Frona sat up. “I—I was afraid,” she said.
“Afraid that I might be afraid,” she amended, fumbling with her hair.
“Leave it down. The day merits it.”
She complied, with a toss of the head which circled it with a nimbus of rippling yellow.
“Tommy’s gone,” Corliss mused, the race with the ice coming slowly back.
“Yes,” she answered. “I rapped him on the knuckles. It was terrible. But the chance is we’ve a better man in the canoe, and we must care for him at once. Hello! Look there!” Through the trees, not a score of feet away, she saw the wall of a large cabin. “Nobody in sight. It must be deserted, or else they’re visiting, whoever they are. You look to our man, Vance,—I’m more presentable,—and I’ll go and see.”
She skirted the cabin, which was a large one for the Yukon country, and came around to where it fronted on the river. The door stood open, and, as she paused to knock, the whole interior flashed upon her in an astounding picture,—a cumulative picture, or series of pictures, as it were. For first she was aware of a crowd of men, and of some great common purpose upon which all were seriously bent. At her knock they instinctively divided, so that a lane opened up, flanked by their pressed bodies, to the far end of the room. And there, in the long bunks on either side, sat two grave rows of men. And midway between, against the wall, was a table. This table seemed the centre of interest. Fresh from the sun-dazzle, the light within was dim and murky, but she managed to make out a bearded American sitting by the table and hammering it with a heavy caulking-mallet. And on the opposite side sat St. Vincent. She had time to note his worn and haggard face, before a man of Scandinavian appearance slouched up to the table.
The man with the mallet raised his right hand and said glibly, “You do most solemnly swear that what you are about to give before the court—” He abruptly stopped and glowered at the man before him. “Take off your hat!” he roared, and a snicker went up from the crowd as the man obeyed.
Then he of the mallet began again. “You do most solemnly swear that what you are about to give before the court shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
The Scandinavian nodded and dropped his hand.
“One moment, gentlemen.” Frona advanced up the lane, which closed behind her.
St. Vincent sprang to his feet and stretched out his arms to her. “Frona,” he cried, “oh, Frona, I am innocent!”
It struck her like a blow, the unexpectedness of it, and for the instant, in the sickly light, she was conscious only of the ring of white faces, each face set with eyes that burned. Innocent of what? she thought, and as she looked at St. Vincent, arms still extended, she was aware, in a vague, troubled way, of something distasteful. Innocent of what? He might have had more reserve. He might have waited till he was charged. She did not know that he was charged with anything.