Ridgar’s eyes, as he had seen them in the dimness of the outskirts of that massed circle, brought back the lost period of time and all that had passed therein.
He stared wildly at him, and then around the firelit room.
“Ah!” said Ridgar softly, getting slowly to his feet with a smile at once tender and exaggeratedly calm. “You have awakened, have you; eh, lad? Would you sleep the whole night away as well as the day?”
He came to the bed and took McElroy’s hand tenderly in his, while he gave Rette a warning glance.
McElroy tried to rise, but only his head obeyed, lifting itself a bit from the pillow to fall helplessly back.
He looked up at Ridgar with a look that cut that good man’s heart, so full was it of wild entreaty and piteous grief.
“Maren?” whispered the weak lips. “Maren,—where—?” And they, too, failed him.”
“Safe,” said Ridgar gently; “all is well. We are at De Seviere and there is no need to think. Do you drink a sip of Rette’s good broth and sleep again.”
With a sigh of ineffable relief the sick man obeyed like a child, falling back into the shadows, though this time they were the blessed shades of the Vale of Healing Rest.
Rette in a corner was wiping her eyes and saying, over and over, a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance from death.
With infinite tact Ridgar kept him quiet, promising the tale of what had happened, and, when the flow of returning life could no longer be stemmed, he set himself the task of telling what he knew of those swift days.
It was again night, though a week of nights had passed since that on which the factor had awakened to consciousness, and Ridgar had dismissed Rette.
There was only the roar of the wind without, the whistle of the fire, and the two men alone in the room as they had been many a winter’s night.
“Now,—where shall I begin?” said the chief trader, gazing into the fire. “At what point?”
“Maren,” said McElroy eagerly, from the bed; “begin with her.”
Ridgar shook his head.
“Nay, it goes farther back. Let it begin with the leaving of De Seviere and the coldness of my bearing to you.... Did you never think, lad, that it was but a blind, covering the determination to help you at the first opportunity? Thought you the friendship of years so poor a thing as to be turned in a day? Day by day my heart ached for some word with you, or even a glance that would make all straight; but those painted devils watched my every move, my every look, the very intaking of my breath, as the coyote watches the gopher-hole when the badger is below. Only for sake of the dead chief at my feet was I given such seemingly free leave among them,—for myself, I had been shipped as were poor De Courtenay’s Nor’westers at Wenusk Creek. And now is the time when I must go farther back and tell you of the good chief who was my father, indeed, at heart.”