“I didn’t know,” she wrote quickly, and hesitated. Her face was as white now as when Howland had looked on it through the window. Her hand trembled nervously and for an instant her lip quivered in a way that set Howland’s heart pounding tumultuously within him. “I am a stranger, too,” she added. “I have never been in this place before. I came because—”
She stopped, and the catching breath in her throat was almost a sob as she looked at Howland. He knew that it took an effort for her to write the next words.
“I came because you came.”
“Why?” he asked. His voice was low and assuring. “Tell me—why?”
He read her words as she wrote them, leaning half across the table in his eagerness.
“I am a stranger,” she repeated. “I want some one to help me. Accidentally I learned who you were and made up my mind to see you at the hotel, but when I got there I was afraid to go in. Then I saw you in the window. After a little you came out and I saw you enter here. I didn’t know what kind of place it was and I followed you. Won’t you please go with me—to where I am staying—and I will tell you—”
She left the sentence unfinished, her eyes pleading with him. Without a word he rose and seized his hat.
“I will go, Miss—” He laughed frankly into her face, inviting her to write her name. For a moment she smiled back at him, the color brightening her cheeks. Then she turned and hurried down the stair.
Outside Howland gave her his arm. His eyes, passing above her, caught again the luring play of the aurora in the north. He flung back his shoulders, drank in the fresh air, and laughed in the buoyancy of the new life that he felt.
“It’s a glorious night!” he exclaimed.
The girl nodded, and smiled up at him. Her face was very near to his shoulder, ever more beautiful in the white light of the stars.
They did not look behind them. Neither heard the quiet fall of moccasined feet a dozen yards away. Neither saw the gleaming eyes and the thin, dark face of Jean Croisset, the half-breed, as they walked swiftly in the direction of the Saskatchewan.
THE MYSTERIOUS ATTACK
Howland was glad that for a time there was an excuse for his silence. It began to dawn on him that this was an extraordinary adventure for a man on whose shoulders rested the responsibilities of one of the greatest engineering tasks on the continent, and who was due to take a train for the seat of his operations at eight o’clock in the morning. Inwardly he was experiencing some strange emotions; outwardly he smiled as he thought of what Van Horn would say if he knew the circumstances. He looked down at his companion; saw the sheen of her hair as it rippled out from under her fur turban, studied the soft contour of her cheek and chin, without himself being observed, and noticed, incidentally, that the top of the bewitching head beside him came just about to a level with his cigar which he was smoking. He wondered if he were making a fool of himself. If so, he assured himself that there was at least one compensation. This night in Prince Albert would not be so uninteresting as it had promised to be earlier in the evening.