“But are you not going back to Dawson?” Frona queried. “It is growing late, and you had better not linger.”
“No . . . I . . .”
Her painful hesitancy brought Frona to a realization of her own thoughtlessness. But she had made the step, and she knew she could not retrace it.
“We will go back together,” she said, bravely. And in candid all-knowledge of the other, “I do not mind.”
Then it was that the blood surged into the woman’s cold face, and her hand went out to the girl in the old, old way.
“No, no, I beg of you,” she stammered. “I beg of you . . . I . . . I prefer to continue my walk a little farther. See! Some one is coming now!”
By this time they had reached the wood-trail, and Frona’s face was flaming as the other’s had flamed. A light sled, dogs a-lope and swinging down out of the gorge, was just upon them. A man was running with the team, and he waved his hand to the two women.
“Vance!” Frona exclaimed, as he threw his lead-dogs in the snow and brought the sled to a halt. “What are you doing over here? Is the syndicate bent upon cornering the firewood also?”
“No. We’re not so bad as that.” His face was full of smiling happiness at the meeting as he shook hands with her. “But Carthey is leaving me,—going prospecting somewhere around the North Pole, I believe,—and I came across to look up Del Bishop, if he’ll serve.”
He turned his head to glance expectantly at her companion, and she saw the smile go out of his face and anger come in. Frona was helplessly aware that she had no grip over the situation, and, though a rebellion at the cruelty and injustice of it was smouldering somewhere deep down, she could only watch the swift culmination of the little tragedy. The woman met his gaze with a half-shrinking, as from an impending blow, and with a softness of expression which entreated pity. But he regarded her long and coldly, then deliberately turned his back. As he did this, Frona noted her face go tired and gray, and the hardness and recklessness of her laughter were there painted in harsh tones, and a bitter devil rose up and lurked in her eyes. It was evident that the same bitter devil rushed hotly to her tongue. But it chanced just then that she glanced at Frona, and all expression was brushed from her face save the infinite tiredness. She smiled wistfully at the girl, and without a word turned and went down the trail.
And without a word Frona sprang upon her sled and was off. The way was wide, and Corliss swung in his dogs abreast of hers. The smouldering rebellion flared up, and she seemed to gather to herself some of the woman’s recklessness.
The words left her mouth, sharp, clear-cut, breaking the silence like the lash of a whip. The unexpectedness of it, and the savagery, took Corliss aback. He did not know what to do or say.