Delirium





It is not the people that have led still and uneventful lives who are

best prepared for emergencies. They are not trained to face crises, to

make prompt and just decisions. Joan had made but two such resolutions

in her life; the first when she had followed Pierre, the second when

she had kept Holliwell's books in defiance of her husband's jealousy.

The leaving her father had been the result of long and painful

thought. Now, in a few hours, events had crashed about her so that her

whole life, outer and inner, had been shattered. Beyond the pain and

fever of her wound there was an utter confusion of her faculties.

Before she fainted she had, indeed, made a distinct resolve to leave

Pierre. It was this purpose, working subconsciously on her will, as

much as the urgent pressure of the stranger, that took her past

Pierre's body out into the dawn and sent her on that rash journey of

hers in the footsteps of an unknown man. This being seemed to her then

hardly human. Mysteriously he had stepped in out of the night,

mysteriously he had condemned Pierre, and in self-defense, for Joan

had seen Pierre draw his gun and fire, he had killed her husband. Now,

just as mysteriously, as inevitably it seemed to her, he took command

of her life. She was a passive, shipwrecked thing--a derelict. She had

little thought and no care for her life.



As the silent day slowly brightened through its glare of clouds, she

plodded on, setting her snowshoes in the tracks her leader made. The

pain in her shoulder steadily increased, more and more absorbed her

consciousness. She saw little but the lean, resolute figure that went

before her, turning back now and then with a look and a smile that

were a compelling mixture of encouragement, pity, and command. She did

not know that they were traveling north and west toward the wildest

and most desolate country, that every time she set down her foot she

set it down farther from humanity. She began soon to be a little

light-headed and thought that she was following Pierre.



At noon they entered the woods, and her guide came beside her and led

her through fallen timber and past pitfalls of soft snow. Suddenly, "I

can't go no more," she sobbed, and stopped, swaying. At that he took

her in his arms and carried her a few hundred feet till they entered a

cabin under the shelter of firs.



"It's the ranger-station," said he; "the ranger told me that I could

make use of it on my way back. We can pass the night here."



Joan knew that he had carried her across a strange room and put her on

a strange bed. He took off her snowshoes, and she lay watching him

light a fire in the cold, clean stove and cook a meal from supplies

left by the owner of the house. She was trying now to remember who he

was, what had happened, and why she was in such misery and pain.

Sometimes she knew that he was her father and that she was at home in

that wretched shack up Lone River, and an ineffable satisfaction would

relax her cramped mind; sometimes, just as clearly, she knew that he

was Pierre who had taken her away to some strange place, and, in this

certainty, she was even more content. But always the horrible flame on

her shoulder burnt her again to the confusion of half-consciousness.

He wasn't John Carver, he wasn't Pierre. Who, in God's name, was he?

And why was she here alone with him? She could not frame a question;

she had a fear that, if she began to speak, she would scream and rave,

would tell impossible, secret, sacred things. So she held herself to

silence, to a savage watchfulness, to a battle with delirium.



The man brought her a cup of strong coffee and held up her head so

that she could drink it, but it nauseated her and she thrust it weakly

away, asking for cold water. After she had drunk this, her mind

cleared for an instant and she tried to stand up.



"I must go back to Pierre now," she said, looking about with wild but

resolute eyes.



"Lie still," said the stranger gently. "You're not fit to stir. Trust

me. It's all right. You're quite safe. Get rested and well, then you

may go wherever you like. I want only to help you."



The reassuring tone, the promising words coerced her and she dropped

back. Presently, in spite of pain, she slept.



She woke and slept in fever for many hours, vaguely aware, at times,

that she was traveling. She felt the motion of a sled under her and

knew that she was lying on the warm hide of some freshly killed beast

and that a blanket and a canvas covering protected her from a swirl of

snow. Then she thought she heard a voice babbling queerly and saw a

face quite terribly different from other human faces. The covering was

taken from her, snowflakes touched her cheek, a lantern shone in her

eyes, and she was lifted and carried into a warm, pleasant-smelling

place from which were magically and completely banished all sound and

bitterness of storm. She tried to see where she was, but her eyes

looked on incredible colors and confusions, so she shut them and

passively allowed herself to be handled by deft hands. She knew only

that delicious coolness, cleanliness, and softness were given to her

body, that the pain in her shoulder was soothed, that dreamlessly she

slept.





Deep Water Deputies All facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback