He tried to repeat them aloud, but his voice sounded only in an incoherent murmur. Where the forest came down to the edge of the river the half-breed stopped.
“I must carry you, M’seur Howland,” he said; and as he staggered out on the ice with his inanimate burden, he spoke softly to himself, “The saints preserve me, but what would the sweet Meleese say if she knew that Jean Croisset had come so near to losing the life of this M’seur le engineer? Ce monde est plein de fous!”
In only a subconscious sort of way was Howland cognizant of anything more that happened that night. When he came back into a full sense of his existence he found himself in his bed at the hotel. A lamp was burning low on the table. A glance showed him that the room was empty. He raised his head and shoulders from the pillows on which they were resting and the movement helped to bring him at once into a realization of what had happened. He was hurt. There was a dull, aching pain in his head and neck and when he raised an inquiring hand it came in contact with a thick bandage. He wondered if he were badly hurt and sank back again on the pillows, lying with his eyes staring at the faint glow of the lamp. Soon there came a sound at the door and he twisted his head, grimacing with the pain it caused him. Jean was looking in at him.
“Ah, M’seur ees awake!” he said, seeing the wide-open eyes. He came in softly, closing the door behind him. “Mon Dieu, but if it had been a heavier club by the weight of a pound you would have gone into the blessed hereafter,” he smiled, approaching with noiseless tread. He held a glass of water to Howland’s lips.
“Is it bad, Croisset?”
“So bad that you will be in bed for a day or so, M’seur. That is all.”
“Impossible!” cried the young engineer. “I must take the eight o’clock train in the morning. I must be in Le Pas—”
“It is five o’clock now,” interrupted Jean softly. “Do you feel like going?”
Howland straightened himself and fell back suddenly with a sharp cry.
“The devil!” he exclaimed. After a moment he added, “There will be no other train for two days.” As he raised a hand to his aching head, his other closed tightly about Jean’s lithe brown fingers. “I want to thank you for what you did, Croisset. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know who they were or why they tried to kill me. There was a girl—I was going with her—”
He dropped his hand in time to see the strange fire that had leaped into the half-breed’s eyes. In astonishment he half lifted himself again, his white face questioning Croisset.
“Do you know?” he whispered eagerly. “Who was she? Why did she lead me into that ambush? Why did they attempt to kill me?”
The questions shot from him excitedly, and he knew from what he saw in the other’s face that Croisset could have answered them. Yet from the thin tense lips above him there came no response. With a quick movement the half-breed drew away his hand and moved toward the door. Half way he paused and turned.