“I love you, Jacqueline!” I cried. “And you—you?”
She thrust her hands out and turned her face away. There was an awful fear upon it. “Paul,” she cried, “there is—somebody—who——
“I have known that,” she went on in a torrent of wild words. “I have known that always, and it is the most terrible part of all!”
I laid a finger on her lips.
“There is nobody, Jacqueline,” I said again, trying to control my trembling voice. “He was another delirium of the night, a fantom of your illness, dear. There was never anybody but me, and there shall never be. For to-morrow we shall turn back toward St. Boniface again, and we shall take the boat for Quebec—and from there I shall take you to a land where there shall be no more grief, neither——”
I broke off suddenly. What had I said? My words—why, the devil had been quoting Scripture again! The bathos of it! My sacred task forgotten and honour thrown to the winds, and Jacqueline helpless there! I hung my head in misery and shame.
But very sweetly she raised hers and spoke to me.
“Paul, dear, if there never was anyone—if it is nothing but a dream——” Here she looked at me with doubtful scrutiny in her eyes, and then hastened to make amends for doubting me. “Of course, Paul, if there had been you could not have known. But though I know my heart is free—if there was nobody—why, let us go forward to my father’s home, because there will be no cause there to separate us, my dear. So let us go on.”
“Yes, let us go on,” I muttered dully.
But when the issue came I knew that I would let no man stand between us.
“And some day I am going to tell you everything I know, and you shall tell me,” she said. “But to-night we have each other, and will not think of unhappy things—nor ever till the time comes.”
She leaned back against my shoulder and held out her hands to the fire-light. She had taken off her left glove, and now again I saw the wedding-ring upon her finger.
She was asleep. I drew her head down on my knees and spread my coat around her, and let her rest there. She was happy again in sleep, as her nature was to be always. But, though I held her as she held my heart, my soul seemed dead, and I waited sleepless and heard only the whining of the heavy wind and scurry of the blown snow.
The wolf still howled from afar, but the dogs only whimpered in answer among the trees, where they had withdrawn.
At last I raised her in my arms and carried her inside the tent. She did not waken, but only stirred and murmured my name drowsily. I stood outside the tent and listened to her soft breathing.
How helpless she was! How trusting!
That turned the battle. I loved her madly, but never again dare I breathe a word of love to her so long as that shadow obscured her mind. But if sunlight succeeded shadow——