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Title: A Mating in the Wilds
Author: Binns, Ottwell
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A MATING IN THE WILDS


_BORZOI WESTERN STORIES_

THE CROSS PULL
  _By Hal G. Evarts_

THE LONG DIM TRAIL
  _By Forrestine Hooker_

A MATING IN THE WILDS
  _By Ottwell Binns_



A MATING IN THE WILDS



BY

OTTWELL BINNS



NEW YORK    ALFRED A. KNOPF    1920


COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY
ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC.


PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



CONTENTS


    I  THE MAN FROM THE RIVER,                       7

   II  AN ATTACK AT MIDNIGHT,                       18

  III  A LOST GIRL,                                 31

   IV  A PIECE OF WRECKAGE,                         43

    V  A BRAVE RESCUE,                              56

   VI  A MYSTERIOUS SHOT,                           68

  VII  STRANDED,                                    80

 VIII  A MEETING IN THE FOREST,                     95

   IX  UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE,                   105

    X  A CANOE COMES AND GOES,                     118

   XI  A FOREST FIRE,                              132

  XII  THE RAFT,                                   146

 XIII  A LODGE IN THE WILDERNESS,                  158

  XIV  MYSTERIOUS VISITORS,                        172

   XV  A FACE AT THE TENT-DOOR,                    185

  XVI  AN ARROW OUT OF THE NIGHT,                  199

 XVII  THE ATTACK,                                 212

XVIII  A DEAD GIRL,                                225

  XIX  A HOT TRAIL,                                238

   XX  A PRISONER,                                 251

  XXI  CHIGMOK'S STORY,                            264

 XXII  AINLEY'S STORY,                             278

XXIII  A SURPRISE FOR AINLEY,                      292

 XXIV  THE TRAIL TO PARADISE,                      305



CHAPTER I

THE MAN FROM THE RIVER


The man in the canoe was lean and hardy, and wielded the paddle against
the slow-moving current of the wide river with a dexterity that
proclaimed long practice. His bronzed face was that of a quite young
man, but his brown hair was interspersed with grey; and his blue eyes
had a gravity incompatible with youth, as if already he had experience
of the seriousness of life, and had eaten of its bitter fruits. He was
in a gala dress of tanned deerskin, fringed and worked by native hands,
the which had quite probably cost him more than the most elegant suit
by a Bond Street tailor, and the effect was as picturesque as the heart
of a young male could desire. To be in keeping with such gay attire he
should have worn a smiling face, and sung some joyous chanson of the
old voyageurs, but he neither sang nor smiled; paddling steadily on
towards his destination.

This was a northern post of the Hudson Bay Company, built in the form
of a hollow square with a wide frontage open to the river. The trading
store, the warehouse, and the factor's residence with its trim garden,
occupied the other three sides of the square, and along the river front
was a small floating wharf. A tall flag-pole rose above the buildings,
and the flag itself fluttered gaily in the summer breeze, taking the
eye at once with its brave colouring.

The young man in the canoe noticed it whilst he was half a mile away,
and for a moment, ceasing his paddling, he looked at it doubtfully, his
brow puckering over his grave eyes. The canoe began to drift backward
in the current, but he made no effort to check it, instead, he sat
there staring at the distant flag, with a musing look upon his face, as
if he were debating some question with himself. At last he spoke aloud,
after the habit of men who dwell much alone.

"The steamer can't have come yet. It probably means nothing except that
the factor is expecting its arrival. Anyway I must have the grub, and I
can get away in the morning."

He dipped his paddle again. The canoe ceased to drift and began to
forge ahead towards the post. Before he drew level with it, he started
to steer across the current, but instead of making for the wharf,
beached his canoe on the rather marshy bank to the north of the
buildings; then having lifted it out of the water, he stood to his full
height and stretched himself, for he had been travelling in the canoe
eleven days and was conscious of body stiffness owing to the cramped
position he had so long maintained.

Standing on the bank he surveyed the river carefully. Except for a
drifting log there was nothing moving on its wide expanse. He listened
intently. The soft wind was blowing down river, but it did not bring
with it the throb of a steamer's screw which he half expected to hear.
He nodded to himself.

"Time enough!"

Then he became aware of sounds for which he had not listened--the
voices of men somewhere in the post's enclosure, and, nearer at hand,
that of some one singing in some soft Indian dialect. He turned
swiftly, and coming along a half-defined path between the willows,
caught sight of the singer--a native girl of amazing beauty.

She wore a tunic of beaded caribou-skin, which fitting closely revealed
rather than concealed the lines of her lithe young figure. Her face was
light-bronze in colour, every feature clearly cut as a cameo, the
forehead smooth and high, the nose delicately aquiline, the lips a
perfect cupid's bow, the eyebrows high and arched. The eyes themselves
were soft and dark and had the wildness of the wilderness-born, whilst
the hair, black and luminous as the raven's wing, crisped in curls
instead of hanging in the straight plaits of the ordinary native woman.
She moved forward slowly with graceful stride of one whose feet had
never known the cramping of civilized foot-gear, tall and straight and
as royal-looking as Eve must have been when she left the hand of God.

To the man, as he stood there, she seemed like an incarnate spirit of
the wilds, like the soft breath of the Northland spring, like----

Similes failed him of the suddenest, for in that instant the girl grew
aware of him and checked her stride and song at the same moment. For a
fraction of time they stood there looking at each other, the man of the
white dominant race, the girl of a vanishing people, whose origin is
shrouded in the grey mists of time. There was wonder on the man's face,
for never had he seen such beauty in a native, and on the girl's face
there was a startled look such as the forest doe shows when the wind
brings the breath of a presence that it does not see. Then the delicate
nostrils quivered, the soft dark eyes kindled with sudden flame, and
the rich blood surged in the bronze face from chin to brow. Almost
unconsciously the man took a step forward. But at that the girl,
turning suddenly, fled between the willows like the creature of the
wild she was, and the man checked himself and stood watching until she
was lost to view.

There was a thoughtful look in his blue eyes which suddenly gave way as
he smiled.

"A tinted Venus!" he murmured to himself. "I wonder where she belongs."

Looking round, away across the willows, planted on the meadow above the
marshy banks, he caught sight of the tops of a couple of moose-hide
tepees, and nodded to himself.

"Come with the family to barter the winter's fur-catch."

For a moment he stood there with his eyes fixed on the skin-tents.
There was a reflective look upon his face, and at the end of the moment
he made a movement towards the path along which the girl had fled. Then
he stopped, laughed harshly at himself, and with the old look back on
his face, turned again to his canoe, unloaded it, and began to pitch
camp.

At the end of half an hour, having lit a pipe, he strolled towards the
trading-post. Entering the Square of the enclosure he looked
nonchalantly about him. Two men, half-breeds, were sitting on a
roughly-made bench outside the store, smoking and talking. Inside the
store a tall Indian was bartering with a white man, whom he easily
guessed to be the factor, and as he looked round from the open door of
the factor's house, emerged a white woman whom he divined was the
factor's wife. She was followed by a rather dapper young man of medium
height, and who, most incongruously in that wild Northland, sported a
single eyeglass. The man fell into step by the woman's side, and
together they began to walk across the Square in the direction of the
store.

The man from the river watched them idly, waiting where he was, puffing
slowly at his pipe, until they drew almost level with him. Then he
stiffened suddenly, and an alert look came in his eyes.

At the same moment the other man, apparently becoming aware of his
presence for the first time, stared at him calmly, almost insolently.
Then he started. The monocle dropped from his eye, and his face went
suddenly white. He half-paused in his stride, then averting his gaze
from the other man hurried forward a little. The factor's wife, who had
observed the incident, looked at him inquiringly.

"Do you know that man, Mr. Ainley?"

The dapper young man laughed a short, discordant laugh.

"He certainly bears a resemblance to a man whom I knew some years ago."

"He seemed to recognize you, Mr. Ainley. I saw that much in his eyes."

"Then probably he is the man whom I used to know, but I did not expect
to meet him up here."

"No?" She waited as if for further information which was not
immediately forthcoming, then she continued: "There are many men up
here whom one does not expect to meet, men who belong 'to the legion of
the lost ones, the cohort of the damned,' who have buried their old
selves for ever. I wonder if that man is one of them?"

Gerald Ainley's face had regained its natural colour. Again he laughed
as he replied: "If he is the man I knew he is certainly of the lost
legion, for he has been in prison."

"In prison?" echoed the woman quickly. "He does not look like a
gaol-bird. What was the crime?"

"Forgery! The judge was merciful and gave him three years' penal
servitude."

"What is his name?"

"Stane--Hubert Stane!" replied the man shortly. As he spoke he glanced
back over his shoulder towards the man whom they were discussing, then
hastily averted his eyes.

The man from the river had turned round and was looking at him with
concentrated gaze. His face was working as if he had lost control of
his facial muscles, and his hands were tightly clenched. It was clear
that the meeting with Ainley had been something of a shock to him, and
from his attitude it appeared that he resented the other man's
aloofness.

"The hound!" he whispered to himself, "the contemptible hound!"

Then as Ainley and the factor's wife disappeared in the store, he
laughed harshly and relit his pipe. As he did so, his fingers shook so
that the match bobbed against the pipe-bowl, and it was very manifest
that he was undergoing a great strain. He stood there staring at the
store. Once he began to move towards it irresolutely, then changed his
mind and came to a standstill again.

"No!" he whispered below his breath. "I'll wait till the cad comes
out--I'll force him to acknowledge me."

But scarcely had he reached the decision, when on the quiet air came
the clear notes of a bugle sounding the alert and turning his thoughts
in a new direction. The notes came from the river, and were so alien to
that northern land that he swung round to discover their origin. At the
same moment the two half-breeds leapt from the bench and began to run
towards the wharf. John Rodwell, the factor and his wife, emerged from
the store and hurried in the same direction, followed by the Indian who
had been bartering. Two other men appeared at the warehouse door, and
as the strains of the bugle sounded again, also began to run towards
the wharf, whilst from the factor's house came a boy and girl, followed
by a white woman and a couple of Indian servants, all of whom followed
in the wake of the others.

The man in the Square did not move. Having turned towards the river as
the bugle-call floated clear and silvery, and being unable to see
upstream because of the fort buildings, he remained where he was,
keeping one eye on the store. The man who had passed him in the Square
had not emerged. Stane stood there for two or three minutes watching
first the river and then the door. At the end of that time, with a
resolute look on his face, he began to stride towards the store. He was
half-way there when the sound of a thin cheer reached him from the
wharf. He turned and looked round. His change of position had given him
an enlarged view of the river, and distant perhaps a quarter of a mile
or so away he saw a brigade of boats. He stood and stared at them
wonderingly for a moment, then resumed his way towards the store.

As he entered he looked round, and, standing near the parchment window
he caught sight of the man for whom he was looking. Ainley was rather
white of face, but his eyeglass was in its place, and outwardly he was
collected and cool. Hubert Stane regarded him silently for a moment,
then he laughed mirthlessly.

"Well, Ainley," he said abruptly, "this is a strange meeting place."

"Ah!" said the other quickly. "It is you, Stane, after all!"

"Surely you knew that just now?" was the reply in a cutting voice.

"No, you wrong me there! I was not sure. You must remember that I was
not expecting to see you up here. You had dropped out, and I had never
heard a word of you since--since----"

"Since I went to Dartmoor," Stane laughed again his cold, mirthless
laugh. "There is no need to mince matters, Ainley. All the world knows
I went there, and you need not go to any trouble to spare my feelings.
When a man has been through hell nothing else matters, you know."

Gerald Ainley did not reply. He stood there with an embarrassed look on
his face, obviously ill at ease, and the other continued: "You do not
seem pleased to see me--an old friend--you cut me just now. Why?"

"Well--er--really, Stane you--you ought to--er--be able to guess!"

"Perhaps I can," answered Stane ruthlessly. "Things are different now.
I am a discharged convict, down and out, and old friendship counts for
nothing. Is that it?"

"Well," replied Ainley, half-apologetically, "you can scarcely expect
that it sould be otherwise. I suppose that, really, that is why you
left England. It would have been impossible for you to resume your old
life among the men you knew----"

"You are the first of them that I have encountered--with one
exception."

"Indeed," asked the other politely, "who was the exception?"

"It was Kingsley. You remember him? He came to see me just before I
left Dartmoor. He believed in my innocence, and he wanted me to stay in
England and clear my name. He also told me something that set me
thinking, and latterly I have been rather wanting to meet you, because
there is a question I want answering."

The sound of the bugle playing a gay fanfare broke in on the silence
that followed his words, and this was followed by a rather scattered
cheer. Ainley started.

"Really, Stane, you must excuse me just now; I must go down to the
wharf--it is my duty to do so. At--er--a more fitting opportunity I
shall be glad for the sake of old times, to answer any question that
you may wish to ask me. But I really must go now. That is one of the
governors of the company arriving. He will be expecting to see me!"

He took a step towards the door, but the other blocked the way.

"I'm not going to be fobbed off with a mere excuse, Ainley. I want to
talk with you; and if I can't have it now, I must know when I can."

"Where are you staying?" asked the other shakily.

"My camp is just outside the post here."

"Then I will come to you tonight, Stane. I shall be late--midnight as
like as not."

"I shall wait for you," answered Stane, and stepped aside.

Ainley made a hurried exit, and the man whom he had left, moving to the
door, watched him running towards the wharf, where a large Peterboro'
canoe had just swung alongside. There were several others making for
the wharf, and as Stane watched, one by one they drew up, and
discharged their complement of passengers. From his vantage place on
the rising ground the watcher saw a rather short man moving up from the
wharf accompanied by the obsequious factor, and behind him two other
men and four ladies, with the factor's wife and Gerald Ainley. The
sound of feminine laughter drifted up the Square, and as it reached him
Stane stepped out from the store and hurried away in the opposite
direction.



CHAPTER II

AN ATTACK AT MIDNIGHT


It was near midnight, but far from dark. In the northern heavens a rosy
glow proclaimed the midnight sun. Somewhere in the willows a robin was
chirping, and from the wide bosom of the river, like the thin howl of a
wolf, came the mocking cry of a loon still pursuing its finny prey. And
in his little canvas tent, sitting just inside, so as to catch the
smoke of the fire that afforded protection from the mosquitoes, Hubert
Stane still watched and waited for the coming of his promised visitor.
He was smoking, and from the look upon his face it was clear that he
was absorbed in thoughts that were far from pleasant. His pipe went
out, and still he sat there, thinking, thinking. Half an hour passed
and the robin making the discovery that it was really bed-time, ceased
its chirping; the loon no longer mocked the wolf, but still the man sat
behind his smoke-smudge, tireless, unsleeping, waiting. Another
half-hour crept by with leaden feet, then a new sound broke the
stillness of the wild, the tinkling of a piano, sadly out of tune,
followed by a chorus of voices lifted up in the homeland song.

    "Should auld acquaintance be forgot
    And never brought to min'?
    Should auld acquaintance be forgot
    And days o' lang syne?"

As the simple melody progressed, a look of bitterness came on Stane's
face, for the song brought to him memories of other times and scenes
which he had done his best to forget. He started to his feet and
stepping outside the tent began to walk restlessly to and fro. The
music ended and he stood still to listen. Now no sound except the
ripple of the river broke the quiet, and after a moment he nodded to
himself. "Now, he will come."

The thin pungent song of a mosquito impinged upon the stillness,
something settled on his neck and there followed a swift sting like the
puncture of a hypodermic needle. Instantly he slapped the place with
his hand, and retreated behind his smoke-smudge. There he threw himself
once more on the pack that served him for seat and waited, as it seemed
interminably.

His fire died down, the smoke ceased to hide the view, and through the
adjacent willows came the sudden sough of moving air. A robin broke
into song, and once more the wail of the loon sounded from the wide
river. Away to the north the sky flushed with crimson glory, then the
sun shot up red and golden. A new day had broken; and Stane had watched
through the brief night of the Northland summer for a man who had not
appeared and he was now assured, would not come.

He laughed bitterly, and rising kicked the fire together, threw on
fresh fuel, and after one look towards the still sleeping Post,
returned to the tent, wrapped himself in a blanket, and shortly after
fell asleep.

Three hours later he was awakened by a clatter of voices and the
clamour of barking dogs, passing from sleep to full wakeness like a
healthy child. Kicking the blanket from him he slipped on his moccasins
and stepped outside where the source of the clamour at once manifested
itself. A party of Indians had just beached their canoes, and were
exchanging greetings with another party, evidently that whose tepees
stood on the meadow outside the fort, for among the women he saw the
Indian girl who had fled through the willows after encountering him. He
watched the scene with indifferent eyes for a moment or two, then
securing a canvas bucket went down to the river for water, and made his
toilet. That done, he cooked his breakfast, ate it, tided up his camp,
and lighting a pipe strolled into the enclosure of the Post. Several
Indians were standing outside the store, and inside the factor and his
clerk were already busy with others; bartering for the peltries brought
from the frozen north to serve the whims of fashion in warmer lands. In
the Square itself stood the plump gentleman who had landed the day
before, talking to a cringing half-breed, whilst a couple of ladies
with him watched the aborigines outside the store with curious eyes.
Stane glanced further afield. Two men were busy outside the warehouse,
a second half-breed sprawled on the bench by the store, but the man for
whom he had waited through the night was not in sight.

With a grimace of disappointment he moved towards the store. As he did
so a little burst of mellow laughter sounded, and turning swiftly he
saw the man whom he was looking for round the corner of the warehouse
accompanied by a girl, who laughed heartily at some remark of her
companion. Stane halted in his tracks and looked at the pair who were
perhaps a dozen yards or so away. The monocled Ainley could not but be
aware of his presence, yet except that he kept his gaze resolutely
averted, he gave no sign of being so. But the girl looked at him
frankly, and as she did so, Hubert Stane looked back, and caught his
breath, as he had reason to.

She was fair as an English rose, moulded in spacious lines like a
daughter of the gods, with an aureole of glorious chestnut hair, shot
with warm tints of gold and massed in simplicity about a queenly head.
Her mouth was full, her chin was softly strong, her neck round and firm
as that of a Grecian statue, and her eyes were bluey-grey as the mist
of the northern woods. Fair she was, and strong--a true type of those
women who, bred by the English meadows, have adventured with their men
and made their homes in the waste places of the earth.

Her grey eyes met Stane's quite frankly, without falling, then turned
nonchalantly to her companion, and Stane, watching, saw her speak, and
as Ainley flashed a swift glance in his direction, and then replied
with a shrug of his shoulders, he easily divined that the girl had
asked a question about himself. They passed him at half a dozen yards
distance, Ainley with his face set like a flint, the girl with a
scrutinizing sidelong glance that set the blood rioting in Stane's
heart. He stood and watched them until they reached the wharf, saw them
step into a canoe, and then, both of them paddling, they thrust out to
the broad bosom of the river.

Not till then did he avert his gaze, and turn again to the store. The
great man of the company was still talking to the half-breed, and the
other half-breed had risen from his seat and was staring into the
store. He looked round as Stane approached him.

"By gar," he said enthusiastically, "dat one very fine squaw-girl
dere."

Stane looked forward through the open doorway, and standing near the
long counter, watching a tall Indian bartering with the factor, saw the
beautiful Indian girl from the neighbouring camp. He nodded an
affirmative, and seeing an opportunity to obtain information turned and
spoke to the man.

"Yes, but that girl there with Mr. Ainley----"

"Oui, m'sieu. But she no squaw-girl. She grand person who make' ze tour
with ze governor."

"Oh, the governor makes the tour, does he?"

"Oui, oui! In the old style, with a brigade of boats, and a bugler. A
summer trip, vous comprenez--a picnic to all ze posts in ze province.
Thus it is to be a great man!"

"And Mr. Ainley, what is he doing at Fort Malsun?"

"Ah, M'sieu Ainley! He also is ze great man. He is to be among the
governors--one day. He also visits ze posts, and will no doubt travel
with ze governor, whose protégé he is."

"Is that so?"

"Dat is so! He is ze favourite, vous comprenez?"

"I did not know it."

"Non? But so it ees! And Louis and me, we go with heem in ze canoe to
serve heem. Though by gar, I like to make stop here, an' talk to dat
squaw-girl."

Stane made no vocal reply to this. He nodded carelessly and passed into
the store. Factor Rodwell looked round as he entered, and surveyed him
with a measuring eye, as if taking stock of a new acquaintance, then
gave him a curt nod and resumed his barter with the Indian. His
assistant being also busy for the moment, Stane turned towards the
Indian girl whose liquid eyes were regarding him shyly, and addressed
her in her native dialect.

"Little sister, why did you run from me yesterday?"

The girl was covered with confusion at the directness of his question,
and to help her over her embarrassment the young man laughed.

"You did not mistake me for Moorseen (the black bear) or the bald-face
grizzly, did you?"

At the question the girl laughed shyly, and shook her head without
speaking.

"I am but a man, and not the grizzled one. Wherefore should you run
from me, little sister?"

"I had never seen such a man before."

The directness of the answer, given in a shy voice, astonished him. It
was his turn to be embarrassed and he strove to turn the edge of the
compliment.

"Never seen a white man before!" he cried in mock amazement.

"I did not say that I had never seen a white man before. I have seen
many. The priest up at Fort of God, the doctor priest at the Last Hope,
the factor there, and M'sieu Ainley who came to our camp yesternight.
And there is also this fat man they call the governor--a great chief,
it is said; though he does not look as such a great one should look.
Yes, I have seen many white men, but none like thee before."

Hubert Stane was routed once more by the girl's directness, but strove
to recover himself by a return of compliments.

"Well," he laughed, "for that matter there are none so many like
thyself in the world. I wonder what thy name is?"

The girl flushed with pleasure at the compliment, and answered his
question without reserve.

"I am Miskodeed."

"The Beauty of the Spring! Then thou art well-named, little sister!"

The girl flushed with pleasure. The flame that had leapt in her dark
eyes at their first meeting burned once more, and where, but for an
interruption, the conversation would have drifted can only be
conjectured. But at that precise moment the tall Indian called to her.

"Miskodeed."

The girl moved swiftly to him and with a gesture that was almost royal
the Indian pointed to a pile of trade goods heaped upon the long
counter. The girl gathered as much as was possible in her arms, and
staggered with her load from the store, and as Factor Rodwell nodded to
him, Hubert Stane moved up the counter, and began to give his order.
The factor wrote it down without comment, glancing at his customer from
time to time with shrewd appraising eyes, and when Stane had paid for
the goods which were to be ready before noon, he asked a question.

"New to the district, aren't you?"

"I wintered here," replied Stane briefly.

"Then you did no trapping," said the factor with a laugh, "or you'd
have brought your pelts in. I guess you must be prospecting?"

"I have done a little," agreed Stane, a touch of reserve in his manner.

"A lonely job!" commented the factor.

"Yes," was Stane's reply, then he nodded and turned towards the door.

The factor watched him go with frowning eyes, then turned to his
assistant.

"Not a very sociable sort, hey, Donald?"

The assistant grinned, and shook his head. "Tongue-tied, I guess."

"I wonder where he has his location."

"Somewhere North!" answered Donald. "He came upstream, I saw him."

The factor said no more to him, but passed out of the store towards the
warehouse. As he did so he caught sight of Stane standing in the Square
watching a canoe far out on the river. The factor's eyes were good and
he recognized the occupants of the craft quite easily, and as he saw
Stane's interest in them, the frown gathered about his eyes once more,
and he muttered to himself:

"I wonder what Mr. Ainley's little game means?"

Then as he was unable to find any answer to his question he turned
again to his own affairs.

As for Hubert Stane he stood in the Square for quite a long time
watching for the return of the canoe, determined to have speech with
Ainley. Then, as it still lingered, he turned and made his way to his
own camp.

It was quite late in the afternoon when the opportunity he sought was
given to him. Impelled by the merest curiosity he had strolled over to
the Indian tepees and had there encountered Miskodeed teaching a
puppy-dog tricks. He had stopped to speak to her, and was still engaged
in a rather one-sided conversation, when the sound of English voices
caused him to turn round.

The governor's party, accompanied by the factor, was moving towards the
tepees. His first impulse was to go away, then seeing Ainley among the
little knot of people, he decided to remain, and to serve his own end,
kept Miskodeed in conversation, as when left to herself she would have
fled to the moose-hide tent.

The party drew nearer. Stane was conscious of its attention, and the
blood in Miskodeed's face came and went in a manner that was almost
painful. Any one looking at them, and noting the apparent absorption of
the man and the certain embarrassment of the girl, must have utterly
miscomprehended the situation, and that was what happened, for a moment
later, the sound of a laughing feminine voice reached him.

"Behold an idyll of the land!"

He looked up with an angry light in his blue eyes. The party was just
passing, and nearly every pair of eyes was regarding him curiously. And
one pair, the grey eyes of the girl who had been with Ainley, met his
in level glance, and in them he saw a flicker of contempt. That glance
sent the blood to his face, and increased the anger which had surged
within him at the laughing remark he had overheard. Ainley was among
these people, and come what might he would have speech with him before
them all. He stepped forward determinedly; but Ainley, who had been
watching him closely, anticipated his move by falling out of the group.

"Don't be a fool, Stane! You'll do yourself no good by kicking up a
dust here. I couldn't come last night, but tonight at the same time I
will not fail."

He turned and moved on again before Stane could reply, and as he joined
the English girl, the latter inquired in a surprised voice, "You know
that gentleman, Mr. Ainley?"

Stane caught the question, but the answer he did not hear, though he
could guess its purport and found no pleasure at the thought of what it
would be. Consumed with wrath and shame he went his way to his own
camp, and seeking relief from intolerable thoughts busied himself with
preparations for a start on the morrow, then schooled himself to wait
as best he could, through the long hours before Ainley's appointed
time.

Again the midnight sun found him sitting behind his smoke-smudge,
waiting, listening. All the songs and cries of the wild faded into
silence and still Ainley had not come. Then he caught the sound of
light feet running, and looking up he saw Miskodeed hurrying towards
him between the willows. Wondering what had brought her forth at this
hour he started to his feet and in that instant he saw a swift look of
apprehension and agony leap to her face.

"Beware, my brother----"

He heard no more. A man rose like a shadow by his side, with lifted
hand holding an ax-shaft. Before he could move or cry out the shaft
descended on his uncovered head and he dropped like a man suddenly
stricken dead. When he came to himself the rosy Northland night had
given place to rosier dawn, and he found that he was lying, bound hand
and foot, at the bottom of a Peterboro' canoe. There were three Indians
in the canoe, one of whom he recognized for Miskodeed's father, and
after lying for a few minutes wondering what was the meaning of the
situation in which he found himself he addressed himself to the Indian:

"What is the meaning of this?"

The Indian stared at him like a graven image, but vouchsafed no reply.
Stane lay there wondering if it had anything to do with Miskodeed, and
finally, recalling the girl's dramatic appearance at the very moment
when he had been stricken down, decided that it had.

"What are you going to do with me?" he inquired after an interval.

"Nothing," replied the Indian. "At the end of five days thou wilt be
set free, and the canoe follows behind."

"But why----"

"It is an order," said the Indian gravely, and beyond that Stane could
learn nothing, though he tried repeatedly in the five days that
followed.

At the end of the fifth day they pitched camp as usual, at the evening
meal, and lay down to sleep, Stane tied hand and foot with buckskin
thongs. In the morning, when he awoke, he was alone and his limbs were
free. Scarce believing the facts he sat up and looked around him.
Unquestionably his captors had gone, taking the Peterboro' with them,
but leaving his own canoe hauled up on the bank. Still overcome with
astonishment he rose to his feet and inspected the contents of the
canoe. All the stores that he had purchased at the Post were there
intact, with his rifle, his little tent and camp utensils, so far as he
could tell, not a single article was missing. What on earth was the
meaning of it all?

"Miskodeed!"

As he spoke the name the possibility that his acquaintance with the
girl had been misunderstood by her relations shot into his mind. But in
that case why had they dealt with him after this fashion? Then again he
seemed to hear the Indian speaking. "It is an order!"

"Whose order?"

As his mind asked the question, he visioned Gerald Ainley, and was
suddenly conscious of a great anger. Was it possible that he----? He
broke off the question in his mind without finishing it; but lifted his
clenched hand and shook it before the silent wilderness. His attitude
was full of dumb menace, and left in no doubt his belief as to who was
the author of the event that had befallen him.



CHAPTER III

A LOST GIRL


Mr. Gerald Ainley standing in the meadow outside the Post, looked
towards the river bank with smiling eyes. Where Hubert Stane's little
tent had been the willows now showed an unbroken line, and he found
that fact a source of satisfaction. Then between the willows he caught
sight of a moving figure, and after one glance at it, began to hurry
forward. A moment later the figure emerged from the willows and stood
on the edge of the meadow, revealing its identity as that of the
English girl with whom he had walked on the previous day. Without
observing him the girl turned round and began to walk towards the
Indian encampment and Ainley immediately altered his course, walking
quickly so as to intercept her. He joined her about a score of paces
from the tents and smilingly doffed his cap.

"Good morning, Miss Yardely. You are astir early."

Helen Yardely laughed lightly. "It is impossible to do anything else in
this country, where it is daylight all the time, and birds are crying
half the night. Besides we are to make a start after breakfast."

"Yes, I know; I'm going with you."

"You are going with us, Mr. Ainley!" There was a little note of
surprise in the girl's tones. "My uncle has not mentioned it!"

"No! It was only finally decided last night; though from the beginning
of the excursion it has been contemplated. Sir James is making notes of
his journey which I am to supplement. I believe he has an idea of
bringing out a book describing the journey!"

"Which you are to write, I suppose?" laughed the girl.

"Well," countered the man also laughing, "I am to act as amanuensis.
And after all you know I am in the service of the Company, whose
fortunes Sir James directs."

"He may direct them," answered the girl lightly, "but it is other men
who carry them--the men of the wilds who bring the furs to the posts,
and the traders who live in isolation from year's end to year's end.
You must not take my uncle quite so seriously as he takes himself, Mr.
Ainley."

Gerald Ainley smiled. "You forget, Miss Yardely, he can make or break a
man who is in the Company's service."

"Perhaps!" laughed the girl. "Though if I were a man I should not so
easily be made or broken by another. I should make myself and see that
none broke me." She paused as if waiting for an answer, then as her
companion continued silent, abruptly changed the topic. "By the by, I
see that your acquaintance of other days has removed himself!"

"Yes," answered Ainley, "I noticed that."

"He must have gone in the night."

"Yes," was the reply. "I suppose he folded his tent like the Arabs and
as silently stole away."

"I daresay the meeting with an old acquaintance was distasteful to
him."

"That is possible," answered Ainley. "When a man has deliberately
buried himself in this wild land he will hardly wish to be
resurrected."

"And yet he did not appear to avoid you yesterday?" said the girl
thoughtfully.

"A momentary impulse, I suppose," replied her companion easily. "I
daresay he thought I might fraternise and forget the past."

"And you couldn't?"

"Well, scarcely. One does not fraternise with gaol-birds even for old
time's sake."

They had now arrived at the tepees and as they halted, the flap of one
was thrown aside, and Miskodeed emerged. She did not see them, as the
moment she stepped into the open air her eyes turned towards the
willows where Stane's camp had been. A look of sadness clouded the wild
beauty of her face, and there was a poignant light in her eyes.

"Ah!" whispered Helen Yardely. "She knows that he has gone."

"Perhaps it is just as well for her that he has," answered Ainley
carelessly. "These marriages of the country are not always happy--for
the woman."

Miskodeed caught the sound of his voice, and, turning suddenly, became
aware of their presence. In an instant a swift change came over her
face. Its sadness vanished instantly, and as her eyes flashing fiercely
fixed themselves upon Ainley, a look of scorn came on her face
intensifying its bizarre beauty. She took a step forward as if she
would speak to the white man, then apparently changed her mind, and
swinging abruptly on her heel, re-entered the tent. Helen Yardely
glanced swiftly at her companion, and surprised a look of something
very like consternation in his eyes.

"That was very queer!" she said quickly.

"What was very queer?" asked Ainley.

"That girl's action. Did you see how she looked at you? She was going
to speak to you and changed her mind."

Ainley laughed a trifle uneasily. "Possibly she blames me for the
disappearance of her lover!"

"But why should she do that? She can hardly know of your previous
acquaintance with him."

"You forget--she saw him speak to me yesterday!"

"Ah yes," was the girl's reply. "I had forgotten that." The notes of a
bugle, clear and silvery in the still air, floated across the meadow at
that moment, and Gerald Ainley laughed.

"The breakfast bell! We must hurry, Miss Yardely. It will scarcely do
to keep your uncle waiting."

They turned and hurried back to the Post, nothing more being said in
reference to Miskodeed and Hubert Stane. And an hour later, in the
bustle of the departure, the whole matter was brushed aside by Helen
Yardely, though now and again through the day, it recurred to her mind
as a rather unpleasant episode; and she found herself wondering how so
fine a man as Stane could stoop to the folly of which many men in the
North were guilty.

At the end of that day her uncle ordered the camp to be pitched on a
little meadow backed by a sombre forest of spruce. And after the
evening meal, in company with Gerald Ainley, she walked towards the
timber where an owl was hooting dismally. The air was perfectly still,
the sky above crystal clear, and the Northern horizon filled with a
golden glow. As they reached the shadow of the spruce, and seated
themselves on a fallen trunk, a fox barked somewhere in the recess of
the wood, and from afar came the long-drawn melancholy howl of a wolf.
Helen Yardely looked down the long reach of the river and her eyes
fixed themselves on a tall bluff crowned with spruce, distant perhaps a
mile and a half away.

"I like the Wild," she said suddenly, breaking the silence that had
been between them.

"It is all right," laughed Ainley, "when you can journey through it
comfortably as we are doing."

"It must have its attractions even when comfort is not possible," said
the girl musingly, "for the men who live here live as nature meant man
to live."

"On straight moose-meat--sometimes," laughed Ainley. "With bacon and
beans and flour brought in from the outside for luxuries."

"I was not thinking of the food," answered the girl quickly. "I was
thinking of the toil, the hardship--the Homeric labours of those who
face the hazards of the North."

"Yes," agreed the man, "the labours are certainly Homeric, and there
are men who like the life well enough, who have made fortunes here and
have gone back to their kind in Montreal, New York, London, only to
find that civilization has lost its attraction for them."

"I can understand that," was the quick reply. "There is something in
the silence and wildness of vast spaces which gets into the blood. Only
yesterday I was thinking how small and tame the lawns at home would
look after this." She swept a hand in a half-circle, and then gave a
little laugh. "I believe I could enjoy living up here."

Ainley laughed with her. "A year of this," he said, lightly, "and you
would begin to hunger for parties and theatres and dances and
books--and you would look to the Southland as to Eden."

"Do you really think so?" she asked seriously.

"I am sure of it," he answered with conviction.

"But I am not so sure," she answered slowly. "Deep down there must be
something aboriginal in me, for I find myself thrilling to all sorts of
wild things. Last night I was talking with Mrs. Rodwell. Her husband
used to be the trader up at Kootlach, and she was telling me of a white
man who lived up there as a chief. He was a man of education, a
graduate of Oxford and he preferred that life to the life of
civilization. It seems he died, and was buried as a chief, wrapped in
furs, a hunting spear by his side, all the tribe chanting a wild
funeral chant! Do you know, as she described it, the dark woods, the
barbaric burying, the wild chant, I was able to vision it all--and my
sympathies were with the man, who, in spite of Oxford, had chosen to
live his own life in his own way."

Ainley laughed. "You see it in the glamour of romance," he said. "The
reality I imagine was pretty beastly."

"Well!" replied the girl quickly. "What would life be without romance?"

"A dull thing," answered Ainley, promptly, with a sudden flash of the
eyes. "I am with you there, Miss Yardely, but romance does not lie in
mere barbarism, for most men it is incarnated in a woman."

"Possibly! I suppose the mating instinct is the one elemental thing
left in the modern world."

"It is the one dominant thing," answered Ainley, with such emphasis of
conviction that the girl looked at him in quick surprise.

"Why, Mr. Ainley, one would think that you--that you----" she
hesitated, stumbled in her speech, and did not finish the sentence. Her
companion had risen suddenly to his feet. The monocle had fallen from
its place, and he was looking down at her with eyes that had a strange
glitter.

"Yes," he cried, answering her unfinished utterance. "Yes! I do know.
That is what you would say, is it not? I have known since the day Sir
James sent me to the station at Ottawa to meet you. The knowledge was
born in me as I saw you stepping from the car. The one woman--my heart
whispered it in that moment, and has shouted it ever since. Helen, I
did not mean to speak yet, but--well, you see how it is with me! Tell
me it is not altogether hopeless! You know what my position is; you
know that in two years----"

Helen Yardely rose swiftly to her feet. Her beautiful face had paled a
little. She stopped the flood of words with her lifted hand.

"Please, Mr. Ainley! There is no need to enter on such details."

"Then----"

"You have taken me by surprise," said the girl slowly. "I had no idea
that you--that you--I have never thought of it."

"But you can think now, Helen," he said urgently. "I mean every word
that I have said. I love you. You must see that--now. Let us join our
lives together, and together find the romance for which you crave."

The blood was back in the girl's cheeks now, running in rosy tides, and
there was a light in her grey eyes that made Ainley's pulse leap with
hope, since he mistook it for something else. His passion was real
enough, as the girl felt, and she was simple and elemental enough to be
thrilled by it; but she was sufficiently wise not to mistake the
response in herself for the greater thing. The grey eyes looked
steadily into his for a moment, then a thoughtful look crept into them,
and Ainley knew that for the moment he had lost.

"No," she said slowly, "no, I am not sure that would be wise. I do not
feel as I ought to feel in taking such a decision as that. And
besides----"

"Yes?" he said, urgently, as she paused. "Yes?"

"Well," she flushed a little, and her tongue stumbled among the words,
"you are not quite the man--that I--that I have thought
of--for--for----." She broke off again, laughed a little at herself and
then blurted confusedly: "You see all my life, from being a very little
girl, I have worshipped heroes."

"And I am not a hero," said Ainley with a harsh laugh. "No! I am just
the ordinary man doing the ordinary things, and my one claim to notice
is that I love you! But suppose the occasion came? Suppose I----." He
broke off and stood looking at her for a moment. Then he asked, "Would
that make no difference?"

"It might," replied the girl, the shrinking from the infliction of too
severe a blow.

"Then I live for that occasion!" cried Ainley. "And who knows? In this
wild land it may come any hour!"

As a matter of fact the occasion offered itself six days later--a
Sunday, when Sir James Yardely had insisted on a day's rest. The
various members of the party were employing their leisure according to
their inclinations, and Ainley had gone after birds for the pot, whilst
Helen Yardely, taking a small canoe, had paddled down stream to explore
a creek where, according to one of the Indians, a colony of beavers had
established itself.

When Ainley returned with a couple of brace of wood partridges it was
to find that the girl was still absent from the camp. The day wore on
towards evening and still the girl had not returned, and her uncle
became anxious, as did others of the party.

"Some one had better go to look for her, Ainley," said Sir James. "I
gather that a mile or two down the river the current quickens, and that
there are a number of islands where an inexpert canoeist may come to
grief. I should never forgive myself if anything has happened to my
niece."

"I will go myself, Sir James, and I will not return without her."

"Oh, I don't suppose anything very serious has happened," replied Sir
James, with an uneasy laugh, "but it is just as well to take
precautions."

"Yes, Sir James! I will go at once and take one of the Indians with
me--one who knows the river. And it may be as well to send upstream
also, as Miss Yardely may have changed her mind and taken that
direction."

"Possibly so!" answered Sir James, turning away to give the necessary
orders.

Gerald Ainley called one of the Indians to him, and ordered him to put
three days' supply of food into the canoe, blankets and a small folding
tent, and was just preparing to depart when Sir James drew near, and
stared with evident surprise at the load in the canoe.

"Why, Gerald," he said, "you seem to have made preparations for a long
search."

"That is only wise, Sir James. This river runs for sixty miles before
it falls into the main river, and sixty miles will take a good deal of
searching. If the search is a short one, and the food not needed, the
burden of it will matter little; on the other hand----"

"In God's name go, boy--and bring Helen back!"

"I will do my best, Sir James."

The canoe pushed off, leaping forward under the combined propulsion of
the paddles and the current, and sweeping round a tall bluff was soon
out of sight of the camp.

The Indian in the bow of the canoe, after a little time, set the course
slantingly across the current, making for the other side, and Ainley
asked a sharp question. The Indian replied over his shoulder.

"The white Klootchman go to see the beaver! Beaver there!"

He jerked his head towards a creek now opening out on the further
shore, and a look of impatience came on Ainley's face. He said nothing
however, though to any one observing him closely it must have been
abundantly clear that he had no expectation of finding the missing girl
at the place which the Indian indicated. As a matter of fact they did
not. Turning into the creek they presently caught sounds that were new
to Ainley, and he asked a question.

"It is the beavers. They smite the water with their tails!"

Two minutes later they came in sight of the dam and in the same moment
the Indian turned the canoe towards a soft bar of sand. A few seconds
later, having landed, he pointed to the sand. A canoe had been beached
there, and plain as the footprints which startled Crusoe, were the
marks of moccasined feet going from and returning to the sand bar.

"White Klootchman been here!" said the Indian. "She go away. No good
going to the beaver."

He turned to the canoe again, and Gerald Ainley turned with him,
without a word in reply. There was no sign of disappointment on his
face, nor when they struck the main current again did he even glance at
the shore on either side. But seven miles further down, when the
current visibly quickened, and a series of small spruce-clad islands
began to come in view, standing out of the water for all the world like
ships in battle line, a look of interest came on his face, and he began
to look alertly in front of him and from side to side, all his
demeanour betraying expectation.



CHAPTER IV

A PIECE OF WRECKAGE


The canoe drew near the first of the islands and the Indian directed it
inshore and in a quiet bay as the canoe floated quietly out of the
current, they lifted up their voices and shouted again and again.
Except for the swirl of the waters everything was perfectly still, and
any one on the island must have heard the shouting; but there came no
response.

"No good!" said the Indian, and turned the bow of the canoe to the
river once more.

Island after island they inspected and hailed; meanwhile keeping a
sharp look out on either side of the river, but in vain. They were
hoarse with shouting when the last of the islands was reached, and on
Ainley's face a look of anxiety manifested itself. Landing at the tail
of the island the Indian hunted around until he found a dry branch, and
this he threw into the water and stood to watch its course as it went
down river. The drift of it seemed to be towards a bar on the eastern
bank, and towards that, distant perhaps a couple of miles, the course
of their canoe was directed. When they reached it, again the Indian
landed, and began to inspect the flotsam on the edge of the bank
closely. Ainley watched him with apprehension. Presently the Indian
stooped, and after two or three attempts fished something from the
water. He looked at it keenly for a moment, then he gave a shout, and
began to walk along the bar towards the canoe.

As he came nearer, the white man saw that the object he carried was the
spoon end of a paddle. When close at hand the Indian held it out for
his inspection.

"Him broke," he said in English. "And the break quite fresh."

There was no question as to that. Notwithstanding that the paddle had
been in the water, the clean wood of the fracture showed quite plainly,
and whilst Ainley was looking at it the Indian stretched a finger and
pointed to a semi-circular groove which ran across the broken end.

"Him shot!" he announced quite calmly.

"Are you sure?" asked Ainley, betraying no particular surprise.

The Indian nodded his head gravely, and fitted his little finger in the
groove.

"Bullet-mark!"

Ainley did not dispute the contention, nor apparently was he greatly
troubled by the Indian's contention. He looked round a little
anxiously.

"But where is the canoe?" he asked. "And Miss Yardely?"

The Indian waved a hand down river. "Canoe miss this bar, and go in the
current like hell to the meeting of the waters. Better we keep straight
on and watch out."

As they started down river again, Ainley's face took on a settled look
of anxiety. It was now close on midnight, but very light, and on either
bank everything could be clearly seen. They kept a sharp look out, but
found no further trace of the missing canoe, and the early dawn found
them in a quickening current, racing for the point where the tributary
river joined the main stream.

Presently it came in sight, and between walls of spruce and a foaming
crest of water they swept into the broader river, which rolled its
turbid way towards its outfall in one of the great Northern lakes. The
canoe pranced like a frightened horse at the meeting of the waters, and
when they were safely through it, Ainley looked back and questioned his
companion.

"Would Miss Yardely's canoe come through that?"

"Like a dry stick," answered the Indian, letting the canoe drift for a
moment in order to swing into the main current of the broader stream.

Ainley looked ahead. Downstream the river narrowed and the low broad
banks about them gradually rose, until they were like high ramparts on
either hand. The Indian pointed towards the tree-crowned cliffs.

"No good there," he said. "We land here, and make grub; walk down and
see what water like."

It seemed to Ainley the only sensible thing to do, and he did not
demur. Accordingly, the Indian, seeing a favourable beach, turned the
canoe inshore, and whilst his companion was preparing breakfast, the
white man walked downstream towards the ramparts of rocks through which
the river ran. When he reached them he looked down at the water. It ran
smooth and glassy and swift, whirling against the rocky sides a good
foot higher than between the earthen banks upstream. He followed the
gorge, forgetting that he was tired, forgetting the preparing
breakfast, a look of extreme anxiety upon his face. Three-quarters of
an hour's walking brought him to the end of the gorge, and for a mile
or two the country opened out once more, the river running wide between
low-lying banks to disappear in the lee of a range of hills above which
hung a veil of mist. He stood regarding the scene for a few minutes and
then, the anxiety on his face more pronounced than ever, made his way
back to the place where the Indian awaited him. The Indian had already
eaten, and whilst he himself breakfasted he told him what he had seen.
The native listened carefully, and in the end replied in his own
language.

"Good! We go through the cliffs, in place of making the portage. It is
the swifter way, and if the white Klootchman come this way, she has
gone through these gates of the waters. We follow, but not very far,
for again we come to the hills, and to a place where the earth is rent,
and the waters fall down a wall that is higher than the highest spruce.
If the Klootchman's canoe go there--it is the end."

Falls! So that was the meaning of that mist among the hills. There the
river plunged into a chasm, and if Helen Yardely's canoe had been swept
on in the current it was indeed the end. Ainley's anxiety mounted to
positive fear. He pushed from him the fried deer-meat and bacon which
the other had prepared for him, and rose suddenly to his feet.

"Let us be going!" he said sharply, and walked restlessly to and fro
whilst his companion broke camp. A few minutes later they were afloat
again, and after a little time there was no need to paddle. The current
caught them and flung them towards the limestone gateway at express
speed. In an amazingly short time they had passed through the gorge,
and were watching the banks open out on either side of them.

There was no sign of life anywhere, no indication that any one had
passed that way since time began. As they sped onward a peculiar throb
and rumble began to make itself heard. It increased as they neared the
range of hills towards which they were making, and as the banks began
to grow rocky, and the water ahead broken by boulders, the Indian
looked for a good place to land.

He found it on the lee side of a bluff where an eddy had scooped a
little bay in the steep bank, and turning the canoe inside it, they
stepped ashore. Making the canoe secure they climbed to the top of the
bank and began to push their way down stream. The rapids, as Ainley
noted, grew worse. Everywhere the rocks stood up like teeth tearing the
water to tatters, and the rumble ahead grew more pronounced. Standing
still for a moment, they felt the earth trembling beneath their feet,
and the white man's face paled with apprehension. A tangle of spruce
hid the view of the river as it skirted a big rock, and as the river
evidently made a swerve at this point, they struck a bee-line through
the timber. The rumble, of which they had long been conscious, of the
suddenest seemed to become a roar, and, as they came to an open place
where they could see the water again, they understood the reason.

The river but a few feet below them, bordered by shelving terraces of
rock, suddenly disappeared. Rolling glassily for perhaps fifty yards,
with scarce a ripple on its surface, the water seemed to gather itself
together, and leap into a gorge, the bottom of which was ninety feet
below. Ainley stood looking at the long cascade for a full minute, a
wild light in his eyes, then he looked long and steadily at the gorge
through which the river ran after its great leap. His face was white
and grim, and his mouth was quivering painfully.

Then without a word he turned and began to hurry along the line of the
gorge. The Indian strode after him.

"Where go to?" he asked.

"The end of the gorge," was the brief reply.

The Indian nodded, and then looked back. "If canoe can go over there it
smash to small bits."

"Oh, I know it, don't I?" cried Ainley savagely. "Hold your tongue,
can't you?"

An hour's wild walking brought them to the end of the gorge, and
looking down the rather steep face of the hill, to the widening river,
the white man carefully surveyed the banks. After a time he found what
he was looking for--a pile of debris heaped against a bluff, whose hard
rock resisted the action of the water. It was about a quarter of a mile
away and on the same bank of the river as himself. Still in silence he
began to drop down the face of the hill, and sometimes climbing over
moss-grown rocks, sometimes wading waist-high in the river itself, he
made his way to the heap of debris. It was the drift-pile made by the
river, which at this point cast out from its bosom logs and trees and
all manner of debris brought over the falls and down the gorge, a great
heap piled in inextricable confusion as high as a tall fir tree, and as
broad as a church.

Feverishly, Gerald Ainley began to wade round its wide base; and the
Indian also joined in the search, poking among the drift-logs and
occasionally tumbling one aside. Then the Indian gave a sharp grunt,
and out of the pile dragged a piece of wreckage that was obviously part
of the side and bow of a canoe. He shouted to Ainley, who hurried
scramblingly over a heap of the obstructing logs, and who, after one
look at that which the Indian had retrieved, stood there shaking like
wind-stricken corn; his face white and ghastly, his eyes full of agony.
The Indian put a brown finger on a symbol painted on the bows, with the
letters H. B. C. beneath. Both of them recognized the piece of wreckage
as belonging to the canoe in which Helen Yardely had left the camp, and
the Indian, with a glance at the gorge which had vomited the wreckage,
gave emphatic utterance to his belief.

"All gone."

Gerald Ainley made no reply. He had no doubt that what the Indian said
was true, and the truth was terrible enough. Turning away he began anew
to search the drift-pile, looking now for the body of a dead girl,
though with but little hope of finding it. For an hour he searched in
vain, then began to scramble down river, searching the bank. A mile
below the first drift-pile he came upon a second, caught by a sand-bar,
that, thrusting itself out in the water, snared the smaller debris.
This also he searched diligently, with no result; and after wandering a
little further down the river without finding anything, returned to
where the Indian awaited him.

"We will go back," he said, and these were the only words he spoke
until they reached their canoe again.

The Indian cooked a meal, of which Ainley partook with but little care
for what he was eating, his eyes fixed on the ochre-coloured water as
it swept by, his face the index of unfathomable thoughts. After the
meal they began to track their canoe upstream, until they reached water
where it would be possible to paddle, one of them towing with a line,
and the other working hard with the paddle to keep the canoe's nose
from the bank. A little way before they reached the limestone ramparts
through which they had swept at such speed a few hours before, the
Indian, who was at the towline, stopped and indicated that they must
make a portage over the gorge, since the configuration of the cliffs
made it impossible to tow the canoe through. In this task, a very hard
one, necessitating two journeys, one with the canoe and one with the
stores, they were occupied the remainder of the day, and when they
pitched camp again and had eaten the evening meal, the Indian promptly
fell asleep.

But there was no sleep for Gerald Ainley. He sat there staring at the
water rushing by, reflecting the crimson flare of the Northern night.
And it was not crimson that he saw it, but ochre-coloured as he had
seen it earlier in the day, hurrying towards the rapids below, and to
that ninety-foot leap into the gorge. And all the time, in vision, he
saw a canoe swept on the brown flood, a canoe in which crouched a
chestnut-haired girl, her grey eyes wide with fear; her hands
helplessly clasped, as she stared ahead, whilst the canoe danced and
leaped in the quickening waters hurrying towards the ramparts below,
which for aught she knew might well be the gates of death.

Sometimes the vision changed, and he saw the canoe in the rapids below
the ramparts, and waited in agony for it to strike one of the ugly
teeth of rock. Again and again it seemed that it must, but always the
current swept it clear, and it moved on at an increasing pace, swept in
that quick mill-race immediately above the falls. On the very edge he
saw it pause for a brief fraction of time and then the water flung it
and the white-faced girl into the depths beneath, and he saw them
falling, falling through the clouds of spray, the girl's dying cry
ringing through the thunder of the waters. He cried out in sudden
agony.

"My God! No!"

Then at the sound of his own cry, the vision left him for a time, and
he saw the river as it was, rosy in the light of the midnight sun. A
sound behind him caused him to turn round. The Indian, awakened by his
cry of anguish, had sat up and was staring at him in an odd way.

"It is all right, Joe," he said, and with a grunt the Indian lay down
to sleep again.

Ainley could not remain where he was to become again the prey of
terrible imaginations. Rising to his feet, he stumbled out of the camp,
and began to walk restlessly along the bank of the river. He was
body-tired, but his mind was active with an activity that was almost
feverish. Try as he would he could not shut out the visions which
haunted him, and as fast as he dismissed one, a new one was conjured
up. Now, as already shown, it was the canoe with the girl dancing to
destruction, now that final leap; then again it was that broken piece
of flotsam by the drift-pile at the end of the gorge; and later, in
some still reach far down the river, a dead girl, white-faced, but
peaceful, like drowned Ophelia.

He walked far without knowing it, driven by the secret agonies within,
and all the time conscious that he could not escape from them. Then
that befell which put a term to these agonizing imaginings. As he
walked he came suddenly on the ashes of a camp fire. For a moment he
stared at it uncomprehendingly. Then his interest quickened, as the
state of the ashes showed some one had camped at this place quite
recently. He began to look about him carefully, walking down the
shelving bank to the edge of the river. At that point there was a
stratum of soft clay, which took and preserved the impression of
everything of weight which rested upon it; and instantly he perceived a
number of footmarks about a spot where a canoe had been beached twice.

Stooping he examined the footmarks minutely. There was quite a jumble
of them, mostly made by a long and broad moccasined foot, which was
certainly that of a man; but in the jumble he found the print of
smaller feet, which must have been made by a youth or girl. A quick
hope kindled in his heart as he began to trace these prints among the
others. He had little of the craft of the wilds, but one thing quickly
arrested his attention--the smaller footprints all pointed one way and
that was down the bank towards the water. Now why should that be? Had
the person who had made those footprints not been in the canoe when the
owner had landed to pitch camp? And if such were the case, and the
maker of them was indeed a woman, what was she doing here, alone in the
wilderness?

Had Helen Yardely been saved by some fortunate chance, and wandering
along the river bank, stumbled on the camp of some prospector or
trapper making his way to the wild North? His mind clutched at this new
hope, eagerly. Hurriedly he climbed the sticky bank and began
feverishly to search for any sign that could help him. Then suddenly
the hope became a certainty, for in the rough grass he saw something
gleam, and stooping to recover it, found that it was a small enamelled
Swastiki brooch similar to one which he had seen three days before at
Miss Yardely's throat.

As he saw this he gave a shout of joy, and a moment later was hurrying
back along the bank to his own encampment. As he went, almost at a run,
his mind was busy with the discovery he had made. There were other
brooches in the world like this, thousands of them no doubt, but there
were few if any at all in this wild Northland, and not for a single
moment did he question that this was the one that Miss Yardely had
worn. And if he were right, then the girl was safe, and no doubt was
already on her way back to her uncle's camp in the care of whatever man
had found her.

Excitedly he broke on the slumbers of his Indian companion, and after
showing him the brooch, bade him accompany him to the place where he
had found it, and there pointed to the footmarks on the river bank.

"Can you read the meaning of those signs?"

The Indian studied them as a white man would a cryptogram, and
presently he stood up, and spoke with the slow gravity of his race.

"The Klootchman she came from the river. The man he carry her from the
water in his arms."

"How do you know that, Joe?"

The Indian pointed to certain footprints which were much more deeply
marked than the others.

"The man he carry heavy weight when he make these, and the Klootchman
she weigh, how much? One hundred and ten pounds, sure. He not carry
that weight back to the canoe, because the Klootchman she walk." He
pointed again, this time to the smaller footprints, and to Ainley,
reading the signs through the Indian's eyes, the explanation amounted
to a demonstration.

"Yes, yes, I understand," he cried, "but in that case where is she?"

The Indian looked up and down the river, then waved a hand upstream.
"The man he take her back to camp."

"Then why did we not meet them as we came down?"

A puzzled expression came on the Indian's face. For a moment he stood
considering the problem, then he shook his head gravely.

"I not know."

"We must get back to the camp at once, Joe. We must find out if Miss
Yardely has returned. We know now that she is alive, and at all costs
we must find her. We will start at once for there is no time to lose."

He turned on his heel and led the way back to the canoe, and half an
hour later they were paddling upstream towards the junction of the
rivers, the Indian grave and imperturbable; Ainley with a puzzled,
anxious look upon his handsome face.



CHAPTER V

A BRAVE RESCUE


When Hubert Stane took stock of his position, after his captors had
left him, he found himself in a country which was strange to him, and
spent the best part of a day in ascertaining his whereabouts. The flow
of the wide river where the camp had been pitched told him nothing, and
it was only after he had climbed a high hill a mile and a half away
from the river that he began to have any indication of his whereabouts.
Then with the country lying before him in a bird's-eye view he was able
to learn his position. There was more than one river in view, and a
chain of small lakes lay between one of them and the river where he had
been left by his captors. From the last of those lakes a long portage,
such as had been made on the last day but one of the journey, would
bring them to a river which a few miles away joined the river on the
bank of which he had been left to shift for himself. Studying the
disposition of the country carefully, he reached the conclusion that by
a roundabout journey he had been brought to the river on the upper
reaches of which he had his permanent camp; and as the conviction grew
upon him, he made his way back to the canoe, and began to work his way
upstream.

As he paddled, the problem of his deportation exercised his mind; and
nowhere could he find any explanation of it, unless it had to do with
Miskodeed. But that explanation failed as he recalled the words of her
father: "It is an order." Who had given the order? He thought in turn
of the factor, of Sir James Yardely, of Gerald Ainley. The first two
were instantly dismissed, but the thought of Ainley remained fermenting
in his mind. It was an odd coincidence that he should have been
attacked whilst awaiting Ainley's coming, and in view of his one-time
friend's obvious reluctance to an interview and of his own urgent
reasons for desiring it; the suspicion that Ainley was the man who had
issued the order for his forcible deportation grew until it became
almost a conviction.

"I will find out about this--and the other thing," he said aloud. "I
can't go back now, but sooner or later my chance will come. The cur!"

That evening he camped at the foot of a fall, which he had heard of,
but never before seen, and spent the whole of the next day in portaging
his belongings to navigable water, and on the following evening well
beyond the rocky ramparts, where the river ran so swiftly, made his
camp, happily conscious that now the river presented no barrier for two
hundred miles.

As he sat smoking outside his little tent, an absent, thoughtful look
upon his face, his eyes fixed dreamily on the river, his mind reverted
once more to the problem of recent happenings, and as he considered it,
there came to him the picture of Miskodeed as he had seen her running
towards him between the willows just before the blow which had knocked
him unconscious. She had cried to him to put him on his guard, and the
apprehension in her face as he remembered it told him that she knew of
the ill that was to befall him. His mind dwelt on her for a moment as
he visioned her face with its bronze beauty, her dark, wild eyes
flashing with apprehension for him, and as he did so his own eyes
softened a little. He recalled the directness of her speech in their
first conversation and smiled at the naïveté of her estimate of
himself. Then the smile died, leaving the absent, thoughtful look more
pronounced, and in the same moment the vision of Miskodeed was
obliterated by the vision of Helen Yardely--the woman of his own race,
fair and softly-strong, and as different as well as could be from the
daughter of the wilds.

Again, as he recalled the steady scrutinizing glance of her grey eyes,
he felt the blood rioting in his heart, and for a moment his eyes were
alight with dreams. Then he laughed in sudden bitterness.

"What a confounded fool I am!" he said. "A discharged convict----"

The utterance was suddenly checked; and an interested look came on his
face. There was something coming down the river. He rose quickly to his
feet in order to get a better view of the object which had suddenly
floated into his line of vision. It was a canoe. It appeared to be
empty, and thinking it was a derelict drifting from some camp up river,
he threw himself down again, for even if he salved it, it could be of
no possible use to him. Lying there he watched it as it drifted nearer
in the current, wondering idly whence it had come. Nearer it came,
swung this way and that by various eddies, and drifting towards the
further side of the river where about forty yards above his camp a mass
of rock broke the smooth surface of the water. He wondered whether the
current would swing it clear; and now watched it with interest since he
had once heard a river-man declare that anything that surrendered
itself completely to a current would clear obstructions. He had not
believed the theory at the time, and now before his eyes it was
disproved; for the derelict swung straight towards the rocks, then
twisted half-way round as it was caught by some swirl, and struck a
sharp piece of rock broadside on.

Then happened a totally unexpected thing. As the canoe struck, a girl
who had been lying at the bottom, raised herself suddenly, and stared
at the water overside, one hand clutching the gunwale. A second later
the canoe drifted against another rock and suddenly tilted, throwing
the girl into the broken water.

By this time, taken by surprise though he was, Stane was on his feet,
and running down the bank. He did not stop to launch his canoe but just
as he was flung himself into the water, and started to swim across the
river, drifting a little with the current, striving to reach a point
where he could intercept the girl as she drifted down. It was no light
task he had set himself, for the current was strong, and carried him
further than he intended to go, but he was in front of the piece of
human flotsam which the river was claiming for its prey, and as it came
nearer he stretched a hand and grasped at it. He caught a handful of
chestnut hair that floated like long weed in the river's tide, and the
next moment turned the girl over on her back. She was unconscious, but
as he glimpsed at her face, his heart leaped, for it was the face of
that fair English girl of whom but a few minutes before he had been
dreaming. For a second he was overcome with amazement, then stark fear
leapt in his heart as he looked at the closed eyes and the white,
unconscious face.

That fear shook him from his momentary inactivity. He looked for
something else to hold by, and finding nothing, twisted the long strand
of hair he had gripped into a rope, and held it with his teeth. Then he
glanced round. The current had carried him further than he had
realized, and now quickened for its rush between the rocky ramparts, so
that there was some danger of their being caught and swept through. As
he realized that, he began to exert all his strength, striking across
the current for the nearest bank, which was the one furthest from his
camp.

The struggle was severe, and the girl's body drifting against him
impeded his movements terribly. It seemed impossible that he could make
the bank, and the ramparts frowned ominously ahead. He was already
wondering what the chances were of making the passage through in
safety, and was half-inclined to surrender to the current and take the
risks ahead, when his eye caught that which spurred him to fresh
efforts.

A hundred yards downstream a huge tree, by some collapse of the bank,
had been flung from the position where it had grown for perhaps a
hundred years, and now lay with its crown and three-quarters of its
trunk in the river. Its roots, heavily laden with earth, still clung to
the bank and fought with the river for its prey. If he could reach that
Stane realized that he might yet avoid the perilous passage between the
bastions of rock. He redoubled his efforts against the quickening
current, and by supreme exertions pulled himself into a position where
the current must carry him and the girl against the tree.

In a moment, as it seemed, they had reached it, and now holding the
girl's hair firmly in one hand, with the other he clutched at one of
the branches. He caught it, and the next moment was unexpectedly ducked
overhead in the icy water. He came up gasping, and then understood. The
tree was what in the voyageur's nomenclature is known as a "sweeper."
Still held by its roots it bobbed up and down with the current, and the
extra strain of his weight and the girl's had sunk it deeper in the
water. It still moved up and down, and he had not finished spluttering
when a new danger asserted itself. The suck of the current under the
tree was tremendous. It seemed to Stane as if a thousand malevolent
hands were conspiring to drag him under; and all the time he was afraid
lest the unconscious girl should be entangled among the submerged
branches.

Lying on his back holding the bough that he had caught, at the same
time steadying himself with a foot against another branch, he swiftly
considered the situation.

It was impossible that he could pull himself on to the trunk from the
upper side. Even had he been unhampered by the unconscious girl that
would have been difficult, the suck of the current under the tree being
so great. He would have to get to the other side somehow. To do that
there were new risks to be taken. He would have to let loose the branch
which he held, drift through the other interlacing branches, and get a
hold on the further side of the trunk.

It was risky, and beyond was the water swirling for its race between
the bastions. But he could do nothing where he was and, setting his
teeth, he let go his hold. In a second, as it seemed, the tree leaped
like a horse and the water swept him and the girl under the trunk.
Scarcely were they under when his free arm shot out and flung itself
round a fresh bough which floated level with the water. Immediately the
bough bobbed under, but he was prepared for that, and after a brief
rest, he set the girl's hair between his teeth once more, and with both
hands free began to work from bough to bough. One that he clutched gave
an ominous crack. It began to sag in a dangerous way, and at the fork
where it joined a larger branch a white slit appeared and began to grow
wider. He watched it growing, his eyes quite steady, his mind alert for
the emergency that it seemed must arrive, but the branch held for the
space of time that he needed it; and it was with heartfelt relief that
he grasped a larger bough, and the next moment touched bottom with his
feet.

At that he shifted his hold on the girl, towing her by a portion of her
dress, and two minutes later, lifted her beyond the water-line on the
high shelving bank. Then, as he looked in her white face and marked the
ashen lips, a panic of fear fell on him. Dropping to his knees he took
her wrist in his hand and felt for her pulse. At first he thought that
she was dead, then very faint and slow he caught the beat of it. The
next moment he had her in his arms and was scrambling up the bank.

At the top he had the good fortune to stumble on a trail that was
evidently used by Indians or other dwellers in the wilderness, probably
by men portaging the length of bad water down the river. It was a rough
enough path, yet it made his task immeasurably easier. But even with
its unexpected aid, the journey was a difficult one, and he staggered
with exhaustion when he laid the girl down upon the rough grass at a
point not quite opposite his own camp.

Gasping he stood looking at her until he had recovered his breath, the
girl unconscious of his gaze; then when he felt equal to the task, he
plunged again into the river and swam to his own camp. A few minutes
later he returned in his canoe, carrying with him a field water-bottle
filled with medical brandy.

The girl lay as he had left her, and his first action was to pour a few
drops of brandy between her parted lips, and that done he waited,
chafing her hands. A minute later the long-lashed eyelids fluttered and
opened, and the grey eyes looked wildly round without seeing him, then
closed again and a long sigh came from her as she lapsed into
unconsciousness anew. At that he wasted no more time. Lifting her, he
carried her down to the canoe, and paddling across the river, bore her
up to his own camp, and laid her down where the heat of the fire would
reach her, then he administered further brandy and once more waited.

Again the eyelids fluttered and opened, and the girl looked round with
wild, uncomprehending gaze, then her eyes grew steady, and a moment
later fixed themselves upon Stane. He waited, saw wonder light them,
then, in a voice that shook, the girl asked: "How did--I--come here?"

"That you know best yourself," answered the young man, cheerfully. "I
fished you out of the river, that is all I know." The girl made as if
to reply; but Stane prevented her.

"No, don't try to talk for a little while. Wait! Take a little more of
this brandy."

He held it towards her in a tin cup, and with his hand supporting her
head, the girl slowly sipped it. By the time she had finished, a little
blood was running in her cheeks and her lips were losing their ashen
colour. She moved and made as though to sit up.

"Better wait a little longer," he said, quietly.

"No," she said, "I feel better."

She lifted herself into a sitting posture, and he thoughtfully rolled a
small sack of beans to support her back, then she looked at him with a
quick questioning gaze.

"I have seen you before, have I not? You are the man who was at Fort
Malsun, aren't you--the man whom Mr. Ainley used to know?"

"Yes," he answered with sudden bitterness, "I am the man whom Ainley
used to know. My name is Hubert Stane, and I am a discharged convict,
as I daresay he told you."

The sudden access of colour in Helen Yardely's face, and the look in
her eyes, told him that he had guessed correctly, but the girl did not
answer the implied question. Instead she looked at the river and
shuddered.

"You--fished me out," she said, her eyes on the rocks across the river.
"Was it there the canoe overturned?"

"Yes," he answered, "you struck the rocks."

"I must have been dozing," she replied. "I remember waking and seeing
water pouring into the canoe, and the next moment I was in the river.
You saw me, I suppose?"

Stane nodded. "I was sitting here and saw the canoe coming down the
river. I thought it was empty until it struck the rocks and you
suddenly sat up."

"And then you came after me?"

"Yes," he answered lightly.

Her grey eyes looked at him carefully, noted his dripping clothes and
dank hair, and then with sudden comprehension asked: "How did you get
me? Did you do it with your canoe or----"

"The canoe wouldn't have been any use," he interrupted brusquely. "It
would have upset if I had tried to get you out of the water into it."

"Then you swam for me?" persisted the girl.

"Had to," he answered carelessly. "Couldn't let you drown before my
eyes--even if I am a convict!"

Helen Yardely flushed a little. "I do not think you need mention that
again. I am very grateful to a brave man."

"Oh, as to that----" he began; but she interrupted him.

"Tell me where you got me? I remember nothing about it."

He looked down the river.

"As near as I can tell you, it was by that clump of firs there; though
I was not able to land for quite a long distance beyond. You were
unconscious, and I carried you along the opposite bank, then swam
across for my canoe and ferried you over. There you have the whole
story." He broke off sharply, then before she could offer comment he
spoke again: "I think it would be as well if you could have a change of
clothes. It is not cold, but to let those you have dry on you might
bring on all sorts of ills. There are some things of mine in the tent.
I will put them handy, and you can slip them on whilst I take a stroll.
You can then dry your own outfit."

He did not wait for any reply, but walked to the little fly-tent, and
three or four minutes later emerged, puffing a pipe. He waved towards
the tent, and turning away began to walk rapidly up river. Helen
Yardely sat where she was for a moment looking after him. There was a
very thoughtful expression on her face.

"The whole story!" she murmured as she rose to her feet. "I wonder?
That man may have been a convict; but he is no braggart."

She walked to the tent, and with amused eyes looked at the articles of
attire obviously arranged for her inspection. A grey flannel shirt, a
leather belt, a pair of Bedford cord breeches, a pair of moccasins,
miles too large for her, and a mackinaw jacket a little the worse for
wear.

She broke into sudden laughter as she considered them, and after a
moment went to the tent-door and shyly looked up the river. The figure
of her rescuer was still receding at a rapid rate. She nodded to
herself, and then dropping the flap of the tent, faced the problem of
the unaccustomed garments.



CHAPTER VI

A MYSTERIOUS SHOT


Twenty minutes later, as Hubert Stane returned along the river bank, he
saw the girl emerge from the tent, and begin to arrange her own sodden
attire where the heat of the fire would dry it. The girl completed her
task just as he arrived at the camp, and stood upright, the rich blood
running in her face. Then a flash of laughter came in her grey eyes.

"Well?" she asked, challenging his gaze.

"You make a very proper man," he answered, laughing.

"And I am as hungry as two!" she retorted. "I have eaten nothing for
many hours. I wonder if----"

"What a fool I am," he broke in brusquely. "I never thought of that. I
will do what I can at once."

Without further delay he began to prepare a meal, heating an already
roasted partridge on a spit, and making coffee, which, with biscuit he
set before her.

"It is not exactly a Savoy supper, but----"

"It will be better," she broke in gaily, "for I was never so hungry in
my life."

"Then eat! There are one or two little things I want to attend to, if
you will excuse me."

"Certainly," she replied laughingly. "It will be less embarrassing if
there is no witness of my gluttony."

Stane once more left the camp, taking with him a hatchet, and presently
returned dragging with him branches of young spruce with which he
formed a bed a little way from the tent, and within the radius of the
heat from the fire. On this he threw a blanket, and his preparation for
the night completed, turned to the girl once more.

"I never enjoyed a meal so much in my life," she declared, as she
lifted the tin plate from her lap. "And this coffee is delicious. Won't
you have some, Mr. Stane?"

"Thank you, Miss a--Miss----"

"Yardely is my name," she said quickly, "Helen Yardely." He took the
coffee as she handed it to him in an enamelled mug, then he said: "How
did you come to be adrift, Miss Yardely?"

As he asked the question a thoughtful look came on the girl's beautiful
face.

"I was making a little trip by myself," she said slowly, "to see a
beaver dam in a creek a little below our encampment, and some one shot
at me!"

"Shot at you!" Stane stared at her in amazement as he gave the
exclamation.

"Yes, twice! The second shot broke my paddle, and as I had no spare
one, and as I cannot swim, I could do nothing but drift with the
current."

"But who can have done such a thing?" cried the young man.

"I have not the slightest idea, unless it was some wandering Indian,
but I am quite sure it was not an accident. I saw the first shot strike
the water close to the canoe. It came from some woods on the left bank,
and I cried out to warn the shooter whom I could not see. It was about
four minutes after when the second shot was fired, and the bullet hit
the shaft of the paddle, so that it broke on my next stroke, and I was
left at the mercy of the river."

"And no more shots were fired?"

"None!"

Stane sat there with a very thoughtful look upon his face; and after a
moment Miss Yardely spoke again.

"What do you think, Mr. Stane?"

He shook his head. "I do not know what to think, Miss Yardely," he said
slowly, "but it looks as if the thing had been done deliberately."

"You mean that some one tried to kill me?"

"No, not that," was the reply. "You would offer too fair a mark for any
one accustomed to handling a rifle to miss. I mean that there was a
deliberate attempt to set you adrift in the canoe. The first shot, you
say, struck the water near you, the second smashed your paddle, and
after that there was no more firing. Why? The only answer is that the
shooter had accomplished his object."

"It certainly has that appearance," answered the girl. "But why should
any one do a thing like that?"

"That is quite beyond me. It was so brutal a thing to do!"

"Some roaming Indian possibly," suggested Miss Yardely thoughtfully.

"But as you asked just now, why? Indians are not so rich in cartridges
that they can afford to waste them on a mere whim."

"No, perhaps not," said the girl. "But I can think of no one else." She
was silent for a moment, then she added, "Whoever did the vile thing
frightened me badly. It is not nice to sit helpless in a canoe drifting
out into such a wilderness as this." She waved her hand round the
landscape as she spoke, and gave a little shudder. "You see I never
knew what was coming next. I passed some islands and hoped that I might
strike one of them, but the current swept me clear, and for hours I sat
staring, watching the banks go by, and wondering how long it would be
before I was missed; and then, I suppose I must have fallen asleep,
because I remember nothing more until just before I was thrown into the
water."

"It was a very fortunate thing you struck those rocks," said Stane
meditatively.

"Fortunate, Mr. Stane? Why?"

"Because in all probability I should not have seen you if you had not;
and a few miles below here, there are some bad rapids, and below them
the river makes a leap downwards of nearly a hundred feet."

"A fall?" cried the girl, her face blanching a little, as she flashed a
glance downstream. "Oh, that would have been terrible! It was fortunate
that you were here."

"Very," he agreed earnestly, "and I am beginning to think that it was
providential; though all day I have been cursing my luck that I should
have been in this neighbourhood at all. I have no business here."

"Then why----" she began, and stopped as if a little afraid that her
question was too frankly curious.

It was so that Stane understood the interrupted utterance. He laughed a
little, and then answered:

"You need not mind asking, Miss Yardely; because the truth is that my
presence in this neighbourhood is due to a mystery that is almost as
insoluble as the one that brought you drifting downstream. On the night
after you arrived at Fort Malsun, I was waiting at my tent door
for--er--a man whom I expected a visit from, when I was knocked on the
head by an Indian, and when I came to, I found I was a prisoner, under
sentence of deportation. We travelled some days, rather a roundabout
journey, as I have since guessed, and one morning I awoke to find my
captors had disappeared, leaving me with my canoe and stores and arms
absolutely untouched."

"That was a strange adventure, Mr. Stane."

"So I think," answered Stane with conviction.

"What do you think was the reason for your deportation?"

"I do not know," answered Stane thoughtfully. "My chief captor said it
was an order, but that may have been a lie; and such wildly possible
reasons that I can think of are so inherently improbable that it is
difficult to entertain any of them. And yet----"

He broke off, and an absent look came in his eyes. The girl waited,
hoping that he would continue, and whilst she did so for one moment
visioned Miskodeed in all her wild barbaric beauty and her mind,
recalling Ainley's words upon the matter of the girl's relation to the
man before her, wondered if there lay the reason. Stane still remained
silent, showing no disposition to complete his thought; and it was the
girl who broke the silence.

"You say you were waiting for a man when you were seized, Mr. Stane;
tell me, was the man Gerald Ainley?"

The young man was a little startled by her question, as his manner
showed; but he answered frankly: "Yes! But how did you guess that?"

Helen Yardely smiled. "Oh, that was quite easy. You were the topic of
conversation at the dinner-table on the very night that you
disappeared; and I gathered that to the factor you were something of a
mystery, whilst no one except Mr. Ainley knew anything whatever about
you. As you and he were old acquaintances, what more natural than that
you should be waiting for him? I suppose he did not come?"

"If he did, I never saw him--and I waited for him two nights!"

"Two!" cried Helen. "Then he could not have wanted to come."

"I rather fancy he did not," replied Stane with a bitter laugh.

"You wished to see him very much?" asked the girl quickly. "It was
important that you should?"

"I wished to question him upon a matter that was important to me."

"Ah!" said the girl in a tone that was full of significance. Stane
looked at her sharply, and then asked a question:

"What are you thinking, Miss Yardely?"

"Oh, I was just thinking that I had guessed one of your wildly possible
reasons, Mr. Stane; and to tell the truth, if Mr. Ainley was really
anxious to avoid answering your questions, it does not seem to me so
inherently improbable as you appear to think."

"What convinces you of that, Miss Yardely?"

"Well," she replied quickly, "you say the Indian told you that it was
an order. I ask myself--whose order? There were very few people at Fort
Malsun to give orders. I think of them in turn. The factor? You were a
stranger to him! My uncle? He never heard of you except in gossip over
the dinner-table the night you were deported. Gerald Ainley? He knew
you! He had made appointments with you that he twice failed to
keep--which, quite evidently, he had no intention of keeping. He
had--may I guess?--some strong reason for avoiding you; and he is a man
of some authority in the Company and moving to still greater. He would
not know the Indians who actually carried you away; but Factor Rodwell
would, and factors are only human, and sooner or later Gerald Ainley
will be able to considerably influence Mr. Rodwell's future.
Therefore--well, Q.E.D.! Do you not agree with me?"

"I find your argument convincing," answered Stane, grimly. Then he
lapsed into thoughtful silence, whilst the girl watched him, wondering
what was in his mind. Presently she knew, for most unexpectedly the
young man gave vent to a short laugh.

"What a fool the man is!" he declared. "He must know that we shall meet
again some time!... But, Miss Yardely, I am keeping you from your rest!
We must start betimes in the morning if I am to take you back to your
uncle."

"If you take me back----?"

"There is no question of that," he answered promptly. "I could not
dream of leaving you here."

"I was about to say you would very likely meet Gerald Ainley. He has
joined my uncle's party."

"So much the better," cried Stane. "I shall certainly go."

There was a flash in his blue eyes, a grim look in his face, and
instinctively Helen Yardely knew that the matter which lay between this
man and Gerald Ainley was something much more serious than forced
deportation. What it was she could not guess, and though after she had
retired to the tent she lay awake thinking of the matter, when she fell
asleep she was as far off as ever from anything that offered a solution
of the question which troubled her. And outside, staring into the fire,
his strong face the index of dark thoughts, Hubert Stane sat through
the short night of the Northland summer, never once feeling the need of
sleep, reviewing from a different angle the same question as that which
had perplexed the mind of the girl in the tent.

At the first hint of dawn, Stane rose from his seat, gathered up the
girl's now dry raiment, and put it in a heap at the tent door, then
procuring a canvas bucket of water he set that beside the clothes and
busied himself with preparing breakfast. After a little time Helen
emerged from the tent. Her eyes were bright, her beautiful face was
radiant with health, and it was clear that she was no worse for her
experience of the day before.

"Good morning, Mr. Stane," she said in gay salutation, "you are the
early bird. I hope you slept well."

"May I reciprocate the hope, Miss Yardely?"

"Never better, thank you. I think hunger and adventure must be
healthful. I slept like the Seven Sleepers rolled into one; I feel as
fresh as the morning, and as hungry as--well, you will see," she ended
with a laugh.

"Then fall to," he said, joining in the laughter. "The sooner the
breakfast is over the sooner we shall start."

"I warn you I am in no hurry," she retorted gaily. "I quite like this.
It is the real thing; whilst my uncle's camps are just civilization
imposing itself on the wilderness."

"But your uncle! You must think of him, Miss Yardely. You have now been
away an afternoon and a night. He will be very anxious."

"Yes!" she said, "that's the pity of it. If it were not for that----"
She broke off suddenly, gave a little laugh, and for no apparent reason
her face flushed rosily. "But you must restore me to the bosom of my
family soon!"

"More's the pity!" said Stane to himself under his breath; his
heart-beats quickening as he looked at her radiant face and laughing
eyes; whilst openly he said: "I will do my best. You will be able to
help me to paddle against the current, and no doubt in a little time we
shall meet a search-party coming to look for you."

"Then my little jaunt will be over! But you must not surrender me until
you have seen my uncle, Mr. Stane."

Stane laughed. "I will hold you against the world until then, Miss
Yardely."

"And perhaps you will see Gerald Ainley, as you wish," she said,
glancing at him to watch the effect of her words.

The laughter died swiftly from his face, and a stern light came into
his eyes. "Yes," he said grimly, "perhaps I shall. Indeed that is my
hope."

Helen Yardely did not pursue the matter further. Again she glimpsed
depths that she did not understand, and as she ate her breakfast, she
glanced from time to time at her companion, wondering what was between
him and Ainley, and wondering in vain.

Breakfast finished, they struck camp, launched the canoe and began to
paddle upstream. The current was strong, and their progress slow, but
after some three hours they arrived at the junction of the two rivers.
Then Stane asked a question.

"Which way did you come, Miss Yardely? Down the main stream or the
other one?"

The girl looked towards the meeting of the waters doubtfully. "I do not
know," she said. "I certainly do not remember coming through that rough
water."

"Your uncle's party had of course travelled some way since I left Fort
Malsun?"

"Oh yes; we had made long journeys each day and we were well on our way
to--wait a moment. I shall remember the name--to--to old Fort Winagog."

"Winagog?" said Stane.

"Yes! That is the name. I remember my uncle mentioning it yesterday."

"Then you came down the main stream for a certainty, for the old fort
stands on a lake that finds an outlet into this river, though it is
rather a long way from here. We will keep straight on. No doubt we
shall strike either your uncle's camp or some search party presently."

As it happened the conclusion he reached was based on a miscalculation.
The only waterway to old Fort Winagog that he knew was from the main
river and up the stream that formed the outlet for the lake. But there
was another that was reached by a short portage through the woods from
the subsidiary stream from which he turned aside, a waterway which fed
the lake, and which cut off at least a hundred and twenty miles.
Knowing nothing of this shorter route he naturally concluded that Helen
Yardely's canoe had come down the main stream, and took the wrong
course in the perfect assurance that it was the right one.

So hugging the left bank they passed the junction of the rivers, and a
little further on crossed to the other side to seek shelter from a
rising wind, under the high bank. And less than an hour later the
canoe, carrying Gerald Ainley and his Indian, swept out of the
tributary stream into the broader current, and they drove downstream,
unconscious that every stroke of the paddle was taking them further
from the girl whom they sought.



CHAPTER VII

STRANDED


It was high noon when Hubert Stane directed the nose of the canoe
towards a landing-place in the lee of a sand-bar, on the upperside of
which was a pile of dry driftwood suitable for firing.

"We will take an hour's rest, Miss Yardely; and possibly whilst we are
waiting your friends may show up."

He lit a fire, prepared a wilderness meal of bacon and beans (the
latter already half-cooked) and biscuit and coffee, and as they
consumed it, he watched the river, a long stretch of which was visible.

"I thought we should have encountered your friends before now, Miss
Yardely," he remarked thoughtfully.

The girl smiled. "Are you anxious to get rid of me?" she asked.
"Believe me, I am enjoying myself amazingly, and if it were not for the
anxiety my uncle and the others will be feeling, I should not trouble
at all. This----" she waved a hand towards the canoe and the river--"is
so different from my uncle's specially conducted tour."

"Oh, I am not at all anxious to be rid of you," laughed Stane, "but I
cannot help wondering whether we have not taken the wrong turn. You
see, if we have, every yard takes us further from your uncle's camp."

"But this is the way to Fort Winagog?" asked the girl.

"It is the only way I know."

"Then we must be going right, for I distinctly heard my uncle say we
were within a day's journey of the place."

"The thing that worries me is that we have met no one looking for you."

"No doubt they will thoroughly search the neighbourhood of the camp and
the beaver-dam before going further afield. Also, you must remember
that it might be dinner-time last night before I was missed."

"Yes," he agreed, "that is very likely. On which bank of the river was
the camp?"

"This bank--the left coming down."

"Then we will hug the shore this afternoon, and no doubt we shall find
it before supper-time."

But in that anticipation he was mistaken. The long day drew to its
close and the camp they sought had not appeared; nor had any
search-party materialized. As they pitched camp for the night, the
doubt which all day had been in Stane's mind became a certainty.

"I am afraid we have made a mistake, Miss Yardely. You must have come
down the other river. It is impossible that we can have missed the
camp; and we must have seen any boat coming down this empty water."

"But we are going towards Fort Winagog?"

"Yes. On the other hand you must remember that a paddle-driven canoe
travels much faster than a merely drifting one; and that we ourselves,
assuming that we are on the right way, all day have been shortening the
distance that a search-party would have to travel. We ought to have met
some time ago. I think we shall have to turn back in the morning."

"Must we?" asked the girl. "Can't we go on to Fort Winagog? I can wait
there till my uncle appears, and I shall not be taking you further out
of your way. I am afraid I am putting you to a good deal of trouble,
and wasting your time."

"Time is not of much account to me," laughed Stane shortly. "And what
you suggest is impossible."

"Why?" demanded Helen.

"Because old Fort Winagog is a fort no longer. It is a mere ruin like
old Fort Selkirk. There may be an Indian or two in the neighbourhood.
There is certainly no one else."

"Then we shall have to go back?" said the girl.

"It seems to be the only way," was the reply. "If we are wrong, as I am
convinced we are, every yard we go takes us further from your people."

"I am sorry to give you all this trouble," said the girl contritely.

"Please--please!" he answered in quick protest. "Believe me it is a
pleasure to serve you, and with me a few days do not matter. I shall
have enough of my own company before long."

"You live alone?" asked Helen.

"I have an old Indian for companion."

"And what do you do, if you will permit me to be so curious?"

"Oh," he laughed. "I hunt, I pursue the elusive nugget, and I
experiment with vegetables. And this winter I am going to start a
trapping line."

"But you are rich!" she cried. "You have no need to live in exile."

"Yes," he answered with sudden bitterness. "I am rich. I suppose Ainley
told you that. But exile is the only thing for me. You see a sojourn in
Dartmoor spoils one for county society."

"Oh," she cried protestingly, "I cannot believe that you--that you----"

"Thank you," he said as the girl broke off in confusion. "I cannot
believe it myself. But twelve good men and true believed it; an expert
in handwriting was most convincing, and if you had heard the judge----"

"But you did not do it, Mr. Stane, I am sure of that."

"No," he answered, "I did not do the thing for which I suffered. But to
prove my innocence is another matter."

"You have not given up the endeavour, I hope."

"No! I have a man at work in England, and I myself make small
endeavours. Only the other day I thought that I----" Apparently he
remembered something, for he broke off sharply. "But why discuss the
affair? It is only one of the world's small injustices which shows that
the law, usually right, may go wrong occasionally."

But Helen Yardely was not so easily to be turned aside. Whilst he had
been speaking a thought had occurred to her, and now took the form of a
question.

"I suppose that the other night when you were waiting for Mr. Ainley,
it was on this particular matter that you wished to see him?"

"What makes you think that?" Stane asked quickly.

Helen Yardely smiled. "It is not difficult to guess. You told me last
night that you wished to question him on a matter that was important to
you. And this matter--Well! it needs no argument."

"It might be something else, Miss Yardely," was the evasive reply.

"Yes, it might be," answered the girl, "but I do not think it is."

Stane made no reply, but sat looking in the fire, and the girl watching
him, drew her own conclusion from his silence, a conclusion that was
far from favourable to Gerald Ainley. She wondered what were the
questions Stane had wished to ask her uncle's secretary; and which, as
she was convinced, he had been at such pains to avoid. Was it possible
that her rescuer believed that his one-time friend had it in his power
to prove his innocence of the crime for which he had suffered? All the
indications seemed to point that way; and as she looked at the grave,
thoughtful face, and the greying hair of the man who had saved her from
death, she resolved that on the morrow, when she reached her uncle's
camp, she would herself question Gerald Ainley upon the matter.

But, as events befell, the opportunity that the morrow was to bring was
not given. For that night, whilst she slept in the little tent, and
Stane, wrapped in a blanket, slumbered on a bed of spruce-boughs,
perhaps half-a-dozen yards away, a man crept cautiously between the
trees in the rear of the encampment, and stood looking at it with
covetous eyes. He was a half-breed of evil countenance, and he carried
an old trade gun, which he held ready for action whilst he surveyed the
silent camp. His dark eyes fell on Stane sleeping in the open, and then
looked towards the tent with a question in them. Evidently he was
wondering how many travellers there were; and found the thought a
deterrent one; for though once he lifted his gun and pointed it to the
sleeping man, he lowered it again, his eyes turning to the tent anew.

After a period of indecision, the intruder left the shadow of the
trees, and crept quietly down to the camp, his gun still at the ready,
and with his eyes fixed on the unconscious Stane. Moving very
cautiously he reached the place where the canoe was beached, and looked
down into it. A gleam of satisfaction came into his dark eyes as he saw
a small sack of beans reposing in the stern, then again a covetous look
came into them as their gaze shifted to the stores about the camp. But
these were very near the sleeping man, and as the latter stirred in his
sleep, the half-breed relinquished any thought of acquiring them.
Stealthily he conveyed the canoe down to the water's edge, launched it,
and then with a grin on his evil face as he gave a last look at the man
in the blanket, he paddled away.

A full three-quarters of an hour later Stane awoke, and kicking aside
the blankets, replenished the fire, and then went a little way upstream
to bathe. At the end of half an hour he returned. His first glance was
towards the tent, the fly of which was still closed, then he looked
round the camp and a puzzled look came on his face. There was something
a little unfamiliar, something not present which----

"Great Scott! The canoe!"

As the words shot from him he hurried forward. Quite distinctly he
remembered carrying it up the bank the night before, and now----.
Inside half a minute he found himself looking at the place where it had
lain. The impression of it was quite clear on the dewy grass, and there
were other impressions also--impressions of moccasined-feet going down
to the edge of the water. For a moment he stared unbelievingly; then as
a thought occurred to him he glanced at the tent again. Had the girl in
his absence taken the canoe and----

The thought died as soon as it was born, and he began to follow the
tracks on the damp grass, backward. They skirted the camp in a small
semi-circle, and led to the forest behind, where on the dry pine
needles they were not quite so easy to follow. But follow them he did,
and in a couple of minutes reached a place where it was evident some
one had stood for a considerable time. This spot was in the shadow of a
great spruce, and standing behind the trunk he looked towards the camp.
The fire and the white tent were plain to be seen. Then he understood
what had happened. Some one had seen the encampment and had waited in
the place where he now stood, probably to reconnoitre, and then had
made off with the canoe. A thought leaped into his mind at that moment,
and brought with it a surge of fear.

"The stores. If----"

At a run he covered the space between him and the camp, and as he
looked round and saw that most of the stores reposed where he had
placed them the previous night, relief surged in his heart.

"Thank heaven!"

"Mr. Stane, what is the matter? You look as if something had startled
you."

He swung round instantly. Helen Yardely was standing at the tent door
with a smile on her face.

"The matter is serious enough," he explained quickly. "Some one has
stolen the canoe in the night."

"Stolen the canoe!" echoed the girl.

"Yes! You can see his tracks in the grass, going up to the place where
he stood and watched us. He must have come down whilst we slept."

"But who can have done such a thing?"

Stane shook his head. "I cannot think. A wandering Indian most
likely.... Hard put to it, I expect. He has taken a sack of beans with
him."

"Then we are stranded?" asked the girl quickly.

"In a way--yes," he agreed. "But we are not in a desperate case. We
have food, I have my rifle, and it will be possible to make a raft and
float down the river until we meet your uncle's people."

The girl looked at the river doubtfully. "What sort of control shall we
have over a raft?"

"Well," he said, "I should make a steering oar."

"And if the current took control, Mr. Stane? Please believe me when I
say I am not afraid--but I cannot help thinking of those falls you
mentioned."

Stane looked thoughtful. For the moment he had forgotten the falls, and
as he remembered the quickening of the current at the meeting of the
rivers he recognized there was reason in the girl's question.

"There are risks, of course," he said. "The alternative to the river is
to tramp through the wood."

"Then I vote for the alternative," replied Helen with a little laugh.
"I've had my full of drifting like a fly caught in an eddy."

Stane looked down the river and from the river to the woods which lined
its banks.

"It will be difficult," he said. "This is virgin forest."

"Pooh," retorted the girl lightly. "You can't make me afraid, Mr.
Stane. Ever since I left Edmonton with my uncle's party I've wanted to
rough it--to know what the wilderness really is. Now's my chance--if
you don't deprive me of it."

In spite of the seriousness of the situation, Stane laughed.

"Oh, I won't deprive you of it, Miss Yardely. We'll start after
breakfast; but I warn you, you don't know what you are in for."

"Job's comforter!" she mocked him laughingly. "I'm going to fill the
kettle. A cup of tea will cheer you up and make you take a rosier view
of things."

She said no more, but taking the kettle, walked down to the river,
humming to herself a gay little chanson.

    "Qui va là! There's someone in the orchard,
      There's a robber in the apple-trees,
    Qui va là! He is creeping through the doorway.
      Ah, allez-vous-en! va-t'-en!"

He watched her go, with a soft light gleaming in his hard blue eyes,
then he turned and began to busy himself with preparations for
breakfast. When the meal was finished, he went through the stores and
his personal possessions.

"We can't take them all," he explained. "I know my limit, and sixty
pounds is as much as I can carry along if I am to travel steadily,
without too many rests. We shall have to cache a goodish bit."

"You are forgetting me, aren't you?" asked the girl, quietly. "I'm
fairly strong, you know."

"But----"

"I think I must insist," she interrupted with a smile. "You are doing
all this for me; and quite apart from that, I shall be glad to know
what the trail is like under real conditions."

Stane argued further, but in vain, and in the end the girl had her way,
and took the trail with a pack of perhaps five and twenty pounds,
partly made up of the clothes she had changed into after her rescue.
Stane knew the woods; he guessed what havoc the trail would make of
skirts and for that reason he included the clothing in her pack,
foreseeing that there would be further need of them.

As they started the girl began to hum:

    "Some talk of Alexander
    And some of Hercules."

Stane laughed over his shoulder.

"I'm afraid a quick step will be out of keeping soon, Miss Yardely."

"Why?" she asked interrupting her song.

"Well--packing on trail is necessarily a slow business; and there's
rough country between these two rivers."

"You are trying to scare me because I'm a tenderfoot," she retorted
with a laugh that was like music in Stane's ears; "but I won't be
scared."

She resumed her song with a gay air of bravado; passing from one chanty
to another in a voice fluty as a blackbird. Stane smiled to himself. He
liked her spirit, and he knew that that would carry her through the
difficulties that lay before them, even when the flesh was inclined to
failure. But presently the springs of song dried up, and when the
silence had lasted a little time he looked round. The girl's face was
flushed, and the sweat was dropping in her eyes.

"Nothing the matter, I hope, Miss Yardely?"

"No, thank you," she answered with a little attempt to laugh; "but one
can't sing, you know, with mosquitoes and other winged beasts popping
into one's mouth."

"They are rather a nuisance," he agreed and plodded on.

Packing one's worldly possessions through the pathless wilderness is a
slow, grinding misery. The lightest pack soon becomes a burden. At the
beginning of a march it may seem a mere nothing, in an hour it is an
oppression; in three a millstone is a feather compared with it; and
before night the inexperienced packer feels that, like Atlas, he bears
the world upon his shoulders. It was therefore little wonder that Helen
Yardely ceased to sing after they had marched but a very little way;
and indeed the trail, apart from the apparently growing weight of the
pack, was not favourable to song. There was no sort of path whatever
after they had left the river bank; nothing but the primeval forest,
with an undergrowth that was so dense that the branches of one bush
were often interwoven with its neighbours. Through this they had to
force their way, head down, hands and clothes suffering badly in the
process. Then would come a patch of Jack-pine, where trees seven to ten
feet high grew in such profusion that it was well-nigh impossible to
find a passage between them; and on the heels of this would follow a
stretch of muskeg, quaking underfoot, and full of boggy traps for the
unwary. In the larger timber also, the deadfalls presented an immense
difficulty. Trees, with their span of life exhausted, year after year,
had dropped where they stood, and dragging others down in their fall,
cumbered the ground in all directions, sometimes presenting tangled
barriers which it was necessary to climb over, a method not
unaccompanied by danger, since in the criss-cross of the branches and
trunks a fall would almost inevitably have meant a broken limb.

The ground they travelled over was uneven, intersected here and there
by gullies, which were only to be skirted by great expense of time and
energy, and the crossing of which was sometimes dangerous, but had
perforce to be accomplished, and by noon, when they reached the bank of
a small stream, the girl was exhausted and her face wore a strained
look. Stane saw it, and halting, took off his pack.

"Time for grub," he said.

Then unstrapping his pack he stretched a blanket on the sloping ground.
The girl watched him with interest.

"Why----" she began, only to be promptly interrupted.

"For you," he explained briefly. "Lie down and relax your limbs. Pull
this other blanket over you, then you won't chill."

"But I want to help," she protested. "I don't like to feel that you are
working and I----"

"You will help best by obeying orders," he said smilingly. "We shall
have to push on after an hour, and if you don't rest you will be too
done up to keep the trail till evening."

"Then I must obey," she said.

He turned to look for wood with which to make a fire, and when he
returned she was lying on the blanket with another drawn over her, and
her eyes smiled at him as he appeared. The next minute they were
closed, and two minutes later she was fast asleep. Stane, as he
realized the fact, smiled a little to himself.

"Of spirit compact," he murmured to himself, and went forward with
preparations for a meal.

It was two hours later when the girl awoke, and the meal was ready--a
quite substantial one.

"Have I slept long?" inquired Helen, moving towards the fire.

"Two hours. But don't worry about that. We have lost no time really,
for I have done a little exploring. There's a stretch of high ground in
front of us, a kind of height of land between the river we have left
and the one we are making for. Once we are well across that we shall
find the going easier. We'll tackle it this afternoon. I've found
something, like a path, an old trapping-line I should think by the way
the trees have been blazed."

When the meal was finished they put out the fire and started anew, and,
by evening, had passed the crest of the high land between the rivers,
and were moving down the wooded slopes on the further side looking for
a camping place. The timber thickened, and they suddenly encountered a
tremendous barrier of deadfall ten or eleven feet high, with the fallen
trunks criss-crossing in all directions. From the further side of it
came the ripple of running water proclaiming a stream and the water
they were seeking.

"It is exasperating," said Stane, with a little laugh. "But we must
climb the beastly thing. If we try to go round it, we shall probably
only encounter others. I'll go first and have a look at the other
side."

He began to climb the obstruction and when he reached the top looked
down at the tangle of trunks below.

"It's pretty bad," he shouted to the watching girl. "You had better
wait until I find a way down."

He began to crawl gingerly along the monarch tree at the crown of the
pile. Its branches were twisted in all directions and dangerous snags
were frequent. Suddenly his foot slipped. He made a wild attempt to
regain his balance but the heavy pack prevented him, and a second later
with a shout he plunged into the tangled pile below, vanishing from the
girl's sight on the further side. With a swift cry of alarm, Helen, who
had been seated on a fallen trunk, leaped to her feet. She called out
to him, her voice shaking with fear:

"Mr. Stane! Mr. Stane!"

There came no answering hail from the other side of the deadfall, and
with dismay manifesting itself in her beautiful face, the girl faced
the barrier and began to climb with reckless, desperate haste.



CHAPTER VIII

A MEETING IN THE FOREST


Gerald Ainley's canoe had almost reached the junction of the rivers, on
the return journey, and he and his companion were battling hard against
the acceleration of the current, when the Indian gave a grunt and
looked round.

"What is it, Joe?" asked Ainley quickly.

"Man with canoe," answered the Indian laconically. "He make a portage."

"Where?"

"Up river," replied the Indian with a jerk of his head. Ainley craned
his neck a little and, as he did so, just caught sight of a man moving
across an open place between the trees a quarter of a mile away, the
canoe over his head and shoulder like a huge cowl.

"We must speak to him, Joe! Perhaps he has news," said Ainley quickly,
and a second later shouted at the top of his voice. "Hal--lo--o--o!"

That the man heard the hail was sure for both of them saw him halt and
turn to look downstream, but the next moment he turned, and, continuing
his journey, was instantly lost in the thick of the trees.

"That was queer," said Ainley. "He heard me, but whoever he is he
doesn't want to speak to us."

"We catch him," replied the Indian. "Make land below the meeting of the
waters, and portage through woods to other river. Meet him there."

As he spoke the native began to make a course across the river, and
Ainley asked for information.

"I don't understand, Joe. If we land below the junction how can we meet
a man who lands above?"

"Both go the same way," grunted the Indian. "Walk to meet the man. We
make short portage, and wait for him across the water. He come and we
meet him."

Ainley still was in a fog, but when they had landed and had started to
follow a well-defined path through the forest, he understood. The
direction they were following would bring them to the bank of the
tributary river, perhaps a mile and a half from the meeting of the
waters; and the path which the stranger was following would bring him
out on the opposite side of the river. If Joe were right the lower
portage was the shorter, and, notwithstanding that the other man had
the start, they could reach the river first and would be able to force
a meeting on him however much he wished to avoid them.

After half an hour's steady trudging through the woods, they came in
sight of the water once more, and set their burdens down behind a
screen of bushes.

"We first," said the Indian after a cautious survey of the empty river.
"Wait! He come."

Seated behind the screening bushes they waited, watching the other side
of the river. Half an hour passed and the man for whom they watched did
not appear. Then the Indian spoke.

"The man know," he said. "He wait till we go."

"But why should he be afraid?" asked Ainley sharply.

"I not know! But he wait."

"Then if the mountain won't come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the
mountain."

"What that?" asked the Indian.

"We will cross the river," said Ainley. "We will go look for him."

"Good!" said the Indian.

Five minutes later they were afloat once more, and in a few minutes had
landed on the further side.

"You stop here with the canoe, Joe," said Ainley picking up his rifle.
"I'll go and hunt up the fellow. If you hear me call, come along at
once."

The Indian nodded and proceeded to fill a pipe, whilst the white man,
following the track made by many feet portaging from one river to the
other, moved into the woods. He made no attempt at concealment, nor did
he move with caution, for he was assured that in the dense wood a man
burdened with a canoe could not turn aside from the path without
disaster overtaking him. If he kept straight on he was bound to meet
the man whom he sought.

That conviction proved to be well-grounded. He had been walking less
than ten minutes when he caught sight of the canoe lying directly in
his way, with the man who had been carrying it, seated on the ground
with his back against a tree, smoking. As the man caught sight of him
he started to his feet and stretched his hand towards a gun reposing
against a trunk. Holding his own rifle ready for action, Ainley shouted
reassuring words to the man, and then moved quickly forward. The man, a
half-breed, the same man who had stolen Stane's canoe, gave one keen
glance at him and then dropping his hand from the gun, awaited his
coming.

"Why did you run away when I shouted a while back?" asked Ainley
sharply.

"I not run," answered the half-breed, insolently. "I carry the canoe,
an' I tink I not wait. Dat is all."

Ainley looked at the man thoughtfully. There was something furtive
about the fellow, and he was sure that the reason given was not the
real one.

"Then why are you waiting here?" he asked with a directness that in no
way nonplussed the other.

"I take what you call a breather," answered the man stolidly. "What
matter to you?"

Ainley looked at him. He was sure the man was lying, but it was no
affair of his, and after a moment he turned to his main purpose.

"I wanted to ask you something," he said. "A white girl has been lost
on the river--she is a niece of a great man in the Company, and I am
looking for her. Have you seen her?"

"What she like?" asked the half-breed with a sudden quickening of
interest.

Ainley described Helen Yardely to the best of his ability, watching the
other's evil face whilst he did so, and before he had ended guessed
that the man knew something of the girl he was seeking.

"You have seen her?" he cried abruptly.

"Oui!" replied the half-breed. "I haf seen her, one, two, tree days
ago. She is in canoe on zee river," he pointed towards the water as he
spoke, and waved his hand towards the south. "She is ver' beautiful;
an' I watch her for zee pleasure, vous comprenez? And anoder man he
watched also. I see him, an' I see him shoot with zee gun--once, twice
he shoot."

"You saw him shoot?" Ainley's face had gone suddenly white, and there
was a tremor in his voice as he asked his questions. "Do you mean he
shot the girl?"

"No! No! Not zee girl. He very bad shot if he try. Non! It was zee
paddle he try for, an' he get it zee second shot. I in the woods this
side zee river an' I see him, as he stand behind a tree to watch what
zee girl she will do."

"You saw him?" asked Ainley, in a faltering voice. "Who was he?"

"I not know," answered the half-breed quickly, "but I tink I see heem
again since."

"You think----"

"Oui! I tink I talk with heem, now."

There was a look of malicious triumph on the half-breed's face, and an
alert look in his furtive eyes as he made the accusation. For a moment
stark fear looked out of Ainley's eyes and he visibly flinched, then he
recovered himself and broke into harsh laughter.

"You think? Then you think wrong, and I wouldn't say that again if I
were you. It might lead to sudden trouble. If I were the man who fired
those shots why should I be spending my time looking for her as I am?"

"I not know," said the half-breed sullenly.

"No, I should think not; so you had better put that nonsense out of
your head, now, once for all; for if you go about telling that mad tale
you'll surely be taken for a madman and the mounted police----" He
broke off as a flash of fear manifested itself in the half-breed's
face, then he smiled maliciously. "I see you do not like the police,
though I daresay they would like to meet you, hey?"

The man stood before him dumb, and Ainley, convinced that he had
stumbled on the truth, laughed harshly. "Stoney Mountain Penitentiary
is not a nice place. The silent places of the North are better; but if
I hear of you breathing a word of that rot you were talking just now, I
will send word to the nearest police-post of your whereabouts, and once
the mounters start after a man, as I daresay you know, they follow the
trail to a finish."

"Oui, I know," assented the man quickly.

"Then unless you want to land in their hands in double quick time
you'll tell no one of the silly mistake you made just now, or--well you
understand."

The half-breed nodded, and thinking that he had gone far enough, Ainley
changed the subject.

"And now tell me, have you seen that girl I asked you about since you
saw her three days back?"

A thoughtful look came in the half-breed's face, and his unsteady eyes
sought the canoe lying at his feet. He thought of the white tent on the
river bank and of the man sleeping outside of it, and instantly guessed
who had occupied the tent.

"Oui!" he replied laconically.

"You have?" Sudden excitement blazed in Ainley's face as he asked the
question. "When? Where?"

The half-breed visioned the sleeping camp once more, and with another
glance at the stolen canoe, gave a calculated answer. "Yesterday. She
go up zee oder river in a canoe with a white man."

"Up the other river?"

"Oui! I pass her and heem, both paddling. It seems likely dat dey go to
Fort Winagog. Dey paddle quick."

"Fort Winagog!" As he echoed the words, a look of thought came into
Ainley's eyes. Helen would have heard that name as the next destination
of the party, and if the man who had saved her from the river was in a
hurry and travelling that way it was just possible that she had decided
to accompany him there. He nodded his head at the thought, and then a
new question shot into his mind, a question to which he gave utterance.

"Who was the man--I mean the man who was with the girl in the canoe?"

"I not know," answered the half-breed, trying to recall the features of
the sleeping man whose canoe he had stolen. "Heem tall man, with hair
that curl like shavings."

"Tell me more," demanded Ainley sharply, as an unpleasant suspicion
shot into his mind.

"I not know more," protested the half-breed. "I see heem not ver'
close; an' I travel fast. I give heem an' girl one look, cry bonjour!
an' then he is past. Vous comprenez?"

"Yes," replied the white man standing there with a look of abstraction
on his face. For a full two minutes he did not speak again, but stood
as if resolving some plan in his mind, then he looked at the half-breed
again.

"You are going up the river?" he asked.

"Oui!"

"Then I want you to do something for me. A day's journey or so further
on you will find a camp, it is the camp of a great man of the
Company----"

"I know it," interrupted the half-breed, "I haf seen it."

"Of course, I had forgotten you had been in the neighbourhood of it!
Well, I want you to go there as fast as you can and to take a note for
me. There will be a reward."

"I will take zee note."

"Then you must wait whilst I write it."

Seating himself upon a fallen tree he scribbled a hasty note to Sir
James Yardely, telling him that he had news of Helen and that he hoped
very shortly to return to camp with her, and having addressed it gave
it to the half-breed.

"There is need for haste," he said. "I will reward you now, and the
great man whose niece the girl is, will reward you further when you
take the news of her that is in the letter. But you will remember not
to talk. I should say nothing about what you saw up the river a few
days back. Sir James is a suspicious man and he might think that you
fired those shots yourself--in which case----" He shrugged his
shoulders, then taking out a ten-dollar note, handed it to the
half-breed, whose eyes gleamed as he took it. "Now," he continued,
"shoulder your canoe, and come along to the river. I should like to see
you start. I'll carry your gun, and that sack of yours."

He took the half-breed's gun, picked up the beans, and in single file
they marched through the wood back to where the Indian sat patiently
waiting. On their appearance he looked round, and as his eyes fell on
the half-breed's face a momentary flash came into them, and then as it
passed he continued to look at the new-comer curiously.

Ainley rapidly explained the situation and the Indian listened without
comment. He waited until the half-breed was actually afloat and out of
earshot, and then he spoke.

"Bad man!" he said. "No good. Heem liar. I have seen heem b'fore."

"Maybe," answered Ainley lightly. "So much the better--for one thing!
But there's no reason why he should lie about this matter, and I think
he was telling the truth about that meeting up the other river. We'll
follow the trail anyway; and we will start at once. Will the portage or
the river be the better way?"

"Portage," said the Indian, following the half-breed with his eyes.

"Then we had better get going. We've no time to lose, and you needn't
worry yourself about that fellow. He'll do what I've asked him, for the
sake of himself. He can have no reason for doing otherwise."

But in that, as in his statement that the half-breed could have no
reason for lying, Ainley was mistaken. The stolen canoe was a very
ample reason, and so little inclined was the thief to seek the presence
of Sir James Yardely, that when he reached a creek three miles or so up
the river, he deliberately turned aside, and at his first camp he used
Ainley's note to light his pipe, tossing what was left of it into the
fire without the least compunction. Then, as he smoked, a look of
malice came on his face.

"No, I not meestake. Dat man fire zee shots. I sure of dat; an' by Gar!
I get heem one of dese days, an' I make heem pay for it, good an'
plenty. Mais--I wonder--why he shoot? I wonder eef zee white mees, she
knew?"

And whilst he sat wondering, Gerald Ainley and his Indian companion,
travelling late, toiled on, following the river trail to Fort Winagog
on a vain quest.



CHAPTER IX

UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE


Slowly, and with the pungent taste of raw brandy in his mouth, Hubert
Stane came to himself. The first thing he saw was Helen Yardely's white
face bending over him, and the first sound he heard was a cry of
sobbing gladness.

"Thank God! Thank God!"

He did not understand, and at her cry made an attempt to move. As he
did so, sharp pains assailed him, and forced a groan from his lips.

"Oh!" cried the girl. "You must lie still, Mr. Stane. I am afraid you
are rather badly hurt, indeed I thought you were killed. I am going to
do what I can for you, now that I know that you are not. Your leg is
broken, I think, and you have other injuries, but that is most serious,
and I must manage to set it, somehow."

"To set it----" he began, and broke off.

"Yes! I am afraid I shall not prove a very efficient surgeon; but I
will do my best. I hold the St. John's Ambulance medal, so you might be
worse off," she said, with a wan smile.

"Much," he agreed.

"Now that you are conscious I am going to leave you for a few minutes.
I must find something that will serve for splints."

Without more ado she departed, taking with her an ax, and presently
through the stillness of the forest there reached him the sound of
chopping. In spite of his pain he smiled to himself, then after
listening for awhile, he began to try and ascertain the extent of his
injuries for himself. There was a warm trickle on his face and he
guessed that there was a gash somewhere; his body seemed to be one
great sore, from which he deducted that he was badly bruised; whilst
his leg pained him intolerably. Lying as he was on the flat of his
back, he couldn't see the leg, and desiring to do so he made a great
effort and sat up. As he did so, he groaned heavily, and incontinently
fainted.

He was still unconscious when the girl returned, and after one quick
look of alarm she nodded to herself. "A faint," she whispered. "Perhaps
it is just as well."

With a knife she ripped the breeches leg right up the seam, then with
the aid of moss and a blanket, together with the rough splints she had
cut, she made a shift to set the broken leg. Twice during the operation
Stane opened his eyes, groaned heavily, and passed into unconsciousness
again.

Helen did not allow these manifestations of suffering to deflect her
from her task. She knew that her unskilled surgery was bound to pain
him severely, and she welcomed the lapses into unconsciousness, since
they made her task easier. At last she gave a sob of relief and stood
up to survey her handiwork. The splicing and the binding looked
terribly rough, but she was confident that the fractured ends of bone
were in position, and in any case she had done her best.

After that she busied herself with building a fire, and after heating
water, washed the wound on Stane's forehead, and carefully examined him
for other injuries. There were bruises in plenty, but so far as she
could discover no broken bones, and when she had satisfied herself on
that point, she turned to other tasks.

Cutting a quantity of young spruce-boughs she fashioned them into a bed
close beside where he lay, and filled all the interstices with springy
moss, laying over all a blanket. That done, she turned once more to
Stane, to find him with eyes wide open, watching her.

"I have set your leg," she said, in a matter-of-fact voice. "I've done
the best I could, though I am afraid it is rather a rough piece of
work."

He raised his head slightly, and glanced down at the bandaged limb,
then he smiled a trifle wanly.

"It has a most workmanlike look," he said in a faint voice.

"Now I want to get you on this bed. I ought to have done so before I
set your leg. I had forgotten that there was no one to help me lift you
on to it. But perhaps we shall be able to manage, though I am afraid it
will be a very painful ordeal for you. Still it must be done--we can't
have you lie upon the ground."

The ordeal was certainly a painful one, but by no means so difficult as
the girl had anticipated. Making a sling out of the pack ropes, Helen
held the injured leg clear of the ground, whilst Stane, using his arms
and his other leg, managed to lift himself backward on to his
improvised couch.

The strain of the effort tried him severely, and he lay for a long time
in an exhausted condition, with his eyes closed. This was no more than
Helen had expected, and she did not let the fact trouble her unduly.
Working methodically she erected the little tent in such a position
that it covered the injured man's bed; and then prepared a meal of such
things as their resources afforded, lacing the coffee she had made with
a little brandy.

Stane was too done up to eat much, but he swallowed a fair quantity of
coffee, whilst the girl forced herself to eat, having already realized
that the welfare of both of them for the time being depended upon her
and upon her strength. When the meal was ended, she found his pipe,
charged it for him, and procured him a light, and with a murmur of
thanks, Stane began to smoke.

From where he lay, through the open tent-fly, he could see a portion of
the windfall barrier which had been the cause of the disaster.

"I thought I was done for," he said as he looked towards the tangled
trunks. "I slipped and plunged right into a sort of crevasse, didn't
I?"

"Yes," answered Helen quietly. "It was a little time before I could
find you. There was a kind of den made by crossed trunks, and you had
slipped between them into it."

"How did you manage to get me out?" he asked, his eyes on the amazing
jumble of trunks and branches.

"Well," was the reply, given with a little laugh, "as I told you this
morning I am fairly strong. But it was a hard task for all that. I had
to cut away quite a number of interlacing branches, and hoist you out
of the crevasse with the pack ropes, then slide you down the deadfall
as best I could. It took me a full hour to get you clear of the trees
and safely to the ground, and all the time I was oppressed with the
thought that you were dead, or would die before I could do anything to
recover you. When I got you to the ground, I went through your pack and
found the brandy which I saw you place there this morning. The rest you
know."

Stane looked at her with eyes that glowed with admiration. "You make it
a little thing," he said gratefully, "but I know what it means. You
have saved my life, Miss Yardely."

The girl flushed crimson, and then laughed a little to hide her
embarrassment. "Oh, as to that--we are quits, Mr. Stane."

"Not quite," he said quietly.

"What do you mean?" she asked quickly.

"Well," he answered, speaking slowly and considering every word, "I am
tied here for some time--for weeks certainly. I can't move and I can't
be moved. You----"

"I!" she interrupted sharply. "I shall remain here. I shall nurse you.
There is nothing else to be done. I could not go forward a mile in this
wilderness of trees without being lost; and I certainly couldn't find
my way back to the river--even if I wanted to."

"But your uncle and friends. They will be looking for you, they will
think you are lost."

"There's no help for that," she answered resolutely. "You will be able
to do nothing for yourself. As you said just now you are tied here for
weeks; and I am tied with you. There is simply nothing else for it. You
were at my service when I needed you, and I am at your service now that
you need me. I think that is all that need be said."

"Perhaps some wandering Indian may show up," he said meditatively.
"Then----"

"I shall refuse to leave you before you are well," replied Helen with a
little laugh. "You are my patient, Mr. Stane--the very first that I
have had the chance of practising on; and you don't suppose I am going
to surrender the privilege that fate has given me? No! If my uncle
himself showed up at this moment, I should refuse to leave you until I
saw how my amateur bone-setting turned out. So there! That is my
ultimatum, sir."

There was an almost merry note in her voice, but there was a note of
resolve also; and Stane's gratitude and admiration increased. He looked
at her with grateful eyes. Her face was rosy, her eyes were bright with
laughter, though they turned away in some confusion as they met his.

"You are a very noble----"

"Oh," she interrupted quickly, her face taking a deeper hue. "You do
not know me yet. You haven't seen me at my worst. You don't know how
catty I can feel sometimes. Wait until you do, and then you can deliver
judgment."

She ended with laughter, and rose from her seat as if to leave the
tent; seeing which Stane spoke quickly.

"Whatever the worst or best of you may be, I am happy to be in your
hands!"

"Just wait until I have shown my claws," she said over her shoulder, as
she passed outside.

Stane lay quite still with a very thoughtful look in his eyes. Outside
he could hear her moving about, singing softly to herself. He caught a
line or two, and his memory instantly supplied the rest.

    "Under the greenwood tree
    Who loves to lie with me,
    And turn his merry note
    Unto the sweet bird's throat,
    Come hither, come hither, come hither;
    Here shall we see
    No enemy,
    But winter and rough weather."

He smiled to himself, and a soft look came into his eyes. The girl was
making a jest of a situation that would have appalled multitudes of her
over-civilized sisters, and he marvelled at her courage. The glow in
his eyes grew brighter as he stared into vacancy. Some day-dream
softened the stern lines in his face, and for a few minutes the spell
of it held him. Then suddenly he frowned, and a little harsh laugh
broke from his lips.

"You fool!" he whispered to himself. "You fool!"

A moment later the girl entered the tent again. In her hand she carried
a rather decrepit hussif and a hank of strong linen thread. She held
them down for him to see.

"I am making free with your possessions, Mr. Stane, but there's no help
for it. I simply must repair these rags of mine."

He looked at her and noticed for the first time that her blouse was
badly torn. Half of one sleeve was ripped away, and there was a long
tear through which he caught the gleam of a white shoulder. Her skirt
he saw was in no better case. She caught his glance and laughed.

"I'm a perfect Cinderella! It will take me hours to sew up these
rents."

"Do you think it is worth while?" he asked with a faint smile. "I'm not
much of a tailor myself; and I should look at that job as wasted
effort."

"But what else can I do?" she demanded. "I can't get in a taxi and run
down to Bond Street on a shopping expedition."

"No," he answered slowly, "but you might look in the pack you carried
today. There's a habit there that is better suited to the woods than
the one you have."

"Oh!" she cried, her grey eyes alight with laughter, and a little flush
in her cheeks. "You brought it along then?"

"I put it in your pack, because I knew that two days of trail in the
forest would reduce your present costume to shreds."

She eyed the hussif distastefully. "I hate sewing," she said. "I think
I will leave the repairs till morning. There is no immediate hurry that
I know of."

"Not at all," he answered with a little smile, and divining that his
advice would be accepted he turned to a fresh subject. "Where are you
going to sleep? You ought not to have given me the tent."

She waved a hand airily. "Outside. There isn't much room here. Like
R. L. S. sleeping out with his donkey I shall discover a new pleasure
for myself."

A quick light leaped in Stane's eyes and a smile came on his wan face.

"What are you smiling at?" demanded the girl laughingly. But he did not
tell her how his mind had recalled the context of the passage she had
referred to, a passage which declared that to live out of doors with
the woman a man loves is of all lives the most complete and free. His
reply was a mere evasion.

"I am afraid you will find it an exaggerated pleasure, Miss Yardely."

"Then it will be strictly for one night only," she said. "Tomorrow I
shall build a shack of boughs and bark like one I watched an Indian
building, down on the Peace river. It will be exhilarating to be
architect and builder and tenant all in one! But for tonight it is
'God's green caravanserai' for me, and I hope there won't be any
trespassers, wolves or bears and such-like beasts."

"There may be mice!" laughed Stane.

"Mice!" A look of mock-horror came on her face. "I'm mortally afraid of
mice!"

"And Meeko may pay you a visit."

"The Lord have mercy on me! Who is Meeko?"

"Meeko is the red squirrel. He abounds in these woods and his Indian
name means the mischief-maker."

"I adore squirrels," laughed Helen.

"Upweekis will be away just now, so he won't disturb you with his
screeching."

"And who may Upweekis be?"

"The lynx! He will have gone to the burned lands after the rabbits for
the summer-hunting."

"Anything else on the forest visiting-list?" asked the girl merrily.

"Kookooskoss, the owl may hail you."

"Pooh! Who's afraid of owls?"

She laughed again, and then grew suddenly grave. "But we are talking
too much," she said quickly. "There is a little-too-bright colour in
your face. I think you had better try to sleep. I shall be just outside
the tent, and if there is anything you need you must call me. Good
night, Mr. Stane. In spite of the forest folk, I expect I shall sleep
like a top."

"Good night, Miss Yardely."

The girl went outside, and after sitting for quite a long time looking
in the fire, retired to the couch of spruce which she had prepared for
herself, and almost instantly fell asleep.

Four hours afterwards she awakened suddenly and looked around her. A
rosy glow through the trees proclaimed the dawn. The forest was
wonderfully still, and there seemed no reason whatever for the sudden
awakening. Then a stream of meaningless babble came through the canvas
wall of the tent. She sat up instantly, and listened. Plainly, the
patient was delirious, and the sound of his delirious babble must have
broken through her sleep. Three minutes later she was inside the tent,
her brow puckered with anxiety.

Stane lay there with flushed face, and wide-open eyes that glittered
with a feverish light. He took absolutely no notice of her entrance and
it was clear that for the present he was beyond all recognition of her.
She looked at him in dismay. For the moment he was quiet, but whilst
she still stood wondering what she should do, the delirium broke out
again, a mere babble of words without meaning, some English, some
Indian, in which she found only two that for her had any significance.
One was Gerald Ainley's name, and the other the name of the beautiful
Indian girl whom she had seen talking with the sick man down at Fort
Malsun--Miskodeed.

Her face flushed as she recognized it, and a little look of resentment
came in her eyes. She remembered what Ainley had hinted at about Stane
and Miskodeed, and what others had plainly thought; and as she stood
there it seemed almost an offence to her that the name should be
mentioned to her even in the unconsciousness of delirium. Then she gave
a hard little laugh at herself, and going outside once more, presently
returned with water and with a couple of handkerchiefs taken from the
sick man's pack.

She poured a few drops between his lips, and then after laving his
face, she laid one of the wet handkerchiefs on his brow, renewing it,
from time to time, in order to cool his head. After a little time the
babble ceased, the restlessness passed away, and his eyes closed in
natural slumber. Seated on the ground, she still watched him, her face
the index of troublesome thoughts; but after a little time, she began
to nod, her chin dropped to her chest, and she fell into a profound
sleep.

"Miss Yardely! Miss Yardely!"

Stane's voice awakened her two hours and a half later. She looked round
in some bewilderment, and as her eyes saw his tired, white face, she
started up.

"I am afraid I must have fallen asleep," she began hurriedly. "I----"

"Have you been watching me all night?" he asked in a rather weak voice.

"No, not all night," she protested. "I awoke outside a little time ago,
and heard you talking deliriously. I came in the tent to do what I
could, and then seated myself to watch. I must have been very tired
or----"

"Please, please, Miss Yardely. You must not reproach yourself. I cannot
allow it! I blame myself for giving you so much trouble."

"How do you feel?" asked Helen, changing the subject.

"Rather groggy," he replied with a poor attempt at gaiety.

She stretched a hand and took his. The palm was moist.

"Ah," she said. "You feel weak no doubt, but the fever has left you. I
will go and attend to the fire and prepare breakfast."

She turned a little abruptly and left the tent, and Stane looked after
her with frowning eyes. Something had gone wrong. There was an air of
aloofness and austerity about her that had not been there yesterday,
and she had spoken in formal terms that had nothing of the camaraderie
which had characterized their acquaintance until now. He could not
understand it; in no way could he account for it; and he lay there
puzzling over the matter and listening to the sound of her movements
outside. Never for a single moment did it enter his mind that the
daughter of civilization was jealous of that daughter of the wilds
whose name he had uttered in the unconsciousness of delirious hours.
Nor did it enter the mind of Helen herself. As she recalled the name
she had heard on his lips in the night, whilst she busied herself with
unaccustomed tasks, the feeling of resentment that was strong within
her, to her appeared a natural feeling due to a sense of outraged
_convenances_ when in reality it had its origin in the strongest and
deepest of primal passions.



CHAPTER X

A CANOE COMES AND GOES


Lying on his back, his head pillowed on a rolled-up blanket, Hubert
Stane became aware that the sound of the girl's movements had ceased.
He wondered where she had gone to, for it seemed clear to him that she
had left the camp, and as the time passed without any sound indicating
her presence he began to feel alarmed. She was unused to the woods, it
would be easy for her to lose herself and if she did----

Before the thought was completed he heard the sound of a snapping
stick, and knew that she had returned. He smiled with relief and waited
for her appearance, but a few minutes passed before she entered the
tent, bearing in her hand a tin cup. He looked at her inquiringly.

"What have you there, Miss Yardely?"

"Balsam," was the reply, "for the cut upon your head. It is rather a
bad one, and balsam is good for healing."

"But where did you get it?"

"From I forget how many trees. There are quite a number of them
hereabouts."

"I didn't know you knew so much of wood lore," he said smilingly.

"I don't," she retorted, quickly. "I am very ignorant of the things
that really matter up here. I suppose that balsam would have been the
very first thing an Indian girl would have thought of, and would have
searched for and applied at once, but I only thought of it this
morning. You see one of my uncle's men had a little accident, and an
Indian went out to gather the gum. I happened to see him pricking the
blisters on the trees and gathering the gum in a dish and I inquired
why he was doing it. He explained to me, and this morning when I saw
the cut, it suddenly came to me that if I could find balsam in the
neighbourhood it would be helpful. And here it is, and now with your
permission I will apply it."

"I wonder I never thought of it myself," he answered with a smile. "It
is a very healing ungent. Apply to your heart's content, Miss Yardely."

Deftly, with gentle fingers, the girl applied the balsam and then bound
the wound with a strip of linen torn from a handkerchief. When the
operation was finished, still kneeling beside him, she leaned back on
her heels to survey the result.

"It looks quite professional," she said; "there isn't an Indian girl in
the North could have done it better."

"There isn't one who could have done it half as well," he answered with
a laugh.

"Are you sure?" she asked quickly. "How about Miskodeed?"

"Miskodeed?" he looked at her wonderingly.

"Yes, that beautiful Indian girl I saw you talking with up at Fort
Malsun."

Stane laughed easily. "I know nothing whatever about her capacity as a
healer," he said. "I have only spoken to her on two occasions, and on
neither of them did we discuss wounds or the healing of them."

"Then----" she began, and broke off in sudden confusion.

He looked at her in some surprise. There was a look on her face that he
could not understand, a look of mingled gladness and relief.

"Yes?" he asked inquiringly. "You were about to say--what?"

"I was about to say the girl was a comparative stranger to you!"

"Quite correct," he replied. "Though she proved herself a friend on the
night I was kidnapped, for I saw her running through the bushes towards
my tent, and she cried out to warn me, just as I was struck."

"If she knew that you were to be attacked she ought to have warned you
before," commented Helen severely.

"Perhaps she had only just made the discovery or possibly she had not
been able to find an opportunity."

"She ought to have made one," was the answer in uncompromising tones.
"Any proper-spirited girl would have done."

Stane did not pursue the argument, and a moment later his companion
asked: "Do you think her pretty?"

"That is hardly the word for Miskodeed," answered Stane. "'Pretty' has
an ineffective sort of sound, and doesn't describe her quality. She is
beautiful with the wild beauty of the wilds. I never saw an Indian girl
approaching her before."

Helen Yardely frowned at the frank enthusiasm with which he spoke.

"Wild? Yes," she said disparagingly. "That is the word. She is just a
savage, with, I suppose, a savage's mind. Her beauty is--well, the
beauty of the wilds as you say. It is barbaric. There are other forms
of beauty that----"

She broke off abruptly, and the blood ran rosily in her face. Stane saw
it and smiled.

"Yes," he answered gaily. "That is true. And I think that, however
beautiful Miskodeed may be, or others like her, their beauty cannot
compare with that of English women."

"You think that?" she cried, and then laughed with sudden gaiety as she
rose to her feet. "But this is not a debating class, and I've work to
do--a house to build, a meal to cook--a hundred tasks appealing to an
amateur. I must go, Mr. Stane, and if you are a wise man you will
sleep."

She left the tent immediately, and as he lay there thinking over the
conversation, Stane caught the sound of her voice. She was singing
again. He gave a little smile at her sudden gaiety. Evidently she had
recovered from the mood of the early morning, and as he listened to the
song, his eyes glowed with admiration. She was, he told himself, in
unstinted praise, a girl of a thousand, accepting a rather desperate
situation with light heart; and facing the difficulties of it with a
courage altogether admirable. She was no helpless bread-and-butter miss
to fall into despair when jerked out of her accustomed groove. Thank
Heaven for that! As he looked down at his injured leg he shuddered to
think what would have been the situation if she had been, for he knew
that for the time being he was completely in her hands; and rejoiced
that they were hands so evidently capable.

Then he fell to thinking over the situation. They would be tied down
where they were for some weeks, and if care was not exercised the
problem of food would grow acute. He must warn her to ration the food
and to eke it out. His thought was interrupted by her appearance at the
tent door. She held in her hand a fishing line that he had purchased at
the Post and a packet of hooks.

"I go a-fishing," she cried gaily. "Wish me luck?"

"Good hunting!" he laughed back. "I hope there is fish in the stream."

"Herds! Flocks! Coveys! Schools! What you like. I saw them when I was
hunting for the balsam."

"That is fortunate," he said quietly. "You know, Miss Yardely, we may
have to depend on fin and feather for food. The stores I brought were
only meant to last until I could deliver you to your uncle. We shall
have to economize."

"I have thought of that," she said with a little nod. "I have been
carefully through the provisions. But we will make them last, never
fear! You don't know what a Diana I am." She smiled again, and
withdrew, and an hour later returned with a string of fish which she
exhibited with pride. "The water is full of them," she said. "And I've
discovered something. A little way from here the stream empties into a
small lake which simply swarms with wild fowl. There is no fear of us
starving!"

"Can you shoot?" he inquired.

"I have killed driven grouse in Scotland," she answered with a smile.
"But I suppose ammunition is valuable up here, and I'm going to try the
poacher's way."

"The poacher's way?"

"Yes. Snares! There is a roll of copper wire in your pack. I've watched
a warrener at home making rabbit snares, and as there's no particular
mystery about the art, and those birds are so unsophisticated, I shall
be sure to get some. You see if I don't. But first I must build my
house. The open sky is all very well, but it might come on to rain, and
then the roofless caravanserai would not be very comfortable. It is a
good thing we brought an ax along."

She turned away, and after perhaps half an hour he caught the sound of
an ax at work in the wood a little way from the tent. The sound reached
him intermittently for some time, and then ceased; and after a few
minutes there came a further sound of burdened steps, followed by that
of poles tossed on the ground close to the tent. Then the girl looked
in on him. Her face was flushed with her exertions, her forehead was
bedewed with a fine sweat, her hair was tumbled and awry, and he
noticed instantly that she had changed her torn blouse and skirt for
the clothing which his foresight had burdened her pack with. The grey
flannel shirt was a little open at the neck, revealing the beautiful
roundness of her throat, the sleeves of it were rolled up above the
elbows after the work-man-like fashion of a lumberman, and showed a
pair of forearms, white and strong. His eyes kindled as he looked on
her.

She was radiantly beautiful and strong, he thought to himself, a fit
mate for any man who loved strength and beauty in a woman, rather than
prettiness and softness, and his admiration found sudden vent in words.

"Miss Yardely, you are wonderful!"

The colour in her face deepened suddenly, and there was a quick
brightening in her grey eyes.

"You think so?" she cried laughing in some confusion.

"I certainly do!" he answered fervently.

"Why?" she demanded.

"Well," he replied quickly, and not uttering what had been in her mind,
"you adapt yourself to difficult circumstances so easily. I don't know
another girl in the world who would so cheerfully do what you are
doing."

"Oh," she retorted gaily, "needs must when the devil drives! But was
that all you were thinking?"

She knew it was not, for she had seen the look in his eyes, and her
question was recklessly provocative and challenging. She knew it was
such as she had flung it at him; and Hubert Stane knew too. His face
flushed, his heart pounded wildly; and for a moment there was a surging
desire to tell her what he really had been thinking. The next moment he
put the temptation from him.

"No," he answered with an attempt at laughter, "but the rest is not for
publication."

There was a little tremor in his voice as he spoke which Helen Yardely
did not fail to notice. For a moment she stood there undecided. She was
conscious of an uplift of spirit for which there appeared no valid
reason, and she visioned opening out before her a way of life that a
week ago she had never even dreamed of. Three days in the solitude of
the wilderness with Hubert Stane had brought her closer to him than an
acquaintance of years could have done, and she was aware of wild
impulses in her heart. As she stood there she was half-inclined then
and there to challenge fate, and to force from him the words that he
withheld. Then, with a great effort, she checked the surging impulses,
and gave a tremulous laugh.

"That is too bad of you," she cried. "The unpublished thoughts are
always the most interesting ones.... But I must away to my
house-building or I shall have to spend another night under the stars."

She turned and walked abruptly away. In her eyes as she went was a
joyous light, and her heart was gay. As she swung the ax upon her
shoulder and moved towards the trees she broke into song, the words of
which reached Stane:

    "It was a lover and his lass
    With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
    That o'er the green cornfield did pass
    In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
    When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding,
    Sweet lovers love the Spring."

He lay there beating out the melody with his fingers. A musing look
came in his eyes that remained there when once more the sound of her ax
came through the forest stillness. Then it died away and his face grew
grim.

"It's nonsense, the merest madness!" he whispered to himself. "And even
if it were not--a man can't take advantage of such circumstances. It
would be too caddish for words----"

For a long time he lay there listening to the sound of her movements,
which told him when she was near and when further away, and presently
he heard her fixing the lean-to of her improvised hut. She worked
steadily, sometimes singing to herself, but she did not enter the tent
again until noon, when she came in to inquire if he were comfortable
and to say that a meal would be ready shortly.

"How does the hut go?" he asked.

"Oh, finely!" she cried with enthusiasm. "The framework is up, though
I've used all the pack-ropes over the job. I wish I had some nails. I'm
sure I could drive them straight."

"I'm sure you could," he replied laughingly.

"Girls are not nearly so incapable as they let men make them out to be.
I never built a house before, but I am sure this one of mine is going
to be a success. After we have eaten I am going to look for birch-bark
to make the covering, but there's one thing that is worrying me."

"What is that?" he asked.

"I am wondering how to fasten the bark together. I shall have to get it
in strips, I know, and the strips will have to be sewn together. I know
that, but the question is--how? If I had stout twine and a packing
needle it would be easy, but----"

"It is still easy," he interrupted. "You will have to get the roots of
the white spruce, and sew with that, as a cobbler sews, using a knife
for awl."

"Oh," she laughed, "I never thought of that, and it is so simple. I
shall manage all right now."

After the meal of fish and beans and coffee, she disappeared once more,
and later he heard her busy outside again. From the sounds he judged
that she had found the bark and the other materials that she needed,
and was busy sewing the covering for her tepee, and presently he heard
her fixing it. The operation seemed to take quite a long time and was
evidently troublesome, for once or twice sounds of vexation reached him
and once he heard her cry roundly: "Confound the thing!"

He laughed silently to himself at the heartiness of her expression,
then wished that he could go out and help her; but as he could not, and
as she did not come to him in her difficulty he refrained from asking
what the difficulty was, and from offering advice. Half an hour later
she stood in the tent doorway, flushed but triumphant.

"Finished," she cried, "and Sir Christopher Wren was never more proud
than I am."

"I should like to see your castle," laughed Stane.

"You shall, sir," she cried gaily. "You shall. I will lift the canvas
of the tent that you may feast your eyes on my handiwork."

A moment later she was busy rolling up the canvas at one side of the
tent, and presently he found himself looking out on a very fair
imitation of an Indian hunting tepee. He gave the work his ungrudging
admiration.

"It is a very creditable piece of work, Miss Yardely."

"Yes," she responded lightly, "and I'm not going to pretend that I'm
not proud of it. I am, and having done that, I don't think Robinson
Crusoe was so very wonderful after all! I think that I could have
managed as well as he did on his desert island. But here's a fanfare on
my own trumpet! And I've work yet to do, and I must do it before my
doll's house goes completely to my head."

She dropped the canvas of the tent, fastened it into its place, and
then proceeded to arrange a bed of young spruce boughs for herself.
That done to her satisfaction, she prepared the last meal of the day
and then in the stillness of the bright Northland evening, she went off
towards the lake she had discovered in the morning, with the intention
of setting the snare that she had spoken of.

But she did not do so that night, for before she came in sight of it
she was aware of an alarmed clamour of the water-fowl, and wondering
what was the cause of it, she made her approach with caution. The
stream, which she had followed fell over a small cliff to the shore of
the lake and as she reached the head of the fall she became aware of
two men beaching a canoe. Instantly she slipped behind a tree, and from
this point of vantage looked again. The men had lifted the canoe clear
of the water and were now standing upright with their faces to her not
twenty-five yards from the place of her concealment. On this second
glance she recognized them instantly. One of the men was Gerald Ainley
and the other was the Indian, Joe.

For a moment she stood there without moving, then very cautiously she
drew back into the wood behind her, and gradually worked her way to a
place along the lakeside where the undergrowth was very thick, and
where she could watch without fear of discovery. She was less than a
quarter of a mile away from the place where the two had landed, and as
she watched them making camp, the smell of their fire was blown across
to her. Neither of the two travellers showed any disposition to leave
the lakeside, and she watched them for quite a long time, a look of
deep perplexity on her face.

They were friends! She had no doubt that they were looking for herself.
They represented ease and safety, and a quick return to the amenities
of civilization, but she had no desire to discover herself to them. She
thought of the injured man lying in the tent a mile away. It was
possible that the coming of these two, if she made her presence known,
might prove to be beneficial for him. She weighed that side of the
matter very carefully, and her eyes turned to the canoe in which the
men travelled. It was, she recognized, too small to carry four people,
one of whom would have to lie at length in it; and she knew
instinctively that Ainley would propose to leave the Indian behind to
look after Stane whilst he took her back to her uncle. And she was
conscious of a surprising aversion to any such course; aware that she
was satisfied with things as they were. She crouched there for quite a
long time, then a whimsical smile came on her face, and without a
regret she crept quietly away through the forest, leaving the two
searchers unaware of her presence.

When she reached the encampment she looked into the hut and found that
Stane was fast asleep. She smiled to herself, and instead of
replenishing the failing fire, carefully extinguished it with earth,
that neither the glare nor the smoke of it might reach the two
searchers and so lead to the discovery of the camp. Then, having done
all she could to ensure Stane and herself remaining undisturbed in
their wilderness seclusion, she looked in the tent again, smiled once
more, and dropping the fly of the tent, went to her own tepee. Though
she lay long awake, she was up betimes next morning, and after one
glance into the tent to assure herself that her patient was yet
sleeping, she moved off in the direction of the lake. When she came in
sight of it she looked towards the foot of the waterfall for Ainley's
camp. It was no longer there, but a mile and a half away she descried
the canoe making down the lake. As she did so, she laughed with sudden
relief and gladness, and hurried back to the camp to light the fire and
prepare breakfast.



CHAPTER XI

A FOREST FIRE


Sir James Yardely sat in the shelter of his tent looking anxiously at
Gerald Ainley.

"Then you have not found my niece, Ainley?"

"No, Sir James! But I have news of her, and I am assured she is alive."

"Tell me what gives you that assurance."

Ainley thereupon described the search he had made, and produced the
swastiki brooch, explaining the circumstances under which he had found
it, and then gave an account of the meeting with the half-breed and of
the latter's declaration that he had seen Helen going up the main river
in a canoe with a white man.

"But why on earth should Helen go up there?" asked Sir James
wonderingly.

"I cannot say, Sir James! I can only guess, and that is that Miss
Yardely knew that we were making for the old Fort Winagog, and
mentioned it to her rescuer who was probably journeying that way.
Anyhow I went up to the Fort. The Indians there had not seen nor heard
of any white girl in the neighbourhood, but I gave them instructions to
look for her, promising a reward if she were found, then I hurried back
here by the shorter route in the hope that possibly Miss Yardely might
have returned in the meantime."

Sir James stared through the tent-door at the wild landscape before
him. His face showed a lightening of his anxiety, though it was clear
that the turn of events puzzled him.

"I can't understand it," he said. "Why shouldn't Helen have made her
way straight back here?"

"Can't say, Sir James! Possibly the man who helped her doesn't know the
country, and of course Miss Yardely is quite ignorant of it."

"And here she is, lost in the wilderness, careering round the compass
with heaven knows what come-by-chance fellow!" commented Sir James,
adding quickly, "Ainley, she has got to be found!"

"Yes, Sir James!"

"This unfortunate affair has upset me. It has quite disarranged my
plans. We have lost five days here, and I shall be compelled to curtail
my journey. I have decided to cut out the visits to the posts north of
this, and to work across to the Peace River, and so southward."

"You are going back?" cried Ainley in some consternation. "You are
going to leave Miss Yardely----"

"No, my dear fellow," interrupted Sir James, anticipating the
conclusion of his subordinate's sentence. "I am not going to leave her
to her fate. I am going to leave you to find her. I have thought the
matter out very carefully. I shall leave four Indians with you, and
shall establish a camp at this point, so that in the event of Helen
returning here you will not miss her by any chance. I shall send a
messenger to Rodwell, at Fort Malsun, instructing him to send you down
an outfit that will last the winter if necessary, and you will have
_carte blanche_ to follow your own plans, only you must understand,
Ainley, my niece must be found. Even though you have to comb this
country through with a dust-comb she must be found."

"She shall be, Sir James," answered Ainley with conviction.

"It is, of course, just possible that the man with whom your half-breed
saw her was making north to the post at Lobstick Creek, and it will be
as well to make an early inquiry there."

"Yes, Sir James, I have thought of that."

"By the way, did you get any description of the man whom my niece was
with?"

"Yes. You remember that man who was at Fort Malsun, and who departed
quietly one night?"

"You mean that fellow whom you knew at Oxford, and who has since gone
under?"

"That is the man, Sir James; I am convinced of it, from the
half-breed's description."

A look of anxiety came on the great man's face. "A discharged convict,
wasn't he, Ainley?"

"Yes, Sir James. He is of good family, and I fancy he is wealthy, for
he succeeded to the estate whilst he was in prison, and came out here I
imagine, because the old country was impossible to him."

"What was the crime that knocked him out of things?"

"Forgery!"

"Um!" was the reply. "Things might have been worse. Possibly the fellow
will remember that he used to be a gentleman."

"Possibly," agreed the younger man.

"Anyhow, you know exactly who you have to look for and that ought to
make your task much easier. Rodwell will instruct all the Indians who
show up at Fort Malsun to keep a bright look-out and no doubt in a few
days you will get track of her. But as I said just now, she must be
found, at all costs she must be found!"

"Yes, Sir James! I shall spare no effort to that end, and I may say
that, if possible, I am even more anxious about her than you."

A half-smile came on the great man's face, as he nodded: "I understand,
Ainley; I am not blind. It was for that reason I decided that you
should have charge of the search-party, seeing that you have--er--extra
inducements. Find my niece, bring her back to me, and then we can talk
over the matter. And now you had better go and think out your plans
carefully. I shall have to leave here in the morning, but now that I
know Helen is alive, I shall go with a comparatively easy heart."

Gerald Ainley went to his own tent with a smile on his face. For the
furtherance of his ultimate plans things could scarcely have fallen out
better. It was true that Helen yet remained to be found; but he was to
be left to find her, and was to have a free hand in the matter. After a
week or two in the wilderness Helen would be glad enough to meet with
an old friend bringing deliverance, and the intimacy of daily travel
together would inevitably bring her to his arms. His brow darkened a
little as he thought of her present protector. Then it cleared again.
Helen was very proud. Circumstances for the present had thrown her into
Stane's company, but she was the last person in the world to forget
that Stane was an ex-convict, and as he thought of that, all
apprehension of possible complications in that quarter vanished
instantly.

Had he known all, or had he even at that moment been granted a vision
of the camp by the great deadfall, he would scarcely have been so
complacent of mind. For at the very time when he was congratulating
himself on the opportunity opening out before him, Helen Yardely was
seated on a log by the side of the man whom he hated. There was a high
colour in her face and she was laughing a little nervously as she
looked at the astonished face of the sick man who had been her rescuer
and was now her patient.

"Miss Yardely," cried Stane, "do you really mean what you say?"

"Of course I do," replied the girl lightly.

"And Gerald Ainley with another man camped within two miles of here two
nights ago?"

"I should say the distance to the lake is even less than that," replied
Helen with a little laugh.

"And you let them go without a sign."

"I hid myself in the bushes," replied the girl, gaily.

"But do you realize that they were probably, searching for you?"

"Yes! And I was afraid that they might find me. I even put out the fire
that they should not discover our camp and come up to investigate. When
I saw them going away yestermorning I could have clapped my hands for
gladness."

Stane looked at her incredulously. Here was something that was beyond
him.

"Why--why did you let them go?" he cried sharply.

"You wish I had revealed myself?" she asked with compunction,
misunderstanding his question. "You think I ought to have brought them
up here?"

"That was for yourself to decide," he answered quietly, adding with a
little laugh. "I am well content with things as they are. But I am
curious to know why you let deliverance from the hardships of this
situation pass by on the other side."

"Oh," replied Helen in some confusion, "I remembered that you did not
like Gerald Ainley!"

"But," he protested, "there was yourself to think of."

"Yes," was the reply, given with laughter, "and I was doing so--if you
only knew it."

"How? I cannot see it."

"You forget my pride as amateur surgeon and nurse," she retorted. "I
like to see the end of things that I begin, and if I had brought Mr.
Ainley up here he would have wanted to take me away, and leave you with
the Indian." She broke off, and looked at him with a gay smile.
"Perhaps you would have preferred----"

"No! No!" he interrupted protestingly.

"And there is another reason--quite as selfish as the last. You see,
Mr. Stane, I have been delicately reared; boarding-school, Newnham--the
usual round you know! London in the season, Scotland in the autumn, and
the shires for the hunting months. It is an inane sort of life, as I
have always felt, pleasant enough at first, but inane for all that, and
after a time rather a bore. Can you understand that?"

"Yes," he said, with a nod, "I think I can."

"Most of the men of our set have something to do! Either they are in
the army, or in Parliament, or managing estates, but the women--well,
they live a butterfly life. There seems to me no escape for them. Do
what they will, unless they become suffragettes and smash windows or
smack fat policemen, their life drifts one way. Charity?--it ends in a
charity ball. Politics?--it means just garden-parties or stodgy
week-ends at country houses, with a little absurd canvassing of rural
labourers at election times. Sometimes I used to consider it, and with
that bus-driver of Stevenson's who drove to the station and then drove
back, cry 'My God is this life!' There was nothing real anywhere.
Nobody ever expected a woman in our set to do anything worth doing."
She broke off, and gave a little laugh, then continued: "Now I have my
chance to prove I'm something better than a doll, and I'm not going to
be robbed of it by Gerald Ainley, my uncle, or any one else! This camp
depends on me for a time at least, and I'm going to make good; and
prove myself for my own satisfaction. Do you understand?"

"Yes," answered Stane, his eyes shining with admiration.

"That is what I meant when I said that if you only knew it, I was
thinking of myself. It would strike some people as a little mad. I know
some women who in a situation like this would have sat down and just
cried themselves to death."

"So do I. Lots of them."

"I don't feel that way. I feel rather like a man I know at home who was
brought up on the sheltered life system, nursery governess, private
tutor, etc., who when he came of age just ran amok, drank, fought with
the colliers on his own estate, and then enlisted in an irregular corps
and went to fight the Spaniards in Cuba, just to prove to himself that
he wasn't the ninny his father had tried to make him. He shocked his
neighbours thoroughly, but he's a man today, listened to when he speaks
and just adored by the miners on his estate.... I want to make good,
and though Mrs. Grundy would chatter if she knew that I had
deliberately chosen to remain and nurse a sick man in such conditions,
I don't care a jot."

"You needn't worry about Mrs. Grundy," he laughed. "She died up here
about 1898, and was buried on the road to the Klondyke."

Helen Yardely joined in his laughter. "May she never be
resurrected--though I am afraid she will be. Where there are
half-a-dozen conventional women Mrs. Grundy is always in the midst. But
I'm free of her for the time, and I'm just going to live the primitive
life whilst I'm here. I feel that I have got it in me to enjoy the life
of the woods, and to endure hardships like any daughter of the land,
and I'm going to do it. Not that there is much hardship about it now!
It is just an extended pic-nic, and I wouldn't have missed it for
anything."

Stane smiled. "I am very glad you feel like that," he said. "I myself
shall be much happier in mind and I count myself lucky to have fallen
in such capable hands!"

"Capable!" she looked at her scratched and rather grimy hands. "A
kitchen-maid's are more capable! But I can learn, and I will, however
much I bungle. Now, as the universal provider, I am going out to look
at my snares."

She rose, and left the tent, and he heard her pass into the wood
singing to herself. A thoughtful look came on Stane's face, and
presently gave place to a smile. "Happy in these circumstances!" he
murmured to himself. "What a treasure of a girl!"

And there was no question that Helen Yardely was happy. She radiated
gladness as she made her way towards the lake carrying an express rifle
in the crook of her arm. Except for the barking of squirrels, and the
distant cry of waterfowl the land was very still, the silence that of
an immense solitude. But it affected her not at all, she was not even
conscious of loneliness, and she hummed gaily to herself as she went
along the path which now was beginning to define itself.

As she reached the lakeside, however, her song was suddenly checked,
and she looked round sniffing the air thoughtfully. There was a fire
somewhere, for there was the smell of burning spruce in the atmosphere.
She thought of her own camp-fire, and looked back in the direction of
it. Never before had the aromatic odour reached her so far away, and
she was a little puzzled that it should do so now. There was little
movement in the air, and in order to discover the direction of it she
wet her hand and held it up, and as one side grew cooler than the
other, looked southward. The slight wind was blowing from that quarter
towards the camp and not away from it, so it could not be her own fire,
which thus filled the air with odour. There was another encampment
somewhere in the neighbourhood.

Having reached that conclusion, she looked about her carefully for any
revealing column of smoke, and found none. She examined the shore of
the lake expecting to discover a canoe or canoes beached there, but
there was nothing of the sort to be seen. For a time she stood there
frankly puzzled, wondering what was the explanation of the smell of
fire which was in the air, but the reason for which did not appear.
Then, after searching the lake bank once more, she gave up the problem
and addressed herself to the task which had brought her from the camp.
There was nothing in her snares, but as she approached a large patch of
water-reeds, a flock of wild geese rose into the air, "honking" in
alarm.

Instantly the rifle was at her shoulder, and as she fired, a gander
jerked in the air, and then fell like a stone back into the reeds. It
took her some time to retrieve it, and when she had done so, she looked
round again. The sound of her rifle in that great stillness would
travel a long way, and if there had been any traveller camped in the
neighbourhood he must have heard it! But there was no one to be seen
anywhere, though the smell of fire was as strong as ever. Puzzled, she
returned to the camp, looked at her own fire which was burning low and
which could not possibly be the explanation of that which was
perplexing her, and without saying anything to her companion about it,
turned in for the night.

She awoke early to find a wind humming in the tree-tops and immediately
there impinged upon her nostrils the odour of burning wood. She rose
instantly and dressing hastily went to the tent and looked in. Stane
was still sleeping, and without awakening him she hurried down to the
lakeside, very conscious that the smell of fire was much stronger than
on the previous night. When she reached the shore she looked southward
in the direction from which the wind was blowing. As she did so, for
one brief moment her heart seemed to stop and a great fear leaped up
within her.

Up the lake-side the shore was hidden under rolling clouds of smoke,
the dark green of the woods was shrouded by the same bluish veil, and
the air seemed full of distant crackling. Out of the veil of smoke as
she watched broke a long leaping tongue of yellow flame, and the air
blowing towards her seemed hot as a furnace. Her face paled before the
terror in front. Though she had never seen the like before, on the way
up to Fort Malsun, she had seen the blackened patches where such fires
had been. She had heard stories of men surprised by them, and she knew
that the forest full of dry deadfall and resinous trees, was on fire.
Her first thought was for the sick man who was in her care. The camp
was directly in the line of fire, and, if the wind kept up, must
inevitably burn. She would have to get him away. But how?

The question was beating in her brain as she hurried back, and through
the reiteration of it she became conscious of moving life about her. A
weasel almost crossed her foot without a glance at her, and she saw
others moving in front of her. Small wood-mice swarmed, fleeing from
the terror they could not see; and a great timber-wolf followed by a
couple of cubs fled by without more than a sidelong look. The squirrel
in the trees screeched alarm and once she caught sight of a big, dark
lumbering body crashing through the undergrowth to the left of her, and
divined that it was a bear. All the creatures of the wood had taken the
alarm and were fleeing before the fiery horror against which none could
stand.

When she reached the camp she went straight to the tent. Stane was
awake, lifted up on one elbow, an anxious look upon his face. As his
eyes saw her pallor, he knew that a fear which in the last few moments
had come to him was not groundless.

"Ah!" he cried, "the timber is on fire! I thought I could smell it."

"Yes," she answered, "and the wind is driving the fire this way."

"How far away?" he inquired calmly.

"Two or three miles."

"You will have to go, Miss Yardely," he answered quickly. "The fire
travels quickly in such timber as this. You must not mind me----"

"You want me to run away and leave you to die," cried the girl. "I
shall do nothing of the kind. I would sooner die myself! I could never
respect myself again. There must be some way out of this difficulty,
only I don't know it. But you are used to the ways of this wilderness.
You must tell me what to do, and quickly, and I will do it. Oh--if we
only had a canoe!"

"We haven't," he answered thoughtfully, "but the next best thing, we
could make, and----"

"What is that?"

"A raft!"

"A raft?" she echoed, hope lighting her face.

"Yes. If by any means you could get me down to the lake-side, I could
instruct you in the construction. But how you are going to do that----"

"I shall carry you," interrupted the girl. "It will be very painful for
you, but there is no other way."

"But how----?"

"On my back! I am strong, thank Heaven! And as we have no time to waste
I will make arrangements at once. I'll take our things down to the
shore, and then come back for you. You don't mind being left for a
little while?"

"Of course not."

"There'll be no breakfast this morning, but I can't help that. A forest
fire is no help to housekeeping."

She forced a little laugh as she spoke the words, but once outside the
tent, a look of deepest anxiety clouded her beautiful face.



CHAPTER XII

THE RAFT


Never in her life had Helen Yardely worked so hard as she worked in the
next two hours. She made two journeys to the lake with their
possessions, and on the way back the second time she arranged several
resting places in preparation for the hardest task of all--the carrying
of her injured companion down to the shore.

That, as she knew, was bound to be a terribly painful thing for him,
but there was no other way, and harsh necessity made her ruthless. She
did what she could with an improvised sling, and helped him to stand on
his uninjured leg. The pain he endured was shown in his white face, and
in the bitten under lip, which trickled red. She was afraid that he was
about to faint, but he recovered himself and three-quarters of a minute
later, she was carrying him pick-a-back to the lakeside.

Twice she heard a groan torn from him, but she set her teeth, and
pointed on to the first resting place, where, as gently as she could,
she set him on the trunk of a fallen tree which, supported by its under
branches, lay waist high. Then she turned round and looked at Stane. He
was in a state verging on collapse. Instantly she felt for his service
water-bottle which she had previously filled with brandy and water, and
pouring out some of the liquid she held it towards him.

"Drink," she said, "all of it."

He did so, and when they had rested five minutes, they started again
and, after halting twice more, reached the shore, where she set him
down on a convenient rock, below which she had piled blankets to
support his injured leg. Then for the moment quite overdone, she
collapsed on the sand, one hand on her jumping heart, the other on her
throbbing head. It was a little time before either of them could speak,
and it was the man who did so first.

"Miss Yardely, take a little brandy. I implore you!"

Helen looked up, nodded without speaking, and with shaking hands poured
out a little of the spirit for herself. After a time her breath came
back, and she rose to her feet.

"You are mortal heavy," she said with an attempt at gaiety. "You were
like the old man of the sea on my back.... I hope your leg is all
right?"

"Painful! But that is to be expected, and it can't be helped." A drift
of smoke came down in the wind and made him cough, and he looked round
to mark the progress of the fire. "We haven't much of a margin, Miss
Yardely."

"No," she answered, "I must get busy. Now tell me what to do!"

Whilst waiting for her to recover he had noted numerous sun-dried poles
scattered about the beach, and those he pointed to.

"Get about seven of those, Miss Yardely, as near equal length as you
can. Gather them as close to the water's edge as possible, and then get
some saplings for cross pieces. Lash the poles well together with the
tent and pack-ropes, and put a little spruce on the top to help us keep
dry. We haven't time to build a Noah's Ark, and it will be no end of a
job for you to get the thing afloat by yourself."

The girl looked round and pointed to a little creek where the water was
very still.

"I could build it afloat there. There's a gravelly bottom and it's not
deep."

"Yes!" he said quickly. "That would be better!"

For an hour he sat there watching her work, and marking the swift
progress of the fire. The heat grew tremendous, the roar of the flames
and of crackling trees filled the air to the exclusion of all other
sounds, and the pungent smoke made it difficult to breathe. He had
begun to think that after all her endeavours had been in vain, when she
approached him, sweat running down her flushed face, and drenched well
above the knees.

"You will have to set your teeth," she said, "I shall have to carry you
out to the raft."

It was no easy task to get him on to it, but she had pushed the raft
well in the reeds so that it could not give, and though it was a
painful operation for him, he was presently lying on a pile made of the
tent canvas and blankets. Ten minutes later when he opened his eyes,
they were afloat, and she was poling the raft into deeper water. She
looked at him as his eyes opened.

"This raft is not quite so good as a punt--but it might be worse!"

"They're always awkward things," he said. "You ought to have had a
sweep."

"No time," she answered, with a nod towards the shore.

"You will have to pole us out, as far as you can, and then we must
drift."

"It is the only way," she agreed. "Fortunately this lake seems very
shallow."


Ten minutes later the pole failed to touch bottom, and a current of
water setting across the lake began to drift them well from the shore.
As he saw that, Stane gave a sigh of relief.

"You can sit down and rest now, Miss Yardely. There is nothing further
to be done for the present. It is a case of time and tide now, but I
think we are perfectly safe."

Helen glanced towards the shore, and gave an involuntary shudder. The
fire was running through the forest like a wild beast. Clouds of smoke,
black or leaden-coloured rolled in front, the vanguard of the
destroyer, and out of them leaped spouts of fiery sparks, or long
tongues of yellow flame, and behind this, the forest under the fan of
the wind was a glowing furnace. She looked at the belching smoke and
the rocketing flames and listened to the roar of it all, fascinated.

"How terrible," she cried, "and how beautiful."

"The Inferno!" said Stane. "I've seen it before."

"And you wanted me to leave you to that?" she cried.

"Pardon me, no! I did not want you to be caught in it, that is all!
Listen!"

Across the water came what might have been the sound of a fusillade of
rifles, and with it mingled another sound as of shrieking.

"What is it?" asked the girl.

"Branches bursting in the heat, trees falling."

"How long will it last?"

"Don't know. Weeks maybe! The fire might travel a hundred miles."

Helen shuddered again. "If we had not been near the water----"

"Finis!" he said with a little laugh, and they fell silent again
watching the awful thing from which they had so narrowly escaped.

The raft drifted slowly along, borne by a current towards the northern
end of the lake and crossing it obliquely, and the girl crouched in her
place apparently absorbed in the spectacle the fire afforded. An hour
passed, and then glancing at her Stane saw that she had fallen asleep.
A little smile came on his face, and was followed by an ardent look of
admiration as he continued to stare at her. She was flushed with sleep,
and grimy with sweat and smoke and dirt. The grey shirt-sleeves, rolled
up above the elbows, showed her scratched forearms, and on one hand,
hanging across her knee in the abandon of sleep, with startling
incongruity gleamed a diamond ring. The beautiful chestnut hair had
escaped from its fastenings, and hung in tumbled masses, and there were
ragged tears here and there in the borrowed raiment. Never, thought
Stane to himself, had he seen a lady more dishevelled or more
beautiful, and as he watched her sleeping, worn out with her herculean
labours, his heart warmed to her in gratitude and love.

She slept for quite a long time, and when she opened her eyes, she
looked round in surprise. The fire still roared on its way through the
woods on the distant shore, over which hung a huge pall of smoke, but
the raft was now a long way from the zone of destruction and drifting
slowly but surely towards the northern end of the lake. She measured
with her eyes the distance they had drifted, and looked towards the
shore which they were steadily approaching, then she spoke.

"I must have slept for a long time."

"Three hours, I should say," answered Stane with a smile.

"And you? How is your leg?"

"Fairly comfortable," he answered.

"I am glad of that, I was terribly afraid that it might have suffered
some new injury--how hungry I am!"

"Naturally!" was the reply. "It is now past noon and we have not yet
had breakfast."

"There is some cold bacon somewhere, left over from yesterday, and that
small box of biscuits. I will find them. We must eat. Fortunately we're
not likely to be short of water." She laughed a little as she spoke,
then rising, began to look for the food, which, when she had found it,
she divided between them. "There is not much bacon, but there are
biscuits galore for present needs," she said as she put the food before
him. "Fall to, sir!"

She herself ate the simple meal with a relish that surprised herself,
and then looked round once more. They had drifted nearer the shore, and
looking overside she could see the bottom of the lake. At that she
clapped her hands.

"The water is shallowing," she cried, "I believe I can resume my
punting."

She took up her pole and finding that she could touch bottom, began to
pole the raft inshore, and in twenty minutes she was looking for a
place to land. She found it in a quiet little bay beyond a tree-crowned
bluff, and in a little time she had beached the clumsy craft, and
jumped ashore. She anchored the raft to a tree, and then looked around.
Just where she had landed, there was a level patch of sward, backed by
massive firs and, after considering its possibilities for a moment she
spoke:

"We will make our new camp here! It will do as well as anywhere else,
and in case the fire travels round we can easily take to the lake
again."

Her first action was to gather kindling wood for a fire, and to set the
kettle over it, and that done, once more she pitched the tent and made
a bed for her patient; then with great trouble and some pain for him,
she got him from the raft to the spruce couch; after which she examined
the rough splints and bandages. They were in place and hoping that the
leg had suffered no harm through the enforced removal, she prepared hot
tea and such a meal as their resources allowed.

"I shall have to build a new house for myself, tomorrow," she laughed
as she sipped the tea. "And I shall insure it against fire. I shall be
quite an expert architect and builder by the time I reach
civilization."

"If you ever do!" he laughed.

She looked round the wild landscape, then she also laughed.

"I should not care much if I never did. This sort of life has its
attractions, and it offers real interests and real excitements. There
are worse things than the wilderness."

"You have not been up here in winter, have you, Miss Yardely?"

"No," she replied, "but I should like to have the experience."

He puffed meditatively at his pipe and made a calculation, then he said
rather enigmatically, "You may yet have the chance, Miss Yardely, if
you remain to look after me."

"I certainly shall remain," was the uncompromising reply. "But what do
you mean, Mr. Stane?"

"Well," he explained, "it will be some weeks at least before I can face
the trail, and that means that autumn will be on us before we can move.
And you have had a little experience of what trailing and packing one's
goods in this country means. Even when we are able to start we shall
not be able to travel fast, and the nearest point of civilization is
Fort Malsun."

"How long will it take us to reach the fort?"

"I do not know," he replied, shaking his head thoughtfully. "I have
only been there on the one occasion you know of--and then by water.
Much will depend on the sort of country that lies between here and
there, but I am afraid we shall have hard work to make it before winter
overtakes us."

"Then we shall have to make the best of things," answered the girl
lightly.

"There is, of course, the chance that we may be found by some
search-party sent out by your uncle; and there is the further
possibility that we may stumble on some Indian camp; but apart from
these contingencies, I am afraid we can expect no help but what we can
find in ourselves, and it will be very necessary to husband our
resources, as I warned you two days ago."

The girl refused to be daunted. "This is a game country," she replied
cheerfully. "We shall not starve. Tomorrow I shall go hunting--and you
will see, Mr. Stane, oh, you will see! After all it was not for nothing
that I went to Scotland every autumn. I will fill the pot, never fear."

He looked at her smiling face, remembered what she had already done,
and then spoke enthusiastically.

"I believe you will, Miss Yardely."

No more was said upon the matter until next day, when whilst she was
engaged in building a new tepee for herself she hurried into the camp,
and picked up the rifle.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Meat," she whispered laughingly, "on four legs and with horns. I don't
know the precise name of it, but I think it is a woodland caribou. It
has come down to the water just the other side of the bluff. I am going
to stalk it."

She hurried away from the camp. Ten minutes passed and Stane still
listened for her shot. Then it came, and sharp and clear on the heels
of it came a cry of triumph. The injured man smiled with pleasure.

A few minutes later, when Helen returned, there was a gleeful look upon
her face. "Got it!" she cried. "We'll have a change of diet today."

"You have still plenty of work before you," said Stane, after
congratulating her. "The beast will need skinning and----"

"Ugh!" she interrupted with a little grimace. "I know, and that will be
messy work for me, since I know nothing at all about it."

"It is an inevitable part of the work in trailing through the wilds,"
said Stane with a smile. "But I wish I could take the work over----"

"You can't," she interrupted cheerfully enough, "and if you could I am
not sure I should let you now. I've an ambition to complete my
wilderness education, and though I'm no butcher, I'll manage this piece
of work somehow. You will have to give me instructions, and though I
may botch the business, I'll save the meat. Now just give me a lecture
in the art of skinning and cleaning and quartering."

As well as he could he gave her instructions, and armed with his long
hunting knife, she presently departed. It was two hours before she
returned, carrying with her a junk of meat wrapped in a portion of the
skin. There was a humiliated look on her face.

"Ask me no questions," she cried with a little laugh of vexation. "I am
down in the dust, but I've got most of the meat and that is the
essential thing, though what we are going to do with all of it I don't
know. We can't possibly eat it whilst it is fresh."

"We will dry, and smoke some of it, or turn it into pemmican."

"Pemmican!" As she echoed the word, her face brightened. "I have read
of that," she laughed, "in novels and tales of adventure. It has a
romantic sound."

"It isn't romantic eating," he laughed back. "As you will find if we
come down to it. But if the worst comes to the worst it will save us
from starvation."

"Then we will make pemmican," she said smiling, "or rather I shall. It
will be another thing towards the completion of my education, and when
this pilgrimage is over I shall demand a certificate from you, and set
up as a guide for specially conducted parties to the wilds."

"I think I shall be able to give you one, quite conscientiously," Stane
retorted laughingly. "You certainly are a very apt pupil."

"Ah! you haven't seen that hideous mess on the other side of the bluff.
The fact is I shudder at the thought of viewing it again. But we must
have the meat, I suppose."

Having rested a little, she turned and left the camp again and the man
followed her with eyes that glowed with admiration. As he lay there he
thought to himself that however she might shudder at the thought of a
vilely unpleasant task, she would not shirk it, and as he reflected on
the events of the past few days, there was in his heart a surge of
feeling that he could not repress. He loved this delicately-nurtured
girl who adapted herself to the harsh ways of the wilderness with so
gay a spirit; and though a look of bitterness came on his face as he
reflected that circumstances must seal his lips, in his heart he was
glad that they should have met, and that she should be his pupil in the
ways of the wild.



CHAPTER XIII

A LODGE IN THE WILDERNESS


It was six weeks later. The dawn came less early, and nightfall
perceptibly sooner.

There was a new crispness in the air, and the leaves on the trees were
losing their greenness and taking on every possible shade, from pale
yellow to old gold, and from that to dusky red. Both Stane and Helen
Yardely noticed the signs. Autumn was upon them and they were still in
their camp by the lake, though now Stane was able to hobble about with
a pair of crutches made from a couple of forked sticks, padded with
moss at the forks for his arms, and covered with caribou skin. Helen
herself was busy from dawn to sunset. From words that he had dropped
she knew that they had lost in the race with the seasons, and that
winter would be on them before he would be able to take the trail. She
faced the dreary prospect light-heartedly, but under his instruction
omitted no precautions that would make a winter sojourn in the wild
land tolerable. Fish were caught and dried, rabbits and hares snared,
not merely for meat, but for their skins, which when a sufficient
number had been accumulated were fashioned into parkas and blankets
against the Arctic cold which was surely marching on them.

The leaves began to fall, light frosts were succeeded by heavier ones,
and one morning they awoke to find a thin film of ice on the surface of
the still water of the little bay where their camp was located. Stane
viewed the ice with ominous eyes. He was incapable of any heavy
physical exertion as yet, and knowing the North in all its inimical
aspects, he was afraid for his companion, and though he rejoiced in her
frank comradeship, he regretted that she had let Ainley and the Indian
depart without knowledge of her presence. Guessing that the lake was
some sort of waterway between two points, daily, almost hourly, in the
frequent absences of the girl, he scanned it for any sign of human
presences, but in vain. The lake's surface was unbroken by the movement
of canoe or boat; its shores showed no tell-tale column of smoke. They
were indeed alone in the wilderness.

But one afternoon the girl returned from a hunting expedition with
excitement shining in her grey eyes.

"I have found something," she announced abruptly.

"What is it?"

"There is a cabin up the lake, about three miles away."

"A cabin?"

"Yes, and a very nice one, logs with a stone chimney and a parchment
window. There was no one about, and the door was only held by a hasp
and a wooden peg, so I ventured to look in. It has a stove, a rough
table, a bunk and a couple of logs plainly meant for chairs."

Stane considered her news for a moment and then gave an obvious
explanation. "It is some trapper's hut. He is away, and will probably
return for the trapping season."

"Yes," she answered with a nod. "I thought that was the explanation.
But there is nothing to prevent us taking possession until the owner
returns, if he ever does, is there?"

"No," he answered slowly.

"Then tomorrow we will remove house," she said with a little laugh.
"It's the only sensible thing to do. The place is clean and warm and
comfortable; and if we take possession of it we shall be under no
temptation to take the trail before you are really fit."

"But----"

"But me no buts," she cried in mock reproval. "You know that it is the
really wise thing to do, for if the weather turns bad, where are
we--with a canvas tent and a rather leaky birch-bark tepee? It would be
the very rankest folly not to take advantage of my discovery and you
know it."

Stane was compelled to admit that she was right, and said so.

"Then tomorrow I will raft you up to our new abode," she answered
cheerfully. "There is no wind, and has been none for days. It will be
easy to pole the raft along the shore."

Having announced this decision she began to busy herself about the
camp, singing softly to herself; and Stane watched her with
appreciative eyes. She was thinner than when they had first met, her
face was bronzed, her chestnut hair in its outer folds bleached almost
golden by the strong sunlight of the past summer. She radiated health
and vitality, and though she was dressed masculinely, femininity was
the dominant note about her. In the weeks that had passed since he had
saved her from the river she had developed amazingly. Apparently there
was nothing of the softness of the over-civilized left in her. That had
been eliminated by the harsh necessity of labour which circumstances
had thrust upon her; and the life of the wilderness had developed in
her elemental powers. She was now the strong mate-woman, quick in
judgment, resourceful in action, and of swift courage in danger. His
eyes glowed as he watched her, and a soft look came on his face. As it
happened Helen turned and saw it.

"What is it?" she asked quickly, a look of expectancy in her eyes.

He hesitated. That look challenged him. He knew that if he said all
that he felt she would respond. But the unfairness of such action
prevented him from doing so, and though he was strongly tempted he
turned aside.

"Nothing that I can tell you," he said in answer to her question.

"Oh!" she retorted, "you are a most tantalizing person. Why cannot you
tell me? If the matter is secret you have no cause to be afraid. To
whom could I whisper it in this wilderness?"

She waved a hand half-round the compass as she spoke, and stood there
looking at him, still with the look of expectancy in her eyes, and with
a little dash of colour in her bronzed cheeks.

"I am not afraid of your whispering it to any one," replied Stane, with
a poor attempt at laughter.

"Then why not tell me?" she urged.

"Because----" began the man, and then stopped. The temptation surged up
anew within him, the stress of it almost broke down his resolution.
Then he cried, almost violently, "No! I cannot tell you--now."

"Now!" she said, in tremulous laughter. "Now! 'Behold now is the
accepted time and now is the day of salvation.' Unless the religious
education of your youth was sadly neglected you ought to know that. The
present is the only time. But if you will not tell me this tantalizing
secret now, you will some time?"

"Some time!" he answered.

"It is a promise," she insisted and now there was no laughing note in
her voice, and her face was very serious.

"Yes," he answered, "it is a promise."

"Then I write it on the tablets of my mind. I shall hold you to it, and
some day I shall demand its fulfilment."

She turned and resumed her work and singing at the same time, and Stane
lay there looking at her with the love shining plainly in his eyes. He
had no doubt that she divined that which he would not speak; that
indeed it was no secret to her, and that she was glad in the knowledge
he could hardly question. Her bearing as well as her singing told him
that; and he knew that in the last few minutes they had travelled a
very long way towards full revelation of each other; and that the day
when he should speak would bring to her nothing that was not already
within the sphere of her knowledge.

The next day was spent in removal to the cabin further up the lake,
both of them working at poling the raft with all their stores. The
cabin was well situated on a small bay, where a fair-sized stream
emptied into the lake, and behind it stretched the forest, dark and
impenetrable. As he hobbled through the open door, Stane looked round,
and under the bunk discovered a number of steel-traps which the girl on
her first visit had overlooked. Also on a peg in a dark corner he found
a set of dogs' harness hung just as the owner had left it, probably
months before. He pointed the traps out to the girl.

"As I guessed, it is a trapper's cabin, Miss Yardely. Any day may bring
the owner back."

"Possession is nine points of the law," she laughed. "What is the term
the gold-seekers use, Jump?--yes, we will jump the claim, for the
present at any rate."

"The owner may come back while there is open water, or he may wait for
the ice."

"But we are tenants of the furnished cabin meanwhile," she answered
cheerfully, "and may as well make ourselves at home. I'm going to light
the stove."

Inside the cabin there was a little wood-pile, and with a few
well-chosen logs and dried sticks she soon had the stove roaring, and
then began to bestow their possessions tidily. By the time that was
accomplished the shadows were creeping across the lake and deepening in
the woods, and it was time for the evening meal, and when it was ready
they ate it at the rough table, with a sense of safety and comfort that
had long been lacking. "This place is quite cosy," said Helen, looking
round the firelit cabin. "Tomorrow I shall make a curtain for the
doorway out of caribous skins."

"Tomorrow," laughed Stane, "the owner may return."

"But he will not turn us out," cried Helen. "The men of the wilds are
all hospitable."

"That is true," agreed Stane, "and I have no doubt that we should be
allowed to winter here if we chose. But if the man comes there is a
better way. We shall be able to engage him to take us to Fort Malsun,
and so to safety and civilization."

"Oh!" laughed the girl, "are you so anxious to go back to
civilization?"

Stane's face suddenly clouded, and the old hardness came back to it.

"There is no going back for me--yet," he answered bitterly.

"But you will return, some day," she answered quietly. "I have no doubt
of that at all. But I was not thinking of that when I spoke, I was
wondering whether you were tired of this primitive life. For my part I
quite enjoy it. It is really exhilarating to know that one has to
depend upon one's self, and to find unexpected qualities revealing
themselves at the call of circumstances. I think I shall never be the
same again, my old life seems contemptibly poor and tame when I look
back upon it."

"I can understand that," he answered, turning from his bitterness. "The
wilderness gets into one's blood."

"Particularly if it is a little wild to start with," she replied
cheerfully, "as I really believe mine is."

"There are men who have lived up here for years, enduring hunger and
every kind of hardship, hazarding life almost daily, who having
stumbled suddenly upon a fortune, have hurried southward to enjoy their
luck. They have been away a year, two years, and then have drifted back
to the bleak life and hazard of the North."

"It is not difficult to believe that," answered Helen. "The life itself
is the attraction up here."

Stane permitted himself to smile at her enthusiasm and then spoke. "But
if you had to live it day by day, year in and year out, Miss Yardely,
then----"

"Oh then," she interrupted lightly, "it might be different. But----"
She broke off suddenly and a sparkle of interest came in her eyes.
Pointing to the pile of wood in the corner she cried: "Mr. Stane, I am
sure there is something hidden under that wood."

Stane started and stared at the stacked-up logs, a slight look of
apprehension on his face. The girl laughed as she caught the look. "It
is nothing to be alarmed at; but those logs are misleading I am sure,
for at one place I can see something gleaming. What it is I don't know,
but I am going to find out."

Rising quickly, she began to throw down the logs and presently
uncovered a large square tin that at some time or another had contained
biscuits. Pursuing her investigations she uncovered two similar tins
and for a moment stood regarding them with curious eyes. Then she
lifted one.

"It is heavy," she exclaimed. "What do you think it is--gold?"

Stane laughed. "Judging by the ease with which you lift it, I should
say not."

"I'm going to learn," she replied, and promptly began to operate on a
close-fitting lid. It took her a little time, but at last, with the aid
of Stane's knife, she managed to remove it. Then she gave an
exclamation of disappointment.

"What is it?" asked Stane.

"I don't know. It looks like--wait a minute!" she took a small pinch of
the contents and lifting it to her mouth, tasted it. "Flour!"

"Flour! You don't say?"

There was a joyous exalting note in the man's voice that made the girl
swing round and look at him in surprise.

"You seem delighted!" she said wonderingly.

"I am," he replied.

"But--well I don't exactly see why! If it were gold, I could
understand. One always finds gold in these deserted cabins, according
to the story-books. And we find flour--and you rejoice!"

"I do," answered Stane joyfully. "Miss Yardely, that flour is a
godsend. We were very short, as you told me, only a pound or two left,
and I was afraid that we might have to live on meat and fish alone, and
you don't know what that means. I do! I lived for three weeks on
moose-meat last winter and I haven't forgotten it yet. For Heaven's
sake open the other tins."

The girl obeyed him, and presently the remaining tins revealed their
contents. One held about nine pounds of rice and the other was three
parts filled with beans.

"We're in luck, great luck!" cried Stane. "Just the things we need. Any
time during the last fortnight I would have given a thousand pounds for
those stores."

"I expect the owner, if he returns, will be glad to sell them you for a
good deal less," she retorted with mock petulance. "It was treasure
trove I was hoping for."

"You can't live on gold," laughed Stane, "and you can on the contents
of these tins. We must annex them. If the owner has deserted the cabin
it won't matter; and if he returns he will bring fresh stores with him,
those being but the surplus of his last winter's stock. Nothing could
have been more fortunate."

"But flour, and rice and beans!" protested Helen in simulated disgust.
"They are so unromantic! It will sound so poor if ever I tell the story
in a drawing-room!"

Stane laughed again. "There's nothing romantic about straight meat
without change. Those cereals are the best of treasure trove for us."

"Well," conceded the girl laughing with him. "You ought to know, and if
you are satisfied I must be. If these stores will carry us through the
time until we start for civilization I won't grumble."

To Stane the discovery of the stores was a great relief, far greater
than the girl knew. Of starvation he had had no fear, for they were in
a good game country, but he knew the danger of a meat diet alone, and
now that for the time being that danger was eliminated, he was
correspondingly relieved; the more so when, two mornings later, the
door of the hut being opened they beheld a thin powdering of shot-like
snow.

"Winter is here!" said Helen, a little sobered at the sight of the
white pall.

"Yes," he answered. "You found this hut just in time."

No more snow fell for over a fortnight, and during that time, despite
the cold, Stane spent many hours practising walking without crutches.
The fracture had quite knit together, and though his muscles were still
weak, he gained strength rapidly, and as far as possible relieved the
girl of heavier tasks. He chopped a great deal of wood, in preparation
for the bitter cold that was bound to come and stored much of it in the
hut itself. He was indefatigable in setting snares, and one day,
limping in the wood with a rifle, he surprised a young moose-bull and
killed it, and cached the meat where neither the wolves nor the lynxes
could reach it. Then at the close of a dull, dark day the wind began to
blow across the lake, whistling and howling in the trees behind, and
the cold it brought with it penetrated the cabin, driving them closer
to the stove. All night it blew, and once, waking behind the tent
canvas with which the bunk where she slept was screened, the girl
caught a rattle on the wooden walls of the cabin, that sounded as if it
were being peppered with innumerable pellets. In the morning the wind
had fallen, but the cabin was unusually dark, and investigation
revealed that in a single night the snow had drifted to the height of
the parchment window. The cold was intense, and there was no stirring
abroad; indeed, there was no reason for it, since all the wild life of
the forest that they might have hunted, was hidden and still. Seated by
the stove after breakfast, Helen was startled by a brace of cracks like
those of a pistol. She started up.

"What was that? Some one fired----"

"No!" answered Stane quickly. "Just a couple of trees whose hearts have
burst with the cold. There will be no one abroad this weather."

But in that, as events proved, he was mistaken. For when, in the early
afternoon, wrapped in the fur garments which the girl had manufactured
at their old camp, they ventured forth, not twenty yards away from the
hut Stane came suddenly upon a broad snow-shoe trail. At the sight of
it he stopped dead.

"What is it?" asked the girl quickly.

"Some one has been here," he said, in a curious voice. Without saying
anything further he began to follow the trail, and within a few minutes
realized that whoever had made it had come down the lake and had been
so interested in the cabin as to walk all around it. The tracks of the
great webbed-shoes spoke for themselves and even Helen could read the
signs plainly.

"Whoever is it?" she asked in a hushed voice, looking first at the
sombre woods and then out on the frozen snow-wreathed lake.

Stane shook his head. "I haven't the slightest notion, but whoever it
was watched the cabin for a little time. He stood there on the edge of
the wood, as the deeper impression in the snow shows."

"Perhaps the owner whose palace we have usurped has returned."

Stane again shook his head. "No! He would have made himself known, and
besides he would most certainly have had a team of dogs with him.
Whoever the visitor was he came down the lake and he went back that
way."

"It is very mysterious," said Helen, looking up the frozen waste of the
lake.

"Yes," answered Stane, "but rather reassuring. We are not quite alone
in this wilderness. There must be a camp somewhere in the
neighbourhood, but whether of white men or of Indians one can only
guess."

"And which do you guess?" asked Helen quickly.

"Indians, I should say, for a white man would have given us a call."

"And if Indians, they may be friendly or otherwise?"

"Yes."

"Then," she said, with a little laugh, "we shall have to keep our eyes
lifting and bolt the door o' nights!"

"It will be as well," agreed Stane, as he began to circle round the
cabin again. "Indians are not always law-abiding, particularly in the
North here. In any case we must try and find out where this one comes
from, for if he is friendly we may be able to get dogs, and with dogs
our journey to civilization will be easy."

He spoke lightly, but there was a grave look on his face, and as she
watched him following the snow-shoe tracks to the edge of the ice-bound
lake, Helen Yardely knew that he was much disturbed by the mysterious
visit of the unknown man.



CHAPTER XIV

MYSTERIOUS VISITORS


It was snowing again, driving across the lake in the hard wind and
drifting in a wonderful wreath about the cabin. To go out of doors
would have been the uttermost folly, and Stane busied himself in the
fashioning of snow-shoes which now would be necessary before they could
venture far afield. The girl was engaged in preparing a meal, and the
cabin had an air of domesticity that would probably have utterly misled
any stranger who had chanced to look in. Stane, as he worked, was very
conscious of the girl's presence, and conscious also that from time to
time his companion glanced at him, whilst he bent over the tamarack
frames, weaving in and out the webbing of caribou raw-hide. Those
glances made his heart leap, though he strove hard to appear
unconscious of them. He knew that in her, as in him, the weeks of
intimate companionship so dramatically begun had borne its inevitable
fruit. The promise she had forced from him but a few days ago came to
his mind as he stooped lower over the half-finished snow-shoe. Would he
ever be able to redeem it? Would he ever be able to tell her what was
in his heart, what indeed had been there since the moment of their
first meeting at Fort Malsun?

Between him and the desire of his heart rose those bitter years in
prison. Until the stain upon his name was removed and the judgment of
the court expurged, he felt he could not tell her what he wished, what
indeed he was sure she would not be averse to hearing. Of Helen herself
he had no doubt. She already had declared her faith in his innocence,
and the generosity of her nature in all its depth and breadth had been
revealed to him. To her, the years of his prison life were as though
they had never been, or at the most were an injustice which he had
suffered, and his name in her eyes had suffered no soiling. That if he
spoke she would respond, finely, generously, with all the fulness of
her splendid womanhood, he had no doubt. And yet, he told himself, he
must never speak until he could do so without blame; for whilst to her
the past was nothing, the people among whom she ordinarily moved would
remember, and if she united her life with his she would, like himself,
become a social exile. And there was a further reason for silence. If
he allowed the girl to commit herself to him whilst they were alive in
the wilderness, it would be said that he had taken advantage of a
rather delicate situation--using it for his selfish ends, and his pride
as a man revolted against that. He clenched his teeth at the thought,
and unconsciously frowned. No it should never be said that he----

"Why that dark scowl?" asked the girl laughingly. "Is my lord
displeased with the odours of the dinner that his servant prepares?"

Stane joined in her laughter. "I was not aware that I was frowning. The
dinner has a most appetising smell."

"If only I had a Mrs. Beeton!" sighed Helen. "Though I daresay she
wouldn't give any recipe for frozen moose and rice and beans, without
even an onion to flavour. The civilized cookery books don't deal with
the essentials. When I return to the polite world the first thing I
shall do will be to publish a pocket cookery book for happy people
stranded in the wilds!"

"Happy!" he echoed, smilingly.

"I speak for myself," she retorted lightly. "You don't suppose that I
regret these weeks away from civilization. I never was happier in my
life. I have, you will agree, proved myself. I can face an
unprecedented situation without fainting. I can cook a dinner without
killing a man who eats it. I have set a leg successfully, and built a
raft that floated safely, and reared two lodges in the wilderness. I
have no nerves, whilst nearly every woman I know is just a quivering
bundle of them. Yesterday, when I went out to the wood-pile a big lynx
came round the corner of it. His eyes simply blazed at me. Six months
ago, I should have run indoors. As it was, I threw a chunk of wood at
him and he bolted."

"You never told me," began Stane.

"What need?" interrupted the girl. "You don't inform me every time you
see a lynx!"

"But you must be careful," replied Stane anxiously. "At this season of
the year, if he is very hungry, the lynx can be a dangerous beast.
Remember his claws are like knives and he has ten of them."

"Oh, I will remember," answered Helen cheerfully. She stooped over the
pan, and then, announced: "I think this mess of savoury venison is
ready, and I don't believe our cook at home could have done it half so
well. If my lord and cobbler will put away the snow-shoe we will dine,
and after the washing up I will sleep."

It was in this spirit of lightness that she faced all the hardships
incidental to their present life, and it was little wonder that at
times, between her gaiety and her challenging presence, Stane had much
ado to keep his resolve. Half a dozen times a day his resolution was
tested, and one of the severest trials came on the afternoon of that
very day.

The snow had ceased and the night had fallen, and desiring exercise
they left the cabin together to walk in an open glade in the wood which
the strong wind had swept almost clear of snow. Except themselves there
was nothing moving. The vast stillness of the North was everywhere
about them, and a little oppressed by the silence they walked briskly
to and fro, Stane using his injured leg with a freedom that showed that
it was returning to its normal strength. Suddenly the girl laid a
mittened hand on his arm.

"What is it?" he asked quickly.

"Listen!" she said.

He stood there, her hand still on his arm, and a second or two later
caught the sound which she had previously heard. Faintly and thinned by
long distance it came, a long curdling cry.

"What----" she broke off as the cry sounded afresh, and he answered the
unfinished question.

"The hunt-cry of a wolf calling up the pack. There is nothing to fear.
It is miles away."

"Oh," she said, "I am not afraid, I was only wondering what it was."

Her hand was still on his arm, and suddenly their eyes met. Something
in the grey of hers pierced him like a stab of flame. A fierce joy
sprang up within him, filling him with a wild intoxication. His own
eyes burned. He saw the girl's gladness glow in her glance, beheld the
warm blood surge in her face, and fervent words leaped to his lips,
clamouring for utterance. Almost he was overcome, then Helen removed
her hand, and turned as the blood cry of gathering wolves broke through
the stillness. He did not speak, and Helen herself was silent as they
turned towards the cabin, but each had seen deep into the other's
heart, and had felt the call that is the strongest call on earth, the
call of kind to kind, or mate to mate.

Back in the cabin, the man turned feverishly to the task of snow-shoe
making on which he had been engaged. Through his mind with monotonous
reiteration beat a phrase that he had read long ago, where, he had
forgotten. "My salvation is in work, my salvation is in work!" He
worked like a man possessed, without looking up, whilst the girl busied
herself with unnecessary tasks. She also knew what he knew, and she
held him in a new respect for his silence, understanding the reason
therefor, and presently when her leaping heart had steadied a little
she began to talk, on indifferent topics, desiring to break a silence
that was full of constraint.

"I saw you looking at the traps there, this morning. Are you thinking
of using them?"

"Yes," he answered, "I am going to start a trapping line. It will give
me something to do; and the walk will excercise my leg. If the owner of
the cabin returns we shall be able to pay him rent with the pelts I
take."

"Isn't it time he was here now, if he is coming?"

"Yes! But he may be delayed."

"Or he may not intend to return. He may have found a new locality for
his operations."

"When he went away he meant to return, or why did he leave his traps
here?"

"You think he will come back then?"

"I hope so!"

"And when he comes you will lure him to take us to Fort Malsun?"

"That is my idea," replied Stane, bending over the webbing.

"You are anxious to get away from here, then?"

"I am thinking of you," he answered quickly. "I know what a full winter
in the North means."

"And if I get to Fort Malsun, do you think I shall escape the winter?"

"No, but you will have company."

"I have company now," she retorted smilingly, "and believe me I do not
feel at all lonely."

"I was thinking you would have the factor's wife for----"

"Pooh!" was the challenging reply. "Do you think a woman cannot live
without women?"

He offered no answer to the question, feeling that they were in the
danger zone again; and after a moment deliberately turned the
conversation backward.

"If I have luck with the traps, you may be able to have a set of furs
for a memento of your sojourn here!"

"Oh!" she laughed back, "if that is the only memento I am to have----"

"Yes?" he asked.

For a moment she did not speak, and when she did there was provocation
in her voice. "Well, I shall be disappointed, that is all."

He did not ask why. He knew; and his very silence told Helen that he
knew, and for a moment both of them were conscious of the surging of
that elemental force which had made itself felt out in the forest.

Then the stillness was broken by a sound outside. Both of them heard
it, and listened carefully.

"Crunch! crunch! crunch!"

Some one on snow-shoes was walking round the cabin. Whoever it was had
halted by the door. Was he coming in? Half a minute passed during which
they waited without moving, then Stane flashed a look at his companion.
She was leaning forward, a look of curiosity and expectancy on her
face, but not a single sign of fear.

He rose slowly from his seat, put the unfinished snow-shoe on the
table, and crept towards the door. Whoever the intruder was he had not
moved, and Stane had an odd fancy that he was listening there on the
other side of the rough timbers. He meant to surprise him, but was
disappointed in his purpose, for when he reached the door it was to
find that the wooden bar had been dropped in position by Helen when
they had re-entered the cabin. The bar fitted tightly across the door,
and though he tried his best to move it without noise he failed. The
bar stuck, and when at last he threw the door open, and stepped outside
he knew that he was too late. He looked into the gathering night. His
first swift glance was towards the dark shadows under the trees. There
was no one there. He swung round towards the lake, and dimly through
the darkness descried a figure retreating rapidly northwards. He looked
closely, then suffering something of a surprise, gave a quick hail.

The retreating figure never paused, and never looked round, but kept on
in a bee-line over the untrodden snow. Stane knew that it was useless
to follow, and the bitter cold was already pinching his face and hands
and chilling him to the bone. He turned and hurried into the hut,
flinging the door to behind him, and as he did so, Helen rose to her
feet.

"You saw him?" she cried in some excitement.

"No. I saw her!" answered Stane. "It was a woman."

Helen's surprise was as complete as his own had been. "A woman! Are you
sure?"

"I do not think that I can possibly have been mistaken."

"But who--and why should she come here only to run away?"

"I do not know. I cannot guess, but when I went to the door, I had no
idea that whoever was outside was standing there listening."

"It is very mysterious," said Helen thoughtfully, then suddenly
something occurred to her, and she looked quickly at Stane as if she
were going to speak. He caught the glance.

"You were about to say something?"

"Yes," answered Helen giving a curt little laugh. "But I think I will
keep it to myself. It was only a quite silly idea that occurred to me."

Something in her manner, the curtness of her laugh, her way of
speaking, puzzled Stane, and moved him to press for an answer. "Never
mind the silliness," he said. "Tell me?"

"It really is not worth while," she answered with a little laugh, and
notwithstanding the laughter, Stane knew that it was useless to press
her further, and desisted from doing so.

For a little time he sat silent, staring into the stove, wondering what
was in his companion's mind, whilst the girl herself followed the odd
thought which had occurred to her. Was the woman who had twice ventured
into the neighbourhood of the cabin without revealing herself,
Miskodeed? It was very possible, for what other woman was there likely
to be in the locality who could have sufficient interest in them as to
visit them in such fashion? As she pursued the idea Ainley's
suggestions came back to her with hateful force, and she remembered the
Indian girl's attitude after Stane's departure. Other things she
remembered and her mind echoed the words which had awakened the man's
anger at the time they were uttered.

"Behold an idyll of the land!"

She remembered the girl's wild beauty, her manifest interest in Stane,
and once again she was conscious of the hot flame of jealousy in her
heart. It stung her to think that possibly this man, whom she had
learned to love, had an interest in this girl, who though no better
than a savage was rarely beautiful. She laughed in sudden bitterness
and scorn of herself, and at the laugh Stane turned quickly towards
her.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Just a thought!" she answered easily, though her face flushed.

Stane did not ask her what the thought was. He was conscious of
something enigmatic in her attitude, and her evident reserve for a
second time prevented him from pursuing the matter further. He waited a
moment, then he uttered the thought which had been in his own mind.

"When the storm is over and there is a crust on the snow we will go
exploring together. We may find the camp from which this woman comes.
If the air keeps still through the night, it will be quite easy to
follow her trail in the snow."

Helen looked at him with eyes half-veiled under her long lashes. Did he
suspect who the intruder was?

"You are very anxious to find this woman of mystery?" she asked.

"Not particularly so," he laughed in reply, "but I shall be very glad
to find out who our neighbours are, and to learn whether we can secure
any help from them."

The girl was reassured by the unconcerned answer. It seemed clear now
that Miskodeed had not even occurred to his mind, and the reserve in
her manner disappeared.

"You think we shall be dependent on their help?" she asked. "You are
afraid that we shall not weather through by ourselves?"

Stane laughed again. "Oh no! I have no fears on that score; but it will
depend on their possession of dogs whether we have to camp here all
winter or not; for we could not possibly make Fort Malsun without them,
particularly as I do not know the overland trail. Not that the
knowledge is really essential now, since judging from the fact that
Ainley went down the lake it seems likely that there is a way to Malsun
river in that direction. But we simply must have dogs."

"Then in the morning we follow the mysterious one's trail?"

"Yes, if there is no wind or snow in the night."

But in the night there was both wind and snow and on the morrow the
woman's trail was quite obliterated and the snow on the lake made
travelling impossible. Helen Yardely noted the fact without regret.

"There will be no exploring party today," she said, "so I will go and
look at my rabbit snares."

"And I will accompany you," answered Stane, "the walk in the snow will
help to take the stiffness out of my leg."

They set out together, but had gone but a little way when the girl gave
a sharp "Hist!"

"What is it?" he asked quietly, thinking that she had seen game of some
kind.

"There is a man in those bushes in front of us," she answered in a
whisper.

"A man. Are you sure?"

"I am quite sure. I saw him slip across that open space there. He has a
gun."

The bushes she had indicated were about three hundred yards away, and
Stane examined them keenly. He could see nothing, however, and at the
conclusion of his scrutiny he said: "I will go forward. You remain
here, Miss Yardely."

"No," she answered. "I will go with you, I would rather."

They advanced together, Stane with his rifle ready for action, since a
presence that avoided them might well prove to be an inimical one. He
watched the bushes steadily as they advanced but saw nothing and when
they reached them, thinking that the girl had been mistaken, he thrust
his way through them. Then he stood quite still with an anxious look
upon his face. There was no one behind the bushes, but there were the
marks of moccasined feet in the snow. He looked down at them, then
followed the direction of them with his eyes, and stared into the
forest, and as he did so, in its dim recesses, thought he saw the
figure of a man slip behind a tree. He still waited and watched, but
the figure did not re-appear, then Helen who had walked round the
bushes spoke.

"There _was_ some one here!"

"Yes," he answered, "and whoever it was did not wish to encounter us.
He has made his way into the wood."

"What do you think it means?"

"I do not know," he answered, "but I am afraid that there are hostile
Indians about us."

"You think they are watching the cabin--watching us, for a chance to
attack?"

"It has that appearance," answered Stane quietly.

The girl was silent for a moment, then she gave a little laugh that had
in it a ring of courage. "I am not afraid, but I wish we had another
rifle."

Stane flashed at her a glance of admiration, then gave another long
look into the silent wood which now seemed full of menace.

"Perhaps we had better return to the cabin."

"No," answered the girl stubbornly. "We will look at the snares first.
I'm not going to be frightened from my dinner by a wandering Indian."

And they went forward together.



CHAPTER XV

A FACE AT THE TENT-DOOR


"Look," cried Helen. "Look!"

They had almost reached the cabin on the return journey and were full
in view of the lake. As she cried the words she pointed over its
snow-laden surface, and Stane, looking in the direction indicated, saw
that which made his heart leap. A dog-team was coming up the lake, with
a man on snow-shoes packing the trail in front.

"Who can it be?" asked the girl in some excitement.

"The owner of the cabin--for a certainty!" answered Stane, conscious of
a sudden relief from the anxiety which the morning had brought.

"Then," answered the girl quietly, "you wait to welcome him, whilst I
go and prepare a meal."

She passed into the cabin, whilst Stane walked down to the shore of the
lake. The traveller whoever he was, was making directly for the cabin,
and watching, Stane saw that he walked wearily as if he had come far,
or was suffering from some weakness. It was quite an appreciable time
before he saw Stane standing to welcome him, and when he did so, he
gave a joyous shout. Stane answered the hail, and a few minutes later
when the man halted his dogs he saw that he was mistaken in concluding
the new-comer was the owner of the cabin, for he was garbed in the
winter dress of the Nor-west Mounted Police.

"Cheero," said the policeman in greeting. "Where's Jean Bènard?"

Stane shook his head. "Don't know. Is Jean Bènard the owner of the
cabin?"

At this question the policeman glanced at him sharply.

"Don't you know that? Who in thunder--Stane! By Christopher!" As he
made the recognition the new-comer held out his mittened hand. "Well
this is a pleasure. Don't you know me, old man?"

Stane looked at him as he shook his hand. "I think I do," he said.
"Your Dandy Anderton, aren't you?"

"Used to be," laughed the other. "Now I'm Trooper Richard Alland
Anderton of the R.N.W.M.P., and no more a dandy. But I'm mortal glad to
see you, Stane, particularly as I'm a little knocked. I hurt my
shoulder this morning, as----" He broke off suddenly as the sound of
movement came from the cabin, and asked quickly. "You've got a mate?"

"Yes," answered Stane, with a short laugh, "as good a mate as a man
could have, a mate that happens to be a lady!"

"A lady!" Anderton whistled. "Up here! By Jove! you've both got pluck."

"Well, you see, Anderton, it's not exactly a matter of choice. We were
stranded together, and this cabin happened to offer itself. But loose
your dogs, and come and be introduced!"

"Right-o!" replied the policeman. "I'll be with you in two jiffs."

Stane entered the cabin to prepare Helen. As he did so the girl looked
up from the stove. "Is he the owner of our palace?"

"No; he is an old Oxford acquaintance of mine, who is now in the
Mounted Police."

"Then we shall not suffer eviction?" she laughed, and to Stane it
seemed there was an odd note of relief in her voice.

"No; but he spells deliverance. You see if he can't do anything for us
himself he can carry the news of our whereabouts to Fort Malsun,
and----"

At that moment a whip-stock hammered at the cabin-door, and a second
later Trooper Anderton entered. For a moment he was a little taken
aback by the girl's appearance, then Stane made the introduction.

"Miss Yardely; Mr. Anderton!"

"Miss Yardely!" the policeman cried. "Are you Sir James Yardely's
niece, who was lost a few months ago?"

"The very same," answered Helen smilingly.

"There's a reward out for your discovery--five thousand dollars, no
less."

"I didn't know I was worth so much," laughed the girl.

"Your uncle makes it; and half the trappers in the north are keeping a
look-out for you; for it is known that you were found by some one----"

"There is my saviour," interrupted Helen, nodding towards Stane.

"Lucky fellow," laughed the policeman. "How did it happen?"

"Perhaps Mr. Stane will tell you later," answered the girl, "and if he
doesn't, I will. But I don't want this moose steak to spoil. I take a
pride in my cookery."

She laughed and turned again to the stove. Both the men watched her
admiringly for a moment, and then Anderton asked: "Been up here long,
Stane?"

Stane gave him an approximate date, and explained the situation by
recounting his accident. The other nodded sympathetically. "You were
lucky to have Miss Yardely with you. I had a narrow shave myself this
morning. Just as I was starting from my last camp, a tree that two
minutes before looked as stable as a pyramid, collapsed. It caught me
on the shoulder and knocked me flying. Lucky thing I fell clear; but it
gave me a nasty jar, and my left arm is a little out of action, with
the soreness. I oughtn't to have taken the trail this morning, and
wouldn't, only I'm in a tremendous hurry--a running quarry you know."

"Who is it?" asked Stane.

"A breed, wanted for murder. He's been running for months, making this
way and there's an idea that he's sought sanctuary with his mother's
tribe at the top end of this lake."

"Ah, then there is an encampment up here?"

"Yes. Didn't you know?"

Stane gave an account of the mysterious visit of the previous night and
of the stranger they had seen in the wood that morning and the
policeman listened carefully.

"The girl's a puzzler," he said, "but the stranger may be my man. He
knows his life is forfeit, and he's ripe for any sort of crime. I guess
I'll move on after him when I've had a rest."

"We'll go with you," answered Stane thoughtfully, "we may be able to
get dogs from the camp."

"It's just possible," agreed Anderton, "if the Indians will sell. If
not, then I'll carry the news of you back to Fort Malsun, and the
factor there will send for you like a shot." He was silent for a
moment, watching Helen as she laid the table; then he said
hesitatingly. "By the by, Stane, did you ever get to the bottom of that
unfortunate affair of yours in England?"

"No," was the reply, given with some bitterness, "but the jury did."

"Oh rot!" exclaimed the other. "Nobody who knew you really believes
that."

"I have met one man up here who apparently does!"

"Who is that?"

"Ainley! You remember----"

"Ainley! Why, man, he----" He broke off suddenly, with a look at the
girl.

"Yes?" said Stane, "you need not mind Miss Yardely. She knows I have
been in prison."

"Yes!" answered Helen quickly, "and I am very sure he ought not to have
been."

"It was a damnable shame!" broke out the policeman. "But the facts were
against you at the time, Stane. The hand-writing experts----"

"Oh the likenesses were there, right enough," interrupted Stane, "and I
certainly had been in Harcroft's rooms, alone, and I suppose in company
with his cheque book. Also I had lost rather a pot of money on the
boat-race, and I am bound to admit all the other incriminating
circumstances."

"Yes, but you don't know everything. Long after you--er--went down,
Jarlock, who was in our set, told me something about Ainley."

"What was that?" asked Stane quickly.

"Well, it was that just at that time, Ainley was broke and borrowing
money right and left, and that he had forged Jarlock's name to a bill.
Jarlock became aware of the fact through the bill being presented to
him for payment, and he tackled Ainley about the business. Ainley owned
up, and Jarlock let the thing go, for old acquaintance' sake. But just
about the time of your trouble he left the 'Varsity and went on a trip
to the Cape, and it was a full year after before he even heard what had
befallen you. It made him think of his own affair with Ainley, and when
he met me months afterwards he took me into his confidence. We talked
the matter over carefully, and knowing you as we both did, we reached
the conclusion that you were innocent and that Ainley was the guilty
man."

"Any evidence?"

"No, nothing beyond that matter of the bill. We judged by general
principles. Ainley always was something of a rotter, you know."

Stane laughed a trifle bitterly. "He's by way of becoming a personage
of importance today. But I think you're right, the more so since I
encountered him up here."

He gave a brief account of his meeting with Ainley, told how he had
waited for him on two successive nights, and how on the second night he
had been kidnapped without any apparent reason. The policeman listened
carefully and at the end nodded his head.

"Looks fishy!" he commented. "The fellow was afraid of you." Then after
a moment he asked, "Your question? The question you wanted to ask
Ainley, I mean. What was it?"

"It was about a sheet of paper with some writing on it. You shall see
it."

He felt in his hip-pocket, and producing a small letter-case, took out
a thin packet wrapped in oiled silk. Opening it, he unfolded a sheet of
foolscap and handed it to the other.

It was covered with writing, and as Anderton looked at it, he saw that
the writing was made up of two names, written over and over again, the
names being those of Hubert Stane and Eric Harcroft. At first the
character of the handwriting of the two names was widely different, but
presently the separate characteristics were blended with a distinct
leaning towards those of Harcroft, though some of the characteristics
of the earlier writing of Stane's name still survived, though at the
bottom of the sheet only Harcroft's name was written, and that a dozen
times. The policeman whistled as he studied it.

"Where did you get this, Stane?"

"I found it in a copy of Plato which Ainley had borrowed from me. It
was returned before the forgery turned up, and that paper slipped out
when I was going through my possessions after my release from Dartmoor.
What do you make of it?"

"It is perfectly plain what the meaning of it is," answered Anderton
with conviction. "Whoever did this was blending two handwritings for
some purpose or other, and the purpose is not difficult to guess."

"That is what I felt when I saw it, and when the significance of it
dawned on me, I set out to find Ainley that I might ask him the meaning
of it. He had left England, and no one whom I could ask knew his
whereabouts. Things were very difficult for me at home and so I came
out here, stumbled on Ainley--and you know the rest."

Helen Yardely had listened to the talk of the two men without speaking,
but now she broke in. "I do not wonder Gerald Ainley did not keep his
promise to see you at Fort Malsun. I only wonder that when he arranged
for your deportation, as he surely did, he did not arrange for your
death."

"He does not know I have this paper," answered Stane with a grateful
look towards her. "But when I do meet him----"

He did not finish the sentence, and after a moment the girl announced
that the meal was ready. As they ate, Anderton glanced from time to
time at the man whom he had known as a careless youth at Oxford. He
noted the hardness of the eyes, the greying hair, the deep lines of the
face, and was moved to a sudden burst of indignation.

"Confound the man, Stane! If I were in your place I should be tempted
to shoot him! But that's too good for him."

"I will do that which will be worse for him," answered Stane quietly,
"I will make him own up."

The two who heard him, looking at his resolute face, had no doubt that
he would keep his word, and as each reflected what he must have been
through, neither was sorry for Gerald Ainley or had any compunction at
the thought of what might happen to him.

The meal was finished without any further reference to the past, and
after a smoke, Anderton threw on his furs and went outside. Presently
he returned and announced his intention of going up the lake to the
Indian encampment.

"The weather is going to hold, and it really is of the utmost
importance for me to find out whether my man is here or not. I'm not in
the best form after my accident this morning, but there's nothing else
for it, and if the fellow has left, I shall have to follow at his
heels, and wear him down. It is the only way. Duty is duty in my force,
I can assure you."

Stane looked at Helen, then he said: "We will accompany you, Anderton.
You represent the law, and in your company we are much more likely to
receive attention and get what we want than if we go alone, whilst
further, if the mysterious visits we have had were hostile in
intention, the fact that we are known to you will tend to check them."

"Something in that!" agreed the policeman.

When Anderton had harnessed his dogs they started off, making directly
up the lake, and within two hours sighted about half a score of winter
tepees pitched near the store, and with sheltering woods on three sides
of them. As they came into view, with the smoke of the fires curling
upward in the still air, the policeman nodded.

"The end of a journey of two hundred miles; or the beginning of one
that may take me into the Barrens, and up to the Arctic. Lord, what a
life this is!"

He laughed as he spoke, and both those who heard him, knew that he
found the life a good one, and was without regret for the choice he had
made.

As they drew nearer the camp, two or three men, and perhaps a dozen
women, with twice that number of children came from the tepees to look
at them, and when the dogs came to a halt, one of the men stepped
forward. He was an old man, and withered-looking, but with a light of
cunning in his bleared eyes.

"What want," he asked. "Me, Chief George."

The policeman looked at the bent figure clothed in mangy-looking furs,
with a dirty capote over all, and then gave a swift glance at his
companions, the eyelid nearest to them fluttering down in a slow wink.
A second later he was addressing the chief in his own tongue.

"I come," he said, "from the Great White Chief, to take away one who is
a slayer of women. It is said that he has refuge in thy lodges."

The Indian's dirty face gave no sign of any resentment. "There is no
such man in my lodges."

"But I have heard there is, a man who is the son of thy sister, with a
white father."

The old Indian looked as if considering the matter for a moment, then
he said slowly. "My sister's son was here, but he departed four days
ago."

"Whither went he?"

The Indian waved his hand northward. "Towards the Great Barrens. He
took with him all our dogs."

"Done!" said the policeman with a quick glance at Stane. "It is certain
there are no dogs here, or we should have heard or seen them."

He turned to the Indian again, whilst Stane looked at Helen. "You heard
that, Miss Yardely? Our exile is not yet over."

"Apparently not," agreed Helen smilingly.

Stane again gave his attention to the conversation between his friend
and the Indian, but half a minute later, happening to glance at the
girl, he surprised a look of intense interest on her face. She was
looking towards a tepee that stood a little apart from the rest, and
wondering what it was that interested her, Stane asked, "What is it,
Miss Yardely? You seem to have found something very interesting."

Helen laughed a little confusedly. "It was only a girl's face at a
tent-door. I was wondering whether the curiosity of my sex would bring
her into the open or not."

Stane himself glanced at the tepee in question, the moose-hide flap of
which was down. Apparently the girl inside had overcome her curiosity,
and preferred the warmth of the tepee to the external cold. He grew
absorbed in the conversation again, but Helen still watched the tepee;
for the face she had seen was that of Miskodeed, and she knew that the
thought she had entertained as to the identity of the woman of mystery,
who had fled from the neighbourhood of the cabin, was the right one.
Presently a mittened hand drew aside the tent-flap ever so small a way;
and Helen smiled to herself.

Though she could see nothing through the tiny aperture so made, she
knew, as certainly as if she herself had been standing in the tepee,
that Miskodeed was watching them with interested eyes. Unconsciously
she drew herself upright, and flashed a challenging glance towards the
invisible spectator, visioning the Indian girl's wild beauty and
matching it, as a jealous woman will, against her own. Not till Stane
addressed her did she take her eyes from the tepee.

"Anderton's through," he said. "His man has gone northward; and as you
heard there are no dogs here. We shall have to go back to the cabin.
Anderton tried to persuade the chief to send a couple of his young men
with a message down to Fort Malsun, but the fellow says it is
impossible in this weather to make the journey without dogs, which I
dare say is true enough."

"Then," said the girl with a gay laugh, "we have a further respite."

"Respite?" he said wonderingly.

"Yes--from civilization. I am not absolutely yearning for it yet."

She laughed again as she spoke, and Stane laughed with her, though he
did not notice the glance she flashed at the closed tepee. Then
Anderton turned abruptly from Chief George.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I have done what I could for you two, but this
noble red man either won't or can't help you. I shall have to push on,
but the first chance I get I'll send word on to Factor Rodwell. If only
I could turn back----"

"Please don't worry about us, Mr. Anderton," interrupted Helen
cheerfully. "We shall be all right."

"'Pon my word, I believe you will, Miss Yardely," answered the
policeman in admiration. He looked down the lake, and then added: "No
use my going back. It will only be time wasted. I will say good-bye
here. Keep cheerful, old man," he said to Stane. "You'll work clear of
that rotten business at Oxford yet. I feel it in my bones."

Helen moved a little away, and the policeman lowered his voice, "Lucky
beggar! You'll ask me to be best man, won't you?"

"Best man!"

"Pooh, man! I've got eyes in my head, haven't I?" Without giving Stane
a chance to reply, he walked towards Helen.

"Keep cheerful, Miss Yardely, and don't let Stane get dumpy about the
past."

"I think you have effectually saved him from that," she answered
quietly.

"Jolly glad if I have! He's a good fellow, is Hubert. Till our next
meeting! Au revoir, Miss Yardely! So long, Stane!" The next moment he
turned to his dogs. "Moosh! Moosh--Michele!"

The leading dog gave a little yelp. The harness tightened, and the sled
began to move. Ten seconds later the man who carried the law through
the frozen North was ahead of his sled, breaking the trail, and Stane
and Helen had turned in the direction of their cabin, the girl with one
last glance over her shoulder at the tepee, at the opening of which
Miskodeed's beautiful face had now revealed itself, her eyes following
the man whom once she had done her best to help.



CHAPTER XVI

AN ARROW OUT OF THE NIGHT


The short Northland day was drawing to a close, when Stane and Helen
came in sight of the cabin again. For the first time since he had known
it, the man felt that the place had a desolate look; and the feeling
was accentuated by the sombre woods that formed the background of the
cabin. Whilst yet a hundred yards from it he gave expression to his
feeling.

"The cabin has a most forlorn look," he said, half-pausing to view it.

Helen, who was very tired, replied, "It certainly looks cheerless in
the darkness, but that is because there is no light. A few sticks in
the stove and the glare of the fire shining through the parchment
window would make it seem cheerful and homey enough."

"But----" he broke off suddenly. "Hark. What was that?"

"I heard nothing," answered Helen.

"Listen," he said.

For perhaps twenty seconds they stood perfectly still, then somewhere
in the wood some unseen creature barked. Stane laughed at himself.

"A fox! I believe I am getting nervous," he said, beginning to move
forward. Helen moved with him, and they entered the cabin together.
Striking a match and lighting a slush lamp which he had devised, Stane
looked round. Things were just as they had left them on their
departure, and he drew a little breath of relief. Why he should do so
he could not have explained, any more than he could have explained the
feeling of apprehension which had overtaken him. A few minutes passed,
and soon the stove was roaring, filling the cabin with a cheerful glow.
Then whilst the girl busied herself with preparations for supper, he
went outside to bring in more wood. On the return journey, as he kicked
open the cabin-door, for a second his slightly stooping form was
outlined against the light and in that second he caught sounds which
caused him to drop the logs and to jump forward, suddenly. He threw the
door to hurriedly and as hurriedly dropped the bar in place. Helen
looked round in surprise.

"What is it?" she asked quickly.

"There is some one about," he answered. "I heard the twang of a
bowstring and the swish of an arrow over my head. Some one aimed--Ah,
there it is!"

He pointed to the wall of the cabin, where an arrow had struck, and
still quivered. Going to the wall he dragged it out, and looked at it.
It was ivory tipped, and must have been sent with great force. The girl
looked at it with eyes that betrayed no alarm, though her face had
grown pale.

"An Indian!" she said.

"Yes," he answered. "And more than one I should fancy. That fox-bark
was a signal. No doubt it gave notice of our return."

"What shall we do?" asked Helen quietly.

"Do!" he answered with a short laugh. "We will have our supper and wait
developments. We can do nothing else. We shall have to wait until
daylight--then we may learn something."

Helen nodded. "Yes, I suppose there is nothing else to do; and a
hostile force outside is no reason why we should die of hunger within."

Calmly, as if hostile Indians were part of the daily program, she
continued the preparations for supper, whilst Stane fixed a blanket
over the parchment window, which was the one vulnerable point in the
cabin. This he wedged with the top of a packing case, which the owner
of the cabin had improvised for a shelf, and by the time he had
finished, supper was almost ready. As they seated themselves at the
table, the girl laughed suddenly.

"I suppose we are in a state of siege?"

"I don't know, but I should not be surprised. It is very likely."

"I feel quite excited," she said. "Do you think we shall have to
fight?"

"It depends what the intentions of our friends outside may be. We shall
certainly have to be on the alert."

"You mean we shall have to keep watch."

"That I think will be necessary. They might try to rush the cabin,
though I do not think they will. It is pretty solidly built."

"Why should Indians attack us?"

"I do not know. They may think that we are interfering with their
hunting-rights."

"Perhaps this hostility explains why the owner of the cabin has not
returned."

"That is possible. This is a good fur country; but he may have felt
that the furs were not worth the risk."

"Yes!" answered Helen, and after a moment's silence asked: "Do you
think those Indians up the lake have anything to do with it?"

"That is more than possible, indeed, it is very likely. I did not like
that old chief. There was a very cunning look in his eyes and it is
very possible that he designs to get rid of both us and Anderton. The
mysterious visitants we have had, and the man in the wood this morning
have a rather ominous look."

"But we shall fight them?"

"Of course! If they are going to fight, we shall fight; though for your
sake I hope that won't be necessary."

"Oh, you must not mind me," was the reply, given with a little laugh.
"The truth is that I think I should rather enjoy a fight."

Stane gave her a quick look of admiration. "I know you will not be
afraid," he said, "and if Anderton gets through it may not be long
before help arrives. Also it must be remembered that we may be
disturbing ourselves unnecessarily. That," he nodded towards the
arrow--"may be no more than the malicious freak of some hunter
returning home, and meant to scare us."

"But you do not think so?" asked Helen, looking at his grave face.

"Well----" he began, but the girl interrupted him.

"You don't," she cried. "I know you don't. You have already admitted
that you think the matter is serious, as I do myself, though I don't
pretend to know anything about Indians. In a situation of this sort the
truth is the best, and I know, we both know, that there is some
occasion for concern. Is not that so?"

"Well," he agreed, "we can't be too careful."

"Then tell me what we must do," she said a little reproachfully, "and
don't make me feel that I am a child."

He considered a moment, then he replied: "We must keep watch and watch
through the night. Not that I think there will be any attack. These
Northern Indians are wonderfully patient. They will play a waiting
game, and in the end make a surprise attack. They will know that now we
are on the alert, and I should not be surprised if for the present they
have withdrawn altogether."

"You really believe that?"

"Honestly and truly!"

"Then for the moment we are safe."

"Yes! I think so; and you can go to rest with a quiet mind."

"Rest!" laughed the girl. "Do you think I can rest with my heart
jumping with excitement? I shall keep the first watch, perhaps after
that I shall be sufficiently tired--and bored--to go to sleep."

Stane smiled at her words, and admiration of her courage glowed in his
eyes, but what she suggested fitted in well enough with his own
desires, and he let her have her way, and himself lay down on his couch
of spruce-boughs, and after a little time pretended to sleep. But in
reality sleep was far from his eyes. From where he lay, he could see
the girl's face, as she sat in the glowing light of the stove. There
was a thoughtful, musing look upon it, but no sign of fear whatever,
and he knew that her courageous demeanour was not an assumed one, but
was the true index of the gay courage of her heart.

Helen was thinking of the face of Miskodeed as she had seen it over her
shoulder, when they were departing from the encampment up the lake. She
had read there a love for the man who was her own companion, and in the
dark, wildly beautiful eyes she had seen the jealousy of an
undisciplined nature. And as she sat in the glowing light of the stove,
she was conscious of a feeling of antagonism to this rare daughter of
the wilds who dared to love the man whom she herself loved. She
understood, from the feelings she herself was conscious of, what must
be the Indian girl's attitude towards herself, and was inclined to
trace the hostility which had suddenly manifested itself to that
source. The girl had been in the neighbourhood of the cabin once, she
was sure of that, and might have come again, probably by some short
path through the woods, her hand, possibly, had drawn the bow and sent
the arrow which had awakened their apprehensions. But in that case, she
asked herself, why had the arrow been directed against her companion
rather than herself?

That she could not understand, and after a time her thoughts passed to
the story which Stane had related to the policeman, and the account of
the forged bill that the latter had given. The two together seemed
absolutely conclusive. What a man had done once on the way of crime, he
could do again, and as her conviction of Gerald Ainley's guilt grew,
she was quite sure that somehow he was the moving spirit in her
companion's deportation from Fort Malsun. He had not expected to see
Hubert Stane, and when the latter had demanded an interview he had been
afraid, and in his fear had taken steps for his removal. Ainley loved
her; but now, if he were the last man left in the world, she would
never----

A sound of movement interrupted her reverie, and she half-turned as
Stane rose from his spruce-couch.

"You have heard nothing?" he asked.

"Nothing!" she replied.

"I will take the watch now, Miss Yardely, and do you lie down and
rest."

"I will lie down," she said with a little laugh, "but I am afraid sleep
will be another matter. My mind is in a ferment."

"You can try at any rate," he said. "I will call you if any untoward
thing occurs."

"You promise?" she asked. "I wouldn't miss one bit of anything that is
happening--not for worlds."

"I promise," he answered with a smile.

"Though I devoutly hope there will be no need for me to keep the
promise."

"I'm not at all sure I do," laughed Helen, and obediently retired to
her screened bunk.

Stane lit his pipe, and seated himself near the stove. He had, as he
had previously told the girl, little fear of any attack developing that
night, and this anticipation proved to be the correct one. The still,
dead hours passed in quietness, and when the grey day broke, he
cautiously opened the cabin-door and looked out. Nothing stirred
anywhere, either in the forest or lakewards. He turned and looked at
his companion who had just emerged from her sleeping place.

"I think we have our little world to ourselves again."

"Whoever made the attack may be lurking in the woods!" said Helen.

"That of course is more than possible, but I do not think it is likely.
It is extremely cold and a night in the open would be anything but
desirable. The attacker or attackers, if from the Indian encampment,
probably returned there. They must know that we can't leave here, and
they will probably try to lull us into a feeling of security, and then
attempt a surprise. Anyway after breakfast we'll beat the neighbouring
coverts, I don't fancy being kept indoors by an enemy who may prove to
be very contemptible."

When breakfast was finished and the necessary morning tasks finished,
Stane, who had been in and out of the hut frequently and had kept a
careful watch on the wood and lake, looked at Helen.

"Do you feel equal to facing the possible danger, Miss Yardely?"

"I am not afraid," answered Helen quickly, "and if I were I wouldn't
own it--or show it, I hope."

"I don't believe you would," replied Stane with a smile. "We will go
out, first on the lake where we can survey the shore; and then along
the path in the woods where we saw that man yesterday."

"About that man," said Helen slowly. "There was something that I meant
to tell you yesterday, but I forgot it again in the excitement of Mr.
Anderton's arrival."

"What was that?" asked Stane pausing in the act of slipping on his fur
parka.

"Well, I had an odd fancy that he was not an Indian."

"You thought he was a white man?"

"Yes," answered Helen, "that idea occurred to me when you spoke of
Indians. The man may have been a native, but in the fleeting glimpse I
had of him he did not give me that impression. Of course I may be
utterly mistaken."

"But what white man would run away from us?" asked Stane, thoughtfully.
"What could possibly be his reason for avoiding us?"

"I don't know," answered Helen, with a quick laugh. "And as it may be
no more than my fancy, the question of the man's racial identity is not
worth worrying over. I merely thought I would tell you what my
impression was."

Stane nodded. "Anyway, white or red he is not going to keep us from our
walk. Are you ready?"

"Quite," she answered, and going outside they slipped on their
snow-shoes, and then made a bee-line out on the lake.

They walked forward for perhaps half-a-mile and halted at a point
whence they got a wide view of the shore. Stane looked up and down the
lake. Its smooth white surface was absolutely without life but for his
companion and himself. Then he scrutinized the shore, point by point,
creek by creek, and Helen also looked carefully.

"No sign of any one," he commented at last. "No camp or fire, we might
be alone in the world. If there is any one he is hidden in the deep
woods, and for the present invisible. I think instead of going back to
the cabin we will make a detour to the point where we surprised the
stranger yesterday."

Stane leading, to break the track in the untrodden snow, they made
their way shorewards and struck it well to the north of the cabin, then
began to work through the woods, keeping a sharp look out as they went.
They saw nothing, however, and when they reached the bushes behind
which the stranger had slipped the previous day, there were no fresh
tracks to awaken alarm. They stood there looking down between the
serried lines of trees. Nothing save the trees was visible, and there
was no sound of movement anywhere. The silence was the silence of
primeval places, and somehow, possibly because of the tenseness of
nerve induced by the circumstances of the walk, the girl was more
conscious of it than ever she had been before.

"There is something inimical in the silence up here," she said in a
whisper, as she gave a little shudder. "One has a feeling as if all the
world of nature were lying in wait to ambush one."

"Nature red in tooth and claw," Stane quoted lightly, "only up here her
teeth are white, and her claws also. And when she bares them a man has
little chance. But I understand your feeling, one has the sense of a
besetting menace. I felt it often last winter when I was new to the
country, and it is a very nasty feeling--as if malign gods were at work
to destroy one, or as if fate were about to snip with her scissors."

"Yes," answered the girl, still whisperingly, then she smiled. "I have
never felt quite like this before. I suppose it rises out of the real
menace that may be hidden in the woods, the menace of some one watching
and waiting to strike."

"Very possible," answered Stane, flashing a quick look at her. He was
looking for the sign of fear, but found none, and a second later he
said abruptly: "Miss Yardely, I think you are very brave."

"Oh," laughed the girl in some confusion, "I don't know that, but I
hope I am not below the general average of my sex."

"You are above it," he said with emphasis. "And I know that this, even
for the bravest of women, must be rather a nerve-breaking walk."

"I won't deny that I find it so," was the reply. "But I am sustained by
an ideal."

"Indeed?" he asked inquiringly.

"Yes! Years ago I read about some English women in India who were at a
military station when the Mutiny broke out. The regiments in the
neighbourhood were suspected of disloyalty and any sign of fear or
panic would have precipitated a catastrophe. If the women had left, the
Sepoys would have known that they were suspected, so they remained
where they were, attending to their households, paying their ordinary
calls, riding about the district as if the volcano were not bubbling
under their feet, and they even got up a ball in defiance of the
danger. Some people would call the latter mere bravado, but I am sure
it was just a picturesque kind of courage, and in any case it impressed
the Sepoys. Those particular regiments remained loyal--and it was the
behaviour of the white women which saved the situation. And their
courage is my ideal. I have always felt that if I were placed in a
similar situation I would at least try to live up to it."

"You are doing so," answered Stane with conviction. "This situation is
not quite the same, but----" He broke off and looked round the silent
woods, which might well be the hiding-place of implacable enemies, then
added: "Well, it is a test of character and courage!"

"Oh," laughed the girl a little nervously, "you do not know how I am
quaking inwardly."

"I am not to blame for that," he answered laughingly, "you conceal the
fact so well."

In due time they reached the cabin without mishap. They had found no
sign of the enemy of the previous night. If he still lurked in the wood
he kept himself hidden and Stane hoped that he had withdrawn for good.
But he determined to take no chances, and busied himself in the next
few hours with cutting a good store of wood which he stacked in the
cabin. He also chopped a considerable amount of ice which he stored as
far away from the stove as possible. Some cached moose-meat, which was
frozen solid as a board, he hung on the rafters of the cabin, which
themselves were white with frost.

The short day had almost ended when he had completed these tasks, and
he was about to enter the cabin, when through the dusk he caught sight
of a figure, standing among the trees openly watching him. The garb
proclaimed the figure to be that of a woman, and for a moment he was
utterly startled. Then, acting on impulse, he started to walk towards
the watcher, his unmittened hand on the butt of the pistol at his hip.



CHAPTER XVII

THE ATTACK


The watching woman made no attempt to escape, but somewhat to Stane's
surprise, awaited his coming. As he drew nearer he was again startled
to find that it was the girl whom he had talked with at Fort Malsun.

"Miskodeed," he cried in surprise. "You! What are you doing here?"

"I come to warn thee," said the girl in her own dialect. "Once before I
did that, and I was too late. But now I am in time."

"To warn me?" he echoed, still too surprised to say more.

"Yes," answered Miskodeed. "There are those who will seek to kill thee
tonight."

"Tonight! But why?"

"I do not know, fully. The thing is hidden from me, but there is some
one who means to slay."

"Who is it?" asked Stane in sudden curiosity.

"It is the son of Chief George's sister--the man for whom the officer
came to the encampment yesterday."

"Then he is at the camp, after all?"

"He was there when the officer came. The story which Chief George told
about his departure to the Great Barrens was a lie."

"But why should he seek to kill me?"

"Have I not said I do not know fully? But he promises big things if
thou are slain: rifles and the water that burns and makes men sing, and
tea and molasses, and blankets for the women."

"But," protested Stane, "I have but one rifle and little spirit and
tea. I am not worth plundering, and Chief George must know that the law
will take account of his doings, and that the grip of the law reaches
right up to the Frozen Sea."

"He knows," answered the girl quietly, "but Chigmok--that is his
sister's son--has filled him with a lying tale that the law will take
no account of thee, and he believes, as Chigmok himself believes."

"But----" began Stane, and broke off as the girl lifted her hand.

"Chief George has seen the rifles, and the burning water, the box of
tea and the bale of blankets, and his soul is hungry for them. He would
kill more than thee to win them."

"And the--the man who is with me?"

A little flash came in the girl's dark eyes. "That man----" she said in
a voice that had an edge like a knife, "tell me, is she thy squaw?"

"Then you know, Miskodeed?" he said, with a quick feeling of shame.

"I know that man is the bright-faced woman who came to Fort Malsun.
Tell me, is she thy squaw?"

"No?" he answered sharply. "No!"

"Then what does she in thy lodge?"

"That is due to an accident. She drifted down to the great river, and I
saved her from the water, and started to take her back to Fort Malsun.
Our canoe was stolen in the night, and when we took the land-trail my
leg was broken and we were delayed, and by the time I was fit for
travel, winter was upon us, so we sought the cabin to wait for help.
That is the explanation, and now tell me, Miskodeed, is the woman to
die?"

"The bright-faced one is to be saved alive."

"Ah! That is an order?"

"It is necessary for the winning of the rifles, and the tea and the
blankets."

Stane pursed his lips to whistle at the news. There was more behind it
than appeared; and he knew that Chigmok the murderous half-breed was
not the framer of the plot, however, he might be the instrument for its
execution. He looked at the girl thoughtfully for a moment, and as he
did so a soft look came in the wild, dark eyes that were regarding him
intently.

"Canst thou not leave the bright-faced woman, and I will show thee a
way through the woods. We will go together----"

"It is impossible! Quite impossible, Miskodeed," cried Stane almost
violently.

He did not know that other ears than those to which they were addressed
caught those words of repudiation. Helen Yardely, missing his presence
about the cabin, had stepped out to look for him, and catching a murmur
of voices in the still air, had stood listening. The words, coupled
with the girl's name, reached her quite clearly, and struck her like a
blow. She did not wait to hear more, but retreated to the cabin, her
cheeks burning with shame, her grey eyes bright with fierce scorn. She
did not know to what the words referred, but, in her haste and jealousy
she utterly misinterpreted the situation, and her scorn was as much for
herself as for Stane as she thought how she had grown to love a man
who----

The thought was an intolerable one. She could not endure it, and she
began fiercely to do a totally unnecessary task in the hope of driving
it from her. That was impossible, and after a minute or two she seated
herself in front of the stove and stared into its glow with eyes that
flashed with mingled anger and pain, the while she awaited Stane's
return.

Meanwhile, the interview which had kindled such fires within her had
already come to an abrupt conclusion. For as Stane declined her
suggestion Miskodeed lifted a warning finger.

"Hark!" she whispered.

Stane listened, as did the girl. Whatever sound had made her speak the
word was hushed, and after a few seconds she spoke again. "Then thou
wilt die for this bright-faced woman?"

"A thousand times!" he answered with quiet vehemence. "Understand,
Miskodeed----"

He got no further. In the recesses of the wood a fox barked sharply,
and a second later the sound was repeated in two different directions.

"Ah," cried the Indian girl, "They come. Thou art too late. Thou wilt
die for thy bright-faced woman now--once."

A second later she turned away, and began to walk rapidly between the
trees. Stane did not stand to watch her go. Without an instant's delay
he made for the cabin at a run, and as he entered it, breathing rather
heavily, he flung to the door and dropped the wooden bar in place. Then
without a word he walked to the window and barricaded it as he had done
on the previous night. Helen still seated by the stove looked at him in
some wonder, and he offered what to him appeared a sufficient
explanation.

"Last night when we returned a fox barked in the wood, and a little
after some one shot an arrow to kill me. Just now three foxes barked in
quick succession in different directions, and as I have not seen a fox
since we came here, I think it is as well to take precautions."

To his surprise Helen offered no comment, but sat there as if waiting
for further explanations. He offered none. Being unaware of his
companion's knowledge of his interview with Miskodeed he had decided to
keep the incident to himself, and not to alarm her more than was
necessary. Seating himself, he lit a pipe, and as his companion showed
no inclination to talk, fell into thought. There was a rather strained,
perplexed look on his face, and as the girl glanced at him once she
wondered resentfully what thoughts accounted for it. His silence about
the Indian girl told against him in her mind. If there had been nothing
to be ashamed of in his relations with Miskodeed why had he not spoken
openly of the incident in the wood? Jealousy, it was recorded of old,
is as cruel as the grave, and as the hot flame of it grew in her heart,
she almost hated the girl who was the occasion of it.

As a matter of sober fact, Stane was thinking little of Miskodeed
herself, but much of the information she had brought. Whilst he kept
his ears open for any unusual sounds outside the cabin, his mind was
trying to probe the mystery behind the attack that, as he was sure, was
preparing. Who was the inspirer of it, and why should his death be
designed, whilst his companion must be spared? Miskodeed had spoken of
the price that was to be paid for the attack--rifles and spirit, tea,
molasses and blankets. The nature of the bribe was such as would tempt
any tribe in the North and was also such as implied a white man in the
background. But who was the white man who so chose his instruments for
a deed from which apparently he himself shrank? The question perplexed
him, and a deep furrow manifested itself between his eyes as he strove
to answer it. Ainley? He dallied with the thought for a little time,
and then dismissed it. Ainley was afraid of him and shrank from meeting
him, but he would hardly go to such lengths as Miskodeed's statement
implied; nor would he involve Helen Yardely's life in the extreme risk
incidental to an attack in force on the cabin. It was unthinkable!

His mind sought other explanations. Was there some other man, some
white man who had seen Helen and by this means hoped to secure her for
himself? The thought was preposterous. Then a new thought leaped up.
The reward Sir James was offering for his niece's recovery! Had some
man his eye on that--some unscrupulous adventurer, who fearing possibly
that he himself might claim a share in it, proposed to get rid of him
that there might be no division of the spoil? That seemed barely
feasible, and----

His thought suffered a sudden interruption. From outside came the
crunch of moccasined feet on the frozen snow. He started to his feet,
and took up his rifle, glancing quickly at the girl as he did so. There
was a flush of excitement in her face, but the eyes that met his
chilled him with their unresponsiveness. He held out his machine
pistol.

"You had better have this, for the present, Miss Yardely, for I believe
the attack is coming. But don't use it unless I tell you."

She took the pistol without a word, and the austerity of her manner as
she did so, even in that moment, set him wondering what was the cause
of it. But he had little time to dwell upon the matter for more
footsteps were audible, and a voice grunted words that he did not
catch. He picked up an ax, put it ready to his hand close to the door
and then extinguished the slush-lamp.

The cabin was now full of shadows, though he could still see the girl's
face in the glare of the stove, and marked with satisfaction that it
bore no sign of fear. The position where she stood, however, was not a
safe one, and he was constrained to bid her change it.

"You had better come into the corner here, Miss Yardely. It is out of
range of any chance arrow through the window. That barricade of mine
cannot last long, and they are sure to try the window."

The girl did not answer, but she changed her position, moving to the
corner he had indicated, and just as she did so, two or three blows of
an ax (as he guessed) knocked out the parchment of the window, but the
barricade stood firm. The attack however, continued, and as the
improvised shutter began to yield, Stane raised his rifle.

"There is nothing else for it," he whispered.

The next moment the rifle cracked and the sound was followed by a cry
of pain.

"First blood!" he said, a little grimly.

There was a short lull, then something heavy smashed against the
shutter and it collapsed in the room. As it did so a gun barrel was
thrust in the opening, and a shot was fired apparently at random. The
bullet struck the cabin wall a full two yards from where Helen was
standing. Stane turned to her quickly.

"As close in the corner as you can get, Miss Yardely; then there will
be no danger except from a ricochet."

Helen obeyed him. The excitement of the moment banished her resentment,
and as she watched him standing there, cool and imperturbable as he
waited events, a frank admiration stirred within her. Whatever his
sins, he was a man!

Then came a new form of attack. Arrows fired from different angles
began to fly through the open space, making a vicious sound as they
struck various parts of the cabin. Stane calculated the possible angles
of their flight and gave a short laugh. "They're wasting labour now.
That dodge won't work."

The flight of arrows, however, continued for a little time, then
followed that which Stane had begun to fear. The space of the window
suddenly grew plainer, outlined by a glow outside, and the next moment
three blazing armfuls of combustible material were heaved in at the
window. Stane fired twice during the operation, but whether he hit or
not he did not know. One of the burning bundles fell in the bunk, which
was soon ablaze, and the cabin began to fill with smoke. At the same
time the besieged became aware of a fierce crackling outside, and the
outlook in the snow-covered lake was illumined by a growing glow. Stane
understood the meaning of the phenomenon at once, and looked at the
girl.

"They are trying to burn down the cabin," he said. "I am afraid it is a
choice of evils, Miss Yardely. We must either stay here, and die of
suffocation or fire, or face the music outside."

"Then let us go outside," answered the girl resolutely.

"I do not believe they will injure you. I believe that they have orders
to the contrary, but----"

"Did Miskodeed tell you so?"

For the moment he was utterly staggered by the question, then
perceiving that she knew of his recent interview with the Indian girl,
he answered frankly:

"Yes! You are to be taken alive, but I am to die, according to the
program as arranged!"

"Oh, no! no!" she cried in sudden anguish. "You must not die. You must
fight! You must live! live! I do not want you to die!"

In the growing light in the burning cabin he could see her face quite
plainly, and the anguished concern in her eyes shook him as the dangers
around him never could have done. Moved for a moment beyond himself, he
stretched a hand towards her.

"My dear!" he stammered. "My dear----"

"Oh then you know that I am that?" she cried.

"I have known it for months!"

She made a little movement that brought her closer to him, and yielding
to the surging impulse in his heart, he threw an arm round her.

"If you die----" she began, and broke off as a gust of smoke rolled
over them.

"I think it is very likely," he answered. "But I am glad to have had
this moment."

He stooped and kissed her, and a sob came from her.

"I shall die too!" she said. "We will die together--but it would have
been splendid to live."

"But you will live," he said. "You must live. There is no need that you
should die."

"But what shall I live for?" she cried. "And why am I to be spared?
Have you thought of that?"

"Yes," he answered quickly, and gave her a hurried account of his own
thought upon the matter. "If I am right no harm will befall you. And we
must go. It is time. Look!"

A little tongue of flame was creeping through the joining of the logs
at one end of the cabin, and the logs where the bunk had been were
beginning to crackle and hiss ominously. The smoke had grown thicker,
and the atmosphere was pungent and choking in its quality. He left her
side for a moment, and returned with her furs.

"You must put them on," he said, "or you will freeze outside."

He himself had slipped on his own furs, and when he had helped her into
hers, he took his rifle and nodded towards the pistol which she still
held.

"You need not use it--outside," he said. "Keep it for--for
eventualities. You understand?"

"I understand," she answered calmly, knowing that in the last resource
she was to do what many women of her race had done before her.

"I will go first," he said. "And you must wait a full minute before
emerging. I shall try and make for the woods at the back, and if I get
clear you shall follow me--you understand?"

"Oh my man! my man!" she cried in a shaking voice, knowing that though
he spoke lightly, he had little hope of escape.

Not knowing what to say, or how to comfort her, Stane took her in his
arms again, and kissed her, then for a moment he stood listening.
Outside all was still or whatever sounds there were were drowned by the
increasing roar and crackle of the fire.

"Now!" he said. "Now!"

He slipped down the bar, threw the door open suddenly and plunged
outside. A yell greeted his emergence and he was aware of a small group
of men standing a little way from the cabin. As he ran he fired at them
from the hip; and turned sharply to the left. The two men appeared
suddenly from behind the trees to bar his way, so quickly that he had
not time to fire the rifle before one of them grappled with him. The
rifle fell from his hand, and for a moment they struggled, then whilst
the second man was still running, a shadowy figure slipped from behind
a broad trunk close to where the two men were locked together, and
Stane caught the sudden gleam of a knife as the light from the fire
glinted upon it. He was unable to help himself, and, held in his
antagonist's arms, he waited for the impending stroke. Twice the knife
descended, and his opponent's grip suddenly slackened and the man slid
slowly to the ground. The running man had now reached the scene of the
struggle. He carried a hatchet in his hand, and he struck first at the
unknown one who had killed his companion, and the unknown one went down
like a log. Before Stane had recovered from his surprise the ax was
raised again. He leaped at the man just as the ax descended. An
intervening bough turned the stroke, twisting the ax so that it caught
the side of his head, knocking him senseless. As he fell to the ground,
the Indian raised the ax once more. Before the blow could fall, a rifle
cracked in the wood behind him, and the attacker leaped in the air, and
pitched forward upon his face.



CHAPTER XVIII

A DEAD GIRL


"Ah! Dat better! By gar, but I think it was New Jerusalem for you dis
time!"

The words penetrated Stane's consciousness as he opened his eyes, and
were followed by others which he obeyed instinctively. "Tak' anoder
drink. Zee whisky veel vake you proper."

He gulped from the tin pannikin which was held to his lips, and coughed
as the raw, potent spirit burned his throat. Then he sat up and looked
at the man who was befriending him.

"Who ... who are you?" he asked weakly.

"I am Jean Bènard. I come up zee lak' an' hear shots an' I see my cabin
blaze like hell. I tink somethin' ver' badly wrong an' I turn to zee
woods. Den I see you rush out an' I hear you shoot as you run. I see
dat big man struggle with you, I see him keeled by anoder who go down,
aussi, and when zee man with zee ax mak' for you I begin to shoot. I am
in zee wood, an' zee divils they do not see me, an' I pick off un,
deux, trois! Dey are dere still, after dey others grow afraid an' run
like caribou with zee wolves at dere heels. It ees fine sport, an' I
shoot as dey ran, an' presently I am left alone. I shovel snow wit' a
snow-shoe on my burning cabin, for I love dat petite cabin like a
child, an' den I tink I take a look at you. You not dead, so I pour hot
whisky in your mouth an' you return from zee happy-huntin' grounds.
Dere you have zee whole narrative."

"But Helen?" cried Stane, looking round. "Where----"

"I haf seen not any mees!" answered the trapper. "I did not know dat
dere was----"

"Then they have taken her," exclaimed Stane, staggering to his feet,
and looking round.

Jean Bènard also looked round. Except for the figures lying prone in
the snow they were quite alone. "Dey must haf done," he said, "eef dere
was a mees!"

He looked at Stane, as if he doubted his sanity and Stane reassured
him. "Oh I have not gone mad, Bènard. There was a white girl with me in
your cabin, Miss Yardely. You must have heard----"

"Mees Yardely! She ees here?" cried the trapper in sudden excitement.

"She was here!" corrected Stane. "I think she has been carried off. We
must follow!"

"Oui! Oui!" replied Bènard. "I haf heard of her. The factor at Fort
Malsun, he tell me to keep a bright look-out. Dere ees a reward----"

"We must get her!" interrupted Stane. "You must help me and I will
double the reward. You understand?"

"Oui, I understand, m'sieu. Dis girl she ees mooch to you?"

"She is all the world to me."

"Den we go, m'sieu. But first we feed an' rest zee dogs. We travel
queeck, after, vous comprenez? I will a meal make, an' your head it
will recover, den we travel lik' zee wind."

The trapper made his way into the still smouldering hut, and began to
busy himself with preparations, whilst Stane looked round again. The
darkness, and the figures lying in the snow gave the scene an
indescribable air of desolation, and for a moment he stood without
moving; then, as something occurred to him, he began to walk towards
the place where he had been struck down. Three figures lay there
huddled grotesquely in the snow, and to one of them he owed his life.
Which of them was it? Two of the dead lay with their faces in the snow,
but the third was on its back, face upward to the sky. He stood and
looked into the face. It was that of the man whom he had grappled, and
who had been struck down with the knife that he had expected to strike
himself. He looked at the other two. An ax lay close to the hand of
one, and he had no doubt that that one was the man who would have slain
him. The third one was his saviour. He looked again, and as he noted
the dress a cold fear gripped his heart, for it was the dress of a
woman. He fell on his knees and turned the body over, then he bent over
the face. As he did so, he started back, and a sharp cry came from his
lips. The cry brought Jean Bènard from the hut at a run.

"What ees it, m'sieu?" he asked as he reached Stane who knelt there as
if turned to stone.

"It is a dead girl," answered Stane, brokenly--"a girl who gave her
life for mine."

The trapper bent over the prostrate form, then he also cried out.

"Miskodeed!"

"Yes! Miskodeed. I did not know it was she! She killed one of them with
her knife, and she was slain by the other."

"Whom I keel with the bullet!" For a moment Jean Bènard said no more,
but when he spoke again there was a choking sound in his voice. "I am
glad I keel dat man! eef I haf not done so, I follow heem across zee
world till it was done." Something like a sob checked his utterance.
"Ah, m'sieu, I love dat girl. I say to myself all zee way from Good
Hope dat I weel her marry, an' I haf the price I pay her fader on zee
sledge. I see her las' winter; but I not know den how it ees with me;
but when I go away my heart cry out for her, an' my mind it ees make
up.... An' now she ees dead! I never tink of dat! I tink only of zee
happy years dat we weel haf togeder!"

He dropped suddenly in the snow, and bent over the face in its frozen
beauty, sobbing as only a strong man can. He bent lower and kissed the
ice-cold lips, whilst Stane staggered to his feet, and moved away. He
could not endure to look on Jean Bènard's grief. As he stood staring
into the darkness of the wood, he had a flashing memory of the Indian
girl's face as she had whisperingly asked him if he could not leave
Helen, the very note in her voice sounded in his ears, and, he knew
what it was no harm for him to know then, that this child of the
wilderness had given him her love, unsought. She had loved him, and she
had died for him, whilst a man who had loved her, now wept over her
poor body. The tragedy of it all shook him, and the irony of Jean
Bènard's grief was almost beyond endurance. A great humility filled his
heart, and whilst he acquitted himself of blame, he regretted deeply
his vehemence of repudiation. All her words came back to him in a
flood. She must have guessed that he loved Helen; yet in the greatness
of her love, she had risked her life without hope, and died for him
without shrinking.

He began to walk to and fro, instinctively fighting the cold, with all
his mind absorbed in Miskodeed's little tragedy; but presently the
thought of Helen came to him, and he walked quickly to where Jean
Bènard still knelt in the snow. The trapper's face was hidden in his
mittened hands. For a moment Stane hesitated, then he placed a hand on
the man's shoulder.

"Jean Bènard," he said quietly, "there is work to do."

Bènard rose slowly to his feet, and in the little light reflected from
the snow Stane read the grief of the man's heart in his face.

"Oui! m'sieu! We must her bury; ma petite Miskodeed."

"That, yes! But there is other work."

"I could not endure to tink dat zee wolves get her----"

"I will help you, Jean. And then you will help me."

"Non! m'sieu. Help I do not need. I weel myself do zee las' duty for ma
pauvre Miskodeed. My hands that would haf held an' fondled her, dey
shall her prepare; an' I dat would haf died for her--I shall her bury.
You, m'sieu, shall say zee prayer, for I haf not zee religion, but----"

"Call me when you are ready!" interrupted Stane, and turned away,
finding the situation intolerably poignant.

He went to the hut, and busied himself with the meal which the trapper
had been preparing, and presently Jean Bènard called him.

The man had swathed the dead girl in a blanket and had bent the tops of
a couple of small spruce, growing close together, almost to the ground,
holding them in position with a sled thong. To the trees he had lashed
the corpse, and he was standing by with a knife in his hand.

"Zee ground," he said in a steady voice, "ees too frozen to dig. We
bury Miskodeed in zee air; an' when zee spring winds blow an' the
ground grow soft again, I dig a grave. Now eef m'sieu ees ready we will
haf zee words of religion."

Stane, almost choked at the poignant irony of the thing, then shaped
his lips to the great words that would have been strange if not
unmeaning to the dead girl.

_"I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in Me, though
he were dead yet shall he live...._"

For the comfort of the man, who stood by knife in hand, he recited
every word that he could remember, and when he reached the words, "We
therefore commit her body to the grave," the keen knife severed the
moose-hide thong, and the trees, released, bent back, carrying the
girl's body to its windy sepulchre, amid a shower of snow that
scattered from the neighbouring trees. Stane pronounced the
benediction, waited a few moments, then again he put a hand on the
other's shoulder.

"Bènard, we have done what we can for the dead; now we must think of
the living."

"Oui, m'sieu!"

"You must eat! I have prepared a meal. And when you have eaten and the
dogs are ready we must start on the trail of Miss Yardely."

"Oui, m'sieu."

They returned to the hut together, and noting that some of the outer
logs were still smouldering, the trapper shovelled snow against them
with his snow-shoes, then they entered. The cabin was not so badly
burned as Stane had expected to find it. The bunk had burned out, but
the inner wall of the cabin had scarcely caught and the place was still
tenable. Bènard blocked the window, and they sat down to eat. For a
time the meal progressed in silence, Stane deliberately refraining from
speech out of consideration for the feelings of his companion, though
from time to time glancing at him he caught an expression of perplexity
on the trapper's face. Suddenly Bènard spoke.

"But, m'sieu, I do not understand eet. You haf no quarrel with zee
tribe?"

"None," answered Stane, and then told him the facts communicated to him
by Miskodeed.

"Ah! then, m'sieu, dere ees a white man at zee back of things. Dat
Chigmok, he ees no good, he what you call a rotter, but he not dare to
do this ting heemself."

"That is how I feel," answered Stane. "But how we are to get at the
truth of the matter, I do not know."

"We weel go to zee encampment. We weel mak' Chief George tell zee
truth."

"If we can!" commented Stane dubiously.

"As you say, eef we can. But somethings we shall learn, m'sieu, dat ees
certain."

"I hope so, Jean."

An hour afterwards they started, following the trail up the lake left
by the fugitives, a broadly marked trail, which revealed that a sledge
had been used, for there were the marks of the runners both coming and
going. As they started, the trapper pointed this out.

"You see, m'sieu, dey come prepared. Dey know dat your Helen she weel
not walk; therefore dey bring zee sled, an' lash her thereto."

"Yes! That seems likely," agreed Stane, his heart aflame with wrath at
the thought of the possible indignities to which the girl might have
been subjected. In silence they travelled up the lake, and after a time
reached the place where the moose-hide tepees lifted their shadowy
forms against the background of snow and trees. The camp was dark and
silent as a place of the dead. For a moment the thought that the whole
tribe had moved away, deserting their tents, held Stane's mind; but it
was dispelled by the whisper of Jean Bènard.

"Do you stay here with zee dogs, m'sieu, whilst I go drag out Chief
George. Have zee rifle ready; an' eef dere is trouble, be prompt at zee
shootin'. Vous comprenez?"

"Yes," answered Stane, "if there is trouble I will not hesitate."

He stood with the rifle ready, watching Bènard's progress across the
snow. He saw him reach the chief's tepee, and throw open the moose-hide
flap, then disappear inside. He waited for what seemed an intolerable
time, and once heard a rustle from the nearest tepee, and divined that
in spite of the stillness of the camp, quick eyes were watching the
doings of his companion and himself. Then he caught a coughing grunt,
and out of the tepee which the trapper had entered, emerged two forms,
the first bent and shambling, the other that of Jean Bènard. They
picked their way, walking close together, between the moose-hide tents,
and as they drew near the sledge, Stane saw that the shambling form was
that of Chief George, and that he walked with the muzzle of the
trapper's pistol in the small of his back.

"We weel go forwards up zee lak' a leetle way, m'sieu, out of
arrow-shot. Den Chief George he weel talk or die."

They marched up the lake five hundred yards or more, the camp behind
them maintaining the silence of the dead, then Bènard halted.

"Now," he said, "we weel talk!"

Pointing his pistol at the Indian and speaking in the patois of the
tribe, he addressed him.

"What means the attack upon my cabin?"

"I know nothing," mumbled the Indian, shaking with fear or cold. "It
was Chigmok--my sister's son--who led the young men away."

"So! But thou hast seen the rifles and the burning water, the blankets,
the tea and the molasses which are the price to be paid. I know that
thou hast seen them." At the words the Chief started a little, then he
made a mumbling admission:

"Yes, I have seen them. They are a great price."

"But who pays?"

"I know not. A white man, that is all I know. The rest is known to
Chigmok alone."

Bènard considered the answer for a moment, and entertaining no doubt
that it was the true one, wasted no further time in that direction.

"Whither has the white maiden been carried?"

Chief George waved his hand to the East. "Through the woods to the lake
of Little Moose, there to meet the man who pays the price."

"These words are the words of truth?" asked the trapper, harshly. "If
thou liest----"

"Wherefore should I lie, since so much is already known to thee?"
interrupted the Indian.

"It would be unwise," agreed Bènard, and then asked: "What is to be
done to the white girl by the man who pays the price?"

"I know not; belike he will take her for his squaw, or wherefore should
he pay so great a price?"

Bènard looked at Stane. "Dere ees nothing more dat he can tell. I sure
of dat, an' we waste time."

"Yes! Let him go."

The trapper nodded and then addressed the Indian once more. "Thou wilt
go back to thy lodge now, but this is not the end. For the evil that
hath been done the price will have to be paid. Later the men of the
law, the riders-of-the-plains, will come and thee they will take----"

"It is Chigmok, my sister's son, who planned----"

"But it is thee they will take for punishment and Chigmok also. Now
go!"

Chief George waited for no second bidding, but began to shamble off
across the snow towards his encampment. The two men watched him go, in
silence for a little time, and then Stane spoke.

"This lake of the Little Moose, where is it?"

"About sixteen miles to zee East. It ees known to me. A leetle lak'
desolate as hell, in zee midst of hills. We weel go there, an' find dis
white man an' Mees Yardely."

"We must make speed or the man may be gone," responded Stane.

"Oui, I know! We weel travel through zee night. There be two ways
thither, the one through zee woods an' zee oder between zee hills. Zee
way of zee woods ees zee mos' easy, but dat of zee hills ees shorter.
We weel take dat, an' maybe we give Chigmok and his white man one
surprise."

Under the light of the stars, and helped by the occasional flashing
light of the aurora, they travelled up the lake for some distance, then
leaving its surface they turned abruptly eastward, following an
unbroken trail through a country which began rapidly to alter in
character. The great woods thinned out and the way they followed took
an upward swing, whilst a steady wind with the knife-edge cold of the
North began to blow in their faces. Stane at the gee-pole of the
sledge, bent his head before the sharp particles of ice-like snow that
it brought with it, and grew anxious lest they should be the vanguard
of a storm. But looking up he saw the stars clear overhead, and
guessing that the particles came from the trees and the high ground on
either side of them, his fears left him.

Then a new and very real trouble assailed him. He began to have cramps
in the calves of his legs, and it seemed as if his muscles were tying
themselves into knots. Sharp pains in the groin made it a torture to
lift his feet above the level of the snow; and once or twice he could
have groaned with the pain. But he set his teeth grimly, and endured it
in silence, thinking of the girl moving somewhere ahead in the hands of
a lawless and ruthless man. He knew that the torture he was suffering
was what was known among the voyageurs as _mal de roquette_, induced by
a considerable tramp on snow-shoes after a long spell of inactivity,
and that there was no relief from it, until it should gradually pass
away of its own accord.

The trail was not an easy one, and the dogs whined as they bent to the
collars, but Jean Bènard, with a frame of iron and with muscles like
steel-springs marched steadily on, for what to Stane seemed hours, then
in the shelter of a cliff crowned with trees he called a halt.

"We rest here," he said, "an' wait for zee daylight. Den we look down
on zee lak' of zee Leetle Moose. We mak' fire behind zee rock."

Without more ado, he slipped the harness from the dogs and fed them,
whilst Stane collected wood for a fire, which was made as an Indian
makes his fire, small and round, and which, built behind a mass of
rock, was hidden from any one on the lake-side of the trail. Then a
meal was prepared of which both partook heartily; and over the pipes
they sat to await the dawn. After a little while Stane, in spite of his
consuming anxiety for Helen, under the genial warmth of the fire and
the fatigue induced by the strenuous march, began to nod, and at last
fell sound asleep. But Jean Bènard watched through the night, a look of
hopelessness shadowing his kindly face.



CHAPTER XIX

A HOT TRAIL


The cold Northland dawn had broken when Stane was roused from his sleep
by the voice of his companion.

"M'sieu! m'sieu! It ees time to eat!"

Stane rubbed his eyes and looked round. Then he stood upright and
stretched himself, every stiff muscle crying out against the process.
He looked at the waiting breakfast and then at Bènard. One glance at
the drawn face of the latter told him that he had not slept, but he
refrained from comment on the fact, knowing well what thoughts must
have made sleep impossible for him.

"Have you seen anything yet, Jean?" he asked as he seated himself
again.

"Not yet, m'sieu," answered the trapper. "But eef Chief George did not
lie we cannot miss Chigmok--an zee oders."

"But if he lied?" asked Stane with a sudden accession of anxiety.

"Then we shall haf to range an' find zee trail. But I do not tink he
lie. He too mooch afraid! Eat, m'sieu, den we can watch zee lak' for
zee comin' of Chigmok."

Stane ate his breakfast quickly, and when he had finished, accompanied
Bènard a little way up the trail, which running along the base of the
cliff by which they had camped, made a sudden turn between the rocks
and unexpectedly opened out on a wide view.

Before him lay the snow-covered lake of the Little Moose, a narrow lake
perhaps fifteen miles long. On one side ran a range of high rocky
hills, a spur of which formed his own vantage place, and on the other
side were lower hills covered with bush and trees almost to their
crests. From the height where he stood he had an almost bird's-eye view
of the lake, and he examined it carefully. Nothing moved on its virgin
surface of snow. It was as blank as Modred's shield. He examined the
shore at the foot of the wood-covered hills carefully. Creek by creek,
bay by bay, his eye searched the shore-line for any sign of life. He
found none, nowhere was there any sign of life; any thin column of
smoke betokening the presence of man. He looked at the other shore of
the lake, though without any expectation of finding that which he
sought. It was bleak and barren, and precipitous in places, where the
hills seemed to rise directly from the lake's edge. Nothing moved
there, and a single glance told him that the land trail on that side
was an impossibility. He looked at his companion.

"Dey haf not yet arrive," said Bènard, answering his unspoken question.
"Dey camp in zee woods for zee night."

"If Chief George lied----"

"I say again I tink he not lie. We must haf zee patience, m'sieu. Dere
is noding else dat we can do. We are here an' we must watch."

The minutes passed slowly, and to keep themselves from freezing the two
men were forced to do sentry-go on the somewhat narrow platform where
they stood, occasionally varying the line of their short march by
turning down the trail towards their camp, a variation which for
perhaps a couple of minutes hid the lake from view. Every time they so
turned, when the lake came in sight again, Stane looked down its length
with expectation in his eyes, and every time he was disappointed. An
hour passed and still they watched without any sign of their quarry to
cheer them. Then Jean Bènard spoke.

"We tire ourselves for noding, m'sieu. We walk, walk, walk togeder, an'
when Chigmok come we too tired to follow heem. It ees better dat we
watch in turn."

Stane admitted the wisdom of this, and since he felt that it was
impossible for himself to sit still, and suspected that his companion
was sadly in need of rest, he elected to keep the first watch.

"Very well, Jean, do you go and rest first; but tell me before you go
where the party we are looking for should strike the lake."

"Ah, I forgot to tell you dat, m'sieu." He pointed towards the southern
shore of the lake, where a small tree-covered island stood about half a
mile from the shore. "You see zee island, m'sieu. Just opposite dere
ees a creek. Zee regular trail comes out to zee lak' just dere, an' it
ees dere dat you may look for zee comin' of Chigmok."

Stane looked at the island and marked the position of the creek, then
an idea struck him. "Would it not be better, Bènard, if we removed our
camp to the island? We could then surprise Chigmok when he came."

"Non, m'sieu! I tink of dat las' night; but I remember dat we must
build a fire, an' zee smoke it tell zee tale; whilst zee odour it ees
perceived afar. Den zee dogs, dey give tongue when oder dogs appear,
an' where are we? Anoder ting, s'pose Chigmok not come zee regular
trail; s'pose he knew anoder way through zee woods, an' come out
further up zee lak'. Eef we on zee island we not see heem, but up
here--" he swept a hand in front of him--"we behold zee whole lak' and
we not miss him."

"Yes," agreed Stane. "You are right, Jean. Now go and rest. I will keep
a bright look-out."

"I not doubt dat, m'sieu. You haf zee prize to watch for, but I----"

He turned away without finishing his sentence, and Stane resumed his
sentry go, stopping from time to time to view the long expanse of the
snow-covered lake, and to search the woods along the shore. As the time
passed without bringing any change, and as the unbroken surface of the
snow mocked him with its emptiness, he grew sick at heart, and a
feverish anxiety mounted within him. He felt utterly helpless, and a
fear that Chief George had lied, and had deliberately misled them, grew
in him till it reached the force of conviction. Watching that empty
valley of the lake, he felt, was a waste of time. To be doing nothing,
when Helen was being hurried to be knew not what fate, was torture to
him. It would, he thought, be better to go back on their trail, and
endeavour to pick up that of the kidnappers, since that way they would
at least be sure that they were on the right lines. So strongly did
this idea appeal to him, that he turned down the trail to the camp to
propose the plan to his companion. But when he turned the corner of the
cliff, it was to find Jean Bènard fast asleep in front of the fire, and
though his first impulse was to waken him, he refrained, remembering
how tired the man must be, and how necessary it was that he should be
as fresh as possible when the moment for action arrived.

"No," he whispered, as he looked at the bent form of the sleeping man.
"I will wait one hour, and then we will decide."

He himself was beginning to feel the strain of the steady marching to
and fro, and decided that it would be wise to spare himself as much as
possible. Accordingly he seated himself by the fire, contenting himself
by walking to the top of the trail to view the lake at intervals of
from twelve to fifteen minutes. Twice he did this and the second time
was made aware of a change in the atmosphere. It had grown much colder
and as he turned the corner of the cliff a gust of icy-wind smote him
in the face. He looked downwards. The surface of the lake was still
barren of life; but not of movement. Films of snow, driven by the gusty
wind, drove down its narrow length, were lifted higher and then
subsided as the wind fell. Overhead the sky was of a uniform leaden hue
and he knew that before long there would be snow. And if snow came----

His heart stood almost still at the thought. It might snow for days,
and in the storm, when all trails would be obliterated it would be an
easy matter to miss Helen and her captors altogether. As he returned to
the fire, his mind was full of forebodings. He was afraid, and though
Jean Bènard slept on, he himself could not rest. He made up the fire,
prepared bacon and moose meat for cooking, set some coffee to boil. It
would be as well to have a meal in case the necessity for a start
should arise. These things done he went once more to the outlook, and
surveyed the snow-covered landscape. The wind was still for the moment,
and there were no wandering wisps of snow. His first glance was towards
the creek opposite the island. There was nothing there to arrest
attention. His eyes travelled further without any light of expectation
in them. Creek by creek, bay by bay, he followed the shore line, then,
in a second, his gaze grew fixed. The lake was no longer devoid of
life. Far-off, at least ten miles, as he swiftly calculated, a blur of
black dots showed on the surface of the snow. Instantly he knew it for
what it was--a team of sled dogs. His heart leaped at the sight, and
the next moment he was running towards the camp.

"Jean! Jean!" he cried. "Jean Bènard!"

The sleeping man passed from slumber to full wakefulness with the
completeness that characterizes a healthy child.

"Ah, m'sieu," he said, standing upright. "Dey haf arrive?"

"I do not know. But there is a dog-train a long way up the lake."

"I weel tak' one look," said the trapper, beginning to walk quickly
towards the head of the trail.

Stane went with him and indicated the direction.

"There, where the shore sweeps inward! Do you see, Jean?"

"Oui, m'sieu."

With bent brows the trapper stared at the blur of dots on the white
surface, and after a couple of seconds began to count softly to
himself. "Un, deux, trois, quatre----" Then he stopped. "Four dogs and
one man," he said, turning to his companion. "But Chigmok it ees not.
Behold, m'sieu, he comes dis way."

"Then who----"

"Dat ees not to be told. Zee men in zee wilderness are many." As he
finished speaking a gust of wind drove suddenly in their faces,
bringing with it a few particles of snow, and he looked up into the
leaden sky. "Presently," he said, "it weel snow, m'sieu. Let us go and
eat, then eef Chigmok has not appeared we weel go meet dat man out
dere. He may haf zee news."

Reluctantly Stane turned with him, and went back to the camp. He had no
desire for food, but he forced himself to eat, and when the meal was
finished he assisted his companion to load the sledge. Then Bènard
spoke again.

"We weel tak' one look more, m'sieu, before we harness zee dogs."

They went up to the outlook together. The lake once more showed its
white expanse unbroken; the little blot of moving dots having
withdrawn. Stane stared on the waste, with an expression of blank
dismay upon his face, then he turned to his companion.

"Zee man, he camp," explained Bènard. "He not pushed for time, an' he
know it snow b'fore long. We find heem, m'sieu, an' den--By gar! Look
dere!"

As he gave vent to the exclamation, he pointed excitedly up the lake,
two miles beyond the island, the neighbourhood of which Stane had gazed
at so often and hopelessly during the last three hours. A dog-train had
broken from the wood, and taken to the surface of the lake, three men
accompanying it.

"Chigmok! Behold, m'sieu!"

On a mutual impulse they turned and running back to the camp, began
hurriedly to harness the dogs to the sledge. A few minutes later they
were on the move, and turning the corner of the cliff began the descent
towards the lake. As they did so both glanced at the direction of the
sled they were pursuing. It was moving straight ahead, fairly close in
shore, having evidently sought the level surface of the lake for easier
travelling. More than that they had not leisure to notice, for the
descent to the lake was steep, and it required the weight and skill of
both to keep the sled from overrunning the dogs, but in the space of
four minutes it was accomplished, and with a final rush they took the
level trail of the lake's frozen and snow-covered surface. As they did
so a gust of wind brought a scurry of snow in their faces, and Bènard
looked anxiously up into the sky.

"By-an'-by it snow like anythin', m'sieu. We must race to catch Chigmok
b'fore it come."

Without another word he stepped ahead, and began to make the trail for
the dogs, whilst Stane took the gee-pole to guide the sledge. Bènard
bent to his task and made a rattling pace, travelling in a bee-line for
their quarry, since the lake's surface offered absolutely no
obstructions. Stane at the gee-pole wondered how long he could keep it
up, and from time to time glanced at the sled ahead, which, seen from
the same level, now was half-hidden in a mist of snow. He noted with
satisfaction that they seemed to be gaining on it; and rejoiced to
think that, as Jean Bènard's dogs were in fine mettle and absolutely
fresh, they could not be long before they overhauled it. Presently the
trapper stopped to rest, and Stane himself moved ahead.

"I will take a turn at trail-breaking," he said, "and do you run
behind, Jean."

It was a different matter going ahead of the dogs on the unbroken snow.
In a little time his muscles began to ache intolerably. It seemed as if
the ligaments of the groin were being pulled by pincers, and the very
bone of the leg that he had broken, seemed to burn with pain. But
again, as on the previous night, he set his teeth, and defied the
dreaded _mal de roquette_. New hope sustained him; before him, within
sight as he believed, was the girl, whom, in the months of their
wilderness sojourn, he had learned to love, and who on the previous
night (how long ago it seemed!) in the face of imminent death, had
given herself to him unreservedly. His blood quickened at the
remembrance. He ignored the pangs he was enduring. The sweat, induced
by the violent exertion froze on eyebrows and eyelashes, but he ignored
the discomfort, and pressed on, the snow swirling past his ankles in a
miniature storm. Twice or thrice he lifted his bent head and measured
the distance between him and the quarry ahead. It was, he thought
nearer, and cheered, he bent his body again to the nerve-racking toil.

Half an hour passed, and though the wind was rising steadily, blowing
straight in their teeth and adding greatly to their labours, the snow
kept off. They were still gaining slowly, creeping forward yard by
yard, the men with the train ahead apparently unaware of their pursuit.
Then they struck the trail made by their quarry and the work became
less arduous and the pace quickened.

"By gar!" cried Bènard as they hit the trail, "we get dem now, dey make
zee trail for us."

"Yes," answered Stane, his eyes ablaze with excitement.

A mile and three quarters now separated the two teams, and as they
followed in the trail that the others had to make, their confidence
seemed justified. But nature and man alike were to take a hand and
upset their calculations. In the wind once more there came a smother of
snow. It was severe whilst it lasted, and blotted out all vision of the
team ahead. As it cleared, the two pursuers saw that their quarry had
turned inshore, moving obliquely towards a tree-crowned bluff that
jutted out into the lake. Jean Bènard marked the move, and spoke almost
gleefully.

"Dey fear zee snow, an' go to make camp. By zee mass, we get dem like a
wolf in zee trap!"

The sledge they pursued drew nearer the bluff, then suddenly Jean
Bènard threw back his head in a listening attitude.

"Hark!" he cried: "what was dat?"

"I heard nothing," answered Stane. "What did you fancy you----"

The sentence was never finished, for borne to him on the wind came two
or three sharp sounds like the cracks of distant rifles. He looked at
his companion.

"The detonation of bursting trees far in the wood," he began, only to
be interrupted.

"Non, non! not zee trees, but rifles, look dere, m'sieu, someting ees
happening."

It certainly seemed so. The sled which had almost reached the bluff,
had swung from it again, and had turned towards the open lake. But now,
instead of three figures, they could see only one; and even whilst they
watched, again came the distant crack of a rifle--a faint far-away
sound, something felt by sensitive nerves rather than anything
heard--and the solitary man left with the sledge and making for the
sanctuary of the open lake, plunged suddenly forward, disappearing from
sight in the snow. Another fusillade, and the sled halted, just as the
two men broke from the cover of the bluff and began to run across the
snow in the direction of it.

"By gar! By gar!" cried Jean Bènard in great excitement. "Tings dey
happen. Dere are oder men who want Chigmok, an' dey get heem, too."

Then with a clamouring wind came the snow, blotting out all further
vision of the tragedy ahead. It hurtled about them in fury, and they
could see scarcely a yard in front of them. It was snow that was vastly
different from the large soft flakes of more temperate zones--a wild
rain of ice-like particles that, as it struck, stung intolerably, and
which, driven in the wind, seemed like a solid sheet held up to veil
the landscape. It swirled and drifted about them and drove in their
faces as if directed by some malevolent fury. It closed their eyes,
clogged their feet, stopped their breathing, and at the moment when it
was most essential, made progress impossible. Dogs and men bowed to the
storm, and after two minutes of lost endeavour in attempting to face
it, the course was altered and they raced for the shore and the
friendly shelter of the trees. When they reached it, breathless and
gasping, they stood for a moment, whilst the storm shrieked among the
tree-tops and drove its icy hail like small shot against the trunks. In
the shelter of one of them, Stane, as his breath came back to him,
swung his rifle off his shoulder, and began to strip from it the
deer-hide covering. Jean Bènard saw him, and in order to make himself
heard shouted to him.

"What you do, m'sieu?"

"I'm going after them, Jean. There's something badly wrong."

"Oui! But with zee storm, what can you do, m'sieu?"

"I can find that girl," he said. "Think, man, if she is bound to the
sled--in this----"

"Oui! Oui! m'sieu, I understand, but----"

"I shall work my way in the cover of the trees till I reach the bluff.
If the storm abates you will follow but do not pass the bluff. There
will be shelter in the lee of it, and I will wait your coming there."

"Go, and God go with you, m'sieu; but do not forget zee rifles which
were fired dere."

"I will keep them in mind," answered Stane, and then setting his face
to the storm, he began to work his way along the edge of the wood.



CHAPTER XX

A PRISONER


When Hubert Stane left the burning cabin, Helen did not obey his
injunctions to the letter. A full minute she was to wait in the shadow
of the door before emerging, but she disregarded the command altogether
in her anxiety to know what fate was to befall him. She guessed that on
his emergence he expected a volley, and had bidden her remain under
cover until the danger from it should have passed; and being morally
certain that he was going to his death, she had a mad impulse to die
with him in what was the supreme hour of her life. As the yell greeted
his emergence, she caught the sound of the rifle-shot, and not knowing
that it had been fired by Stane himself, in an agony of fear for him,
stepped recklessly to the door. She saw him running towards the trees,
saw him grappled by the Indian who barred the way, and beheld the
second figure rise like a shadow by the side of the struggling men. The
raised knife gleamed in the firelight, and with a sharp cry of warning
that never reached Stane, she started to run towards him. The next
moment something thick and heavy enveloped her head and shoulders, she
was tripped up and fell heavily in the snow, and two seconds later was
conscious of two pairs of hands binding her with thongs. The covering
over her head, a blanket by the feel of it, was bound about her, so
that she could see nothing, and whilst she could still hear, the sounds
that reached her were muffled. Her feet were tied, and for a brief
space of time she was left lying in the snow, wondering in an agonized
way, not what was going to happen to herself, but what had already
happened to her lover.

Then there came a sound that made her heart leap with hope--a sound
that was the unmistakable crack of a rifle. Again the rifle spoke,
three times in rapid succession, and from the sounds she conjectured
that the fight was not yet over, and felt a surge of gladness in her
heart. Then she was lifted from the ground, suddenly hurried forward,
and quite roughly dropped on what she guessed was a sledge. Again hands
were busy about her, and she knew that she was being lashed to the
chariot of the North. There was a clamour of excited voices, again the
crack of the rifle, then she felt a quick jerk, and found the sled was
in motion.

She had no thought of outside intervention and as the sled went forward
at a great pace, notwithstanding her own parlous condition, she
rejoiced in spirit. Whither she was being carried, and what the fate
reserved for her she had not the slightest notion; but from the
rifle-shots, and the manifest haste of her captors, she argued that her
lover had escaped, and believing that he would follow, she was in good
heart.

That she was in any immediate danger, she did not believe. Her captors,
on lashing her to the sledge, had thrown some soft warm covering over
her, and that they should show such care to preserve her from the
bitter cold, told her, that whatever might ultimately befall, she was
in no imminent peril. With her head covered, she was as warm as if she
were in a sleeping bag, the sled ran smoothly without a single jar, and
the only discomfort that she suffered came from her bound limbs.

Knowing how vain any attempt at struggle would be, she lay quietly;
reflecting on all the events of the night. Strong in the faith that
Stane had escaped, she rejoiced that these events had forced from his
lips the declaration that in the past few weeks she had seen him
repress again and again. He could never recall it; and those kisses,
taken in the very face of death, those were hers until the end of time.
Her heart quickened as she thought of them, and her lips burned. It
was, she felt, a great thing to have snatched the deepest gladness of
life in such an hour, and to have received an avowal from a man who
believed that he was about to die for her. And what a man!

The thought of Miskodeed occurred to her; but now it did not trouble
her very greatly. That visit of the Indian girl to the cabin had at
first been incomprehensible except on one hateful supposition; but
Stane's words had made it clear that the girl had come to warn them,
and if there was anything behind that warning, if, as she suspected,
the girl loved Stane with a wild, wayward love, that was not the man's
fault. She remembered his declaration that he had never seen Miskodeed
except on the two occasions at Fort Malsun, and though Ainley's evil
suggestions recurred to her mind, she dismissed them instantly. Her
lover was her own----

The sledge came to a sudden standstill; and lying there she caught a
clamour of excited voices. She listened carefully, but such words as
reached her were in a tongue unknown to her. A few minutes passed,
something was thrown on the sled, close by her feet, then a whip
cracked, a dog yelped, and again the sledge moved forward.

She was quite warm, and except for the thongs about her, comfortable,
and presently her eyes closed, at first against the rather oppressive
darkness resulting from the covering blanket, then remained closed
without any conscious volition, and she slept, heavily and dreamlessly.

She was awakened by the sled coming to a standstill; and then followed
the sounds of men pitching camp; the crackle of a fire, the growling
and yelping of dogs quarrelling over their food. She did not know how
long she had slept; but after awakening, it seemed a very long time
before any one came near her. Then she caught the sound of steps
crunching the frozen snow. The steps halted by the sledge and hands
busied themselves with the fastenings. A minute later she felt that her
limbs were free; and as the blanket was jerked from her head, she
looked round.

It was still night, but by the light of a fire by which two men were
sitting smoking, she caught the sight of overhanging trees and of a man
who was standing by the sledge, looking down upon her. His face was in
shadow and could not be seen, but the voice in which he addressed her
was harsh and guttural, his manner almost apologetic.

"You stan' up now, mees."

As the blanket was jerked from her, Helen was conscious of a little
prick of fear, but as the man spoke the fear vanished quicker than it
had arisen. From the fact that he addressed her as miss, it was clear
that he held her in some respect, whilst his manner spoke volumes. The
words, though harshly spoken, were an invitation rather than a command,
and accepting it as such, she first sat up, waited until a little
attack of dizziness passed and then rose slowly to her feet. She swayed
a little as she did so, and the man stretched a quick hand to steady
her.

"Vait min'te," he said, "zee seeckness et veel pass."

It passed quicker than the man knew, and as the man had moved, bringing
his face to the light, Helen used the opportunity to survey the man
behind the mittened hand which she had lifted to her head. He was, she
saw, a half-breed of evil, pock-marked countenance, with cruel eyes.
Who he was she had not the slightest notion, but curiosity was strong
within her, and as she lowered her hand, she waited for him to speak
again.

"Ve vait here, leetle taime--une hour, deux, maybe tree. Zee dogs dey
tire. But you veel not runs away. Dat vaire fool ting to do. Zee wood
et ees so vast, an' zee wolves are plenty. You come to zee fire an'
eat."

He moved towards the fire, as if certain that she would follow, and
after one glance into the deep shadows of the forest, she did so.
Whoever the man was, and whatever his intentions towards her, he talked
sense. Flight without equipment or food, in a strange country, and in
face of the menace of the arctic North would be the wildest folly. She
seated herself on a log which had been placed for her convenience,
accepted some fried moose-meat and unsweetened tea, whilst the other
two men by the fire, both Indians, smoked stolidly, without bestowing
upon her a single glance whilst she ate. When she had finished she
pushed the tin plate from her, and looked at the half-breed, who had
seated himself a yard or so away from her.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"Ah not tell you dat!" said the man with a grin.

"Then tell me what are you going to do with me?"

"You fin' dat out for yourself in a vaire leetle taime," was the
answer.

"Then where are you taking me?"

"Oh--Ah tell you dat, mees!" was the reply, given in a manner that
implied that the speaker was glad to find something in which he could
oblige her. "Ah tak' you to see lak' of zee Leetle Moose, ten, maybe
douze miles away."

"But why should you take me there?" asked Helen.

"Non! Ah not tell you dat! You fin' out all in zee good taime," was the
reply stolidly given.

Helen looked at the evil, cunning face, and knew that it was no use
pursuing inquiries in that direction. She waited a full minute, then
she began to ask another question, to her of even vaster moment:

"That man who was with me in the cabin, he----"

"Sacree!" cried the half-breed in a sudden burst of fury. "Dat man he
ees dead, Par Dieu! an' eef he was not, I roast heem alive!"

"Dead!" As the exclamation broke from her, the girl looked at the
half-breed with eyes in which gleamed a sudden fear. Then hope came to
her as she remembered the shots that she had heard. "But," she
protested, "he was firing on you as you left. It cannot be that he----"

"Non!" broke in the half-breed. "Dat man was with you he fire onlee
once, den he die. Dose shots dey come from zee wood, an' I not know who
fire dem. Eet was strange, I not know eef there be one man or more, so
I run aways wit' you."

He had more to say upon that particular matter, but Helen Yardely had
no ears for his words. Her hope was completely shattered by the
half-breed's explanation of those pursuing shots. From them, believing
they had come from her lover's rifle, she had argued with certainty
that he had survived the attack, that he was alive; and now----

Dead! As the word beat in her brain, she was overwhelmed by a feeling
of despair; and bowing her face suddenly in her hands gave way to her
grief. Great sobs shook her shoulders, and scalding tears welled in her
eyes. Her lover had indeed gone to his death after all, had given his
life for hers as at the very beginning of their acquaintance he had
risked it to the same end of saving her!

The callous half-breed was disturbed by the utter abandon of her grief.
In his brutal nature there was a stirring of unusual compunction, and
after watching her for a moment, he strove to console her, speaking in
a wheedling voice.

"No need to weep lik' zee rain in spring, mees! What ees one man when
men are as zee leaves of zee forest? Dis man dead! True--but eet ees a
small ting--zee death of a man. An' I tak' you to anodder man----"

"You will what?" Helen looked up sharply as she asked the question.
There was a light of wrath struggling with the grief in her eyes and
the half-breed was startled by it.

"I tak' you to anodder man who weel lov' you as white squaws desire.
He----"

"Who is this man?" she asked, suddenly interrupting him.

But the half-breed developed a sudden wariness.

"Non!" he said. "I not tell you dat, for why, zee surprise it veel be
zee more pleasant!"

"Pleasant!" cried Helen, wrath uppermost in her heart once more.
"Pleasant! I----" She checked herself, then as something occurred to
her she asked another question.

"This man whom you promise me? He pays you to bring me to him?"

"Oui! He pays a great price!"

"Why?"

"I not know! How can I tell what ees in zee heart of heem? But it ees
in my mind dat he burns with love, dat----"

Helen rose suddenly from her seat. "I will tell you something," she
said in a voice that made the callous half-breed shiver. "When you
bring me to this man I will kill him because that other man has died!"

"I not care what you do wid heem!" answered her captor with a brutal
laugh. "You marrie heem, you keel heem, it ees all zee same to me, I
get zee price, an' I do not love dat mans, no."

"Tell me who is he--his name, and I will pay you double the price he
promises."

The half-breed smiled cunningly. "Where is your double zee price? Zee
price dat man pay I haf seen. Eet ees real! Eet ees a good price! Non!
mees; a promise what ees dat? A red fox in zee trap ees more dan a
silvaire fox in zee wood. Dis man half zee goods, an' you--what haf
you?"

He lit his pipe and turned from her to the fire. Helen gave him one
glance and guessed that it was useless to try to bribe him further,
then she turned and began to walk restlessly to and fro. There was a
set, stony look of grief on her face; but deep in the grey eyes burned
a light that boded ill for the man who had brought the grief upon her.

Time passed, and she still marched to and fro. The half-breed was
nodding over the fire, and his two companions were sound asleep. Under
her fur parka she felt the butt of the pistol which Stane had given
her, when the attack on the cabin had commenced. She looked at the
three men, and with her hand on the pistol-butt the thought came to her
mind that it would be a simple thing to kill them in their sleep, and
to take the dogs and so effect her escape. They were murderers; they
deserved to die; and she felt that she could kill them without
compunction. But her eyes swept the dark circle of trees, and for a
moment she stared into the darkness with fixed gaze, then her hand
slipped from the pistol, and she put from her the thought that had come
to her. It was not fear of the darkness or any terror at the hazards of
the frozen wilderness that deterred her from the attempt; it was just
that there was within her a fierce, overwhelming desire, to meet the
man who was the ultimate cause of her lover's death.

When the half-breed rose, and ordered her to resume her place on the
sledge, she did so without demur, making herself as comfortable as
possible. She was bound to the sledge again, though, when they resumed
the journey, she was less like a mere bale than she had been, and was
free to lift the blanket which now was thrown over her head for
protection from the extreme cold more than for any other reason. But
only once before the dawn did she avail herself of this privilege to
look about her, and that was when the second halt was made. She lifted
the blanket to learn the cause of the delay; and made the discovery
that the dog-harness having become entangled in the branch of a fallen
tree, had broken and the halt was necessary for repairs. She dropped
her head-covering again and lay there in the darkness, wild thoughts
mingling with her grief. She chafed at the delay. Her one anxiety was
for the meeting that should involve a terrible justice; the man should
die as her lover had died; and her own hand should inflict upon him the
recompense of God.

The sullen dawn of the Northern winter had broken when she lifted the
blanket again. They were still in the forest, having lost the trail in
the darkness, and presently a fresh halt was necessary, and whilst two
of the men prepared a meal, her chief captor went off through the woods
as she guessed to discover their whereabouts. He returned in the course
of half an hour and said something to his companion which Helen did not
understand; and after a rather leisurely meal they harnessed up once
more.

After a time the forest began to open out. They struck a frozen river
and descending the bank and taking to its smooth surface, their speed
accelerated. The banks of the river widened, and in a little time they
swept clear of them on to the open plain of what she easily guessed was
a frozen lake. They turned sharply to the right, and a few minutes
afterwards a whirl of snow caused her to cover her face. Some
considerable time passed before she looked forth again. They were
travelling at a great rate. The snow was flying from the shoes of the
man who broke the trail. The half-breed who was acting as driver was
urging the dogs with both whip and voice, and occasionally he cast an
anxious look over his shoulder. Wondering why he should do so Helen
also looked back. Then her heart gave a great leap. Behind them was
another dog-team with two men. Was it possible that after all the
half-breed was mistaken, or that he had told her a lying tale?

She did not know, she could not tell, she could only hope, and her hope
was fed by her captor's evident anxiety. He whipped the dogs cruelly,
and his glances back became more frequent. Helen also looked back and
saw that the sled behind was gaining on them. Was it indeed her lover
in pursuit, or were these men who had witnessed the attack on the
cabin, and had fired the shots which had compelled the attackers to
take flight? Anything now seemed possible, and as the half-breed's
anxiety grew more pronounced, her own excited hopes mounted higher.

The snow came again, a blinding whirl that blotted out the whole
landscape, then the half-breed gave a sharp order, and the Indian in
front breaking trail turned ashore. The half-breed looked back, and then
forward, and gave a grunt of satisfaction. The girl also looked forward.
They were approaching a tree-crowned bluff, which was apparently their
goal. Then suddenly, bewildering in its unexpectedness, came the flash
and crack of a rifle from the bushes in shore.

"Sacree!" cried the half-breed, and the next moment three rifles spoke,
and he pitched over in the snow, whilst the man at the gee-pole also
fell.

The man breaking the trail in front, swerved from the bluff, and the
dogs swerved after him, almost upsetting the sledge. Again a rifle, and
the remaining man went down. The dogs, in excitement or fear, still
moved forward, and Helen strove to free herself, but a moment later the
sledge halted abruptly as two of the dogs fell, shot in their traces.
She had a momentary vision of two men running towards her from the
shore, then the snow came down in a thick veil. Dimly she caught the
outline of one of the men by her sled, and the next moment a voice she
remembered broke on her ears through the clamour of the wind.

"Thank God, Helen! I am in time."

And she looked up incredulously to find Gerald Ainley looking down at
her.



CHAPTER XXI

CHIGMOK'S STORY


When Stane set his face to the storm he knew there was a difficult task
before him, and he found it even more difficult than he had
anticipated. The wind, bitingly cold, drove the snow before it in an
almost solid wall. The wood sheltered him somewhat; but fearful of
losing himself, and so missing what he was seeking, he dared not turn
far into it, and was forced to follow the edge of it, that he might not
wander from the lake. Time after time he was compelled to halt in the
lee of the deadfalls, or shelter behind a tree with his back to the
storm, whilst he recovered breath. He could see scarcely a yard before
him, and more than once he was driven to deviate from the straight
course, and leave the trees in order to assure himself that he had not
wandered from the lake side.

The bitter cold numbed his brain; the driving snow was utterly
confusing, and before he reached his objective he had only one thing
clear in his mind. Blistering though it was, he must keep his face to
the wind, then he could not go wrong, for the storm, sweeping down the
lake, came in a direct line from the bluff in the shadow of which the
tragedy which he had witnessed, had happened. As he progressed, slowly,
utter exhaustion seemed to overtake him. Bending his head to the blast
he swayed like a drunken man. More than once as he stumbled over fallen
trees the impulse to sit and rest almost overcame him; but knowing the
danger of such a course he forced himself to refrain. Once as he halted
in the shelter of a giant fir, his back resting against the trunk, he
was conscious of a deadly, delicious languor creeping through his
frame, and knowing it for the beginning of the dreaded snow-sleep which
overtakes men in such circumstances, he lurched forward again, though
he had not recovered breath.

He came to a sudden descent in the trail that he was following. It was
made by a small stream that in spring flooded down to the lake but
which now was frozen solid. In the blinding snow-wrack he never even
saw it, and stepping on air, he hurtled down the bank, and rolled in a
confused heap in the deep snow at the bottom. For a full minute he lay
there, out of the wind and biting snow-hail, feeling like a man who has
stumbled out of bitter cold to a soft couch in a warm room. A sense of
utter contentment stole upon him. For some moments he lost all his grip
on realities; time and circumstances and the object of his quest were
forgotten. Visions, momentary but very vivid, crowded upon him, and
among them, one of a girl whom he had kissed in the face of death. That
girl--Yes, there was something. His mind asserted itself again, his
purpose dominated his wavering faculties, and he staggered to his feet.

"Helen!" he muttered. "Helen!"

He faced the bank of the stream on the other side from that which had
caused his downfall. Then he paused. There was something--twenty
seconds passed before he remembered. His rifle! It was somewhere in the
snow, he must find it, for he might yet have need of it. He groped
about, and presently recovered it; then after considering for a moment,
instead of ascending to the level, he began to walk downstream,
sheltered by the high banks. It was not so cold in the hollow, and
though a smother of sand-like particles of snow blew at the level of
his head, by stooping he was able to escape the worst of it. His numbed
faculties began to assert themselves again. The struggle through the
deep soft snow, out of reach of the wind's bitter breath, sent a glow
through him. His brain began to work steadily. He could not be far from
the bluff now, and the stream would lead him to the lake. How much time
he had lost he did not know, and he was in a sweat of fear lest he
should be too late after all. As he struggled on, he did not even
wonder what was the meaning of the attack that he had witnessed; one
thing only was before his eyes, the vision of the girl he loved
helpless in the face of unknown dangers.

The banks of the stream lowered and opened suddenly. The withering
force of the blast struck him, the snow buffeted him, and for a moment
he stood held in his tracks, then the wind momentarily slackened, and
dimly through the driving snow he caught sight of something that loomed
shadowlike before him. It was the bluff that he was seeking, and as he
moved towards it, the wind broken, grew less boisterous, though a
steady stream of fine hard snow swept down upon him from its height.
The snow blanketed everything, and he could see nothing; then he heard
a dog yelp and stumbled forward in the direction of the sound. A minute
later, in the shelter of some high rocks, he saw a camp-fire, beside
which a team of dogs in harness huddled in the snow, anchored there by
the sled turned on its side, and by the fire a man crouched and stared
into the snow-wrack. As he visioned them, Stane slipped the rifle from
the hollow of his arm, and staggered forward like a drunken man.

The man by the fire becoming aware of him leaped suddenly to his feet.
In a twinkling his rifle was at his shoulder, and through the wild
canorous note of the wind, Stane caught his hail. "Hands up! You
murderer!"

Something in the voice struck reminiscently on his ears, and this, as
he recognized instantly, was not the hail of a man who had just
committed a terrible crime. He dropped his rifle and put up his hands.
The man changed his rifle swiftly for a pistol, and began to advance.
Two yards away he stopped.

"Stane! by--!"

Then Stane recognized him. It was Dandy Anderton, the mounted
policeman, and in the relief of the moment he laughed suddenly.

"You, Dandy?"

"Yes! What in heaven's name is the meaning of it all? Did you see
anything? Hear the firing? There are two dead men out there in the
snow." He jerked his head towards the lake. "And there was a dog-team,
but I lost it in the storm. Do you know anything about it, Stane? I
hope that you had no hand in this killing?"

The questions came tumbling over each other all in one breath, and as
they finished, Stane, still a little breathless, replied:

"No, I had no hand in that killing. I don't understand it at all, but
that sledge, we must find it, for to the best of my belief, Miss
Yardely is on it."

"Miss Yardely! What on earth----"

"It is a long story. I haven't time to explain. We were attacked and
she was carried off. Come along, Dandy, and help me to find her."

The policeman shook his head and pointed to the whirling snow. "No use,
old man, we couldn't find a mountain in that stuff, and we should be
mad to try. We don't know which way to look for her, and we should only
lose ourselves and die in the cold."

"But, man, I tell you that Helen----"

"Helen is in the hands of the good God for the present, my friend. I
did not know she was with that sledge, and though I had only a glimpse
of it, I will swear that the sledge was empty."

"There were two men ran out after the firing," cried Stane. "I saw them
just before the snow came. They were making for the sledge. Perhaps
they took Helen----"

"Sit down, Stane, and give me the facts. It's no good thinking of going
out in that smother. A man might as well stand on Mount Robson and jump
for the moon! Sit down and make me wise on the business, then if the
storm slackens we can get busy."

Stane looked into the smother in front, and reason asserted itself. It
was quite true what Anderton said. Nothing whatever could be done for
the present; the storm effectually prevented action. To venture from
the shelter of the bluff on to the open width of the lake was to be
lost, and to be lost in such circumstances meant death from cold.
Fiercely as burned the desire to be doing on behalf of his beloved, he
was forced to recognize the utter folly of attempting anything for the
moment. With a gesture of despair, he swept the snow from a convenient
log, and seated himself heavily upon it.

The policeman stretched a hand towards a heap of smouldering ashes,
where reposed a pan, and pouring some boiling coffee into a tin cup,
handed it to Stane.

"Drink that, Hubert, old man, it'll buck you up. Then you can give me
the pegs of this business."

Stane began to sip the coffee, and between the heat of the fire and
that of the coffee, his blood began to course more freely. All the
numbness passed from his brain and with it passed the sense of despair
that had been expressed in his gesture, and a sudden hope came to him.

"One thing," he broke out, "if we can't travel, neither can anybody
else."

"Not far--at any rate," agreed Anderton. "A man might put his back to
the storm, but he would soon be jiggered; or he might take to the deep
woods; but with a dog-team he wouldn't go far or fast, unless there was
a proper trail."

"That's where they'll make for, as like as not," said Stane with
another stab of despair.

"They--who? Tell me, man, and never bother about the woods. There's a
good two hundred miles of them hereabouts and till we can begin to look
for the trail it is no good worrying. Who are these men----"

"I can't say," answered Stane, "but I'll tell you what I know."

Vividly and succinctly he narrated the events that had befallen since
the policeman's departure from Chief George's camp on the trail of
Chigmok. Anderton listened carefully. Twice he interrupted. The first
time was when he heard how the man whom he sought had been at Chief
George's camp after all.

"I guessed that," he commented, "after I started on the trail to the
Barrens, particularly when I found no signs of any camping place on
what is the natural road for any one making that way. I swung back
yesterday meaning to surprise Chief George, and rake through his
tepees."

The second time was when he heard of the white man who had offered the
bribe of the guns and blankets for the attack on the cabin, and the
kidnapping of the girl.

"Who in thunder can have done that?" he asked.

"I don't know," answered Stane, and explained the idea that had
occurred to him that it was some one desiring to claim the reward
offered by Sir James.

"But why should you be killed?"

"Ask the man who ordered it," answered Stane with a grim laugh.

"I will when I come up with him. But tell me the rest, old man."

Stane continued his narrative, and when he had finished, Anderton spoke
again. "That solitary man with the team whom you saw coming down the
lake, must have been me. I turned into the wood a mile or two on the
other side of this bluff to camp out of the snow which I saw was
coming. Then it struck me that I should do better on this side, and I
worked towards it. I was just on the other side when the shooting
began, and I hurried forward, but the snow came and wiped out
everything, though I had an impression of a second dog-team waiting by
the shore as I came round. When I looked for it I couldn't find it; and
then I tumbled on this camp, and as there was nothing else to be done
until the snow slackened I unharnessed."

Stane looked round. "This would be the place where the man, who was to
have paid the kidnappers their price, waited for them."

"And paid them in lead, no doubt with the idea of covering his own
tracks completely."

"That seems likely," agreed Stane.

"But who----" Anderton broke off suddenly and leaped to his feet.
"Great Christopher! Look there!" Stane looked swiftly in the direction
indicated, and as the veil of snow broke for a moment, caught sight of
a huddled form crawling in the snow.

"What----" he began.

"It's a man. I saw him distinctly," interrupted the policeman, and then
as the snow swept down again he ran from the shelter of the camp.

A minute and a half later he staggered back, dragging a man with him.
He dropped the man by the fire, poured some coffee into a pannikin, and
as the new-comer, with a groan, half-raised himself to look round, he
held the coffee towards him.

"Here, drink this, it'll do you----" he interrupted himself sharply,
then in a tone of exultation he cried: "Chigmok!"

"Oui!" answered the man. "I am Chigmok! And thou?"

"I am the man of the Law," answered Anderton, "who has been at your
heels for weeks."

"So!" answered the half-breed in native speech, with a hopeless
gesture, "It had been better to have died the snow-death, but I shall
die before they hang me, for I am hurt."

He glanced down at his shoulder as he spoke, and looking closely the
two white men saw that the frozen snow on his furs was stained.

"Ah!" said the policeman, "I hadn't noticed that, but we'll have a look
at it." He looked at Stane, who was eyeing the half-breed with a savage
stare, then he said sharply: "Give me a hand, Stane. We can't let the
beggar die unhelped, however he may deserve it. He's a godsend anyway,
for he can explain your mystery. Besides it's my duty to get him back
to the Post, and they wouldn't welcome him dead. Might think I'd
plugged him, you know."

Together they lifted the man nearer the fire, and examined the injured
shoulder. It had been drilled clean through by a bullet. Anderton
nodded with satisfaction. "Nothing there to kill you, Chigmok. We'll
bandage you up, and save you for the Law yet?"

They washed and dressed the wound, made the half-breed as comfortable
as they could; then as he reposed by the fire, Anderton found the man's
pipe, filled it, held a burning stick whilst he lit it, and when it was
drawing nicely, spoke:

"Now, Chigmok, you owe me something for all this, you know. Just tell
us the meaning of the game you were playing. It can't hurt you to make
a clean breast of it; because that other affair that you know of is
ample for the needs of the Law."

"You want me to tell?" asked the half-breed in English.

"Yes, we're very curious. My friend here is very anxious to know why he
was attacked, and why he was to die whilst the girl who was with him
was carried off."

"You not know?" asked the half-breed.

"Well, we haven't quite got the rights of it," was the policeman's
guarded answer.

"Then I tell you." His dark eyes turned to Stane. "You not know me?"

"No," answered Stane. "I never saw you in my life before."

"But I haf seen you. Oui! I steal your canoe when you sleep!"

"Great Scott!" cried Stane. "You----"

"I run from zee poleece, an' I haf nodings but a gun. When I watch you
sleep, I tink once I shoot you; but I not know who ees in zee leetle
tent, an' I tink maybe dey catch me, but I know now eet vas not so."

"You know who was in the tent?" asked Stane sharply.

"I fin' dat out zee ver' next morning, when I meet a man who ask for
zee white girl. Ah I haf seen dat man b'fore. I see heem shoot zee
paddle from zee girl's hand--."

Startled, Stane cried out. "You saw him shoot----"

"Oui! I not know why he do eet. But I tink he want zee girl to lose
herself dat he may find her. Dat I tink, but I not tell heem dat. Non!
Yet I tell heem what I see, an' he ees afraid, an' say he tell zee
mounters he haf seen me, eef I say he ees dat man. So I not say eet,
but all zee time he ees zee man. Den he pay me to take a writing to zee
camp of zee great man of zee Company, but I not take eet becos I am
afraid."

"Who was this man?" asked Stane grimly, as the half-breed paused.

"I not know; but he is zee ver' same man dat was to haf paid zee price
of guns an' blankets for zee girl dat vos in zee cabin."

"And who said I was to die?"

"Oui! He order dat! An' I tink eet ees done, an' I not care, for
already I am to zee death condemned, an' it ees but once dat I can die.
Also I tink when zee price ees paid, I veel go North to zee Frozen Sea
where zee mounters come not. But dat man he ees one devil. He fix for
me bring zee girl here, where zee price veel be paid; den when I come
he begin to shoot, becos he veel not zee price pay. He keel Canif and
Ligan, and he would me haf keeled to save zee guns and blankets and zee
tea and tabac, dog dat he ees!"

"Perhaps it was not the price he was saving," said Anderton. "Perhaps
he was afraid that the story would be told and that the mounters would
seek out his trail, Chigmok?"

"By gar! Yees, I never tink of dat," cried the half-breed as if a light
had broken on him suddenly. "I tink onlee of zee price dat hee save."

"What sort of a man was he? What did he look like, Chigmok?"

"He dark an' vhat you call han'some. He haf sometimes one glass to hees
eye, an----"

"Ainley, by Heaven!" cried Stane in extreme amazement.

"I not know hees name," answered the half-breed, "but I tink he ees of
zee Company."

Anderton looked doubtfully at Stane who suffered no doubt at all. "It
is Ainley, unquestionably," said Stane, answering the question in his
eyes. "The description is his, though it is a trifle vague and the
monocle----"

"He affects a monocle still then?"

"I have seen it, and it is so. He sported it down at Fort Malsun."

Anderton nodded, and for a moment looked into the fire, whistling
thoughtfully to himself. Then he looked up. "One thing, Stane, we need
not worry over now, and that is Miss Yardely's welfare. Assuming that
Ainley has taken possession of her, no harm is likely to come to her at
his hands. Whatever may be behind his pretty scheme, it will not
involve bodily harm to her. We have that assurance in the position he
occupies and the plan he made for her to be brought here alive. No
doubt he will be posing as the girl's deliverer. He doesn't know that
Chigmok has survived. He doesn't know that I am here to get Chigmok's
story; and whilst he can hardly have been unaware of your sledge
following the trail of Chigmok, it is not the least likely that he
associates it with you. Probably he is under the idea that it formed
part of Chigmok's outfit. No doubt a little way down the lake he will
camp till the storm is over, then make a bee line for Fort
Malsun--we'll get him as easy as eating toast."

"And when we've got him?"

"Duty's duty!" answered Anderton with a shrug. "I can't enumerate all
the charges offhand; but there's enough to kill Mr. Ainley's goose
twice over. Lor', what a whirligig life is. I never thought--Hallo!
Who's this? Jean Bènard, or I'm a sinner!"

Jean Bènard it was, and his face lighted with pleasure as he staggered
into the camp.

"I fear for you, m'sieu," he said to Stane in simple explanation,
"therefore I come. Bo'jour, M'sieu Anderton, dis ees a good meeting on
zee bad day! But dat--surely dat ees Chigmok? An' zee mees where ees
she?"

Stane waved a hand towards the lake. "Somewhere out there, Jean, and
still to find."

"But we fin' her, m'sieu. Haf no fear but dat we weel her find, when
zee snow it stop!"

And the ringing confidence in his tone brought new heart to Stane,
still beset with fears for Helen.



CHAPTER XXII

AINLEY'S STORY


As Helen Yardely caught sight of Ainley's face, for a moment she was
dumb with amazement, then she cried: "You? You?"

"Yes," he answered quickly, "I have been seeking you for weeks, and I
find you in the nick of time. But there is no time to explain now.
There were others with your captors; I saw the sledge following behind.
We must get away at once."

As he spoke he cut the thongs which bound her to the sledge and helped
her to rise. Then he spoke again urgently. "Quick!" he said. "There is
danger. This way--I have a team waiting for you. We must take to the
woods."

He took her arm, and began to hurry through the blinding snow. Helen,
bewildered by the swift turn of events, did not resist, but moved
forward with him, and in a couple of minutes found herself standing by
a sled-team guarded by a couple of Indians.

"Get on the sledge, Helen," said Ainley, brusquely. "There is no time
to waste. We must hurry."

Still in a whirl of conflicting thoughts, the girl seated herself on
the sledge, Ainley swiftly did what he could for her comfort, and a
moment later the dogs received their command.

"Moosh! Moosh!"

They turned from the storm-ridden lake to the shelter of the great
woods. The trail was not a good one; but the snow among the trees was
far from being the hindrance it was in the open; and though their
progress was slow, on the whole it was steady. Except for forced halts
to unravel the harness when it caught in the bushes, they did not stop
for two hours, but pressed on until they reached an open space in the
woods, which they crossed in a smother of blinding snow. On the other
side of this break they came to a fresh spur of forest, and when they
had penetrated to the shelter of the trees once more, the first
voluntary halt was made. Then for the first time since the march had
begun, Ainley spoke to the girl.

"Comfortable, Helen?" he asked.

"As comfortable as possible under the circumstances," was the reply.

"I am sorry I can do no better," replied Ainley. "But we are in danger
still, and a little hardship is better than the grave risk of life."

"Oh!" answered Helen. "I do not mind the hardship."

"That is what I should expect of you," answered Ainley quickly, "but it
is not for long that I ask it of you. In another hour or so, we shall
be safe, I hope, then we will camp until the storm is over."

"Of whom are you afraid?" asked Helen.

"Indians! We were forced to shoot three of your captors; and those of
their friends who were following on behind may feel impelled to try and
avenge their deaths."

"Oh!" said the girl; a note of such evident disappointment in her tone,
that Ainley looked at her quickly.

"Why do you speak like that, Helen? One would think that you were
almost sorry that I had delivered you from the fate awaiting you."

"Oh, it is not that!" replied Helen quickly. "Though of course I do not
know what the fate was. Do you?"

"I have an idea," he said, "and I will explain when we camp. Just now I
must have a word with my men. Coffee will be ready in a few minutes;
and there will be bacon and biscuit, which if not exactly appetising
will be sustaining."

"I shall not mind bacon and biscuit," answered Helen, and as Ainley
walked away a look of deep thought came on the girl's face.

Was it true, she asked herself, that he was afraid of the pursuit of
revengeful Indians? She remembered the sledge which she had seen
following behind, a sledge accompanied by only two men, and the evident
anxiety it had occasioned her chief captor, and one thing fixed itself
in her mind with all the force of a conviction, namely that whatever
Gerald Ainley thought about these men behind, her captors knew nothing
whatever about them; then she remembered the revelations made by the
half-breed. He had owned that he had attacked the cabin and captured
her for a price, a great price paid by a man who loved her. Was that
man Gerald Ainley? It was an odd coincidence that he should have been
waiting just where he was, which was quite evidently the place where
the half-breed had been making for. His words of greeting made it clear
that he had been expecting to meet her, but in that case how did it
come about that he knew she was in the neighbourhood? Was he indeed the
man to whom the half-breed was looking for the price? If so, why had he
so ruthlessly shot down the men who were his confederates?

Instantly an explanation that fitted the facts occurred to her. He had
shot down her captors in order to conceal his connection with them and
with the attack upon the cabin. She remembered the man whom she had
seen, and her odd fancy that he was a white man, and recalled her
lover's conviction that no bodily harm was meant to her, though the
same was not true of himself, and a very deep distrust of Gerald Ainley
surged in her heart; a distrust that was deepened by her recollection
of the policeman's story of the forged bill, and the sheet of foolscap
which had been in her lover's possession.

But of this distrust she gave no sign when Ainley approached her,
bearing food and coffee. She accepted the situation as if it were the
most everyday one in the world; and she listened to the few words that
he had to say, with real interest.

"We shall resume our march in twenty minutes or so, Helen, but as I
said, in an hour or so, we shall be beyond pursuit. Then, when we have
camped, you shall tell me the story of your adventures."

"Yes," she answered quietly, "and you shall tell me exactly how you
came to find me."

"That is a long story," he answered with a slight frown, "but you shall
hear it all in good time. It has taken me months to find you, and I had
almost begun to despair, when a fortunate chance gave me the clue to
your whereabouts."

"What chance was it?" asked Helen quickly.

"To answer that," he answered deliberately, "is to forestall my story."
Then he smiled, "You must be patient a little while longer, as I am,
and when you have heard it, I hope you will not deny me my reward?"

"Oh," she said with a little touch of scorn creeping into her tones.
"You have been working for a reward?"

"No," he replied sharply. "My toil has been a labour of love. You must
know that, Helen! Though it is quite true that Sir James----"

He broke off, and as he showed no signs of continuing Helen forced him
to do so. "You were saying something about my uncle? Did he send you
after me?"

"He made me head of the search-party, because he knew I loved you, and
he hinted that when I had found you I might go to him. You understand,
Helen?"

"Yes," answered the girl enigmatically. "I think I do."

Looking at her, Ainley saw that there was nothing to be gained by
pressing the matter further at that moment; and excusing himself he
went to give orders to his Indians. A short time later they resumed
their journey, and travelled steadily for something more than an hour;
then almost in the dark they pitched camp for the night. A substantial
meal was prepared of which Helen partook in the shelter of a little
tent which had been erected; then when she had finished the meal, she
seated herself by the big fire which had been built.

Ainley also seated himself less than a yard from her; and without
giving him a chance of asking for her story, she instantly demanded
his.

"Now," she said, as lightly as she could, "you shall tell me
everything. How you searched for me, how you got on my trail at last,
and the fate from which you saved me this morning."

Ainley would have preferred to hear her story first; but he did not
demur to her suggestion, and with a little deprecatory laugh he began.
"It is not very easy to talk of one's own doings, but I will do my best
to avoid boastfulness."

Then, carefully picking his words, he described the anxiety her
non-return to her uncle's camp had given rise to; and the preliminary
search made by himself and the Indian Joe. As he described his own
feelings of despair at the finding of the portion of her canoe in the
drift-pile beyond the falls, his voice shook with quite genuine
emotion, and Helen moved so as to bring her face a little in shadow
whilst she watched him. In that moment she momentarily forgot the
distrust which her own questioning had awakened in her, and listened
absorbed whilst he narrated the discovery of the brooch, and the new
hope it occasioned, since it afforded evidence that she was in all
probability still alive. Then he broke off sharply. "You were saved
from the river, somehow, by that fellow Stane, who was up at Fort
Malsun, were you not?"

"Yes! How did you know?"

"I got his description from a half-breed who had met and hailed you
going up the river in a canoe towards Old Fort Winagog."

"But we met no half-breed," said Helen quickly, her distrust awakening
in full force.

"You met no half-breed?" The surprise in Ainley's face was quite
genuine, as Helen saw, and she realized that whatever was to come, this
part of the man's story was quite true.

"No, we met no one, and we never reached Fort Winagog, because our
canoe was stolen whilst we slept."

"Is that so?" Ainley's face grew dark as he asked the question; then a
troubled look came upon it. "The man must have lied to me," he said,
"or have told me only half the truth, but he must have seen you, or how
did he know that the man who was with you was Stane?"

"Perhaps he was the man who stole our canoe," said Helen.

"Yes," answered Ainley, "that will be it. But----" he broke off without
finishing. "Anyway," he continued after a moment, "following his
statement, I went up to Old Fort Winagog, but found no sign of you,
then back by another and a quicker route that I might tell your uncle
of the lack of news, and organize a regular search. After that, I
started to beat the country round about steadily. Rodwell sent news of
you to all the Indians and trappers in the country, whilst your uncle
promised a reward. For weeks I searched, and all in vain, then one day
an Indian girl came with a story of a white man and woman living in a
cabin on a lake, and though she did not know their names she was able
to tell me that this man and woman were Stane and you."

"Who was the girl?" asked Helen quickly.

"It was that Indian girl who was up at Fort Malsun!"

"Miskodeed!" cried Helen.

"That I believe was her name. She looked on Stane as her lover, and she
did you the honour of being jealous of you!" Ainley laughed as he
spoke. "Absurd, of course--But what will you? The primitive, untutored
heart is very simple in its emotions and the man was her paramour!"

"It is a lie!" cried Helen hotly. "He had spoken to her only twice in
his life."

"He was scarcely likely to own to anything more, to you," answered
Ainley, "and in any case I am giving you the Indian girl's version;
that it accords with my own belief is of little moment. What I do know
is that she cared nothing about the reward your uncle offered, and that
her sole purpose seemed to be to remove you from Stane's company."

"And when you heard?" asked Helen prompting him as he fell silent.

"When I heard, I did not waste time. I made a bee-line for the cabin on
the lake, taking the girl with me. I arrived there last night----"

"How long were you on the way?" interrupted Helen suddenly.

"Four days."

"And Miskodeed was with you all the time?"

"Of course!" answered Ainley a trifle uneasily. "She was our guide."

"I see," answered Helen quietly. She made no further comment on the
Indian girl, but she knew now that Ainley had departed from whatever
truth there was in his narrative, for Miskodeed, on the sure evidence
of her own eyes had been at the Indian encampment when he claimed she
had been with him. She listened quietly whilst Ainley continued:

"As I was saying, I arrived in the neighbourhood of the cabin last
night, to find you gone----"

"And Mr. Stane?" she asked almost breathlessly. "Did you find him? Did
you see him?"

Ainley shook his head. "No, I did not see him myself, but one of my men
turned a body over that was lying in the snow. It was that of a white
man, who could be no other than Stane!"

Helen flinched at the answer which confirmed what the half-breed had
said to her about Stane being dead. She looked away, not wishing Ainley
to see her face at that moment, whilst the hot tears welled in her
eyes, and the man, choosing to disregard her manifest sorrow, continued
his story. "We found an Indian in the snow, who had been wounded in the
fight, as he told us, and on pressure he gave me the information that
you had been carried away by a half-breed of the name of Chigmok, who,
as the Indian averred, was making for the lake of the Little Moose,
that is the lake where we rescued you. This wounded man also informed
us that Chigmok had a camp on the lake, gave us instructions how to
find it; and volunteered the further information that Chigmok was
taking the longest route to the lake, since that was the easier way for
a heavily-loaded sledge. There was a shorter way, as he informed us, a
way which if we travelled hard, would bring us to the lake before
Chigmok himself; and after considering the matter carefully I decided
to take the shorter route, and to await your captor at his own camp,
since, as he had no reason for anticipating pursuit, the surprise would
be all the more complete. We arrived there in good time, and--well, you
know the rest, Helen."

"Not quite," answered the girl in a listless, toneless voice. "You have
not yet told me what this man Chigmok proposed to do with me."

"Well, the wounded Indian told us that he had fallen violently in love
with you, and that he proposed to make you his squaw."

"Ah!"

Ainley interpreted the exclamation in his own way, but looking at the
girl was surprised by a look which had come into her face. Her
listlessness had fallen from her. There was a look of absorption about
her which puzzled him, and he wondered what she was thinking of. He did
not know what her captor had revealed to her, and so never dreamed the
truth, which was that Helen was thinking that for the second time he
had fallen from the truth in his narrative. But again she gave no
further sign. For a little time she sat there grasping at the hope, the
very little hope it gave her. He had lied twice, she was sure. What
reason was there for supposing that the other parts of his narrative
were true? He had owned that he had not seen Hubert Stane's body, and
that he had taken the Indian's word. But what if that were a lie, what
if after all there had been no body, what if that, like the other
things, was a fabrication? It was true that the half-breed had said
Stane was dead, but that might be a mistake. A faint hope stirred in
her heart, and she determined to question Ainley's two Indians as soon
as the opportunity arose. Then a new thought came to her, and she
turned quickly to Ainley.

"Tell me one thing," she said, "when you arrived at the cabin the
attack was quite over?"

"Quite," he answered.

"And you did not take part in the fighting? You fired no shots at the
attackers?"

"No," he answered. "They had gone when we arrived, all except the
wounded Indian who gave me the information."

"Then who was it?" she cried.

"Who was it? I do not understand what you mean, Helen."

"Some one fired on the Indians from the wood, and he kept on firing as
the Indians bound me to the sledge, and even after we had begun to
flee."

Ainley rose abruptly to his feet. It was very clear to the girl that
the information she had given him had astonished him. His manner
betrayed perturbation as he replied in short, jerky sentences: "You
amaze me! What you say is--most astonishing. Are you sure? You have not
dreamed this by any chance?"

"If I have," answered Helen, "another shared my dream. For when I heard
the shots I thought that Mr. Stane had fired them; it was the
half-breed who told me that I was mistaken, and that the shots had been
fired by some one in the forest."

Ainley's perturbation did not subside at this further information.
There was in his face a look of agitation that amounted almost to
apprehension. "I do not understand it at all," he said, more to himself
than to Helen. "It is beyond me. Good Heavens! Is it possible that
Stane escaped after all? He----"

"I thought one of your men saw his body?" interrupted Helen, quickly.

"He certainly saw the body of a white man, or so he avers, and I had no
reason to suppose that it could be any one else!"

"Then," said the girl, "you are not sure?"

"No, not in the sense you mean; but I am morally certain that--but why
worry about Stane? Dead or alive he can be nothing to you."

The girl turned to him sharply, and there was a flash in her eyes and a
look on her face that startled him.

"Dead or alive," she said quickly, "he is more to me than you ever can
be!"

"Helen!" there was a note of angry protest in Ainley's voice. "You
cannot think what you are saying. You must have forgotten how I love
you."

"No," answered the girl deliberately. "I have not forgotten."

"Then you are forgetting what I have endured for you--all the toil and
travail of these weeks of search--the risks I have taken to find you,
the risks I took this morning. Stane may have done something heroic in
saving you from the river, I don't know, but I do know that, as you
told me months ago, you were a hero-worshipper, and I beg of you not to
be misled by a mere romantic emotion. I have risked my life a score of
times to serve you. This morning I saved you from something worse than
death, and surely I deserve a little consideration at your hands. Will
you not think again? Since heroism is your fetish, can you find nothing
heroic in my labours, in my service?"

The man was in deadly earnest, pleading for something on which his
heart was set, and whatever dissimulation there had been in his
narrative, there was none whatever in his pleadings. But Helen
remembered how her lover had gone to prison for this man's deed, and
her heart was like a flint, her tone as cold as ice as she answered
him.

"You do not understand," she said, "you have not yet heard my story.
When you have, whatever I may owe you, you will not press me again."

"Tell me the story then," cried Ainley in a voice hoarse with passion.
"And for God's sake, be quick about it!"



CHAPTER XXIII

A SURPRISE FOR AINLEY


"I will," answered Helen coldly, and without further preamble began the
narrative of all that had befallen her from the time she had left her
uncle's camp to inspect the beaver colony. Ainley listened for a long
time without interruption. Much of the story he already knew, though
the girl was unaware of the fact; much more he had guessed, but some
things were unknown to him, and when she gave the account of Stane's
accident at the deadfall and of the camp she had made there, he broke
out in chagrin: "That explains how it was we never found you. We must
have passed within a very few miles of you."

"You were once within a quarter of a mile of me."

"How do you know that?" he cried.

"Because I saw you and the Indian Joe pitch your camp on the shore of
the lake."

"You saw----" he began, and then stopped staring at her with
incredulous eyes.

"Yes! I watched you make your fire, and then I went back to camp, and
put out my own fire."

"Why?" he demanded harshly, though he had already guessed.

"Because I was afraid you would discover me," answered the girl calmly.
"And I, with a joyful heart, watched you departing in the morning."

Ainley rose suddenly to his feet. "Helen," he cried hoarsely, "do you
know what you are saying? You are telling me that you were glad to be
left alone in this god-forsaken wilderness with a man who was a
discharged convict? I wonder what our world would think of that
confession?"

"I do not care what our world, as you call it, would think about my
action. These few months in the wilderness have made me think little of
those conventions which have such rigid observance in the letter but
are outraged in the spirit every day."

"Our acquaintances would say----" he began, with a note of bitter
malice in his voice, but Helen interrupted him.

"I wonder what our acquaintances would say if they knew everything
about the crime for which Hubert Stane became a convict?"

As she dealt this blow the girl looked at him with ruthless eyes. Now
she was defending, not herself alone, but the memory of the man she
loved, and who out of consideration for herself had only declared his
love when he was going out to meet his death. That thought made her
merciless, and as she saw him waver under the weight of the blow and
his face grow white as the snow about them, she continued
unflinchingly.

"If they knew what I know they might say that I had made a wise choice
in remaining with a convict who had suffered for something of which he
was innocent, instead of going with the man who sent another man
to----"

"Helen! You are mad! mad!" cried Ainley in a voice so wild that one of
the Indians, dozing at the other side of the fire, started suddenly to
his feet, and looked around him as if for enemies. Ainley saw him and
checked the other wild words which sprang to his lips, and after a
moment the Indian sank down on his haunches and dropped his chin on his
breast again.

"No," answered Helen calmly. "I am not mad, I am telling the truth, as
you gave me evidence just now. You did not let me finish my sentence.
You knew what I was going to say. How did you know it? You could not
have guessed it if the facts had not been within your knowledge." She
broke off and was silent for a moment whilst Ainley stared at her with
wild eyes. "I may be in your debt for what happened this morning. I do
not know, for I do not, cannot trust you; but I will never forgive you
for what the man I loved suffered. Never!"

"You believe some lying tale of Stane's?" said Ainley, in a sneering
attempt to cover up his own discomfiture.

"I believe what he told me; I would have believed it on his word alone,
but fortunately the matter does not depend on that word only. There is
evidence, and I know where that evidence is, and I will tell you what I
am going to do. When we get to Fort Malsun, I shall get Mr. Rodwell to
equip an expedition, and I shall recover that evidence and publish it
to the world, in order to clear the memory of the man whom you have so
deeply wronged."

"There will be no need for that, fortunately, Miss Yardely!" said a
voice behind her.

The girl jumped to her feet in surprise. And Ainley took a quick step
forward as a man emerged from the shadow of the trees into the circle
of the firelight. It was the mounted policeman, Dandy Anderton, and
behind him came another man at whom Helen stared for a moment
incredulously, then with a great cry of joy ran to meet him.

"Hubert! Hubert!"

"Yes!" he answered, slipping an arm about her.

"But I thought--I thought----"

"I was afraid you might think so," he replied in answer to her unspoken
thought. "But that could not be helped. I followed after you as fast as
I could, and I was at your heels when your captors were shot down on
the lake and the snow came on."

"Oh, how glad I am that you are alive! That you have found me."

She rested against him well-content, and Stane's arm about her
tightened its grip; then they came back to the little world about them,
at the sound of the policeman's voice.

"Didn't know me, Ainley? I dare say not. I'm not quite the tailor's
mannikin that I was in the old days at the 'Varsity. Got a man's job
now, you see. And that reminds me, I'm here on duty. I happened to be
up the Little Moose when that shooting took place this morning. There's
a couple of dead Indians up there, and as I guess you had something to
do with their sudden deaths I shall have to call on you for an
explanation you know."

Ainley looked at the policeman without fear, and then for a moment his
eyes turned and rested on Helen and Stane standing together in the
shadow of a great fir-tree. It must have been a moment of exceeding
bitterness to him, but beyond a short, abrupt laugh he gave no sign of
his feelings. He turned again to the policeman. Apparently he was
perfectly cool and self-possessed. He waved a hand towards the fire.

"May as well make ourselves comfortable. It's rather a long story I
have to tell. Where are your dogs?"

"Back in the wood--anchored. I'll slip back and fetch them."

"No," said Stane, "I will go back for them."

He turned, and Helen turned with him.

"You don't mind," she whispered.

"Mind!"

She walked by his side, a hand on his arm. Once when they were well in
the shadows of the wood they stopped, and with his arm about her he
kissed her.

"My dear!" he whispered, "my dear."

Helen said nothing immediately, but gave a little sobbing laugh of
gladness. Then after a moment she asked, "How did you escape? How did
you find me?"

"It is too long a story to tell you the whole of it just now. But right
in the nick of time, when I was expecting to die, the owner of our
cabin, Jean Bènard came back. He saved my life; but as he knew nothing
about you, the attackers got away with you, but as soon as he heard my
story he got ready to pursue, and having found out that your kidnappers
were making for the Little Moose we took a short cut and waited for
you. We were at your heels when the rifles fired from the shore----"

"Then you _were_ with that second sledge?"

"Yes, I and Jean Bènard!"

"I saw you and I wondered," cried Helen. "But the half-breed had told
me you were dead."

"We lost you in the snow," said Stane, continuing his explanation, "but
found Anderton, and though the snow was as bad as ever, after a time we
started to search for your trail. Jean Bènard found it deep in the wood
where we were searching, knowing the lake was impossible for any one to
travel in the storm, and after he had made the discovery, Anderton and
I started to track you."

"And where is Jean Bènard?" asked Helen quickly. "I want to thank him
for saving you, for bringing joy back to me when I thought that it was
dead for ever."

"He is following us, he will be here, presently."

"Then I shall see him?"

"I hope so. But we must hurry on, dear. The dogs----"

"Bother the dogs--."

"But I want to hear Gerald Ainley's explanation. It is important that I
should."

"I have already heard it," said Helen quickly. "It is full of lies."

"You think so?"

"I know it."

"All the more reason that I should hear it with Anderton. There is much
more behind all this than you know, Helen."

"Perhaps I guess something of what lies behind."

"I do not think you can. It is an extraordinary story, and there will
be a _dénouement_ presently that will surprise Ainley. Come!"

They moved forward together, found the dogs, and having righted the
sledge by which they had been anchored, they returned to the camp.
Ainley, pipe in hand, apparently quite cool, was talking. He gave one
glance at the couple as they re-entered the circle of light, watched
Stane for a moment as he stooped to unharness the dogs, and then
continued the story he had been telling glibly and evenly.

"Having got the news, I made straight for the cabin, and had the
ill-luck to arrive there half an hour too late. One of the men found a
dead man, who, from the description, I mistook for Stane there, and we
also found a wounded Indian, who, with a little persuasion, told us
what he knew, which was that a half-breed, of the name of Chigmok,
inflamed with love for Miss Yardely, had carried her off, designing to
make her his squaw. I understand this Chigmok is what the Indians call
a bad man--but perhaps you know him?"

He broke off and looked directly at Anderton as he spoke, and waited
for a reply. The mounted policeman nodded, and as casually as he could
replied: "Yes, I have met him. He is--no good."

As the policeman replied, Helen, who was watching Ainley's face, saw a
subtle change come over it. For one moment it lost its assurance and a
flicker of doubt came in the eyes. The girl divined that he had
suddenly grown uncertain of his ground, and to her it was noticeable
that after Anderton's reply Ainley's glibness left him, and that he
spoke hesitatingly, haltingly, with frequent pauses, like a man
uncertain of his words.

"Then, by all accounts, you have met a regular rogue, Anderton! But to
resume, the Indian told us that Chigmok had carried off Miss Yardely.
Under pressure he told also the place for which the half-breed was
making, a desolate district, little travelled--the Lake of the Little
Moose. Know it?"

"Yes, I was there this morning; Stane and I have just come from there."

Again the flicker of doubt came in Ainley's eyes, and in the glow of
the firelight, Helen saw a look of apprehension come on his face. It
was there for but a moment, then it was gone, but in that moment the
girl had seen deeply into Ainley's heart, and knew that fear was
rapidly mounting there.

"Ah! you also followed Chigmok's trail, I suppose. But I was there
first. I followed a shorter route and I was at his camp waiting for him
when he showed up. I saw Miss Yardely on the sledge, and as for the
moment we were three against three, I felt that it was not an occasion
when chances should be taken, so we fired from the bushes on the three
kidnappers and shot them down. Then as there was another sledge coming
on behind, I removed Miss Yardely to my own sledge, and to escape
further trouble we pushed the dogs hard till we got here.... And that's
about all, I think."

He fell silent for a moment, and sat there watching the two white men
and the white girl who had heard the conclusion of his narrative. They
remained quite still, and not one of the three spoke. Ainley evidently
found the silence too much for his nerves, for after a little time had
passed in profound silence, he flashed out irritably:

"Well, what do you think of my story?"

"It is a very interesting story," said Anderton at last.

A quick look of relief came into Ainley's face. "You think I was
justified in shooting down those three kidnappers then?"

"On the face of things--yes! If your story is the correct one there is
not the slightest doubt that you followed the right course."

"You don't doubt its correctness?" flashed Ainley.

"I have not said so," answered the policeman gravely, "but so far, as
you will see, I have only your word for it."

"The two men who are with me can corroborate," replied Ainley.

"That will be helpful, of course," said Anderton. "But I am not trying
the case, Ainley, I am only making the necessary inquiries that I may
make my report at the Post. And I had better warn you that you may have
a little trouble about this matter. Things in the North here are not
like they were a few years back, when any wandering white man felt
himself justified in potting any Indian whose presence he considered
inimical. The administration of the Territories is very tender towards
the natives under its charge, and watchful of their interests. It is
bound to be. Since it expects the red man to accept its laws, it can do
no less than compel whites to honour them."

"Oh I know all that," said Ainley, a trifle contemptuously. "But you
won't claim that the circumstances of this affair are anything but
extraordinary."

"No," agreed the policeman, "I think they are very extraordinary."

Something significant in his tones caused Ainley to look at him
questioningly. The policeman, whose face was like a mask, was staring
into the fire, and did not catch the look. Ainley made as if to speak,
then changed his mind and remained silent. After a little time Anderton
spoke again.

"Seems a long time since we three men foregathered at Oxford."

"Yes," agreed Ainley, apparently relieved at the change of subject. "A
good bit of water has gone down the Isis since then."

"And all the circumstances considered it is rather a coincidence that
we three should meet like this in the wilderness."

"It certainly is dramatic," admitted Ainley. "Quite a Drury Lane
drama."

"More so than you know, Ainley," answered Anderton quickly. "Stane, let
Ainley have a look at that piece of paper you carry about with you."

A moment later Stane had opened the oilskin packet, and was unfolding
the sheet of note-paper. Ainley watched him in amazement, and then as
Stane held the paper towards him, and he bent over it, a look of
consternation came on his face, and a quick oath broke from his lips.
"God in heaven!"

"You had better put that paper in safety, again, Stane," said the
policeman quickly. "Ainley recognized it first glance."

"It's a lie," cried Ainley. "I've never seen the thing in my life
before!"

"Your tongue lies better than your face, Ainley. Just now your face
told the truth. You have seen that paper before. You saw it at Oxford
when you prepared yourself for the forgery that sent Stane to prison.
You----"

"I'll not stand it!" cried Ainley jumping to his feet. "You are
charging me with a crime of which a judge and jury found Stane guilty.
It is insufferable. You can't expect any man to sit still."

"Where did you find that paper, Stane?" interrupted the policeman
brusquely.

"In a copy of Jowett's Plato which Ainley had borrowed from me, and
which he returned to my scout after I was arrested."

"It's a barefaced lie! A plot!" cried Ainley. "I'm surprised at you,
Anderton--a representative of the law too--lending yourself to such an
absurd charge. You ought to know better."

"I know more than you think, Ainley. You remember Jarlock who was in
our set--?"

"Jarlock!" The name broke from Ainley in a tone of consternation.

"Yes, Jarlock! A good fellow, Jarlock. A friend who could forgive a
friend his faults, who indeed could on occasion overlook a crime when
he thought it was the crime of a hard-pressed man."

"What in thunder are you gassing about?" cried Ainley blusteringly.

"About Jarlock and a certain promissory note which he paid, a note
which bore your name and his. Your signature was quite genuine.
Jarlock's--well, Jarlock denied it, and you owned that you----"

"He told?" said Ainley. "The cur told?"

"Yes, he told me in confidence, after he had heard of Stane's denial of
the charge for which he was imprisoned. You see he believed in Stane,
as I did myself----"

"And you would make me the scapegoat for Stane's crime." Ainley laughed
harshly. "I will see you hung first," he cried. "I----"

He broke off abruptly as a sound of yelping dogs sounded from the wood,
and stared into the darkness. Anderton rose from his seat.

"I expect that will be Jean Bènard," he said quietly.

"Jean Bènard? Who is Jean Bènard?" cried Ainley.

"He is the man who Stane and I left to bring Chigmok along."

"Chigmok!"

"Yes, you see, Ainley, Chigmok was not dead as you meant him to be. He
was only winged, and he was able to tell his story which was a much
more interesting story than yours, and as I beg leave to think, a much
more truthful one."

Ainley did not reply. He stood staring into the darkness with wild
eyes. The glow of the fire revealed a terrible look on his face--the
look of a man who in a single moment has seen his life go suddenly to
pieces. He stood there dumb, his face working painfully, and then, as
the dog-team broke into the circle of the firelight, he fell back into
his seat by the fire in utter collapse, his face hidden in his hands.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE TRAIL TO PARADISE


When Ainley lifted a white, tortured face, it was to find the man whom
he had used as a tool, and whom, having used, he had tried to kill,
seated by the fire, staring at him with his evil eyes full of hate. The
others also sat watching him, all except Helen who had withdrawn to the
shadow of the wood, and was walking restlessly to and fro, unable to
witness further the downfall of a man whom she had known so well. For a
moment there was silence, then Anderton spoke.

"Would you like to hear Chigmok's story, Ainley?"

"There is no need that I should," answered Ainley with a bitter,
hopeless laugh. "I can guess it fairly well."

The mounted policeman was silent for a little time, then he remarked:
"The implications of his story are rather serious for you, Ainley."

"Oh, I know it, don't I?"

"Then you admit----"

"I admit nothing! I reserve my defence--that's the proper legal thing
to do, isn't it?"

"It is the wise thing, anyway," said Anderton.

"The wise thing," again the bitter mirthless laugh sounded. "When did I
ever do the wise thing? I suppose I may consider myself under arrest."

"Detained on suspicion," admitted the policeman. "I think I must
trouble you for your pistol and hunting-knife."

Once more Ainley laughed his bitter laugh, and unbuckling his belt
threw it to the policeman. "It isn't often you arrest an old chum," he
said.

"No!" agreed Anderton, "thank heaven! But you understand, Ainley, I've
no option. If you were my own brother it would be the same. The oath of
service is a very exacting one--'without fear or favour or affection of
or toward any person. So help me God!' A man can't----"

"Oh, you needn't apologize, Anderton, I recognize the situation well
enough. Don't mind if I lapse into silence do you? There are some
letters I want to write."

He unbuttoned his furs and taking out a pocket-book and pencil began to
write. Jean Bènard, having fed his dogs, began to prepare a meal for
himself. Anderton sat by the fire, staring into the flames, reflecting
on the irony of fate that had selected him of all men in the Mounted
Service to be the one to arrest his whilom fellow-student. Stane had
turned away and joined Helen, who still paced to and fro in the
shadows. Her face, as her lover saw, was full of trouble.

"Oh!" she whispered. "It is unbearable to watch a man one has known go
all to pieces!"

"It is certainly very sad," agreed Stane, out of whose heart all hatred
suddenly vanished. "I wish that things were not as they are."

"Let us try to forget," said Helen with a quick glance towards the
fire. "Tell me what happened when you went out of the cabin last
night."

"Well," answered her lover falling into step by her side, "when I went
out, I thought I was certainly going to my death."

"Ah, I knew that was in your mind!... But how did you escape?"

"It was a narrow thing. An Indian grappled me, and another man was
hurrying towards me with an ax. I could not get away, and a third
person appeared suddenly with a knife. I thought the knife was meant
for me, but it was not. It was meant for my antagonist, and he went
down and just after--my--my--saviour was killed by the second Indian,
who also struck at me, knocking me senseless."

"Who was the person with the knife? Someone with Jean Bènard?"

"No," answered Stane slowly, "it was the Indian girl, Miskodeed."

"Miskodeed!" cried Helen in utter surprise.

"Yes! I did not know it at the time, but we found her afterwards, Jean
Bènard and I. It was a dreadful discovery. Jean had come back to his
cabin, hoping to marry her, and she had died for me!"

"Oh," sobbed Helen in a sudden accession of grief. "I would have done
as much!"

"I know," answered Stane quietly.

"And last night when you were in the wood together, and I heard your
voices, I was jealous of that girl; last night and at other times."

"But," said the man, a note of wonder in his voice, "there was no need,
Helen. You must know that?"

"Oh yes, I know it now. But she was very beautiful and Gerald Ainley
had suggested that you--that you----. And I am sure that she loved you.
But not more than I, though she died for you!"

"I am very sure of that," answered Stane, earnestly, putting his arm
about her and trying to comfort her.

Helen sobbed convulsively. "I shall always be grateful to her, though I
was jealous of her. She saved you--for me--and she was only an Indian
girl."

"She had a heart of gold," said Stane. "She came to warn me and then
stayed to do what she did!" Both were silent for a long time, the girl
thinking of Miskodeed in her flashing beauty, the other of Jean, bent
over the cold face of his dead love, and then Helen spoke again.

"But tell me! The attack on the cabin, was that man who captured
me--that man Chigmok--was he the inspirer of that?"

"I am afraid not!"

"Then it was Gerald Ainley who was to pay the price for me that the
half-breed told me of, and that is why he collapsed so utterly when
Chigmok came along just now?"

"Yes," answered Stane, simply.

"But why did he shoot down Chigmok's party?"

"Well, I think it was to get rid of witnesses who might rise up against
him. You must remember that he would be under the impression that I was
dead--killed in the attack, and that was a crime that might some day
have come to light if those men had lived. The pretended rescue was a
sufficient excuse for getting rid of the men who knew the instigator,
particularly of the half-breed."

"Yes," said Helen thoughtfully. "An idea of that sort had occurred to
me from something that Chigmok had said. But how dreadful it is to
think that a man can so conspire to--to----"

She broke off without completing her words, and Stane nodded.

"There was always a crooked strain in Ainley. But it will go hard with
him now, for the half-breed will be merciless. He is the man Anderton
was after when he came to the cabin, and his life is forfeit on another
count. He will not spare the man who bribed him to fresh crime, and
then dealt treacherously with him."

He paused in his walk and looked back towards the fire where Ainley sat
writing, with Chigmok glowering at him across the fire, whilst Anderton
sat staring abstractedly into the glowing logs. Then a stealthy
movement of the half-breed's arrested his attention. The man had thrust
his hand into his furs, and as it was withdrawn Stane caught sight of
something that gleamed in the firelight. In a flash he saw what was
about to happen, and shouted a hurried warning.

"Look out, Ainley!"

In the same second, the half-breed, standing swiftly upright, launched
himself across the fire at Ainley, knife in hand. The white man who had
looked up at Stane's sudden warning was bowled over in the snow with
the half-breed on the top of him. The knife was lifted, but never
struck, for in that second Anderton also had leaped, and gripping the
half-breed's wrist he twisted the knife from his grasp, and flinging it
away, dragged the attacker from his victim. By the time Stane had
reached the scene, Ainley was gathering up some scattered papers,
apparently none the worse for the encounter, whilst Anderton was
admonishing the half-breed.

"You're a nice lot, Chigmok. Winged as you are, I thought you were
quite safe. Now you force me to tie you up, savvy?"

He promptly proceeded to do so, whilst Ainley seated himself anew and
looked up at Stane. "Thank you, Stane! The warning was more than I
deserved from you!" Then he laughed bitterly. "The poor devil isn't to
be blamed. I have merited what he meant to do, and you know it might
have been the better way--for me."

Stane looked at him not knowing what to reply. There was something
about Ainley that moved him to sudden pity. He looked like a man who
had reached the end of hope and life, and his words were those of a man
viewing his own end as a matter of no moment. "I'm sorry, Ainley!" said
Stane awkwardly.

"So am I! But what's the use? There's no going back in life; a man can
only go forward or----"

"Or what?" asked Stane.

"Or go out!" answered the other grimly.

"You are thinking of----"

"Better for you not to know, Stane. I'm going to do the straight thing
for once in my life, as you will discover presently. Don't you worry
about me. I am plumb at the end of things and I know it. But don't
communicate any suspicions you may happen to have to Anderton. He has
set up that precious duty of his as a fetish, worships it, as you
heard. Think of Dandy Anderton of the old days on his knees at the
shrine of duty!" He gave a little laugh, and then continued, "But I
don't want to be offered on his altar, and I won't be. You can bank on
that!" He broke off and looked towards Helen, hovering on the edge of
the shadows. "If you've any sense, Stane, you'll go and persuade Helen
to lie down and rest, she must be worn out by now!"

Stane nodded and turned away, and after a little more walking to and
fro, Helen sought the tent, whilst Stane, after a word or two with
Anderton and Jean Bènard, rolled himself in his sleeping furs, though
with little hope of sleep. He lay awake some time and frequently opened
his eyes to see Ainley still bent over his pocket-book, but presently
drowsiness came over him. The last time his eyes alighted on Ainley the
latter had ceased to write and was sitting staring into the fire with
sombre eyes. Then sleep overtook him completely.

He awoke in the grey dawn with Anderton's voice in his ears, and with a
powdery snow driving into his eyes.

"What----"

"Ainley's gone. I left one of the Indians to watch--not that I thought
there was any very real need--but the beggar slept, and Ainley
evidently took the opportunity to bolt."

"Has he taken dogs?" asked Stane quickly.

"No, nor anything else that I can see. He has even left his pocket-book
behind with some pages bent over and addressed to you. Here it is! Out
of the wood it must be snowing like the very devil, and he can't go
far. I'm going after him with Jean Bènard, and I want you to look after
Chigmok and these Indians of Ainley's."

"All right, Anderton! But you won't catch Ainley, you know."

"Why not?"

"Because," was the reply given with quiet significance, "I am afraid
that Ainley has gone very far indeed."

A light of comprehension came into the policeman's eyes, and he
whistled thoughtfully.

"You think----" he began and stopped.

"I am quite sure that Ainley has started on the longest trail of all.
Why didn't he take dogs? How long can he last in this wilderness
without? And as you say outside the wood it must be snowing
heavily--which way has he gone?"

"His tracks are on the backward trail----"

"To the open country--and in a blizzard. Anderton, old man, let him go.
You must guess what he is about----"

"Maybe I do," answered Anderton quietly.

"And you'll only be wasting your strength for nothing."

"I hope to God you're right!" broke out the policeman vehemently. "But
all the same I've got to follow him--Duty's duty--but you don't suppose
I'm keen on taking an old pal to be hanged at Regina. I'm glad Ainley
had the sense and grit to take the long trail on his own. But I'm bound
to try and stop him; though I thank heaven that he has an hour's start.
Now I must go. Keep your eye on Chigmok, he stands for my honour and
credit much more than Ainley, because of his original crime. So long!"

He turned away and disappeared into the forest on the backward trail
with Jean Bènard, and half an hour afterwards Helen emerged from her
tent to find him bent over Ainley's pocket-book with a troubled look in
his eyes.

"What is it?" she asked looking round. "Where is Mr. Ainley and where
are----"

"Ainley went away in the night. The others have gone after him. They
will not catch him--at least I pray not."

"You think he will get away?"

"He has taken a trail where they are not likely to follow."

"Oh!" cried Helen with a sob. "You mean that he--that he----?"

"Yes! He hinted his intention to me last night----"

"And you did not try to stop him?" she cried almost reproachfully.

"No! Why should I? If you will think, Helen, you will find many reasons
why this was the only thing for Ainley. He has left a long note in his
pocket-book and a confession which clears me of that affair at Oxford.
There is a note also for you--perhaps you would like to take the book
and read the note to me as well."

He handed her the pocket-book and watched her as she returned to the
little tent, then began to busy himself with preparations for
breakfast. Half an hour later Helen emerged again. Her eyes were red
with weeping.

"I have torn my note out," she said, "there it is." She held a crumpled
ball of paper in her hand. "It is the saddest thing I ever read. He
tells me that he was responsible for my going adrift, that he
deliberately broke my paddle in order that he might find me and pose as
a hero, because he wanted me to marry him and knew that I worshipped
heroism. He says that he had made what reparation was possible to you
and that you will be able to clear your name. He prays for our
happiness, and--and--he hints at what he was about to do, because he
finishes with the old cry of the gladiators--'Hail Cæsar, we who are
about to die, salute thee!' Oh! It is so sad!... No eyes but mine shall
ever read it--and I--shall never read it again."

She moved her hand slightly and the crumpled ball rolled into the blaze
of the fire. She watched the flickering flame leap up, and die down,
then she turned to her lover with streaming eyes.

"You were right to let him go, my dear! I--I pray God they will not
find him."

"I also!" said Stane.

... They waited an hour, two hours, saying little, neither trying to
hide from the other the anxiety each felt, and then through the mist of
snow between the trees came Anderton and Jean Bènard. Stane flashed a
question at the policeman, who shook his head.

"Thank God!" said Stane, whilst Jean Bènard looked at Helen.

"Zee deaths een zee snow, eet ees nodings! I know. I haf seen a man die
so. Eet ees as gentle as a woman's hand."

And as he finished speaking Helen turned and went to the little tent to
pray for the repose of the man who had sinned, but had made the last
complete reparation.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Two days later, when the storm had blown itself out, all of them took
the trail to Fort Malsun, and at the end of the first day reached a
small river that was unknown to Stane.

"Where does this go to?" he asked over the camp fire at night, pointing
to the frozen waterway.

"It makes a big bend and falls into the river above Fort Malsun," said
Anderton.

"And the other way? Where does it come from?"

"Don't know!" answered Anderton. "Never travelled it!"

"But I haf," said Jean Bènard. "I haf been up eet fiftee miles. Two
days' trail from here dere ees an Engleesh Mission, where a married
priest preach zee Gospel to zee Indians. He ees vaire good man, who
laugh like an angel!"

A musing look came on Stane's face, and he sat for some time in
thought, then when the opportunity came he walked with Helen on the
edge of the wood, conversing earnestly. A burst of light laughter
reached the men by the camp fire and Jean Bènard looked round.

"What ees ze saying of your countrymen, p'liceman? 'Youth eet veel be
served!' It veel snatch eet's happiness from zee jaws of death,
eetself."

"Yes! And these two deserve the happiness they will get!"

When Stane and Helen returned to the fire, the former, whilst Anderton
was busy elsewhere, spent some time in conversation with Jean Bènard,
who, after a few moments, cried enthusiastically:

"By gar! Dat ees a great plan, m'sieu! Zee dogs an' zee stores I would
giv' dem you eef I vos not so poor a mans! But you can buy dem--wid
pleasure!"

"Very well! But not a word to Anderton till morning."

"Right, m'sieu. I understand. You an' your mees you giv' zee p'licemans
one beeg surprise! Eees not dat so?"

"That is it," laughed Stane.

And Anderton's surprise was complete. Whilst it was yet dark and the
stars were twinkling frostily, the three dog-teams were harnessed on
the river trail.

Then the policeman made the discovery that Jean Bènard's team was
headed upstream.

"Hallo, Jean," he cried, "are you going to leave us?"

"Not I, M'sieu Anderton," said the trapper with a grin. "I go wid you
to Fort Malsun to help you look after Chigmok an' zee odders. But I zee
team sold to M'sieu Stane, an' he goes to zee Engleesh Mission."

"To the English Mission!" Then a light broke on the policeman, and he
turned to where Stane and Helen stood together, with laughter in their
eyes. "I could shake you--shake you both," he said. "It is a pretty
game to cheat me out of the job of best man. But, Great Christopher!
it's the tip-top thing to do, to marry before you go out of the
wilderness."

"That missionary," laughed Stane, "is a Godsend. It would be folly not
to use the opportunity he represents."

"So I should think if I were in your shoes," laughed Anderton, joining
in the laughter.

"And Jean says he laughs like an angel," cried Helen gaily. "I want to
see him, naturally. I have never seen an angel laugh!"

"But I have! And so has Stane," replied the policeman. "How soon do you
take the trail to Paradise? We'll wait and see you start!"

"We're ready now," said Stane.

"Then it's time you were off!"

Hands were shaken, good-byes said, then Stane stepped ahead of the
dogs, whilst Helen took her place at the gee-pole.

"Moosh! Moosh!" cried Jean to the dogs.

Then amid cries of well-wishes they started off on their trail to the
English Mission, and overhead the lights of the Aurora, flaming
suddenly, lit the trail with splendour.



THE END





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