The Blazed Trail by Stewart Edward White
Part V: The Following of the Trail
Thorpe walked through the silent group of men without seeing them. He had no thought for what he had done, but for the triumphant discovery he had made in spite of himself. This he saw at once as something to glory in and as a duty to be fulfilled.
It was then about six o'clock in the morning. Thorpe passed the boarding-house, the store, and the office, to take himself as far as the little open shed that served the primitive town as a railway station. There he set the semaphore to flag the east-bound train from Duluth. At six thirty-two, the train happening on time, he climbed aboard. He dropped heavily into a seat and stared straight in front of him until the conductor had spoken to him twice.
"Where to, Mr. Thorpe?" he asked.
The latter gazed at him uncomprehendingly.
"Oh! Mackinaw City," he replied at last.
"How're things going up your way?" inquired the conductor by way of conversation while he made out the pay-slip.
"Good!" responded Thorpe mechanically.
The act of paying for his fare brought to his consciousness that he had but a little over ten dollars with him. He thrust the change back into his pocket, and took up his contemplation of nothing. The river water dripped slowly from his "cork" boots to form a pool on the car floor. The heavy wool of his short driving trousers steamed in the car's warmth. His shoulders dried in a little cloud of vapor. He noticed none of these things, but stared ahead, his gaze vacant, the bronze of his face set in the lines of a brown study, his strong capable hands hanging purposeless between his knees. The ride to Mackinaw City was six hours long, and the train in addition lost some ninety minutes; but in all this distance Thorpe never altered his pose nor his fixed attitude of attention to some inner voice.
The car-ferry finally landed them on the southern peninsula. Thorpe descended at Mackinaw City to find that the noon train had gone. He ate lunch at the hotel,--borrowed a hundred dollars from the agent of Louis Sands, a lumberman of his acquaintance; and seated himself rigidly in the little waiting room, there to remain until the nine- twenty that night. When the cars were backed down from the siding, he boarded the sleeper. In the doorway stood a disapproving colored porter.
"Yo'll fin' the smokin' cab up fo'wu'd, suh," said the latter, firmly barring the way.
"It's generally forward," answered Thorpe.
"This yeah's th' sleepah," protested the functionary. "You pays extry."
"I am aware of it," replied Thorpe curtly. "Give me a lower."
"Yessah!" acquiesced the darkey, giving way, but still in doubt. He followed Thorpe curiously, peering into the smoking room on him from time to time. A little after twelve his patience gave out. The stolid gloomy man of lower six seemed to intend sitting up all night.
Yo' berth is ready, sah," he delicately suggested.
Thorpe arose obediently, walked to lower six, and, without undressing, threw himself on the bed. Afterwards the porter, in conscientious discharge of his duty, looked diligently beneath the seat for boots to polish. Happening to glance up, after fruitless search he discovered the boots still adorning the feet of their owner.
"Well, for th' lands sake!" ejaculated the scandalized negro, beating a hasty retreat.
He was still more scandalized when, the following noon, his strange fare brushed by him without bestowing the expected tip.
Thorpe descended at Twelfth Street in Chicago without any very clear notion of where he was going. For a moment he faced the long park- like expanse of the lake front, then turned sharp to his left and picked his way south up the interminable reaches of Michigan Avenue. He did this without any conscious motive--mainly because the reaches seemed interminable, and he proved the need of walking. Block after block he clicked along, the caulks of his boots striking fire from the pavement. Some people stared at him a little curiously. Others merely glanced in his direction, attracted more by the expression of his face than the peculiarity of his dress. At that time rivermen were not an uncommon sight along the water front.
After an interval he seemed to have left the smoke and dirt behind. The street became quieter. Boarding-houses and tailors' shops ceased. Here and there appeared a bit of lawn, shrubbery, flowers. The residences established an uptown crescendo of magnificence. Policemen seemed trimmer, better-gloved. Occasionally he might have noticed in front of one of the sandstone piles, a besilvered pair champing before a stylish vehicle. By and by he came to himself to find that he was staring at the deep-carved lettering in a stone horse-block before a large dwelling.
His mind took the letters in one after the other, perceiving them plainly before it accorded them recognition. Finally he had completed the word "Farrad." He whirled sharp on his heel, mounted the broad white stone steps, and rang the bell.
It was answered almost immediately by a cleanshaven, portly and dignified man with the most impassive countenance in the world. This man looked upon Thorpe with lofty disapproval.
"Is Miss Hilda Farrand at home?" he asked.
"I cannot say," replied the man. "If you will step to the back door, I will ascertain."
"The flowers will do. Now see that the south room is ready, Annie," floated a voice from within.
Without a word, but with a deadly earnestness, Thorpe reached forward, seized the astonished servant by the collar, yanked him bodily outside the door, stepped inside, and strode across the hall toward a closed portiere whence had come the voice. The riverman's long spikes cut little triangular pieces from the hardwood floor. Thorpe did not notice that. He thrust aside the portiere.
Before him he saw a young and beautiful girl. She was seated, and her lap was filled with flowers. At his sudden apparition, her hands flew to her heart, and her lips slightly parted. For a second the two stood looking at each other, just as nearly a year before their eyes had crossed over the old pole trail.
To Thorpe the girl seemed more beautiful than ever. She exceeded even his retrospective dreams of her, for the dream had persistently retained something of the quality of idealism which made the vision unreal, while the woman before him had become human flesh and blood, adorable, to be desired. The red of this violent unexpected encounter rushed to her face, her bosom rose and fell in a fluttering catch for breath; but her eyes were steady and inquiring.
Then the butter pounced on Thorpe from behind with the intent to do great bodily harm.
"Morris!" commanded Hilda sharply, "what are you doing?"
The man cut short his heroism in confusion.
"You may go," concluded Hilda.
Thorpe stood straight and unwinking by the straight portiere. After a moment he spoke.
"I have come to tell you that you were right and I was wrong," said he steadily. "You told me there could be nothing better than love. In the pride of my strength I told you this was not so. I was wrong."
He stood for another instant, looking directly at her, then turned sharply, and head erect walked from the room.
Before he had reached the outer door the girl was at his side.
"Why are you going?" she asked.
"I have nothing more to say."
"Nothing at all."
She laughed happily to herself.
"But I have--much. Come back."
They returned to the little morning room, Thorpe's caulked boots gouging out the little triangular furrows in the hardwood floor. Neither noticed that. Morris, the butler, emerged from his hiding and held up the hands of horror.
"What are you going to do now?" she catechised, facing him in the middle of the room. A long tendril of her beautiful corn-silk hair fell across her eyes; her red lips parted in a faint wistful smile; beneath the draperies of her loose gown the pure slender lines of her figure leaned toward him.
"I am going back," he replied patiently.
"I knew you would come," said she. "I have been expecting you."
She raised one hand to brush back the tendril of hair, but it was a mechanical gesture, one that did not stir even the surface consciousness of the strange half-smiling, half-wistful, starry gaze with which she watched his face.
"Oh, Harry," she breathed, with a sudden flash of insight, "you are a man born to be much misunderstood."
He held himself rigid, but in his veins was creeping a molten fire, and the fire was beginning to glow dully in his eye. Her whole being called him. His heart leaped, his breath came fast, his eyes swam. With almost hypnotic fascination the idea obsessed him--to kiss her lips, to press the soft body of the young girl, to tumble her hair down about her flower face. He had not come for this. He tried to steady himself, and by an effort that left him weak he succeeded. Then a new flood of passion overcame him. In the later desire was nothing of the old humble adoration. It was elemental, real, almost a little savage. He wanted to seize her so fiercely as to hurt her. Something caught his throat, filled his lungs, weakened his knees. For a moment it seemed to him that he was going to faint.
And still she stood there before him, saying nothing, leaning slightly towards him, her red lips half parted, her eyes fixed almost wistfully on his face.
"Go away!" he whispered hoarsely at last. The voice was not his own. "Go away! Go away!"
Suddenly she swayed to him.
"Oh, Harry, Harry," she whispered, "must I tell you? Don't you see?"
The flood broke through him. He seized her hungrily. He crushed her to him until she gasped; he pressed his lips against hers until she all but cried out with the pain of it, he ran his great brown hands blindly through her hair until it came down about them both in a cloud of spun light.
"Tell me!" he whispered. "Tell me!"
"Oh! Oh!" she cried. "Please! What is it?"
"I do not believe it," he murmured savagely.
She drew herself from him with gentle dignity.
"I am not worthy to say it," she said soberly, "but I love you with all my heart and soul!"
Then for the first and only time in his life Thorpe fell to weeping, while she, understanding, stood by and comforted him.