He was given a gulp or two of whiskey and put on the sled. Again the dogs buckled to the pull. A quarter of an hour later the party reached the cabin.
Onistah was given first aid. Feet and face were rubbed with snow to restore circulation and to prevent frost-bite. He had been rescued in time to save him from any permanent ill effects.
In the back of all their minds lay a haunting fear. What had become of Jessie? There was a chance that the blizzard had caught the party before it reached its destination. Neither West nor Whaley was an inexperienced musher. They knew the difficulties of sub-Arctic travel and how to cope with them. But the storm had blown up with unusual swiftness.
Even if the party had reached safety, the girl’s troubles were not ended. With the coming of darkness her peril would increase. As long as Whaley was with West there was hope. The gambler was cold-blooded as a fish, but he had the saving sense of sanity. If he meant to return to Faraway—and there was no reason why he should not—he dared not let any harm befall the girl. But West was a ruffian unmitigated. His ruthless passion might drive him to any evil.
In front of the fire they discussed probabilities. Where had the two free traders taken the girl? Not far, in the face of such a storm. They canvassed places likely to serve as retreats for West.
Once McRae, speaking out of his tortured heart, made an indirect reference to what all of them were thinking. He was looking somberly into the fire as he spoke.
“Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee, but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee.”
He found in his religion a stay and comfort. If he knew that under cover of darkness evil men do evil deeds, he could reassure himself with the promise that the hairs of his daughter’s head were numbered and that she was under divine protection.
From a pocket next his shirt he drew a small package in oilskin. It was a Bible he had carried many years. By the light of the leaping flames he read a chapter from the New Testament and the twenty-third Psalm, after which the storm-bound men knelt while he prayed that God would guard and keep safe “the wee lamb lost in the tempest far frae the fold.”
Morse and Beresford were tough as hickory withes. None in the North woods had more iron in the blood than they. Emergencies had tested them time and again. But neither of them was ashamed to kneel with the big rugged Scotchman while he poured his heart out in a petition for his lass. The security of the girl whom all four loved each in his own way was out of the hands of her friends. To know that McRae had found a sure rock upon which to lean brought the younger men too some measure of peace.
The gray day wore itself away into the deeper darkness of early dusk. Like a wild beast attacking its prey, the hurricane still leaped with deep and sullen roars at the little cabin on Bull Creek. It beat upon it in wild, swirling gusts. It flung blasts of wind, laden with snow and sleet, against the log walls and piled drifts round them almost to the eaves.