Chapter VI

Napoleon might have marched back from Moscow with undecimated legions safely enough, if the heart of those legions had not been crushed. The White Guard, with their faces turned homeward, and the man they had sought for in their care, seemed to have acquired new strength. Through days of dreadful cold, through nights of appalling fierceness, through storm upon the plains that made for them paralysing coverlets, they marched. And if Lepage did not grow stronger, life at least was kept in him.

There was little speech among them, but once in a while Gaspe Toujours sang snatches of the songs of the voyageurs of the great rivers; and the hearts of all were strong. Between Bouche and his master there was occasional demonstration. On the twentieth day homeward, Hume said with his hand on the dog's head "It had to be done, Bouche; even a dog could see that."

And so it was "all right" for the White Guard. One day when the sun was warmer than usual over Fort Providence, and just sixty-five days since that cheer had gone up from apprehensive hearts for brave men going out into the Barren Grounds, Sergeant Gosse, who, every day, and of late many times a day, had swept the north-east with a field-glass, rushed into the chief-factor's office, and with a broken voice cried: "They've all come! They've come!" Then he leaned his arm and head against the wall and sobbed. And the old factor rose from his chair tremblingly, and said his thank-god, and went hurriedly into the square. He did not go steadily, however, the joyous news had shaken him, sturdy old pioneer as he was. A fringe of white had grown about his temples in the last two months. The people of the fort had said they had never seen him so irascible, yet so gentle; so uneasy, yet so reserved; so stern about the mouth, yet so kind about the eyes as he had been since Hume had gone on this desperate errand.

Already the handful of people at the fort had gathered. Indians left the store, and joined the rest; the factor and Sergeant Gosse set out to meet the little army of relief. To the factor's "In the name of the Hudson's Bay Company, Mr. Hume," when they met there came "By the help of God, sir," and he pointed to the sled whereon Lepage lay. A feeble hand was clasped in the burly hand of the factor, and then they all fell into line again, Cloud-in-the-Sky running ahead of the dogs. Snow had fallen on them, and as they entered the stockade, men and dogs were white from head to foot.

The White Guard had come back. Jaspar Hume as simply acknowledged his strident welcome as he had done the God-speed two months and more ago. With the factor he bore the sick man in, and laid him on his own bed. Then he came outside again, and when they cheered him once more, he said: "We have come safe through, and I'm thankful. But remember that my comrades in this march deserve your cheers more than I. Without them I couldn't have done anything."

"In our infirmities and in all our dangers and necessities," added Jeff Hyde. "The luck of the world was in that book!"

In another half-hour the White Guard was at ease, and four of them were gathered about the great stove in the store, Cloud-in-the-Sky smoking placidly, and full of guttural emphasis; Late Carscallen moving his animal-like jaws with a sense of satisfaction; Gaspe Toujours talking in Chinook to the Indians, in patois to the French clerk, and in broken English to them all; and Jeff Hyde exclaiming on the wonders of the march, the finding of Lepage at Manitou Mountain, and of himself and Gaspe Toujours buried in the snow.