"Hurt?" he asked.
The girl shuddered. "No. Is he—is he killed?"
"Wind knocked out of him. Nothing more."
"He didn't hit you?"
There was the ghost of a smile in his eyes. "No, I hit him."
"He was horrid. I—I—" Again a little shiver ran through her body. She felt very weak at the knees and caught for a moment at the lapel of his coat to steady herself. Neither of them was conscious of the fact that she was in his arms, clinging to him while she won back self-control.
"It's all right now. Don't worry. Lucky I came back to show Blandoine which furs to take."
"If you hadn't—" She drew a ragged breath that was half a sob.
Morse loved her the more for the strain of feminine hysteria that made her for the moment a soft and tender child to be comforted. He had known her competent, savage, disdainful, one in whom vital and passionate life flowed quick. He had never before seen the weakness in her reaching out to strength. That by sheer luck it was his power to which she clung filled him with deep delight.
He began to discount his joy lest she do it instead. His arm fell away from her waist.
"I 'most wrecked the house," he said with a humorous glance at the door. "I don't always bring one o' the walls with me when I come into a room."
"He bolted the door," she explained rather needlessly. "He wouldn't let me out."
"I heard you call," he answered, without much more point.
She glanced at the man lying on the floor. "You don't think he might be—" She stopped, unwilling to use the word.
Tom knelt beside him and felt his heart.
"It's beating," he said. And added quickly, "His eyes are open."
It was true. The cold, fishy eyes had flickered open and were taking stock of the situation. The gambler instantly chose his line of defense. He spoke, presently.
"What in the devil was bitin' you, Morse? Just because I was jokin' the girl, you come rampagin' in and knock me galley west with a big club. I'll not stand for that. Soon as I'm fit to handle myself, you and I'll have a settlement."
"Get up and get out," ordered the younger man.
"When I get good and ready. Don't try to run on me, young fellow. Some other fools have found that dangerous."
Whaley sat up, groaned, and pressed his hands upon the abdomen at the point where he had been struck.
The reddish-brown glint in the eyes of Morse advertised the cold rage of the Montanan. He caught the gambler by the collar and pulled him to his feet.
"Get out, you yellow wolf!" he repeated in a low, savage voice.
The white-faced trader was still wobbly on his feet. He felt both sore and sick at the pit of his stomach, in no mood for any further altercation with this hard-hitting athlete. But he would not go without saving his face.
"I don't know what business you've got to order me out—unless—" His gaze included the girl for a moment, and the insult of his leer was unmistakable.
Morse caught him by the scruff of the neck, ran him out of the room, and flung him down the steps into the road. The gambler tripped on the long buffalo coat he was wearing and rolled over in the snow. Slowly he got to his feet and locked eyes with the other.
Rage almost choked his words. "You'll be sorry for this one o' these days, Morse. I'll get you right. Nobody has ever put one over on Poker Whaley and nobody ever will. Don't forget that."
Tom Morse wasted no words. He stood silently on the steps, a splendid, supple figure of menacing power, and watched his foe pass down the road. There was in him a cruel and passionate desire to take the gambler and break him with his hands, to beat him till he crawled away a weak and wounded creature fit for a hospital. He clamped his teeth hard and fought down the impulse.
Presently he turned and walked slowly back into the house. His face was still set and his hands clenched. He knew that if Whaley had hurt Jessie, he would have killed him with his naked fingers.
"You can't stay here. Where do you want me to take you?" he asked, and his cold hardness reminded her of the Tom Morse who had led her to the whip one other night.
She did not know that inside he was a caldron of emotion and that it was only by freezing himself he could keep down the volcanic eruption.
"I'll go to Susie Lemoine's," she said in a small, obedient voice.
With his hands in his pockets he stood and let he find a fur coat and slip into it. He had a sense of frustration. He wanted to let go of himself and tell all that was in his torrid heart. Instead, he encased himself in ice and drove her farther from him.
They walked down the road side by side, neither of them speaking. She too was a victim of chaotic feeling. It would be long before she could forget how he had broken through the door and saved her.
But she could not find the words to tell him so. They parted at the door of Lemoine's cabin with a chill "Good-night" that left them both unhappy and dissatisfied.
"D'YOU WONDER SHE HATES ME?"
To Morse came Angus McRae with the right hand of friendship the day after the battle in the log house.
Eyes blue as Highland lochs fastened to those of the fur-trader. "Lad, I canna tell ye what's in my heart. 'The Lord bless thee, and keep thee. The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee. The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.'"
Tom, embarrassed, made light of the affair. "Lucky I was Johnnie-on-the-Spot."
The old Scot shook his head. "No luck sent ye back to hear the skreigh o' the lass, but the whisper of the guid Father withoot whose permission not even a sparrow falls to the ground. He chose you as the instrument. I'll never be forgettin' what you did for my dawtie, Tom Morse. Jess will have thankit you, but I add mine to hers."
In point of fact Jessie had not thanked him in set words. She had been in too great an agitation of spirit to think of it. But Morse did not say so.
"Oh, that's all right. Any one would have done it. Mighty glad I was near enough. Hope she doesn't feel any worse for the shock."
"Not a bit. I'm here to ask ye to let bygones be bygones. I've nursed a grudge, but, man, it's clean, washed oot o' my heart. Here's my hand, if you'll tak it."
Tom did, gladly. He discovered at the same moment that the sun was striking sparks of light from a thousand snow crystals. It was a good world, if one only looked for the evidence of it.
"The latchstring is always oot for you at the hame of Angus McRae. Will you no' drap in for a crack the nicht?" asked the trapper.
"Not to-night. Sometime. I'll see." Tom found himself in the position of one who finds open to him a long-desired pleasure and is too shy to avail himself of it immediately. "Have you seen Whaley yet to-day?" he asked, to turn the subject.
The hunter's lip grew straight and grim. "I have not. He's no' at the store. The clerk says a messenger called for him early this mornin' and he left the clachan at once. Will he be hidin' oot, do you think?"
Tom shook his head. "Not Whaley. He'll bluff it through. The fellow's not yellow. Probably he'll laugh it off and say he was only stealin' a kiss an' that Miss Jessie was silly to make a fuss about it."
"We'll let it go at that—after I've told him publicly what I think o' him."
Where Whaley had been nobody in Faraway knew. When he returned at sunset, he went direct to the store and took off his snowshoes. He was knocking the packed and frozen slush from them at the moment Angus McRae confronted him.
The trader laughed, from the lips, just as Tom had prophesied he would do. "I reckon I owe you an apology, McRae," he said. "That li'l' wild-cat of yours lost her head when I jollied her and Morse broke the door down like the jackass he is."
The dressing-down that Angus McRae gave Whaley is still remembered by one or two old-timers in the Northwest. In crisp, biting words he freed his mind without once lapsing into profanity. He finished with a warning. "Tak tent you never speak to the lass again, or you an' me'll come to grips."
The storekeeper heard him out, a sneering smile on his white face. Inside, he raged with furious anger, but he did not let his feelings come to the surface. He was a man who had the patience to wait for his vengeance. The longer it was delayed, the heavier would it be. A characteristic of his cold, callous temperament was that he took fire slowly, but, once lit, his hate endured like peat coals in a grate. A vain man, his dignity was precious to him. He writhed at the defeat Morse had put upon him, at his failure with Jessie, at the scornful public rebuke of her father. Upon all three of these some day he would work a sweet revenge. Like all gamblers, he followed hunches. Soon, one of these told him, his chance would come. When it did he would make all three of them sweat blood.
Beresford met Tom Morse later in the day. He cocked a whimsical eye at the fur-trader.
"I hear McRae's going to sue you for damages to his house," he said.
"Where did you hear all that?" asked his friend, apparently busy inspecting a half-dozen beaver furs.
"And Whaley, for damages to his internal machinery. Don't you know you can't catapult through a man's tummy with a young pine tree and not injure his physical geography?" the constable reproached.
"When you're through spoofin' me, as you subjects of the Queen call it," suggested Tom.
"Why, then, I'll tell you to keep an eye on Whaley. He doesn't love you a whole lot for what you did, and he's liable to do you up first chance he gets."
"I'm not lookin' for trouble, but if Whaley wants a fight—"
"He doesn't—not your kind of a fight. His idea will be to have you foul before he strikes. Walk with an eye in the back of your head. Sleep with it open, Don't sit at windows after lamps are lit—not without curtains all down. Play all your cards close." The red-coat spoke casually, slapping his boot with a small riding-switch. He was smiling. None the less Tom knew he was in dead earnest.
"Sounds like good advice. I'll take it," the trader said easily. "Anything more on your chest?"
"Why, yes. Where did Whaley go to-day? What called him out of town on a hurry-up trip of a few hours?"
"Don't know. Do you?"
"No, but I'm a good guesser."
"Bully West. Holed up somewhere out in the woods. A fellow came in this morning and got Whaley, who snowshoed back with him at once."
Tom nodded agreement. "Maybeso. Whaley was away five or six hours. That means he probably traveled from eight to ten miles out."
"Question is, in what direction? Nobody saw him go or come—at least, so as to know that he didn't circle round the town and come in from the other side."
"He'll go again, with supplies for West. Watch him."
"I'll do just that."
"He might send some one with them."
"Yes, he might do that," admitted Beresford. "I'll keep an eye on the store and see what goes out. We want West. He's a cowardly murderer—killed the man who trusted him—shot him in the back. This country will be well rid of him when he's hanged for what he did to poor Tim Kelly."
"He's a rotten bad lot, but he's dangerous. Never forget that," warned the fur-buyer. "If he ever gets the drop on you for a moment, you're gone."
"Of course we may be barking up the wrong tree," the officer reflected aloud. "Maybe West isn't within five hundred miles of here. Maybe he headed off another way. But I don't think it. He had to get back to where he was known so as to get an outfit. That meant either this country or Montana. And the word is that he was seen coming this way both at Slide Out and crossing Old Man's River after he made his getaway."
"He's likely figurin' on losin' himself in the North woods."
"My notion, too. Say, Tom, I have an invitation from a young lady for you and me. I'm to bring you to supper, Jessie McRae says. To-night. Venison and sheep pemmican—and real plum pudding, son. You're to smoke the pipe of peace with Angus and warm yourself in the smiles of Miss Jessie and Matapi-Koma. How's the programme suit you?"
Tom flushed. "I don't reckon I'll go," he said after a moment's deliberation.
His friend clapped an affectionate hand on his shoulder. "Cards down, old fellow. Spill the story of this deadly feud between you and Jessie and I'll give you an outside opinion on it."
The Montanan looked at him bleakly. "Haven't you heard? If you haven't, you're the only man in this country that hasn't."
"You mean—about the whipping?" Beresford asked gently.
"That's all," Morse answered bitterly. "Nothing a-tall. I merely had her horsewhipped. You wouldn't think any girl would object to that, would you?"
"I'd like to hear the right of it. How did it happen?"
"The devil was in me, I reckon. We were runnin' across the line that consignment of whiskey you found and destroyed near Whoop-Up. She came on our camp one night, crept up, and smashed some barrels. I caught her. She fought like a wild-cat." Morse pulled up the sleeve of his coat and showed a long, ragged scar on the arm. "Gave me that as a lil' souvenir to remember her by. You see, she was afraid I'd take her back to camp. So she fought. You know West. I wouldn't have taken her to him."
"What did you do?"
"After I got her down, we came to terms. I was to take her to McRae's camp and she was to be horsewhipped by him. My arm was hurtin' like sin, and I was thinkin' her only a wild young Injun."
"So you took her home?"
"And McRae flogged her. You know him. He's Scotch—and thorough. It was a sickening business. When he got through, he was white as snow. I felt like a murderer. D'you wonder she hates me?"
Beresford's smile was winning. "Is it because she hates you that she wants you to come to supper to-night?"
"It's because she's in debt to me—or thinks she is, for of course she isn't—and wants to pay it and get rid of it as soon as she can. I tell you, Win, she couldn't bear to touch my hand when she gave me the key to the storehouse the other night—laid it down on the table for me to pick up. It has actually become physical with her. She'd shudder if I touched her. I'm not going to supper there. Why should I take advantage of a hold I have on her generosity? No, I'll not go."
And from that position Beresford could not move him.
After supper the constable found a chance to see Jessie alone. She was working over the last touches of the gun-case.
"When it's finished who gets it?" he asked, sitting down gracefully on the arm of a big chair.
She flashed a teasing glance at him. "Who do you think deserves it?"
"I deserve it," he assured her at once. "But it isn't the deserving always who get the rewards in this world. Very likely you'll give it to some chap like Tom Morse."
"Who wouldn't come to supper when we asked him." She lifted steady, inquiring eyes. "What was the real reason he didn't come?"
"Said he couldn't get away from the store because—"
"Yes, I heard that. I'm asking for the real reason, Win."
He gave it. "Tom thinks you hate him and he won't force himself on your generosity."
"Oh!" She seemed to be considering that.
"Do I what?"
She felt a flush burning beneath the dusky brown of her cheeks. "If you knew what he'd done to me—"
"Perhaps I do," he said, very gently.
Her dark eyes studied him intently. "He told you?"
"No, one hears gossip. He hates himself because of it. Tom's white, Jessie."
"And I'm Indian. Of course that does make a difference. If he'd had a white girl whipped, you couldn't defend him," she flamed.
"You know I didn't mean that, little pal." His sunny smile was disarming. "What I mean is that he's sorry for what he did. Why not give him a chance to be friends?"
"Well, we gave him a chance to-night, didn't we? And he chose not to take it. What do you want me to do—go and thank him kindly for having me whipped?"
Beresford gave up with a shrug. He knew when he had said enough. Some day the seed he had dropped might germinate.
"Wouldn't it be a good idea to work a W.B. on that case?" he asked with friendly impudence. "Then if I lost it, whoever found it could return it."
"I don't give presents to people who lose them," she parried.
Her dancing eyes were very bright as they met his. She loved the trim lines of his clean beautiful youth and the soul expressed by them.
Matapi-Koma waddled into the room and the Mounted Policeman transferred his attention to her. She weighed two hundred twelve pounds, but was not sensitive on the subject. Beresford claimed anxiously that she was growing thin.
The Indian woman merely smiled on him benignantly. She liked him, as all women did. And she hoped that he would stay in the country and marry Sleeping Dawn.
ONISTAH READS SIGN
McRae fitted Jessie's snowshoes.
"You'll be hame before the dark, lass," he said, a little anxiously.
The hunter turned to Onistah. "She's in your care, lad. Gin the weather changes, or threatens to, let the traps go and strike for the toon. You're no' to tak chances."
"Back assam weputch (very early)," promised the Blackfoot.
He was proud of the trust confided to him. To him McRae was a great man. Among many of the trappers and the free traders the old Scot's word was law. They came to him with their disputes for settlement and abided by his decisions. For Angus was not only the patriarch of the clan, if such a loose confederation of followers could be called a clan; he was esteemed for his goodness and practical common sense.
Onistah's heart swelled with an emotion that was more than vanity. His heart filled with gladness that Jessie should choose him as guide and companion to snowshoe with her out into the white forests where her traps were set. For the young Indian loved her dumbly, without any hope of reward, in much the same way that some of her rough soldiers must have loved Joan of Arc. Jessie was a mistress whose least whim he felt it a duty to obey. He had worshiped her ever since he had seen her, a little eager warm-hearted child, playing in his mother's wigwam. She was as much beyond his reach as the North Star. Yet her swift tender smile was for him just as it was for Fergus.
They shuffled out of the village into the forest that crept up to the settlement on all sides. Soon they were deep in its shadows, pushing along the edge of a muskeg which they skirted carefully in order not to be hampered by its treacherous boggy footing.
Jessie wore a caribou-skin capote with the fur on as a protection against the cold wind. Her moccasins were of smoked moose-skin decorated with the flower-pattern bead embroidery so much in use among the French half-breeds of the North. The socks inside them were of duffle and the leggings of strouds, both materials manufactured for the Hudson's Bay Company for its trappers.
The day was comparatively warm, but the snow was not slushy nor very deep. None the less she was glad when they reached the trapping ground and Onistah called a halt for dinner. She was tired, from the weight of the snow on her shoes, and her feet were blistered by reason of the lacings which cut into the duffle and the tender flesh inside.
Onistah built a fire of poplar, which presently crackled like a battle front and shot red-hot coals at them in an irregular fusillade. Upon this they made tea, heated pemmican and bannocks, and thawed a jar of preserves Jessie had made the previous summer of service berries and wild raspberries. Before it they dried their moccasins, socks, and leggings.
Afterward they separated to make a round of the traps, agreeing to meet an hour and a half later at the place of their dinner camp.
The Blackfoot found one of the small traps torn to pieces, probably by a bear, for he saw its tracks in the snow. He rebuilt the snare and baited it with parts of a rabbit he had shot. In one trap he discovered a skunk and in another a timber wolf. When he came in sight of the rendezvous, he was late.
Jessie was not there. He waited half an hour in growing anxiety before he went to meet her. Night would fall soon. He must find her while it was still light enough to follow her tracks. The disasters that might have fallen upon her crowded his mind. A bear might have attacked her. She might be lost or tangled in the swampy muskeg. Perhaps she had accidentally shot herself.
As swiftly as he could he snowshoed through the forest, following the plain trail she had left. It carried him to a trap from which she had taken prey, for it was newly baited and the snow was sprinkled with blood. Before he reached the second gin, the excitement in him quickened. Some one in snowshoes had cut her path and had deflected to pursue. Onistah knew that the one following was a white man. The points of the shoes toed out. Crees toed in, just the same on webs as in moccasins.
His imagination was active. What white man had any business in these woods? Why should he leave that business to overtake Jessie McRae? Onistah did not quite know why he was worried, but involuntarily he quickened his pace.
Less than a quarter of a mile farther on, he read another chapter of the story written in the trampled snow. There had been a struggle. His mistress had been overpowered. He could see where she had been flung into a white bank and dragged out of it. She had tried to run and had got hardly a dozen yards before recapture. From that point the tracks moved forward in a straight line, those of the smaller webs blotted out by the ones made by the larger. The man was driving the girl before him.
Who was he? Where was he taking her? For what purpose? Onistah could not guess. He knew that McRae had made enemies, as any forceful character on the frontier must. The Scotchman had kicked out lazy ne'er-do-wells from his camp. As a free trader he had matched himself against the Hudson's Bay Company. But of those at war with him few would stoop to revenge themselves on his daughter. The Blackfoot had not heard of the recent trouble between Whaley and the McRaes, nor had the word reached him that Bully West was free again. Wherefore he was puzzled at what the signs on the snow told him.
Yet he knew he had read them correctly. The final proof of it to him was that Jessie broke trail and not the man. If he were a friend he would lead the way. He was at her heels because he wanted to make sure that she did not try to escape or to attack him.
The tracks led down into the muskeg. It was spitting snow, but he had no difficulty in seeing where the trail led from hummock to hummock in the miry earth. The going here was difficult, for the thick moss was full of short, stiff brush that caught the webbed shoes and tripped the traveler. It was hard to find level footing. The mounds were uneven, and more than once Onistah plunged knee-deep from one into the swamp.
He crossed the muskeg and climbed an ascent into the woods, swinging sharply to the right. There was no uncertainty as to the direction of the tracks in the snow. If they veered for a few yards, it was only to miss a tree or to circle down timber. Whoever he might be, the man who had taken Jessie prisoner knew exactly where he was going.
The Blackfoot knew by the impressions of the webs that he was a large, heavy man. Once or twice he saw stains of tobacco juice on the snow. The broken bits of a whiskey-bottle flung against a tree did not tend to reassure him.
He saw smoke. It came from a tangle of undergrowth in a depression of the forest. Very cautiously, with the patience of his race, he circled round the cabin through the timber and crept up to it on hands and knees. Every foot of the way he took advantage of such cover as was to be had.
The window was a small, single-paned affair built in the end opposite the door. Onistah edged close to it and listened. He heard the drone of voices, one heavy and snarling, another low and persuasive.
His heart jumped at the sound of a third voice, a high-pitched treble. He would have known it among a thousand. It had called to him in the swirl of many a wind-swept storm. He had heard it on the long traverse, in the stillness of the lone night, at lakeside camps built far from any other human being. His imagination had heard it on the summer breeze as he paddled across a sun-drenched lake in his birch-bark canoe.
The Blackfoot raised his head till he could look through the window.
Jessie McRae sat on a stool facing him. Two men were in the room. One strode heavily up and down while the other watched him warily.
ON THE FRONTIER OF DESPAIR
The compulsion of life had denied Jessie the niceness given girls by the complexities of modern civilization. She had been brought up close to raw stark nature. The habits of animals were familiar to her and the vices of the biped man.
A traveler in the sub-Arctic is forced by the deadly cold of the North into a near intimacy of living with his fellows. Jessie had more than once taken a long sled journey with her father. On one occasion she had slept in a filthy Indian wigwam with a dozen natives all breathing the same foul, unventilated air. Again she had huddled up against the dogs, with her father and two French half-breeds, to keep in her the spark of life a blizzard's breath was trying to blow out.
On such a trip some of the common decencies of existence are dropped. The extreme low temperature makes it impossible for one to wash either face or hands without the skin chapping and breaking. Food at which one would revolt under other circumstances is devoured eagerly.
Jessie was the kind of girl such a life had made her, with modifications in the direction of fineness induced by McRae's sturdy character, her schooling at Winnipeg, and the higher plane of the family standard. As might have been expected, she had courage, energy, and that quality of decisive action bred by primitive conditions.
But she had retained, too, a cleanness of spirit hardly to be looked for in such a primeval daughter of Eve. Her imagination and her reading had saved the girl's sweet modesty. A certain detachment made it possible for her to ignore the squalor of the actual and see it only as a surface triviality, to let her mind dwell in inner concepts of goodness and beauty while bestiality crossed the path she trod.
So when she found in one of the gins a lynx savage with the pain of bruised flesh and broken bone snapped by the jaws of the trap, the girl did what needed to be done swiftly and with a minimum of reluctance.
She was close to the second trap when the sound of webs slithering along the snow brought her up short. Her first thought was that Onistah had changed his mind and followed her, but as soon as the snowshoer came out of the thick timber, she saw that he was not an Indian.
He was a huge man, and he bulked larger by reason of the heavy furs that enveloped him. His rate of travel was rapid enough, but there was about the gait an awkward slouch that reminded her of a grizzly. Some sullenness of temperament seemed to find expression in the fellow's movements.
The hood of his fur was drawn well forward over the face. He wore blue glasses, as a protection against snow-blindness apparently. Jessie smiled, judging him a tenderfoot; for except in March and April there is small danger of the sun glare which destroys sight. Yet he hardly looked like a newcomer to the North. For one thing he used the web shoes as an expert does. Before he stopped beside her, she was prepared to revise a too hasty opinion.
Jessie recoiled at the last moment, even before she recognized him. It was too late to take precautions now. He caught her by the wrist and tore off his glasses, at the same time shaking back the hood.
"Glad to death to meet up with you, missie," he grinned evilly through broken, tobacco-stained teeth.
The blood drenched out of her heart. She looked at the man, silent and despairing. His presence here could mean to her nothing less than disaster. The girl's white lips tried to frame words they could not utter.
"Took by surprise, ain't you?" he jeered. "But plumb pleased to see old Bully West again, eh? It's a damn long lane that ain't got a crook in it somewheres. An' here we are at the turn together, jus' you'n' me, comfy, like I done promised it would be when I last seen you."
She writhed in a swift, abortive attempt to break his hold.
He threw back his head in a roar of laughter, then with a twist of his fingers brought his captive to the knees.
Sharp teeth flashed in a gleam of white. He gave a roar of pain and tore away his hand. She had bit him savagely in the wrist, as she had once done with another man on a memorable occasion.
"Goddlemighty!" he bellowed. "You damn li'l' hell-cat!"
She was on her feet and away instantly. But one of the snowshoes had come off in the struggle. At each step she took the left foot plunged through the white crust and impeded progress.
In a dozen strides he had reached her. A great arm swung round and buffeted the runner on the side of the head. The blow lifted the girl from her feet and flung her into a drift two yards away.
She looked up, dazed from the shock. The man was standing over her, a huge, threatening, ill-shaped Colossus.
"Get up!" he ordered harshly, and seized her by the shoulder.
She found herself on her feet, either because she had risen or because he had jerked her up. A ringing in the head and a nausea made for dizziness.
"I'll learn you!" he exploded with curses. "Try that again an' I'll beat yore head off. You're Bully West's woman, un'erstand? When I say 'Come!' step lively. When I say 'Go!' get a move on you."
"I'll not." Despite her fear she faced him with spirit. "My friends are near. They'll come and settle, with you for this."
He put a check on his temper. Very likely what she said was true. It was not reasonable to suppose that she was alone in the forest many miles from Faraway. She had come, of course, to look at the traps, but some one must have accompanied her. Who? And how many? The skulking caution of his wild-beast nature asserted itself. He had better play safe. Time enough to tame the girl when he had her deep in the Lone Lands far from any other human being except himself. Just now the first need was to put many miles between them and the inevitable pursuit.
"Come," he said. "We'll go."
She started back for the snowshoe that had been torn off. Beside it lay her rifle. If she could get hold of it again—
The great hulk moved beside her, his thumb and fingers round the back of her neck. Before they reached the weapon, he twisted her aside so cruelly that a flame of pain ran down her spine. She cried out.
He laughed as he stooped for the gun and the web. "Don' play none o' yore monkey tricks on Bully West. He knew it all 'fore you was born."
The pressure of his grip swung Jessie to the left. He gave her a push that sent her reeling and flung at her the snowshoe.
"Hump yoreself now."
She knelt and adjusted the web. She would have fought if there had been the least chance of success. But there was none. Nor could she run away. The fellow was a callous, black-hearted ruffian. He would shoot her down rather than see her escape. If she became stubborn and refused to move, he would cheerfully torture her until she screamed with agony. There was nothing he would like better. No, for the present she must take orders.
"Hit the trail, missie. Down past that big tree," he snapped.
"Where are you taking me?"
"Don't ask me questions. Do like I tell you."
The girl took one look at his heavy, brutal face and did as she was told. Onistah would find her. When she did not show up at the rendezvous, he would follow her trail and discover that something was amiss. Good old Onistah never had failed her. He was true as tried steel and in all the North woods there was no better tracker.
There would be a fight. If West saw him first, he would shoot the Blackfoot at sight. She did not need to guess that. He would do it for two reasons. The first was the general one that he did not want any of her friends to know where he was. The more specific one was that he already had a grudge against the young Indian that he would be glad to pay once for all.
Jessie's one hope was that Onistah would hasten to the rescue. Yet she dreaded the moment of his coming. He was a gentle soul, one of Father Giguere's converts. It was altogether likely that he would walk into the camp of the escaped convict openly and become a victim of the murderer's guile. Onistah did not lack courage. He would fight if he had to do so. Indeed, she knew that he would go through fire to save her. But bravery was not enough. She could almost have wished that her foster-brother was as full of devilish treachery as the huge ape-man slouching at her heels. Then the chances of the battle would be more even.
The desperado drove her down into the muskeg, directing the girl's course with a flow of obscene and ribald profanity.
It is doubtful if she heard him. As her lithe, supple limbs carried her from one moss hump to another, she was busy with the problem of escape. She must get away soon. Every hour increased the danger. The sun would sink shortly. If she were still this ruffian's prisoner when the long Arctic night fell, she would suffer the tortures of the damned. She faced the fact squarely, though her cheeks blanched at the prospect and the heart inside her withered.
From the sloping side of a hummock her foot slipped and she slid into the icy bog to her knees. Within a few minutes duffles and leggings were frozen and she was suffering at each step.
Out of the muskeg they came into the woods. A flake of snow fell on Jessie's cheek and chilled her blood. For she knew that if it came on to snow before Onistah took the trail or even before he reached the place to which West was taking her, the chances of a rescue would be very much diminished. A storm would wipe out the tracks they had made.
"Swing back o' the rock and into the brush," West growled. Then, as she took the narrow trail through the brush that had grown up among half a dozen small down trees, he barked a question: "Whadjasay yore Injun name was?"
"My name is Jessie McRae," she answered with a flash of angry pride. "You know who I am—the daughter of Angus McRae. And if you do me any harm, he'll hunt you down and kill you like a wolf."
He caught her by the arm and whirled the girl round. His big yellow canines snapped like tusks and he snarled at her through clenched jaws. "Did you hear yore master's voice? I said, what was yore squaw name?"
She almost shrieked from the pain of his fingers' savage clutch into her flesh. The courage died out of her arteries.
"Sleeping Dawn they called me."
"Too long," he pronounced. "I'll call you Dawn." The sight of her terror of him, the foretaste of the triumph he was to enjoy, restored him for a moment to a brutal good-humor. "An' when I yell 'Dawn' at you o' mornin's, it'll be for you to hump yoreself an' git up to build the fires and rustle breakfast. I'll treat you fine if you behave, but if you git sulky, you'll taste the dog-whip. I'm boss. You'll have a heluva time if you don't come runnin' when I snap my fingers. Un'erstand?"
She broke down in a wailing appeal to whatever good there was in him. "Let me go back to Father! I know you've broke prison. If you're good to me, he'll help you escape. You know he has friends everywhere. They'll hide you from the red-coats. He'll give you an outfit to get away—money—anything you want. Oh, let me go, and—and—"
He grinned, and the sight of his evil mirth told her she had failed.
"Didn't I tell you I'd git you right some day? Didn't I promise Angus McRae I'd pay him back aplenty for kickin' me outa his hide camp? Ain't you the lil' hell-cat that busted my whiskey-kegs, that ran to the red-coat spy an' told him where the cache was, that shot me up when I set out to dry-gulch him, as you might say? Where do you figure you got a license to expect Bully West to listen to Sunday-school pap about being good to you? You're my squaw, an' lucky at that you got a real two-fisted man. Hell's hinges! What's eatin' you?"
"Never!" she cried. "It's true what I told you once. I'd rather die. Oh, if you've got a spark of manhood in you, don't make me kill myself. I'm just a girl. If I ever did you wrong, I'm sorry. I'll make it right. My father—"
"Listen." His raucous voice cut through her entreaties. "I've heard more'n plenty about McRae. All I want o' him is to get a bead on him once with a rifle. Get me? Now this other talk—about killin' yoreself—nothin' to it a-tall. Go to it if tha's how you feel. Yore huntin'-knife's right there in yore belt." He reached forward and plucked it from its sheath, then handed it to her blade first, stepping back a pace at once to make sure she did not use it on him. "You got yore chance now. Kill away. I'll stand right here an' see nobody interferes with you."
She shifted the knife and gripped the handle. A tumult seethed in her brain. She saw nothing but that evil, grinning face, hideous and menacing. For a moment murder boiled up in her, red-hot and sinister. If she could kill him now as he stood jeering at her—drive the blade into that thick bull neck....
The madness passed. She could not do it even if it were within her power. The urge to kill was not strong enough. It was not overwhelming. And in the next thought she knew, too, that she could not kill herself either. The blind need to live, the animal impulse of self-preservation, at whatever cost, whatever shame, was as yet more powerful than the horror of the fate impending.
She flung the knife down into the snow in a fury of disgust and self-contempt.
His head went back in a characteristic roar of revolting mirth. He had won. Bully West knew how to conquer 'em, no matter how wild they were.
With feet dragging, head drooped, and spirits at the zero hour, Jessie moved down a ravine into sight of a cabin. Smoke rose from the chimney languidly.
"Home," announced West.
To the girl, at the edge of desperation, that log house appeared as the grave of her youth. All the pride and glory and joy that had made life so vital a thing were to be buried here. When next she came out into the sunlight she would be a broken creature—the property of this horrible caricature of a man.
Her captor opened the door and pushed the girl inside.
She stood on the threshold, eyes dilating, heart suddenly athrob with hope.
A man sitting on a stool before the open fire turned his head to see who had come in.
"MY DAMN PRETTY LI'L' HIGH-STEPPIN' SQUAW"
The man on the stool was Whaley.
One glance at the girl and one at West's triumphant gargoyle grin was enough. He understood the situation better than words could tell it.
To Jessie, at this critical moment of her life, even Whaley seemed a God-send. She pushed across the room awkwardly, not waiting to free herself of the webs packed with snow. In the dusky eyes there was a cry for help.
"Save me from him!" she cried simply, as a child might have done. "You will, won't you?"
The black eyebrows in the cold, white face drew to a line. The gambler's gaze, expressionless as a blank wall, met hers steadily.
"Why don't you send for your friend Morse?" he asked. "He's in that business. I ain't."
It was as though he had struck her in the face. The eyes that clung to his we're horror-filled. Did there really live men so heartless that they would not lift a hand to snatch a child from a ferocious wolf?
West's laughter barked out, rapacious and savage. "She's mine, jus' like I said she'd be. My damn pretty li'l' high-steppin' squaw."
His partner looked at him bleakly. "Oh, she's yours, is she?"
"You bet yore boots. I'll show her—make her eat outa my hand," boasted the convict.
"Will you show McRae too—and all his friends, as well as the North-West Mounted? Will you make 'em all eat out of your hands?"
"Why, I had a notion you were loaded up with trouble and didn't need to hunt more," sneered the gambler. "I had a notion the red-coats were on your heels to take you across the plains to hang you."
"I'll learn 'em about that," the huge fugitive bragged. "They say I'm a killer. Let it ride. I'll sure enough let 'em see they're good guessers."
Whaley shrugged his shoulders and looked at him with cold contempt. "You've got a bare chance for a getaway if you travel light and fast. I'd want long odds to back it," he said coolly.
"Tha's a heluva thing to tell a friend," West snarled.
"It's the truth. Take it or leave it. But if you try to bull this through your own way and don't let me run it, you're done for."
"How done for?"
The gambler did not answer. He turned to Jessie. "Unless you want your feet to freeze, you'd better get those duffles off."
The girl took off her mits and tried to unfasten the leggings after she had kicked the snowshoes from her feet. But her stiff fingers could not loosen the knots.
The free trader stooped and did it for her while West watched him sulkily. Jessie unwound the cloth and removed moccasins and duffles. She sat barefooted before the fire, but not too close.
"If they're frozen I'll get snow," Whaley offered.
"They're not frozen, thank you," she answered.
"Whadjamean done for?" repeated West.
His partner's derisive, scornful eye rested on him. "Use your brains, man. The Mounted are after you hot and heavy. You know their record. They get the man they go after. Take this fellow Beresford, the one that jugged you."
The big ruffian shook a furious fist in the air. "Curse him!" he shouted, and added a dozen crackling oaths.
"Curse him and welcome," Whaley replied. "But don't fool yourself about him. He's a go-getter. Didn't he go up Peace River after Pierre Poulette? Didn't he drag him back with cuffs on 'most a year later? That's what you've got against you, three hundred red-coats like him."
"You tryin' to scare me?" demanded West sullenly.
"I'm trying to hammer some common sense into your head. Your chance for a safe getaway rests on one thing. You've got to have friends in the Lone Lands who'll hide you till you can slip out of the country. Can you do that if the trappers—friends of McRae, nearly all of 'em—carry the word of what you did to this girl?"
"I'm gonna take her with me." West stuck doggedly to his idea. He knew what he wanted. His life was forfeit, anyhow. He might as well go through to a finish.
From where she sat before the great fire Jessie's whisper reached Whaley. "Don't let him, please." It was an ineffective little wail straight from the heart.
Whaley went on, as though he had not heard. "It's your deal, not mine. I'm just telling you. Take this girl along, and your life's not worth a plugged nickel."
"Hell's hinges! In two days she'll be crazy about me. Tha's how I am with women."
"In two days she'll hate the ground you walk on, if she hasn't killed herself or you by that time."
Waves of acute pain were pricking into Jessie's legs from the pink toes to the calves. She was massaging them to restore circulation and had to set her teeth to keep from crying.
But her subconscious mind was wholly on what passed between the men. She knew that Whaley was trying to reestablish over the other the mental dominance he had always held. It was a frail enough tenure, no doubt, likely to be upset at any moment by vanity, suspicion, or heady gusts of passion. In it, such as it was, lay a hope. Watching the gambler's cold, impassive face, the stony look in the poker eyes, she judged him tenacious and strong-willed. For reasons of his own he was fighting her battle. He had no intention of letting West take her with him.
Why? What was the motive in the back of his mind? She acquitted the man of benevolence. If his wishes chanced to march with hers, it was because of no altruism. He held a bitter grudge against Angus McRae and incidentally against her for the humiliation of his defeat at the hands of Morse. To satisfy this he had only to walk out of the house and leave her to an ugly fate. Why did he not do this? Was he playing a deep game of his own in which she was merely a pawn?
She turned the steaming duffles over on the mud hearth to dry the other side. She drew back the moccasins and the leggings that the heat might not scorch them. The sharp pain waves still beat into her feet and up her limbs. To change her position she drew up a stool and sat on it. This she had pushed back to a corner of the fireplace.
For Bully West was straddling up and down the room, a pent volcano ready to explode. He knew Whaley's advice was good. It would be suicide to encumber himself with this girl in his flight. But he had never disciplined his desires. He wanted her. He meant to take her. Passion, the lust for revenge, the bully streak in him that gloated at the sight of some one young and fine trembling before him: all these were factors contributing to the same end. By gar, he would have what he had set his mind on, no matter what Whaley said.
Jessie knew the fellow was dangerous as a wounded buffalo bull in a corral. He would have his way if he had to smash and trample down any one that opposed him. Her eyes moved to Whaley's black-browed, bloodless face. How far would the gambler go in opposition to the other?
As her glance shifted back to West, it was arrested at the window. The girl's heart lost a beat, then sang a paean of joy. For the copper-colored face of Onistah was framed in the pane.
A FORETASTE OF HELL
Jessie's eyes flew to West and to Whaley. As yet neither of them had seen the Blackfoot. She raised a hand and pretended to brush back a lock of hair.
The Indian recognized it as a signal that she had seen him. His head disappeared.
Thoughts in the girl's mind raced. If Winthrop Beresford or Tom Morse had been outside instead of Onistah, she would not have attempted to give directions. Either of them would have been more competent than she to work out the problem. But the Blackfoot lacked initiative. He would do faithfully whatever he was told to do, but any independent action attempted by him was likely to be indecisive. She could not conceive of Onistah holding his own against two such men as these except by slaughtering them from the window before they knew he was there. He had not in him sufficient dominating ego.
Whaley was an unknown quantity. It was impossible to foresee how he would accept the intrusion of Onistah. Since he was playing his own game, the chances are that he would resent it. In West's case there could be no doubt. If it was necessary to his plans, he would not hesitate an instant to kill the Indian.
Reluctantly, she made up her mind to send him back to Faraway for help. He would travel fast. Within five hours at the outside he ought to be back with her father or Beresford. Surely, with Whaley on her side, she ought to be safe till then.
She caught sight of Onistah again, his eyes level with the window-sill. He was waiting for instructions.
Jessie gave them to him straight and plain. She spoke to Whaley, but for the Blackfoot's ear.
"Bring my father here. At once. I want him. Won't you, please?"
Whaley's blank poker stare focused on her. "The last word I had from Angus McRae was to keep out of your affairs. I can take a hint without waiting for a church to fall on me. Get some one else to take your messages."
"If you're going back to town I thought—perhaps—you'd tell him how much I need him," she pleaded. "Then he'd come—right away."
Onistah's head vanished. He knew what he had to do and no doubt was already on the trail. Outside it was dark. She could hear the swirling of the wind and the beat of sleet against the window-pane. A storm was rising. She prayed it might not be a blizzard. Weather permitting, her father should be here by eight or nine o'clock.
West, straddling past, snarled at her. "Get Angus McRae outa yore head. Him an' you's come to the partin' o' the ways. You're travelin' with me now. Un'erstand?"
His partner, sneering coldly, offered a suggestion. "If you expect to travel far you'd better get your webs to hitting snow. This girl wasn't out looking at the traps all by herself. Her trail leads straight here. Her friends are probably headed this way right now."
"Tha's right." West stopped in his stride. His slow brain stalled. "What d' you reckon I better do? If there's only one or two we might—"
"No," vetoed Whaley. "Nothing like that. Your play is to get out. And keep getting out when they crowd you. No killing."
"Goddlemighty, I'm a wolf, not a rabbit. If they crowd me, I'll sure pump lead," the desperado growled. Then, "D' you mean light out to-night?"
"Where'll I go?"
"Porcupine Creek, I'd say. There's an old cabin there Jacques Perritot used to live in. The snow'll blot out our tracks."
"You goin' too?"
"I'll see you that far," Whaley answered briefly.
"Better bring down the dogs from the coulee, then."
The gambler looked at him with the cool insolence that characterized him. "When did I hire out as your flunkey, West?"
The outlaw's head was thrust forward and down. He glared at his partner, who met this manifestation of anger with hard eyes into which no expression crept. West was not insane enough to alienate his last ally. He drew back sullenly.
"All right. I'll go, since you're so particular." As his heavy body swung round awkwardly, the man's eyes fell on Jessie. She had lifted one small foot and was starting to pull on one of the duffle stockings. He stood a moment, gloating over the beautifully shaped ankle and lower limb, then slouched forward and snatched her up from the stool into his arms.
His savage, desirous eyes had given her an instant's warning. She was half up before his arms, massive as young trees, dragged her into his embrace.
"But before I go I'll have a kiss from my squaw," he roared. "Just to show her that Bully West has branded her and claims ownership."
She fought, fiercely, desperately, pushing against his rough bearded face and big barrel chest with all the force in her lithe young body. She was as a child to him. His triumphant laughter pealed as he crushed her warm soft trunk against his own and buried her in his opened coat. With an ungentle hand he forced round the averted head till the fear-filled eyes met his.
"Kiss yore man," he ordered.
The girl said nothing. She still struggled to escape, using every ounce of strength she possessed.
The fury of her resistance amused him. He laughed again, throwing back the heavy bristling jaw in a roar of mirth.
"Yore man—yore master," he amended.
He smothered her with his foul kisses, ravished her lips, her eyes, the soft hot cheeks, the oval of the chin, and the lovely curve of the throat. She was physically nauseated when he flung her from him against the wall and strode from the room with another horrible whoop of exultation.
She clung to the wall, panting, eyes closed. A shocking sense of degradation flooded her soul. She felt as though she were drowning in it, fathoms deep. Her lids fluttered open and she saw the gambler. He was still sitting on the stool. A mocking, cynical smile was in the eyes that met Jessie's.
"And Tom Morse—where, oh, where is he?" the man jeered.
A chill shook her. Dry sobs welled up in her throat. She was lost. For the first time she knew the cold clutch of despair at her heart. Whaley did not intend to lift a hand for her. He had sat there and let West work his will.
"Angus McRae gave me instructions aplenty," he explained maliciously. "I was to keep my hands off you. I was to mind my own business. When you see him again—if you ever do—will you tell him I did exactly as he said?"
She did not answer. What was there to say? In the cabin was no sound except that of her dry, sobbing breath.
Whaley rose and came across the room. He had thrown aside the gambler's mask of impassivity. His eyes were shining strangely.
"I'm going—now—out into the storm. What about you? If you're here when West comes back, you know what it means. Make your choice. Will you go with me or stay with him?"
"You're going home?"
"Yes." His smile was enigmatic. It carried neither warmth nor conviction.
The man had played his cards well. He had let West give her a foretaste of the hell in store for her. Anything rather than that, she thought. And surely Whaley would take her home. He was no outlaw, but a responsible citizen who must go back to Faraway to live. He had to face her father and Winthrop Beresford of the Mounted—and Tom Morse. He would not harm her. He dared not.
But she took one vain precaution. "You promise to take me to my father. You'll not—be like him." A lift of the head indicated the man who had just gone out.
"He's a fool. I'm not. That's the difference." He shrugged his shoulders. "Make your own choice. If you'd rather stay here—"
But she had made it. She was getting hurriedly into her furs and was putting on her mittens. Already she had adjusted the snowshoes.
"We'd better hurry," she urged. "He might come back."
"It'll be bad luck for him if he does," the gambler said coolly. "You ready?"
She nodded that she was.
In another moment they were out of the warm room and into the storm. The wind was coming in whistling gusts, carrying with it a fine sleet that whipped the face and stung the eyeballs. Before she had been out in the storm five minutes, Jessie had lost all sense of direction.
Whaley was an expert woodsman. He plunged into the forest, without hesitation, so surely that she felt he must know where he was going. The girl followed at his heels, head down against the blast.
Before this day she had not for months taken a long trip on webs. Leg muscles, called into use without training, were sore and stiff. In the darkness the soft snow piled up on the shoes. Each step became a drag. The lacings and straps lacerated her tender flesh till she knew her duffles were soaked with blood. More than once she dropped back so far that she lost sight of Whaley. Each time he came back with words of encouragement and good cheer.
"Not far now," he would promise. "Across a little bog and then camp. Keep coming."
Once he found her sitting on the snow, her back to a tree.
"You'd better go on alone. I'm done," she told him drearily.
He was not angry at her. Nor did he bully or browbeat.
"Tough sledding," he said gently. "But we're 'most there. Got to keep going. Can't quit now."
He helped Jessie to her feet and led the way down into a spongy morass. The brush slapped her face. It caught in the meshes of her shoes and flung her down. The miry earth, oozing over the edges of the frames, clogged her feet and clung to them like pitch.
Whaley did his best to help, but when at last she crept up to the higher ground beyond the bog every muscle ached with fatigue.
They were almost upon it before she saw a log cabin looming out of the darkness.
She sank on the floor exhausted. Whaley disappeared into the storm again. Sleepily she wondered where he was going. She must have dozed, for when her eyes next reported to the brain, there was a brisk fire of birch bark burning and her companion was dragging broken bits of dead and down timber into the house.
"Looks like she's getting her back up for a blizzard. Better have plenty of fuel in," he explained.
"Where are we?" she asked drowsily.
"Cabin on Bull Creek," he answered. "Better get off your footwear."
While she did this her mind woke to activity. Why had he brought her here? They had no food. How would they live if a blizzard blew up and snowed them in? And even if they had supplies, how could she live alone for days with this man in a cabin eight by ten?
As though he guessed what was in her mind, he answered plausibly enough one of the questions.
"No chance to reach Faraway. Too stormy. It was neck or nothing. Had to take what we could get."
"What'll we do if—if there's a blizzard?" she asked timidly.
"If it lasts too long, I'll have to wait for a lull and make a try for Faraway. No use worrying. We can't help what's coming. Got to face the music."
Her eyes swept the empty cabin. No bed. No table. One home-made three-legged stool. A battered kettle. It was an uninviting prospect, even if she had not had to face possible starvation while she was caged with a stranger who might any minute develop wolfish hunger for her as he had done only forty-eight hours before.
He did not look at her steadily. His gaze was in the red glow of the fire a good deal. She talked, and he answered in monosyllables. When he looked at her, his eyes glowed with the hot red light reflected from the fire, Live coals seemed to burn in them.
In spite of the heat a little shiver ran down her spine.
Silence became too significant. She was afraid of it. So she talked, persistently, at times a little hysterically. Her memory was good. If she liked a piece of poetry, she could learn it by reading it over a few times. So, in her desperation, she "spoke pieces" to this man whose face was a gray mask, just as the girls had done at her school in Winnipeg.
Often, at night camps, she had recited for her father. If she had no dramatic talent, at least she had a sweet, clear voice, an earnestness that never ranted, and some native or acquired skill in handling inflections.
"Do you like Shakespeare?" she asked. "My father's very fond of him. I know parts of several of the plays. 'Henry V' now. That's good. There's a bit where he's talking to his soldiers before they fight the French. Would you like that?"
"Go on," he said gruffly, sultry eyes on the fire.
With a good deal of spirit she flung out the gallant lines. He began to watch her, vivid, eager, so pathetically anxious to entertain him with her small stock of wares.
"But, if it be a sin to covet honor, I am the most offending soul alive."
There was about her a quality very fine and taking. He caught it first in those two lines, and again when her full young voice swelled to English Harry's prophecy.
"And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers: For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition: And gentlemen in England now abed Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."
As he watched her, old memories stirred in him. He had come from a good family in the Western Reserve, where he had rough-and-tumbled up through the grades into High School. After a year here he had gone to a Catholic School, Sacred Heart College, and had studied for the priesthood. He recalled his mother, a gentle, white-haired old lady, with fond pride in him; his father, who had been the soul of honor. By some queer chance she had lit on the very lines that he had learned from the old school reader and recited before an audience the last day prior to vacation.
He woke from his reveries to discover that she was giving him Tennyson, that fragment from "Guinevere" when Arthur tells her of the dream her guilt has tarnished. And as she spoke there stirred in him the long-forgotten aspirations of his youth.
"... for indeed I knew Of no more subtle master under heaven Than is the maiden passion for a maid, Not only to keep down the base in man, But teach high thought and amiable words And courtliness, and the desire of fame, And love of truth, and all that makes a man."
His eyes were no longer impassive. There was in them, for the moment at least, a hunted, haggard look. He saw himself as he was, in a blaze of light that burned down to his very soul.
And he saw her too transformed—not a half-breed, the fair prey of any man's passion, but a clean, proud, high-spirited white girl who lived in the spirit as well as the flesh.
"You're tired. Better lie down and sleep," he told her, very gently.
Jessie looked at him, and she knew she was safe. She might sleep without fear. This man would not harm her any more than Beresford or Morse would have done. Some chemical change had occurred in his thoughts that protected her. She did not know what it was, but her paean of prayer went up to heaven in a little rush of thanksgiving.
She did not voice her gratitude to him. But the look she gave him was more expressive than words.
Out of the storm a voice raucous and profane came to them faintly.
"Ah, crapaud Wulf, pren' garde. Yeu-oh! (To the right!) Git down to it, Fox. Sacre demon! Cha! Cha! (To the left!)"
Then the crack of a whip and a volley of oaths.
The two in the cabin looked at each other. One was white to the lips. The other smiled grimly. It was the gambler that spoke their common thought.
"Bully West, by all that's holy!"
WEST MAKES A DECISION
Came to those in the cabin a string of oaths, the crack of a whip lashing out savagely, and the yelps of dogs from a crouching, cowering team.
Whaley slipped a revolver from his belt to the right-hand pocket of his fur coat.
The door burst open. A man stood on the threshold, a huge figure crusted with snow, beard and eyebrows ice-matted. He looked like the storm king who had ridden the gale out of the north. This on the outside, at a first glance only. For the black scowl he flung at his partner was so deadly that it seemed to come red-hot from a furnace of hate and evil passion.
"Run to earth!" he roared. "Thought you'd hole up, you damned fox, where I wouldn't find you. Thought you'd give Bully West the slip, you'n' that li'l' hell-cat. Talk about Porcupine Creek, eh? Tried to send me mushin' over there while you'n' her—"
What the fellow said sent a hot wave creeping over the girl's face to the roots of her hair. The gambler did not speak, but his eyes, filmed and wary, never lifted from the other's bloated face.
"Figured I'd forget the ol' whiskey cache, eh? Figured you could gimme the double-cross an' git away with it? Hell's hinges, Bully West's no fool! He's forgot more'n you ever knew."
The man swaggered forward, the lash of the whip trailing across the puncheon floor. Triumph rode in his voice and straddled in his gait. He stood with his back to the fireplace absorbing heat, hands behind him and feet set wide. His eyes gloated over the victims he had trapped. Presently he would settle with both of them.
"Not a word to say for yoreselves, either one o' you," he jeered. "Good enough. I'll do what talkin' 's needed, then I'll strip the hide off'n both o' you." With a flirt of the arm he sent the lash of the dog-whip snaking out toward Jessie.
She shrank back against the wall, needlessly. It was a threat, not an attack; a promise of what was to come.
"Let her alone." They were the first words Whaley had spoken. In his soft, purring voice they carried out the suggestion of his crouched tenseness. If West was the grizzly bear, the other was the forest panther, more feline, but just as dangerous.
The convict looked at him, eyes narrowed, head thrust forward and down. "What's that?"
"I said to let her alone."
West's face heliographed amazement. "Meanin'—?"
"Meaning exactly what I say. You'll not touch her."
It was a moment before this flat defiance reached the brain of the big man through the penumbra of his mental fog. When it did, he strode across the room with the roar of a wild animal and snatched the girl to him. He would show whether any one could come between him and his woman.
In three long steps Whaley padded across the floor. Something cold and round pressed against the back of the outlaw's tough red neck.
"Drop that whip."
The order came in a low-voiced imperative. West hesitated. This man—his partner—would surely never shoot him about such a trifle. Still—
"What's eatin' you?" he growled. "Put up that gun. You ain't fool enough to shoot."
"Think that hard enough and you'll never live to know better. Hands off the girl."
The slow brain of West functioned. He had been taken wholly by surprise, but as his cunning mind Worked the situation out, he saw how much it would be to Whaley's profit to get rid of him. The gambler would get the girl and the reward for West's destruction. He would inherit his share of their joint business and would reinstate himself as a good citizen with the Mounted and with McRae's friends.
Surlily the desperado yielded. "All right, if you're so set on it."
"Drop the whip."
The fingers of West opened and the handle fell to the floor. Deftly the other removed a revolver from its place under the outlaw's left armpit.
West glared at him. That moment the fugitive made up his mind that he would kill Whaley at the first good opportunity. A tide of poisonous hatred raced through his veins. Its expression but not its virulence was temporarily checked by wholesome fear. He must be careful that the gambler did not get him first.
His voice took on a whine intended for good-fellowship. "I reckon I was too pre-emtory. O' course I was sore the way you two left me holdin' the sack. Any one would 'a' been now, wouldn't they? But no use friends fallin' out. We got to make the best of things."
Whaley's chill face did not warm. He knew the man with whom he was dealing. When he began to butter his phrases, it was time to look out for him. He would forget that his partner had brought him from Faraway a dog-team with which to escape, that he was supplying him with funds to carry him through the winter. He would remember only that he had balked and humiliated him.
"Better get into the house the stuff from the sled," the gambler said. "And we'll rustle wood. No telling how long this storm'll last."
"Tha's right," agreed West. "When I saw them sun dogs to-day I figured we was in for a blizzard. Too bad you didn't outfit me for a longer trip."
A gale was blowing from the north, carrying on its whistling breath a fine hard sleet that cut the eyeballs like powdered glass. The men fought their way to the sled and wrestled with the knots of the frozen ropes that bound the load. The lumps of ice that had gathered round these had to be knocked off with hammers before they could be freed. When they staggered into the house with their packs, both men were half-frozen. Their hands were so stiff that the fingers were jointless.
They stopped only long enough to limber up the muscles. Whaley handed to Jessie the revolver he had taken from West.
"Keep this," he said. His look was significant. It told her that in the hunt for wood he might be blinded by the blizzard and lost. If he failed to return and West came back alone, she would know what to do with it.
Into the storm the two plunged a second time. They carried ropes and an axe. Since West had arrived, the gale had greatly increased. The wind now was booming in deep, sullen roars and the temperature had fallen twenty degrees already. The sled dogs were nowhere to be seen or heard. They had burrowed down into the snow where the house would shelter them from the hurricane as much as possible.
The men reached the edge of the creek. They struggled in the frozen drifts with such small dead trees as they could find. In the darkness Whaley used the axe as best he could at imminent risk to his legs. Though they worked only a few feet apart, they had to shout to make their voices carry.
"We better be movin' back," West called through his open palms. "We got all we can haul."
They roped the wood and dragged it over the snow in the direction they knew the house to be. Presently they found the sled and from it deflected toward the house.
Jessie had hot tea waiting for them. They kicked off their webs and piled the salvaged wood into the other end of the cabin, after which they hunkered down before the fire to drink tea and eat pemmican and bannocks.
They had with them about fifty pounds of frozen fish for the dogs and provisions enough to last the three of them four or five meals. Whaley had brought West supplies enough to carry him only to Lookout, where he was to stock for a long traverse into the wilds.
As the hours passed there grew up between the gambler and the girl a tacit partnership of mutual defense. No word was spoken of it, but each knew that the sulky brute in the chimney corner was dangerous. He would be held by no scruples of conscience, no laws of friendship or decency. If the chance came he would strike.
The storm raged and howled. It flung itself at the cabin with what seemed a ravenous and implacable fury. The shriek of it was now like the skirling of a thousand bagpipes, again like the wailing of numberless lost souls.
Inside, West snored heavily, his ill-shaped head drooping on the big barrel chest of the man. Jessie slept while Whaley kept guard. Later she would watch in her turn.
There were moments when the gale died down, but only to roar again with a frenzy of increased violence.
The gray day broke and found the blizzard at its height.
FOR THE WEE LAMB LOST
Beresford, in front of the C.N. Morse & Company trading-post, watched his horse paw at the snow in search of grass underneath. It was a sign that the animal was prairie-bred. On the plains near the border grass cures as it stands, retaining its nutriment as hay. The native pony pushes the snow aside with its forefoot and finds its feed. But in the timber country of the North grass grows long and coarse. When its sap dries out, it rots.
The officer was thinking that he had better put both horse and cariole up for the winter. It was time now for dogs and sled. Even in summer this was not a country for horses. There were so many lakes that a birch-bark canoe covered the miles faster.
Darkness was sweeping down over the land, and with it the first flakes of a coming storm. Beresford had expected this, for earlier in the day he had seen two bright mock suns in the sky. The Indians had told him that these sun dogs were warnings of severe cold and probably a blizzard.
Out of the edge of the forest a man on snowshoes came. He was moving fast. Beresford, watching him idly, noticed that he toed in. Therefore he was probably a Cree trapper. But the Crees were usually indolent travelers. They did not cover ground as this man was doing.
The man was an Indian. The soldier presently certified his first guess as to that. But not until the native was almost at the store did he recognize him as Onistah.
The Blackfoot wasted no time in leading up to what he had to say. "Sleeping Dawn she prisoner of Bully West and Whaley. She say bring her father. She tell me bring him quick"
Beresford's body lost its easy grace instantly and became rigid. His voice rang with sharp authority.
"Where is she?"
"She at Jasper's cabin on Cache Creek. She frightened."
As though the mention of Sleeping Dawn's name had reached him by some process of telepathy, Tom Morse had come out and stood in the door of the store. The trooper wheeled to him.
"Get me a dog-team, Tom. That fellow West has got Jessie McRae with him on Cache Creek. We've got to move quick."
The storekeeper felt as though the bottom had dropped out of his heart. He glanced up at the lowering night. "Storm brewing. We'll get started right away." Without a moment's delay he disappeared inside the store to make his preparations.
Onistah carried the news to McRae.
The blood washed out of the ruddy-whiskered face of the Scot, but his sole comment was a Scriptural phrase of faith. "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken..."
It was less than half an hour later that four men and a dog-train moved up the main street of Faraway and disappeared in the forest. Morse broke trail and McRae drove the tandem. Onistah, who had already traveled many miles, brought up the rear. The trooper exchanged places with Morse after an hour's travel.
They were taking a short-cut and it led them through dead and down timber that delayed the party. Tom was a good axeman, and more than once he had to chop away obstructing logs. At other times by main strength the men lifted or dragged the sled over bad places.
The swirling storm made it difficult to know where they were going or to choose the best way. They floundered through deep snow and heavy underbrush, faces bleeding from the whip of willow switches suddenly released and feet so torn by the straps of the snowshoes that the trail showed stains of blood which had soaked from the moccasins.
Onistah, already weary, began to lag. They dared not wait for him. There was, they felt, not a moment to be lost. McRae's clean-shaven upper lip was a straight, grim surface. He voiced no fears, no doubts, but the others knew from their own anxiety how much he must be suffering.
The gale increased. It drove in bitter blasts of fine stinging sleet. When for a few hundred yards they drew out of the thick forest into an open grove, it lashed them so furiously they could scarcely move in the teeth of it.
The dogs were whimpering at their task. More than once they stopped, exhausted by the wind against which they were battling. Their eyes turned dumbly to McRae for instructions. He could only drive them back to the trail Morse was breaking.
The train was one of the best in the North. The leader was a large St. Bernard, weighing about one hundred sixty pounds, intelligent, faithful, and full of courage. He stood thirty-four inches high at his fore shoulder. Not once did Cuffy falter. Even when the others quit, he was ready to put his weight to the load.
Through the howling of the wind Beresford shouted into the ear of Morse. "Can't be far now. Question is can we find Jasper's in this blizzard."
Morse shook his head. It did not seem likely. Far and near were words which had no meaning. A white, shrieking monster seemed to be hemming them in. Their world diminished to the space their outstretched arms could reach. The only guide they had was Cache Creek, along the bank of which they were traveling. Jasper's deserted cabin lay back from it a few hundred yards, but Tom had not any data to tell him when he ought to leave the creek.
Cuffy solved the problem for him. The St. Bernard stopped, refused the trail Beresford and Morse were beating down in the deep snow. He raised his head, seemed to scent a haven, whined, and tried to plunge to the left.
McRae came forward and shouted to his friends. "We'll gi'e Cuffy his head. He'll maybe ken mair than we do the nicht."
The trail-breakers turned from the creek, occasionally stopping to make sure Cuffy was satisfied. Through heavy brush they forced a way into a coulee. The St. Bernard led them plump against the wall of a cabin.
There was a light inside, the fitful, leaping glow of fire flames. The men stumbled through drifts to the door, McRae in the lead. The Scotchman found the latch and flung open the door. The other two followed him inside.
The room was empty.
At first they could not believe their eyes. It was not reasonable to suppose that any sane human beings would have left a comfortable house to face such a storm. But this was just what they must have done. The state of the fire, which was dying down to hot coals, told them it had not been replenished for hours. West and Whaley clearly had decided they were not safe here and had set out for another hiding-place.
The men looked at each other in blank silence. The same thought was in the mind of all. For the present they must give up the pursuit. It would not be possible to try to carry on any farther in such a blizzard. Yet the younger men waited for McRae to come to his decision. If he called on them to do more, they would make a try with him.
"We'll stay here," Angus said quietly. "Build up the fire, lads, and we'll cast back for Onistah."
Neither of the others spoke. They knew it must have cost the Scotchman a pang to give up even for the night. He had done it only because he recognized that he had no right to sacrifice all their lives in vain.
The dogs took the back trail reluctantly. The sled had been unloaded and was lighter. Moreover, they followed a trail already broken except where the sweep of the wind had filled it up. McRae cheered them to their work.
"Up wi' ye, Koona! Guid dog. Cha, cha! You'll be doin' gran' work, Cuffy. Marche!"
Morse stumbled over Onistah where he lay in the trail. The Blackfoot was still conscious, though he was drowsing into that sleep which is fatal to Arctic travelers caught in a blizzard. He had crawled on hands and feet through the snow after his knees failed him. It must have been only a few minutes after he completely collapsed that they found him.
He was given a gulp or two of whiskey and put on the sled. Again the dogs buckled to the pull. A quarter of an hour later the party reached the cabin.
Onistah was given first aid. Feet and face were rubbed with snow to restore circulation and to prevent frost-bite. He had been rescued in time to save him from any permanent ill effects.
In the back of all their minds lay a haunting fear. What had become of Jessie? There was a chance that the blizzard had caught the party before it reached its destination. Neither West nor Whaley was an inexperienced musher. They knew the difficulties of sub-Arctic travel and how to cope with them. But the storm had blown up with unusual swiftness.
Even if the party had reached safety, the girl's troubles were not ended. With the coming of darkness her peril would increase. As long as Whaley was with West there was hope. The gambler was cold-blooded as a fish, but he had the saving sense of sanity. If he meant to return to Faraway—and there was no reason why he should not—he dared not let any harm befall the girl. But West was a ruffian unmitigated. His ruthless passion might drive him to any evil.
In front of the fire they discussed probabilities. Where had the two free traders taken the girl? Not far, in the face of such a storm. They canvassed places likely to serve as retreats for West.
Once McRae, speaking out of his tortured heart, made an indirect reference to what all of them were thinking. He was looking somberly into the fire as he spoke.
"Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee, but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee."
He found in his religion a stay and comfort. If he knew that under cover of darkness evil men do evil deeds, he could reassure himself with the promise that the hairs of his daughter's head were numbered and that she was under divine protection.
From a pocket next his shirt he drew a small package in oilskin. It was a Bible he had carried many years. By the light of the leaping flames he read a chapter from the New Testament and the twenty-third Psalm, after which the storm-bound men knelt while he prayed that God would guard and keep safe "the wee lamb lost in the tempest far frae the fold."
Morse and Beresford were tough as hickory withes. None in the North woods had more iron in the blood than they. Emergencies had tested them time and again. But neither of them was ashamed to kneel with the big rugged Scotchman while he poured his heart out in a petition for his lass. The security of the girl whom all four loved each in his own way was out of the hands of her friends. To know that McRae had found a sure rock upon which to lean brought the younger men too some measure of peace.
The gray day wore itself away into the deeper darkness of early dusk. Like a wild beast attacking its prey, the hurricane still leaped with deep and sullen roars at the little cabin on Bull Creek. It beat upon it in wild, swirling gusts. It flung blasts of wind, laden with snow and sleet, against the log walls and piled drifts round them almost to the eaves.
Long since Whaley had been forced to take the dogs into the cabin to save them from freezing to death. It was impossible for any of the three human beings to venture out for more than a few minutes at a time. Even then they had to keep close to the walls in order not to lose contact with the house.
When feeding-time came the dogs made pandemonium. They were half-famished, as teams in the Lone Lands usually are, and the smell of the frozen fish thawing before the fire set them frantic. West and Whaley protected Jessie while she turned the fish. This was not easy. The plunging animals almost rushed the men off their feet. They had to be beaten back cruelly with the whip-stocks, for they were wild as wolves and only the sharpest pain would restrain them.
The half-thawed fish were flung to them in turn. There was a snarl, a snap of the jaws, a gulp, and the fish was gone. Over one or two that fell in the pack the train worried and fought, with sharp yelps and growls, until the last fragment had been torn to pieces and disappeared.
Afterward the storm-bound trio drank tea and ate pemmican, still fighting back the pack. West laid open the nose of one in an ugly cut with the iron-bound end of his whip-butt. Perhaps he was not wholly to blame. Many of the dog-trains of the North are taught to understand nothing but the sting of the whip and will respond only to brutal treatment.
The second night was a repetition of the first. The three were divided into two camps. Whaley or Jessie McRae watched West every minute. There was a look in his eye they distrusted, a sulky malice back of which seemed to smoke banked fires of murderous desire. He lay on the floor and slept a good deal in short cat-naps. Apparently his dreams were not pleasant. He would growl incoherently through set teeth and clench great hairy fists in spasms of rage. Out of these he wakened with a start to glare around suspiciously at the others. It was clear the thought was in the back of his mind that they might destroy him while he was asleep.
Throughout the third day the storm continued unabated. Whaley and West discussed the situation. Except for a few pounds of fish, their provisions were gone. If the blizzard did not moderate, they would soon face starvation.
During the night the wind died down. Day broke clear, a faint and wintry sun in the sky.
To West the other man made a proposal. "Have to get out and hunt food. We'll find caribou in some of the coulees along the creek. What say?"
The convict looked at him with sly cunning. "How about this girl? Think I'm gonna leave her to mush out an' put the police on my trail? No, sir. I'll take her snowshoes with me."
Whaley shrugged his shoulders. "She couldn't find her way home if she had shoes. But please yourself about that."
West's shifty gaze slid over him. The proposal of a hunt suited him. He must have a supply of food to carry him to Lookout. Whaley was a good shot and an expert trailer. If there were caribou or moose in the vicinity, he was likely to make a kill. In any event there would be hundreds of white rabbits scurrying through the woods. He decided craftily to make use of the gambler, and after he was through with him—
The men took with them part of the tea and enough fish to feed the dogs once. They expected to find game sufficient to supply themselves and stock up for a few days. Whaley insisted on leaving Jessie her rifle, in order that she might shoot a rabbit or two if any ventured near the cabin. She had three frozen fish and a handful of tea.
Before they started Whaley drew Jessie aside. "Can't say how long we'll be gone. Maybe two days—or three. You'll have to make out with what you've got till we get back." He hesitated a moment, then his cold, hard eyes held fast to hers. "Maybe only one of us will come back. Keep your eyes open. If there's only one of us—and it's West—don't let him get into the house. Shoot him down. Take his snowshoes and the team. Follow the creek down about five miles, then strike southwest till you come to Clear Lake. You know your way home from there."
Her dark eyes dilated. "Do you think he means to—to—?"
The man nodded. "He's afraid of me—thinks I mean to set the police on his trail. If he can he'll get rid of me. But not yet—not till we've got a couple of caribou. I'll be watching him all the time."
"How can you watch him while you're hunting?"
He lifted his shoulders in a shrug. It was quite true that West could shoot him in the back during the hunt. But Whaley knew the man pretty well. He would make sure of meat before he struck. After the sled was loaded, Whaley did not intend to turn his back on the fellow.
Jessie had not been brought up in the North woods for nothing. She had seen her brother Fergus make many a rabbit snare. Now she contrived to fashion one out of some old strips of skin she found in the cabin. After she had bent down a young sapling and fastened it to a fallen log, she busied herself making a second one.
Without snowshoes she did not find it possible to travel far, but she managed to shoot a fox that adventured near the hut in the hope of finding something to fill its lean and empty paunch.
Before leaving, Whaley had brought into the house a supply of wood, but Jessie added to this during the day by hauling birch poles from the edge of the creek.
Darkness fell early. The girl built up a roaring fire piled the wood up against the door so that nobody could get in without waking her. The rifle lay close at hand. She slept long and soundly. When she shook the drowsiness from her eyes, the sun was shining through the window.
She breakfasted on stew made from a hindquarter of fox. After she had visited her snares and reset one that had been sprung, she gathered balsam boughs for a bed and carried them to the house to dry before the fire. Whaley had left her a small hatchet, and with this she began to shape a snowshoe from a piece of the puncheon floor. All day she worked at this, and by night had a rough sort of wooden ski that might serve at need. With red-hot coals, during the long evening, she burned holes in it through which to put the straps. The skin of the fox, cut into long strips, would do for thongs. It would be a crude, primitive device, but she thought that at a pinch she might travel a few miles on it. To-morrow she would make a mate for it, she decided.
Except for the bed of balsam boughs, her arrangements for the night were just as they had been the first day. Again she built up a big fire, piled the wood in front of the door, and put the rifle within reach. Again she was asleep almost at once, within a minute of the time when she nestled down to find a soft spot in the springy mattress she had made.
Jessie worked hard on the second ski. By noon she had it pretty well shaped. Unfortunately a small split in the wood developed into a larger one. She was forced to throw it aside and begin on another piece.
A hundred times her eyes had lifted to sweep the snow field for any sign of the hunters' return. Now, looking out of the window without much expectation of seeing them, her glance fell on a traveler, a speck of black on a sea of white. Her heart began to beat a drum of excitement. She waited, eyes riveted, expecting to see a second figure and a dog-team top the rise and show in silhouette.
None appeared. The man advanced steadily. He did not look backward. Evidently he had no companion. Was this lone traveler West?
Jessie picked up the rifle and made sure that it was in good working order. A tumultuous river seemed to beat through her temples. The pulses in her finger-tips were athrob.
Could she do this dreadful thing, even to save honor and life, though she knew the man must be twice a murderer? Once she had tried and failed, while he stood taunting her with his horrible, broken-toothed grin. And once, in the stress of battle, she had wounded him while he was attacking.
The moving black speck became larger. It came to her presently with certainty that this was not West. He moved more gracefully, more lightly, without the heavy slouching roll.... And then she knew he was not Whaley either. One of her friends! A little burst of prayer welled out of her heart.
She left the cabin and went toward the man. He waved a hand to her and she flung up a joyful gesture in answer. For her rescuer was Onistah.
Jessie found herself with both hands in his, biting her lower lip to keep back tears. She could not speak for the emotion that welled up in her.
"You—all well?" he asked, with the imperturbable facial mask of his race that concealed all emotion.
"Good," he went on. "Your father pray the Great Spirit keep you safe."
"Where is Father?"
He looked in the direction from which he had come. "We go Jasper's cabin—your father, red soldier, American trader, Onistah. You gone. Big storm—snow—sleet. No can go farther. Then your father he pray. We wait till Great Spirit he say, 'No more wind, snow,' Then we move camp. All search—go out find you." He pointed north, south, east, and west. "The Great Spirit tell me to come here. I say, 'Sleeping Dawn she with God, for Jesus' sake, Amen.'"
"You dear, dear boy," she sobbed.
"So I find you. Hungry?"
"No. I shot a fox."
"Then we go now." He looked at her feet. "Where your snowshoes?"
"West took them to keep me here. I'm making a pair. Come. We'll finish them."
They moved toward the house. Onistah stopped. The girl followed his eyes. They were fastened on a laden dog-train with two men moving across a lake near the shore of which the cabin had been built.
Her fear-filled gaze came back to the Indian. "It's West and Mr. Whaley. What'll we do?"
Already he was kneeling, fumbling with the straps of his snowshoes. "You go find your father. Follow trail to camp. Then you send him here. I hide in woods."
"No—no. They'll find you, and that West would shoot you."
"Onistah know tricks. They no find him."
He fastened the snow-webs on her feet while she was still protesting. She glanced again at the dog-train jogging steadily forward. If she was going, it must be at once. Soon it would be too late for either of them to escape.
"You will hide in the woods, won't you, so they can't find you?" she implored.
He smiled reassurance. "Go," he said.
Another moment, and she was pushing over the crust along the trail by which the Blackfoot had come.
The hunters brought back three caribou and two sacks of rabbits, supplies enough to enable West to reach Lookout. The dogs were stronger than when they had set out, for they had gorged themselves on the parts of the game unfit for human use.
Nothing had been said by either of the men as to what was to be done with Jessie McRae, but the question was in the background of both their thoughts, just as was the growing anger toward each other that consumed them. They rarely spoke. Neither of them let the other drop behind him. Neither had slept a wink the previous night. Instead, they had kept themselves awake with hot tea. Fagged out after a day of hard hunting, each was convinced his life depended on wakefulness. West's iron strength had stood the strain without any outward signs of collapse, but Whaley was stumbling with fatigue as he dragged himself along beside the sled.