There were five of them, and they had not been occupied for at least two seasons, for the blackened timbers were falling apart, and the roofs had been torn off all but one of them, no doubt for fuel. The wind was whirling the snow wildly around them, and it whistled through the broken, rotting walls.
I flung my pack inside the roofed one, and began tearing apart the timbers of another to make a fire.
Jacqueline stood looking at me in docile faith.
“I can go on,” she said quietly. “I can go on, Paul.”
I caught her hands in mine. “We shall stay here, Jacqueline,” I said.
She did not answer me, but, opening the pack, began the preparation of our meal, which consisted of some biscuits left from the night before, when we had made a quantity on the wood ashes. We made tea over the roaring flames, and sat listening to the wolf’s call and the wind that drove our fire in gusts of smoke and flame.
The wind grew fiercer. It was a hurricane. It drowned the wolf’s call; it almost silenced the sound of our own voices. Thank God that we had at least our shelter in that storm.
I scooped out a bed for Jacqueline inside the snow-filled hut and spread it with the big sleigh robe. She lay down in her fur coat, and I wrapped the ends around her. I looked into her sweet face and marvelled at its serenity. Her eyes closed wearily.
But, though I was as tired as she, I could not sleep. I crouched over the fire, pondering over the morrow’s acts.
Should I wait for Leroux and shoot him down like a dog if he molested us? Or should we hide among the hills and watch him pass by? But that would avail us nothing. If we went on we must encounter him, and the sooner the better.
This problem and a fiercer one filled my mind, for my soul was as storm-beset as the hut, whose planking shook under the gale’s force. I realized how incongruous my position was.
I had no status at all. I was accompanying a run-away wife back to her father’s home, perhaps to meet her husband there. And whether Leroux held me in his present power or not, inexorably I was heading for his own objective.
More madly now than ever I felt that fierce temptation. There she lay, the one woman who had ever seriously come into my life, sleeping so near to me that I could bend down and rest my hand on the inert form over which the snow drifted so steadily.
I brushed it away. I brooded over her. Why had I ever brought her on that journey? Would that I had kept her, with all her love and gentleness, for my delight.
If I had taken her to Jamaica, where I had planned to go, instead of engaging that mock-heroic odyssey—there, among palm trees, in an eternal spring, there would have been no need that she should remember.