Later, as he walked with Nell by the golden-fringed stream, he spoke of Joe.
“Joe wanted so much to hunt with Wetzel. He will come back; surely he will return to us when he has satisfied his wild craving for adventure. Do you not think so?”
There was an eagerness that was almost pleading in Jim’s voice. What he so much hoped for—that no harm had befallen Joe, and that he would return—he doubted. He needed the encouragement of his hope.
“Never,” answered Nell, solemnly.
“Oh, why—why do you say that?”
“I saw him look at you—a strange, intent glance. He gazed long at me as we separated. Oh! I can feel his eyes. No; he will never come back.”
“Nell, Nell, you do not mean he went away deliberately—because, oh! I cannot say it.”
“For no reason, except that the wilderness called him more than love for you or—me.”
“No, no,” returned Jim, his face white. “You do not understand. He really loved you—I know it. He loved me, too. Ah, how well! He has gone because—I can’t tell you.”
“Oh, Jim, I hope—he loved—me,” sobbed Nell, bursting into tears. “His coldness—his neglect those—last few days—hurt me—so. If he cared—as you say—I won’t be—so—miserable.”
“We are both right—you when you say he will never return, and I when I say he loved us both,” said Jim sadly, as the bitter certainty forced itself into his mind.
As she sobbed softly, and he gazed with set, stern face into the darkening forest, the deep, mellow notes of the church bell pealed out. So thrilled, so startled were they by this melody wondrously breaking the twilight stillness, that they gazed mutely at each other. Then they remembered. It was the missionary’s bell summoning the Christian Indians to the evening service.
The, sultry, drowsy, summer days passed with no untoward event to mar their slumbering tranquillity. Life for the newcomers to the Village of Peace brought a content, the like of which they had never dreamed of. Mr. Wells at once began active work among the Indians, preaching to them through an interpreter; Nell and Kate, in hours apart from household duties, busied themselves brightening their new abode, and Jim entered upon the task of acquainting himself with the modes and habits of the redmen. Truly, the young people might have found perfect happiness in this new and novel life, if only Joe had returned. His disappearance and subsequent absence furnished a theme for many talks and many a quiet hour of dreamy sadness. The fascination of his personality had been so impelling that long after it was withdrawn a charm lingered around everything which reminded them of him; a subtle and sweet memory, with perverse and half bitter persistence, returned hauntingly. No trace of Joe had been seen by any of the friendly Indian runners. He was gone into the mazes of deep-shadowed forests, where to hunt for him would be like striving to trail the flight of a swallow. Two of those he had left behind always remembered him, and in their thoughts followed him in his wanderings.