At that instant the old dog sprang into the darkness beyond the trapper, barking sharply. Holcomb, followed by Margaret, who had never left his side since he had determined to go in search of her father, rushed forward, following the waning light from the torches now glimmering far ahead as the trapper leaped on after the old dog.
Alice, now left alone with Blakeman and Annette, sat peering into the void, her ears open to every sound. Every now and then she would rise, walk to the edge of the firelight, stand listening for a few moments and sink back again on her seat by the embers.
Suddenly Blakeman rose to his feet, his hand cupped to his ear, his whole body tense. His knowledge of the woods had taught him their unusual sounds. Stepping quickly over the surrounding logs, he moved to the edge of the darkness and listened, then walked quickly into the blackness.
The dim flicker of approaching torches, like will-o’-the-wisps, now flashed among the giant trees. Alice sprang up, caught the end of the long overcoat in her fingers and, guided by the sound of Blakeman’s footsteps, calling to him at every step, dashed on into the darkness. Then she tripped, and with a piercing shriek fell headlong.
A posse of men were approaching. The torches drew nearer and nearer—voices could be heard. She strained her ears—but it was not that of her husband. Again she staggered to her feet, reeled, and would have fallen had not Blakeman caught her. He had seen the party and turned back before he reached them.
“He’s all right, madam—there he comes—they are all coming.”
Thayor pushed his way ahead. He had heard the scream and recognized the voice.
“My God, Blakeman. What’s the matter?” He was on his knees beside her now, her head resting in the hollow of his elbow.
“Madam’s only fainted, sir. We got worried at your being gone so long.”
Margaret tried to throw herself down beside her mother, but Holcomb held her back.
“No—let your father alone,” he whispered—“and let us come away.”
The trapper and the others, followed by Holcomb and Margaret, moved toward the camp, the torches illumining their faces. No one saw the hide-out. He was there—within touching distance, but he moved only in the shadows.
Alice opened her eyes and clasped both her arms around her husband’s neck.
“Oh, Sam! tell me it is you—and you are safe, and nothing has happened? Oh! Sam—I have been so wretched!”
“There, dear—compose yourself. It’s all right—everything is all right, and we have nothing to fear anywhere. Come, now—let me help you to your feet and—”
“No, Sam—not yet—not yet! Please listen—I’ve been so wicked—so foolish—Please forgive me—please tell me you love me. Don’t let it make any difference. I can stand everything but that. Sam, we once loved each other—can’t we again? I love you—I do—I do!”