It was a day of dreary anxiety to those who awaited his return. The trapper blamed himself for having allowed him to go. “It ain’t right for ye, friend, to risk yer life like this,” he had declared. “Them fellers won’t stop at nothin’ now—I’ve done my best to git ye clear of ’em and I’ll git ye clear and ’board the cars by to-morrow—all of ye, if ye’ll let me.” To which Thayor, laying his hand on the old man’s shoulder, had replied:
“I refuse to expose any of you. It is a matter that concerns myself alone. I hardly think they will attempt to molest a single, defenceless man. As for your son, I’ll take care that no one sees him.”
As the day wore on and no tidings came from either Thayor or the hide-out, Holcomb’s and the Clown’s uneasiness became more and more apparent. The midday meal passed in comparative silence. By noon the sky became overcast and it drizzled intermittently. This told sadly upon Alice, who went back to her blanket. There she closed her eyes, but sleep was impossible.
Again she reviewed the events not only of this summer but of the winter preceding it. She thought of Sperry, slowly going over in her mind their days together—all that had happened; all that he had dared to ask her to do. With astonishing clearness she now weighed his worth. Bit by bit she recalled their last hours together that night on the veranda. Then the sturdy honesty of men like Holcomb, the trapper and the Clown in contrast with Sperry, and many of her guests at home, rose in her mind. Their kindness to her; their unselfishness, despite the fact that she had once treated them like a pack of uncouth boors. But for Billy Holcomb she would have burned to death. She knew his worth now. Sam had been right.
Then her mind dwelt on the close friendship that had grown up between Margaret and the young woodsman. Was it friendship, really? Again she thought of Sperry and again her cheeks burned. He had not asked her to seek a divorce and marry him—he had demanded briefly that she leave all and follow him. With this thought her face paled with anger. Instantly her husband rose clear in her mind; he who, never once in all his life, had asked her, or anyone else, to do a dishonourable thing. She wondered at his patience and his pluck, even when she remembered their many quarrels in which he had lost control of himself.
With a low moan she buried her face in her hands as little by little her mind reverted to her own cruelty; to the days of her domination over him; to her outbursts of temper: he, a man of strength, with the courage of his convictions. This he had proved during their forced march in a hundred different ways—was proving it to-day, magnificently. One ray of comfort shone through it all—that, foolish and vain as she had been, she could still look her husband in the face.
At length she rose shakily, and moving slowly crossed the small space about the fire to where the trapper was chopping firewood for the night.