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   Chapter 33 No.33

The Everlasting Whisper By Jackson Gregory Characters: 7205

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Mark King awakened to a sensation of piercing cold. In his weakened condition the chill struck deep, the pain of it sore in his wound. He moved a little to draw his blankets closer about him and, as an awaking impression, found that his strength, even though slowly, was surely returning to him. He was still terribly weak, but, thank God-and Gloria!-that hideous faintness in which he had been unable to stir hand or foot or to speak above a whisper had passed. He filled his lungs with a deep and grateful breath of satisfaction. In a day or two he would be able to carry on again, to do his part.

He turned his head, lifting it a trifle; already he had thought of Gloria, and now he sought her. The fire had burned down to a handful of glowing coals; Gloria, then, must be asleep. For that, too, he was grateful. He had but faint remembrance and dim knowledge of what tasks must have fallen to her lot, but his mind, active from the moment his eyes flew open, was quick to understand that the burdens had fallen upon her shoulders and that she must have been in dire need of rest and sleep.

He could not see her anywhere; no doubt she lay in the shadowy dark beyond the dying fire. He lay back, staring up into the gloom above him. It was thinning; day was coming or had come already. A day with sunshine! They could go out on the crust by the time that he was able to be about--

Then he remembered the blankets! Last night he had had all of them, Gloria's as well as his own. He had wanted to make her take her covers and she had put him off, and he had gone to sleep, forgetting! He stirred again, hastily, his hands groping, even his feet moving. He had them yet, his and hers. And she had slept through the cold night with no covering while he, never waking until now, had lain warm and comfortable. He struggled to turn on his side and got himself raised a little despite the pain from the exertion, seeking her. She must be frozen--

Gloria was not in the cave. He sank back, sure of that. For she should be sleeping close by the fire. Then she had gone down again for wood. He frowned and lay staring upward again. Gloria bringing wood while he lay here like a confounded log. He grew nervously restive at the thought; it was unthinkable that she should do work like that. He saw her in his mind, struggling with the unaccustomed labour. And always he saw her as he had first seen her, a fragile-looking girl, a girl with sweet little hands as soft as rose petals. He remembered her as he had seen her that first day, a vision of loveliness in her fluffy pink dress, her skin like the skin of a baby, her eyes the soft, tender grey eyes of the girl to whom he had given his heart without reservation. The glorious Gloria, all slender delicacy, like a little mountain flower, the Gloria for whom it had been his duty and his high privilege to labour. He must fight to get his strength back, to get on his feet again, to save her from such toil as was no woman's work in the world, certainly never the work for a girl like Gloria.

He heard a sound at the cave's mouth. Gloria was coming back. He found no words with which to greet her, but lay very still, waiting for her to come in. An emotion of which he was ashamed and yet which was infinitely sweet swept over him: it was so wonderful a thing to have Gloria come to him, nurse him, put her hand so tenderly on his. A thrill shot down his faintly stirring pulses as already he fancied her stealing softly to his side. So he waited and, when she came where he could at last see her, watched.

She set her gun down; at first h

e wondered at that. Poor little Gloria, he thought; taking her rifle with her when she went down for wood, frightened and yet strong-hearted enough to go in spite of fear. She came on, not to him but to the smouldering coals. She had turned toward him, but, no doubt, thought him still asleep. He watched her, still knowing that presently she would come, awaiting her coming. And again he was perplexed; he did not understand why Gloria walked like that. He had never seen her walk so before; she had always been so light of foot, so graceful-so like a fairy creature, scarcely touching the ground. Now her feet dragged; she groped uncertainly; she was like one gone suddenly dizzy.

She dropped down by the coals, her face in her hands. The light was bad; he could hardly see her now. He heard a sigh that ended in a sob. She rose, oh, so wearily. He saw her sway as she walked; she was throwing wood on the fire. It caught; a flame flared out; other flames followed with their merry crackling and leaping lights. And now he saw Gloria's face. It was drawn and haggard; it had been washed with tears; her eyes looked enormous and unnaturally bright. He saw her hair; it was in wild disarray, a tumble of disorder. He saw that she had sacks wrapped about her lagging feet; that her clothes were torn, that her sleeves were ragged, that her arms were covered with long scratches! His first thought, making his body tense with anger, was that he had not come in time to save her from Brodie's hands….

What was Gloria doing? Struggling with something on her back. Something which was tied across her shoulders. She got it free; it fell close to the fire, played over by the light of the flames. He craned his neck and saw; it was a great chunk of bear meat-he could see bits of the hide still on it!

He could not understand. Not yet. All that he could do was stare at her and wonder and grope confusedly for the explanation. It was clear that something was wrong with Gloria; she dropped down by the fire, she slumped forward, she lay her face upon her crossed arms. He could see the frail body shaking-he could hear her sudden wild sobbing.

The truth came upon him at last, dawning slowly, slowly.

"Gloria!" It was a gasp of more than amazement; consternation was in his heart. "Gloria!"

She lifted her head and sat up. He saw her great wide-open eyes and the tears gushing from them. She fought to control herself, a sob in her throat. She rose and came toward him in strange, wildly uncertain steps.

"Gloria! You--"

"Sh, Mark; you mustn't--"

But he couldn't lie still. He lifted himself upon his elbow and looked at her with wondering eyes. She stood over him, looking on the verge of collapse. Slowly she came down to him, half kneeling, half falling.

"My God," he cried hoarsely. "You went for my bear? You did it."

She tried to smile at him, and into his own eyes there broke a sudden gush of tears.

"You wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Gloria!" he cried out. "There is no girl in all the world could have done that-there is no girl like you."

Her hand was questing his; he caught it and gripped it with all the strength in him; he hurt her, and at last, with the pain, her smile broke through.

"Gloria--"

"Mark?"

"Can you-not so soon, but some day-forgive me?"

She found only a faint whisper with which to answer him; her eyes were as hungry as his.

"Can you forgive, Mark?"

And now, when their eyes clung together as their hands were already clinging, each was marvelling that the other could forgive and love one who had erred so.

THE END

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