“What great danger is he in?” the girl persisted with her catechism.
“None that I am aware of,” replied Crane, suavely. “He is a very ill-balanced and excitable young man.”
Virginia’s quick instincts recognized again the same barrier which, with the people, with Wishkobun, with her father, had shut her so effectively from the truth. Her power of femininity and position had to give way before the man’s fear for himself and of Galen Albret’s unexpressed wish. She asked a few more questions, received a few more evasive replies, and left the little clergyman to recover as best he might from a very trying evening.
Out in the night the girl hesitated in two minds as to what to do next. She was excited, and resolved to finish the affair, but she could not bring her courage to the point of questioning her father. That the stranger was in antagonism to the Company, that he believed himself to be in danger on that account, that he wanted succor, she saw clearly enough. But the whole affair was vague, disquieting. She wanted to see it plainly, know its reasons. And beneath her excitement she recognized, with a catch of the breath, that she was afraid for him. She had not time now to ask herself what it might mean; she only realized the presence of the fact.
She turned instinctively in the direction of Doctor Cockburn’s house. Mrs. Cockburn was a plain little middle-aged woman with parted gray hair and sweet, faded eyes. In the life of the place she was a nonentity, and her tastes were homely and commonplace, but Virginia liked her.
She proved to be at home, the Doctor still at his dispensary, which was well. Virginia entered a small log room, passed through it immediately to a larger papered room, and sat down in a musty red armchair. The building was one of the old regime, which meant that its floor was of wide and rather uneven painted boards, its ceiling low, its windows small, and its general lines of an irregular and sagging rule-of-thumb tendency. The white wall-paper evidently concealed squared logs. The present inhabitants, being possessed at once of rather homely tastes and limited facilities, had over-furnished the place with an infinitude of little things—little rugs, little tables, little knit doilies, little racks of photographs, little china ornaments, little spidery what-nots, and shelves for books.
Virginia seated herself, and went directly to the topic.
“Mrs. Cockburn,” she said, “you have always been very good to me, always, ever since I came here as a little girl. I have not always appreciated it, I am afraid, but I am in great trouble, and I want your help.”
“What is it, dearie,” asked the older woman, softly. “Of course I will do anything I can.”
“I want you to tell me what all this mystery is—about the man who to-day arrived from Kettle Portage, I mean. I have asked everybody: I have tried by all means in my power to get somebody somewhere to tell me. It is maddening—and I have a special reason for wanting to know.”