Chapter Twenty-One
 

Some time during the night May-may-gwan rejoined them. Sam was awakened by the demonstration of the dogs, at first hostile, then friendly with recognition. He leaped to his feet, startled at the apparition of a human figure. Dick sat up alert at once. The fire had almost died, but between the glow of its embers and the light of the aurora sifted through the trees they made her out.

"Oh, for God's sake!" snarled Dick, and lay back again in his blankets, but in a moment resumed his sitting position. "She made her choice," he proffered vehemently, "make her stick to it! Make her stick to it. She can't change her mind every other second like this, and we don't need her!"

But Sam, piling dry wood on the fire, looked in her face.

"Shut up, Dick," he commanded sharply. "Something in this."

The young man stared at his companion an enigmatical instant, hesitating as to his reply.

"Oh, all right," he replied at last with ostentatious indifference. "I don't give a damn. Don't sit up too late with the young lady. Good night!" He disappeared beneath his coverings, plainly disgruntled, as, for a greater or less period of time, he always was when even the least of his plans or points of view required readjustment.

Sam boiled tea, roasted a caribou steak, knelt and removed the girl's damp foot-gear and replaced it with fresh. Then he held the cup to her lips, cut the tough meat for her with his hunting-knife, even fed her as though she were a child. He piled more wood on the fire, he wrapped about her shoulders one of the blankets with the hare-skin lining. Finally, when nothing more remained to be done, he lit his pipe and squatted on his heels close to her, lending her mood the sympathy of human silence.

She drank the tea, swallowed the food, permitted the change of her foot-gear, bent her shoulders to the blanket, all without the appearance of consciousness. The corners of her lips were bent firmly downward. Her eyes, fixed and exalted, gazed beyond the fire, beyond the dancing shadows, beyond the world. After a long interval she began to speak, low-voiced, in short disconnected sentences.

"My brothers seek the Ojibway, Jingoss. They will take him to Conjuror's House. But Jingoss knows that my brothers come. He has been told by Ah-tek. He leaves the next sun. He is to travel to the west, to Peace River. Now his camp is five hours to the north. I know where it is. Jingoss has three dogs. He has much meat. He has no gun but the trade-gun. I have learned this. I come to tell it to my brothers."

"Why, May-may-gwan?" inquired Sam, gently.

She turned on him a look of pride.

"Have you thought I had left you for him?" she asked. "I have learned these things."

Sam uttered an exclamation of dismay.

"What?" she queried with a slow surprise.

"But he, the Chippewa," Sam pointed out, "now he knows of our presence. He will aid Jingoss; he will warn him afresh to-night!"

May-may-gwan was again rapt in sad but ex alted contemplation of something beyond. She answered merely by a contemptuous gesture.

"But--" insisted Sam.

"I know," she replied, with conviction.

Sam, troubled he knew not why, leaned forward to arrange the fire.

"How do you know, Little Sister?" he inquired, after some hesitation.

She answered by another weary gesture. Again Sam hesitated.

"Little Sister," said he, at last, "I am an old man. I have seen many years pass. They have left me some wisdom. They have made my heart good to those who are in trouble. If it was not to return to your own people, then why did you go with Ah-tek this morning?"

"That I might know what my brothers wished to know."

"And you think he told you all these things truly?" doubted Sam.

She looked directly at him.

"Little Father," said she slowly, "long has this man wanted me to live in his wigwam. For that he joined Haukemah's band;--because I was there. I have been good in his eyes. Never have I given him favour. My favour always would unlock his heart."

"But are you sure he spoke truth," objected Sam. "You have never looked kindly on him. You left Haukemah's band to go with us. How could he trust you?"

She looked at him bravely.

"Little Father," she replied, "there is a moment when man and woman trust utterly, and when they say truly what lies in their hearts."

"Good God!" cried Sam, in English.

"It was the only way," she answered the spirit of his interjection. "I had known before only his forked tongue."

"Why did you do this, girl? You had no right, no reason. You should have consulted us."

"Little Father," said she, "the people of your race are a strange people. I do not understand them. An evil is done them, and they pass it by; a good is done them, and they do not remember. With us it is different. Always in our hearts dwell the good and the evil."

"What good have we done to you?" asked Sam.

"Jibiwanisi has looked into my heart," she replied, lapsing into the Indian rhetoric of deep emotion. "He has looked into my heart, and in the doorway he blots out the world. At the first I wanted to die when he would not look on me with favour. Then I wanted to die when I thought I should never possess him. Now it is enough that I am near him, that I lay his fire, and cook his tea and caribou, that I follow his trail, that I am ready when he needs me, that I can raise my eyes and see him breaking the trail. For when I look up at him the sun breaks out, and the snow shines, and there is a light under the trees. And when I think of raising my eyes, and he not there, nor anywhere near, then my heart freezes, Little Father, freezes with loneliness."

Abruptly she arose, casting aside the blanket and stretching her arms rigid above her head. Then with equal abruptness she stooped, caught up her bedding, spread it out, and lay down stolidly to rest, turning her back to both the white men.

But Sam remained crouched by the fire until the morning hour of waking, staring with troubled eyes.