Whistling, he entered the office, stirred up the fire, and crossed to the cook-house. It was empty. The charcoal fire was out. Shivering, he rebuilt it, looked through the larder, and hacked off a ragged slice of jerked venison. A film of fear rose in his soul. What if they were really gone? What if Antoine had taken her? It looked like it. His heart sank. Not to see her again! Not to feel her strange, thrilling presence! Not to sense that indomitable, insolent soul, throwing its challenge before it as it walked through the world!
Crossman came out, returned to the office, busied himself in tidying the living room and solving the disorder of his desk. The twilight sifted over wood and hill, crept from under the forest arches, and spread across the snow of the open. He lit the lamps and waited. The silence was complete. It seemed as if the night had come and closed the world, locking it away out of the reach even of God.
The meal Crossman had bunglingly prepared lay untouched on the table. Now and then the crash of an avalanche of snow from the overburdened branches emphasized the stillness. Dreading he knew not what, Crossman waited—and loneliness is not good for a sick soul.
Thoughts began crowding, nudging one another; happenings that he had dismissed as casual took on new and sinister meanings. “Two and two together” became at once a huge sum, leaping to terrifying conclusions. Then with the silence and the tense nerve-draw of waiting came the sense of things finished—done forever. A vast, all-embracing finality—“Neant”—the habitant expression for the uttermost nothing, the word seemed to push at his lips. He wanted to say it, but a premonition warned him that to utter it was to make it real.
Should he call upon the name of the Void, the Void would answer. He feared it—it meant that She would be swallowed also in the great gaping hollow of nothingness. He strained his ears for sounds of the living world—the spit of the fire, the fall of clinkers in the grate, the whisper of the wind stirring at the door. He tried to analyse his growing uneasiness. He was sure now that she had followed Antoine’s bidding—forgetting him, if, indeed, her desires had ever reached toward him.
Now she seemed the only thing that mattered. He must find her; he must follow. Wherever she was, there only was the world of reality. Where she was, was life. And to find her, he must find Antoine—and then, without warning, the door gaped—and Antoine stood before him, like a coloured figure pasted on the black ground of the night. Then he entered, quiet and matter-of-fact. He nodded, closed the door against the biting cold, pulled off his cap, and stood respectfully.
“It is no use to wait for the Boss; he will not come,” said the log-brander. “I came to tell Monsieur, before I go on, that le Cure is safe at Chaumiere Noire. Yes, he is safe, and Monsieur Jakapa have turn back, when I catch up with him and tell him——”