I was almost at my cabin door at the edge of the forest frontage at the rear of the old post, when I caught glimpse, in the dim light, of a hurrying figure, which in some way seemed to be different from the blanket-covered squaws who stalked here and there about the post grounds. At first I thought she might be the squaw of one of the employees of the company, who lived scattered about, some of them now, by the advice of Doctor McLaughlin, beginning to till little fields; but, as I have said, there was something in the stature or carriage or garb of this woman which caused me idly to follow her, at first with my eyes and then with my footsteps.
She passed steadily on toward a long and low log cabin, located a short distance beyond the quarters which had been assigned to me. I saw her step up to the door and heard her knock; then there came a flood of light—more light than was usual in the opening of the door of a frontier cabin. This displayed the figure of the night walker, showing her tall and gaunt and a little stooped; so that, after all, I took her to be only one of our American frontier women, being quite sure that she was not Indian or half-breed.
This emboldened me, on a mere chance—an act whose mental origin I could not have traced—to step up to the door after it had been closed, and myself to knock thereat. If it were a party of Americans here, I wished to question them; if not, I intended to make excuses by asking my way to my own quarters. It was my business to learn the news of Oregon.
I heard women’s voices within, and as I knocked the door opened just a trifle on its chain. I saw appear at the crack the face of the woman whom I had followed.
She was, as I had believed, old and wrinkled, and her face now, seen close, was as mysterious, dark and inscrutable as that of any Indian squaw. Her hair fell heavy and gray across her forehead, and her eyes were small and dark as those of a native woman. Yet, as she stood there with the light streaming upon her, I saw something in her face which made me puzzle, ponder and start—and put my foot within the crack of the door.
When she found she could not close the door, she called out in some foreign tongue. I heard a voice answer. The blood tingled in the roots of my hair!
“Threlka,” I said quietly, “tell Madam the Baroness it is I, Monsieur Trist, of Washington.”
IN THE CABIN OF MADAM
Woman must not belong
to herself; she is bound to alien
destinies.—Friedrich von Schiller.
With an exclamation of surprise the old woman departed from the door. I heard the rustle of a footfall. I could have told in advance what face would now appear outlined in the candle glow—with eyes wide and startled, with lips half parted in query. It was the face of Helena, Baroness von Ritz!