The Gun Brand
A Stirring Story of the Canadian Northland
James B. Hendryx
Author of “Marquard the Silent," “The Promise," etc.
BOB MACNAIR lost his fight. He arose once more, his great frame trembling in the grip of a new thrill. He stretched his great arm to the southward in a silent sign of surrender. He sought not to dodge the issue, strange and wonderful as it seemed to him. He loved this woman—loved her as he knew he could love no other—as he had never dreamed it was in the heart of man to love.
And then, with the force of a blow, came the realization that this woman— his woman—was at that very instant, in all probability, at the mercy of a fiend who would stop at nothing to gain his own ends. He leaped to the door.
“By God, I'll tear his heart out!” he roared as he wrenched at the latch. And the next instant the shores of Snare Lake echoed to the wild, weird sound of the wolf-cry—the call of MacNair to his clan ! Other calls and other summons might be ignored upon provocation, but when the terrible wolf-cry shattered the silence of the forest MacNair’s Indians rushed to his side.
Only death itself could deter them from foregathering at the sound of the wolfcry. Before the echoes of MacNair’s voice had died away dark forms were speeding through the moonlight From all directions they came; from the cabins that yet remained standing, from the tents pitched close against the unburned walls of the stockade, from rude wickiups of skins and of brushwood.
Old men and young men they answered the call, and each in his hand bore a rifle. MacNair snapped a few quick orders. Men rushed to harness the dog-teams while others provisioned the sleds for the trail.
With one arm MacNair swung the Louchoux girl from the floor, and, picking up his rifle, dashed out into the night
Wee Johnnie Tamarack, just in from a twenty-four-hour trail, stood at the head of MacNair’s own dogs—the seven great Athabasca River dogs that had carried him into the north. With a cry to his Indians to follow and to bring the Louchoux girl, MacNair threw himself bellywise onto his sled, gave voice to a weird cry as his dogs shot out across the white sñow-level of Snare Lake, and headed southward toward the Yellow Knife.
He laughed aloud as he glanced over the back-trail and noted that half of his Indians were already following. He had chosen that last cry well. Never before had the Indians heard it from the white man’s lips, and they thrilled at the sound to the marrow. The blood surged through the veins of the wild men as it had not surged in long decades. It was the warcry of the Yellow Knives.
BOB MACNAIR’S sled seemed hardly to touch the hard surface of the snow. The great malemuits ran low and true over the well-defined trail. He had selected the dogs with an eye to speed and endurance at the time he had headed northward with Corporal Ripley after his release from the Fort Saskatchewan jail.
The shouts of the following Indians died away. Familiar landmarks leaped past, and save for an occasional word of encouragement MacNair let the dogs set their own pace. For, consumed as he was by anxiety for what might lie at the end of the trail, he knew that the homing instinct of the wolf-dogs would carry them more miles and in better heart than the sting of his long gut-lash.
At daylight the man halted for a halfhour, fed his dogs, and boiled tea, which he drank in great gulps, hot and black, from the rim of the pot. At noon one of the dogs showed signs of distress, and MacNair cut him loose, leaving him to follow as best he could. When darkness fell only three dogs remained in harness, and these showed plainly the effects of the long-trail strain. While behind, somewhere upon the wide stretch of the Yellow Knife, the other four limped painfully in the wake of their stronger team-mates.
An hour passed, during which the pace slackened perceptibly, and then, with only ten miles to go, two more dogs laid down. Pausing only to cut them free from the harness, MacNair continued the trail on foot. The hard-packed surface of the snow made the racquettes unnecessary, and the man struck into a long, swinging trot—the stride of an Indian runner.
Mile after mile slipped by as the huge muscles of him, tireless as bands of steel, flexed and sprung with the regularity of clockworks. The rising moon was just topping the eastern pines as he dashed up the steep bank of the clearing. For a moment he halted as his glance swept the familiar outlines of the log buildings, standing back and clean-cut and somber in the light of the rising moon.
MacNair drew a deep breath, and the next moment the long wolf-cry boomed out over the silent clearing. As if by magic, the clearing sprang into life. Lights shone from the barrack windows and from the windows of the cabins beyond; doors banged. The white snow of the clearing was dotted with s-wift-moving forms as men, women, and children answered the clan-call of MacNair, shouting to one another as they ran, in hoarse, deep gutturals.
In an instant MacNair singled out Old Elk from among the crowding forms. “What’s happened here?” hecried. “Where is the white kloochman?"
Old Elk had taken charge of the thirty Indians MacNair had despatched for provisions, and immediately upon learning from the lips of the Indian women of Chloe’s disappearance he had left the loading of the sleds to the others while he worked out the signs in the snow. Thus at MacNair’s question the old Indian motioned him to follow, and, starting at the door of the cottage, he traced Chloe’s trail to the banskian, and there in a few words and much silent pantomime he explained without doubt or hesitation exactly what had taken place from the moment of Chloe’s departure from the cottage until she was carried, bound and gagged and placed upon Lapierre’s waiting
As MacNair followed the old Indian’s story his fists clenched, his eyes hardened to points, and the breath whistled through his nostrils in white plumes of frost-
Old Elk finished and, pointing eloquently in the direction of Lac du Mort, asked eagerly:
“You follow de trail of Lapierre?”
MacNair nodded, and before he could reply the Indian stepped close to his side and placed a withered hand upon his arm.
“Me, I’m lak’ y’u fadder,” he said; “y’u lak’ my own son. Y’u follow de trail of Lapierre. Y’u tak’ de white kloochman away from Lapierre, an’ den, by gar, when y’u got her y’u ke’p her. Dat kloochman, him damn fine ’ornan!”
Realizing his worst fears were verified, MacNair immediately set about preparations for the attack on Lapierre’s stronghold. All night he superintended the breaking out of supplies in the storehouse and the loading of sleds for the trail, and at the first streak of dawn the vanguard of Indians who had followed him from Snare Lake swarmed up the bank from the river.
MacNair selected the freshest and strongest of these, and with the thirty who were already at the school, struck into the timber with sleds loaded light for a quick dash, leaving the heavier impedimenta to follow in care of the women and those who were yet to arrive from Snare Lake.
The fact that MacNair had made use of the wolf-cry to call them together, his set face, and terse, quick commands told the Indians that this was no ordinary expedition. and the eyes of the men glowed with anticipation. The long-promised — the inevitable—battle was at hand. The time had come for ridding the north of Lapierre. And the fight would be a fight to the death.
It took three days for MacNair’s flying squadron to reach the fort at Lac du Mort. By the many columns of smoke that arose from the surface of the little plateau, he knew that the men of Lapierre waited the attack in force. MacNair led his Indians across the lake and into the black spruce swamp. A halfdozen scouts were sent out to surround the plateau, with orders to report immediately anything of importance.
Old Elk was detailed to follow the trail of Lapierre’s sled to the very walls of the stockade. For well MacNair knew that the crafty quarter-breed was quite capable of side-stepping the obvious and carrying the girl to some rendezvous unknown to anyone but himself. The remaining Indians he set to work felling trees for a small stockade which would serve as a defense against a surprise attack. Saplings were also felled for light ladders to be used in the scaling of Lapierre’s walls.
Evening saw the completion of a substantial five-foot barricade, and soon after dark Old Elk appeared with the information that both Chloe and Big Lena, as well as Lapierre himself, were within the confines of the Bastile du Mort. The man also proudly displayed a bleeding scalp which he had ripped from the head of one of Lapierre’s scouts who had blundered upon the old man as he lay concealed behind a snow-covered log. The sight of the gruesome trophy with its long black hair and blood-dripping flesh excited the Indians to a fever pitch. The scalp was placed upon a pole driven into the snow in the centre of the little stockade. And for hours the Indians danced about it, rendering the night hideous with the wild chants and wails of their weird incantations.
As the night advanced and the incantations increased in violence, MacNair arose from the robe he had spread beside his camp-fire, and drawing away from the wild savagery of thè scene, stole alone out into the dense blackness of the swamp and detouring to the shore of the lake, seated himself upon an uprooted tree-
A N hour passed as he sat thinking— M X staring into the dark. The moon rose and illumined with soft radiance the indomitable land of the raw. MacNair’s gaze roved from the forbidding blackness of the farther shore-line, across the dead, cold snow-level of the ice-locked lake, to the bold headlands that rose sheer upon his right and upon his left. The scene was one of unbending hardness—of nature’s frowning defiance of man. The soft touch of the moonlight jarred upon his mood. Death lurked in the shadows — and death, and worse than death, awaited the dawning of the day. It was a hard land—the north—having naught to do with beauty and the soft brilliance of moonlight. He glanced toward the jutting rock-ribbed plateau that was Lapierre’s stronghold. Out of the nightout of the intense blackness of the spruceguarded dark came the wailing howl of the savage scalp-dance.
“The real spirit of the north," he murmured bitterly. He arose to his feet, and with his eyes fixed upon the bold headland of the little plateau, stretched his great arms toward the spot that concealed the woman he loved—and then he turned and passed swiftly into the blackness of the forest.
But despite the frenzy of the blood lust, at no time were the Indians out of MacNair’s control, and at midnight when he ordered quiet, the incantations ceased at the word and they sought their blankets to eagerly dream of the morrow.
Morning came, and long before sunrise a long line of men, women, and heavily laden dog-sleds put out from the farther shore of the lake and headed for the black-spruce swamp. The clan of MacNair was gathering to the call of the wolf.
The newcomers were conducted to the log stockade where the women were left to store the provisions, while MacNair called a council of his fighting men and laid out his plan of attack. He glanced with pride into the eager faces of the men who would die for him. He counted eighty-seven men under arms, thirty of whom were armed with Lapierre’s Mau-
THE position of the quarter-breed’s fort admitted only one plan of attack —to rush the barricade that stretched across the neck of the little peninsula. MacNair longed for action. He chafed with impatience to strike the blow that would crush forever the power of Lapierre, yet he found himself wholly at the mercy of Lapierre. For somewhere behind that barrier of logs was the woman he loved. He shuddered at the thought. He knew Lapierre. Knew that the man’s white blood and his education, instead of civilizing, had served to heighten and to refine the barbaric cruelty and savagery of his heart. He knew that Lapierre would stop at nothing to gain an end. His heart chilled at the possibilities. He dreaded to act — yet he knew that he must act.
He dismissed the idea of a siege. A quick, fierce assault—an attack that should have no lull, nor armistice until his Indians had scaled the stockade was preferable to the heart-breaking delay of a siege. MacNair decided to launch his attack with so fierce an onslaught that Lapierre would have no time to think of the girl. But if worst came to worst, and he did think of her, what he would do he would be forced to do quickly.
Grimly, MacNair led his warriors to the attack, and as the lean-faced horde moved silently through the timbered aisles of the swamp, the sound of scattering shots was borne to their ears as the scouts exchanged bullets with Lapierre’s sentries.
A CLEARED space, thirty yards in width, separated the forest from the barricade, and with this clearing in sight, in the shelter of the snow-laden spruces, MacNair called a halt, and in a brief address gave his Indians their final instructions. In their own tongue he addressed them, falling naturally in the oratorical swing of the council fire.
“The time has come, my people, as I have told you it must sometime come, for the final reckoning with Lapierre. Not because the man has sought my life, am I fighting him. I would not call upon you to risk your lives to protect mine; not to avenge the burning of my storehouse, nor yet, because he dug my gold. I am fighting him because he has struck at your homes, and the homes of your wives and your children. You are my people, and your interests are my interests.
“I have not preached to you, as do the good fathers at the mission, of a life in a world to come. Of that I know nothing. It is this life—the daily life we are living now, with which I have to do. I have taught you to work with your hands, because he who works is better clothed, and better fed, and better housed than he who does not work. I have commanded you not to drink the white man’s firewater, not because it is wrong to be drunken. A man’s life is his own. He may do with it as he pleases. But a man who is drunk is neither well nor happy. He will not work. He sees his women and his children suffering nnd in want, and he does not care. He beats them and drives them into the cold. He is no longer a mun, but a brute, meaner and more to be despised than the wolf—for a wolf feeds his young. Therefore, I have commanded you to drink no firewater.
“I have not made you learn from books; for books are things of the white men. In books men have written many things; but in no book is anything written that will put warmer clothes upon your backs, or more meat in your caches. The white kloochman came among you with books. Her heart is good and she is a friend of the Indian, but all her life has she lived in the land of the white men. And from books, the white men learn to gather their meat and their clothing. Therefore, she thought that the Indians also should learn from books.
“But the white kloochman has learned now the needs of the north. At first I feared she would not learn that it is the work of the hands that counts. When I knew she had learned I sent you to her, for there are many things she can teach you, and especially your women and children, of which I know nothing.
“The white kloochman, your good friend, has fallen into the hands of Lapierre. We are men, and we must take her from Lapierre. And now the time has come to fight! You are fighting men and the children of fighting men! When this fight is over there will be peace in the northland! It will be the last fight for many ot us—for many of us must die! Lapierre’s men are well armed. They will fight hard, for they know it is their last stand. Kill them as long as they continue to fight, but do not kill Lapierre!"
His eyes flashed dangerously as he paused to glance into the faces of his fighters.
"No man shall kill Lapierre!” he repeated. “He is mine! With my own hands will I settle the score; and now listen well to the final word:
“Drag the ladders to the edge of the clearing, scatter along the whole front in the shelter of the trees, and at the call of the hoot-owl you shall commence firing. Shoot whenever one of Lapierre’s men shows himself. But remain well concealed, for the men of Lapierre will be entrenched behind the loop-holes. At the call of the loon you shall cease firing.”
MacNair rapidly told out twenty who were to man the ladders.
“At the call of the wolf, rush to the stockade with the ladders, and those who have guns shall follow. Then up the ladders and over the walls! After that, fight, every man for himself, but mind you well, that you take Lapierre alive, for Lapierre is mine !”
THF laddermen stationed themselves at the edge of the timber, and the men who carried the guns scattered along the whole width of the clearing. Then from the depths of the forest suddenly boomed the cry of the hoot-owl. Heads appeared over the edge of Lapierre’s stockade, and from the shelter of the black spruce swamp came the crash of rifles. The heads disappeared, and of Lapierre’s men many tumbled backward into the snow, while others crouched upon the firing ledge which Lapierre had constructed near the top of his log stockade and answered the volley, shooting at random into the timber. But only as a man’s head appeared, or as his body showed between the spaces of the logs, were their shots returned. MacNair’s Indians were biding their time
For an hour this ineffectual and abortive sniping kept up, and then from the walls of the stockade appeared that for which MacNair had been waiting—a white flag fluttering from the end of a sapling. Raising his head, MacNair imitated the call of the loon, and the firing ceased in the timber. Having no white rag MacNair waved a spruce bough and stepped boldly out into the clearing.
The head and shoulders of Lapierre appeared above the wall of the barricade, and for several moments the two faced each other in silence. MacNair, grim, determined, scowling—Lapierre, defiant, crafty, with his thin lips twisted into a mocking smile. The quarter-breed was the first to speak.
“So,” he drawled, “my good friend ha s come to visit his neighbor! Come right in, I assure you a hearty welcome, but you must come alone! Your retainers are too numerous and entirely too bourgeois to eat at a gentleman’s table.”
“But not to drink from his bottle,” retorted MacNair. “I am coming in—but not alone!”
Lapierre laughed derisively. “O-ho, you would come by force—by force of arms, eh! Well, come along, but I warn you, you do so at your peril. My men are all armed, and the walls are thick and high. Rather, I chose to think you will listen to reason.” “Reason!” roared MacNair. “I will reason with you when we come to hand's grips!”
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Lapierre shrugged. “As you please,” he answered; “I was only thinking of your own welfare, and, perhaps, of the welfare of another, who will to a certainty fare badly in case your savages attack us. I myself am not of brutal nature,
but among my men are some who-”
He paused and glanced significantly into MacNair’s eyes. Again he shrugged— “We will not dwell upon the possibilities, but here is the lady, let her speak for herself. She has begged for the chance to say a word in her own behalf. I will only add that you will find me amenable to reason. It is possible that our little differences may be settled in a manner satisfactory to all, and without bloodshed.”
THE man stepped aside upon the firing ledge, evidently in order to let some one pass up the ladder. The next instant the face of Chloc Elliston appeared above the logs of the stockade. At the sight of the girl MacNair felt the blood surge through his veins. He took a quick step forward and at a glance noted the unwonted pallor of her cheeks, the flashing eyes, and the curve of the outthrust chin.
Then clear and firm her voice sounded in his ears. He strained forward to catch the words, and at that moment he knew in his heart that this woman meant more to him than life itself—more than revenge —more even than the welfare of his In-
"You received my letter?” asked the
girl eagerly. “Can you forgive me? Do you understand?”
MacNair answered, controlling his voice with difficulty: “There is nothing to forgive. I have understood you all
“You will promise to grant one request—for my sake?”
Without hesitation came the man’s answer: “Anything you ask.”
“On your soul, will you promise, and will you keep that promise regardless of consequences?”
“I promise,” answered the man, and his voice rang harsh. For revenge upon Lapierre with his own hands had been the dearest hope of his life. At the next words of the girl, an icy hand seemed clutching at his heart.
"Then fight!” she cried. "Fight! Fight! Fight! Shoot! and cut! And batter! And kill! Until you have ridded the north of this fiend!”
W'H a snarl, Lapierre leaped toward the girl with arm upraised. There was a chorus of hoarse cries from behind the walls. Before the uplifted arm could descend the figure of Lapierre disappeared with startling suddenness. The next instant the gigantic form of Big Lena appeared, head and shoulders above the walls of the stockade at the point where Lapierre had been. The huge shoulders stooped, the form of Chloe Elliston arose as on air, shot over the wall, and dropped Continued on page 104.
Continued f rom page 102.
into a crumpled heap upon the snow at its base. The face of Big Lena framed by flying strands of flaxen hair appeared
Sr a mftmjgnt above the wall, and then e sound of a shot rang sharp and clear. The face disappeared, and from beyond the wall came the muffled thud of a heavy body striking the snow.
A dark head appeared above the walls at the point near where the girl had fallen, and an arm was thrust over the logs. MacNair caught the glint of a blue-black barrel. Like a flash he drew his automatic and fired. The revolver dropped from the top of the wall to the snow, and the hand that held it gripped frantically at the logs and disappeared.
MacNair threw back his head, and loud and clear on the frosty air blared the call of the wolf. The whole line of the forest spit flame. The crash and roar of a hundred guns was in the air as the men from behind the barricade replied. Lithe forms carrying ladders dashed across the open space. Many pitched forward before the wall and lay doubled grotesquely upon the white strip of snow, while eager hands carried the ladders on.
THE GUN BRAND
CHLOE ELLISTON lay in the snow, partially stunned by her fail from the top of the stockade. She was not unconscious—her hearing and vision were unimpaired, but her numbed brain did not grasp the significance of the sights and sounds which her senses recorded. She wondered vaguely how it happened she was lying there in the snow when she distinctly remembered that she was standing upon the narrow firing ledge urging MacNair to fight. There was MacNair now! She could see him distinctly. Even as she looked the man drew his pistol and fired. Something struck the snow almost within reach of her hand. It was a revolver. Chloe glanced upward, but saw only the log wall of the stockade which seemed to tower upward until it touched the sky.
The forces of MacNair and Lapierre had locked horns in the final struggle, and her fate, and the fate of the whole north, hung in the balance. All about her were the hideous sounds of battle. She was surprised that she was unafraid; instead, the blood seemed coursing through her veins with the heat of flame. Her heart seemed bursting with a wild, fierce joy. Something of which she had always been dimly conscious—some latent thing which she had always held in check—seemed suddenly to burst within her. A flood of fancies crowded her brain. The wicked crack of the rifles became the roar of cannon. Tall masts, to which clung shottorn shrouds, reared high above a fog of powder smoke, and beyond waved the tops of palm-trees. The spirit of Tiger Elliston had burst its bounds.
With a cry like the scream of a beast,
the girl leaped to her feet. She tore the heavy mittens from her hands, and reached for the revolver which lay in the snow at her side. She leaped toward MacNair, who had regained his feet, red with the life-blood of the Indian who lay upon his back in the snow, staring upward, wide-eyed, unseeing, throatless. She called loudly, but her voice was lost in the mighty uproar, and MacNair sprang up the ladder.
T IKE a flash Chloe followed, holding her heavy revolver as he had held his. She glanced upward; MacNair had disappeared over the edge of the stockade. The next instant she, too, had reached the top. She paused, looking downward. MacNair was scrambling to his feet. Ten feet away a man leveled a gun at him. He fired from his knee, and the man pitched forward. Upon him, from behind, rushed two men swinging their rifles high. They had almost reached him when Chloe fired straight down. The nearest man dropped his rifle and staggered against the wall. The other paused and glanced upward. Chloe shot squarely into his face. The bullet ripped downward, splitting his jaw. The man rushed screaming over the snow, tearing with both hands at the wound.
Suddenly Chloe realized that the battle had surged beyond her. Shots and hoarse cries arose from the scrub beyond the storehouse, while all about her, in the trampled snow, wounded men cursed and prayed, and dead men froze in the slush of their own heart’s blood. The girl followed into the scrub, and to her surprise came face to face with the Louchoux girl, who was carrying armfuls of dry brushwood, which she piled against the corner of the storehouse.
Chloe glanced into the black eyes that glowed like living coals. The Indian girl added her armful to the pile and, drawing matches from her pocket, dropped to her knees in the snow. She pointed toward the log storehouse.
“Lapierre ran inside,” she said.
ONE end of the storehouse and half the roof was ablaze, while thick, heavy smoke curled from beneath the full length of the eaves and through the chinkings of the logs. Chloe had almost completed the circle when suddenly she came to a halt, for there, pressed tight against the logs close beside the jamb of the closed door, stood MacNair. All about her the Indians stood in tense expectancy. Their eyes gleamed bright, and the. breath hissed between parted lips—short; quick breaths of excitement. The flames had not yet reached the front of the storehouse, but tiny puffs of smoke found their way out above the door. As she looked the form of MacNair stiffened, and Chloe gasped as she saw that the man was unarmed.
Suddenly the door flew open, and Lapierre, clutching au automatic in either hand, leaped swiftly into the open. The next instant his arms were pinioned to his
sides. A loud cry went up from the watching Indians, and from ail quarters came the sound of rushing feet as those who had guarded the windows crowded about
Lapierre was no weakling. He strained and writhed to free himself from the encircling arms. But the arms were bands of steel, clamping tighter and tighter about him. Slowly MacNair worked his hand downward to the other’s waist. There was a lightning-like jerk, and automatic flew into the air and dropped harmless into the snow. The same instant MacNair’s grasp tightened about the other wrist. He released Lapierre’s disarmed hand and, reaching swiftly, tore the other gun from the man’s fingers.
Slowly, MacNair raised his gun—Lapierre’s own gun that he had wrenched, bare handed from his grasp. Raised it until the muzzle reached the level of Lapierre’s eyes. Chloe had stared wideeyed throughout the whole proceeding. Gazing in fascination at the slow deliberateness of the terrible ordeal.
As the muzzle of the gun came to rest between Lapierre’s eyes the girl sprang to MacNair’s side. “Don’t! Oh, don’t kill him!” Her voice rose almost to a shriek. “Don’t kill him—for my sake!”
“I am not going to kill him,” he said, “but, by God! He will wish I had! I hope he will live to be an old, old man. To the day of his death he will carry my mark. Bone-deep he will carry the scar of the gun-brand! The cross of the curse of Cain !”
MacNair turned from the girl and again the gun crept slowly upward. The quarter-breed had heard the words. With a mighty effort he filled his lungs and from between the blue-gray lips sang a wild, shrill scream of abysmal soulterror. Chloe Elliston’s heart went sick at the cry, which rang in her ears as the very epitome of mortal agony. She felt her knees grow weak and she glanced at the Louchoux girl, who knelt close, still staring into the upturned face, the while her red lips smiled.
Closer, and closer crowded the Indians. MacNair deliberately reversed the gun, his huge fist still gripping the butt. The top of the barrel was turned downward, and the sight bit deep into the skin at the roots of the hair on Lapierre’s temple. Deeper and deeper sank the sight. MacNair’s fingers tightened their grip until the knuckles whitened and a huge shoulder hunched to throw its weight upon the arm.
Slow, very slowly, the sight moved across the upturned brow, tearing the flesh, rolling up the skin before its dull, broad edge. The quarter-breed’s muscles strained and his legs twined spasmodically about the legs of MacNair, while his fingers tore through the snow arid clawed at the bark of the wood-pile. Deliberately, the gun-sight ripped and tore across the forehead—grooving the bone. The wide scar showed raw and red, and in spots the skull flashed white. The broad line lost itself in the hair upon the opposite temple.
Again MacNair buried the sight, this time among the hair roots of the median line. Once more the gun began its slow journey, travelling downward, crossing the lateral scar with a ragged tear. Once more the flesh and skin ripped and rolled before the unfaltering sight and, gathered upon the edges of the wound in ragged, tight-rolled knots and shreds that would
later heal into snaggy, rough excrescences, gray, like the unclean dregs of a slag-pot.
A thin trickle of blood followed slowly along the groove. The gun-sight was almost between the man’s eyes, when with a scream, Chloe sprang forward and clutched MacNair’s arm in both her hands.
“You brute!” she cried. “You inhuman brute! I hate you!”
ACNAIR answered never a word. 1V1 With a sweep of his arm he flung her from him. She spun dizzily and fell in a heap on the snow. Once more the gun-sight rested deep against the bone at the point of its interruption. Once more it began its inexorable advance, creeping down between the. eyes and along the bridge of the nose. Cartilage split wide, the upper lip was cleft, and the steel clicked sharply against blood-dripping teeth.
Then MacNair stood erect and gazed with approval -upon his handiwork. His glance swept the lake, and suddenly his shoulders stiffened as he scrutinized several moving figures that approached across the level surface of the snow. Striding swiftly to the edge of the plateau, he shaded his eyes with his hand and gazed long and earnestly toward the approaching figures. Then he returned to Lapierre. The man had stood the terrible ordeal without losing consciousness. Reaching down, MacNair seized him by the collar, and jerking him to his feet, half dragged him to the rim of the plateau.
“Look!” he cried savagely. "Yonder, comes Lefroy—and with him are the men of the Mounted.”
Lapierre stared dumbly. His thin hand twitched nervously, and his fists clasped and unclasped as the palms grew wet with sweat.
MacNair gripped his shoulders and twisted him about in his tracks. Slow seconds passed as the two men stood facing each other there in the snow, and then, slowly, MacNair raised his hand and pointed toward the forest — toward the depths of the black spruce swamp.
“Go!’’ he roared. “Damn you! Go hunt your kind! I did not brand you to delight the eyes of prison guards. Go, mingle with free men, that they may see —and be warned!”
With one last glance toward the approaching figures, Pierre Lapierre glided swiftly to the foot of the stockade, mounted the firing ledge, and swung himself over the wall.
Bob MacNair watched the form of the quarter-breed disapepar from sight and then, tossing the gun into the snow, turned to Chloe Elliston. Straight toward the girl he advanced with long, swinging strides. There was no hesitancy, no indecision in the free swing of the shoulders, nor did his steps once falter, nor the eyes that bored deep into hers waver for a single instant. And as the girl faced him a sudden sense of helplessness overwhelmed her.
ON he came — this big man of the north ; this man who trampled roughshod the conventions, even the laws of men. The man who could fight, and kill, and maim, in defense of his principles. Whose hand was heavy upon the evil-doer. A man whose finer sensibilities, despite their rough environment, could rise to a complete mastery of him. Inherently a fighting man. A man whose
great starved heart had never known a woman'*
Instinctively, «he drew back from him and clotted her eye«. And then she knew that he waa standing still before her—very close for she could hesr distinctly the sound of hU breathing. Without swing she knew that he was looking into her faoe with those piercing, boring, steelgray eyes. She waited for what seemed ages for him to speak, but he stood before hersilent.
"He is rough and uncouth and brutal. He hurled you spinning Into the snow." whispered an Inner voice.
"Yes. strong and brutal and QOOé answered her heart.
Chloe opened her eyes. MacNair stood before her In all his bigness. She gazed at him wideeyed. He was fumbling his Stetson in his hand, and she noticed the long hair wn* pushed back from his broad brow'. The blood rushed into the girl’s face. Her flat* clenched tight, and she took a swift step forward.
"Bob MacNair! Put on your hat r
A puzzled look crept into the man’s eyes, his face flushed like the face of a schoolboy who
had been caught in a foolish prank, and he returned the hat awkwardly to his head.
"I thought that Isyou wrote in the letter,
here--" he paused a* his fingers groped at the
pocked of his shirt.
Chloe interrupted him. "If any man ever takes his Stetson off to me again I'll hate him!”
Bob MacNair stared down upon the belligerent figure before him. He noticed the clenched fists, the defiant tilt of the shoulders, the unconscious out-thrust of the chin and then his eyes met squarely the flashing eyes of the girl.
For a long, long time he gazed into the depths of the upturned eyes, and then, either the signi flennee of her words dawned suddenly upon him. or he read in that long glance the wondrous message of her love. With a low. glad cry he sprang to her and gathered her into his great, strong arms and pressed her lithe, pliant body close against his pounding heart, while through his veins swept the wild, fierce joy of a mighty passion. Bob MacNair had come Into his own !
There was a lively commotion among the Indians. and MacNair raised hi* head to meet the gaze of Lefroy and Constable Craig and two others of the men of the Mounted
"Where is Ijipierre?" asked the constable.
Chloe struggled in confusion to release herself from the encircling arm*, but the urms closed the tighter, and with a final sigh of surrender the girl ceased her puny struggles.
Constable Craig s lips twitched in a suppressed smile. "Kipley was right." he muttered to himself as he awaited MacNair’« reply "They have found each other nt last."
And then the answer came MacNair stared straight into the officer’» eyes, and his word* rang with n terrible meaning.
"Laplerre." he said, "ha* gone away from here. If you see him again you shall never forget him His eyes returned to the girl, close-held against his heart. Her two arms stole upward until the slender hands closed «bout his neck. Her lip* moved, snd he bent to catch the words.
"I love you." she faltered, and glancing shyly, almost timidly, into his face, encountered there the look she had come to know so well the suspicion of u «mik* upon the lips and just the shadow of a twinkle playing in the deep-set eyes She repeated softly the words that rang through her brain. "I love you ftrute if (Jo.Voir ’’