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The Hunted Woman

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It was all new—most of it singularly dramatic and even appalling to the woman who sat with the pearl-gray veil drawn closely about her face. For eighteen hours she had been a keenly attentive, wide-eyed, and partly frightened bit of humanity in this onrush of "the horde." She had heard a voice behind her speak of it as "the horde"—a deep, thick, gruff voice which she knew without looking had filtered its way through a beard. She agreed with the voice. It was the Horde—that horde which has always beaten the trails ahead for civilization and made of its own flesh and blood the foundation of nations. For months it had been pouring steadily into the mountains—always in and never out, a laughing, shouting, singing, blaspheming Horde, every ounce of it toughened sinew and red brawn, except the Straying Angels. One of these sat opposite her, a dark-eyed girl with over-red lips and hollowed cheeks, and she heard the bearded man say something to his companions about "dizzy dolls" and "the little angel in the other seat." This same voice, gruffened in its beard, had told her that ten thousand of the Horde had gone up ahead of them. Then it whispered something that made her hands suddenly tighten and a hot flush sweep through her. She lifted her veil and rose slowly from her seat, as if to rearrange her dress. Casually she looked straight into the faces of the bearded man and his companion in the seat behind. They stared. After that she heard nothing more of the Straying Angels, but only a wildly mysterious confabulation about "rock hogs," and "coyotes" that blew up whole mountains, and a hundred and one things about the "rail end." She learned that it was taking five hundred steers a week to feed the Horde that lay along the Grand Trunk Pacific between Hogan's Camp and the sea, and that there were two thousand souls at Tête Jaune Cache, which until a few months before had slumbered in a century-old quiet broken only by the Indian and his trade. Then the train stopped in its twisting trail, and the bearded man and his companion left the car. As they passed her they glanced down. Again the veil was drawn close. A shimmering tress of hair had escaped its bondage; that was all they saw.

The veiled woman drew a deeper breath when they were gone. She saw that most of the others were getting off. In her end of the car the hollow-cheeked girl and she were alone. Even in their aloneness these two women had not dared to speak until now. The one raised her veil again, and their eyes met across the aisle. For a moment the big, dark, sick-looking eyes of the "angel" stared. Like the bearded man and his companion, she, too, understood, and an embarrassed flush added to the colour of the rouge on her cheeks. The eyes that looked across at her were blue—deep, quiet, beautiful. The lifted veil had disclosed to her a face that she could not associate with the Horde. The lips smiled at her—the wonderful eyes softened with a look of understanding, and then the veil was lowered again....