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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.

CHAPTER XXV

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.

CHAPTER XXVI

A RESCUE

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.

She nodded.

“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.

CHAPTER XXVII

APACHE STUFF

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.

The bad feeling between the partners was near the explosion point. It was bound to come before the fugitive started on his long trip north. The fellow had a single-track mind. He still intended to take the girl with him. When Whaley interfered, there would be a fight. It could not come too soon to suit West. His brooding had reached the point where he was morally certain that the gambler meant to betray him to the police and set them on his track.

Smoke was rising from the chimney of the hut. No doubt the McRae girl was inside, waiting for them with a heart of fear fluttering in her bosom. Whaley’s thin lips set grimly. Soon now it would be a show-down.

There was a moment’s delay at the door, each hanging back under pretense of working at the sled. There was always the chance that the one who went first might get a shot in the back.

West glanced at the big mittens on the other’s hands, laughed hardily, and pushed into the cabin. A startled grunt escaped him.

“She’s gone,” he called out.

“Probably in the woods back here–rabbit-shooting likely. She can’t have gone far without snowshoes,” Whaley said.

The big man picked up the ski Jessie had made. “Looky here.”

Whaley examined it. “She might have made a pair of ’em and got away. Hope so.”

The yellow teeth of the convict showed in a snarl. “Think I don’t see yore game? Playin’ up to McRae an’ the red-coats. I wouldn’t put it by you to sell me out.”

The gambler’s ice-cold eyes bored into West. Was it to be now?

West was not quite ready. His hands were cold and stiff. Besides, the other was on guard and the fugitive was not looking for an even break.

“Oh, well, no use rowin’ about that. I ain’t gonna chew the rag with you. It’ll be you one way an’ me another pretty soon,” he continued, shifty eyes dodging.

“About the girl–easy to find out, I say. She sure didn’t fly away. Must ‘a’ left tracks. We’ll take a look-see.”

Again Whaley waited deferentially, with a sardonic and mirthless grin, to let the other pass first. There were many tracks close to the cabin where they themselves, as well as the girl, had moved to and fro. Their roving glances went farther afield.

Plain as the swirling waters in the wake of a boat stretched the tracks of a snowshoer across the lower end of the lake.

They pushed across to examine them closer, following them a dozen yards to the edge of the ice-field. The sign written there on that white page told a tale to both of the observers, but it said more to one than to the other.

“Some one’s been here,” West cried with a startled oath.

“Yes,” agreed Whaley. He did not intend to give any unnecessary information.

“An’ lit out again. Must ‘a’ gone to git help for the girl.”

“Yes,” assented the gambler, and meant “No.”

What he read from the writing on the snow was this: Some one had come and some one had gone. But the one who had come was not the one who had gone. An Indian had made the first tracks. He could tell it by the shape of the webs and by the way the traveler had toed in. The outward-bound trail was different. Some one lighter of build was wearing the snowshoes, some one who took shorter steps and toed out.

“See. She run out to meet him. Here’s where her feet kept sinkin’ in,” West said.

The other nodded. Yes, she had hurried to meet him but that was not all he saw. There was the impression of a knee in the snow. It was an easy guess that the man had knelt to take off the shoes and adjust them to the girl’s feet.

“An’ here’s where she cut off into the woods,” the convict went on. “She’s hidin’ up there now. I’m hittin’ the trail after her hot-foot.”

Whaley’s derisive smile vanished almost before it appeared. What he knew was his own business. If West wanted to take a walk in the woods, it was not necessary to tell him that a man was waiting for him there behind some tree.

“Think I’ll follow this fellow,” Whaley said, with a lift of the hand toward the tracks that led across the lake. “We’ve got to find out where he went. If the Mounted are hot on our trail, we want to know it.”

“Sure.” West assented craftily, eyes narrowed to conceal the thoughts that crawled through his murderous brain. “We gotta know that.”

He believed Whaley was playing into his hands. The man meant to betray him to the police. He would never reach them. And he, Bully West, would at last be alone with the girl, nobody to interfere with him.

The gambler was used to taking chances. He took one now and made his first mistake in the long duel he had been playing with West. The eagerness of the fellow to have him gone was apparent. The convict wanted him out of the way so that he could go find the girl. Evidently he thought that Whaley was backing down as gracefully as he could.

“I’ll start right after him. Back soon,” the gambler said casually.

“Yes, soon,” agreed West.

Their masked eyes still clung to each other, wary and watchful. As though without intent Whaley backed away, still talking to the other. He wanted to be out of revolver range before he turned. West also was backing clumsily, moving toward the sled. The convict wheeled and slid rapidly to it.

Whaley knew his mistake now. West’s rifle lay on the sled and the man was reaching for it.

The man on the ice-field did the only thing possible. He bent low and traveled fast. When the first shot rang out he was nearly a hundred fifty yards away. He crumpled down into the snow and lay still.

West’s hands were cold, his fingers stiff. He had not been sure of his aim. Now he gave a whoop of triumph. That was what happened to any one who interfered with Bully West. He fired again at the still huddled heap on the lake.

Presently he would go out there and make sure the man was dead. Just now he had more important business, an engagement to meet a girl in the woods back of the house.

“Got him good,” he told himself aloud. “He sure had it comin’ to him, the damned traitor.”

To find the McRae girl could not be difficult. She had left tracks as she waded away in the deep snow. There was no chance for her to hide. Nor could she have gone far without webs. The little catamount might, of course, shoot him. He had to move carefully, not to give her an opportunity.

As he went forward he watched every tree, every stick of timber behind which she might find cover to ambush him. He was not of a patient temperament, but life in the wilds had taught him to subdue when he must his gusty restlessness. Now he took plenty of time. He was in a hurry to hit the trail with his train and be off, but he could not afford to be in such great haste as to stop a bullet with his body.

He called to her. “Where you at, Dawn? I ain’t aimin’ to hurt you none. Come out an’ quit devilin’ me.”

Then, when his wheedling brought no answer, he made the forest ring with threats of what he would do to her when he caught her unless she came to him at once.

Moving slowly forward, he came to the end of the tracks that had been made in the snow. They ended abruptly, in a thicket of underbrush. His first thought was that she must be hidden here, but when he had beat through it half a dozen times, he knew this was impossible. Then where was she?

He had told Whaley that she could not fly away. But if she hadn’t flown, what had become of her? There were no trees near enough to climb without showing the impressions of her feet in the snow as she moved to the trunk. He had an uneasy sense that she was watching him all the time from some hidden place near at hand. He looked up into the branches of the trees. They were heavy with snow which had not been shaken from them.

West smothered a laugh and an oath. He saw the trick now. She must have back-tracked carefully, at each step putting her feet in exactly the same place as when she had moved forward. Of course! The tracks showed where she had brushed the deep drifts occasionally when the moccasin went in the second time.

It was slow business, for while he studied the sign he must keep a keen eye cocked against the chance of a shot from his hidden prey.

Twice he quartered over the ground before he knew he had reached the place where the back-tracking ceased. Close to the spot was a pine. A pile of snow showed where a small avalanche had plunged down. That must have been when she disturbed it on the branches in climbing.

His glance swept up the trunk and came to a halt. With his rifle he covered the figure crouching close to it on the far side.

“Come down,” he ordered.

He was due for one of the surprises of his life. The tree-dweller slid down and stood before him. It was not Jessie McRae, but a man, an Indian, the Blackfoot who had ridden out with the girl once to spoil his triumph over the red-coat Beresford.

For a moment he stood, stupefied, jaw fallen and mouth open. “Whad you doin’ here?” he asked at last.

“No food my camp. I hunt,” Onistah said.

“Tha’s a lie. Where’s the McRae girl?”

The slim Indian said nothing. His face was expressionless as a blank wall.

West repeated the question. He might have been talking to a block of wood for all the answer he received. His crafty, cruel mind churned over the situation.

“Won’t talk, eh? We’ll see about that. You got her hid somewheres an’ I’m gonna find where. I’ll not stand for yore Injun tricks. Drop that gun an’ marche-back to the cabin. Un’erstand?”

Onistah did as he was told.

They reached the cabin. There was one thing West did not get hold of in his mind. Why had not the Blackfoot shot him from the tree? He had had a score of chances. The reason was not one the white man would be likely to fathom. Onistah had not killed him because the Indian was a Christian. He had learned from Father Giguere that he must turn the other cheek.

West, revolver close at hand, cut thongs from the caribou skins. He tied his captive hand and foot, then removed his moccasins and duffles. From the fire he raked out a live coal and put it on a flat chip. This he brought across the room.

“Changed yore mind any? Where’s the girl?” he demanded.

Onistah looked at him, impassive as only an Indian can be.

“Still sulky, eh? We’ll see about that.”

The convict knelt on the man’s ankles and pushed the coal against the naked sole of the brown foot.

An involuntary deep shudder went through the Blackfoot’s body. The foot twitched. An acrid odor of burning flesh filled the room. No sound came from the locked lips.

The tormentor removed the coal. “I ain’t begun to play with you yet. I’m gonna give you some real Apache stuff ‘fore I’m through. Where’s the girl? I’m gonna find out if I have to boil you in grease.”

Still Onistah said nothing.

West brought another coal. “We’ll try the other foot,” he said.

Again the pungent acrid odor rose to the nostrils.

“How about it now?” the convict questioned.

No answer came. This time Onistah had fainted.

CHAPTER XXVIII

“IS A’ WELL WI’ YOU, LASS?”

Jessie’s shoes crunched on the snow-crust. She traveled fast. In spite of Onistah’s assurance her heart was troubled for him. West and Whaley would study the tracks and come to at least an approximation of the truth. She did not dare think of what the gorilla-man would do to her friend if they captured him.

And how was it possible that they would not find him? His footsteps would be stamped deep in the snow. He could not travel fast. Since he had become a Christian, the Blackfoot, with the simplicity of a mind not used to the complexities of modern life, accepted the words of Jesus literally. He would not take a human life to save his own.

She blamed herself for escaping at his expense. The right thing would have been to send him back again for her father. But West had become such a horrible obsession with her that the sight of him even at a distance had put her in a panic.

From the end of the lake she followed the trail Onistah had made. It took into the woods, veering sharply to the right. The timber was open. Even where the snow was deep, the crust was firm enough to hold.

In her anxiety it seemed that hours passed. The sun was still fairly high, but she knew how quickly it sank these winter days.

She skirted a morass, climbed a long hill, and saw before her another lake. On the shore was a camp. A fire was burning, and over this a man stooping.

At the sound of her call, the man looked up. He rose and began to run toward her. She snowshoed down the hill, a little blindly, for the mist of glad tears brimmed her eyes.

Straight into Beresford’s arms she went. Safe at last, she began to cry. The soldier petted her, with gentle words of comfort.

“It’s all right now, little girl. All over with. Your father’s here. See! He’s coming. We’ll not let anything harm you.”

McRae took the girl into his arms and held her tight. His rugged face was twisted with emotion. A dam of ice melted in his heart. The voice with which he spoke, broken with feeling, betrayed how greatly he was shaken.

“My bairn! My wee dawtie! To God be the thanks.”

She clung to him, trying to control her sobs. He stroked her hair and kissed her, murmuring Gaelic words of endearment. A thought pierced him, like a sword-thrust.

He held her at arm’s length, a fierce anxiety in his haggard face. “Is a’ well wi’ you, lass?” he asked, almost harshly.

She understood his question. Her level eyes met his. They held no reservations of shame. “All’s well with me, Father. Mr. Whaley was there the whole time. He stood out against West. He was my friend.” She stopped, enough said.

“The Lord be thankit,” he repeated again, devoutly.

Tom Morse, rifle in hand, had come from the edge of the woods and was standing near. He had heard her first call, had seen her go to the arms of Beresford direct as a hurt child to those of its mother, and he had drawn reasonable conclusions from that. For under stress the heart reveals itself, he argued, and she had turned simply and instinctively to the man she loved. He stood now outside the group, silent. Inside him too a river of ice had melted. His haunted, sunken eyes told the suffering he had endured. The feeling that flooded him was deeper than joy. She had been dead and was alive again. She had been lost and was found.

“Where have you been?” asked Beresford. “We’ve been looking for days.”

“In a cabin on Bull Creek. Mr. Whaley took me there, but West followed.”

“How did you get away?”

“We were out of food. They went hunting. West took my snowshoes. Onistah came. He saw them coming back and gave me his shoes. He went and hid in the woods. But they’ll see his tracks. They’ll find him. We must hurry back.”

“Yes,” agreed McRae. “I’m thinkin’ if West finds the lad, he’ll do him ill.”

Morse spoke for the first time, his voice dry as a chip. “We’d better hurry on, Beresford and I. You and Miss McRae can bring the sled.”

McRae hesitated, but assented. There might be desperate need of haste. “That’ll be the best way. But you’ll be carefu’, lad. Yon West’s a wolf. He’d as lief kill ye baith as look at ye.”

The younger men were out of sight over the brow of the hill long before McRae and Jessie had the dogs harnessed.

“You’ll ride, lass,” the father announced.

She demurred. “We can go faster if I walk. Let me drive. Then you can break trail where the snow’s soft.”

“No. You’ll ride, my dear. There’s nae sic a hurry. The lads’ll do what’s to be done. On wi’ ye.”

Jessie got into the cariole and was bundled up to the tip of the nose with buffalo robes, the capote of her own fur being drawn over the head and face. For riding in the sub-Arctic winter is a freezing business.

“Marche,”[6] ordered McRae.

[Footnote: Most of the dogs of the North were trained by trappers who talked French and gave commands in that language. Hence even the Anglo-Saxon drivers used in driving a good many words of that language. (W.M.R.)]

Cuffy led the dogs up the hill, following the trail already broken. The train made good time, but to Jessie it seemed to crawl. She was tortured with anxiety for Onistah. An express could not have carried her fast enough. It was small comfort to tell herself that Onistah was a Blackfoot and knew every ruse of the woods. His tracks would lead straight to him and the veriest child could follow them. Nor could she persuade herself that Whaley would stand between him and West’s anger. To the gambler Onistah was only a nitchie.

The train passed out of the woods to the shore of the lake. Here the going was better. The sun was down and the snow-crust held dogs and sled. A hundred fifty yards from the cabin McRae pulled up the team. He moved forward and examined the snow.

With a heave Jessie flung aside the robes that wrapped her and jumped from the cariole. An invisible hand seemed to clutch tightly at her throat. For what she and her father had seen were crimson splashes in the white. Some one or something had been killed or wounded here. Onistah, of course! He must have changed his mind, tried to follow her, and been shot by West as he was crossing the lake.

She groaned, her heart heavy.

McRae offered comfort. “He’ll likely be only wounded. The lads wouldna hae moved him yet if he’d no’ been livin’.”

The train moved forward, Jessie running beside Angus.

Morse came to the door. He closed it behind him.

“Onistah?” cried Jessie.

“He’s been–hurt. But we were in time. He’ll get well.”

“West shot him? We saw stains in the snow.”

“No. He shot Whaley.”

“Whaley?” echoed McRae.

“Yes. Wanted to get rid of him. Thought your daughter was hidden in the woods here. Afraid, too, that Whaley would give him up to the North-West Mounted.”

“Then Whaley’s dead?” the Scotchman asked.

“No. West hadn’t time right then to finish the job. Pretty badly hurt, though. Shot in the side and in the thigh.”

“And West?”

“We came too soon. He couldn’t finish his deviltry. He lit out over the hill soon as he saw us.”

They went into the house.

Jessie walked straight to where Onistah lay on the balsam boughs and knelt beside him. Beresford was putting on one of his feet a cloth soaked in caribou oil.

“What did he do to you?” she cried, a constriction of dread at her heart.

A ghost of a smile touched the immobile face of the native. “Apache stuff, he called it.”

“But–“

“West burned his feet to make him tell where you were,” Beresford told her gently.

“Oh!” she cried, in horror.

“Good old Onistah. He gamed it out. Wouldn’t say a word. West saw us coming and hit the trail.”

“Is he–is he–?”

“He’s gone.”

“I mean Onistah.”

“Suffering to beat the band, but not a whimper out of him. He’s not permanently hurt–be walking around in a week or two.”

“You poor boy!” the girl cried softly, and she put her arm under the Indian’s head to lift it to an easier position.

The dumb lips of the Blackfoot did not thank her, but the dark eyes gave her the gratitude of a heart wholly hers.

All that night the house was a hospital. The country was one where men had learned to look after hurts without much professional aid. In a rough way Angus McRae was something of a doctor. He dressed the wounds of both the injured, using the small medical kit he had brought with him.

Whaley was a bit of a stoic himself. The philosophy of his class was to take good fortune or ill undemonstratively. He was lucky to be alive. Why whine about what must be?

But as the fever grew on him with the lengthening hours, he passed into delirium. Sometimes he groaned with pain. Again he fell into disconnected babble of early days. He was back again with his father and mother, living over his wild and erring youth.

“… Don’t tell Mother. I’ll square it all right if you keep it from her…. Rotten run of cards. Ninety-seven dollars. You’ll have to wait, I tell you…. Mother, Mother, if you won’t cry like that …”

McRae used the simple remedies he had. In themselves they were, he knew, of little value. He must rely on good nursing and the man’s hardy constitution to pull him through.

With Morse and Beresford he discussed the best course to follow. It was decided that Morse should take Onistah and Jessie back to Faraway next day and return with a load of provisions. Whaley’s fever must run its period. It was impossible to tell yet whether he would live or die, but for some days at least it would not be safe to move him.

CHAPTER XXIX

NOT GOING ALONE

“Morse, I’ve watched ye through four-five days of near-hell. I ken nane I’d rather tak wi’ me as a lone companion on the long traverse. You’re canny an’ you’re bold. That’s why I’m trustin’ my lass to your care. It’s a short bit of a trip, an’ far as I can see there’s nae danger. But the fear’s in me. That’s the truth, man. Gie me your word you’ll no’ let her oot o’ your sight till ye hand her ower to my wife at Faraway.”

Angus clamped a heavy hand on the young man’s shoulder. His blue eyes searched steadily those of the trader.

“I’ll not let her twenty yards from me any time. That’s a promise, McRae,” the trader said quietly.

Well wrapped from the wind, Onistah sat in the cariole.

Jessie kissed the Scotchman fondly, laughing at him the while. “You’re a goose, Father. I’m all right. You take good care of yourself. That West might come back here.”

“No chance of that. West will never come back except at the end of a rope. He’s headed for the edge of the Barrens, or up that way somewhere,” Beresford said. “And inside of a week I’ll be north-bound on his trail myself.”

Jessie was startled, a good deal distressed. “I’d let him go. He’ll meet a bad end somewhere. If he never comes back, as you say he won’t, then he’ll not trouble us.”

The soldier smiled grimly. “That’s not the way of the Mounted. Get the fellow you’re sent after. That’s our motto. I’ve been assigned the job of bringing in West and I’ve got to get him.”

“You don’t mean you’re going up there alone to bring back that–that wolf-man?”

“Oh, no,” the trooper answered lightly. “I’ll have a Cree along as a guide.”

“A Cree,” she scoffed. “What good will he be if you find West? He’ll not help you against him at all.”

“Not what he’s with me for. I’m not supposed to need any help to bring back one man.”

“It’s–it’s just suicide to go after him alone,” she persisted. “Look what he did to the guard at the prison, to Mr. Whaley, to Onistah! He’s just awful–hardly human.”

“The lad’s under orders, lass,” McRae told her. “Gin they send him into the North after West, he’ll just have to go. He canna argy-bargy aboot it.”

Jessie gave up, reluctantly.

The little cavalcade started. Morse drove. The girl brought up the rear.

Her mind was still on the hazard of the journey Beresford must take. When Morse stopped to rest the dogs for a few moments, she tucked up Onistah again and recurred to the subject.

“I don’t think Win Beresford should go after West alone except for a Cree guide. The Inspector ought to send another constable with him. Or two more. If he knew that man–how cruel and savage he is–“

Tom Morse spoke quietly. “He’s not going alone. I’ll be with him.”

She stared. “You?”

“Yes. Sworn in as a deputy constable.”

“But–he didn’t say you were going when I spoke to him about it a little while ago.”

“He didn’t know. I’ve made up my mind since.”

In point of fact he had come to a decision three seconds before he announced it.

Her soft eyes applauded him. “That’ll be fine. His friends won’t worry so much if you’re with him. But–of course you know it’ll be a horrible trip–and dangerous.”

“No picnic,” he admitted.

She continued to look at him, her cheeks flushed and her face vivid. “You must like Win a lot. Not many men would go.”

“We’re good friends,” Morse answered dryly. “Anyhow, I owe West something on my own account.”

The real reason why he was going he had not given. During the days she had been lost he had been on the rack of torture. He did not want her to suffer months of such mental distress while the man she loved was facing alone the peril of his grim work in the white Arctic desert.

They resumed the journey.

Jessie said no more. She would not mention the subject again probably. But it would be a great deal in her thoughts. She lived much of the time inside herself with her own imagination. This had the generosity and the enthusiasm of youth. She wanted to believe people fine and good and true. It warmed her to discover unexpected virtues in them.

Mid-afternoon brought them to Faraway. They drove down the main street of the village to McRae’s house while the half-breeds cheered from the door of the Morse store.

Jessie burst into the big family room where Matapi-Koma sat bulging out from the only rocking-chair in the North woods.

“Oh, Mother–Mother!” the girl cried, and hugged the Cree woman with all the ardent young savagery of her nature.

The Indian woman’s fat face crinkled to an expansive smile. She had stalwart sons of her own, but no daughters except this adopted child. Jessie was very dear to her.

In a dozen sentences the girl poured out her story, the words tumbling pell-mell over each other in headlong haste.

Matapi-Koma waddled out to the sled. “Onistah stay here,” she said, and beamed on him. “Blackfoot all same Cree to Matapi-Koma when he friend Jessie. Angus send word nurse him till he well again.”

Tom carried the Indian into the house so that his feet would not touch the ground. Jessie had stayed in to arrange the couch where Fergus usually slept.

She followed Morse to the door when he left. “We’ll have some things to send back to Father when you go. I’ll bring them down to the store to-morrow morning,” she said. “And Mother wants you to come to supper to-night. Don’t you dare say you’re too busy.”

He smiled at the intimate feminine fierceness of the injunction. The last few hours had put them on a somewhat different footing. He would accept such largesse as she was willing to offer. He recognized the spirit in which it was given. She wanted to show her appreciation of what he had done for her and was about to do for the man she loved. Nor would Morse meet her generosity in a churlish spirit.

“I’ll be here when the gong rings,” he told her heartily.

“Let’s see. It’s nearly three now. Say five o’clock,” she decided.

“At five I’ll be knockin’ on the door.”

She flashed at him a glance both shy and daring. “And I’ll open it before you break through and bring it with you.”

The trader went away with a queer warmth in his heart he had not known for many a day. The facts did not justify this elation, this swift exhilaration of blood, but to one who has starved for long any food is grateful.

Jessie flew back into the house. She had a busy two hours before her. “Mother, Mr. Morse is coming to dinner. What’s in the house?”

“Fergus brought a black-tail in yesterday.”

“Good. I know what I’ll have. But first off, I want a bath. Lots of hot water, and all foamy with soap. I’ve got to hurry. You can peel the potatoes if you like. And fix some of those young onions. They’re nice. And Mother–I’ll let you make the biscuits. That’s all. I’ll do the rest.”

The girl touched a match to the fire that was set in her room. She brought a tin tub and hot water and towels. Slim and naked she stood before the roaring logs and reveled in her bath. The sense of cleanliness was a luxury delicious. When she had dressed herself from the soles of her feet up in clean clothes, she felt a new and self-respecting woman.

She did not pay much attention to the psychology of dress, but she knew that when she had on the pretty plaid that had come from Fort Benton, and when her heavy black hair was done up just right, she had twice the sex confidence she felt in old togs. Jessie would have denied indignantly that she was a coquette. None the less she was intent on conquest. She wanted this quiet, self-contained American to like her.

The look she had seen in his red-brown eyes at times tantalized her. She could not read it. That some current of feeling about her raced deep in him she divined, but she did not know what it was. He had a way of letting his steady gaze rest on her disturbingly. What was he thinking? Did he despise her? Was he, away down out of sight, the kind of man toward women that West and Whaley were? She wouldn’t believe it. He had never taken an Indian woman to live with him. There was not even a rumor that he had ever taken an interest in any Cree girl. Of course she did not like him–not the way she did Win Beresford or even Onistah–but she was glad he held himself aloof. It would have greatly disappointed her to learn of any sordid intrigue involving him.

Jessie rolled up her sleeves and put on a big apron. She saw that the onions and the potatoes were started and the venison ready for broiling. From a chest of drawers she brought one of the new white linen tablecloths of which she was inordinately proud. She would not trust any one but herself to set the table. Morse had come from a good family. He knew about such things. She was not going to let him go away thinking Angus McRae’s family were barbarians, even though his wife was a Cree and his children of the half-blood.

On the table she put a glass dish of wild-strawberry jam. In the summer she had picked the fruit herself, just as she had gathered the saskatoon berries sprinkled through the pemmican she was going to use for the rubaboo.

CHAPTER XXX

“M” FOR MORSE

Two in the village bathed that day. The other was Tom Morse. He discarded his serviceable moccasins, his caribou-skin capote with the fur on, his moose-skin trousers, and his picturesque blanket shirt. For these he substituted the ungainly clothes of civilization, a pair of square-toed boots, a store suit, a white shirt.

This was not the way Faraway dressed for gala occasions, but in several respects the trader did not choose to follow the habits of the North. At times he liked to remind himself that he was an American and not a French half-breed born in the woods.

As he had promised, he was at the McRaes’ by the appointed hour. Jessie opened to his knock.

The girl almost took his breath. He had not realized how attractive she was. In her rough outdoor costumes she had a certain naive boyishness, a very taking quality of vital energy that was sexless. But in the house dress she was wearing now, Jessie was wholly feminine. The little face, cameo-fine and clear-cut, the slender body, willow-straight, had the soft rounded curves that were a joy to the eye. He had always thought of her as dark, but to his surprise he found her amazingly fair for one of the metis blood.

A dimpled smile flashed him welcome. “You did come, then?”

“Is it the wrong night? Weren’t you expectin’ me?” he asked in pretended alarm.

“I was and I wasn’t. It wouldn’t have surprised me if you had decided you were too busy to come.”

“Not when Miss Jessie McRae invites me.”

“She invited you once before,” the girl reminded him.

“Then she asked me because she thought she ought. Is that why I’m asked this time?”

She laughed. “You mustn’t look a gift dinner in the mouth.”

They were by this time in the big family room. She relieved him of his coat. He walked over to the couch upon which Onistah lay.

“How goes it? Tough sleddin’?” he asked.

The bronze face of the Blackfoot was immobile. He must still have been in great pain from the burnt feet, but he gave no sign of it.

“Onistah find good friends,” he answered simply.

Tom looked round the room, and again there came to him the sense of home. Logs roared and snapped in the great fireplace. The table, set with the dishes and the plated silver McRae had imported from the States, stirred in him a pleasure that was almost poignant. The books, the organ, the quaint old engravings Angus had brought with him when he crossed the ocean: all of these touched the trader nearly. He was in exile, living a bachelor life under the most primitive conditions. The atmosphere of this house penetrated to every fiber of his being. It filled him with an acute hunger. Here were love and friendly intercourse and all the daily, homely routine that made life beautiful.

And here was the girl that he loved, vivid, vital, full of charm. The swift deftness and grace of her movements enticed him. The inflections of her warm, young voice set his pulses throbbing as music sometimes did. An ardent desire of her flooded him. She was the most winsome creature under heaven–but she was not for him.

Matapi-Koma sat at the head of the table, a smiling and benignant matron finished in copper. She had on her best dress, a beaded silk with purple satin trimmings, brought by a Red River cart from Winnipeg, accompanied with a guarantee from the trader that Queen Victoria had none better. The guarantee was worth what it was worth, but Matapi-Koma was satisfied. Never had she seen anything so grand. That Angus McRae could afford to buy it for her proved him a great chief.

Jessie waited on the table herself. She set upon it such a dinner as neither of her guests had eaten in years. Venison broiled to a turn, juicy, succulent mallard ducks from the cold storage of their larder, mashed potatoes with gravy, young boiled onions from Whoop-Up, home-made rubaboo of delicious flavor, hot biscuits and wild-strawberry jam! And finally, with the tea, a brandy-flavored plum pudding that an old English lady at Winnipeg had taught Jessie how to make.

Onistah ate lying on the couch. Afterward, filled to repletion, with the sense of perfect contentment a good dinner brings, the two young men stuffed their pipes and puffed strata of smoke toward the log rafters of the room. Jessie cleared the table, then sat down and put the last stitches in the gun-case she had been working at intermittently for a month. It was finished, but she had not till now stitched the initials into the cloth.

As the swift fingers of the girl flashed back and forth, both men watched, not too obviously, the profile shadowed by the dark, abundant, shining hair. The picture of her was an intimate one, but Tom’s tricky imagination tormented him with one of still nearer personal association. He saw her in his own house, before his own fireside, a baby clinging to her skirt. Then, resolutely, he put the mental etching behind him. She loved his friend Beresford, a man out of a thousand, and of course he loved her. Had he not seen her go straight to his arms after her horrible experience with West?

Matapi-Koma presently waddled out of the room and they could hear the clatter of dishes.

“I told her I’d help her wash them if she’d wait,” explained Jessie. “But she’d rather do them now and go to bed. My conscience is clear, anyhow.” She added with a little bubble of laughter, “And I don’t have to do the work. Is that the kind of a conscience you have, Mr. Morse?”

“If I were you my conscience would tell me that I couldn’t go and leave my guests,” he answered.

She raked him with a glance of merry derision. “Oh, I know how yours works. I wouldn’t have it for anything. It’s an awf’lly bossy one. It’s sending you out to the Barrens with Win Beresford just because he’s your friend.”

“Not quite. I have another reason too,” he replied.

“Yes, I know. You don’t like West. Nobody does. My father doesn’t–or Fergus–or Mr. Whaley–but they’re not taking the long trail after him as you are. You can’t get out of it that way.”

She had not, of course, hit on the real reason for going that supplemented his friendship for the constable and he did not intend that she should.

“It doesn’t matter much why I’m going. Anyhow, it’ll be good for me. I’m gettin’ soft and fat. After I’ve been out in the deep snows a month or so, I’ll have taken up my belt a notch or two. It’s time I wrestled with a blizzard an’ tried livin’ on lean rabbit.[7]”

[Footnote 7: Rabbit is about the poorest meat in the North. It is lean and stringy, furnishes very little nourishment and not much fat, and is not a muscle-builder. In a country where, oil and grease are essentials, such food is not desirable. The Indians ate great quantities of them. (W.M.R.)]

Her gaze swept his lean, hard, compact body. “Yes, you look soft,” she mocked. “Father said something of that sort when he looked at that door there you came through.”

Tom had been watching her stitching. He offered a comment now, perhaps, to change the subject. It is embarrassing for a modest man to talk about himself.

“You’re workin’ that ‘W’ upside down,” he said.

“Am I? Who said, it was a ‘W’?”

“I guessed it might be.”

“You’re a bad guesser. It’s an ‘M.’ ‘M’ stands for McRae, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, and ‘W’ for Winthrop,” he said with a little flare of boldness.

A touch of soft color flagged her cheeks. “And ‘I’ for impudence,” she retorted with a smile that robbed the words of offense.

He was careful not to risk outstaying his welcome. After an hour he rose to go. His good-bye to Matapi-Koma and Onistah was made in the large living-room.

Jessie followed him to the outside door.

He gave her a word of comfort as he buttoned his coat, “Don’t you worry about Win. I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“Thank you. And he’ll keep one on you, I suppose.”

He laughed. That reversal of the case was a new idea to him. The prettiest girl in the North was not holding her breath till he returned safely. “I reckon,” he said. “We’ll team together fine.”

“Don’t be foolhardy, either of you,” she cautioned.

“No,” he promised, and held out his hand. “Good-bye, if I don’t see you in the mornin’.”

He did not know she was screwing up her courage and had been for half an hour to do something she had never done before. She plunged at it, a tide of warm blood beating into her face beneath the tan.

“‘M’ is for Morse too, and ‘T’ for Tom,” she said.

With the same motion she thrust the gun-case into his hand and him out of the door.

He stood outside, facing a closed door, the bit of fancy-work in his mittens. An exultant electric tingle raced through his veins. She had given him a token of friendship he would cherish all his life.

CHAPTER XXXI

THE LONG TRAIL

For four days Whaley lay between life and death. There were hours when the vital current in him ebbed so low that McRae thought it was the beginning of the end. But after the fifth day he began definitely to mend. His appetite increased. The fever in him abated. The delirium passed away. Just a week from the time he had been wounded, McRae put him on the cariole and took him to town over the hard crust of the snow.

Beresford returned from Fort Edmonton a few hours later, carrying with him an appointment for Morse as guide and deputy constable.

“Maintiens le droit,” said the officer, clapping his friend on the shoulder. “You’re one of us now. A great chance for a short life you’ve got. Time for the insurance companies to cancel any policies they may have on you.”

Morse smiled. He was only a deputy, appointed temporarily, but it pleased him to be chosen even in this capacity as a member of the most efficient police force in the world. “Maintiens le droit” was the motto of the Mounted. Tom did not intend that the morale of that body should suffer through him if he could help it.

Angus McRae had offered his dog-train for the pursuit and Beresford had promptly accepted. The four dogs of the Scotch trapper were far and away better than any others that could be picked up in a hurry. They had stamina, and they were not savage and wolfish like most of those belonging to the Indians and even to the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Supplies for the trip had been gathered by Morse. From the Crees he had bought two hundred pounds of dried fish for the dogs. Their own provisions consisted of pemmican, dried caribou meat, flour, salt, tea, and tobacco.

All Faraway was out to see the start. The travelers would certainly cover hundreds and perhaps thousands of miles before their return. Even in that country of wide spaces, where men mushed far when the rivers and lakes were closed, this was likely to prove an epic trip.

Beresford cracked the long lash and Cuffy leaned forward in the traces. The tangle of dogs straightened out and began to move. A French voyageur lifted his throat in a peculiar shout that was half a bark. Indians and half-breeds snowshoed down the street beside the sled. At the door of the McRae house stood Angus, his wife, and daughter.

“God wi’ you haith,” the trapper called.

Jessie waved a scarf, and Beresford, who had spent the previous evening with her, threw up a hand in gay greeting.

The calvacade drew to the edge of the woods. Morse looked back. A slim figure, hardly distinguishable in the distance, still stood in front of the McRae house fluttering the scarf.

A turn in the trail hid her. Faraway was shut out of view.

For four or five miles the trappers stayed with them. It was rather a custom of the North to speed travelers on their way in this fashion. At the edge of the first lake the Indians and half-breeds said good-bye and turned back.

Morse moved onto the ice and broke trail. The dogs followed in tandem–Cuffy, Koona, Bull, and Caesar. They traveled fast over the ice and reached the woods beyond. The timber was not thick. Beyond this was a second lake, a larger one. By the time they had crossed this, the sun was going down.

The men watched for a sheltered place to camp and as soon as they found one, they threw off the trail to the edge of the woods, drawing up the sledge back of them as a wind-break. They gathered pine for fuel and cut balsam boughs for beds. It had come on to snow, and they ate supper with their backs to the drive of the flakes, the hoods of their furs drawn over their heads.

The dogs sat round in a half-circle watching them and the frozen fish thawing before the fire. Their faces, tilted a little sideways, ears cocked and eyes bright, looked anxiously expectant. When the fish were half-thawed, Morse tossed them by turn to the waiting animals, who managed to get rid of their supper with a snap and a gulp. Afterward they burrowed down in the snow and fell asleep.

On the blazing logs Beresford had put two kettles filled with snow. These he refilled after the snow melted, until enough water was in them. Into one kettle he put a piece of fat caribou meat. The other was to make tea.

Using their snowshoes as shovels, they scraped a place clear and scattered balsam boughs on it. On this they spread an empty flour sack, cut open at the side. Tin plates and cups served as dish.

Their supper consisted of soggy bannocks, fat meat, and tea. While they ate, the snow continued to fall. It was not unwelcome, for so long as this lasted the cold could not be intolerable. Moreover, snow makes a good white blanket and protects against sudden drops in temperature.

They changed their moccasins and duffles and pulled on as night-wear long buffalo-skin boots, hood, mufflers, and fur mits. A heavy fur robe and a blanket were added. Into these last they snuggled down, wrapping themselves up so completely that a tenderfoot would have smothered for lack of air.

Before they retired, they could hear the ice on the lake cracking like distant thunder. The trees back of them occasionally snapped from the cold with reports that sounded like pistol shots.

In five minutes both men were asleep. They lay with their heads entirely covered, as the Indians did. Not once during the night did they stir. To disarrange their bedding and expose the nose or the hands to the air would be to risk being frozen.

Morse woke first. He soon had a roaring fire. Again there were two kettles on it, one for fat meat and the other for strong tea. No fish were thawing before the heat, for dogs are fed only once a day. Otherwise they get sleepy and sluggish, losing the edge of their keenness.

They were off to an early start. There was a cold head wind that was uncomfortable. For hours they held to the slow, swinging stride of the webs. Sometimes the trail was through the forest, sometimes in and out of brush and small timber. Twice during the day they crossed lakes and hit up a lively pace. Once they came to a muskeg, four miles across, and had to plough over the moss hags while brush tangled their feet and slapped their faces.

Cuffy was a prince of leaders. He seemed to know by some sixth sense the best way to wind through underbrush and over swamps. He was master of the train and ruled by strength and courage as well as intelligence. Bull had ideas of his own, but after one sharp brush with Cuffy, from which he had emerged ruffled and bleeding, the native dog relinquished claim to dominance.

The travelers made about fifteen miles before noon. They came to a solitary tepee, built on the edge of a lake with a background of snow-burdened spruce. This lodge was constructed of poles arranged cone-shaped side by side, the chinks between plastered with moss wedged in to fill every crevice. A thin wisp of smoke rose from an open space in the top.

At the sound of the yelping dogs a man lifted the moose-skin curtain that served as a door. He was an old and wrinkled Cree. His face was so brown and tough and netted with seams that it resembled a piece of alligator leather. From out of it peered two very small bright eyes.

“Ugh! Ugh!” he grunted.

This appeared to be all the English that he knew. Beresford tried him in French and discovered he had a smattering of it. After a good many attempts, the soldier found that he had seen no white man with a dog-train in many moons. The Cree lived there alone, it appeared, and trapped for a living. Why he was separated from all his kin and tribal relations the young Canadian could not find out at the time. Later he learned that the old fellow was an outcast because he had once shown the white feather in a battle with Blackfeet fifty years earlier.

Before they left, the travelers discovered that he knew two more words of English. One was rum, the other tobacco. He begged for both. They left him a half-foot of tobacco. The scant supply of whiskey they had brought was for an emergency.

Just before night fell, Morse shot two ptarmigan in the woods. These made a welcome addition to their usual fare.

Though both the men were experienced in the use of snowshoes, their feet were raw from the chafing of the thongs. Before the camp-fire they greased the sore places with tallow. In a few days the irritation due to the webs would disappear and the leg muscles brought into service by this new and steady shuffle would harden and grow fit.

They had built a wind-break of brush beside the sled and covered the ground with spruce boughs after clearing away the snow. Here they rested after supper, drying socks, duffles, and moccasins, which were wet with perspiration, before the popping fire.

Beresford pulled out his English briar pipe and Tom one picked from the Company stock. Smoke wreathed their heads while they lounged indolently on the spruce bed and occasionally exchanged a remark. They knew each other well enough for long silences. When they talked, it was because they had something to say.

The Canadian looked at his friend’s new gun-case and remarked with a gleam in his eye:

“I spoke for that first, Tom. Had miners on it, I thought.”

The American laughed sardonically. “It was a present for a good boy,” he explained. “I’ve a notion somebody was glad I was mushin’ with you on this trip. Maybe you can guess why. Anyhow, I drew a present out of it.”

“I see you did,” Beresford answered, grinning.

“I’m to look after you proper an’ see you’re tucked up.”

“Oh, that’s it?”

“That’s just it.”

The constable looked at him queerly, started to say something, then changed his mind.

CHAPTER XXXII

A PICTURE IN A LOCKET

It was characteristic of McRae that he had insisted on bringing Whaley to his own home to recuperate. “It’s nursin’ you need, man, an’ guid food. Ye’ll get baith at the hoose.”

The trader protested, and was overruled. His Cree wife was not just now able to look after him. McRae’s wife and daughter made good his promise, and the wounded man thrived under their care.

On an afternoon Whaley lay on the bed in his room smoking. Beside him sat Lemoine, also puffing at a pipe. The trapper had brought to the ex-gambler a strange tale of a locket and a ring he had seen bought by a half-breed from a Blackfoot squaw who claimed to have had it eighteen years. He had just finished telling of it when Jessie knocked at the door and came into the room with a bowl of caribou broth.

Whaley pretended to resent this solicitude, but his objection was a fraud. He liked this girl fussing over him. His attitude toward her was wholly changed. Thinking of her as a white girl, he looked at her with respect.

“No more slops,” he said. “Bring me a good caribou steak and I’ll say thank you.”

“You’re to eat what Mother sends,” she told him.

Lemoine had risen from the chair on which he had been sitting. He stared at her, a queer look of puzzled astonishment in his eyes. Jessie became aware of his gaze and flashed on him a look of annoyance.

“Have you seen a ghost, Mr. Lemoine?” she asked.

“By gar, maybeso, Miss Jessie. The picture in the locket, it jus’ lak you–same hair, same eyes, same smile.”

“What picture in what locket?”

“The locket I see at Whoop-Up, the one Pierre Roubideaux buy from old Makoye-kin’s squaw.”

“A picture of a Blackfoot?”

“No-o. Maybe French–maybe from the ‘Merican country. I do not know.”

Whaley took the pipe from his mouth and sat up, the chill eyes in his white face fixed and intent. “Go back to Whoop-Up, Lemoine. Buy that locket and that ring for me from Pierre Roubideaux. See Makoye-kin–and his squaw. Find out where she got it–and when. Run down the whole story.”

The trapper took off a fur cap and scratched his curly poll. “Mais–pourquois? All that will take money, is it not so?”

“I’ll let you have the money. Spend what you need, but account for it to me afterward.”

Jessie felt the irregular beat of a hammer inside her bosom. “What is it you think, Mr. Whaley?” she cried softly.

“I don’t know what I think. Probably nothing to it. But there’s a locket. We know that. With a picture that looks like you, Lemoine here thinks. We’d better find out whose picture it is, hadn’t we?”

“Yes, but–Do you mean that maybe it has something to do with me? How can it? The sister of Stokimatis was my mother. Onistah is my cousin. Ask Stokimatis. She knows. What could this woman of the picture be to me?”

Jessie could not understand the fluttering pulse in her throat. She had not doubted that her mother was a Blackfoot. All the romance of her clouded birth centered around the unknown father who had died when she was a baby. Stokimatis had not been very clear about that. She had never met the man, according to the story she had told Sleeping Dawn. Neither she nor those of her tribal group knew anything of him. Was there a mystery about his life? In her childish dreams Jessie had woven one. He was to her everything desirable, for he was the tie that bound her to all the higher standards of life she craved.

“I don’t know. Likely it’s all a mare’s nest. Find Stokimatis, Lemoine, and bring her back with you. Well see what she can tell us. And get the locket and the ring, with the story back of them.”

Again Lemoine referred to the cost. He would have to take his dog-train to Whoop-Up, and from there out to the creek where Pierre Roubideaux was living. Makoye-kin and his family might be wintering anywhere within a radius of a hundred miles. Was there any use in going out on such a wild-hare chase?

Whaley thought there was and said so with finality. He did not give his real reason, which was that he wanted to pay back to McRae and his daughter the debt he owed. They had undoubtedly saved his life after he had treated her outrageously. There was already one score to his credit, of course. He had saved her from West. But he felt the balance still tipped heavily against him. And he was a man who paid his debts.

It was this factor of his make-up–the obligation of old associations laid upon him–that had taken him out to West with money, supplies, and a dog-train to help his escape.

Jessie went out to find her father. Her eagerness to see him outflew her steps. This was not a subject she could discuss with Matapi-Koma. The Cree woman would not understand what a tremendous difference it made if she could prove her blood was wholly of the superior race. Nor could Jessie with tact raise such a point. It involved not only the standing of Matapi-Koma herself, but also of her sons.

The girl found McRae in the storeroom looking over a bundle of assorted pelts–marten, fox, mink, and beaver. The news tumbled from her lips in excited exclamations.

“Oh, Father, guess! Mr. Lemoine saw a picture–a Blackfoot woman had it–old Makoye-kin’s wife–and she sold it. And he says it was like me–exactly. Maybe it was my aunt–or some one. My father’s sister! Don’t you think?”

“I’ll ken what I think better gin ye’ll just quiet doon an’ tell me a’ aboot it, lass.”

She told him. The Scotchman took what she had to say with no outward sign of excitement. None the less his blood moved faster. He wanted no change in the relations between them that would interfere with the love she felt for him. To him it did not matter whether she was of the pure blood or of the metis. He had always ignored the Indian in her. She was a precious wildling of beauty and delight. By nature she was of the ruling race. There was in her nothing servile or dependent, none of the inertia that was so marked a mental characteristic of the Blackfoot and the Cree. Her slender body was compact of fire and spirit. She was alive to her finger-tips.

None the less he was glad on her account. Since it mattered to her that she was a half-blood, he would rejoice, too, if she could prove the contrary. Or, if she could trace her own father’s family, he would try to be glad for her.

With his rough forefinger he touched gently the tender curve of the girl’s cheek. “I’m thinkin’ that gin ye find relatives across the line, auld Angus McRae will be losin’ his dawtie.”

She flew into his arms, her warm, young face pressed against his seamed cheek.

“Never–never! You’re my father–always that no matter what I find. You taught me to read and nursed me when I was sick. Always you’ve cared for me and been good to me. I’ll never have any real father but you,” she cried passionately.

He stroked her dark, abundant hair fondly. “My lass, I’ve gi’en ye all the love any yin could gi’e his ain bairn. I doot I’ve been hard on ye at times, but I’m a dour auld man an’ fine ye ken my heart was woe for ye when I was the strictest.”

She could count on the fingers of one hand the times when he had said as much. Of nature he was a bit of Scotch granite externally. He was sentimental. Most of his race are. But he guarded the expression of it as though it were a vice.

“Maybe Onistah has heard his mother say something about it,” Jessie suggested.

“Like enough. There’ll be nae harm in askin’ the lad.”

But the Blackfoot had little to tell. He had been told by Stokimatis that Sleeping Dawn was his cousin, but he had never quite believed it. Once, when he had pressed his mother with questions, she had smiled deeply and changed the subject. His feeling was, and had always been, that there was some mystery about the girl’s birth. Stokimatis either knew what it was or had some hint of it.

His testimony at least tended to support the wild hopes flaming in the girl’s heart.

Lemoine started south for Whoop-Up at break of day.

CHAPTER XXXIII

INTO THE LONE LAND

Into Northern Lights the pursuers drove after a four-day traverse. Manders, of the Mounted, welcomed them with the best he had. No news had come to him from the outside for more than two months, and after his visitors were fed and warmed, they lounged in front of a roaring log fire while he flung questions at them of what the world and its neighbor were doing.

Manders was a dark-bearded man, big for the North-West Police. He had two hobbies. One was trouble in the Balkans, which he was always prophesying. The other was a passion for Sophocles, which he read in the original from a pocket edition. Start him on the chariot race in “Elektra” and he would spout it while he paced the cabin and gestured with flashing eyes. For he was a Rugby and an Oxford man, though born with the wanderlust in his heart. Some day he would fall heir to a great estate in England, an old baronetcy which carried with it manors and deer parks and shaven lawns that had taken a hundred years to grow. Meanwhile he lived on pemmican and sour bannocks. Sometimes he grumbled, but his grumbling was a fraud. He was here of choice, because he was a wild ass of the desert and his ears heard only the call of adventure. Of such was the North-West Mounted.

Presently, when the stream of his curiosity as to the outside began to dry, Beresford put a few questions of his own. Manders could give him no information. He was in touch with the trappers for a radius of a hundred miles of which Northern Lights was the center, but no word had come to him of a lone traveler with a dog-train passing north.

“Probably striking west of here,” the big black Englishman suggested.

Beresford’s face twisted to a wry, humorous grimace. East, west, or north, they would have to find the fellow and bring him back.

The man-hunters spent a day at Northern Lights to rest the dogs and restock their supplies. They overhauled their dunnage carefully, mended the broken moose-skin harness, and looked after one of the animals that had gone a little lame from a sore pad. From a French half-breed they bought additional equipment much needed for the trail. He was a gay, good-looking youth in new fringed leather hunting-shirt, blue Saskatchewan cap trimmed with ribbons, and cross belt of scarlet cloth. His stock in trade was dog-shoes, made of caribou-skin by his wife, and while in process of tanning soaked in some kind of liquid that would prevent the canines from eating them off their feet.

The temperature was thirty-five below zero when they left the post and there were sun dogs in the sky. Manders had suggested that they had better wait a day or two, but the man-hunters were anxious to be on the trail. They had a dangerous, unpleasant job on hand. Both of them wanted it over with as soon as possible.

They headed into the wilds. The road they made was a crooked path through the white, unbroken forest. They saw many traces of fur-bearing animals, but did not stop to do any hunting. The intense cold and the appearance of the sky were whips to drive them fast. In the next two or three days they passed fifteen or twenty lakes. Over these they traveled rapidly, but in the portages and the woods they had to pack the snow, sometimes cut out obstructing brush, and again help the dogs over rough or heavy places.

The blizzard caught them the third day. They fought their way through the gathering storm across a rather large lake to the timber’s edge. Here they cleared away a space about nine feet square and cut evergreen boughs from the trees to cover it. At one side of this, Morse built the fire while Beresford unharnessed the dogs and thawed out a mess of frozen fish for them. Presently the kettles were bubbling on the fire. The men ate supper and drew the sled up as a barricade against the wind.

The cold had moderated somewhat and it had come on to snow. All night a sleety, wind-driven drizzle beat upon them. They rose from an uncomfortable night to a gloomy day.

They consulted about what was best to do. Their camp was in a poor place, among a few water-logged trees that made a poor, smoky fire. It had little shelter from the storm, and there was no evidence of fair weather at hand.

“Better tackle the next traverse,” Morse advised. “Once we get across the lake we can’t be worse off than we are here.”

“Righto!” assented Beresford.

They packed their supplies, harnessed the dogs, and were off. Into the storm they drove, head down, buffeted by a screaming wind laden with stinging sleet that swept howling across the lake. All about them they heard the sharp reports of cracking ice. At any moment a fissure might open, and its width might be an inch or several yards. In the blinding gale they could see nothing. Literally, they had to feel their way.

Morse went ahead to test the ice, Cuffy following close at his heels. The water rushes up after a fissure and soon freezes over. The danger is that one may come to it too soon.

This was what happened. Morse, on his snowshoes, crossed the thinly frozen ice safely. Cuffy, a step or two behind the trail-breaker, plunged through into the water. The prompt energy of Beresford saved the other dogs. He stopped them instantly and threw his whole weight back to hold the sled. The St. Bernard floundered in the water for a few moments and tried to reach Morse. The harness held Cuffy back. Beresford ran to the edge of the break and called him. A second or two later he was helping to drag the dog back upon the firm ice.

In the bitter cold the matted coat of the St. Bernard, froze stiff. Cuffy knew his danger. The instant the sled, was across the crack, he plunged at the load and went forward with such speed that he seemed almost to drag the other dogs with him.

Fortunately the shore was near, not more than three or four miles away. Within half an hour land was reached. A forest came down to the edge of the lake. From the nearer trees Morse sliced birch bark. An abundance of fairly dry wood was at hand. Before a roaring fire Cuffy lay on a buffalo robe and steamed. Within an hour he was snuggling a contented nose up to Beresford’s caressing hand.

Fagged out, the travelers went to bed early. Long before daybreak they were up. The blizzard had died down during the night. It left behind a crusted trail over which the dogs moved fast. The thermometer had again dropped sharply and the weather was bitter cold. Before the lights of an Indian village winked at them through the trees, they had covered nearly forty miles. In the wintry afternoon darkness they drove up.

The native dogs were barking a welcome long before they came jingling into the midst of the tepees. Bucks, squaws, and papooses tumbled out to see them with guttural exclamations of greeting. Some of the youngsters and one or two of the maidens had never before seen a white man.

A fast and furious melee interrupted conversation. The wolfish dogs of the village were trying out the mettle of the four strangers. The snarling and yelping drowned all other sounds until the gaunt horde of sharp-muzzled; stiff-haired brutes had been beaten back by savage blows from the whip and by quick thrusts of a rifle butt.

The head man of the group invited the two whites into the largest hut. Morse and Beresford sat down before a smoky fire and carried on a difficult dialogue. They divided half a yard of tobacco among the men present and gave each of the women a small handful of various-colored beads.

They ate sparingly of a stew made of fish, the gift of their hosts. In turn the officers had added to the menu a large piece of fat moose which was devoured with voracity.

The Indians, questioned, had heard a story of a white man traveling alone through the Lone Lands with a dog-train. He was a giant of a fellow and surly, the word had gone out. Who he was or where he was going they did not know, but he seemed to be making for the great river in the north. That was the sum and substance of what Beresford learned from them about West by persistent inquiry.

After supper, since it was so bitterly cold outside, the man-hunters slept in the tepee of the chief. Thirteen Indians too slept there. Two