For an instant he held her from him gazing into her eyes. The revulsion was so great—the surprise so intense, he could hardly believe his senses. Then a great uplift swept through him.
“Hush,” he breathed. “Tell me again that you love me. Say it again, Alice. Say it!” The vibrant trembling of her body, close held in his arms, thrilled him; he could see dimly in the shadow the same old look in her eyes—the eyes of the girl he loved. The hour of their betrothal seemed to be his once more.
“I don’t want to go home, Sam; I never want to see it again,” she swept on. “I want to live here. Will you rebuild Big Shanty for you and me, dearest, and for Margaret and Billy? They love each other and—”
He folded her in his arms.
“Kiss me again!” she pleaded.
Half supporting her, one arm about his neck, her hands clinging to his as if she was afraid some unseen power would take him from her, the two regained the camp, the blaze of freshly heaped-up logs having lighted the way.
“Give Dinsmore something hot to drink at once,” were Thayor’s first words on reaching the group. “He’s been in water up to his neck. Had it not been for him we should have had to lie out all night; he sees in the dark like an owl. We’ve had a hard tramp.” He stood steaming before the fire as he spoke—drenched to the skin, the others crowding round him, too happy for the moment to ply him with questions. He himself was quivering with an inward joy. Alice’s kisses were still on his lips.
The trapper edged nearer. “And what did them fellers say, Mr. Thayor, when ye found ’em?” he asked. He had asked the question before, but Thayor only waved his hand saying he would wait until they reached camp so all could hear the story.
“What did they say to me, Hite? They told me for one thing that they had done their best to find me, and I guess that was true,” and he smiled grimly. “And now, who do you think was leading them, Billy?”
“Shank Dollard, I guess,” returned Holcomb.
“That Frenchman—and you kept the doctor a week to look after him!” exclaimed Holcomb indignantly.
“Yes. That was the reason he hunted for me.”
The men crowded about the speaker, the women drawing closer, the old dog closest of all. Dinsmore, who was seated on a stump just outside the firelight, listened eagerly. He had heard the story before, but he wanted every detail of it again. His father had pulled the dripping coat from his back when they reached the fire, and he was now wrapped in one of the blankets that Margaret had placed about his thin shoulders.
“Yes—Le Boeuf,” continued Thayor. “His arm was still in a sling, but he and his crowd—there were six of them in all—had done their best to overtake us before we got to the railroad. He was more afraid of me than I was of him. When I walked in among them he jumped to his feet and came straight toward me. I was alone—with Mr. Dinsmore within reach but out of sight—and, Hite, they never saw your son—just as I promised you—”