“There’s a little gun-file in the pocket the match came from,” he said. “I had it mending a trapchain. You can scratch the match on that.”
He turned so that Brokaw could reach into the pocket, and the man hunter thrust in his hand. When he brought it forth he held the file. There was a smile on Billy’s frostbitten face as he held the picture for a moment under Brokaw’s eyes. Billy’s own hands had ruffled up the girl’s shining curls an instant before the picture was taken, and she was laughing at him when the camera clicked.
“It’s all up to her, Brokaw,” Billy said gently. “I told you that last night. It was she who woke me up before the fire got us. If you ever prayed—pray a little now. For she’s going to strike that match!”
He still looked at the picture as Brokaw knelt beside the pile he had made. He heard the scratch of the match on the file, but his eyes did not turn. The living, breathing face of the most beautiful thing in the world was speaking to him from out of that picture. His mind was dazed. He swayed a little. He heard a voice, low and sweet, and so distant that it came to him like the faintest whisper. “I am coming—I am coming, Billy—coming—coming—coming—” A joyous cry surged up from his soul, but it died on his lips in a strange gasp. A louder cry brought him back to himself for a moment. It was from Brokaw. The sergeant’s face was terrible to behold. He rose to his feet, swaying, his hands clutched at his breast. His voice was thick—hopeless.
“The match—went—out—” He staggered up to Billy, his eyes like a madman’s. Billy swayed dizzily. He laughed, even as he crumpled down in the snow. As if in a dream he saw Brokaw stagger off on the frozen trail. He saw him disappear in his hopeless effort to reach the Indian’s shack. And then a strange darkness closed him in, and in that darkness he heard still the sweet voice of his wife. It spoke his name again and again, and it urged him to wake up—wake up—wake up! It seemed a long time before he could respond to it. But at last he opened his eyes. He dragged himself to his knees, and looked first to find Brokaw. But the man hunter had gone—forever. The picture was still in his hand. Less distinctly than before he saw the girl smiling at him. And then—at his back—he heard a strange and new sound. With an effort he turned to discover what it was.
The match had hidden an unseen spark from Brokaw’s eyes. From out of the pile of fuel was rising a pillar of smoke and flame.
“It ees not so much—What you call heem?—leegend, thees honor of the Beeg Snows!” said Jan softly.
He had risen to his feet and gazed placidly over the crackling box-stove into the eyes of the red-faced Englishman.
“Leegend is lie! Thees is truth!”