And Herb, backing off from the withered couch as far as the limited space of the cabin would allow, stood with his shoulders against the mouldy logs of the wall, his eyes like peep-holes to a volcano, gulping and gurgling, while he swallowed back a fire of amazed excitement and defeated anger, for which his backwoods vocabulary was too cheap.
A flame seemed scorching and hissing about his heart while he remembered that during some hour of every day for five years, since last he had seen the “hound” who robbed him, he had sworn that, if ever he caught the thief, he would pounce upon him with a woodsman’s vengeance.
“I couldn’t touch him now—the scum! But I’ll be switched if I’ll do a thing to help him!” he hissed, the flame leaping to his lips.
Yet he had a strange sensation, as if that vow was broken like an egg-shell even while he made it. He knew that “the two creatures which had fought inside of him, tooth and claw,” about the fate of his enemy, were pinching his heart by turns in a last hot conflict.
His eyes shot flinty sparks; he drew his breath in hard puffs; his knotted throat twitched and swelled, while they (the man and the brute) strove within him; and all the time he stood staring in grisly silence at the half-breed.
The latter still continued his Indian croon; though from the crazy roll of his malformed eyes it was plain that he knew not whether he chanted about the stars, his old friends and guides, or about anything else in heaven or earth.
But one thing quickly became clear to Cyrus, and then to the Farrar boys,—less accustomed to tragedy than their comrade,—that this strange personage, in whose veins the blood of white men and red men met, carrying in its turbid flow the weaknesses of two races, was singing his swan-song, the last chant he would ever raise on earth.
At their first entrance, as their bodies interfered with the broad light streaming through the cabin-door, Chris had lifted towards them a scared, shrinking stare. But, apparently, he took them for the shadows which walked in the dreams of his delirium. Not a ray of recognition lightened the blankness of that stare as Herb’s big figure passed before him. Letting his eyes wander aimlessly again from log wall to log wall, from withered bed to mouldy rafters, his lips continued their crooning, which sank with his weakening breath, then rose again to sink once more, like the last wind-gusts when the storm is over.
Suddenly his shrunken body shivered in every limb. The humming ceased. His yellow teeth tapped upon each other in trouble and fear. He raised himself to a squatting posture, with his knee-bones to his chin, the wisps of hair tumbling upon his naked chest.
“It’s dark—heap dark!” he whimpered, between long gasps. “Can’t strike the trail—can’t find the home-camp. Herb—Herb Heal—ole pard—’twas I took ’em—the skins. ‘Twas—a dog’s trick. Take it out—o’ my hide—if yer wants to—yah! Heap sick!”