The Gun Brand
A Story of the North
James B. Hendryx
Author of “Afarquard the Silent,” “The Promise,” etc.
SILENT and gray and deserted loomed the barrier so cunningly devised as to be almost indistinguishable at a distance of fifty yards. Snow lay upon the top of the barrier, and vertical ridges of snow clung to the crevices of the upstanding palings.
A half-hour passed, while the two men remained motionless, and then, satisfied that the fort was unoccupied, they stepped cautiously from the shelter of their tree. The next instant, loud and clear, shattering the intense silence with one sharp explosion of sound, rang a shot. And Corporal Ripley, who was following close at the heels of MacNair, staggered, clawed wildly for the butt of his service revolver which protruded from its holster, and, with an imprecation on his lips that ended in an unintelligible snarl, crashed headlong into the snow.
MacNair whirled as ifupon a pivot, and with hardly a glance at the prostrate form, dashed over the back-trail with the curious lumbering strides of the man who would hurry on rackets. He had jerked off his heavy mitten at the sound of the first shot, and his bared hand clutched firmly the butt of the blue-black automatic. A spruce-branch, suddenly relieved of its snow, sprang upward with a swish, thirty yards away. MacNair fired three shots in rapid succession.
'I' HERE was no answering shot, and he * leaped forward, charging directly toward the tree that concealed the hidden foe before the man could reload; for by the roar of its discharge, MacNair knew that the weapon was an old Hudson Bay muzzle-loading smoothbore—a primitive weapon of the old north, but in the.hands of an Indian, a weapon of terrible execution at short, range, where a roughly molded bullet or a slug rudely hammered from the solder melted from old tin cans tears its way through the flesh, driven by three fingers of black powder.
Near the tree MacNair found the gun where its owner had hurled it into the snow—found also the tracks of a pair of snowshoes, which headed into the heart of the black spruce swamp. The tracks showed at a glance that the lurking assassin was an Indian, that he was traveling light, and that the chance of running him down was extremely remote. Whereupon MacNair returned his automatic to its holster and bethought himselt of Ripley, who was lying back by the stockade with his face buried in the snow.
Swiftly he retraced his steps, and; kneeling beside the wounded man, raised him from the snow. Blood oozed from the corners of the officer’s lips, and, mingling with the snow, formed a red slush which clung to the boyish cheek. With
his knife MacNair cut through the clothing and disclosed an ugly hole below the right shoulder-blade. He bound up the wound, plugging the hole with suet chewed from a lump which he carried in his pocket. Leaving Ripley upon his face to prevent strangulation from the blood in his throat, he hastened to the camp on the * shore of the lake, harnessed the dogs, and returned to the prostrate man; it was the work of a few moments^to bind him securely upon the sled. Skilfully MacNair guided his dogs through the maze of the black spruce swamp, end throwing caution to the winds, crossed the lake, struck the timber, and headed straight for Chine Elliston's school.
IN the living-room of the little cottage
on the Yellow Knife, Hariiet Penny and Mary, the Louchoux girl, sat sewing, while Chloe Elliston, with chair pulled close to the table, read by the light of an oil-lamp from a year-old magazine. If the Louchoux girl failed to follow the intricacies of the plot, an observer would scarcely have known it Nor would he have guessed that less than two short months before this girl had been*a skinclad native of the north who had mushed for thirty days unattended through the heart of the barren grounds. So marvelously had the girl improved and so dexterously had she applied her needle, that save for the headed moccasins upon her feet, her clothing differed in no essential detail from that of Chloe Elliston or of Harriet Penny.
Chloe paused in her reading, and the three occupants of the little room stared inquiringly into each other’s faces as a rough-voiced “Whoa!” sounded from bevond the door. A moment of silence followed the command, and then came the sounds of a heavy footfall upon the veranda. The Louchoux girl sprang to the door, and as she threw it open the yellow lamp-licht threw into bold relief the huge figure of a man, who, hearing a blanketwrapped form in his arms, staggered into the room, and. without a word, deposited his burden upon the floor. The man looked up. and Chloe Elliston started back with an exclamation of angry amazement. The man was Rob MacNair! And Chloe noticed that the Louchoux girl, after one terrified glance into his face, fled incontinently to the kitchen.
“You! You!” cried Chloe, gropmg for words.
The man interrupted her gruffly. “This is no time to talk. Corporal Ripley has been shot. For three days I have burned up the snow getting him here. He’s hard hit, but the bleeding has stopped, and a good bed and good nursing will pull him through.”
As he snapped out the words, MacNair busied hifnself in removing the WQunded
SYNOPSIS. Chlor Ellishn, inheriting the love of adventurk and o«&t; bitious to emulate her fanious grandfather, "Tiger" 1 cho had
played a big part in the ciriLzingof Malaysia, sets out for the |Far Sorth to establish a school and] bring the light of education to the Indians and breeds of the Athabasca cojoitry. Accompanied by a fompanioli, Harriet Penny, and a Swedish maidABig Lena, she arrives at Athabasca Landing and engages transportation ¿on Iwr of the scows of Pierre Lapierre, at independent trader. \'ermilton, the bo** scowman, decides to kidnap the lparty and hold them to ransom; but\ Lapierre, getting wind of his plans, interrupt* them at a vital moment, pills Vermiliodf and rescues the girl Predisposed in his favor, she accepts him as her mentor in the wilderness,] believing all he tells her, especially about one Robert MacSair, another free-trader whom Lapierre saddles with almoft villainous reputation and the dpithet of "Brute." . On Lapierre’s advice Chloe establishes herself at the mout A of the 1 ellow Knife Riveff on Girat Slave Lake, and starts to building Air school, et cetera. Then Brute Afai.Vatr turns up and uafns her to leave Ati Indians alone. Sht^dcfies htm, and la tier starts tn Ins post on Snare Lake. ]Meeting MacSair just before she gels fAere, they have an inftrrtew, tt'AfrA ends when Lapierre, appearing suddenly, shoots MacSair. Chloe, in itpit* of La/,i,rr,'s />roftst, takes the pounded man to her jilare and nuries him. MarSair's Indians attack fAi school and he returns with fhtm. If'Ajilr Af is away on a hunting trip, I^apierre sends his accomplice, Le fray, to at re the’ Indians whisky, making. f filmt all druck, during y h ich they buifn their own cabins and MarSair's storehouse. La pierre arra tig, s it so fAaj Chloe shall witness the d, bauch /roui a distance, under the impression iAJit MacSair is to blame. MacSair, l/urioit* af this outrage, returns and declares tbnf now hr will camp on Lapierre’* trqfil til! he gets him; but am officer ofjthr Mounted happening alona, Chloe charges MacSair with all f A el crime* Lapierre is really guilty of, but which, with remarkable running, he has convinced Çhloc are Afai.Vatr’*. MacSair is arrested, but Lapiqrre, in attempting to manufacture erúfenre against him, overreaches himself, and two of his men are captured. Beliering they have been betrayed bjT fAeir master, the prisoners confess jererything, and MacSair is released] R’ifA an officer of the Mounted he goes to lAipierrc's stronghold.
man’s blankets and outer garments, Chloe gave some hurried orders to B g Lena, and followed MapNair into her o m room, where he laid the wounded man ipon her bed—the same he, himself, had ¡>hce occupied while recovering from tl íe effect of Lapierre’s bullet. Then he st rjaightened and faced Chloe, who stood n gai rding him with flashing eyes.
“So you did get away from h m after all?” she said, “and when he followed you, you shot him! Just a boynd you shot him in the back!” The voi e trembled with the scorn of her wordi. MacNair pushed roughly pa$J her,
“Don’t be a damn fool!” he I Towled, and called over his shoulder: “Be1 iter rest nim úp for three or four days, a id send him down to Fort Resolution, He I 1 stand the trip all right by that time, ind the doctor want to poke around for that
bullet-” Suddenly he whirled and faced her. “Where is Lapierre?” The words were a snarl.
“So you want to kill him. too? Do you think I would .tell you if I knew? You— you murderer? Oh. if I—" But the sentence was cut short by the loud banging of the door. MacNair had returned into the night.
An hour later, when she and Big Lena quitted the bedroom. Corporal Ripley was breathing easily. Her thoughts turned at once to the Louehoux girL She recalled the look of terror that had crept into the girl's eyes as she gazed into the upturned face. of MacNair. With the force of a blow a thought flashed through her brain, and she clutched at the edge of the table for support. What was it the girl had told her about the man who had deceived her into believing she was his wife? He was a free-trader! MacNair was a free-trader! Could it be—•—
“No, no!” she gasped—“and yet—”
With an effort she crossed to the door of the girl's room and, pushing it open, entered to find her cowering wide-eyed between her blankets. The sight of the beautiful, terrorized face did not need the corroboration of the low, half-moaned words. “Oh. please, please don’t let him get me !” to tell Chloe that her worst fears were realized.
“Do not be afraid, my dear,” she faltered. “He cannot harm you now,” and hurriedly closing the door, staggered across the living-room, threw herself into a chair beside the table, and buried her face in her arms.
Harriet Penny opened her door and glanced timidly out at the still figúre of the girl. and. deciding it were the better part of prudence not to intrude, noiselessly closed her door. Hours later, Big Lena, entering from the kitchen, regarded her mistress with a long vacant-faced stare, and returned again to the kitchen. All through the night Chloe dozed fitfully beside the table, but for the most part she was widely—painfully—awake. Bitterly she reproached herself. Only she knew the pain the discovery of MacNair’s treachery had caused her. And only she knew why the discovery had caused her -pain.
Always she had believed she had hated this man. By all standards, she should hate him! This great, elemental brute of the north who had first attempted to ignore. and later to ridicule and to bully her. This man who ruled his Indians with a rod of iron, who allowed them full license in their debauchery, and then shot theni down in cold blood, who shot a boy in the back while in the act of doing his duty, and who had called her a “damn -fool” in her own house, and was even then off on the trail of another man he had sworn to kill on sight. By all the laws of justice, equity, and decency, she should hate this man! She was conscious of no other feeling toward him than a burning, unquenchable hate. And yet. deep down in her heart she knew—by the pain of her discovery of his treachery—she knew she iored him, and utterly she despised herself that she could be so.
Daylight softly dimmed the yellow lamplight of tfre room. The girl arose, and after a hurried glance at the sleeping Ripley, bathed her eyes in cold water and passed into the kitchen, where Big Lena was busy in the preparation of breakfast.
“Send Lefroy to me at once!” she or-
dered. and five minutes later, when the man stood before her, she ordered him to
summon all of MacNair's Indians-
The man shifted his weight uneasily from one foot to the other as he faced her upon the tiny veranda. “MacNair Injuns." he answered, “dem eon’ las' night Dem gon' 'long w;t’ MacNair. Heem gon' for hunt Pierre Lapierre!"
LAPIERRE PAYS A VISIT.
L' P on Sr.are Lake the men to whom.
Lapierre had passed the word had taker, possesion of MacNair’s burned and abandoned fort and there the leader had joined them after stopping at l ort McMurray to tip off to Ripley and Craig the bit of evidence that he hoped would clinch the case against MacNair. More men joined the Snare Lake stampede— flat-faced breeds from the lower Mackenzie. evil-visaged rivermen from the country of the Athabasca and the Slave, and the renegade white men who were Lapierre's underlings.
By dog-train and on foot they came, dragging their outfits behind them, and in the eyes of each was the gleam of the greed of gold. The few cabins which had escaped the conflagration had been pre-empted by the first-comers, while the later arrivals pitched their tents and shelter traps close against the logs of the anbumed portion of MacNair’s stockade.
At the time of Lapierre’s arrival the colony had assumed the aspect of a typical gold camp. The drifted snow had been removed from MacNair’s diggings, and the night-fires had thawed out the gravel glared • red and illuminated the clearing with a ruddy glow in which the dumps loomed black and ugly, like unclean wens upon the white surface of the trampled snow.
Lapierre. a master of organization, saw almost at the moment of his arrival that the gold-camp system of two-man partnerships could be vastly improved upon. Therefore, he formed the men into shifts; eight hours in the gravel and tending the fires, eight hours chopping cordwood and digging in the ruins of MacNair's storehouse for the remains of unburned grub, and eight hours’ rest. Always night and day. the seemingly tireless leader moved about the camp encouraging. cursing, bull ving. urging; forcing the utmost atom of man-power into the channels of greatest efficiency. For well the ouarter-breed knew that his tenure of the. Sr.are Lake diggings was a tenure wholiv by sufferance of circumstances — circumstances over which he. Lapierre. had no control.
With MacNair safely lodged in the Fort Saskatchewan jail, he felt safe from interference, at least until late in the spring. This would allow plenty of time for the melting snows to furnish the water necessary for the cleaning up of the dumps. After that the fate of his colony hung upon the decision of a judge somewhere down in the provinces. Thus Lapierre crowded his men to the utmost and the increasing size of the black dumpheaps bespoke a record-breaking clean-up when the waters of the melting snow should be turned into sluices in the spring.
WITH his mind easy in his fancied security. and in order that every moment of time and every ounce of man-
power should be devoted to the digging of gold. Lapierre had neglected to bring his rifles ant^ ammunition from the Lac du Mort rendezvous and from the storehouse of Chloe Elliston’s school. An omission for which he cursed himself roundly upon an evening early in February when an Indian, gaunt and wide-eyed frôm the strain of a forced snow-trail, staggered from the black shadow of the bush into the glare of the blazing night-fires, and in a frenzied gibberish of jargon -proclaimed that Bob MacNair had returned to the northland. And not only that he had returned, but had visited Lac du Mort in company with a man of the Mounted.
At first Lapierre flatly refused to credit the Indian’s yarn, but when upon pain of death the man refused to alter his statement, and added the information that he himself had - fired at MacNair from the shelter of a snow-ridden spruce, and that just as he pulled the trigger the man of the soldier-police had intervened and stopped the speeding bullet. Lapierre realized that the Indian spoke the truth.
In the twinkling of an eye the quarterbreed realized the extreme danger of his position. His fury knew no bounds. Up and down he raged in his fury, cursing like a "madman, while all about him— blaming, reviling, advising — cursed the men of his ill-favored crew. For not a man among them but knew that somewhere some one had blundered. And for some inexplicable reason their situation had suddenly shifted from comparative security to extreme hazard. They needed not to be told that with MacNair at large in the northland their lives hung by a slender thread. For at that very moment Brute MacNair was, in all probability, upon the Yellow Knife leading his armed Indians toward Snare Lake.
In addition to this was the certain knowledge that the vengeance of the Mounted would fall in full measure upon the heads of all who were in any way associated with PTerre Lapierre. An officer had been shot, and the mem of Lapierre were outlawed from L?ngava to the western sea. The intricate system had crumbled in the batting of an eye. Else why should a man of the Mounted have been found before the barricade of the Basti’e du Mort in company with Brute MacNair?
The quick-witted Lapierre was the first to recover from the shock of the stunning blow. Leaping onto the charred logs of MacNair’s storehouse, he called loudly to his men. who in a panic were wildly throwing their outfits onto sleds. Despite their mad haste they crowded close and listened to the .words of the man upon whose judgment they had learned to rely, and from whose dreaded “dismissal from service” they had cowered in fear. They swarmed about Lapierre a hundred strong, and his voice rang harsh.
”You dogs! You canaille?” he cried, and they shrank from the baleful glare of his black eyes. “What would you do? Where would you go? Do you think that, single-handed, you can escape from MacNair'* Irtdians. who will follow vour trails like hounds and kill you as they would kill a snared rabbit? Ï tell you your trails will be short. A dead man will lie at the end of each. But even if you succeed in escaping the Indians, what, then, of the Mountod?' One by one, vupon the rivers and lakes of the northland, upon wide
snow-steeps of the barren grounds, even to the shores of the frozen sea, you will be hunted and gathered in. Or you will be shot like dogs, and your bones left to crunch in the jaws of the wolf-pack. We are outlaws, all! Not a man of us will dare show his face in any post or settlement or city in all Canada.”
The men shrank before the words, for they knew them to be true. Again the leaderwas speaking, and hope gleamed in fearstrained eyes.
“We have yet one chance. I,Pierre Lapierre, have not played my last card. WTe will stand or fall together ! I n the Bastile du Mort are many rifles, and ammunition and provisions for half a year.
Once behind the barricade, w e shall be safe from any attack.
We .can defy MacNair’s I n -dians and stand off the Mounted until such time as we are in fa position to dictate oúr own terms. If we stand man t o man together, we have everything t o gain and nothing to lose. We are outlawed, every one. There is no turning back!”
Lapierre’s bold assurance averted the threatened panic, and with a yell the men fell to work packing their outfits for the journey to Lac du Mort. The quarter - breed despatched scouts to the southward t o ascertain the whereabouts o f MacNair, and, if possible, to find out whether or not the officer of the Mounted had been killed b y the shot of the Indian.
At early dawn the outfit crossed Snare Lake and headed for Lac du Mort by way of Grizzly Bear, Lake Mackay, and Du Rocher. Upon the evening of the fourth day, when the outfit threaded the black spruce swamp and pulled wearily into the fort on .Lac du Mort, Lapierre found a scout awaiting him with the news that MacNair had headed northward with his Indians, and that Lefroy was soon to
start for Fort Resolution with the wounded man of the Mounted. Whereupon he selected the fastest and freshest dog-team available and, accompanied by a halfdozen of his most trusted lieutenants, took the trail for Chloe Elliston’s school on the Yellow Knife, after issuing orders as to the conduct of defense in case of an attack by MacNair’s Indians.
Affairs at the school were at a stand-
still. From a busy hive of activity, with the women and children showing marked improvement at their tasks, and the men happy in the felling of logs and the whip-sawing of lumber, the school had suddenly slumped into a disorganized hodge-podge of unrest and anxiety. MacNair’s Indians had followed him into the north; their women and children brooded sullenly, and a feeling of unrest and ex-
pectancy pervaded the entire'i ttlement Among the inmates of the a ttage the condition was even worse. With Harriet Penny hysterical and excited, Big Lena more glum and taciturn than ¿sual, the Louchoux girl cowering in mor tal dread of impending disaster, and Chl&t; e herself disgusted, discouraged, nursinj : in her heart a consuming rage egair it Brute »MacNair, the man who ha&t;fwn ught the
harm, ind who had befen her evil gen ius since she had first set foot i to the north. Upo the afternoo a of the day e despatcned Lelroy to Fort Resol ution w i|th the wounded officer of the Mounted, Chloe stpod at her littl window gazfig out over wide sweep o|f the river an&t; wondering ho r it all would end. Would Mi icNair find La »ierre, and won) d he kill him ? Or would the Mounted heed the urgent appeal she despatched in care of Lefroy and atrive in ti me to recapture MacNair before he came upoq his victim? “If I d n 1 y knew where to find him,”| she muttered, J *41 could warn! him of his dai The nextl moment her Jeyea widened with amazement,! and she pressed! her face cl against glass; ac clearing the directio the river a dog team, Vith three men ning before three while upon sled, jaunty smiling, and bonair as el sat Pierre pierre hi
With a flourish he swung the dogs the tiny veranda and stepped from sled, and the next moment Chloe foi herself standing in the little living with Lapierre bowing low over her Harriet Penny was in the school house; Louchoux girl was helping Big Lena|in the kitchen, and for the first time)in many moons Chloe Elliston felt glad she was alone with Lanierre.
When art length «he removed her hand from hi« grasp, she «tooi for some moments regarding the clean-cut lines of his features, and then she smiled as «he noted the trivial fact that he had removed his hat. and that he stood humbly before her with bared headA great surge of feeling rushed over her as she’ realized how clean and good—how perfect this} man seemed in comparison with the hulking brutality of MacNair. She motioned him to ^ chair beside the table, and drawing her chair close to his side, poured into his attentive and sympathetic ears all that she knew of MacNairs escape, of the shooting of Corporal Ripley, and his departure in the night with his Indians.
Lapierre listened, smiling inwardly at her version of the affair, and at the conclusion of her words leaned forward and
took one of the slim brown hands in his___
For a long, long time the girl listened in silence to the pleading of his lips ; and the little room was filled with the passion of his low-voiced eloquence.
EITHER was aware of the noiseless -i ^ opening of the door, nor of the wideeyed. girlish face that stared at them through the aperture, nor was either aware that the man's words were borne distinctly to the ears of the Louchoux girl. Nor could they note the change from an expression of startled surprise to slitlike, venomous points of fire that took place in the eyes of the listening girl— nor the clenching fists. Nor did they hear the soft, catlike tread with which the girl quit the door and crossed to the kitchen table. Nor could they see the cruel snarl of her lips as her fingers closed tiehtly about the haft of the huge butcher-knife, whose point was sharp and whose blade was keen. Nor did they hear the noiseless tread with which the girl again approached the door, swung wider now to admit the passage of her tense, lithe bodv. Nor did they see her crouch for a spring with the tight-clutched knife upraised and the gleaming slitlike eyes focused upon a point midway between Lapierre’s shoulder-blades as his arm unconsciously came to rest upon the back of Chloe Elliston’s chair.
For a long moment the girl poised gloating — enjoying in its fullness the measure of her revenee. Before her. leaning in just the rieht attitude to receive upon his defenseless back the full force of the blow, sat the man who had deceived her. For not until she had listened to the low-voiced, empassiorjfd words had she realized there had been any deception. With the realization came the hot, fierce flame of anger that seared her very soul. An anger engendered by her own wrong, and fanned Nto its fiercest by the knowledge that the man was at that moment seeking to deceive the white woman—the woman who had taught her much, and who with the keenest interest and gentleness had treated her as an equal.
She had come to love this white woman with the love that was greater than the love of life. And the words towhich this woman was now listening were the same words, from the same lips, to which she herself had listened beside the cold waters of the far-off Mackenzie. Thus the Louchoux girl faced suddenly her first great problem. And to the half-savage mind of her the solution of the problem seemed very simple, very direct, and, had Big Lena not entered by way of the outer
door at the precise moment that the giyl crouched with uplifted knife, it would -ioubt.es« have been very effective.
BUT Big Lena did enter, and. with a swiftnessof perception that belied the vacuous stare of the ñshlike eyes, took in the situation at a glance: for Lefroy had already hinted to her of the relation which existed between his erstwhile superior and this girl from the land of the midnight sun. Whereupon Big Lena had kept her own counsel and had patiently bided her time, and now her time had come, and she was in no wise minded that the fulness of her vengeance should be marred by the untimely taking off of LapierreSwiftly she crossed the room, and as her strong fingers closed about the wrist of the Indian girl’s upraised knifearm. the. other hand reached beyond and noiselessly closed the door between the two rooms.
The Louchoux girl whirled like a flash and sank her strong, white teeth deep in the rolled-sleeved forearm of the huge Swedish woman-. But a thumb, inserted dexterously and with pressure in the little hollow behind the girl’s ear. caused her jaws instantly to relax, and she stood trembling before the big woman, who regarded her with a tolerant grin, and the next moment laid a friendly hand upon her shoulder and. turning her gently about, guided her to a chair at the farther side of the room.
Followed then a quarter of an hour of earnest conversation, in which the older woman managed to convey, through the medium of her broken English, a realization that Lapierre’s discomfiture could be encompassed much more effectively and in a thoroughly orthodox and .less sanguinary manner.
The ethics of Big Lena’s argument were undoubtedly beyond the Louchoux girl’s comprehension: bat because this woman had been good to her. and because she seemed greatly to desire this thing, the girl consented to abstain from violenee. at least for the time being. A few minutes later, when Chloe Elliston opened the door and announced that Mr. Lapierre would join them at supper, she found the two women busily engaged in the final preparation of the meal. *
Big Lena passed into the dining-room; also the living room, and without deigning to notice Lapierre’s presence, proceeded to lay the tablq for supper. Returning to the kitchen, shh despatched.the Indian girl to the storehouse upon an errand which would insure her absence until after Chloe and Lapierre and Harriet Penny had taken their places at the table.
Since her arrival at the school the Louchoux girl had been treated as “one of the family.” and it was with a look of inquiry toward the girl’s empty chair that Chloe seated herself with the others. Interpreting the look. Big Lena assured her that the girl would return in a few moments: and Chloe had just launched into an empassioned account of the virtues and the accomplishments of her ward when the door opened and the girl herself entered the room and crossed swiftly to her accustomed place. As she stood with her hand on the back of her chair. Lanierre for the first time glanced into her face.
THE quarter-breed was a man trained as few men are trained to meet emergencies, to face crises with an impassive-
r.ess of countenance that would shame the Sphinx. He had lost thousands across the green cloth of gambling, tables without batting an eye. He had faced death and had killed men with a face-absolutely ;ivvoid of expression, and upon numerous occasions his nerve — the consummate aang-froid of him—had alone thrown off the suspicion that would have meant arrest upon charges which would have taken more than a lifetime to expiate. And as he sat at the little table beside Chloe Elliston. his eyes met unflinchingly the flashing, accusing gaze of the black eyes of the girl from the northland—the girl who was his wife.
For a long moment their glances held, while the atmosphere of the little room Öifame surcharged with the terrible portent of this silent battle of eyes. Harriet - Penny gasped audibly: and as Chloe stared from one to the other of the white, tense faces before her. her brain seemed suddenly to numb and the breath came short and quick between her parted lips to the rapid heaving of her bosom. The Louchoux girl’s eyes seemed fairly to blaze with hate. The fingers of her hand dug into the wooden back of her chair until the knuckles whitened. She leaned far forward and. pointing directly into the face of the man, opened her lips to speak. It was then Lapierre’s gaze wavered, for in that moment he realized that for him. the game was lost
With a half-smothered curse he leaped to his feet, overturning his chair, which banged sharply upon the plank floor He glanced wildly about the little room as if seeking means of escape, and his eyes encountered the form of Big Lena, who stood stolidly in the doorway, blocking the exit. In a flash *he noted the huge, bared forearm: noted, too. that one thick hand gripped tightly the helve of a chopping ax, with which she tnved lightly as if it-were a little thing, while the thumb of her other hand played smoothly, but 5 with a certain terrible significance, along the keen edge of its blade. Lapierre’s glance flashed to her face and encountered the fishlike stare of the china-blue eves, as he had encountered it once before. The eyes, as before, were expressionless upon their surface, but deep down—far into their depths—Lapierre caught a cold gleam of mockery. And then the Louchoux girl was speaking, and he turned upon her with a snarl.
CHLOE WRITES A LETTER
"^X^HEN Bob MacNair. exasperated * * beyond all patience by Chloe Elliston’s foolish accusation, stamped angrily from the cottage, after depositing the wounded Ripley upon the bed, he proceeded at once to the barracks, where he sought out Wee Johnnie Tamarack, who informed him that Lapierre was up on Snare Lake, at the head of a band of men who had already succeeded in dotting the snow of the barrel grounds with the black dumps of many shafts. Whereupon he ordered Wee Johnnie Tamarack to assemble the Indians at once at the storehouse.
No sooner had the old Indian departed .upon his mission than the door of the barracks was pushed violently open and Big Lena entered, dragging by the arm the thoroughly cowed figure of Lefroy.
Continued on page 70
Continued from page 32.
At sight of the man who, under Lapierre’s oiders, had wrought the destruction of his post at Snare Lake, MacNair leaped' forward with a snarl of anger. But be*fore he could reach the trembling man tho form of Big Lena interposed, and MacNair found himself swamped by a jargon of broken English that taxed to the utmost his power of comprehension.
“Ju yoost vait vun meenit. Ay tell ju som’ting gude. Dis damn Lefroy, he bane bad man. He vork by Lapierre, and he tak’ de whisky to jour Injuns, but he don’t vork no more by Lapierre.; he vork by me. Ay goin’ to marry him, and ju bet Ay keep him gude, or Ay bust the stove chunk ’crost his head. He vork by Mees Chloe now, and he lak ju gif him chance to show he ain’t no bad man no more.”
Big Lena shook the man roughly byway of emphasis, and MacNair smiled as he noted the foolish grin with which Lefroy submitted to the inevitable. For years he had known Lefroy as a bad man, second only to Lapierre in cunning and brutal cruelty; and to see him now, cowering under the domination of his future spouse, was to MacNair the height of the ridiculous—but MacNair was unmarried.
“All right,” he growled, and Lefroy’s relief at the happy termination of the interview was plainly written upon his features, for this meeting had not been of his own seeking. The memory of the shots which had taken off two of his companions. that night on Snare Lake, was still fresh, and in his desire to avoid a meeting with MacNair. he had . sought refuge in the kitchen. Whereupon Big Lena had-taken matters into her own hands and literally dragged him into MacNair’s presence, replying to his terrified protest that if MacNair was going to kill him, he was going to kill, and he might as well have it over with.
Thus it was that the relieved-Lefroy leaped with alacrity to obey when, a moment later, MacNair ordered him fo the storehouse to break out the necessary provisions for a ten-days’ journey for all his Indians. So well did the half-breed execute the order that upon MacNair’s arrival at the storehouse he found Lefroy not only supplying provisions with a lavish Hand, but taking huge delight in passing out to the waiting Indians Lapierre’s Ma.user rifles and ammunition.
W’hen MacNair, with his Indians, reached Share Lake, it was to find that Pierre Lapierre had taken himself and his outlaws to the Lac du Mort rendezvous. Whereupon he immediately despatched thirty Indians hack to Lefroy for the supplies necessary to follow Lapierre to his stronghold. Awaiting the return of the supply train, MacNair employed his remaining Indians in getting out logs for the rebuilding of his fort, and he smiled grimly as his eyes roved over the dumps —the rich dumps which represented two months’ well-directed labor of a gang of a hundred men.
A S Chloe Elliston sat in the little living room and listened to the impassioned words of Lapierre. the man’s chance of winning her was far better than at any time in the whole course of their acquaintance. Without in the least realizing it, the girl had all along held a certain regard for MacNair—a regard that
was hard to explain, and that the girl herself would have been the first to disavow. She hated him ! And yet—she was forced to admit even to herself, the man fascinated her. But never until the moment of the realization of his "true character, as forced upon her by the action and words of the Louchoux girl, had she entertained the slightest suspicion that she loved him.. And with the discovery had come a sense of shame and humiliation that had all but broker, her spirit.
Her hatred for MacNair was real enough now. That hatred, the shame and humility, and the fact that Lapierre was pleading with her as he had never pleaded before, were going far to convince the girl that her previous estimate of the quarter-breed had been a mistaken estimate, and that he was in truth the fine, clean, educated man of the north which on the surface he appeared to be. A man whose aim it was to deal fairly and honorably with the Indians, and who Th reality had the best interests of his people at heart.
No one but Chloe herself will ever know how near she came upon that afternoon to yielding to his pleading, and laying her soul bare to him. But something interposed—fate? Destiny? The materialist smiles “supper.” Be that as it may, had she yielded to Lapierre’s plans, they would have stolen from the school that very night and proceeded to Fort Rae, to be married by the priest at the mission. For Lapierre, fully alive to the danger of delay, had eloquently pleaded his cause.
Not only was MacNair upon his trail —MacNair the relentless, the indomitable—but also the word had passed in the north, and the men of the Mounted— those inscrutable sentinels of the silence whose watchword is “get the man”—were aroused to avenge a comrade. And Lapierre realized with a chill in his heart that he was “the man”! His one chance lay in a timely marriage with Chloe Elliston. and a quick dash for the States. If the dash succeeded, he had nothing to fear. Even if it failed, and he fell into the hands of the Mounted— with the Elliston millions behind him. he felt he could snap his fingers in the face of the law.. Men of millions do not serve time.
For the men who waited him in the Bastile du Mort. Lapierre gave no thought. He would stand by them as long as it furthered his own ends to stand hv them. When they ceased to he a factor in his own safety, they could shift for themselves, even as he, Lapierre, was shifting for himself. Some one has said every man has his price. It is certain that every man has his limit beyond which he may not go.
Lapierre, a man of consummate nerve, had put forth a final effort to save himself. Had put forth the best effort that was in him to induce Chloe Elliston to marry him. He had found the girl, kinder, more receptive than he had dared hope. His spirits arose to a point they had never before attained. Success seemed within his grasp. Then suddenly, just as his fingers were about to close upon the prize—the prize that meant to him life and plenty, instead of death— the Louchoux girl, a passing folly of a bygone day, had suddenly risen up and confronted him—and he knew that his cause was lost.
LAPIERRE had reached his limit of control, and when he turned at the sound of the Indian girl’s voice, his hand instinctively flew to his belt. In his rage at the sudden turn of events, he became for the instant, a madman whose one fought was to destroy her who had wrought the harm. The next instant the snarl died upon his lips and his hand dropped limply to his side. In two strides. Big Lena was upon him and her thick fingers bit deep into his shoulder as she spun him to face her—to face the polished bit of the keen-edged ax which the huge woman flourished carelessly within an inch of his nose.
The fingers released their grip, Lapierre’s gun was jerked from its holster, and a moment later thumped heavily upon the floor of the kitchen fifteen feet away, while the woman pointed grimly toward the overturned chair. Lapierre righted the chair, and as he sank into it, Chloe, whç had stared dumbfounded upon the scene saw that little beads of sweat stood out sharply against the pallor of his bloodless brow. As from a great distance the words of the Louchoux girl fell upon her ears. She was speaking rapidly, and the finger which she pointed at LapieTre trembled violently.
“You lied!” cried the girl. “You have always lied! You lied when you told me we were married ! You lied when you said you would return! Since coming to this school I have learned much. Many things have I learned that 1 never knew before. When you said you would return. I believed you—even as my mother believed my father when he went away in the ship many years ago. and left me a babe in arms to live or to die among the teepees of the Louchoux. the people of mv mother, who was the mother of his child. Mv mother has not been to the school, and she believes some day my father will return. For many years she has waited, has starved, and has suffered—always watching for my father’s return. And the factors have laughed, and the river-men taunted her with being the mother of a fatherless child! Ah, she has paid! Always the Indian women must pay! And I have paid also. All my life have I been hungry, and in the winter I have always been cold.
“Then you came with your laughing lips and your words of love and I went with you. and you took me to distant rivers. All through the summer .there was plenty to eat in our teepee. I was happy, and for the first time in my life my heart was glad — for I loved you! And then came the winter, and the freezing up of the rivers, and the day you told me you must return to the southward—to the land of the white men —without me. And I believed you even when they told me you would not return. I was brave—for that is the way of love, to believe, and to hope, and be brave.”
THE girl’s voice ^faltered, and the trembling hand gripped the back of the chair upon which she leaned heavily for support.
“All my life have I paid,” she continued bitterly. “Yet, it was not enough. Years, when the children of the trappers had at times plenty to eat I was always hungry and cold.
“When you came into my life I
thought at last I had paid in full—that my mother and I both had paid for her belief in the white man’s word. Ah, if I had known! I should have known, for well I remember, it was upon the day before — before I went away with you — that I told you of my father, and of how we always went north in the winter, knowing that again his ship would winter in the ice of the Bufort Sea. And you heard the story and laughed, and you said that my father would not return—that the white men never return. And when 1 grew afraid, you told me that you were part Indian. That your people were my people. I was a fool! I listened to your words!”
The girl dropped heavily into her chair and buried her face in her arms.
“And now I know,” she sobbed,“that I have not even begun to pay!”
Suddenly she leaped to her feet and. dashing around the table placed herself between Lapierre and Chloe, who had listered white-lipped to her words. Once more the voice of the Louchoux girl rang through the room—high-pitched and thin with anger now — and the eyes that glared into the eyes of Lapierre blazed black with fury.
“You have lied to her! But you cannot harm her! With my own ears I heard your words? The same words I heard from your lips before, upon the banks of the far off rivers, and the words are lies-—lies—lies!”—the voice rose to à shriek—“the white woman is good! She is my friend! She has taught me much, and now, I will save her.”
With a swift movement she caught the carving-knife from the table and sprang toward the defenseless Lapierre. “I will cut out your heart in little bits and feed it to the dogs!"
Once more the hand of Big Lena wrenched the knife from the girl’s grasp. And once more the huge Swedish woman fixed Lapierre with her vacuous stare. Then slowly she raised her arm and pointed toward the door: “Ju git! And never ju don’t come back no more. Ay don't lat ju go cause Ay lak ju, but Ay bane ’fraid dis leetle girl she cut ju up and feed ju to de dogs, and Ay no lak for git dem dogs poison!”
And Lapierre tarried not for further orders. Pausing only to recover his hat from its peg on the wall, he opened the outer door and with one sidewise malevolent glance toward the little group at the table, slunk hurriedly from the room.
H ARDLY had the door closed behind him than Chloe, who had sat as one stunned during the girl's accusation and her later outburst of fury, leaped to her feet and seized her arm in a convulsive grip. “Tell me!” she cried: “what do you mean? Speak! Speak, can’t you1* What is this you have said? What is it all about?”
“Why it is he, Pierre Lapierre. He is the free-trader of whom I told you. The man who — who deceived me into believing I was his wife.”
“But,” cried Chloe, staring at her in astonishment. “I thought — I thought MacNair was the man!”
“No! No! No!” cried the girl. “Not MacNair! Pierre Lapierre, he is the man! He who sat in that chair, and whose heart I would cut into tiny bits that you shall not be made to pay, even
as I have paid, for listening to the words of his lips.”
“But,” faltered Chloe, “I don’t — I don’t understand. Surely,-you fear MacNair. Surely, that night when he came into the room, carrying the wounded policeman, you fled from him in terror.”
“MacNair is a white man--”
“But why should you fear him?”
“I fear him," she answered, “because among-the Indians—among the Li.uchoux —the people of my mother, and among the Kskimoes, he is called ‘The Bad Man of the North.' I hated him because Lapierre taught me to hate him. 1 do not hate him now, nor do I fear him. But among the Indians and among the free-traders he is both hated and feared. He chases the free-traders from the rivers, and he kills them and destroys their whisky. For he has said, like the men of the soldier-police, that the red man shall drink no whisky. But the red men like the whisky Their life is hard and they do not have much happiness, and the whisky of the white man makes them happy. Ami in the days before MacNair they could get much whisky, but now the free-traders fear him, and only sometimes do they dare to mtjng whisky to the land of the far-off rivers.
“At the posts .my people may trade for food and for guns and for clothing, but they may not buy whisky. But the free traders sell whisky. Also they will trade for the women. But MacNair has said they shall not trade for the women. At times, when men think he is far away, he comes swooping through the north with his Snare Lake Indians at his heels, and they chase the free-traders from the rivers. And on the shores of the frozen sea he chases the whalemen from the E’skimo villages even to their ships which lie far out from the coast, locked in the grip of the ice-pack.
“For these things I have hated and feared him. Since I have been here at the school I have learned much. Both from your teachings, and from talking with the women of MacNair’s Indians. I know now that MacNair is good, and that the factors and the soldier-police and the priest spoke words of truth, and that Lapierre and the free-traders^lie«! !"
AS the Indian girl poured forth her story Chloe Klliston listened as one in a dream. What was this, she was saying, that it was Lapierre who sold whisky to the Indians, and MacNair who stoo«l firm, and struck mighty blows for the right of things? Surely, this girl’s mind was unhinged—or. had something gone wrong with her own brain? Was it possible she had heard aright?
Suddenly she remembered the words of Corporal Ripley, when he aske«l her to withdraw the charge of murder against MacNair: “In thé north we know something of MacNair’s work." And again: “We know the north needs men like MacNair.”
Could it Vie possible that after all— with the thought there flashed into the girl’s mind the sc«*ne on Snare Lake. Had she not seen with her own eyes th&t;* evidence of this man’s work among th«> Indians! With a gesture of appeal she turnen! to Big Lenp.
“Surely, Lenai you remember that night on Snare Lake? You saw MacNair’s Indiatts. drunk as fiends — and the buiblings all on fire? You saw Mac-
N'air kicking ami knocking them about? Ami you saw him tire the shots that killed two men? Speak, can’t you? Did you see these things? Did I see them? Was 1 dreaming? Or am I dreaming now?”
Big Lena shifted her weight ponderously. ami the stare of the china-blue eyes met steadily the half-startled eyes of the girl. “Yah. Ay seen das all right. Dem Injuns dey awful drunk das night and MacNair he come ’long and schlap dem and kick dem 'round. But das gude for dem. Dey got it cornin’. Dey should not ought to drink Lapierre’s vhiskv.” “Lapierfe’s whisky!” cried the girl. “Are you crazy?"
“Now, Ay tank Ay ain't so crazy. Lapierre he fool ju long tarn.”
“What do you mean?” asked Chloe. “Ah, das a’ right,” answered the woman. “He fool ju gude, but he ain’t fool Big Lena. Ay know all about him for a jear.”
“But," pursued the girl, “Lapierre was with us that night!”
Lena shrugged. “Yah. Lapierre very smart. He send Lefroy ’long wit’ das vhiskv. Den when he know MacNair’s Injuns git awful drunk, he tak’ ju *long for see It.”
“Lefroy!” cried Chloe. “Why, Lefroy was off to; the eastward trying to run down some whisky-runners.”
Big Lena laughed derisively. “How ju fin’ out?’ she asked.
Chloe hesitated. “Why—-why, Lapierre told me."
Again Big Lena laughed. “Yah, Lapierre tal ju, but, Lefroy, he don’t know nothin’ ’bout no vhiskv-runners. Only him and Lapierre dos all de vhisky-running in dis country. Lefroy, he tal me all Tíout das. He tak' das vhisky up dere and he sell it to MacNair’s Injuns, and MacNair shoot after him and kill two Lefroy's men. Ay goin* to marry Lefroy, and he tal me de trut’. He ’fraid to lie to me. or Ay break him in two. Lefroy. he bane gude man now, he quit Lapierre. Ju bet ju if he don't bane gude Ay gif him haal. Ay tal him it bane gude t’ing if MacNair kill him das night.
“Den MacNair come on de school and brung de policeman, Lefroy he ’fraid for sçart, and he goin’ hide in de kitchen, and Ay drag him out ond brung him ’long to see MacNair. Lefroy, he ’fraid lak haal. He squeal MacNair goin’ kill him. But Ay tal him das ain’t much lass annyhow. If. he goin’ to kill him it’s besser he kill him now. den Ay ain’t got to bodder wit’ him no more. But MacNair, ho don’t kill him. Ay tal him Lefroy goin' to be gude man now. and den MacNair he laugh, and tal Lefroy to go ’long and git out de grub/’
“But.” cried Chloe. “You say you have known all about Lapierre for a year, and you knew all the time that MacNair was right, and Lapierre was wrong, and you let me go blindly on thinking Lapierre was my friend/ and treating MacNair as I did ! Why didn’t you tell me?"
“You got voost so manny eyes lak me!” retorted the woman. “Ju neffer ask me vat Av tank ’bout MacNair and ’bout Lapierre. And Ay neffer tal ju das ’cause Ay tank it besser ju fin’ out jourself.' Ay know ju got to fin’ das out sometam’. Den ju believe it. Ju know' lot ’bout vat stands in de books, but das Continued on page 77.
Continued from page 74. mos' lak MacNair say: ’bout lot t’ing, you damn fool!” -j
Chioe gasped. It was the longest j
speech Big Lena had ever made. And ;
the girl Learned that when the big wo1 man chose she could speak straight from ; the shoulder. j
Harriet Penny gasped also. She pushed 1 back her chair, and shook an outraged finger at Big Lena. “Go into the kitchen ! where-you belong!” she cried. “I really cannot permit such language in my presence. You are unspeakably coars^!”
Chlor, whirled on the little woman like a Hash. “You shut up. Hat Penny!” she snapped savagely. “You don’t happen tô do the permitting around here. If your j ears are. too delicate to listen to the* troth, you better go into your own room and shut the door.” And then crossing swiftly to her own room, she opened the door, but before entering shy turned to | Big Lena.. “Make a pot of strong coffee,” she ordered, “and bring it to my here.”
A FEW minutes later when the woj * jnan' entered and deposited the tray ; containing coffee-pot, cream pitcher, and sugar bowl, upon the table, she found ; j Chlo^ striding up and down the room, j ' There was a new light in the girl’s eyes, :
! and very much to Big Lena’s surprise, j ! she turned suddenly upon her and throwing her arms about the massive shoulders, planted a kiss squarely upon the wide, flat mouth.
“Ah,Lena,” she cried happily, “you —you are a dear!” And the Swedish woman, with unexpected gentleness, patted the girl’s shoulder, and as she passed out of the door smiled broadly.
For an hour Chioe paced up and down the little room. At first she could scarcely bring herselfato realize that the two men, MacNair and Lapierre, had changed places. She remembered that in j that very room she had more than once pictured that very thing. As the conviction grew upon her, her pulse quickj ei&d. Never before had she been so suj premely—so wildly happy. There was a strange, barbaric singing in her heart, as for the first time she saw MacNair— the real MacNair at his true worth. MacNair, the big man, the really great man, strong and brave, alone in the north fighting, night and day, against the snarling wolves of the world-waste. Fighting for the good of his Indians and the right of things as they should be.
Her mind dwelt upon the fine courage a^d the patience of him. She recalled the hurt look in his eyes when she ordered his arrest. She remembered his words to the officer—words of kindly apology for her own blind folly, She penetrated the > rough exterior, and read the real gentleness of his soul. And then, with a shame and mortification that almost overwhelmed her, she saw herself as she must appear to him. She recollected how she had accused him, had sneered at him, had called him a liar and a thief, a murderer, and worse.
Tears streamed unheeded from her eyes as she recalled the unconscious pathos of his words as he stood beside his mother’s grave. And the look of reproach with which he sank to the ground when Lapierre’s bullet laid him low. Her heart thrilled at the memory of the blazing wrath of him, the cold gleam of his eyes, the wicked snap of his iron jaw, as he said, ‘‘I have taken the man-trail!” She remembered the words he had once
spoken: “When you have learned the north, we shall be friends.” She wondered now if possibly this thing could ever be’ Had she learned the north? Could she ever atone in his eyes for her cocksureness, her blind egotism.
CHLOE quickened her pace, as if to walk away and leave these things behind. How she hated herself! It seemed to her. in her shame and mortification, that she could never look into this man's eyes again. Her glance strayt‘d to the portrait of Tiger Elliston that stared down at her from its bullet-shattered frame upon the wall.. The eyes of the portrait seemed to bore deep into her own, and the words of MacXair flashed through her brain—the words he had used as he gazed into the eyes of that self-same portrait.
'Unconsciously «— fiercely she repeated those words aloud: “By God! Yon is the face of a man!” She started at the sound of her own voice. And then, like liquid flame, it seemed to the girl the blood of Tiger Elliston seethed and boiled in her veins—spurring her on to do!
“Do what?” she questioned. “What was there left to do. for one who had blundered so miserably?”
Like a flash came the answer. She had done MacXair a great wrong. She must right that wrong, or at least admit it. She must own her error and offer an apology, v
Seating herself at the table, she seized a pen and wrote rapidly for a long, long time. And then for a long time more she sat buried in thought, and at the ¿?nd of an hour she arose and tore up the pages she had written, and sat down again and penned another letter which she placed in an envelope addressed with the name of MacXair.
This done she took the letter, tiptoed across the living room, and pushing open the Louchoux girl’s door entered and seated herself upon the edge of the bed. The Indian girl was wide awake. A brown hand stole from beneath the covers and clasped reassuringly about Chloe’s fingers. She handed the girl the letter.
“I can trust yoia’ she said, “to place this in MacN’air's hifcds. Go to sleep now, I will talk further w’ith you to-morrow.” And with a hurried good-night, Chloe returned to her own room.
She blew out the lamp and threw herself fully dressed upon the bed. Sleep would not come. She stared long at the little patch of moonlight that showed upon the bare floor. She tried to think, but her heart was filled with a strange restlessness. Arising from the bed, she crossed to the w’indow' and stared out across the moonlit clearing towards the dark edge of the forest — the mysterious forest whose depths seemed black with sinister mystery—whose trees beckoned, stretching out their branches like arms.
A strange restlessness came over her. The confines of the little room seemed smothering — crushing her. Crossing to the row of pegs she drew’ on her parka and heavy mittens, and tiptoeing to the outer door, passed out into the night, crossed the moonlit clearing, and stepped half-fearfuily into the deep shadow’ of the forest—to the call of the beckoning arms.
As her form w’as swallowed up in the blackness, another form — a gigantic figure that bore clutched in the grasp of a capable hand the helve of an ax, upon the polished steel of whose double-bitted
blade the moonbeams gleamed cruelly, ! slipped from the door of the kitchen and j followed swiftly in the wake óf the girl. ! Big Lena was taking no chances.
C 0 sudden and unexpected had been ‘D Lapierre’s denouncement at the hands of the small Indian girl and Big Lena that when he quitted Chloe Eliston’s living room the one thought in his mind was to return to his stronghold on Lac du Mort. For the first time the real seriousness of his situation forced itself upon him. He knew that no accident had brought the officer of the Mounted to the Lac du Mort stronghold in company with Bob MacNair, and he realized the utter futility of attempting an escape to the outside, since the shooting of the officer at the very walls of the stockade.
As the husband of Chloe Elliston, the thing might have been accomplished. But alone or in company with the half-dozen outlaws who had accompanied him to the school, never. There was but one course open to him: To return to Lac du Mort and make a staqd against the authorities and against MacJtair. And the fact that the man realized in all probability it would be his last stand, was borne to the understanding of the men who accompanied him.
These men knew nothing of the reason for Lapierre’s trip to the school, but they were not slow to perceive that whatever the reason was, Lapierre had failed in its accomplishment. For they knew Lapierre as a man who rarely lost his temper.
They knew him as one equal to any emergency—one who would shoot a man down in cold blood for disobeying an order or relaxing vigilance, but who would shoot with a smile rather than a frown.
Thus when Lapierre joined them in their camp at the edge of the clearing, and with a torrent of unreasoning curses ordered the dogs harnessed and the outfit, got under jyay for Lac du Mort, thev knew their cause was at best a forlorn hope.
Darkness overtook them and they camped to await the rising of the late moon. While the men prepared the supper, Lapierre glowered upon his sled by the fire, occasionally leaping to his feet to stamp impatiently up and down upon the snow. The leader spoke no word and none ventured to address him. The meal was eaten in silence. At its conclusion the men took heart and sprang eagerly to obey an order — the order puzzled them not a little, but no man questioned it. For the command came crisp and sharp, and without profanity, in a voice they well knew. Lapierre was himself again, and his black eyes gleamed wickedly as he rolled a cigarette by the light of the rising moon.
The dogs were whirled upon the backtrail. and once more the outfit headed for the school upon the bank of the Yellow Knife. It was well toward midiiight when Lapierre called a halt. They were dose to the edge of the clearing. Leaving one man with the dogs and motioning the others to follow, he, stole noiselessly from tree to tree until the dull square of light that glowed from the window of Chloe Elliston’s room showed distinctly through the interlacing branches. The quarters of the Indians were shrouded in darkness. For a long time Lapierre stood staring at the little square of light* while his men,
motionless as statues, blended into the shadows of the trees. The light was extinguished. The quarter-breed moved to the edge of the clearing, and seating himself upon the root of a gnarled banskian, rapidly outlined his plan.
Suddenly his form stiffened and he drew close against the trunk of his tree, motioning the others to do likewise. The door of the cottage had opened. A parkadad figure stepped from the little veranda, paused uncertainly in the moonlight, and then, with light, swinging strides, moved directly toward the banskian. Lapierre’s pulse quickened, and his lips twisted into an evil smile. That the figure was no other than Chloe Elliston was easily discernible in the bright moonlight, and with fiendish satisfaction the quarter-breed realized that the girl was playing directly into his hands. For, as he sat upon the sled beside the little campfire, his active brain had evolved a new scheme. If Chloe Elliston could not be made to accompany him willingly, why not unwillingly?
Lapierre believed that once safely entrenched behind the barriers of the Bastile du Mort,, he could hold out for a matter of six months against Bny forces which were likely to attack him. He realized that his most serious danger was from MacNair and his Indians. For Lapierre knew MacNair. He knew that once upon his trail, MacNair would relentlessly stick to that trail—the trail that must end at a grave—many graves, in fact. For as the forces stood, Lapierre knew that.many men must die, and bitterly he cursed Lefroy for disclosing. to MacNair the whereabouts of the Mausers concealed in the storehouse.
The inevitable attack of the Mounted he knew would come later. For the man knew their methods. He knew that a small detachment, one officer, or perhaps two, would appear before the barricade and demand his surrender, and when surrender was refused, a report would go in to headquarters, and after that—Lapierre shrugged—well, that was a problem of to-morrow! In the mean time, if he held Chloe Elliston prisoner under threat of death, it was highly probable that he could deal to advantage with MacNair, and, at the proper time, with the Mounted. If not—Voila! It was a fight to the death, anyway. And again Lapierre shrugged.
EARER arid nearer drew the unsusAr* pecting figure of the girl. The man notedthe haughty, almost arrogant beauty of her, as the moonlight played upon the firm, resolute features, framed by the oval of her parka-hood. The next instant she paused in the shadow of his banskian, almost at his side.
Lapiérre sprang to his feet and stood facing her there in the snow. The smile of the thin lips hardened as he noted the sudden pallor of her face and the look of wild terror that flashed for a moment from her eyes. And then, almost on the instant, the girl’s eyes narrowed, the firm white chin thrust forward, and the red lips curled into a sneer of infinite loathing and contempt. Instinctively, Lapierre knew that the hands within the heavy mittens had clenched into fighting fists. For an instant she faced him, and then, drawing away as if he were some grizzly, loathsome thing poisoning the air he breathed, she spoke. Her voice trembled with the fury of her words, and Lapierre winced to the lash of a woman’s scorn.
“You—you dogV* she cried. “You dirty, low-lived cur! How dare you
stand there grinning? How dare you show your face? Oh, if I were a man I would—I would strangle the life from your vile, sneaking body with my two
The words ended in a stifled cry. With a snarl, Lapierre sprang upon her, pinning her arms to her side. The next instant before his eyes loomed the form of Big Lena, who leaped toward him with upraised ax swung high. In the excitement of the moment, the man had not noted her approach. With a swift movement he succeeded in forcing the body of the girl between himself and the upraised blade.
With a shrill cry of rage Lena dropped the ax and rushed to a grip. Sounded then a sickening thud, and the huge woman pitched face downward into the snow, while behind her.one of Lapierre’s outlaws tossed a heavy club into the bush and rushed to the assistance of his chief. The others came, and with incredible rapidity Chloe Elliston was gagged and bound hand and foot, and the men were carrying her to the waiting sled.
For a moment Lapierre hesitated, gazing longingly toward the cottage as he debated in his mind the advisability of rushing across the clearing and settling his score with Mary, the Louchoux girl, whose unexpected appearance had turned the tide so strongly against him.
“Better let well enough alone!” he grow’led savagely. “I must reach Lac du Mort ahead of MacNair.” And he turned with a curse from the clearing to see an outlaw, with knife unsheathed, stooping over the unconscious form of Big Lena. The quarter-breed kicked the knife from the man’s hand.
“Bring her along!” he ordered gruffly. “I will attend to her later.” And, despite the hurt of his bruised Angers; the man grinned as he noted the venomous gleam in the leader’s eye. For not only was Lapierre thinking of the proselyting of Lefroy, who had been his most trusted lieutenant, but of his own disarming, and the meaning stare of the flshlike eyes that had prompted him to abandon .his attempt to poison MacNair when he lay wounded in Chloe Elliston’s room.
IT was yet early when, as had become her custom, the Louchoux girl dressed hurriedly and made her way to the kitchen to help Lena in the preparation of breakfast. To her surprise she found that the fire.had not been lighted nor was Big Lena in the little room which had been built for her adjoining the kitchen.
The quick eyes of the girl noted that the bed had not been disturbed, and with a sudden fear in her heart she dashed to the door of Chloe’s room, where, receiving no answer to her frantic knocking, she pushed open the door and entered. Chloe’s bed had not been slept in, and her parka was missing from its peg upon the wall.
As the Indian girl turned from the room Harriet Penny’s door opened, and she caught a glimpse of a night-capped head as the little spinster glanced timidly out to inquire into the unusual disturbance.
“Where have they gone?” cried the girl.
“Gone? Gone?” asked Miss Penny. “What do you mean? Who has gone?” “She’s gone—Miss Elliston—and Big Lena, too. They have not slept in their beds.”
It took a half-minute for this bit of
information to percolate Miss Penny's understanding, and when it did she uttered a shrill scream, banged her door, turned the key, and shot; the bolt upon the inside.
Alone in the living-room, the last words Chloe had spoken to her flashed through the Indian girl’s mind: “I can
trust YOU to place this in MacNair’s hands.”
Without a second thought for Miss Penny, she rushed into her room, recovered the letter from its hiding-place beneath the pillow, thrust it into the bosom of her gown, and hastily prepared for the trail.
In the kitchen she made up a light pack of provisions, and, with no other thought than to find MacNair. opened the door and stepped out into the keen, frosty air. The girl knew only that Snare Lake lay somewhere up the river, but this gave her little concern, as no snow had fallen since MacNair had departed with his Indians a week before, and she knew his trail would be plain.
From her window Harriet' Penny watched the departure of the girl, and before she was half-way across the clearing the little woman appeared in the doorway, commanding, begging, pleading in shrill falsetto, not to be left alone. Hearing the cries, the girl quickened her pace, and without so much as a backward glance passed swiftly down the steep slope to the river.
BORN to the snow-trail, the Louchoux girl made good time. During the month she had spent at Chloe’s school she had for the first time in her life been sufficiently clothed and fed, and now with the young muscles of her bodv well nourished and in the pink of condition she fairly flew over the trail.
Hour after hour she kept up the pace" without halting. She passed the mouth of the small tributary upon which she had ûrii seen Chloe. The Mace conjured vivia memories of the white woman .and all she-had done for her and meant to her—memories that servet! as a continual spur to her flying feet. It was well toward noon when, upon rounding a sharp bend, she came suddenly face to face with the Indians and the dog-teams that MacNair had despatched for provisions.
She bounded among them like a flash, singled out Wee Johnnie Tamarack, and
proceeded to deluge the old man with an avalanche of words. When finally she paused for sheer lack of breath, the old Indian, who had understood but the smallest fragment of what sh'e had said, remained obviouslv unimpressed. Whereupon the girl oroduced 'the letter, which she waved before his face, accompanyine the act with another tirade of words, of which the Indian understood less than he hail of the previous outburst.
Wee Johnnie Tamarack took his orders only from MacNair. MacNair had said. “Go to the school for provisions.” and to the school he m"ust: go. Nevertheless, the sight of the letter impressed him. For in the northland His Majesty’s mail is held sacred and must be carried to its destination though the heavens fall.
To the mind of Wee Johnnie Tamarack a letter was “mail,” and the fact that its , status might be altered by the absence of His Majesty’s stamp upon its corner was an affair beyond the old man’s comprehension.
Therefore he ordered the other Indians
to continue their journey, and, motioning the girl to a place on the sled,' headed Ris dogs northward and sent them skimming over the back-trail.
Wee Johnnie Tamarack was counted one of the best dog mushers in the^north, and as the girl had succeeded in implanting in the old man's mind an urgent need of haste, he exerted his talent to the utmost. Mile after mile, behind the flying feet of the tireless malamutes the sledrunners slipped smoothly over the crust of the ice-hard snow.
AND at midnight of the second day they dashed across the smooth surface of the-lake and brought up with a rush before the door of MacNair’s own cabin, which luckily had been spared bv the flames.
It was a record drive for a “two-man” load—that drive of Wee Johnnie Tamarack’s, having clipped twelve hours from a thirty-six hour trail.
MacNair’s door flew open to their frantic pounding. The girl thrust the letter into his hand, and with a supreme effort told what she knew of the disappearance of Chloe and Big Lena. Whereupon, she threw herself at full length upo* the floor and immediately sank into a profound sleep.
MacNair fumbled upon the shelf for .a candle and, lighting it, seated himself beside the table, and tore the enveloœ from the letter. Never in his life had the man read words penned by the hand of a woman. The fingers that held the letter trembled, and he wondered at the wild beating of his heart.
The story of the Louchoux girl had aroused in him a sudden fear. He wondered vaguely that the disappearance of Chloe Elliston could have caused the dull hurt in his breast. The pages in his hand were like no letter he had ever received. There was something personal—intimate—about them. His huge fingers grinned them lightlv, and» he turned them over and over in his hand, gazing almost in awe upon the bold, angular writin". Then, very slowly, he began to read the words.
Unconsciously, he read them aloud, and as he read a strange lump arose in his throat so that his voice became husky and the words faltered. He read the letter through to the end. He leaped to his feet and strode rapidly un and down the toom, his fists clenched and his breath coming in great gasns.
Bob MacNair was fighting. Fighting against an irresistible impulse—an imnulse as new and strange to him as though bom of another world—an imoulse to find Chloe Elliston. to .take her in his arms, and to crush her close against his wildly pounding heart.
Minutes-passed as the man strode up and down the length of the little room, and then once more he seated himself at the table and read the letter througji. DEAR MR. MACNAIR:
I cannot leave the north without this little word to you. I have learned many things since I last saw you—things I should have learned long ago. You ^ere right about the Indians, about Lapierre, about me. .1 know now that I have been a fooL Lapierre always removed his hat in my presence, therefore he was a gentleman! Oh, what a fool I was!
I will not attempt to apologize. I have been too natty, and hateful, and mean for any apology. You said once that some day we should be friends. I am reminding you of this because I want you to think of me as a friend. Wherever I may be, I will think of you always. Of the splendid courage of the man who, surrounded by treachery and
intrigue and the vicious attacks of the powI era that prey, dares to stand upon his convidions and to fight alone for the good of the north—for the cause of those who wiir never be able to fight for themselves.
It will not be necessary to tell you that I shall go straight to the headquarters of the Mounted and withdraw iqy charge against you. I have heard of your lawless raids into the far north; I think they are tplendidt Keep the good work up! Shoot as straight as you can - as straight as you shot that night on Snare Lake. I should love to stand at your side and shoot, too. But that can never be.
Just a word more. Lena is going to marry Lefroy; .and, knowing Lena as I do, I think his reformation is assured. I am leaving everything to them. The contents of the storehouse will set them up as independent traders
And pow farewell. I want you to have my most valued possession, the portrait of my grandfather, Tiger Elliston, the man 1 have always admired more than any other until—
Until what? wondered MacNair. The word had been crossed out, and he finished the letter still wondering.
^When you look at the picture in its splintered frame, think sometimes of the “fool moose calf,” who, having succeeded by the narrowest margin in eluding the fangs of “the wolf.” is returning, wiser, to its mountains. - ■ ,
Yours very truly—and very, very repentantly, CHLOE ELLISTON.
TÓ be Continued.