, her eyes
shone like stars.
"You would do a great deal for me?" she questioned breathlessly.
"A great deal--and like--A MAN?"
"A MAN--one of God's men?" she repeated.
He bowed his head.
Slowly, so slowly that she scarcely seemed to move, she drew
nearer to him.
"And when you had done this you would be willing to go away, to
promise never to see me again, to ask no reward? You would swear
Her hand touched his arm. Her breath came tense and fast as she
waited for him to answer. "If you wished it, yes," he said.
"I almost believe," he heard, as if she were speaking the words to
herself. She turned to him again, and something of faith, of hope
transfigured her face.
"Return to your fire and your prunes," she said quickly, and the
sunlight of a smile passed over her lips. "Then, half an hour from
now, come up the coulee to the turn in the rocks. You will find me
She bent quickly and picked up the little bag and the brush from
the sand. Without looking at him again she sped swiftly beyond the
big rock, and Philip's last vision of her was the radiant glory of
her hair as it rippled cloudlike behind her in the sunlight.
That he had actually passed through the experience of the last few
minutes, that it was a reality and not some beautiful phantasm of
the red and gold world which again lay quiet and lifeless about
him, Philip could scarcely convince himself as he made his way
back to the canoe and the fire. The discovery of this girl, buried
six hundred miles in a wilderness that was almost a terra
incognita to the white man, was sufficient to bewilder him. And
only now, as he kicked the burning embers from under the pails,
and looked at his watch to time himself, did he begin to realize
that he had not sensed a hundredth part of the miracle of it.
Now that he was alone, question after question leapt unanswered
through his mind, and every vein in his body throbbed with strange
excitement. Not for an instant did he doubt what she had said.
This world--the forests about him, the lakes, the blue skies
above, were her home. And yet, struggling vainly for a solution of
the mystery, he told himself in the next breath that this could
not be possible. Her voice had revealed nothing of the wilderness
--except in its sweetness. Not a break had marred the purity of
her speech. She had risen before him like the queen of some
wonderful kingdom, and not like a forest girl. And in her face he
had seen the soul of one who had looked upon the world as the
world lived outside of its forest walls. Yet he believed her. This
was her home. Her hair, her eyes, the flowerlike lithesomeness of
her beautiful body--and something more, something that he could
not see but which he could FEEL in her presence, told him that
this was so. This wonder-world about him was her home. But why--
He seated himself on a rock, holding the open watch in his hand.
Of one thing he was sure. She was oppressed by a strange fear. It
was not the fear of being alone, of being lost, of some happen-
chance peril that she might fancy was threatening her. It was a
deeper, bigger thing than that. And she had confessed to him--not
wholly, but enough to make him know--that this fear was of man. He
felt at this thought a little thrill of joy, of undefinable
exultation. He sprang from the rock and went down to the shore of
the lake, scanning its surface with eager, challenging eyes. In
these moments he forgot that civilization was waiting for him,
that for eighteen months he had been struggling between life and
death at the naked and barbarous end of the earth. All at once, in
the space of a few minutes, his world had shrunken until it held
but two things for him--the autumn-tinted forests, and the girl.
Beyond these he thought of nothing except the minutes that were
dragging like thirty weights of lead.
As the hand of his watch marked off the twenty-fifth of the
prescribed thirty he turned his steps in the direction of the
pool. He half expected that she would be there when he came over
the ridge of rock. But she had not returned. He looked up the
coulee, end then at the firm white sand close to the water. The
imprints of her feet were there--small, narrow imprints of a
heeled shoe. Unconsciously he smiled, for no other reason than
that each surprise he encountered was a new delight to him. A
forest girl as he had known them would have worn moccasins--six
hundred miles from civilization.
As he was about to leap across the narrow neck of the pool he
noticed a white object almost buried in the dry sand, and picked
it up. It was a handkerchief; and this, too, was a surprise. He
had not particularly noticed her dress, except that it was soft
and clinging blue. The handkerchief he looked at more closely. It
was of fine linen with a border of lace, and so soft that he could
have hidden it in the palm of his hand. From it rose a faint,
sweet scent of the wild rock violet. He knew that it was rock
violet, because more than once he had crushed the blossoms between
his hands. He thrust the bit of fabric in the breast of his
flannel shirt, and walked swiftly up the coulee.
A hundred yards above him the stream turned abruptly, and here a
strip of forest meadow grew to the water's edge. He sprang up the
low bank, and stood face to face with the girl.
She had heard his approach, and was waiting for him, a little
smile of welcome on her lips. She had completed her toilet. She
had braided her wonderful hair, and it was gathered in a heavy,
shimmering coronet about her head. There was a flutter of lace at
her throat, and little fluffs of it at her wrists. She was more
beautiful, more than ever like the queen of a kingdom as she stood
before him now. And she was alone. He saw that in his first swift
"You didn't eat the prunes?" she asked, and for the first time he
saw a bit of laughter in her eyes.
"No--I--I kicked the fire from under them," he said.
He caught the significance of her words, and her sudden sidewise
gesture. A short distance from them was a small tent, and on the
grass in front of the tent was spread a white cloth, on which was
a meal such as he had not looked upon for two years.
"I am glad," she said, and again her eyes met his with their glow
of friendly humour. "They might have spoiled your appetite, and I
have made up my mind that I want you to have dinner with me. I
can't offer you pie or doughnuts. But I have a home-made fruit
cake, and a pot of jam that I made myself. Will you join me?"
They sat down, with the feast between them, and the girl leaned
over to turn him a cup of tea from a pot that was already made and
waiting. Her lovely head was near him, and he stared with hungry
adoration at the thick, shining braids, and the soft white contour
of her cheek and neck. She leaned back suddenly, and caught him.
The words that were on her lips remained unspoken. The laughter
went from her eyes. In a hot wave the blood flushed his own face.
"Forgive me if I do anything you don't understand," he begged.
"For weeks past I have been wondering how I would act when I met
white people again. Perhaps you can't understand. But eighteen
months up there--eighteen months without the sound of a white
woman's voice, without a glimpse of her face, with only dreams to
live on--will make me queer for a time. Can't you understand--a
"A great deal," she replied so quickly that she put him at ease
again. "Back there I couldn't quite believe you. I am beginning to
now. You are honest. But let us not talk of ourselves until after
dinner. Do you like the cake?"
She had given him a piece as large as his fist, and he bit off the
end of it.
"Delicious!" he cried instantly. "Think of it--nothing but
bannock, bannock, bannock for two years, and only six ounces of
that a day for the last six months! Do you care if I eat the whole
of it--the cake, I mean?"
Seriously she began cutting the remainder of the cake into
"It would be one of the biggest compliments you could pay me," she
said. "But won't you have some boiled tongue with it, a little
canned lobster, a pickle--"
"Pickles!" he interrupted. "Just cake and pickles--please! I've
dreamed of pickles up there. I've had 'em come to me at night as
big as mountains, and one night I dreamed of chasing a pickle with
legs for hours, and when at last I caught up with the thing it had
turned into an iceberg. Please let me have just pickles and cake!"
Behind the lightness of his words she saw the truth--the craving
of famine. Ashamed, he tried to hide it from her. He refused the
third huge piece of cake, but she reached over and placed it in
his hand. She insisted that he eat the last piece, and the last
pickle in the bottle she had opened.
When he finished, she said:
"That you have spoken the truth, that you have come from a long
time in the North, and that I need not fear--what I did fear."
"And that fear? Tell me--"
She answered calmly, and in her eyes and the lines of her face
came a look of despair which she had almost hidden from him until
"I was thinking during those thirty minutes you away," she said.
"And I realized what folly it was in me to tell you as much as I
have. Back there, for just one insane moment, I thought that you
might help me in a situation which is as terrible as any you may
have faced in your months of Arctic night. But it is impossible.
All that I can ask of you now--all that I can demand of you to
prove that you are the man you said you were--is that you leave
me, and never whisper a word into another ear of our meeting. Will
you promise that?"
"To promise that--would be lying," he said slowly, and his hand
unclenched and lay listlessly on his knee. "If there is a reason--
some good reason why I should leave you--then I will go."
"Then--you demand a reason?"
"To demand a reason would be--"
He hesitated, and she added:
"Yes--more than that," he replied softly. He bowed his head, and
for a moment she saw the tinge of gray in his blond hair, the
droop of his clean, strong shoulders, the SOMETHING of
hopelessness in his gesture. A new light flashed into her own
face. She raised a hand, as if to reach out to him, and dropped it
as he looked up.
"Will you let me help you?" he asked.
She was not looking at him, but beyond him. In her face he saw
again the strange light of hope that had illumined it at the pool.
"If I could believe," she whispered, still looking beyond him. "If
I could trust you, as I have read that the maidens of old trusted
their knights. But--it seems impossible. In those days, centuries
and centuries ago, I guess, womanhood was next to--God. Men fought
for it, and died for it, to keep it pure and holy. If you had come
to me then you would have levelled your lance and fought for me
without asking a question, without demanding a reward, without
reasoning whether I was right or wrong--and all because I was a
woman. Now it is different. You are a part of civilization, and if
you should do all that I might ask of you it would be because you
have a price in view. I know. I have looked into you. I
understand. That price would be--ME!"
She looked at him now, her breast throbbing, almost a sob in her
quivering voice, defying him to deny the truth of her words.
"You have struck home," he said, and his voice sounded strange to
himself. "And I am not sorry. I am glad that you have seen--and
understand. It seems almost indecent for me to tell you this, when
I have known you for such a short time. But I have known you for
years--in my hopes and dreams. For you I would go to the end of
the world. And I can do what other men have done, centuries ago.
They called them knights. You may call me a MAN!"
At his words she rose from where she had been sitting. She faced
the radiant walls of the forests that rolled billow upon billow in
the distance, and the sun lighted up her crown of hair in a glory.
One hand still clung to her breast. She was breathing even more
quickly, and the flush had deepened in her cheek until it was like
the tender stain of the crushed bakneesh. Philip rose and stood
beside her. His shoulders were back. He looked where she looked,
and as he gazed upon the red and gold billows of forest that
melted away against the distant sky he felt a new and glorious
fire throbbing in his veins. From the forests their eyes turned--
and met. He held out his hand. And slowly her own hand fluttered
at her breast, and was given to him.
"I am quite sure that I understand you now," he said, and his
voice was the low, steady, fighting voice of the man new-born. "I
will be your knight, as you have read of the knights of old. I
will urge no reward that is not freely given. Now--will you let me
For a moment she allowed him to hold her hand. Then she gently
withdrew it and stepped back from him.
"You must first understand before you offer yourself," she said.
"I cannot tell you what my trouble is. You will never know. And
when it is over, when you have helped me across the abyss, then
will come the greatest trial of all for you. I believe--when I
tell you that last thing which you must do--that you will regard
me as a monster, and draw back. But it is necessary. If you fight
for me, it must be in the dark. You will not know why you are
doing the things I ask you to do. You may guess, but you would not
guess the truth if you lived a thousand years. Your one reward
will be the knowledge that you have fought for a woman, and that
you have saved her. Now, do you still want to help me?'
"I can't understand," he gasped. "But--yes--I would still accept
the inevitable. I have promised you that I will do as you have
dreamed that knights of old have done. To leave you now would be"
--he turned his head with a gesture of hopelessness--"an empty
world forever. I have told you now. But you could not understand
and believe unless I did. I love you."
He spoke as quietly and with as little passion in his voice as if
he were speaking the words from a book. But their very quietness
made them convincing. She started, and the colour left her face.
Then it returned, flooding her cheeks with a feverish glow.
"In that is the danger," she said quickly. "But you have spoken
the words as I would have had you speak them. It is this danger
that must be buried--deep--deep. And you will bury it. You will
urge no questions that I do not wish to answer. You will fight for
me, blindly, knowing only that what I ask you to do is not sinful
nor wrong. And in the end--"
She hesitated. Her face had grown as tense as his own.
"And in the end," she whispered, "your greatest reward can be only
the knowledge that in living this knighthood for me you have won
what I can never give to any man. The world can hold only one such
man for a woman. For your faith must be immeasurable, your love as
pure as the withered violets out there among the rocks if you live
up to the tests ahead of you. You will think me mad when I have
finished. But I am sane. Off there, in the Snowbird Lake country,
is my home. I am alone. No other white man or woman is with me. As
my knight, the one hope of salvation that I cling to now, you will
return with me to that place--as my husband. To all but ourselves
we shall be man and wife. I will bear your name--or the one by
which you must be known. And at the very end of all, in that hour
of triumph when you know that you have borne me safely over that
abyss at the brink of which I am hovering now, you will go off
into the forest, and--"
She approached him, and laid a hand on his arm. "You will not come
back," she finished, so gently that he scarcely heard her words.
"You will die--for me--for all who have known you."
"Good God!" he breathed, and he stared over her head to where the
red and gold billows of the forests seemed to melt away into the
Thus they stood for many seconds. Never for an instant did her
eyes leave his face, and Philip looked straight over her head into
that distant radiance of the forest mountains. It was she whose
emotions revealed themselves now. The blood came and went in her
cheeks. The soft lace at her throat rose and fell swiftly. In her
eyes and face there was a thing which she had not dared to reveal
to him before--a prayerful, pleading anxiety that was almost ready
to break into tears.
At last she had come to see and believe in the strength and wonder
of this man who had come to her from out of the North, and now he
stared over her head with that strange white look, as if the
things she had said had raised a mountain between them. She could
feel the throb of his arm on which her hand rested. All at once
her calm had deserted her. She had never known a man like this,
had never expected to know one; and in her face there shone the
gentle loveliness of a woman whose soul and not her voice was
pleading a great cause. It was pleading for her self. And then he
"You want to go--now," she whispered. "I knew that you would."
"Yes, I want to go," he replied, and his two hands took hers, and
held them close to his breast, so that she felt the excited
throbbing of his heart. "I want to go--wherever you go. Perhaps in
those years of centuries ago there lived women like you to fight
and die for. I no longer wonder at men fighting for them as they
have sung their stories in books. I have nothing down in that
world which you have called civilization--nothing except the
husks of murdered hopes, ambitions, and things that were once
joys. Here I have you to love, to fight for. For you cannot tell
me that I must not love you, even though I swear to live up to
your laws of chivalry. Unless I loved you as I do there would not
be those laws."
"Then you will do all this for me--even to the end--when you must
sacrifice all of that for which you have struggled, and which you
"If that is so, then I trust you with my life and my honour. It is
all in your keeping--all."
Her voice broke in a sob. She snatched her hands from him, and
with that sob still quivering on her lips she turned and ran
swiftly to the little tent. She did not look back as she
disappeared into it, and Philip turned like one in a dream and
went to the summit of the bare rock ridge, from which he could
look over the quiet surface of the lake and a hundred square miles
of the unpeopled world which had now become so strangely his own.
An hour--a little more than that--had changed the course of his
life as completely as the master-strokes of a painter might have
changed the tones of a canvas epic. It did not take reason or
thought to impinge this fact upon him. It was a knowledge that
engulfed him overwhelmingly. So short a time ago that even now he
could not quite comprehend it all, he was alone out on the lake,
thinking of the story of the First Woman that Jasper had told him
down at Fond du Lac. Since then he had passed through a lifetime.
What had happened might well have covered the space of months--or
of years. He had met a woman, and like the warm sunshine she had
become instantly a part of his soul, flooding him with those
emotions which make life beautiful. That he had told her of this
love as calmly as if she had known of it slumbering within his
breast for years seemed to him to be neither unreal nor
He turned his face back to the tent, but there was no movement
there. He knew that there--alone--the girl was recovering from
the tremendous strain under which she had been fighting. He sat
down, facing the lake. For the first time his mental faculties
began to adjust themselves and his blood to flow less heatedly
through his veins. For the first time, too, the magnitude of his
promise--of what he had undertaken--began to impress itself upon
him. He had thought that in asking him to fight for her she had
spoken with the physical definition of that word in mind. But at
the outset she had plunged him into mystery. If she had asked him
to draw the automatic at his side and leap into battle with a
dozen of his kind he would not have been surprised. He had
expected something like that. But this other--her first demand
upon him! What could it mean? Shrouded in mystery, bound by his
oath of honour to make no effort to uncover her secret, he was to
accompany her back to her home AS HER HUSBAND! And after that--at
the end--he was to go out into the forest, and die--for her, for
all who had known him. He wondered if she had meant these words
literally, too. He smiled, and slowly his eyes scanned the lake.
He was already beginning to reason, to guess at the mystery which
she had told him he could not unveil if he lived a thousand years.
But he could at least work about the edges of it.
Suddenly he concentrated his gaze at a point on the lake three
quarters of a mile away. It was close to shore, and he was certain
that he had seen some movement there--a flash of sunlight on a
shifting object. Probably he had caught a reflection of light from
the palmate horn of a moose feeding among the water-lily roots. He
leaned forward, and shaded his eyes. In another moment his heart
gave a quicker throb. What he had seen was the flash of a paddle.
He made out a canoe, and then two. They were moving close in-
shore, one following the other, and apparently taking advantage of
the shadows of the forest. Philip's hand shifted to the butt of
his automatic. After all there might be fighting of the good old-
fashioned kind. He looked back in the direction of the tent.
The girl had reappeared, and was looking at him. She waved a hand,
and he ran down to meet her. She had been crying. The dampness of
tears still clung to her lashes; but the smile on her lips was
sweet and welcoming, and now, so frankly that his face burned with
pleasure, she held out a hand to him.
"I was rude to run away from you in that way," she apologized.
"But I couldn't cry before you. And I wanted to cry."
"Because you were glad, or sorry?" he asked.
"A little of both," she replied. "But mostly glad. A few hours ago
it didn't seem possible that there was any hope for me. Now--"
"There is hope," he urged.
"Yes, there is hope."
For an instant he felt the warm thrill of her fingers as they
clung tighter to his. Then she withdrew her hand, gently, smiling
at him with sweet confidence. Her eyes were like pure, soft
violets. He wanted to kneel at her feet, and cry out his thanks to
God for sending him to her. Instead of betraying his emotion, he
spoke of the canoes.
"There are two canoes coming along the shore of the lake," he
said. "Are you expecting some one?"
The smile left her lips. He was startled by the suddenness with
which the colour ebbed from her face and the old fear leapt back
into her eyes.
"Two? You are sure there are two?" Her fingers clutched his arm
almost fiercely. "And they are coming this way?"
"We can see them from the top of the rock ridge," he said. "I am
sure there are two. Will you look for yourself?"
She did not speak as they hurried to the bald cap of the ridge.
From the top Philip pointed down the lake. The two canoes were in
plain view now. Whether they contained three or four people they
could not quite make out. At sight of them the last vestige of
colour had left the girl's cheeks. But now, as she stood there
breathing quickly in her excitement, there came a change in her.
She threw back her head. Her lips parted. Her blue eyes flashed a
fire in which Philip in his amazement no longer saw fear, but
defiance. Her hands were clenched. She seemed taller. Back into
her cheeks there burned swiftly two points of flame. All at once
she put out a hand and drew him back, so that the cap of the ridge
concealed them from the lake.
"An hour ago those canoes would have made me run off into the
forest--and hide," she said. "But now I am not afraid! Do you
"Then you trust me?"
"But--surely--there is something that you should tell me: Who they
are, what your danger is, what I am to do."
"I am hoping that I am mistaken," she replied. "They may not be
those whom I am dreading--and expecting. All I can tell you is
this: You are Paul Darcambal. I am Josephine, your wife. Protect
me as a wife. I will be constantly at your side. Were I alone I
would know what to expect. But--with you--they may not offer me
harm. If they do not, show no suspicion. But be watchful. Don't
let them get behind you. And be ready always--always--to use
that--if a thing so terrible must be done!" As she spoke she lay a
hand on his pistol. "And remember: I am your wife!"
"To live that belief, even in a dream, will be a joy as
unforgettable as life itself," he whispered, so low that, in
turning her head, she made as if she had not heard him.
"Come," she said. "Let us follow the coulee down to the lake. We
can watch them from among the rocks."
She gave him her hand as they began to traverse the boulder-strewn
bed of the creek. Suddenly he said:
"You will not suspect me of cowardice if I suggest that there is
not one chance in a hundred of them discovering us?"
"No," she replied, with a glance so filled with her confidence and
faith that involuntarily he held her hand closer in his own. "But
I want them to find us--if they are whom I fear. We will show
ourselves on the shore."
He looked at her in amazement before the significance of her words
had dawned upon him. Then he laughed.
"That is the greatest proof of your faith you have given me," he
said. "With me you are anxious to face your enemies. And I am as
anxious to meet them."
"Don't misunderstand me," she corrected him quickly. "I am praying
that they are not the ones I suspect. But if they are--why, yes, I
want to face them--with you."
They had almost reached the lake when he said:
"And now, I may call you Josephine?"
"Yes, that is necessary."
"And you will call me--"
"Paul, of course--for you are Paul Darcambal."
"Is that quite necessary?" he asked. "Is it not possible that you
might allow me to retain at least a part of my name, and call me
Philip? Philip Darcambal?"
"There really is no objection to that," she hesitated. "If you
wish I will call you Philip, But you must also be Paul--your
middle name, perhaps."
"In the event of certain exigencies," he guessed.
He had still assisted her over the rocks by holding to her hand,
and suddenly her fingers clutched his convulsively. She pointed to
a stretch of the open lake. The canoes were plainly visible not
more than a quarter of a mile away. Even as he felt her trembling
slightly he laughed.
"Only three!" he exclaimed. "Surely it is not going to demand a
great amount of courage to face that number, Josephine?"
"It is going to take all the courage in the world to face one of
them," she replied in a low, strained voice. "Can you make them
out? Are they white men or Indians?"
"The light is not right--I can't decide," he said, after a
moment's scrutiny. "If they are Indians--"
"They are friends," she interrupted. "Jean--my Jean Croisset--left
me hiding here five days ago. He is part French and part Indian.
But he could not be returning so soon. If they are white--"
"We will expose ourselves on the beach," he finished
She nodded. He saw that in spite of her struggle to remain calm
she was seized again by the terror of what might be in the
approaching canoes. He was straining his eyes to make out their
occupants when a low cry drew his gaze to her.
"It is Jean," she gasped, and he thought that he could hear her
heart beating. "It is Jean--and the others are Indians! Oh, my
God, how thankful I am--"
She turned to him.
"You will go back to the camp--please. Wait for us there, I must
see Jean alone. It is best that you should do this."
To obey without questioning her or expostulating against his
sudden dismissal, he knew was in the code of his promise to her.
And he knew by what he saw in her face that Jean's return had set
the world trembling under her feet, that for her it was charged
with possibilities as tremendous as if the two canoes had
contained those whom she had at first feared.
"Go," she whispered. "Please go."
Without a word he returned in the direction of the camp.
Close to the tent Philip sat down, smoked his pipe, and waited.
Not only had the developments of the last few minutes been
disappointing to him, but they had added still more to his
bewilderment. He had expected and hoped for immediate physical
action, something that would at least partially clear away the
cloud of mystery. And at this moment, when he was expecting things
to happen, there had appeared this new factor, Jean, to change the
current of excitement under which Josephine was fighting. Who
could Jean be? he asked himself. And why should his appearance at
this time stir Josephine to a pitch of emotion only a little less
tense than that roused by her fears of a short time before? She
had told him that Jean was part Indian, part French, and that he
"belonged to her." And his coming, he felt sure, was of tremendous
significance to her.
He waited impatiently. It seemed a long time before he heard
voices and the sound of footsteps over the edge of the coulee. He
rose to his feet, and a moment later Josephine and her companion
appeared not more than a dozen paces from him. His first glance
was at the man. In that same instant Jean Croisset stopped in his
tracks and looked at Philip. Steadily, and apparently oblivious of
Josephine's presence, they measured each other, the half-breed
bent a little forward, the lithe alertness of a cat in his
posture, his eyes burning darkly. He was a man whose age Philip
could not guess. It might have been forty. Probably it was close
to that. He was bareheaded, and his long coarse hair, black as an
Indian's, was shot with gray. At first it would have been
difficult to name the blood that ran strongest in his veins. His
hair, the thinness of his face and body, his eyes, and the tense
position in which he had paused, were all Indian. Then, above
these things, Philip saw the French. Swiftly it became the
dominant part of the man before him, and he was not surprised when
Jean advanced with outstretched hand, and said:
"M'sieur Philip, I am Jean--Jean Jacques Croisset--and I am glad
you have come."
The words were spoken for Philip alone, and where she stood
Josephine did not catch the strange flash of fire in the half-
breed's eyes, nor did she hear his still more swiftly spoken
words: "I am glad it is YOU that chance has sent to us, M'sieur
The two men gripped hands. There was something about Jean that
inspired Philip's confidence, and as he returned the half-breed's
greeting his eyes looked for a moment over the other's shoulder
and rested on Josephine. He was astonished at the change in her.
Evidently Jean had not brought her bad news. She held the pages of
an open letter in her hand, and as she caught Philip's look she
smiled at him with a gladness which he had not seen in her face
before. She came forward quickly, and placed a hand on his arm.
"Jean's coming was a surprise," she explained. "I did not expect
him for a number of days, and I dreaded what he might have to tell
me. But this letter has brought me fresh cause for thankfulness,
though it may enslave you a little longer to your vows of
knighthood. We start for home this afternoon. Are you ready?"
"I have a little packing to do," he said, looking after Jean, who
was moving toward the tent. "Twenty-seven prunes and--"
"Me," laughed Josephine. "Is it not necessary that you make room
in your canoe for me?"
Philip's face flushed with pleasure.
"Of course it is," he cried. "Everything has seemed so wonderfully
unreal to me that for a moment I forgot that you were my--my wife.
But how about Jean? He called me M'sieur Weyman."
"He is the one other person in the world who knows what you and I
know," she explained. "That, too, was necessary. Will you go and
arrange your canoe now? Jean will bring down my things and
exchange them for some of your dunnage." She left him to run into
the tent, reappearing quickly with a thick rabbit-skin blanket and
two canoe pillows.
"These make my nest--when I'm not working," she said, thrusting
them into Philip's arms. "I have a paddle, too. Jean says that I
am as good as an Indian woman with it."
"Better, M'sieur," exclaimed Jean, who had come out of the tent.
"It makes you work harder to see her. She is--what you call it--
gwan-auch-ewin--so splendid! Out of the Cree you cannot speak it."
A tender glow filled Josephine's eyes as Jean began pulling up the
pegs of the tent.
"A little later I will tell you about Jean," she whispered. "But
now, go to your canoe. We will follow you in a few minutes."
He left her, knowing that she had other things to say to Jean
which she did not wish him to hear. As he turned toward the coulee
he noticed that she still held the opened letter in her hand.
There was not much for him to do when he reached his canoe. He
threw out his sleeping bag and tent, and arranged Josephine's robe
and pillows so that she would sit facing him. The knowledge that
she was to be with him, that they were joined in a pact which
would make her his constant companion, filled him with joyous
visions and anticipations. He did not stop to ask himself how long
this mysterious association might last, how soon it might come to
the tragic end to which she had foredoomed it. With the spirit of
the adventurer who had more than once faced death with a smile, he
did not believe in burning bridges ahead of him. He loved
Josephine. To him this love had come as it had come to Tristan and
Isolde, to Paola and Francesca--sudden and irresistible, but,
unlike theirs, as pure as the air of the world which he breathed.
That he knew nothing of her, that she had not even revealed her
full name to him, did not affect the depth or sincerity of his
emotion. Nor had her frank avowal that he could expect no reward
destroyed his hope. The one big thought that ran through his brain
now, as he arranged the canoe, was that there was room for hope,
and that she had been free to accept the words he had spoken to
her without dishonour to herself. If she belonged to some other
man she would not have asked him to play the part of a husband.
Her freedom and his right to fight for her was the one consuming
fact of significance to him just now. Beside that all others were
trivial and unimportant, and every drop of blood in his veins was
stirred by a strange exultation.
He found himself whistling again as he refolded his blankets and
straightened out his tent. When he had finished this last task he
turned to find Jean standing close behind him, his dark eyes
watching him closely. As he greeted the half-breed, Philip looked
"I am alone, M'sieur," said Jean, coming close to Philip. "I
tricked her into staying behind until I could see you for a moment
as we are, alone, man to man. Why is it that our Josephine has
come to trust you as she does?"
His voice was low--it was almost soft as a woman's, but deep in
his eyes Philip saw the glow of a strange, slumbering fire.
"Why is it?" he persisted.
"God only knows," exclaimed Philip, the significance of the
question bursting upon him for the first time. "I hadn't thought
of it, Jean. Everything has happened so quickly, so strangely,
that there are many things I haven't thought of. It must be
because--she thinks I'm a MAN!"
"That is it, M'sieur," replied Jean, as quietly as before. "That,
and because you have come from two years in the North. I have been
there. I know that it breeds men. And our Josephine knows. I could
swear that there is not one man in a million she would trust as
she has put faith in you. Into your hands she has given herself,
and what you do means for her life or death. And for you--"
The fires in his eyes were nearer the surface now.
"What?" asked Philip tensely.
"Death--unless you play your part as a man," answered Jean. There
was neither threat nor excitement in his voice, but in his eyes
was the thing that Philip understood. Silently he reached out and
gripped the half-breed's hand, For an instant they stood, their
faces close, looking into each other's eyes. And as men see men
where the fires of the earth burn low, so they read each other's
souls, and their fingers tightened in a clasp of understanding.
"What that part is to be I cannot guess," said Philip, then. "But
I will play it, and it is not fear that will hold me to my promise
to her. If I fail, why--kill me!"
"That is the North," breathed Jean, and in his voice was the
thankfulness of prayer.
Without another word he stooped and picked up the tent and
blankets. Philip was about to stop him, to speak further with him,
when he saw Josephine climbing over the bulwark of rocks between
them and the trail. He hurried to meet her. Her arms were full,
and she allowed him to take a part of her load. With what Jean had
brought this was all that was to go in Philip's canoe, and the
half-breed remained to help them off.
"You will go straight across the lake," he said to Philip. "If you
paddle slowly, I will catch up with you."
Philip seated himself near the stern, facing Josephine, and Jean
gave the canoe a shove that sent it skimming like a swallow on the
smooth surface of the lake. For a moment Philip did not dip his
paddle. He looked at the girl who sat so near to him, her head
bent over in pretence of seeing that all was right, the sun
melting away into rich colours in the thick coils of her hair.
There filled him an overwhelming desire to reach over and touch
the shining braids, to feel the thrill of their warmth and
sweetness, and something of this desire was in his face when she
looked up at him, a look of gentle thankfulness disturbed a little
by anxiety in her eyes. He had not noticed fully how wonderfully
blue her eyes were until now, and soft and tender they were when
free of the excitement of fear and mental strain. They were more
than ever like the wild wood violets, flecked with those same
little brown spots which had made him think sometimes that the
flowers were full of laughter. There was something of wistfulness,
of thought for him in her eyes now, and in pure joy he laughed.
"Why do you laugh?" she asked.
"Because I am happy," he replied, and sent the canoe ahead with a
first deep stroke. "I have never been happier in my life. I did
not know that it was possible to feel as I do."
"And I am just beginning to feel my selfishness," she said. "You
have thought only of me. You are making a wonderful sacrifice for
me. You have nothing to gain, nothing to expect but the things
that make me shudder. And I have thought of myself alone,
selfishly, unreasonably. It is not fair, and yet this is the only
way that it can be."
"I am satisfied," he said. "I have nothing much to sacrifice,
She leaned forward, with her chin in the cup of her hands, and
looked at him steadily.
"You have people?"
"None who cares for me. My mother was the last. She died before I
"And you have no sisters--or brothers?"
For a moment she was silent. Then she said gently, looking into
"I wish I had known--that I had guessed--before I let you come
this far. I am sorry now--sorry that I didn't send you away. You
are different from other men I have known--and you have had your
suffering. And now--I must hurt you again. It wouldn't be so bad
if you didn't care for me. I don't want to hurt you--because--I
believe in you."
"And is that all--because you believe me?"
She did not answer. Her hands clasped at her breast. She looked
beyond him to the shore they were leaving.
"You must leave me," she said then, and her voice was as lifeless
as his had been. "I am beginning to see now. It all happened so
suddenly that I could not think. But if you love me you must not
go on. It is impossible. I would rather suffer my own fate than
have you do that. When we reach the other shore you must leave
She was struggling to keep back her emotion, fighting to hold it
within her own breast.
"You must go back," she repeated, staring into his set face. "If
you don't, you will be hurt terribly, terribly!"
And then, suddenly, she slipped lower among the cushions he had
placed for her, and buried her face in one of them with a moaning
grief that cut to his soul. She was sobbing now, like a child. In
this moment Philip forgot all restraint. He leaned forward and put
a hand on her shining head, and bent his face close down to hers.
His free hand touched one of her hands, and he held it tightly.
"Listen, my Josephine," he whispered. "I am not going to turn
back, I am going on with you. That is our pact. At the end I know
what to expect. You have told me; and I, too, believe. But
whatever happens, in spite of all that may happen, I will still
have received more than all else in the world could give me. For I
will have known you, and you will be my salvation. I am going on."
For an instant he felt the fluttering pressure of her fingers on
his. It was an answer a thousand times more precious to him than
words, and he knew that he had won. Still lower he bent his head,
until for an instant his lips touched the soft, living warmth of
her hair. And then he leaned back, freeing her hand, and into his
face had leaped soul and life and fighting strength; and under his
breath he gave new thanks to God, and to the sun, and the blue sky
above, while from behind them came skimming over the water the
slim birchbark canoe of Jean Jacques Croisset.
At the touch of Weyman's lips to her hair Josephine lay very
still, and Philip wondered if she had felt that swift, stolen
caress. Almost he hoped that she had. The silken tress where for
an instant his lips had rested seemed to him now like some
precious communion cup in whose sacredness he had pledged himself.
Yet had he believed that she was conscious of his act he would
have begged her forgiveness. He waited, breathing softly, putting
greater sweep into his paddle to keep Jean well behind them.
Slowly the tremulous unrest of Josephine's shoulders ceased. She
raised her head and looked at him, her lovely face damp with
tears, her eyes shimmering like velvety pools through their mist.
She did not speak. She was woman now--all woman. Her strength, the
bearing which had made him think of her as a queen, the fighting
tension which she had been under, were gone. Until she looked at
him through her tears her presence had been like that of some
wonderful and unreal creature who held the control to his every
act in the cup of her hands. He thought no longer of himself now.
He knew that to him she had relinquished the mysterious fight
under which she had been struggling. In her eyes he read her
surrender. From this hour the fight was his. She told him, without
speaking. And the glory of it all thrilled him with a sacred
happiness so that he wanted to drop his paddle, draw her close
into his arms, and tell her that there was no power in the world
that could harm her now. But instead of this he laughed low and
joyously full into her eyes, and her lips smiled gently back at
him. And so they understood without words.
Behind them, Jean had been coming up swiftly, and now they heard
him break for an instant into the chorus of one of the wild half-
breed songs, and Philip listened to the words of the chant which
is as old in the Northland as the ancient brass cannon and the
crumbling fortress rocks at York Factory:
"O, ze beeg black bear, he go to court,
He go to court a mate;
He court to ze Sout',
He court to ze Nort',
He court to ze shores of ze Indian Lake."
And then, in the moment's silence that followed, Philip threw back
his head, and in a voice almost as wild and untrained as Jean
Croisset's, he shouted back:
"Oh! the fur fleets sing on Temiskaming,
As the ashen paddles bend,
And the crews carouse at Rupert's House,
At the sullen winter's end.
But my days are done where the lean wolves run,
And I ripple no more the path
Where the gray geese race 'cross the red moon's face
From the white wind's Arctic wrath."
The suspense was broken. The two men's voices, rising in their
crude strength, sending forth into the still wilderness both
triumph and defiance, brought the quick flush of living back into
Josephine's face. She guessed why Jean had started his chant--to
give her courage. She KNEW why Philip had responded. And now Jean
swept up beside them, a smile on his thin, dark face.
"The Good Virgin preserve us, M'sieur, but our voices are like
those of two beasts," he cried.
"Great, true, fighting beasts," whispered Josephine under her
breath. "How I would hate almost--"
She had suddenly flushed to the roots of her hair.
"What?" asked Philip.
"To hear men sing like women," she finished.
As swiftly as he had come up Jean and his canoe had sped on ahead
"You should have heard us sing that up in our snow hut, when for
five months the sun never sent a streak above the horizon," said
Philip. "At the end--in the fourth month--it was more like the
wailing of madmen. MacTavish died then: a young half Scot, of the
Royal Mounted. After that Radisson and I were alone, and sometimes
we used to see how loud we could shout it, and always, when we
came to those two last lines--"
She interrupted him:
"Where the gray geese race 'cross the red moon's face
From the white wind's Arctic wrath."
"Your memory is splendid!" he cried admiringly.
"Yes, always when we came to the end of those lines, the white
foxes would answer us from out on the barrens, and we would wait
for the sneaking yelping of them before we went on. They haunted
us like little demons, those foxes, and never once could we catch
a glimpse of them during the long night. They helped to drive
MacTavish mad. He died begging us to keep them away from him. One
day I was wakened by Radisson crying like a baby, and when I sat
up in my ice bunk he caught me by the shoulders and told me that
he had seen something that looked like the glow of a fire
thousands and thousands of miles away. It was the sun, and it came
just in time."
"And this other man you speak of, Radisson?" she asked.
"He died two hundred miles back," replied Philip quietly. "But
that is unpleasant to speak of. Look ahead. Isn't that ridge of
the forest glorious in the sunlight?"
She did not take her eyes from his face.
"Do you know, I think there is something wonderful about you," she
said, so gently and frankly that the blood rushed to his cheeks.
"Some day I want to learn those words that helped to keep you
alive up there. I want to know all of the story, because I think I
can understand. There was more to it--something after the foxes
yelped back at you?"
"This," he said, and ahead of them Jean Croisset rested on his
paddle to listen to Philip's voice:
"My seams gape wide, and I'm tossed aside
To rot on a lonely shore,
While the leaves and mould like a shroud enfold,
For the last of my trails are o'er;
But I float in dreams on Northland streams
That never again I'll see,
As I lie on the marge of the old Portage,
With grief for company."
"A canoe!" breathed the girl, looking back over the sunlit lake.
"Yes, a canoe, cast aside, forgotten, as sometimes men and women
are forgotten when down and out."
"Men and women who live in dreams," she added. "And with such
dreams there must always be grief."
There was a moment of the old pain in her face, a little catch in
her breath, and then she turned and looked at the forest ridge to
which he had called her attention.
"We go deep into that forest," she said. "We enter a creek just
beyond where Jean is waiting for us, and Adare House is a hundred
miles to the south and east." She faced him with a quick smile.
"My name is Adare," she explained, "Josephine Adare."
"Is--or was?" he asked.
"Is," she said; then, seeing the correcting challenge in his eyes
she added quickly: "But only to you. To all others I am Madame
"Pardon me, I mean Philip."
They were close to shore, and fearing that Jean might become
suspicious of his tardiness, Philip bent to his paddle and was
soon in the half-breed's wake. Where he had thought there was only
the thick forest he saw a narrow opening toward which Jean was
speeding in his canoe. Five minutes later they passed under a
thick mass of overhanging spruce boughs into a narrow stream so
still and black in the deep shadows of the forest that it looked
like oil. There was something a little awesome in the suddenness
and completeness with which they were swallowed up. Over their
heads the spruce and cedar tops met and shut out the sunlight. On
both sides of them the forest was thick and black. The trail of
the stream itself was like a tunnel, silent, dark, mysterious. The
paddles dipped noiselessly, and the two canoes travelled side by
"There are few who know of this break into the forest," said Jean
in a low voice. "Listen, M'sieur!"
From out of the gloom ahead of them there came a faint, oily
"Otter," whispered Jean. "The stream is like this for many miles,
and it is full of life that you can never see because of the
Something in the stillness and the gloom held them silent. The
canoes slipped along like shadows, and sometimes they bent their
heads to escape the low-hanging boughs. Josephine's face shone
whitely in the dusk. She was alert and listening. When she spoke
it was in a voice strangely subdued.
"I love this stream," she whispered. "It is full of life. On all
sides of us, in the forest, there is life. The Indians do not come
here, because they have a superstitious dread of this eternal
gloom and quiet. They call it the Spirit Stream. Even Jean is a
little oppressed by it. See how closely he keeps to us. I love it,
because I love everything that is wild. Listen! Did you hear
"Mooswa," spoke Jean out of the gloom close to them.
"Yes, a moose," she said. "Here is where I saw my first moose, so
many years ago that it is time for me to forget," she laughed
softly. "I think I had just passed my fourth birthday."
"You were four on the day we started, ma Josephine," came Jean's
voice as his canoe shot slowly ahead where the stream narrowed;
and then his voice came back more faintly: "that was sixteen years
A shot breaking the dead stillness of the sunless world about him
could not have sent the blood rushing through Philip's veins more
swiftly than Jean's last words. For a moment he stopped his
paddling and leaned forward so that he could look close into
"This is your birthday?"
"Yes. You ate my birthday cake."
She heard the strange, happy catch in his breath as he
straightened back and resumed his work. Mile after mile they wound
their way through the mysterious, subterranean-like stream,
speaking seldom, and listening intently for the breaks in the
deathlike stillness that spoke of life. Now and then they caught
the ghostly flutter of owls in the gloom, like floating spirits;
back in the forest saplings snapped and brush crashed underfoot as
caribou or moose caught the man-scent; they heard once the
panting, sniffing inquiry of a bear close at hand, and Philip
reached forward for his rifle. For an instant Josephine's hand
fluttered to his own, and held it back, and the dark glow of her
eyes said: "Don't kill." Here there were no big-eyed moose-birds,
none of the mellow throat sounds of the brush sparrow, no harsh
janglings of the gaudily coloured jays. In the timber fell the
soft footpads of creatures with claw and fang, marauders and
outlaws of darkness. Light, sunshine, everything that loved the
openness of day were beyond. For more than an hour they had driven
their canoes steadily on, when, as suddenly as they had entered
it, they slipped out from the cavernous gloom into the sunlight
Josephine drew a deep breath as the sunlight flooded her face and
"I have my own name for that place," she said. "I call it the
Valley of Silent Things. It is a great swamp, and they say that
the moss grows in it so deep that caribou and deer walk over it
without breaking through."
The stream was swelling out into a narrow, finger-like lake that
stretched for a mile or more ahead of them, and she turned to nod
her head at the spruce and cedar shores with their colourings of
red and gold, where birch, and poplar, and ash splashed vividly
against the darker background.
"From now on it is all like that." she said. "Lake after lake,
most of them as narrow as this, clear to the doors of Adare House.
It is a wonderful lake country, and one may easily lose one's
self--hundreds of lakes, I guess, running through the forests like
"I would not be surprised if you told me you had been in Venice,"
he replied. "To-day is your birthday--your twentieth. Have you
lived all those years here?"
He repressed his desire to question her, because he knew that she
understood that to be a part of his promise to her. In what he now
asked her he could not believe that he was treading upon
prohibited ground, and in the face of their apparent innocence he
was dismayed at the effect his words had upon her. It seemed to
him that her eyes flinched when he spoke, as if he had struck at
her. There passed over her face the look which he had come to
dread: a swift, tense betrayal of the grief which he knew was
eating at her soul, and which she was fighting so courageously to
hide from him. It had come and gone in a flash, but the pain of it
was left with him. She smiled at him a bit tremulously.
"I understand why you ask that," she said, "and it is no more than
fair that I should tell you. Of course you are wondering a great
deal about me. You have just asked yourself how I could ever hear
of such a place as Venice away up here among the Indians. Why, do
you know"--she leaned forward, as if to whisper a secret, her blue
eyes shilling with a sudden laughter--"I've even read the 'Lives'
of Plutarch, and I'm waiting patiently for the English to bang a
few of those terrible Lucretia Borgias who call themselves
"I--I--beg your pardon," he stammered helplessly.
She no longer betrayed the hurt of his question, and so sweet was
the laughter of her eyes and lips that he laughed back at her, in
spite of his embarrassment. Then, all at once, she became serious.
"I am terribly unfair to you," she apologized gently; and then,
looking across the water, she added: "Yes, I've lived almost all
of those twenty years up here--among the forests. They sent me to
the Mission school at Fort Churchill, over on Hudson's Bay, for
three years; and after that, until I was seventeen, I had a little
white-haired English governess at Adare House. If she had lived--
" Her hands clenched the sides of the canoe, and she looked
straight away from Philip. She seemed to force the words that came
from her lips then: "When I was eighteen I went to Montreal--and
lived there a year, That is all--that one year--away from--my
He almost failed to hear the last words, and he made no effort to
reply. He kept his canoe nearer to Jean's, so that frequently they
were running side by side. In the quick fall of the early northern
night the sun was becoming more and more of a red haze in the sky
as it sank farther toward the western forests. Josephine had
changed her position, so that she now sat facing the bow of the
canoe. She leaned a little forward, her elbows resting in her lap,
her chin tilted in the cup of her hands, looking steadily ahead,
and for a long time no sound but the steady dip, dip, dip of the
two paddles broke the stillness of their progress. Scarcely once
did Philip take his eyes from her. Every turn, every passing of
shadow and light, each breath of wind that set stirring the
shimmering tresses of her hair, made her more beautiful to him.
From red gold to the rich and lustrous brown of the ripened wintel
berries he marked the marvellous changing of her hair with the
setting of the sun. A quick chill was growing in the air now and
after a little he crept forward and slipped a light blanket about
the slender shoulders. Even then Josephine did not speak, but
looked up at him, and smiled her thanks. In his eyes, his touch,
even his subdued breath, were the whispers of his adoration.
Movement roused Jean from his Indian-like silence. As Philip moved
back, he called:
"It is four o'clock, M'sieur. We will have darkness in an hour.
There is a place to camp and tepee poles ready cut on the point
ahead of us."
Fifteen minutes later Philip ran his canoe ashore close to Jean
Croisset's on a beach of white sand. He could not help seeing
that, from the moment she had answered his question out on the
lake, a change had come over Josephine. For a short time that
afternoon she had risen from out of the thing that oppressed her,
and once or twice there had been almost happiness in her smile and
laughter. Now she seemed to have sunk again under its smothering
grip. It was as if the chill and dismal gloom of approaching night
had robbed her cheeks of colour, and had given a tired droop to
her shoulders as she sat silently, and waited for them to make her
tent comfortable. When it was up, and the blankets spread, she
went in and left them alone, and the last glimpse that he had of
her face left with Philip a cameo-like impression of hopelessness
that made him want to call out her name, yet held him speechless.
He looked closely at Jean as they put up their own tent, and for
the first time he saw that the mask had fallen from the half-
breed's face, and that it was filled with that same mysterious
hopelessness and despair. Almost roughly he caught him by the
"See here, Jean Croisset," he cried impatiently, "you're a man.
What are you afraid of?"
"God," replied Jean so quietly that Philip dropped his hand from
his shoulder in astonishment. "Nothing else in the world am I
afraid of, M'sieur!"
"Then why--why in the name of that God do you look like this?"
demanded Philip. "You saw her go into the tent. She is
disheartened, hopeless because of something that I can't guess at,
cold and shivering and white because of a FEAR of something. She
is a woman. You are a man. Are YOU afraid?"
"No, not afraid, M'sieur. It is her grief that hurts me, not fear.
If it would help her I would let you take this knife at my side
and cut me into pieces so small that the birds could carry them
away. I know what you mean. You think I am not a fighter. Our Lady
in Heaven, if fighting could only save her!"
"And it cannot?"
"No, M'sieur. Nothing can save her. You can help, but you cannot
save her. I believe that nothing like this terrible thing that has
come to her has happened before since the world began. It is a
mistake that it has come once. The Great God would not let it
He spoke calmly. Philip could find no words with which to reply.
His hand slipped from Jean's arm to his hand, and their fingers
gripped. Thus for a space they stood. Philip broke the silence.
"I love her, Jean," he spoke softly.
"Every one loves her, M'sieur. All our forest people call her
"And still you say there is no hope?"
"Not even--if we fight--?"
Jean's fingers tightened about his like cords of steel.
"We may kill, M'sieur, but that will not save hearts crushed like
--See!--like I crush these ash berries under my foot! I tell you
again, nothing like this has ever happened before since the world
began, and nothing like it will ever happen again!"
Steadily Philip looked into Jean's eyes.
"You have seen something of the world, Jean?"
"A good deal, M'sieur. For seven years I went to school at
Montreal, and prepared myself for the holy calling of Missioner.
That was many years ago. I am now simply Jean Jacques Croisset, of
"Then you know--you must know, that where there is life there is
hope," argued Philip eagerly, "I have promised not to pry after
her secret, to fight for her only as she tells me to fight. But if
I knew, Jean. If I knew what this trouble is--how and where to
fight! Is this knowledge--impossible?"
Slowly Jean withdrew his hand.
"Don't take it that way, man," exclaimed Philip quickly. "I'm not
ferreting for her secret now. Only I've got to know--is it
impossible for her to tell me?"
"As impossible, M'sieur, as it would be for me. And Our Lady
herself could not make me do that if I heard Her voice commanding
me out of Heaven. All that I can do is to wait, and watch, and
guard. And all that you can do, M'sieur, is to play the part she
has asked of you. In doing that, and doing it well, you will keep
the last bit of life in her heart from being trampled out. If you
love her"--he picked up a tepee pole before he finished, and then,
said--"you will do as you have promised!"
There was a finality in the shrug of Jean's shoulders which Philip
did not question. He picked up an axe, and while Jean arranged the
tepee poles began to chop down a dry birch. As the chips flew his
mind flew faster. In his optimism he had half believed that the
cloud of mystery in which Josephine had buried him would, in time,
be voluntarily lifted by her. He had not been able to make himself
believe that any situation could exist where hopelessness was as
complete as she had described. Without arguing with himself he had
taken it for granted that she had been labouring under a
tremendous strain, and that no matter what her trouble was it had
come to look immeasurably darker to her than it really was. But
Jean's attitude, his low and unexcited voice, and the almost
omniscient decisiveness of his words had convinced him that
Josephine had not painted it as blackly as she might. She, at
least, had seemed to see a ray of hope. Jean saw none, and Philip
realized that the half-breed's calm and unheated judgment was more
to be reckoned with than hers. At the same time, he did not feel
dismayed. He was of the sort who have born in them the fighting
instinct, And with this instinct, which is two thirds of life's
battle won, goes the sort of optimism that has opened up raw
worlds to the trails of men. Without the one the other cannot
As the blows of his axe cut deep into the birch, Philip knew that
so long as there is life and freedom and a sun above it is
impossible for hope to become a thing of char and ash. He did not
use logic. He simply LIVED! He was alive, and he loved Josephine.
The muscles of his arms were like sinews of rawhide. Every fibre
in his body was strung with a splendid strength. His brain was as
clear as the unpolluted air that drifted over the cedar and
spruce. And now to these tremendous forces had come the added
strength of the most wonderful thing in the world: love of a
woman. In spite of all that Josephine and Jean had said, in spite
of all the odds that might be against him, he was confident of
winning whatever fight might be ahead of him.
He not only felt confident, but cheerful. He did not try to make
Jean understand what it meant to be in camp with the company of a
woman for the first time in two years. Long after the tents were
up and the birch-fire was crackling cheerfully in the darkness
Josephine still remained in her tent. But the mere fact that she
was there lifted Philip's soul to the skies.
And Josephine, with a blanket drawn about her shoulders, lay in
the thick gloom of her tent and listened to him. His far-reaching,
exuberant whistling seemed to warm her. She heard him laughing and
talking with Jean, whose voice never came to her; farther back,
where he was cutting down another birch, she heard him shout out
the words of a song between blows; and once, sotto voce, and close
to her tent, she quite distinctly heard him say "Damn!" She knew
that he had stumbled with an armful of wood, and for the first
time in that darkness and her misery she smiled. That one word
alone Philip had not intended that she should hear. But when it
was out he picked himself up and laughed.
He did not meddle with Jean's cook-fire, but he built a second
fire where the cheer of it would light up Josephine's tent, and
piled dry logs on it until the flame of it lighted up the gloom
about them for a hundred feet. And then, with a pan in one hand
and a stick in the other, he came close and beat a din that could
have been heard a quarter of a mile away.
Josephine came out full in the flood-light of the fire, and he saw
that she had been crying. Even now there was a tremble of her lips
as she smiled her gratitude. He dropped his pan and stick, and
went to her. It seemed as if this last hour in the darkness of
camp had brought her nearer to him, and he gently took her hands
in his own and held them for a moment close to him. They were cold
and trembling, and one of them that had rested under her cheek was
damp with tears.
"You mustn't do this any more," he whispered.
"I'll try not to," she promised. "Please let me stand a little in
the warmth of the fire. I'm cold."
He led her close to the flaming birch logs and the heat soon
brought a warm flush into her cheeks. Then they went to where Jean
had spread out their supper on the ground. When she had seated
herself on the pile of blankets they had arranged for her,
Josephine looked across at Philip, squatted Indian-fashion
opposite her, and smiled apologetically.
"I'm afraid your opinion of me isn't getting better," she said.
"I'm not much of a--a--sport--to let you men get supper by
yourselves, am I? You see--I'm taking advantage of my birthday."
"Oui, ma belle princesse," laughed Jean softly, a tender look
coming into his thin, dark face. "And do you remember that other
birthday, years and years ago, when you took advantage of Jean
Croisset while he was sleeping? Non, you do not remember?"
"Yes, I remember."
"She was six, M'sieur," explained Jean, "and while I slept,
dreaming of one gr-r-rand paradise, she cut off my moustaches.
They were splendid, those moustaches, but they would never grow
right after that, and so I have gone shaven."
In spite of her efforts to appear cheerful, Philip could see that
Josephine was glad when the meal was over, and that she was
forcing herself to sip at a second cup of tea on their account. He
accompanied her back to the tent after she had bade Jean good-
night, and as they stood for a moment before the open flap there
filled the girl's face a look that was partly of self-reproach and
partly of wistful entreaty for his understanding and forgiveness.
"You have been good to me," she said. "No one can ever know how
good you have been to me, what it has meant to me, and I thank
She bowed her head, and again he restrained the impulse to gather
her close up in his arms. When she looked up he was holding
something toward her in the palm of his hand. It was a little
Bible, worn and frayed at the edges, pathetic in its raggedness.
"A long time ago, my mother gave me this Bible," he said. "She
told me that as long as I carried it, and believed in it, no harm
could come to me, and I guess she was right. It was her first
Bible, and mine. It's grown old and ragged with me, and the water
and snow have faded it. I've come to sort of believe that mother
is always near this Book. I'd like you to have it, Josephine. It's
the only thing I've got to offer you on your birthday."
While he was speaking he had taken one of her hands and thrust his
precious gift into it. Slowly Josephine raised the little Bible to
her breast. She did not speak, but for a moment Philip saw in her
eyes the look for which he would have sacrificed the world; a look
that told him more than all the volumes of the earth could have
told of a woman's trust and faith.
He bent his head lower and whispered:
"To-night, my Josephine--just this night--may I wish you all the
hope and happiness that God and my Mother can bring you, and kiss
In that moment's silence he heard the throbbing of her heart. She
seemed to have ceased breathing, and then, slowly, looking
straight into his eyes, she lifted her lips to him, and as one who
meets a soul of a thing too sanctified to touch with hands, he
kissed her. Scarcely had the warm sweetness of her lips thrilled
his own than she had turned from him, and was gone.
For a time after they had cleared up the supper things Philip sat
with Jean close to the fire and smoked. The half-breed had lapsed
again into his gloom and silence. Two or three times Philip caught
Jean watching him furtively. He made no effort to force a
conversation, and when he had finished his pipe he rose and went
to the tent which they were to share together. At last he found
himself not unwilling to be alone. He closed the flap to shut out
the still brilliant illumination of the fire, drew a blanket about
him, and stretched himself out on the top of his sleeping bag. He
wanted to think.
He closed his eyes to bring back more vividly the picture of
Josephine as she had given him her lips to kiss. This, of all the
unusual happenings of that afternoon, seemed most like a dream to
him, yet his brain was afire with the reality of it. His mind
struggled again with the hundred questions which he had asked
himself that day, and in the end Josephine remained as completely
enshrouded in mystery as ever. Yet of one thing was he convinced.
The oppression of the thing under which Jean and the girl were
fighting had become more acute with the turning of their faces
homeward. At Adare House lay the cause of their hopelessness, of
Josephine's grief, and of the gloom under which the half-breed had
fallen so completely that night. Until they reached Adare House he
could guess at nothing. And there--what would he find?
In spite of himself he felt creeping slowly over him a shuddering
fear that he had not acknowledged before. The darkness deepening
as the fire died away, the stillness of the night, the low wailing
of a wind growing out of the north roused in him the unrest and
doubt that sunshine and day had dispelled. An uneasy slumber came
at last with this disquiet. His mind was filled with fitful
dreams. Again he was back with Radisson and MacTavish, listening
to the foxes out on the barrens. He heard the Scotchman's moaning
madness and listened to the blast of storm. And then he heard a
cry--a cry like that which MacTavish fancied he had heard in the
wind an hour before he died. It was this dream-cry that roused
He sat up, and his face and hands were damp. It was black in the
tent. Outside even the bit of wind had died away. He reached out a
hand, groping for Jean. The half-breed's blankets had not been
disturbed. Then for a few moments he sat very still, listening,
and wondering if the cry had been real. As he sat tense and still
in the half daze of the sleep it came again. It was the shrill
laughing carnival of a loon out on the lake. More than once he had
laughed at comrades who had shivered at that sound and cowered
until its echoes had died away in moaning wails. He understood
now. He knew why the Indians called it moakwa--"the mad thing." He
thought of MacTavish, and threw the blanket from his shoulders,
and crawled out of the tent.
Only a few faintly glowing embers remained where he had piled the
birch logs. The sky was full of stars. The moon, still full and
red, hung low in the west. The lake lay in a silvery and unruffled
shimmer. Through the silence there came to him from a great
distance the coughing challenge of a bull moose inviting a rival
to battle. Then Philip saw a dark object huddled close to
He moved toward it, his moccasined feet making no sound. Something
impelled him to keep as quiet as the night itself. And when he
came near--he was glad. For the object was Jean. He sat with his
back to a block of birch twenty paces from the door of Josephine's
tent. His head had fallen forward on his chest. He was asleep, but
across his knees lay his rifle, gripped tightly in both hands.
Quick as a flash the truth rushed upon Philip. Like a faithful dog
Jean was guarding the girl. He had kept awake as long as he could,
but even in slumber his hands did not give up their hold on the
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