He laughed, softly, joyfully.
Yes, he would go back into the South—he would go to the other end of the earth, if she would go with him. What was the building of this railroad now to that other great thing that had come into his life? For the first time he saw duty in another light. There were others who could build the road; success, fortune, ambition—in the old way he had seen them—were overshadowed now by this love of a girl.
He stopped and lighted his pipe. The fragrant odor of the tobacco, the flavor of the warm smoke in his mouth, helped to readjust him, to cool his heated brain. The old fighting instincts leaped into life again. Go into the South? He asked himself the question once more, and in the gloomy silence of the forest his low laugh fell again as he clenched his hands in anticipation of what was ahead of him. No—he would build the road! And in building it he would win this girl, if it was given for him to possess her.
His saner thoughts brought back his caution. He went more slowly toward the cabin, keeping in the deep shadows and stopping now and then to listen. At the edge of the clearing he paused for a long time. There was no sign of life about the cabin abandoned by Gregson and Thorne. It was probable that the two men who had passed along the path had returned to the camp by another trail, and still keeping as much within the shadows as possible he went to the door and entered.
With his feet propped in front of the big box stove sat Jackpine. The Indian rose as Howland entered, and something in the sullen gloom of his face caused the young engineer to eye him questioningly.
“Any one been here, Jackpine?”
The old sledge-driver gave his head a negative shake and hunched his shoulders, pointing at the same time to the table, on which lay a carefully folded piece of paper.
“Thorne,” he grunted.
Howland spread out the paper in the light of the lamp, and read:
“MY DEAR HOWLAND:
“I forgot to tell you that our mail sledge starts for Le Pas to-morrow at noon, and as I’m planning on going down with it I want you to get over as early as you can in the morning. Can put you on to everything in the camp between eight and twelve. THORNE.”
A whistle of astonishment escaped Howland’s lips.
“Where do you sleep, Jackpine?” he asked suddenly.
“Cabin in edge of woods,” replied the Indian.
“How about breakfast? Thorne hasn’t put me on to the grub line yet.”
“Thorne say you eat with heem in mornin’. I come early—wake you. After heem go—to-morrow—eat here.”
“You needn’t wake me,” said Howland, throwing off his coat. “I’ll find Thorne—probably before he’s up. Good night.”
Jackpine had half opened the door, and for a moment the engineer caught a glimpse of his dark, grinning face looking back over his shoulder. He hesitated, as if about to speak, and then with a mouthful of his inimitable chuckles, he went out.