“Don’t!” she breathed again, so close that her sweet breath fell warm on his face. “Don’t—if you—if you care for me!”
Gently he drew her close in his arms, crushing her face to his breast, kissing her hair, her eyes, her mouth.
“I love you,” he whispered again and again.
The steps were resumed, the voices died away. Then there came a pressure against his breast, a gentle resistance, and he opened his arms so that the girl drew back from him. Her lips were smiling at him, and in that smile there was gentle accusation, the sweetness of forgiveness, and he could see that with these there had come also a flush into her cheeks and a dazzling glow into her eyes.
“They are gone,” she said tremblingly.
“Yes; they are gone.”
He stood looking down into her glowing face in silence. Then, “They are gone,” he repeated. “They were the men who tried to kill me at Prince Albert. I have let them go—for you. Will you tell me your name?”
“Yes—that much—now. It is Meleese.”
The name fell from him sharply. In an instant there recurred to him all that Croisset had said, and there almost came from his lips the half-breed’s words, which had burned themselves in his memory, “Perhaps you will understand when I tell you this warning is sent to you by the little Meleese.” What had Croisset meant?
“Meleese,” he repeated, looking strangely into the girl’s face.
She drew back from him slowly, the color fading from her cheeks; and as she saw the light in his eyes, there burst from her a short, stifled cry.
“Now—you understand—you understand why you must go back into the South,” she almost sobbed. “Oh, I have sinned to tell you my name! But you will go, won’t you? You will go—for me—”
“For you I would go to the end of the earth!” interrupted Howland, his pale face near to her. “But you must tell me why. I don’t understand you. I don’t know why those men tried to kill me in Prince Albert. I don’t know why my life is in danger here. Croisset told me that my warning back there came from a girl named Meleese. I didn’t understand him. I don’t understand you. It is all a mystery to me. So far as I know I have never had enemies. I never heard your name until Croisset spoke it. What did he mean? What do you mean? Why do you want to drive me from the Wekusko? Why is my life in danger? It is for you to tell me these things. I have been honest with you. I love you. I will fight for you if it is necessary—but you must tell me—tell me—”
His breath was hot in her face, and she stared at him as if what she heard robbed her of the power of speech.
“Won’t you tell me?” he whispered, more softly. “Meleese—” She made no effort to resist him as he drew her once more in his arms, crushing her sweet lips to his own. “Meleese, won’t you tell me?”