Absorbed in the silent drama of a man’s unguarded expression, Virginia leaned forward eagerly. In some vague manner it was borne in on her that once before she had experienced the same emotion, had come into contact with someone, something, that had affected her emotionally just as this man did now. But she could not place it. Over and over again she forced her mind to the very point of recollection, but always it slipped back again from the verge of attainment. Then a little movement, some thrust forward of the head, some nervous, rapid shifting of the hands or feet, some unconscious poise of the shoulders, brought the scene flashing before her—the white snow, the still forest, the little square pen trap, the wolverine, desperate but cool, thrusting its blunt nose quickly here and there in baffled hope of an orifice of escape. Somehow the man reminded her of the animal, the fierce little woods marauder, trapped and hopeless, but scorning to cower as would the gentler creatures of the forest.
Abruptly his expression changed again. His figure stiffened, the muscles of his face turned iron. Virginia saw that someone on the beach had pointed toward him. His mask was on.
The first burst of greeting was over. Here and there one or another of the brigade members jerked their heads in the stranger’s direction, explaining low-voiced to their companions. Soon all eyes turned curiously toward the canoe. A hum of low-voiced comment took the place of louder delight.
The stranger, finding himself generally observed, rose slowly to his feet, picked his way with a certain exaggerated deliberation of movement over the duffel lying in the bottom of the canoe, until he reached the bow, where he paused, one foot lifted to the gunwale just above the emblem of the painted star. Immediately a dead silence fell. Groups shifted, drew apart, and together again, like the slow agglomeration of sawdust on the surface of water, until at last they formed in a semicircle of staring, whose centre was the bow of the canoe and the stranger from Kettle Portage. The men scowled, the women regarded him with a half-fearful curiosity.
Virginia Albret shivered in the shock of this sudden electric polarity. The man seemed alone against a sullen, unexplained hostility. The desperation she had thought to read but a moment before had vanished utterly, leaving in its place a scornful indifference and perhaps more than a trace of recklessness. He was ripe for an outbreak. She did not in the least understand, but she knew it from the depths of her woman’s instinct, and unconsciously her sympathies flowed out to this man, alone without a greeting where all others came to their own.
For perhaps a full sixty seconds the newcomer stood uncertain what he should do, or perhaps waiting for some word or act to tip the balance of his decision. One after another those on shore felt the insolence of his stare, and shifted uneasily. Then his deliberate scrutiny rose to the group by the cannon. Virginia caught her breath sharply. In spite of herself she could not turn away. The stranger’s eye crossed her own. She saw the hard look fade into pleased surprise. Instantly his hat swept the gunwale of the canoe. He stepped magnificently ashore. The crisis was over. Not a word had been spoken.