When she regained consciousness two days had elapsed. She saw dimly that the rest were at breakfast. It was raining. The old dog again lay across her feet; he was hungry, but he had not moved through the night. She tried to sit up, but the trees danced in front of her. Margaret and Thayor started toward her.
“You’ve slept so well, mother,” she could hear Margaret saying; “you feel better, don’t you?” Thayor was on his knees beside her—he put his arm under her shoulders and placed a tin cup to her lips.
“Come, dear—drink this”—she heard his voice faintly. Her lips moved spasmodically. “It’s broth,” he said softly. “Billy killed a deer this morning at daylight.”
She stared up at him with a pair of vacant, feverish eyes. “Mrs. Van Renssalaer cannot come—send these people away, Sam—I want them sent away—at once—at once—Blakeman.” The spasmodic movement of her jaw continued, but her words ceased to be audible.
“Drink a little, dear,” Sam pleaded. “It will do you good.” The lips smiled feebly, pressing wearily against the rusty edge of the tin cup; then she sank back in his arms in a dead faint.
* * * * *
By the second morning her splendid physique came to the rescue. Weakened as she was by fever, she would, she insisted, take her place with the others when they were ready to start. To this Thayor assented, as they were now nearing their last resting place, the railroad lying but half a day’s tramp beyond where they were camped.
As the thought of her freedom rose in her mind a strange feeling came over her.
“Won’t somebody sing?” she asked. “It’s been so dreary for so many wretched long miles. Maybe I can.” They were grouped about the smouldering fire at the time, Margaret’s head in her lap, Holcomb, the old trapper and the others in a half circle.
Thayor looked at his wife with mingled pride and astonishment: pride in her pluck and her desire to lighten the hearts of those about her—astonishment—amazement really, in the change that had come over her.
Alice lifted her eyes to her husband and began, in her rich contralto voice, a song that recalled the days when he had first known and loved her. She sang it all through, never once taking her eyes from the man who sat apart from the others, his head buried deep in his hands.
As the last note died away a crackling in the brush behind the lean-to was heard. The two woodsmen sprang instantly to their feet; Annette screamed. The drums of Alice’s ears were thumping with the beating of her heart. Holcomb reached for his rifle laying between his own and the Clown’s pack, and hurriedly cocked it. The old dog had already plunged ahead into the underbrush with a low growl.
“Hold on, Billy,” came a thin voice out of the blackness beyond and to the left of the lean-to. “Don’t shoot!”
A short, gaunt figure now leaped noiselessly—rather than strode—out into the firelight. He moved with the furtive agility of an animal, making straight for the fire, over which he stood for some moments warming himself.