One minute the vague suspense lasted, while he followed Herb towards the hut. Then heaven and earth and his own heart seemed to stand still.
Through the wide-open door of the shanty came random, crooning snatches of sound. Was the guttural voice which made them human? The English boy scarcely knew. But as the noise swelled, like the moaning of a dry wind among trees, he began, as it were, to disentangle it. Words shaped themselves, Indian words which he had heard before on the guide’s tongue.
“N’loan pes-saus, mok glint
Glint ont-aven, nosh morgun.”
These lines from the “Star Song,” the song which Herb had learned from his traitor chum, floated out to him upon Katahdin’s breeze. They struck young Farrar’s ears in staggering tones, like a knell, the sadness of which he could not at the moment understand. But he had a vague impression that the mysterious singer in the deserted camp attached no meaning to what he chanted.
“Look out, I say! I don’t want to come a cropper here.”
It was Dol’s young voice which rang out shrilly among the mountain echoes. Side by side with Cyrus, the boy had just gained the top of the ridge when the guide suddenly backed upon him, Herb’s great shoulder-blade knocking him in the face, so that he had to plant his feet firmly to avoid spinning back.
But Herb had heard that guttural crooning. Just now he could hear nothing else.
Twice he made a heaving effort to speak, and the voice cracked in his throat.
Then, as he sprang for the camp-door, four words stumbled from his lips:—
“By thunder! it’s Chris.”
THE OLD HOME-CAMP.
The silence which followed that ejaculation was like the hush of earth before a thunder-storm.
Not a syllable passed the lips of the boys as they followed Herb into the log hut, but feeling seemed wagging a startled tongue in each finger-tip which convulsively pressed the rifles.
And not another articulate sentence came from the guide; only his throat swelled with a deep, amazed gurgle as he reached the interior of the shanty, and dropped his eyes upon the individual who raised that queer chanting.
On a bed of withered spruce boughs, strewn higgledy-piggledy upon the camp-floor—mother earth—lay the form of a man. Thin wisps of blue-black hair, long untrimmed, trailed over his face and neck, which looked as if they were carved out of yellow bone. His figure was skeleton-like. His lips—the lips which at the entrance of the strangers never ceased their wild crooning—were swollen and fever-scorched. His black eyes, disfigured by a hideous squint, rolled with the sick fancies of delirium.
Cyrus and the Farrars, while they looked upon him, felt that, even if they had never heard Herb’s exclamation, they would have had no difficulty in identifying the creature, remembering that story which had thrilled them by the camp-fire at Millinokett. It was Herb Heal’s traitor chum—the half-breed, Cross-eyed Chris.