“Oui, Monsieur,” said Jaquis.
“Very well, then; remember—skin for skin.”
Now to the Belle, watching from her shelter in the darkness, there was something splendid in this. To hear her praises sung by the Siwash, then to have the fair god, who had heard that story, champion her, to take the place of her protector, was all new to her. “Ah, good God,” she sighed; “it is better, a thousand times better, to love and lose him than to waste one’s life, never knowing this sweet agony.”
She felt in a vague way that she was soaring above the world and its woes. At times, in the wild tumult of her tempestuous soul, she seemed to be borne beyond it all, through beautiful worlds. Love, for her, had taken on great white wings, and as he wafted her out of the wilderness and into her heaven, his talons tore into her heart and hurt like hell, yet she could rejoice because of the exquisite pleasure that surpassed the pain.
“Sweet We-sec-e-gea,” she sighed, “good god of my dead, I thank thee for the gift of this great love that stays the steel when my aching heart yearns for it. I shall not destroy myself and distress him, disturbing him in his great work, whatever it is; but live—live and love him, even though he send me away.”
She kissed the burnished blade and returned it to her belt.
When Jaquis, circling the camp, failed to find her, he guessed that she was gone, and hurried after her along the dim, starlit trail. When he had overtaken her, they walked on together. Jaquis tried now to renew his acquaintance with the handsome Cree and to make love to her. She heard him in absolute silence. Finally, as they were nearing the Cree camp, he taunted her with having been rejected by the white man.
“And my shame is yours,” said she softly. “I love him; he sends me away. You love me; I send you from me—it is the same.”
Jaquis, quieted by this simple statement, said good-night and returned to the tents, where the pathfinders were sleeping peacefully under the stars.
And over in the Cree camp the Belle of Athabasca, upon her bed of boughs, slept the sleep of the innocent, dreaming sweet dreams of her fair god, and through them ran a low, weird song of love, and in her dream Love came down like a beautiful bird and bore her out of this life and its littleness, and though his talons tore at her heart and hurt, yet was she happy because of the exquisite pleasure that surpassed all pain.
It was summer when my friend Smith, whose real name is Jones, heard that the new transcontinental line would build by the way of Peace River Pass to the Pacific. He immediately applied, counting something, no doubt, on his ten years of field work in Washington, Oregon, and other western states, and five years pathfinding in Canada.
The summer died; the hills and rills and the rivers slept, but while they slept word came to my friend Smith the Silent, and he hurriedly packed his sleds and set out.