I was mad with anger. The white landscape seemed to swim before my eyes. I meant to kill the man now, and without mercy. I would be as unscrupulous as he. He would be in this place by the afternoon; I would wait for him outside the trail. My pistols——
Jacqueline was looking up into my face in terror. The sight of her recalled me to my senses. Leroux afterward—first my duty to her!
“Paul! What is the matter, Paul?” she cried. “I never saw you look like that before.”
I calmed myself and led her away, and presently we were standing before the fire again.
“Jacqueline,” I said, “it is easier to go on than to turn back now.”
She watched me like a lip-reader. “Yes, Paul; let us go on,” she answered.
So we went on. But our journey was to be very different now. There was no possibility of taking much baggage with us. We took a few things out of our suit-cases and disposed them about us as best they could.
The heavy sleeping-bags would have made our progress, encumbered as we were with our fur coats, too slow; but I had hopes that we would reach the trappers’ huts that afternoon, and so decided to discard them in favour of the fur-lined sleigh-rug, which would, at least, keep Jacqueline warm.
So we strapped on our snow-shoes, and I made a pack and put three days’ supplies of food in it and fastened it on my shoulders, securing it with two straps from the harness. I rolled the rug into a bundle and tied it below the pack; and thus equipped, we left the dead beasts and the useless sleigh behind us for Leroux’s satisfaction, and set out briskly upon our march.
It is a strange thing, but no sooner had I passed out of sight of the sleigh than, weighted though I was, I felt my spirits rising rapidly. The freedom of movement and the exhilarating air gave my mind a new sense of liberty, and Jacqueline, who had been watching me anxiously, seeing the gloom disappear from my face, tried, first to tempt me to mirth, and then to match me in it. Sometimes we would run a little way, and then we would fall back into our steady, ambling plod once more.
The cold was less intense, but, looking at the sky, which was heavily overcast, I knew that the rise in temperature betokened the advent of a heavy fall of snow, probably before night.
We were merrier than at any previous time, having by tacit agreement resolved to put our troubles behind us. Jacqueline laughed gaily at my clumsy attempts to avoid tripping myself upon my snow-shoes.
We stopped to look at the trees and the traces of deer-croppings upon the bark. Sometimes we took to the river-bed, and then again we paced among the trees, which were now becoming so sparsely scattered that the trail was hardly discernible. This caused me no concern, however, for I believed that when we reached the huts, we should be able to obtain certain information as to the remainder of our course.