They emerged on a little slope and at once pushed the canoe into the current.
She accepted the aid of his hand for a moment, and sank to her place, facing him He spurned lightly the shore, and so they were adrift.
In a moment they seemed to be floating on a vast vapor of night, infinitely remote from anywhere, surrounded by the silence that might have been before the world’s beginning. A faint splash could have been a muskrat near at hand or a caribou far away. The paddle rose and dipped with a faint swish, swish, and the steersman’s twist of it was taken up by the man’s strong wrist so it did not click against the gunwale; the bow of the craft divided the waters with a murmuring so faint as to seem but the echo of a silence. Neither spoke. Virginia watched him, her heart too full for words; watched the full swing of his strong shoulders, the balance of his body at the hips, the poise of his head against the dull sky. In a moment more the parting would have to come. She dreaded it, and yet she looked forward to it with a hungry joy. Then he would say what she had seen in his eyes; then he would speak; then she would hear the words that should comfort her in the days of waiting. For a woman lives much for the present, and the moment’s word is an important thing.
The man swung his paddle steadily, throwing into the strokes a wanton exuberance that showed how high his spirits ran. After a time, when they were well out from the shore, he took a deep breath of delight.
“Ah, you don’t know how happy I am,” he exulted, “you don’t know! To be free, to play the game, to match my wits against their—ah, that is life!”
“I am sorry to see you go,” she murmured, “very sorry. The days will be full of terror until I know you are safe.”
“Oh, yes,” he answered: “but I’ll get there, and I shall tell it all to you at Quebec—at Quebec in August. It will he a brave tale! You will be there—surely?”
“Yes,” said the girl, softly; “I will be there—surely.”
“Good! Feel the wind on your cheek? It is from the Southland, where I am going. I have ventured—and I have not lost! It is something not to lose, when one has ventured against many. They have my goods—but I——”
“You?” repeated Virginia, as he hesitated.
“Ah, I don’t go back empty-handed!” he tried. Her heart stood still, then leaped in anticipation of what he would say. Her soul hungered for the words, the words that should not only comfort her, but should be to her the excuse for many things. She saw him—shadowy, graceful against the dim gray of the river and sky—lean ever so slightly toward her. But then he straightened again to his paddle, and contented himself with repeating merely: “Quebec—in August, then.”
The canoe grated. Ned Trent with an exclamation drove his paddle into the clay.
“Lucky the bottom is soft here,” said he; “I did not realize we were so close ashore.”