She turned to the door. He held her.
“It is the smallpox,” he said, and his voice was dead.
“I know,” she panted. “The man over there—told me what the little flag means. And I’m glad—glad I came in time to go in to him—as he is. And you—you—must forgive!”
She snatched herself free from his grasp. The door opened. It closed behind her. A moment later he heard through the sapling door a strange cry—a woman’s cry—a man’s cry—and he turned and walked heavily back into the spruce forest.
“Why, you ornery little cuss,” said Falkner, pausing with a forkful of beans half way to his mouth. “Where in God A’mighty’s name did you come from?”
It was against all of Jim’s crude but honest ethics of the big wilderness to take the Lord’s name in vain, and the words he uttered were filled more with the softness of a prayer than the harshness of profanity. He was big, and his hands were hard and knotted, and his face was covered with a coarse red scrub of beard. But his hair was blond, and his eyes were blue, and just now they were filled with unbounded amazement. Slowly the fork loaded with beans descended to his plate, and he said again, barely above a whisper:
“Where in God A’mighty’s name did you come from?”
There was nothing human in the one room of his wilderness cabin to speak of. At the first glance there was nothing alive in the room, with the exception of Jim Falkner himself. There was not even a dog, for Jim had lost his one dog weeks before. And yet he spoke, and his eyes glistened, and for a full minute after that he sat as motionless as a rock. Then something moved—at the farther end of the rough board table. It was a mouse—a soft, brown, bright-eyed little mouse, not as large as his thumb. It was not like the mice Jim had been accustomed to see in the North woods, the larger, sharp-nosed, rat-like creatures which sprung his traps now and then, and he gave a sort of gasp through his beard.
“I’m as crazy as a loon if it isn’t a sure-enough down-home mouse, just like we used to catch in the kitchen down in Ohio,” he told himself. And for the third time he asked. “Now where in God A’mighty’s name did you come from?”
The mouse made no answer. It had humped itself up into a little ball, and was eyeing Jim with the keenest of suspicion.
“You’re a thousand miles from home, old man,” Falkner addressed it, still without a movement. “You’re a clean thousand miles straight north of the kind o’ civilization you was born in, and I want to know how you got here. By George—is it possible—you got mixed up in that box of stuff she sent up? Did you come from her?”
He made a sudden movement, as if he expected an answer, and in a flash the mouse had scurried off the table and had disappeared under his bunk.