Alice Thayor presented a strange appearance; a pair of lumberjack’s trousers, a mackinaw shirt, rough woollen socks, a pair of brogans and one of the teamster’s overcoats, its collar turned up against her dishevelled hair, had transformed her into a vagabond. She was still weak from shock, but she went to work with Margaret and Annette, brewing a pail of tea, while Thayor, Holcomb and the rest straightened out their weird bivouac in the acrid opal haze. The Clown was again busy with his fry-pan, the old dog watching him with bloodshot eyes.
There was little or no conversation during the preparation of that hurried meal. When at last it was ready Blakeman started to serve it. Thayor caught his butler’s eye and motioned him to a seat beside him.
“You are as hungry as the rest of us,” he said with an effort; “there’s no need of formality here, Blakeman.” He glanced with a peculiar, weary smile from one to another of the little group squatting around the improvised meal, and his voice faltered.
“Big Shanty is gone,” he resumed; “but I thank God it was no worse. Whatever is in store for us we must share. What that will be nobody can tell, but it’s going to be a hard experience and we must meet it. It would be sheer folly to attempt to get clear of all this by way of Morrison’s; that road is completely cut off—am I right, Holt?”—and he turned to the trapper.
The old man, who had eaten sparingly and in silence, raised his head.
“Yes, ye’r right, Mr. Thayor, but it won’t do for us to stay whar we be no longer ’n we’re obleeged to, that’s sartain. Them hell-hounds ain’t done yit. Yer life ain’t safe,” he added slowly.
Alice Thayor gave a little gasp, riveting her frightened gaze on the speaker. Margaret turned and looked at her mother with trembling lips; then she patted Alice’s hand affectionately. Annette began to cry.
“It’s hard to tell ye the truth, friend,” continued the old man, “but I might as well tell ye now. There ain’t nothin’ left for us to do but to git out o’ this hell-hole as quick as God’ll let us. We got plenty of things in our favour——No, sir, it ain’t as bad as it might be with them woods full of smoke. Thar’s a railroad over thar”—he continued, nodding to the wilderness beyond them. “I cal’late we could make the railroad in, say, four days. Let’s see—Bear Pond—as fur as the leetle Still water; then over them Green Mount’ins and through Alder Swamp.”
“And it’s clear goin’, Hite,” interposed the Clown, “as fur as Buck Pond. I was in thar once with the survey.” Holcomb did not speak; it was a country which he had never entered.
“I had a trappin’ shanty at Buck Pond once,” continued Holt, “most thirty years ago. I knowed that country in them days as well as I know my hat and I presume likely it ain’t changed. A day from Buck Pond, steady travellin’, ought, in my idee, to git us out to the cars. I’ll do my best to git ye thar.”