Romance ever pursued D’Ancoup and Livarot. On this occasion, it brought in its train desperate hazards by fire, snow and water. But as Legrand said: “It is to become educated, to travel with the Circle of Blood ”
THE tang of coining winter was in the air; through hardwood trees, bare of leaves, a wind stirred over the Mont du Nord that moaned, regretfully, of summer gone. Two weeks before, those last two members of the Circle of Blood, Andre Livarot and Rene D’Ancoup, had come to their cabin at the northern end of Lac Kedjimkujik to take up winter quarters and hunt the mink, marten and fox over a world that would soon be snowwhite. They sat now in the waning afternoon upon the low verandah that faced the lake, smoking idly and recalling various episodes of their summer at Port Royal.
Suddenly D’Ancoup leaned intently forward. “Did you hear anything?”
“Only the wind, Rene. It moans like a sick woman. Soon there will be snow,”
“Listen! ... I heard it again. ’
A cry, faint yet frantic, rose above the complaining wind and the rustle of bare leaves. It came from the forest to the south, and, in an instant, the two coureurs were on their feet, hurrying around the narrow cove in which their canoe was drawn up and into the dense undergrowth. For a quarter of a mile they followed that cry, until Livarot, stopping short, grabbed his comrade’s arm and pointed. Directly ahead, a pitiful figure stumbled blindly towards them—clothes torn, eyes wild and haggard, crying deliriously—a young girl!
They hastened forward. She seemed hardly able to drag one foot after the other. Suddenly she caught sight of them; stopped; stood staring at them with bleak dilated eyes, and, when they were within a few yards of her, flung out her arms towards them and collapsed to the ground with a choking cry. Gathering her up they carried her back to the cabin; placed her on one of the bunks in the inner room; stood for a while beside it staring down at her, quite dazed by the suddenness of her unexpected entry into their peaceful afternoon.
“Sainted Lady,” breathed Livarot in an awe-struck whisper, “where did she come from? There is no settlement nearer than La Heve—and that is two days’ journey.”
“Poor thing! She must have lost her way.”
“But what can we do for her?”
“Nothing. She is sleeping. That is better than our medicine. Let us leave her!”
They tip-toed out of the room. A little later, as they sat over their supper, D’Ancoup smiling whimsically remarked: “Have you noticed, Andre, that romance
pursues us? Is she beautiful?’
“I did not notice.”
“Nor did I!”
They laughed softly, but sharply ceased to laugh when the girl in the other room moaned again in her sleep. The evening began to slip away, but the fair refugee did not waken, and in the end, with a wry grin at one another the two coureurs stretched themselves out on the cabin floor in front of the fire for the night.
THE sun streamed in through the window picking out her wan face, and she started suddenly up; stared wildly at the two coureurs; cried out in a hoarse voice that held the suspicion of a sob: “Where am I?”
“With friends, Mademoiselle,” Livarot assured her. ‘We found you wandering in the forest not far from our cabin and brought you here.”
“Who are you?” A glimmer of suspicion, of fear, lurked deep in her troubled eyes, as though life had taught her to question men well before yielding trust.
“Andre Livarot and Rene D’Ancoup, coureurs-desbois.”
“Coureurs-des-bois? You know Jacques Legrand?” she cried, sitting up excitedly.
“But certainly, Mademoiselle. He is of the brotherhood—and only ten days ago he passed here on his way to Port Royal.”
She gave a little gasp of relief and D’Ancoup, who all this time had been holding in his hands a steaming bowl of broth, stepped towards her. “Drink this, Mademoiselle,” he commanded her. “And then you may ask a thousand questions. Be careful! It is hot.”
She drank thirstily and, watching her, the coureurs realized for the first time her wild beauty. She was as brown as a berry; her hair the color of night; her eyes softly dark; her body slender and supple under the blankets. The Indian garb she wore, and the untamed quality in her bearing made them wonder if, perhaps, the fact of savage blood running in her veins might not account for her presence alone in the forest. Revived by the drink, she plunged at once into her story.
Her father, so she told them, had been one of the early settlers at La Heve but had died of scurvy when she was little more than an infant, and her mother had married for the second time the half-breed, Louis La Verdure of Petite Riviere. This La Verdure, after attempting, unsuccessfully, to work her father’s farm, had returned to his mother’s people at Petite Riviere and, in time, become chief of the Indian encampment there. His return to the savage life had brought about an unhappy change in his character and he began to treat his wife after the Indian fashion, and so cruelly, that she died a few years later.
Brought up by the squaws, the girl had not lived an altogether unhappy life, until the young braves of the encampment began to pester her with their attentions. These she had managed to hold off until that spring when—the color of moss roses came into her cheeks as she recited this—Jacques Legrand strayed into Petite Riviere at the end of his winter’s hunting. All summer he had lingered and when he left for Port Royal, two weeks before it had been arranged that they would be married on his return.
To this arrangement La Verdure, bribed by the gift of the coureur’s entire stock of furs, had given consent. But hardly had Legrand’s canoe disappeared out of sight of the encampment when trouble began.
One of the Indian braves, a cousin of her step-father’s, claimed her hand and since his claim was backed vociferously by the other Indians, La Verdure cynically had given in.
Vainly the girl protested; the native marriage rites proceeded, and, realizing the inevitability of her fate, she had stolen a canoe four days ago and set off towards La Rossignol with the intention of making her way to Port Royal. Mischance befell on the rapids of a small river leading into the great lake; her canoe was overturned, smashed beyond repair, and she had barely escaped drowning. She then set off, on foot, through the trackless forest and had been without food for two days when the coureurs found her.
“Oh, Messieurs,” she begged, "I pray you to take me to Port Royal without delay. My stepfather will surely track me here and take me back to that hideous place. I would sooner die than return.”
Livarot exclaimed, not without concern: “Of a surety we will do that, but are you strong enough to make such a journey after what you have gone through? Perhaps it would—”
“Messieurs, I am strong enough to make any journey that will take me away from my stepfather,” she interrupted, with a shudder that told its own tale.
“Very well, then, we shall leave at once, Mademoiselle.”
D’Ancoup, who had turned towards the window, uttered a low exclamation. Not a half mile away, a large war canoe manned by about ten paddlers was making for the cabin.
“Oh, my God, what shall I do?” cried the girl, trembling like a leaf.
The coureurs stared at one another dumbly for the moment. Suddenly D’Ancoup dashed out of the bedroom. They heard him dragging the table across the floor. Then came the sound of pounding, and his cry: “Bring Mademoiselle here, Andre!”
The girl sprang up and then hurried out. The coureur had removed one of the rough boards that formed a false ceiling to the roof of the other room. “We shall hide you in our poor heaven,” he informed her with a chuckle. “Come, there is not a moment to lose!”
Livarot swung her up to the table, where the other caught her and pushed her aloft. In another moment the board had been replaced and the coureurs went out to the verandah to await the coming of the Indians, who were, by now, close to the lake’s shore below.
FOLLOWED by his slim, figured braves, Louis La Verdure swaggered up from the beach. Although past fifty, he was still a splendid figure of a man; straight as a tree, big-thewed, thick-chested, with a great shaggy head. But his sinister face, with its thin-lipped mouth and slanting eyes that came close to the bridge of his hooked nose, betrayed, only too well, his Indian blood.
Greeting the coureurs with the scant courtesy he had of late years been wont to use to his father’s race, he peered rudely in through the cabin door; then turning sharply on the taller coureur enquired: “You are alone here, M’sieu?”
“We are,” Livarot replied coldly, nettled by the insolent manner.
“You have been here long?”
“You have seen no one about? No one has passed here on the way to Port Royal—yesterday—the day before?” “No one.”
“Huh! I will come in and smoke with you.”
Preceding his hosts into the cabin, La Verdure seated himself in their largest chair and, extracting a leathern pouch from his jerkin, began to fill his pipe. Having lit it, he eyed the two young men furtively for a moment, before announcing: “My daughter has run away. I follow her. The little fool has gone to Port Royal without my permission.” He laughed wickedly. “I shall lay the whip on her when I catch her, Messieurs, for she has stolen one of my best canoes and smashed it to pieces. The little slut! . . .You are sure she has not passed this way?” The close-set venomous eyes shot searchingly at the coureurs.
“Quite sure,” replied Livarot, his hands twitching, as though they irked to reach out for the half-breed’s throat.
“She has gone by the southern trail then.” La Verdure got to his feet and began to wander about the place. “You have a comfortable winter camp here,” he informed them from the door of the other room into which he was staring curiously. Suddenly he let out a bellow and plunged out of sight.
Glancing at one another the coureurs read the same answer in each other’s eyes; Livarot’s hand dropped to his knife hilt; D’Ancoup snatched up the axe he had used to pry open the ceiling.
La Verdure strode back into the room, his face dark with anger and more vulpine than ever. “Name of God,” he roared, “you have lied to me, you damned Frenchmen! You said my daughter was not here. What is this?”
He held out the leathern jacket they had removed from the girl the night before when they put her to bed. They had forgotten it!
Although the barest second lapsed before the coureurs sprang towards the half-breed, they had reckoned without the Indians, who had been watching their every movement from the doorway. These, when Livarot’s hand dropped to his knife, had crept silently into the room, and, when the coureurs sprang, they sprang also. In a moment the hapless young men were securely pinioned and the half-breed taunting them with his evil laugh:
“So you thought to trick me with your lies! You shall learn better. Tell me, where is my daughter?”
The coureurs shrugged, but made no other answer. Turning with a curse on his savages, La Verdure ordered a party of them to search the woods about. In the meantime, with two that remained, he tied the Frenchmen securely with thongs, and placed them against the cabin wall, after which he proceeded to make a more thorough search of the cabin. A half hour passed. The Indians returned one by one, from their fruitless search of the forest.
“She is gone, eh?” The half breed swung viciously on the two pinioned men. “Which way?” Receiving no reply, he strode towards them angrily and bellowed; “Name of God, I will drag the answer from you! Tell me! Which way did she go?”
The thin-lipped coureurs smiled contemptuously—at which he snatched a whip from his belt and swung it savagely across their faces. Twice he did that and without success. “Sacred death!” he roared finally flinging the whip away from him, “there is another way! As God’s my life your lips shall be opened!”
Swinging on the stolid Indians he bade them freshen the fire, into whose hot coals he plunged his long knife. The coureurs paled. Name of God, would this halfbreed dare to torture them? They glanced incredulously at one another. When the knife blade was red hot La Verdure snatched it from the fire and stepped towards them again.
“Will you answer, or must I sear the truth out of you?” “As you like,” Livarot replied quite calmly, “but I would advise you to think again before torturing us. We are not savages whom you may treat as you will, but Frenchmen. They will hear of this outrage in Port Royal, La Verdure, and the arm of France can reach farther than Petite Riviere.”
The half-breed laughed raucously. “And who will tell them, my little men?” he derided. “Can dead men speak to that arm of France which can reach farther than Petite Riviere? Bah! you fools, when I have dragged the truth from you, I will leave your carcases to rot. Who then will tell how you came to your death?”
“Perhaps these walls will speak when men come again to this cabin,” suggested D’Ancoup, his young eyes glittering with cool defiance. “Beware of these walls, you half-bred dog!”
“They will be as dead as you are!” bellowed the other savagely. “I shall burn the accursed place and your bones with it. Bah! this knife has chilled!”
Returning to the fire he thrust the dulled blade into the coals again. When he came back the evil glitter in his oblique eyes had become a hideous thing. Slowly he brought the glowing blade nearer D’Ancoup’s eyes. The coureur bore it until the heat seared so viciously he had to close his lids.
“You cowardly swine!” growled Livarot, almost beside himself because of the sufferings of his comrade.
“You shall feel it presently, my impudent pup!” laughed La Verdure, pressing the hot blade closer and closer to D’Ancoup’s face.
The coureur groaned from the agonizing pain; it seemed that vicious blade was searing his very brain. Another minute and he must either faint or go mad. Again a groan escaped him. Then a sharp cry from above:
“Stop! In God’s name!”
With an oath La Verdure turned. Some one was pounding on the boards above. That voice again: “Stop! I am here!”
“So, ’ laughed the half-breed evilly, “you tried to hide her away!” Seizing the axe, he leaped to the top of the table and pried loose one of the roof boards. “Come here, you little thief!” he cried.
A leg appeared. Seizing it, he dragged the girl roughly down and flung her to the floor. Leaping down beside her, as she was rising to her feet, he gave her a savage cuff across the head that sent her sprawling into the band of silent Indians.
“Wait until I get you home,” he roared at her. “You’ll learn the touch of a whip!”
To the Indians he cried: “Tie those two fools across the table! Make haste!”
Continued on page il
The savages fell upon the coureurs and dragging them over to the heavy table laid them across its top and bound them securely face down.
La Verdure busied himself drawing the hot coals from the fireplace out onto the boarded floor of the cabin. The girl stood watching him in dull misery until, realizing, suddenly, his intention, she dashed towards him and fell on her knees.
“No! No!” she implored him. “Torture me if you will! They are not to blame!” He pushed her away with a hoarse laugh. “Have no fear! I will torture you when the time comes. But they also must pay the price of insolence to Louis La Verdure. Come! Away from here!”
Seizing the now sobbing girl by the arm, he dragged her out of the cabin. The Indians followed him. In a little the war canoe was speeding across the lake.
In the complaint of the wind that moaned about the lonely cabin was the promise of snow. The trees creaked as though in pain. A faint wisp of smoke drifted out from the open door . . .
FROM the hot coals that the halfbreed had dragged out to the floor, a little flame would dart along the edge of a board and then die. Then another little flame would dart and die. Trussed over that heavy oak table the two coureurs watched, with alternate hope and fear, and there was a space of about two minutes when it seemed the fire had gone out. Livarot was on the point of gasping out triumphantly when a sudden gust of wind from the open doorway fanned it into flame again. This time the licking tongues darted hungrily along already charred edges. The room filled slowly with smoke. The circle of flame began to extend in every direction.
A dozen times the coureurs strained at the leather thongs that bound them. “A murrain on those Indians! They have tied us with devilish skill. Ugh!” D’Ancoup oegan to cough and splutter because of the smoke he had breathed.
The flames were spreading with an ever increasing speed. Presently the expanding circle reached the wall by the* fireplace, began to lick venomously up to its barked surface. The smoke grew thicker. The coureurs could hardly draw a breath now without going into a paroxysm of coughing.
“Name of God!” cried Livarot desperately, as a wave of heat swept towards them. “I will not die like a dog without making some effort! Let us try by teetering to overturn the table, Rene. There is a draft near the floor and we will be able to breath easier.”
Realizing that it mattered little what they did, D’Ancoup assented with a grunt. They began to teeter the heavy table. At a shout from Livarot they swung it oyer backwards towards the door, wellnigh had the wind crashed out of them as it pinioned them to the floor. There they lay—they could breath easier it was true and were a few feet nearer the open door— the flames licking ever closer along the floor. They made three or four more vain efforts to loose their bonds, all of which ended in paroxysms of coughing.
The smoke grew thicker. The flames began to lick about their feet. D’Ancoup turned a smoke darkened face towards his comrade; a twisted smile hovered across it ruefully, “The Circle passes, Andre . . . Adieu—old comrade.”
He gave a choking gasp, stiffened out, lay still. Straining at every muscle, Livarot made one last supreme effort. A thick wave of smoke curled towards him. His legs were roasting. He let out a last cry of desperation—and then he, too, lost consciousness . . .
There suddenly shot into Lac Kedjimkujik, out of the river leading
from the north, a canoe with a single figure at its helm, a tall coureur, on whose lips hovered a song of love. Sweeping his craft blithely around the point of land that marked the river’s mouth, he came suddenly in sight of the cabin a hundred yards away.
“Diable!” he cried, in consternation, as he saw the cloud of smoke that the wind was carrying out across the water from it.
And then a single choking cry caught his ear. With a sudden swoop he drove the canoe forward, almost lifting it out of the water. A few moments later and he was bearing the unconscious forms of the two coureurs out through the cabin door and down to the lake’s edge.
LIVAROT opened bloodshot eyes, muttered weakly; “Sainted Lady— Jacques Legrand!” and groaned with the pain of his half roasted limbs.
It was fully half an hour before the victims recovered sufficiently to tell their story and when they had done so the eyes of their rescuer became steely chill like a glacier.
“Name of God,” he cried, “I should have killed that dog, La Verdure, in the spring. I had the chance and let it go. But not again, my friends!”
D’Ancoup smiled wryly, moved his stiff legs. “In which business,” he muttered hoarsely, “we join you willingly.” “Ay,” growled Livarot, “my hands itch for his throat.”
“But, my good friends, can you travel with me after what you have gone through?”
“Give us a little while to overcome our weakness,” added Livarot his eyes blazing, “and we will go with you.”
Shaking his head Legrand turned towards the lake over which the wind moaned even more desolately its promise of snow. The sun was sinking into a high bank of angry cloud. “We cannot go to-night,” he said, “to-morrow when— “Diable!” growled D’Ancoup, staggering to his feet, “we will go to-night!” He laughed mirthlessly. “I cannot stand, . but, Name of a Name, give me a paddle!” “Give me a paddle, too,” cried Livarot, “and I will dip it after those dogs until my heart breaks. Come, Legrande! We cannot let them get too great a start.” He rose also and grasping D’Ancoup’s arm they stumbled towards the canoe.
The other followed, still shaking his head. “God’s death,” he cried, as they sent the canoe shooting out on to the lake, “I can believe now those stories I have heard of the Circle ôf Blood!” ’
“You shall tell yet another story before this chase is ended,” Livarot informed him grimly.
It was dark when they reached the opposite shore of the lake and the long river which joined it with Rossignol was a Stygian tunnel through which they could only make their way at a snail’s pace. Indeed the night was far gone when they reached its mouth, where Legrand called a halt. Livarot and D’Ancoup, who for the last few miles had been paddling with the dogged insistence of men who, though wearied, will not give in, raised a hoarse chorus of protest, but the other would not hear of going on.
“They cannot be so far ahead now,” he exclaimed, “and if we start across Rossignol they may catch sight of us when it gets light. What good then? If we are to overcome them, it must be under shaddow of darkness and neither of you are in any state for a fight, until you have had rest.”
“Bah!” growled Livarot, as much angered by his own weakness as by the other’s words, “we are not women!”
But, when Legrand raised his little bivouae on the small clearing near the lake’s shore, it was all the two members of the Circle could do to crawl under it and they growled like wounded tigers when a half hour later the other roused them out of their sleep to drink some hot stew he had cooked for them. Immediately they fell again into sound slumber from which they did not stir until full daylight wakened them. The rest worked its cure and, after bathing their blistered legs in the river and anointing them with bear’s grease, they squatted about the fire and ate their breakfast with something approaching their usual high spirits, although their voices were still hoarse and their chests sore.
They had not traveled more than two hours across Lac Rossignol, before they caught sight of the war canoe about two miles ahead, rounding one of the hundred islands with which the lake was dotted, and which until that moment had acted as a protecting screen. It was now necessary to travel with great caution lest they be seen, and it was past noon when they reached the southern end of the lake and entered the river into which the other canoe had disappeared. The day wore on. With the lengthening shadows they were forced to exert even greater caution lest they come unawares on the Indians encámped for the night. As dusk fell deeper, they dared not even speak and finally Legrand, who was in the stern, headed the canoe into the river’s bank.
“They cannot be far ahead now,” he whispered to the other two as they grounded. “Let us drag the canoe into the bushes and go forward on foot.”
With the trained caution of men of the forest, they pressed forward through the underbrush and had traveled a full half mile, before Livarot, who was in the lead, dropped silently to the ground. Lying on their stomachs, they could see, through the thinning bush, a single Indian gathering dried twigs a score of yards ahead. Remaining motionless, they waited until he filled his arms and disappeared and then on hands and knees followed him. Presently Livarot stopped again, waited until the others drew up and pointed. In a small clearing ahead the Indians were squatted about a fire preparing their evening meal. To one side sat the girl, bent over her knees in a sort of broken despair. The sight of her caused Legrand to draw a sharp breath through his clenched teeth.
Stretched there silently, they waited while the darkness deepened. Hungry themselves—for they had eaten nothing since noon—they watched the Indians eat, with watering mouths. The sight of La Verdure flinging a chunk of meat, contemptuously, to the apathetic girl wrung a growl from Legrand’s lips that caused the other two to turn on him with a sharp hiss of warning.
Darkness fell completely. The shadowy figures of the Indians became mere blurs against the red glow of the fire. The girl was blotted out. Edging closer to the other two, D’Ancoup whispered in their ears; “We would be wiser to get the girl away while they sleep, rather than fall upon them. They are eleven to our three and it is folly under the circumstances to take more chances than we need.”
“We take no chances,” growled Legrand. “Diable, we can slit every sleeping throat. I will not leave this place without settling my score with Louis La Verdure.”
“But, my good Jacques,” protested Livarot, “is there any credit in settling a score with a man by slitting his throat while he sleeps?”
“What would you then?”
“Follow Rene’s plan. When we have got Mademoiselle back to safety there will be ample opportunity of seeking out La Verdure and settling your score. For myself when I have a score to settle with a blackguard I want him to be awake and aware that I am settling.”
“Aye,” agreed D’Ancoup, “there is no credit in killing a sleeping foe.”
“God’s death, does it matter how one exterminates vermin?” growled Legrand. “And furthermore is it not the way of caution to slit those devils’ throats and make sure they cannot follow us? Supposing they wake before we get away? What of your niceties then?”
“There is a certain code, my good Jacques, that we of the Circle of Blood have always followed. We do not depart from it to-night,” said D’Ancoup.
“Hist!” whispered Livarot, stiffening suddenly.
The crack of a breaking twig some score of feet away snapped above the silence. Then the slow pad of stealthy
moccasined feet. The crack of another twig—nearer! The coureurs waited breathlessly, their hands on the hilts of knives they dared not bare. Suddenly a shadowy form towered directly before them. From under its very feet Livarot sprang to his knees. His knife flashed, buried itself to the hilt in a brown breast. The Indian collapsed with a muffled groan stiffened suddenly, lay still.
“God’s death!” muttered the awestruck Legrand, “that was close! . . . We must fall on them now! They will miss him and come to investigate.”
“They are sleeping already,” whispered D’Ancoup, pointing towards the dying fire. “They won’t know he has gone, until morning.”
Growling sceptically, Legrand followed the other two who had started to creep closer towards the bivouac. At the edge of the little clearing they halted and lay flat on their stomachs waiting for perhaps an hour. Then Livarot began to worm his way forward. The others followed. They were within a few paces of the nearest sleeping figure when a grunt rose, startlingly, from one of the band. Pressed close to earth, they held their breath while one of the savages rolled over in his sleep; became still again. The minutes passed. Legrand started forward again, skirting the sleepers and making towards the dark figure of the girl, who lay some distance removed under a tree. Livarot and D’Ancoup waited, knives in hand. The minutes passed with leaden feet and, as they watched with struning eyes, it seemed Legrand hardly moved.
A muffled gasp tightened their grips on their knife handles. Legrand had reached the girl at last; wakened her. The two figures began to creep back towards them—slowly—stealthily.
D’Ancoup placed his mouth against his comrade’s ear. “I am going to cut a hole in the bottom of their canoe.” Livarot nodded and, knife between his teeth, D’Ancoup began to slither towards the bank of the river. Turning once, he could see the other three making their way, more quickly now, towards the edge of the clearing and safety. He was within a dozen feet of the upturned canoe when a sudden movement among the Indians halted him, brought him to his knees in a crouching position. A guttural query rasped across the darkness. The sudden bellow of La Verdure’s voice informed him that it was too late now to execute his purpose and. springing to his feet, he dashed for the edge of the forest into which the other two coureurs and the girl had disappeared.
Behind, the night grew suddenly hideous with the bloodcurdling yells of the Indians, who had, by this time, discovered that the girl and one of their band were missing, but had, apparently, not seen the fleeing coureur before he reached the forest’s shelter. Then silence fell. D’Ancoup realized at once its reason; the silent savages were trying to pick up with their sharp ears the sound of escaping feet. Suddenly the yell rose again a score of yards in his rear. They had heard and the chase was now on in earnest.
On he pressed; caught sight of the flying figures ahead, after he had gone a quarter of a mile. By the time he caught up with them the yells of their pursuers had drawn nearer. “They woke before I wrecked the canoe,” he panted in Livarot’s ear. “They will be after us in it . . . if they don’t catch us now.”
Nearer and nearer came the bloodcurdling yells. At last Legrand and the girl, who were ahead, reached the river where the canoe was drawn up. They seized it and dragged it into the water, while the other two stood guard. Two brown figures were looming out of the undergrowth not twenty feet away when Legrand cried out “Come, Messieurs!”
The coureurs turned and dashed down the bank. Livarot leaped into the canoe; D’Ancoup shoved off and followed him from under the very hatchets of the savages, from whom a yell of rage rose, as the paddles gleamed in the water and the craft began to gather way against the current.
DAWN was breaking over the rim of Eastern hills as they swept into Lac Rossignol, a chill grey dawn, upon a heavily clouded sky, beneath which the wind moaned of dark winter. Suddenly the girl stretched out her two hands with a shiver and cried; “It snows, Messieurs!”
Little white flakes were flying everywhere.
“I hope the lakes do not freeze over before we get to Port Royal,” grunted Legrand anxiously, putting more shoulder into his paddle. “We may be able to hold our own on the water, but on land they can easily outdistance us.”
The light flakes fell slowly and softly. Suddenly the girl let out a cry and pointed. Something over a half mile behind, and all but hidden by the falling snow, the Indian canoe was issuing from the mouth of the river. A few moments, and the little petals of heaven began to fall thicker; it was blotted out.
They sped on! It came noon, but hungry as they were they dared not pause to eat. At Legrand’s orders, the girl unpacked his leathern bag and handed the paddlers chunks of dried pemmican and bread, and later heartened them with cognac out of a stone demijon.
The afternoon began to lengthen. The air had grown colder and the falling snow was beginning to form a thin layer of slush on the lake’s surface which made their progress slower. It would not need to get much colder for that thin layer to freeze solid, and then they must take to the shore.
Suddenly the girl cried out again: “Look—I see them!”
The coureurs turned. Through the falling snow, the pursuing canoe loomed white and ghostlike not more than a quarter of a mile behind.
“They are gaining on us,” said Livarot.
“Name of God, Messieurs,” Legrand complained querulously, “I would that you . had listened to me last night! We would not be in this plight.”
The two members of the Circle made no reply but put themselves more grimly to their paddles. An hour passed. All the time the snow fell steadily and the layer of slush on the lake’s surface thickened; the air grew colder. In spite of their efforts, they moved slower and slower past islands that lay ghostlike under their white mantles on the. dark lake’s surface.
“Oh,” cried the girl, “they are still gaining!”
The war canoe had all but halved their lead and in another hour at the outside it would draw level with them. They redoubled their efforts, until the sweat poured from their faces in rivulets. But still the other craft crept nearer and they heard, at last, the first wild yell of savage triumph.
Ahead loomed another island. In the bow of the canoe D’Ancoup watched its outline grow more distinct, with a grim anger. Perhaps he had been wrong in his counsel last night. Perhaps he should have given way to Legrand. Yet what else could a gentleman have done? Was there not a code according to which one must live—and die? The thought of the girl behind, who had for the second time made vain effort to escape her hideous destiny, caused him doubt of codes and conduct. Should he have—
He swung suddenly about, eyes gleaming. “I have an idea!” he cried. Breathlessly he disclosed it, and for the barest moment the others stared at him blankly until Legrand shouted: “We shall follow it!” and headed the canoe straight for the island ahead, from which he had begun to veer off. Renewing their efforts, the coureurs sent the frail craft leaping forward and, as their intention became plain, another more triumphant yell rose from their pursuers.
“They will yell with another voice presently,” Legrand grunted, with a low laugh, as the canoe plunged upon the sandy shore of the island.
In a moment they had leaped out, dragged it ashore and heaved it to their shoulders; then, up over the stretch of sand and through the narrow trail that led over the island to its further shore. Behind, the yells grew louder. Grunting and sweating, they plunged on over the slippery ground and in a quarter of an hour were launched on the other side of the island. Then away again—all save D’Ancoup. He, as the canoe swept out from the shore, doubled swiftly back into the woods, not the way they had come, but through the deep undergrowth, well clear of the trail.
The Indians, after hurrying across the island, stopped b!ankly when they saw the coureur’s canoe sweeping out into the lake. This was some folly they could not understand, a maneouvre whose gain was quite incomprehensible to their savage brains. But LaVerdure, who had followed in their rear and brought up on a low rise, let out a roar and darted back the way he had come—at which precise moment the panting D’Ancoup reached the war canoe. Grasping it by the bow, the coureur pushed the heavy craft down the beach on which it had been drawn, until it was just afloat. Then, drawing his knife, he turned and waited. There was a most whimsical smile upon his bronzed young face; the merest chuckle bubbled to his lips . . .
TN ANOTHER quarter of an hour, the A two canoes were making their way towards the nearest shore of the lake, the larger one which contained D’Ancoup being towed by the smaller. The island on whose sandy beach a band of enraged savages howled, as Legrand had prophesied “with another voice,” was disappearing, wraithlike, in the still falling snow. The war canoe was beached, turned bottom up and thoroughly wrecked. Then, on through the snow, on over the slush covered lake towards Port Royal.
“Name of God, what a stratagem!” laughed Legrand as they entered the river leading to Lac Kedjimkujik. “It is to become educated to travel with the Circle of Blood.”
“It will be cold for them on that island,*’ shivered the girl. “They will starve.”
“Have no fear, Mademoiselle,” exclaimed D’Ancoup. “By to-morrow evening at the latest the lake will be frozen solid and they will be able to walk across it.”
“By which time we will be safely in Port Royal attending a happy wedding,” added Livarot with his most reassuring smile.
PORT ROYAL lay under the mantle of winter, but in the hostel of Henri Theriault, where a great fire blazed, men made merry that night following. Tomorrow there would be a wedding—an unexpected event in which the Circle of Blood had again played part.
Against the counter, where the throng was liveliest, Pierre de Morpain, the corsair, turned upon the bridegroom-tobe. “And after all, my good Jacques,” he cried in his booming voice, “you will spend the winter in Port Royal! Aye, my hearty, the mountains and the lakes for a honeymoon of the summer, but for the cold months the warm hearth of the town! Is it not?”
Legrand brought his fist on the counter resoundingly. “S’ death,” he growled. “I stay here but the week! After that I have business to settle in Petite Riviere that cannot wait longer!”
“Business?” protested the other, “my good fellow, you cannot take a bride to Petite Riviere in this snow?”
“I travel alone, M’sieu. She remains until I return. As to my business—” “Yes, my good Jacques, as to your business?” cut in D’Ancoup with a drawl, his eyes gleaming shrewdly. “Can its urgency have to do with one, Louis LcVerdure?”
“Of a certainty.”
“Then I bid you remain in Port Royal. That business is settled.”
“Settled? Diable, by whom?” “Myself.”
Legrand stared blankly at the smiling coureur who with a shrug exclaimed: “I see that I can keep the secret no longer. You force it from me with your impetuosity. Listen, then! When I reached the other side of the island, on an occasion which you will remember, and was pushing the canoe of M’sieu LaVerdure into the water, I was seized with yet another idea. The second, you will recall. It came to me that when M. LaVerdure reached the other side of the island, and saw that you had left, he might be the first of our pursuers to realize the stratagem. I was not mistaken. When, therefore, I saw him dashing back a good distance ahead of his howling braves I waited for him. He came towards me with that roar of his that is like a bull’s. In his hand, his knife. In mine a knife, also. Of course, it was quite apparent to me that if I were to execute my purpose it must be with dispatch. M. La Verdure lent aid in that, with his haste to meet me. On he came. Depending doubtless on his great bulk, he thought to bear me down with that mad rush. He erred. As he swung at me with his knife I dodged. My figure is lithe and suited to such a manoeuvre. As I dodged, I plunged my blade where it would have the greatest effect. It took but the barest moment, M’sieur. It would need to, since nine howling braves were almost upon me. But not quite. As M. La Verdure plunged into the lake I pushed the canoe off and leaped aboard. It was close? But yes! And yet I had the advantage of at least four paces on the savages. So, my good Jacques, you see that it will be unnecessary that you interrupt your honeymoon for the purpose of a revenge.” “Diable!” cried Legrand, half relieved, half regretful, as a great shout went up from the laughing crowd. “You have robbed me of a revenge that was surely mine!”
“But no!” D’Ancoup shrugged, and again his smile was whimsical. “You had your claims, of course, and yet to me it was the honor of the Circle of Blood that must be avenged. No man will scorch us with impunity! . . .But, come, Mes-
sieurs, this is not a time for boasting, but for a toast to the bride and groom . . . Henri! Cognac, for the gentlemen of Port Royal!”