“To the—hic—man,” he rumbled, cavernously, “the man—hic—that made—that made—”
“The blessed country,” volunteered the Virgin.
“True, my dear—hic. To the man that made the blessed country. To—hic—to Jacob Welse!”
“And a rider!” Blanche cried. “To Jacob Welse’s daughter!”
“Ay! Standing! And bottoms up!”
“Oh! she’s a jolly good fellow,” Del led off, the drink ruddying his cheek.
“I’d like to shake hands with you, just once,” Blanche said in a low voice, while the rest were chorusing.
Frona slipped her mitten, which she had already put on, and the pressure was firm between them.
“No,” she said to Corliss, who had put on his cap and was tying the ear-flaps; “Blanche tells me the Pently’s are only half a mile from here. The trail is straight. I’ll not hear of any one accompanying me.
“No!” This time she spoke so authoritatively that he tossed his cap into the bunk. “Good-night, all!” she called, sweeping the roisterers with a smile.
But Corliss saw her to the door and stepped outside. She glanced up to him. Her hood was pulled only partly up, and her face shone alluringly under the starlight.
“I—Frona . . . I wish—”
“Don’t be alarmed,” she whispered. “I’ll not tell on you, Vance.”
He saw the mocking glint in her eyes, but tried to go on. “I wish to explain just how—”
“No need. I understand. But at the same time I must confess I do not particularly admire your taste—”
“Frona!” The evident pain in his voice reached her.
“Oh, you big foolish!” she laughed. “Don’t I know? Didn’t Blanche tell me she wet her feet?”
Corliss bowed his head. “Truly, Frona, you are the most consistent woman I ever met. Furthermore,” with a straightening of his form and a dominant assertion in his voice, “this is not the last.”
She tried to stop him, but he continued. “I feel, I know that things will turn out differently. To fling your own words back at you, all the factors have not been taken into consideration. As for St. Vincent . . . I’ll have you yet. For that matter, now could not be too soon!”
He flashed out hungry arms to her, but she read quicker than he moved, and, laughing, eluded him and ran lightly down the trail.
“Come back, Frona! Come back!” he called, “I am sorry.”
“No, you’re not,” came the answer. “And I’d be sorry if you were. Good-night.”
He watched her merge into the shadows, then entered the cabin. He had utterly forgotten the scene within, and at the first glance it startled him. Cariboo Blanche was crying softly to herself. Her eyes were luminous and moist, and, as he looked, a lone tear stole down her cheek. Bishop’s face had gone serious. The Virgin had sprawled head and shoulders on the table, amid overturned mugs and dripping lees, and Cornell was tittubating over her, hiccoughing, and repeating vacuously, “You’re all right, my dear. You’re all right.”