Then an irresistible desire came over her to get away—away from this misery—out of these rough clothes—away from these men. The fire in front of her blazed up, illumining the thatched roof of the lean-to. She looked at her hands—they were dirty, the nails black from scrambling over logs. At that moment she would eagerly have exchanged her jewels for a boudoir and a bath. Her jewels—they were gone in the fire. Gone, too, before it began were a packet of letters and a tell-tale photograph! This fact was the only one in her desolation that comforted her.
Then came moments when her surroundings became exasperating; what fresh misery would she be forced to endure—days worse, perhaps, than the one she had just passed through might follow. If she could only fly! But where? Out in that wilderness? She had sense enough left to know that had she stolen out beyond sight of the lean-to she would have been hopelessly lost. She did not know, however, all that it meant; the terror that would await her—the suffering, stumbling blindly in a circle—hungry, yet afraid to eat had she had food—thirsty, yet not daring to stop even at a clear spring. Her body beaten and bruised—her mind weak from fear—half naked—her hair dishevelled, her scalp bleeding; reeling toward any quarter which seemed like the way out. All this, had she but known it, had happened to the three men sleeping in the lean-to: the trapper, when he was eighteen, found barely breathing after twelve days of torture, the dog chain which he had wrapped round his waist after starting a deer, having deflected the needle of his compass; Holcomb, picking his way out along the shores of a chain of lakes, with no matches and but a handful of cartridges; and the Clown, blind drunk on Jamaica ginger and peppermint essence, in a country whose unfamiliarity nearly caused his death. A man without his stomach and physique would have died; by some miracle he lived to reach Morrison’s unaided—he wanted a drink.
And yet there was not a portion of this wilderness that could lose these three men now, past masters as they were in the art of wood-craft. Yes—it was just as well that The Lady of Big Shanty knew none of these things. Miserable as she was, here, she was protected. Her hand went out unconsciously and rested for a moment on her husband. Again she fell asleep—a troubled sleep—in which she dreamed she confronted a face with sinister eyes and hot cheeks from which she fled in terror. When she awoke she looked out into a blanket of mist. In the breaking dawn the surface of Bear Pond lay like a mirror. The others were still asleep. The fire in front of the lean-to was a bed of white ashes. A kingfisher screamed past, following the limpid turquoise edge of the shore. Beyond the mist rose a great mountain, the filmy, ragged edges of the fog blanket sweeping in curling rifts beneath a precipice of black sides.