The critical moment arrived when the rebels had broken down the door leading into the adjoining room and the girl they were seeking was not there. For a few minutes Norman’s life hung in the balance. The angry men charged him with hiding the girl and keeping her from them. It was only with the greatest difficulty that he was able to subdue their wrath. He told them that he was as much surprised as they were, and he had no idea what had become of the girl. Although the men threatened and cursed, they did not lay hands upon their chief, but contented themselves by informing him that when they came back he must have the girl there.
With a great sigh of relief Norman sank down upon his pillow as the slashers left the house for their march against the mast-cutters. It was storming hard, and this suited their purpose. They believed that the King’s men would be all housed and sound asleep, with the idea of an attack on such a stormy night far from their thoughts. They would also be ahead of the rangers, and their deed would be accomplished before Davidson’s men could arrive.
When the slashers were gone, Norman’s mind returned to the missing girl. He was greatly concerned, feeling certain that she had fled to the forest for protection from the rebels. He expected her to return when the men had left, but as the hours moved slowly by and she did not appear, he feared the worst. He imagined that she had become bewildered by the storm, had lost her way, and perished. He groaned aloud as he thought of this, for he was very fond of the girl. He reproached himself over and over again for his past blindness and mistakes. He knew that he had brought his punishment upon his own head, and that he deserved it.
As he lay there alone, with the storm beating against the cabin, he thought of his patient, noble wife, and innocent outcast son. Them he had lost, and when the gentle and beautiful Jean Sterling had come to brighten his life, she, too, had been taken from him, and he was once more left alone. He had plenty of time now to think of all this, and he wondered if the One he had forsaken for so long was thus hounding him that He might bring him back to His feet. The story of the Prodigal Son came into his mind, and he knew that the Master’s parable was being re-enacted in his own life there in the midst of the northern forest.
“I am the prodigal son,” he murmured. “I have wandered far from my Father, and have been feeding upon the husks. But I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto Him, ’Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son.’”
Slowly he repeated these words, but they brought little comfort and hope to his weary, agitated heart and mind. In his distress he sought refuge in prayer, and uttered the simple words he learned as a child. But even they could not bring the rest he sought, nor the peace of former years. So far had he wandered, and so long had he neglected the golden means of grace, that the sweet communion of his soul with the great soul of the Father could not be restored as if by magic in a few minutes. This he now knew, so with a moan of despair he turned his haggard face to the wall.