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Title: The Gun-Brand
Author: Hendryx, James B. (James Beardsley), 1880-1963
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Gun-Brand" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Frontispiece: "The next instant his arms were pinioned
to his sides."]



The Gun-Brand


By JAMES B. HENDRYX



AUTHOR OF

"The Promise" Etc.



With Frontispiece in Colors

By CLYDE FORSYTHE



A. L. BURT COMPANY

Publishers                New York


published by arrangement with G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS



COPYRIGHT, 1917

By

JAMES B. HENDRYX



Second Impression



The Knickerbocker Press, New York



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

     I  THE CALL OF THE RAW
    II  VERMILION SHOWS HIS HAND
   III  PIERRE LAPIERRE
    IV  CHLOE SECURES AN ALLY
     V  PLANS AND SPECIFICATIONS
    VI  BRUTE MACNAIR
   VII  THE MASTER MIND
  VIII  A SHOT IN THE NIGHT
    IX  ON SNARE LAKE
     X  AN INTERVIEW
    XI  BACK ON THE YELLOW KNIFE
   XII  A FIGHT IN THE NIGHT
  XIII  LAPIERRE RETURNS FROM THE SOUTH
   XIV  THE WHISKEY RUNNERS
    XV  "ARREST THAT MAN!"
   XVI  MACNAIR GOES TO JAIL
  XVII  A FRAME-UP
 XVIII  WHAT HAPPENED AT BROWN'S
   XIX  THE LOUCHOUX GIRL
    XX  ON THE TRAIL OF PIERRE LAPIERRE
   XXI  LAPIERRE PAYS A VISIT
  XXII  CHLOE WRITES A LETTER
 XXIII  THE WOLF-CRY!
  XXIV  THE BATTLE
   XXV  THE GUN-BRAND



THE GUN-BRAND


CHAPTER I

THE CALL OF THE RAW

Seated upon a thick, burlap-covered bale of freight--a "piece," in the
parlance of the North--Chloe Elliston idly watched the loading of the
scows.  The operation was not new to her; a dozen times within the
month since the outfit had swung out from Athabasca Landing she had
watched from the muddy bank while the half-breeds and Indians unloaded
the big scows, ran them light through whirling rock-ribbed rapids,
carried the innumerable pieces of freight upon their shoulders across
portages made all but impassable by scrub timber, oozy muskeg, and low
sand-mountains, loaded the scows again at the foot of the rapid and
steered them through devious and dangerous miles of swift-moving
white-water, to the head of the next rapid.

They are patient men--these water freighters of the far North.  For
more than two centuries and a quarter they have sweated the wilderness
freight across these same portages.  And they are sober men--when
civilization is behind them--far behind.

Close beside Chloe Elliston, upon the same piece, Harriet Penny, of
vague age, and vaguer purpose, also watched the loading of the scows.
Harriet Penny was Chloe Elliston's one concession to convention--excess
baggage, beyond the outposts, being a creature of fear.  Upon another
piece, Big Lena, the gigantic Swedish Amazon who, in the capacity of
general factotum, had accompanied Chloe Elliston over half the world,
stared stolidly at the river.

Having arrived at Athabasca Landing four days after the departure of
the Hudson Bay Company's annual brigade, Chloe had engaged
transportation into the North in the scows of an independent.  And,
when he heard of this, the old factor at the post shook his head
dubiously, but when the girl pressed him for the reason, he shrugged
and remained silent.  Only when the outfit was loaded did the old man
whisper one sentence:

"Beware o' Pierre Lapierre."

Again Chloe questioned him, and again he remained silent.  So, as the
days passed upon the river trail, the name of Pierre Lapierre was all
but forgotten in the menace of rapids and the monotony of portages.
And now the last of the great rapids had been run--the rapid of the
Slave--and the scows were almost loaded.

Vermilion, the boss scowman, stood upon the running-board of the
leading scow and directed the stowing of the freight.  He was a
picturesque figure--Vermilion.  A squat, thick half-breed, with eyes
set wide apart beneath a low forehead bound tightly around with a
handkerchief of flaming silk.

A heavy-eyed Indian, moving ponderously up the rough plank with a piece
balanced upon his shoulders, missed his footing and fell with a loud
splash into the water.  The Indian scrambled clumsily ashore, and the
piece was rescued, but not before a perfect torrent of
French-English-Indian profanity had poured from the lips of the
ever-versatile Vermilion.  Harriet Penny shrank against the younger
woman and shuddered.

"Oh!" she gasped, "he's swearing!"

"No!" exclaimed Chloe, in feigned surprise.  "Why, I believe he is!"

Miss Penny flushed.  "But, it is terrible!  Just listen!"

"For Heaven's sake, Hat!  If you don't like it, why do you listen?"

"But he ought to be stopped.  I am sure the poor Indian did not _try_
to fall in the river."

Chloe made a gesture of impatience.  "Very well, Hat; just look up the
ordinance against swearing on Slave River, and report him to Ottawa."

"But I'm afraid!  He--the Hudson Bay Company's man--told us not to
come."

Chloe straightened up with a jerk.  "See here, Hat Penny!  Stop your
snivelling!  What do you expect from rivermen?  Haven't the seven
hundred miles of water trail taught you _anything_?  And, as for being
afraid--I don't care _who_ told us not to come!  I'm an Elliston, and
I'll go whereever I want to go!  This isn't a pleasure trip.  I came up
here for a purpose.  Do you think I'm going to be scared out by the
first old man that wags his head and shrugs his shoulders?  Or by any
other man!  Or by any swearing that I can't understand, or any that I
can, either, for that matter!  Come on, they're waiting for this bale."

Chloe Elliston's presence in the far outlands was the culmination of an
ideal, spurred by dissuasion and antagonism into a determination, and
developed by longing into an obsession.  Since infancy the girl had
been left much to her own devices.  Environment, and the prescribed
course at an expensive school, should have made her pretty much what
other girls are, and an able satellite to her mother, who managed to
remain one of the busiest women of the Western metropolis--doing
absolutely nothing--but, doing it with _éclat_.

The girl's father, Blair Elliston, from his desk in a luxurious office
suite, presided over the destiny of the Elliston fleet of yellow-stack
tramps that poked their noses into queer ports and put to sea with
queer cargoes--cargoes that smelled sweet and spicy, with the spice of
the far South Seas.  Office sailor though he was, Blair Elliston
commanded the respect of even the roughest of his polyglot crews--a
respect not wholly uncommingled with fear.

For this man was the son of old "Tiger" Elliston, founder of the fleet.
The man who, shoulder to shoulder with Brooke, the elder, put the fear
of God in the hearts of the pirates, and swept wide trade-lanes among
the islands of terror-infested Malaysia.  And through Chloe Elliston's
veins coursed the blood of her world-roving ancestor.  Her most
treasured possession was a blackened and scarred oil portrait of the
old sea-trader and adventurer, which always lay swathed in many
wrappings in the bottom of her favourite trunk.

In her heart she loved and admired this grandfather, with a love and
admiration that bordered upon idolatry.  She loved the lean, hard
features, and the cold, rapier-blade eyes.  She loved the name men
called him; Tiger Elliston, an earned name--that.  The name of a man
who, by his might and the strength and mastery of him, had won his
place in the world of the men who dare.

Since babyhood she had listened with awe to tales of him; and the
red-letter days of her childhood's calendar were the days upon which
her father would take her down to the docks, past great windowless
warehouses of concrete and sheet-iron, where big glossy horses stood
harnessed to high-piled trucks--past great tiers of bales and boxes
between which trotted hurrying, sweating men--past the clang and clash
of iron truck wheels, the rattle of chains, the shriek of pulleys, and
the loud-bawled orders in strange tongues.  Until, at last, they would
come to the great dingy hulk of the ship and walk up the gangway and
onto the deck, where funny yellow and brown men, with their hair
braided into curious pigtails, worked with ropes and tackles and called
to other funny men with bright-coloured ribbons braided into their
beards.

Almost as she learned to walk she learned to pick out the yellow stacks
of "papa's boats," learned their names, and the names of their
captains, the bronzed, bearded men who would take her in their laps,
holding her very awkwardly and very, very carefully, as if she were
something that would break, and tell her stories in deep, rumbly
voices.  And nearly always they were stories of the Tiger--"yer
gran'pap, leetle missey," they would say.  And then, by palms, and
pearls, and the fires of blazing mountains, they would swear "He wor a
man!"

To the helpless horror of her mother, the genuine wonder of her many
friends, and the ill-veiled amusement and approval of her father, a
month after the doors of her _alma mater_ closed behind her, she took
passage on the _Cora Blair_, the oldest and most disreputable-looking
yellow stack of them all, and hied her for a year's sojourn among the
spicy lotus-ports of the dreamy Southern Ocean--there to hear at first
hand from the men who knew him, further deeds of Tiger Elliston.

To her, on board the battered tramp, came gladly the men of power--the
men whose spoken word in their polyglot domains was more feared and
heeded than decrees of emperors or edicts of kings.  And there, in the
time-blackened cabin that had once been _his_ cabin, these men talked
and the girl listened while her eyes glowed with pride as they
recounted the exploits of Tiger Elliston.  And, as they talked, the
hearts of these men warmed, and the years rolled backward, and they
swore weird oaths, and hammered the thick planks of the chart-table
with bangs of approving fists, and invoked the blessings of strange
gods upon the soul of the Tiger--and their curses upon the souls of his
enemies.

Nor were these men slow to return hospitality, and Chloe Elliston was
entertained royally in halls of lavish splendour, and plied with costly
gifts and rare.  And honoured by the men, and the sons and daughters of
men who had fought side by side with the Tiger in the days when the
yellow sands ran red, and tall masts and white sails rose like clouds
from the blue fog of the cannon-crashing powder-smoke.

So, from the lips of governors and potentates, native princes and
rajahs, the girl learned of the deeds of her grandsire, and in their
eyes she read approval, and respect, and reverence even greater than
her own--for these were the men who knew him.  But, not alone from the
mighty did she learn.  For, over rice-cakes and _poi_, in the thatched
hovels of Malays, Kayans, and savage Dyaks, she heard the tale from the
lips of the vanquished men--men who still hated, yet always respected,
the reddened sword of the Tiger.

The year Chloe Elliston spent among the copra-ports of the South Seas
was the shaping year of her destiny.  Never again were the standards of
her compeers to be her standards--never again the measure of the world
of convention to be her measure.  For, in her heart the awakened spirit
of Tiger Elliston burned and seared like a living flame, calling for
other wilds to conquer, other savages to subdue--to crush down, if need
be, that it might build up into the very civilization of which the
unconquerable spirit is the forerunner, yet which, in realization,
palls and deadens it to extinction.

For social triumphs the girl cared nothing.  The heart of her felt the
irresistible call of the raw.  She returned to the land of her birth
and deliberately, determinedly, in the face of opposition, ridicule,
advice, and command--as Tiger Elliston, himself, would have done--she
cast about until she found the raw, upon the rim of the Arctic.  And,
with the avowed purpose of carrying education and civilization to the
Indians of the far North, turned her back upon the world-fashionable,
and without fanfare or trumpetry, headed into the land of primal things.

When the three women had taken their places in the head scow, Vermilion
gave the order to shove off, and with the swarthy crew straining at the
rude sweeps, the heavy scows threaded their way into the North.

Once through the swift water at the tail of Slave Rapids, the four
scows drifted lazily down the river.  The scowmen distributed
themselves among the pieces in more or less comfortable attitudes and
slept.  In the head scow only the boss and the three women remained
awake.

"Who is Pierre Lapierre?" Chloe asked suddenly.

The man darted her a searching glance and shrugged.  "Pierre Lapierre,
she free-trader," he answered.  "Dees scow, she Pierre Lapierre scow."

If Chloe was surprised at this bit of information, she succeeded
admirably in disguising her feelings.  Not so Harriet Penny, who sank
back among the freight pieces to stare fearfully into the face of the
younger woman.

"Then you are Pierre Lapierre's man?  You work for him?"

The man nodded.  "On de reevaire I'm run de scow--me--Vermilion!  I'm
tak' de reesk.  Lapierre, she tak' de money."  The man's eyes glinted
wickedly.

"Risk?  What risk?" asked the girl.

Again the man eyed her shrewdly and laughed.  "Das plent' reesk--on de
reevaire.  De scow--me'be so, she heet de rock in de rapids--bre'k all
to hell--_Voilà_!"  Somehow the words did not ring true.

"You hate Lapierre!"  The words flashed swift, taking the man by
surprise.

"_Non_!  _Non_!" he cried, and Chloe noticed that his glance flashed
swiftly over the sprawling forms of the five sleeping scowmen.

"And you are afraid of him," the girl added before he could frame a
reply.

A sudden gleam of anger leaped into the eyes of the half-breed.  He
seemed on the point of speaking, but with an unintelligible muttered
imprecation he relapsed into sullen silence.  Chloe had purposely
baited the man, hoping in his anger he would blurt out some bit of
information concerning the mysterious Pierre Lapierre.  Instead, the
man crouched silent, scowling, with his gaze fixed upon the forms of
the scowmen.

Had the girl been more familiar with the French half-breeds of the
outlands she would have been suspicious of the man's sudden taciturnity
under stress of anger--suspicious, also, of the gradual shifting that
had been going on for days among the crews of the scows.  A shifting
that indicated Vermilion was selecting the crew of his own scow with an
eye to a purpose--a purpose that had not altogether to do with the
scow's safe conduct through white-water.  But Chloe had taken no note
of the personnel of the scowmen, nor of the fact that the freight of
the head scow consisted only of pieces that obviously contained
provisions, together with her own tent and sleeping outfit, and several
burlapped pieces marked with the name "MacNair."  Idly she wondered who
MacNair was, but refrained from asking.

The long-gathering twilight deepened as the scows floated northward.
Vermilion's face lost its scowl, and he smoked in silence--a sinister
figure, thought the girl, as he crouched in the bow, his dark features
set off to advantage by his flaming head-band.

Into the stillness crept a sound--the far-off roar of a rapid.  Sullen,
and dull, it scarce broke the monotony of the silence--low, yet ever
increasing in volume.

"Another portage?" wearily asked the girl.

Vermilion shook his head.  "_Non_, eet ees de Chute.  Ten miles of de
wild, fast wataire, but safe--eef you know de way.  Me--Vermilion--I'm
tak' de scow t'rough a hondre tam--_bien_!"

"But, you can't make it in the dark!"

Vermilion laughed.  "We mak' de camp to-night.  To-mor', we run de
Chute."  He reached for the light pole with which he indicated the
channel to the steersman, and beat sharply upon the running-board that
formed the gunwale of the scow.  Sleepily the five sprawling forms
stirred, and awoke to consciousness.  Vermilion spoke a guttural jargon
of words and the men fumbled the rude sweeps against the tholes.  The
other three scows drifted lazily in the rear and, standing upon the
running-board, Vermilion roared his orders.  Figures in the scows
stirred, and sweeps thudded against thole-pins.  The roar of the Chute
was loud, now--hoarse, and portentous of evil.

The high banks on either side of the river drew closer together, the
speed of the drifting scows increased, and upon the dark surface of the
water tiny whirlpools appeared.  Vermilion raised the pole above his
head and pointed toward a narrow strip of beach that showed dimly at
the foot of the high bank, at a point only a few hundred yards above
the dark gap where the river plunged between the upstanding rocks of
the Chute.

Looking backward, Chloe watched the three scows with their swarthy
crews straining at the great sweeps.  Here was action--life!  Primitive
man battling against the unbending forces of an iron wilderness.  The
red blood leaped through the girl's veins as she realized that this
life was to be her life--this wilderness to be her wilderness.  Hers to
bring under the book, and its primitive children, hers--to govern by a
rule of thumb!

Suddenly she noticed that the following scows were much nearer shore
than her own, and also, that they were being rapidly out-distanced.
She glanced quickly toward shore.  The scow was opposite the strip of
beach toward which the others were slowly but surely drawing.  The scow
seemed motionless, as upon the surface of a mill-pond, but the beach,
and the high bank beyond, raced past to disappear in the deepening
gloom.  The figures in the following scows--the scows
themselves--blurred into the shore-line.  The beach was gone.  Rocks
appeared, jagged, and high--close upon either hand.

In a sudden panic, Chloe glanced wildly toward Vermilion, who crouched
in the bow, pole in hand, and with set face, stared into the gloom
ahead.  Swiftly her glance travelled over the crew--their faces, also,
were set, and they stood at the sweeps, motionless, but with their eyes
fixed upon the pole of the pilot.  Beyond Vermilion, in the forefront,
appeared wave after wave of wildly tossing water.  For just an instant
the scow hesitated, trembled through its length, and with the leaping
waves battering against its bottom and sides, plunged straight into the
maw of the Chute!



CHAPTER II

VERMILION SHOWS HIS HAND

Down, down through the Chute raced the heavily loaded scow, seeming
fairly to leap from wave to wave in a series of tremendous shocks, as
the flat bottom rose high in the fore and crashed onto the crest of the
next wave, sending a spume of stinging spray high into the air.
White-water curled over the gunwale and sloshed about in the bottom.
The air was chill, and wet--like the dead air of a rock-cavern.

Chloe Elliston knew one moment of swift fear.  And then, the mighty
roar of the waters; the mad plunging of the scow between the towering
walls of rock; the set, tense face of Vermilion as he stared into the
gloom; the laboured breathing of the scowmen as they strained at the
sweeps, veering the scow to the right, or to the left, as the rod of
the pilot indicated; the splendid battle of it; the wild exhilaration
of fighting death on death's own stamping ground flung all thought of
fear aside, and in the girl's heart surged the wild, fierce joy of
living, with life itself at stake.

For just an instant Chloe's glance rested upon her companions; Big Lena
sat scowling murderously at Vermilion's broad back.  Harriet Penny had
fainted and lay with the back of her head awash in the shallow bilge
water.  A strange _alter ego_--elemental--primordial--had taken
possession of Chloe.  Her eyes glowed, and her heart thrilled at the
sight of the tense, vigilant figure of Vermilion, and the sweating,
straining scowmen.  For the helpless form of Harriet Penny she felt
only contempt--the savage, intolerant contempt of the strong for the
weak among firstlings.

The intoxication of a new existence was upon her, or, better, a
world-old existence--an existence that was new when the world was new.
In that moment, she was a throw-back of a million years, and through
her veins fumed the ferine blood of her paleolithic forebears.  What is
life but proof of the fitness to live?  Death, but defeat.

On rushed the scow, leaping, crashing from wave to wave, into the
Northern night.  And, as it rushed and leaped and crashed, it bore two
women, their garments touching, but between whom interposed a whole
world of creeds and fabrics.

Suddenly, Chloe sensed a change.  The scow no longer leaped and
crashed, and the roar of the rapids grew faint.  No longer the form of
Vermilion appeared couchant, tense; and, among the scowmen, one
laughed.  Chloe drew a deep breath, and a slight shudder shook her
frame.  She glanced about her in bewilderment, and, reaching swiftly
down, raised the inert form of Harriet Penny and rested it gently
against her knees.

The darkness of night had settled upon the river.  Stars twinkled
overhead.  The high, scrub-timbered shore loomed formless and black,
and the flat bottom of the scow rasped harshly on gravel.  Vermilion
leaped ashore, followed by the scowmen, and Chloe assisted Big Lena
with the still unconscious form of Harriet Penny.  As if by magic,
fires flared out upon the shingle, and in an incredibly short time the
girl found herself seated upon her bed-roll inside her mosquito-barred
tent of balloon silk.  The older woman had revived and lay, a dejected
heap, upon her blankets, and out in front Big Lena was stooping over a
fire.  Beyond, upon the gravel, the fires of the scowmen flamed red,
and threw wavering reflections upon the black water of the river.

Chloe was seized with a strange unrest.  The sight of Harriet Penny
irritated her.  She stepped from the tent and filled her lungs with
great drafts of the spruce-laden night-breeze that wafted gently out of
the mysterious dark, and rippled the surface of the river until little
waves slapped softly against the shore in tiny whisperings of the
unknown--whisperings that called, and were understood by the new
awakened self within her.

She glanced toward the fires of the rivermen where the dark-skinned,
long-haired sons of the wild squatted close about the flames over which
pots boiled, grease fried, and chunks of red meat browned upon the ends
of long toasting-sticks.  The girl's heart leaped with the wild freedom
of it.  A sense of might and of power surged through her veins.  These
men were her men--hers to command.  Savages and half-savages whose work
it was to do her bidding--and who performed their work well.  The night
was calling her--the vague, portentous night of the land beyond
outposts.  Slowly she passed the fires, and on along the margin of the
river whose waters, black and forbidding, reached into the North.

"The unconquered North," she breathed, as she stood upon a water-lapped
boulder and gazed into the impenetrable dark.  And, as she gazed,
before her mind's eye rose a vision.  The scattered teepees of the
Northland, smoke-blackened, filthy, stinking with the reek of
ill-tanned skins, resolved themselves into a village beside a broad,
smooth-flowing river.

The teepees faded, and in their place appeared rows of substantial log
cabins, each with its door-yard of neatly trimmed grass, and its beds
of gay flowers.  Broad streets separated the rows.  The white spire of
a church loomed proudly at the end of a street.  From the doorways
dark, full-bodied women smiled happily--their faces clean, and their
long, black hair caught back with artistic bands of quill embroidery,
as they called to the clean brown children who played light-heartedly
in the grassed dooryards.  Tall, lean-shouldered men, whose swarthy
faces glowed with the love of their labour, toiled gladly in fields of
yellow grain, or sang and called to one another in the forest where the
ring of their axes was drowned in the crash of falling trees.

Her vision of the North--the conquered North--her North!

As Sir James Brooke and Tiger Elliston overthrew barbarism and
established in its place an island empire of civilization, so would she
supersede savagery with culture.  But, her empire of the North should
be an empire founded not upon blood, but upon humanity and brotherly
love.

The girl started nervously.  Her brain-picture resolved into the
formless dark.  From the black waters, almost at her feet, sounded,
raucous and loud, the voice of the great loon.  Frenzied, maniacal,
hideous, rang the night-shattering laughter.  The uncouth mockery of
the raw--the defiance of the unconquerable North!

With a shudder, Chloe turned and fled toward the red-flaring fires.  In
that moment a feeling of defeat surged over her--of heart-sickening
hopelessness.  The figures at the fires were unkempt, dirty, revolting,
as they gouged and tore at the half-cooked meat into which their yellow
fangs drove deep, as the red blood squirted and trickled from the
corners of their mouths to drip unheeded upon the sweat-stiffened
cotton of their shirts.  Savages!  And she, Chloe Elliston, at the very
gateway of her empire, fled incontinently to the protection of their
fires!

Wide awake upon her blankets, in the smudge-pungent tent where her two
companions slept heavily, Chloe sat late into the night staring through
the mosquito-barred entrance toward the narrow strip of beach where the
dying fires of the scowmen glowed sullenly in the darkness, pierced now
and again by the fitful flare of a wind-whipped brand.  Two still forms
wrapped in ragged blankets, lay like logs where sleep had overcome them.

A short distance removed from the others, the fire of Vermilion burned
brightly.  Between this fire and a heavily smoking smudge, four men
played cards upon a blanket spread upon the ground.  Silently, save for
an occasional grunt or mumbled word, they played--dealing, tossing into
the centre the amount of their bets, leaning forward to rake in a pot,
or throwing down their cards in disgust, to await the next deal.

The scene was intrinsically savage.  At the end of the day's work,
primitive man followed primitive instinct.  Gorged to repletion, they
slept, or wasted their substance with the improvidence of
jungle-beasts.  And these were the men Chloe Elliston had pictured
labouring joyously in the upbuilding of homes!  Once more the feeling
of hopelessness came over her--seemed smothering, stifling her.  And a
great wave of longing carried her back to the land of her own
people--the land of convention and sophistry.

Could it be that they were right?  They who had scoffed, and ridiculed,
and forbade her?  What could _she_ do in the refashioning of a
world-old wild--one woman against the established creeds of an iron
wilderness?  Where, now, were her dreams of empire, her ideals, and her
castles in Spain?  Was she to return, broken on the wheel?  Crushed
between the adamantine millstones of things as they ought not to be?

The resolute lips drooped, a hot salt tear blurred Vermilion's
camp-fire and distorted the figures of the gambling scowmen.  She
closed her eyes tightly.  The writhing green shadow-shapes lost form,
dimmed, and resolved themselves into an image--a lean, lined face with
rapier-blade eyes gazed upon her from the blackness--the face of Tiger
Elliston!

Instantly, the full force and determination of her surged through the
girl's veins anew.  The drooping lips stiffened.  Her heart sang with
the joy of conquest.  The tight-pressed lids flew open, and for a long
time she watched the shadow-dance of the flames on her tent wall.  Dim,
and elusive, and far away faded the dancing shadow-shapes--and she
slept.

Not so Vermilion, who, when his companions tired of their game and
sought their blankets, sat and stared into the embers of his dying
fire.  The half-breed was troubled.  As boss of Pierre Lapierre's
scowmen, a tool of a master mind, a unit of a system, he had prospered.
But, no longer was he a unit of a system.  From the moment Chloe
Elliston had bargained with him for the transportation of her outfit
into the wilderness, the man's brain had been active in formulating a
plan.

This woman was rich.  One who is not rich cannot afford to transport
thirty-odd tons of outfit into the heart of the wilderness, at the
tariff of fifteen cents the pound.  So, throughout the days of the
journey, the man gazed with avarice upon the piles of burlapped pieces,
while his brain devised the scheme.  Thereafter, in the dead of night
occurred many whispered consultations, as Vermilion won over his men.
He chose shrewdly, for these men knew Pierre Lapierre, and well they
knew what portion would be theirs should the scheme of Vermilion
miscarry.

At last, the selection had been made, and five of the most desperate
and daring of all the rivermen had, by the lure of much gold, consented
to cast loose from the system and "go it alone."  The first daring move
in the undertaking had succeeded--a move that, in itself, bespoke the
desperate character of its perpetrators, for it was no accident that
sent the head scow plunging down through the Chute in the darkness.

But, in the breast of Vermilion, as he sat alone beside his camp-fire,
was no sense of elation--and in the heart of him was a great fear.
For, despite the utmost secrecy among the conspirators, the half-breed
knew that even at that moment, somewhere to the northward, Pierre
Lapierre had learned of his plot.

Eight days had elapsed since the mysterious disappearance of
Chenoine--and Chenoine, it was whispered, was half-brother to Pierre
Lapierre.  Therefore, Vermilion crouched beside his camp-fire and
cursed the slowness of the coming of the day.  For well he knew that
when a man double-crossed Pierre Lapierre, he must get away with it--or
die.  Many had died.  The black eyes flashed dangerously.
He--Vermilion--would get away with it!  He glanced toward the sleeping
forms of the five scowmen and shuddered.  He, Vermilion, knew that he
was afraid to sleep!

For an instant he thought of abandoning the plan.  It was not too late.
The other scows could be run through in the morning, and, if Pierre
Lapierre came, would it not be plain that Chenoine had lied?  But, even
with the thought, the avaricious gleam leaped into the man's eyes, and
with a muttered imprecation, he greeted the first faint light of dawn.

Chloe Elliston opened her eyes sleepily in answer to a gruff call from
without her tent.  A few minutes later she stepped out into the grey of
the morning, followed by her two companions.  Vermilion was waiting for
her as he watched the scowmen breaking open the freight pieces and
making up hurried trail-packs of provisions.

"Tam to mush!" sad the man tersely.

"But where are the other scows?" asked Chloe, glancing toward the bank
where the scow was being rapidly unloaded.  "And what is the meaning of
this?  Here, you!" she cried, as a half-breed ripped the burlap from a
bale.  "Stop that!  That's mine!"  By her side, Vermilion laughed, a
short, harsh laugh, and the girl turned.

"De scow, she not com'.  We leave de rivaire.  We tak' 'long de grub,
eh?"  The man's tone was truculent--insulting.

Chloe flushed with anger.  "I am not going to leave the river!  Why
should I leave the river?"

Again the man laughed; there was no need for concealment now.  "Me,
Vermilion, I'm know de good plac' back in de hills.  We go for stay
dere till you pay de money."

"Money?  What money?"

"Un hondre t'ousan' dollaire--cash!  You pay, Vermilion--he tak' you
back.  You no pay--"  The man shrugged significantly.

The girl stared, dumbfounded.  "What do you mean?  One hundred thousand
dollars!  Are you crazy?"

The man stepped close, his eyes gleaming wickedly.  "You reech.  You
pay un hondre t'ousan' dollaire, or, ba gar, you nevaire com' out de
bush!"

Chloe laughed in derision.  "Oh!  I am kidnapped!  Is that it?  How
romantic!"  The man scowled.  "Don't be a fool, Vermilion!  Do you
suppose I came into this country with a hundred thousand dollars in
cash--or even a tenth of that amount?"

The man shrugged indifferently.  "_Non_, but you mak' de write on de
papaire, an' Menard, he tak' heem to de bank--Edmonton--Preence Albert.
He git de money.  By-m-by, two mont', me'be, he com' back.  Den,
Vermilion, he tak' you close to de H.B. post--_bien_!  You kin go hom',
an' Vermilion, he go ver' far away."

Chloe suddenly realized that the man was in earnest.  Her eyes flashed
over the swarthy, villainous faces of the scowmen, and the seriousness
of the situation dawned upon her.  She knew, now, that the separating
of the scows was the first move in a deep-laid scheme.  Her brain
worked rapidly.  It was evident that the men on the other scows were
not party to the plot, or Vermilion would not have risked running the
Chute in the darkness.  She glanced up the river.  Would the other
scows come on?  It was her one hope.  She must play for time.  Harriet
Penny sobbed aloud, and Big Lena glowered.  Again Chloe laughed into
the scowling face of the half-breed.  "What about the Mounted?  When
they find I am missing there will be an investigation."

For answer, Vermilion pointed toward the river-bank, where the men were
working with long poles in the overturning of the scow.  "We shove heem
out in de rivaire.  Wen dey fin', dey t'ink she mak' for teep ovaire in
de Chute.  _Voilà_!  Dey say: 'Een de dark she run on de
rock'--_pouf_!" he signified eloquently the instantaneous snuffing out
of lives.  Even as he spoke the scow overturned with a splash, and the
scowmen pushed it out into the river, where it floated bottom upward,
turning lazily in the grip of an eddy.  The girl's heart sank as her
eyes rested upon the overturned scow.  Vermilion had plotted cunningly.
He drew closer now--leering horribly.

"You mak' write on de papaire--_non_?"

A swift anger surged in the girl's heart.  "No!" she cried.  "I will
not write!  I have no such amount in any bank this side of San
Francisco!  But if I had a million dollars, you would not get a cent!
You can't bluff me!"

Vermilion sprang toward her with a snarl; but before he could lay hands
upon her Big Lena, with a roar of rage, leaped past the girl and drove
a heavy stick of firewood straight at the half-breed's head.  The man
ducked swiftly, and the billet thudded against his shoulder, staggering
him.  Instantly two of the scowmen threw themselves upon the woman and
bore her to the ground, where she fought, tooth and nail, while they
pinioned her arms.  Vermilion, his face livid, seized Chloe roughly.
The girl shrank in terror from the grip of the thick, grimy fingers and
the glare of the envenomed eyes that blazed from the distorted, brutish
features.

"Stand back!"

The command came sharp and quick in a low, hard voice--the voice of
authority.  Vermilion whirled with a snarl.  Uttering a loud cry of
fear, one of the scowmen dashed into the bush, closely followed by two
of his companions.  Two men advanced swiftly and noiselessly from the
cover of the scrub.  Like a flash, the half-breed jerked a revolver
from his belt and fired.  Chenoine fell dead.  Before Vermilion could
fire again the other man, with the slightest perceptible movement of
his right hand, fired from the hip.  The revolver dropped from the
half-breed's hand.  He swayed unsteadily for a few seconds, his eyes
widening into a foolish, surprised stare.  He half-turned and opened
his lips to speak.  Pink foam reddened the corners of his mouth and
spattered in tiny drops upon his chin.  He gasped for breath with a
spasmodic heave of the shoulders.  A wheezing, gurgling sound issued
from his throat, and a torrent of blood burst from his lips and
splashed upon the ground.  With eyes wildly rolling, he clutched
frantically at the breast of his cotton shirt and pitched heavily into
the smouldering ashes of the fire at the feet of the stranger.

But few seconds had elapsed since Chloe felt the hand of Vermilion
close about her wrist--tense, frenzied seconds, to the mind of the
girl, who gazed in bewilderment upon the bodies of the two dead men
which lay almost touching each other.

The man who had ordered Vermilion to release her, and who had fired the
shot that had killed him, stood calmly watching four lithe-bodied
canoemen securely bind the arms of the two scowmen who had attacked Big
Lena.

So sudden had been the transition from terror to relief in her heart
that the scene held nothing of repugnance to the girl, who was
conscious only of a feeling of peace and security.  She even smiled
into the eyes of her deliverer, who had turned his attention from his
canoemen and stood before her, his soft-brimmed Stetson in his hand.

"Oh!  I--I thank you!" exclaimed the girl, at a loss for words.

The man bowed low.  "It is nothing.  I am glad to have been of some
slight service."  Something in the tone of the well-modulated voice,
the correct speech, the courtly manner, thrilled the girl strangely.
It was all so unexpected--so out of place, here in the wild.  She felt
the warm colour mount to her face.

"Who are you?" she asked abruptly.

"I am Pierre Lapierre," answered the man in the same low voice.

In spite of herself, Chloe started slightly, and instantly she knew
that the man had noticed.  He smiled, with just an appreciable
tightening at the corners of the mouth, and his eyes narrowed almost
imperceptibly.  He continued:

"And now, Miss Elliston, if you will retire to your tent for a few
moments, I will have these removed."  He indicated the bodies.  "You
see, I know your name.  The good Chenoine told me.  He it was who
warned me of Vermilion's plot in time for me to frustrate it.  Of
course, I should have rescued you later.  I hold myself responsible for
the safe conduct of all who travel in my scows.  But it would have been
at the expense of much time and labour, and, very possibly, of human
life as well--an incident regrettable always, but not always avoidable."

Chloe nodded, and, with her thoughts in a whirl of confusion, turned
and entered her tent, where Harriet Penny lay sobbing hysterically,
with her blankets drawn over her head.



CHAPTER III

PIERRE LAPIERRE

A half-hour later, when Chloe again ventured from the tent, all
evidence of the struggle had disappeared.  The bodies of the two dead
men had been removed, and the canoemen were busily engaged in gathering
together and restoring the freight pieces that had been ripped open by
the scowmen.

Lapierre advanced to meet her, his carefully creased Stetson in hand.

"I have sent word for the other scows to come on at once, and in the
meantime, while my men attend to the freight, may we not talk?"

Chloe assented, and the two seated themselves upon a log.  It was then,
for the first time that the girl noticed that one side of Lapierre's
face--the side he had managed to keep turned from her--was battered and
disfigured by some recent misadventure.  Noticed, too, the really fine
features of him--the dark, deep-set eyes that seemed to smoulder in
their depths, the thin, aquiline nose, the shapely lips, the clean-cut
lines of cheek and jaw.

"You have been hurt!" she cried.  "You have met with an accident!"

The man smiled, a smile in which cynicism blended with amusement.

"Hardly an accident, I think, Miss Elliston, and, in any event, of
small consequence."  He shrugged a dismissal of the subject, and his
voice assumed a light gaiety of tone.

"May we not become better acquainted, we two, who meet in this far
place, where travellers are few and worth the knowing?"  There was no
cynicism in his smile now, and without waiting for a reply he
continued: "My name you already know.  I have only to add that I am an
adventurer in the wilds--explorer of _hinterlands_, free-trader,
freighter, sometime prospector--casual cavalier."  He rose, swept the
Stetson from his head, and bowed with mock solemnity.

"And now, fair lady, may I presume to inquire your mission in this land
of magnificent wastes?"  Chloe's laughter was genuine as it was
spontaneous.

Lapierre's light banter acted as a tonic to the girl's nerves, harassed
as they were by a month's travel through the fly-bitten wilderness.
More--he interested her.  He was different.  As different from the
half-breeds and Indian canoemen with whom she had been thrown as his
speech was from the throaty guttural by means of which they exchanged
their primitive ideas.

"Pray pause, Sir Cavalier," she smiled, falling easily into the gaiety
of the man's mood.  "I have ventured into your wilderness upon a most
unpoetic mission.  Merely the establishment of a school for the
education and betterment of the Indians of the North."

A moment of silence followed the girl's words--a moment in which she
was sure a hard, hostile gleam leaped into the man's eyes.  A trick of
fancy doubtless, she thought, for the next instant it had vanished.
When he spoke, his air of light raillery was gone, but his lips
smiled--a smile that seemed to the girl a trifle forced.

"Ah, yes, Miss Elliston.  May I ask at whose instigation this school is
to be established--and where?"  He was not looking at her now, his eyes
sought the river, and his face showed only a rather finely moulded
chin, smooth-shaven--and the lips, with their smile that almost sneered.

Instantly Chloe felt that a barrier had sprung up between herself and
this mysterious stranger who had appeared so opportunely out of the
Northern bush.  Who was he?  What was the meaning of the old factor's
whispered warning?  And why should the mention of her school awake
disapproval, or arouse his antagonism?  Vaguely she realized that the
sudden change in this man's attitude hurt.  The displeasure, and
opposition, and ridicule of her own people, and the surly indifference
of the rivermen, she had overridden or ignored.  This man she could not
ignore.  Like herself, he was an adventurer of untrodden ways.  A man
of fancy, of education and light-hearted raillery, and yet, a strong
man, withal--a man of moment, evidently.

She remembered the sharp, quick words of authority--the words that
caused the villainous Vermilion to whirl with a snarl of fear.
Remembered also, the swift sure shot that had ended Vermilion's career,
his absolute mastery of the situation, his lack of excitement or
braggadocio, and the expressed regret over the necessity for killing
the man.  Remembered the abject terror in the eyes of those who fled
into the bush at his appearance, and the servility of the canoemen.

As she glanced into the half-turned face of the man, Chloe saw that the
sneering smile had faded from the thin lips as he waited her answer.

"At _my own_ instigation."  There was an underlying hardness of
defiance in her words, and the firm, sun-reddened chin unconsciously
thrust forward beneath the encircling mosquito net.  She paused, but
the man, expressionless, continued to gaze out over the surface of the
river.

"I do not know exactly _where_," she continued, "but it will be
_somewhere_.  Wherever it will do the most good.  Upon the bank of some
river, or lake, perhaps, where the people of the wilderness may come
and receive that which is theirs of right----"

"Theirs of right?" The man looked into her face, and Chloe saw that the
thin lips again smiled--this time with a quizzical smile that hinted at
tolerant amusement.  The smile stung.

"Yes, theirs of right!" she flashed.  "The education that was freely
offered to me, and to you--and of which we availed ourselves."

For a long time the man continued to gaze in silence, and, when at
length he spoke, it was to ask an entirely irrelevant question.

"Miss Elliston, you have heard my name before?"

The question came as a surprise, and for a moment Chloe hesitated.
Then frankly, and looking straight into his eyes she answered:

"Yes, I have."

The man nodded, "I knew you had."  He turned his injured eye quickly
from the dazzle of the sunlight that flashed from the surface of the
river, and Chloe saw that it was discoloured and bloodshot.  She arose,
and stepping to his side laid her hand upon his arm.

"You _are_ hurt," she said earnestly, "your eye gives you pain."

Beneath her fingers the girl felt the play of strong muscles as the arm
pressed against her hand.  Their eyes met, and her heart quickened with
a strange new thrill.  Hastily she averted her glance and then----  The
man's arm suddenly was withdrawn and Chloe saw that his fist had
clinched.  With a rush the words brought back to him the scene in the
trading-room of the post at Fort Rae.  The low, log-room, piled high
with the goods of barter.  The great cannon stove.  The two groups of
dark-visaged Indians--his own Chippewayans, and MacNair's Yellow
Knives, who stared in stolid indifference.  The trembling, excited
clerk.  The grim chief trader, and the stern-faced factor who watched
with approving eyes while two men fought in the wide cleared space
between the rough counter and the high-piled bales of woollens and
strouds.

Chloe Elliston drew back aghast.  The thin lips of the man had twisted
into a snarl of rage, and a living, bestial hate seemed fairly to blaze
from the smouldering eyes, as Lapierre's thoughts dwelt upon the
closing moments of that fight, when he felt himself giving ground
before the hammering, smashing blows of Bob MacNair's big fists.  Felt
the tightening of the huge arms like steel bands about his body when he
rushed to a clinch--bands that crushed and burned so that each sobbing
breath seemed a blade, white-hot from the furnace, stabbing and searing
into his tortured lungs.  Felt the vital force and strength of him ebb
and weaken so that the lean, slender fingers that groped for MacNair's
throat closed feebly and dropped limp to dangle impotently from his
nerveless arms.  Felt the sudden release of the torturing bands of
steel, the life-giving inrush of cool air, the dull pain as his dizzy
body rocked to the shock of a crashing blow upon the jaw, the blazing
flash of the blow that closed his eye, and, then--more soul-searing,
and of deeper hurt than the blows that battered and marred--the feel of
thick fingers twisted into the collar of his soft shirt.  Felt himself
shaken with an incredible ferocity that whipped his ankles against
floor and counter edge.  And, the crowning indignity of all--felt
himself dragged like a flayed carcass the full length of the room, out
of the door, and jerked to his feet upon the verge of the steep descent
to the lake.  Felt the propelling impact of the heavy boot that sent
him crashing headlong into the underbrush through which he rolled and
tumbled like a mealbag, to bring up suddenly in the cold water.

The whole scene passed through his brain as dreams flash--almost within
the batting of an eye.  Half-consciously, he saw the girl's sudden
start, and the look of alarm upon her face as she drew back from the
glare of his hate-flashing eyes and the bestial snarl of his lips.
With an effort he composed himself:

"Pardon, Miss Elliston, I have frightened you with an uncouth show of
savagery.  It is a rough, hard country--this land of the wolf and the
caribou.  Primal instincts and brutish passions here are
unrestrained--a fact responsible for my present battered appearance.
For, as I said, it was no accident that marred me thus, unless,
perchance, the prowling of the brute across my path may be attributed
to accident--rather, I believe it was timed."

"The brute!  Who, or what is the brute?  And why should he harm you?"

"MacNair is his name--Bob MacNair."  There was a certain tense hardness
in the man's tone, and Chloe was conscious that the smouldering eyes
were regarding her searchingly.

"MacNair," said the girl, "why, that is the name on those bales!"

"What bales?"

"The bales in the scow--they are on the river-bank now."

"My scows carrying MacNair's freight!" cried the man, and motioning her
to accompany him he walked rapidly to the bank where lay the four or
five pieces, upon which Chloe had read the name.  Lapierre dropped to
his knees and regarded the pieces intently, suddenly he leaped to his
feet with a laugh and called in the Indian tongue to one of his
canoemen.  The man brought him an ax, and raising it high, Lapierre
brought it crashing upon the innocent-looking freight piece.  There was
a sound of smashing staves, a gurgle of liquid, and the strong odour of
whiskey assailed their nostrils.

The piece was a keg, cunningly disguised as to shape, and covered with
burlap.  One by one the man attacked the other pieces marked with the
name of MacNair, and as each cask was smashed, the whiskey gurgled and
splashed and seeped into the ground.  Chloe watched breathlessly until
Lapierre finished, and with a smile of grim satisfaction, tossed the ax
upon the ground.

"There is one consignment of firewater that will never be delivered,"
he said.

"What does it mean?" asked Chloe, and Lapierre noticed that her eyes
were alight with interest.  "Who is this MacNair, and----"

For answer Lapierre took her gently by the arm and led her back to the
log.

"MacNair," he began, "is the most atrocious tyrant that ever breathed.
Like myself, he is a free-trader--that is, he is not in the employ of
the Hudson Bay Company.  He is rich, and owns a permanent post of his
own, to the northward, on Snare Lake, while I vend my wares under God's
own canopy, here and there upon the banks of lakes and rivers."

"But why should he attack you?"

The man shrugged.  "Why?  Because he hates me.  He hates any one who
deals fairly with the Indians.  His own Indians, a band of the Yellow
Knives, together with an onscouring of Tantsawhoots, Beavers, Dog-ribs,
Strongbows, Hares, Brushwoods, Sheep, and Huskies, he holds in abject
peonage.  Year in and year out he forces them to dig in his mines for
their bare existence.  Over on the Athabasca they call him Brute
MacNair, and among the Loucheaux and Huskies he is known as
The-Bad-Man-of-the-North.

"He pays no cash for labour, nor for fur, and he sees to it that his
Indians are always hopelessly in his debt.  He trades them whiskey.
They are his.  His to work, and to cheat, and to debauch, and to vent
his rage upon--for his passions are the wild, unbridled passions of the
fighting wolf.  He kills!  He maims!  Or he allows to live!  The
Indians are his, body and soul.  Their wives and their children are
his.  He owns them.  _He_ is the law!

"He warned me out of the North.  I ignored that warning.  The land is
broad and free.  There is room for all, therefore I brought in my goods
and traded.  And, because I refused to grind the poor savages under the
iron heel of oppression, because I offer a meagre trifle over and above
what is necessary for their bare existence, the brute hates me.  He
came upon me at Fort Rae, and there, in the presence of the factor, his
clerk, and his chief trader, he fell upon me and beat me so that for
three days I lay unable to travel."

"But the others!" interrupted the girl, "the factor and his men!  Why
did they allow it?"

Again the gleam of hate flashed in the man's eyes.  "They allowed it
because they are in league with him.  They fear him.  They fear his
hold upon the Indians.  So long as he maintains a permanent post a
hundred and seventy-five miles to the northward--more than two hundred
and fifty by the water trail--they know that he will not seriously
injure the trade at Fort Rae.  With me it is different.  I trade here,
and there, wherever the children of the wilderness are to be found.
Therefore I am hated by the men of the Hudson Bay Company who would
have been only too glad had MacNair killed me."

Chloe, who had listened eagerly to every word, leaped to her feet and
looked at Lapierre with shining eyes.  "Oh!  I think it is splendid!
You are brave, and you stand for the right of things!  For the welfare
of the Indians!  I see now why the factor warned me against you!  He
wanted to discredit you."

Lapierre smiled.  "The factor?  What factor?  And what did he tell you?"

"The factor at the Landing.  'Beware of Pierre Lapierre,' he said; and
when I asked him who Pierre Lapierre was, and why I should beware of
him, he shrugged his shoulders and would say nothing."

Lapierre nodded.  "Ah yes--the company men--the factors and traders
have no love for the free-trader.  We cannot blame them.  It is
tradition.  For nearly two and one-half centuries the company has stood
for power and authority in the outlands--and has reaped the profits of
the wild places.  Let us be generous.  It is an old and respectable
institution.  It deals fairly enough with the Indians--by its own
measure of fairness, it is true--but fairly enough.  With the company I
have no quarrel.

"But with MacNair--" he stopped abruptly and shrugged.  The gleam of
hate that flashed in his eyes always at the mention of the name faded.
"But why speak of him--surely there are more pleasant subjects," he
smiled, "for instance your school--it interests me greatly."

"Interests you!  I thought it displeased you!  Surely a look of
annoyance or suspicion leaped from your eyes when I mentioned my
mission."

The man laughed lightly.  "Yes?  And can you blame me--when I thought
you were in league with Brute MacNair?  For, since his post was
established, no independent save myself has dared to encroach upon even
the borders of his empire."

Chloe Elliston flushed deeply.  "And you thought I would league myself
with a man like _that_?"

"Only for a moment.  Stop and think.  All my life I have lived in the
North, and, except for a few scattered priests and missionaries, no one
has pushed beyond the outposts for any purpose other than for gain.
And the trader's gain is the Indian's loss--for, few deal fairly.
Therefore, when I came upon your big outfit upon the very threshold of
MacNair's domain, I thought, of course, this was some new machination
of the brute.  Even now I do not understand--the expense, and all.  The
Indians cannot afford to pay for education."

It was the girl's turn to laugh.  A rippling, light-hearted laugh--the
laughter of courage and youth.  The barrier that had suddenly loomed
between herself and this man of the North vanished in a breath.  He had
shown her her work, had pointed out to her a foeman worthy of her
steel.  She darted a swift glance toward Lapierre who sat staring into
the fire.  Would not this man prove an invaluable ally in her war of
deliverance?

"Do not trouble yourself about the expense," she smiled.  "I have
money--'oodles of it,' as we used to say in school--millions, if I need
them!  And I'm going to fight this Brute MacNair until I drive him out
of the North!  And you?  Will you help me to rid the country of this
scourge and free the people from his tyranny?  Together we could work
wonders.  For your heart is with the Indians, as mine is."

Again the girl glanced into the man's face and saw that the deep-set
black eyes fairly glittered with enthusiasm and eagerness--an eagerness
and enthusiasm that a keener observer than Chloe Elliston might have
noticed, sprang into being suspiciously coincident with her mention of
the millions.  Lapierre did not answer at once, but deftly rolled a
cigarette.  The end of the cigarette glowed brightly as he filled his
lungs and blew a plume of grey smoke into the air.

"Allow me a little time to think.  For this is a move of importance,
and to be undertaken not lightly.  It is no easy task you have set
yourself.  It is possible you will not win--highly probable, in fact,
for----"

"But I _shall_ win!  I am _right_--and upon my winning depends the
future of a people!  Think it over until tomorrow, if you will, but--"
She paused abruptly, and her soft, hazel eyes peered searchingly into
the depths of the restless black ones.  "Your sympathies _are_ with the
Indians, aren't they?"

Lapierre tossed the half-smoked cigarette onto the ground.  "Can you
doubt it?"  The man's eyes were not gleaming now, and into their depths
had crept a look of ineffable sadness.

"They are my people," he said softly.  "Miss Elliston, _I am an
Indian_!"



CHAPTER IV

CHLOE SECURES AN ALLY

A shout from the bank heralded the appearance of the first scow, which
was closely followed by the two others.  When they had landed, Lapierre
issued a few terse orders, and the scowmen leaped to his bidding.  The
overturned scow was righted and loaded, and the remains of the
demolished whiskey-kegs burned.  Lapierre himself assisted the three
women to their places, and as Chloe seated herself near the bow, he
smiled into her eyes.

"Vermilion was a good riverman, but so am I.  Do you think you can
trust your new pilot?"

Somehow, the words seemed to imply more than the mere steering of a
scow.  Chloe flushed slightly, hesitated a moment, and then returned
the man's smile frankly.

"Yes," she answered gravely, "I know I can."

Their eyes met in a long look.  Lapierre gave the command to shove off,
and when the scows were well in the grip of the current, he turned
again to the girl at his side.  Their hands touched, and again Chloe
was conscious of the strange, new thrill that quickened her
heart-beats.  She did not withdraw her hand, and the fingers of
Lapierre closed about her palm.  He leaned toward her.  "Only quarter
Indian," he said softly.  "My grandmother was the daughter of a great
chief."

The girl felt the hot blood mount to her face and gently withdrew her
hand.  Somehow, she could not tell why, the words seemed good to hear.
She smiled, and Lapierre, who was watching her intently, smiled in
return.

"We are approaching quick water; we will cover many miles today, and
tonight beside the camp-fire we will talk further."

Chloe's eyes searched the scows.  "Where are the two who attacked Lena?
Your men captured them."

Lapierre's smile hardened.  "Those who deserted me for Vermilion?  Oh,
I--dismissed them from my service."

Hour after hour, as the scows rushed northward, Chloe watched the
shores glide past; watched the swirling, boiling water of the river;
watched the solemn-faced scowmen, and the silent, vigilant pilot; but
most of all she watched the pilot, whose quick eye picked out the
devious channel, and whose clear, alert brain directed, with a movement
of the lancelike pole, the labours of the men at the sweeps.

She contrasted his manner--quiet, graceful, sure--with that of
Vermilion, the very swing of whose pole proclaimed the vaunting,
arrogant braggart.  And she noted the difference in the attitude of the
scowmen toward these two leaders.  Their obedience to Vermilion's
orders had been a surly, protesting obedience; while their obedience to
Lapierre's slightest motion was the quiet, alert obedience that
proclaimed him master of men, as his own silent vigilance proclaimed
him master of the roaring waters.

When the sun finally dipped behind the barren scrub-topped hills, the
scows were beached at the mouth of a deep ravine, from whose depths
sounded the trickle of a tiny cascade.  Lapierre assisted the women
from the scow, issued a few short commands, and, as if by magic, a
dozen fires flashed upon the beach, and in an incredibly short space of
time Chloe found herself seated upon her blankets inside her
mosquito-barred tent.

Supper over, Harriet Penny immediately sought her bed, and Lapierre led
Chloe to a brightly burning camp-fire.

Nearby other fires burned, surrounded by dark, savage figures that
showed indistinct in the half-light.  The girl's eyes rested for a
moment upon Lapierre, whose thin, handsome features, richly tanned by
long exposure to the Northern winds and sun, presented a pleasing
contrast to the swart flat faces of the rivermen, who sat in groups
about their fires, or lay wrapped in their blankets upon the gravel.

"You have decided?" abruptly asked Chloe, in a voice of ill-concealed
eagerness.  Lapierre's face became at once grave, and he gazed sombrely
into the fire.

"I have pondered deeply.  Through the long hours, while the scow rushed
into the North, there came to me a vision of my people.  In the rocks,
in the bush, and the ragged hills I saw it; and in the swirl of the
mighty river.  And the vision was good!"

The voice of the man's Indian grandmother spoke from his lips, and the
soul of her glowed in his deep-set eyes.

"Even now _Sakhalee Tyee_ speaks from the stars of the night sky.  My
people shall learn the wisdom of the white man.  The power of the
oppressor shall be broken, and the children of the far places shall
come into their own."

The man's voice had dropped into the rhythmic intonation of the Indian
orator, and his eyes were fixed upon the names that curled, lean and
red, among the dry sticks of the camp-fire.  Chloe gazed in fascination
into the rapt face of this man of many moods.  The soul of the girl
caught the enthusiasm of his words, and she, too, saw the vision--saw
it as she had seen it upon the wave-lapped rock of the river-bank.

"You will help me?" she cried; "will join forces with me in a war
against the ruthless exploitation of a people who should be as free and
unfettered as the air they breathe?"

Lapierre bent his gaze upon her face slowly, like one emerging from a
trance.

"Yes," he answered deliberately; "it is of that I wish to speak.  Let
us consider the obstacles in our path--the matter of official
interference.  The government will soon learn of your activities, and
the government is prone to look askance at any tampering with the
Indians by an institution not connected with the Church or the State."

"I have my permit," Chloe answered, "and many commendatory letters from
Ottawa.  The men who rule were inclined to think I would accomplish
nothing; but they were willing to let me try."

"That, then, disposes of our most serious difficulty.  Will you tell me
now where you intended to locate?"

"There is too much traffic upon the river," answered the girl.  "The
scow brigades pass and repass; and, at least until my little colony is
fairly established, it must be located in some place uncontaminated by
the presence of so rough, lawless, and drunken an element.  As I told
you before, I do not know where my ideal site is to be found.  I had
intended to talk the matter over with the factor at Fort Rae."

"What!  That devil of a Haldane?  The man who is hand-in-glove with
Brute MacNair!"

"You forget," smiled the girl, "that until this day I never even heard
of Brute MacNair."

The man smiled.  "Very true.  I had forgotten.  But it is fortunate
indeed that chance threw us together.  I tremble to think what would
have been your fate should you have acted upon the advice of Colin
Haldane."

"But surely you know the country.  You will advise me."

"Yes, I will advise you.  I am with you in this venture; with you to
the last gasp; with you heart and soul, until that devil MacNair is
dead or driven out of the North, and his Indians scattered to the four
winds."

"Scattered!  Why scattered?  Why not held together for their education
and betterment?  And you say you will be with me until MacNair is
either dead or driven out of the North.  What then--will you desert me
then?  This MacNair is only an obstacle in our path--an obstacle to be
brushed aside that the real work may begin.  Yet you spoke as though he
were the main issue."

Lapierre interrupted her, speaking rapidly: "Yes, of course.  Bear with
me, I pray you.  I spoke hastily, and without thinking.  My feelings
for the moment carried me away.  As you see, the marks of the Brute's
hands are still too fresh upon me to regard him impersonally--an
obstacle, as it were.  To me he is a brute!  A fiend!  A demon!  I
_hate_ him!"

Lapierre shook a clenched fist toward the North, and the words fairly
snarled between his lips.  With an effort he controlled himself.  "I
have in mind the very place for your school, a spot accessible from all
directions--the mouth of the Yellow Knife River, upon the north arm of
Great Slave Lake.  There you will be unmolested by the debauching
rivermen, and yet within easy reach of any who may desire to take
advantage of your school.  The very place above all places!  In the
whole North you could not have chosen a better!  And I shall accompany
you, and direct the building of your houses and stockade.

"MacNair will learn shortly of your fort--everything is a 'fort' up
here--and he will descend upon you like a ramping lion.  When he finds
you are a woman, he will do you no violence.  He will scent at once a
rival trading-post and will hurt your cause in every way possible; will
use every means to discredit you among the Indians, and to discourage
you.  But even he will do a woman no physical harm.

"And right here let me caution you--do not temporize with him.  He
stands in the North for oppression; gain at any cost; for
debauchery--everything that you do not.  Between you and Brute MacNair
there can be no truce.  He is powerful.  Do not for a moment underrate
either his strength or his sagacity.  He is a man of wealth, and his
hold upon the Indians is absolute.  I cannot remain with you, but
through my Indians I shall keep in touch with you, work with you; and
together we will accomplish the downfall of this brute of the North."

For a long time the two figures sat by the fire while the camp slept,
and talked of many things.  And when, well toward midnight, Chloe
Elliston retired to her tent, she felt that she had known this man
always.  For it is the way of life that stress of events, and not
duration of time, marks the measure of acquaintance and intimacy.
Pierre Lapierre, Chloe Elliston had known but one day, and yet she
believed that among all her acquaintances this man she knew best.

By the fire Lapierre's eyes followed the girl until she disappeared
within the tent, and as he looked a huge figure arose from the deep
shadows of the scrub, and with a hand grasping the flap of the tent,
turned and stared, silent and grim and forbidding, straight into
Lapierre's eyes.

The man turned away with a frown.  The figure was Big Lena.



CHAPTER V

PLANS AND SPECIFICATIONS

At the mouth of the Slave River the outfit was transferred to twelve
large freight canoes, each carrying three tons, and manned by six
lean-shouldered canoemen, in charge of one Louis LeFroy, Lapierre's boss
canoeman.  Straight across the vast expanse of Great Slave Lake they
headed, and skirting the shore of the north arm, upon the evening of the
second day, entered the Yellow Knife River.

The site selected by Pierre Lapierre for Chloe Elliston's school was, in
point of location, as the quarter-breed had said, an excellent one.  Upon
a level plateau at the top of the high bank that slants steeply to the
water of the Yellow Knife River, a short distance above its mouth,
Lapierre set the canoemen to cutting the timber and brush from a wide
area.  The girl had come into the North fully prepared for a long
sojourn, and in her thirty-odd tons of outfit were found all tools
necessary for the clearing of land and the erection of buildings.
Brushwood and trees fell before the axes of the half-breeds and Indians,
who worked in a sort of frenzy under the lashing drive of Lapierre's
tongue; and the night skies glowed red in the flare of the flames where
the brush and tree-tops burned in the clearing.

Two days later a rectangular clearing, three hundred by five hundred
feet, was completed, and early in the morning of the third day Chloe
stood beside Lapierre and looked over the cleared oblong with its piles
of smoking grey ashes, and its groups of logs that lay ready to be rolled
into place to form the walls of her buildings.

Lapierre seemed ill at ease.  Immediately upon the arrival of the outfit
he had dispatched two of his own Indians northward to spy upon the
movements of MacNair, for the man made no secret of his desire to be well
upon his way before the trader should learn of the building of the fort
on the river.

It had been Chloe's idea to lay out her "village," as she called it, upon
a rather elaborate scheme, the plans for which had been drawn by an
architect whose clients' tastes ran to million-dollar "summer cottages"
at Seashore-by-the-Sea.

First, there was to be the school itself, an ornate building of crossed
rafters and overhanging eaves.  Then the dormitories, two long, parallel
buildings with halls, individual rooms, and baths--one for the women and
one for men--the two to be connected by a common dining-hall in such a
manner as to form three sides of a hollow square.  Connected to the
dining-hall was to be a commodious kitchen, and back of that a fully
equipped carpenter-shop and a laundry.

There were also to be a trading-post, where the Indians could purchase
supplies at cost; a six-room cottage for the accommodation of Big Lena,
Miss Penny, and Chloe; and numerous three-room cabins for the housing of
whole families of Indians, which the girl fondly pictured as flocking in
from the wilderness to have the errors of their heathenish religion
pointed out to them upon a brand-new blackboard, and the discomforts of
their nomadic lives assuaged by an introduction to collapsible bath-tubs
and the multiplication table.  For hers was to be a mission as well as a
school.  Truly the souls north of sixty were destined to owe her much.
For they borrow cheerfully, and repay--never.

So much for Chloe Elliston's plan.  Lapierre, however, had his own
eminently more practical, if less Utopian, ideas concerning the erection
of a trading-post; for in the quarter-breed's mind the planting of an
independent trading-post upon the very threshold of MacNair's wilderness
empire was of far greater importance than the establishment of a school,
or mission, or any other institution--especially when the post was one
which he himself had set about to control.  The man's eyes gleamed and
the thin lips smiled as his glance rested momentarily upon the figure of
the girl--the unwitting, and therefore the more powerful, weapon that
chance had placed in his hands in his battle against MacNair.

His idea of a post was simplicity itself:  One long, log trading-room
with an ell for a storehouse, and a room--two at the most--in the rear
for the accommodation of the three women.  The whole to be erected in the
centre of the clearing, and surrounded by a fifteen-foot log stockade.

Boldly he broached his plan.

"But this is _not_ a trading-post!" objected the girl.  "The store is a
side issue and is to be conducted merely to permit those who take
advantage of my school to obtain the necessities of life at a fair and
reasonable price."

"Your words were well chosen, Miss Elliston.  For if you begin to
undersell the H.B.C., and more especially the independents, every Indian
in the North will proceed to 'take advantage' of your school and of you
also."

"But they are being robbed!"

Lapierre smiled.  "They do not know it; they are used to it.  Let me warn
you that to tamper with existing trade schedules, except by one
experienced in the commerce of the North, is to invite disaster.  You
will lose money!"

"But you told me that you yourself gave the Indians better bargains than
either the Hudson Bay Company or MacNair."

"I know the North!  And you may be assured the concessions are more
nominal than real."

"Very well, then," flashed the girl.  "My concessions will be more real
than nominal, and of that you may be assured.  If my store pays expenses,
well and good!"  And by the tone of the girl's voice, and the slight,
unconscious out-thrust of her chin, Pierre Lapierre knew that the time
was unpropitious for a further discussion of trade principles.

Chloe was speaking again: "But to return to the buildings----"

Lapierre interrupted her, speaking earnestly: "My dear Miss Elliston,
consider the circumstances, the limitations."  He tapped lightly the roll
of blue-prints the girl held in her hand.  "Those plans were made by a
man who had not the slightest knowledge of conditions as they exist here."

"The buildings are to be very simple."

"Undoubtedly.  But simplicity is relative.  A building that would be
considered simplicity itself in the States, might well be intricate
beyond the possibility of construction here in the wilderness.  Do you
realize that among our men is not one who can read a blue-print, or has
ever seen one?  Do you realize that to erect buildings in accordance with
these plans would require a force of skilled mechanics under the
supervision of a master builder?  And do you realize that time is a most
important factor in our present undertaking?  Who can tell at what moment
Brute MacNair may swoop down, upon us like Attila of old, and strike a
fatal blow to our little outpost of civilization?  And if he finds _me_
here--"  His voice trailed into silence and his eyes swept gloomily the
northern reach of the river.

Chloe appeared unimpressed.  "I hardly think he will resort to violence.
There is the law--even here in the wilderness.  Slow to act, perhaps,
because of the inaccessibility of the wild country; but once its
machinery is in motion, as unbending and as indomitable as justice
itself.  You see, I have read of your Mounted Police."

"The Mounted!" Lapierre laughed.  "Yes--I see you have _read_ of them!
Had you derived your information in a more direct manner--had you lived
among them--if you _knew_ them--your childlike trust in them would seem
as absurd, perhaps, as it does to me!"

"What do you mean?" cried the girl, regarding the quarter-breed with a
searching glance.  "That the men of the Mounted are--that they may
be--influenced?"

Again Lapierre laughed--harshly.  "Just that, Miss Elliston!  They
are--crooked.  They may be influenced!"

"I cannot believe that!"

"You will--later."

"You mean that MacNair has----"

The man interrupted with a wave of his hand.  "What I have told you of
MacNair is the truth.  I shall prove this to your own satisfaction, at
the proper time.  Until then, I ask you to believe me.  Admitting, then,
that I have spoken the truth, do you suppose for an instant that these
facts are not known to the Mounted?  If not, then the officers are
inefficient fools.  If they are known, why don't the Mounted remedy
matters?  Because MacNair is rich!  Because he buys them, body and soul!
Because he owns them, like he owns the Indians!  That's why!

"Just stop and consider what is ahead of a dollar-a-day policeman.  When
his five-year term of enlistment has expired, he has his choice of
enlisting for another term, or making his living some other way.  At the
end of the five years he has learned to hate the service with a hatred
that is soul-searing.  It is the hardest, strictest, most exacting, and
most ill-paid service in the world; and the five years of the man's
enlistment have practically rendered him unfit for earning a living.

"He has lived in the wild country.  He knows the wild country.  And
civilization, with its rapid advance, has left him five years behind the
times.  Our ex-man of the Mounted is fit for only the commonest labour.
And, because there are almost no employers in the North, he cannot turn
his knowledge of the wilds to profitable account, unless he turns
smuggler, whiskey-runner, or fur-poisoner.  The men know this.
Therefore, when an officer whose patrol takes him into the far 'back
blocks' is approached by a man like MacNair, with his pockets bulging
with gold, what report goes down to Regina, and on to Ottawa?

"Yes, Miss Elliston, in the Northland there is law.  But the law is a
fundamental law--the primitive law of savage might.  The strong devour
the weak.  Only the fit survive--survive to be ruled, to be trampled, to
be _owned_ by the strongest.  And the law is the measure of might!
Primal instincts--pristine passions--primordial brutishness permeate the
whole North--rule it.

"The wolf and savage _carcajo_ drag down the hunger-weakened caribou and
the deer, and rip the warm, red flesh from their bones before their eyes
have glazed.  And, in turn, the wolf and the _carcajo_, the unoffending
beaver and musquash, the mink, the fisher, the fox, and the otter are
trapped by savage man and the pelts ripped from their twitching bodies
while life and sensibility remain.  They are harder to skin when cold.
And with the thermometer at forty or sixty below zero, the little bodies
chill almost instantly if mercifully killed--therefore, they are not
killed, but flayed alive and their bleeding bodies tossed upon the snow.
They die quickly--then.  But--they have lived through the skinning!  And
that is the North!"

Chloe Elliston shuddered and drew away in horror.  "Is--is this
possible?" she faltered.  "Do they----"

"They do.  The fur business is not a pretty business, Miss Elliston.  But
neither is the North pretty--nor are its inhabitants.  But the traffic in
fur is inherently the business of the North--and its history is written
in blood--the blood and the suffering of thousands of men and millions of
animals.  But the profits are great.  Fashion has decreed that My Lady
shall be swathed in fur--therefore, men go mad and die in the barrens,
and the quivering red bodies of small animals bleed, and curl up, and
stiffen upon the hard crust of the snow!  No, the North is not gentle,
Miss Elliston----"

"Don't!  Don't!" faltered the girl.  "It is all too--too horrible--too
sickeningly brutal--too--too unbelievable!"  She covered her eyes with
her hand.

Lapierre answered, dryly.  "Yes.  The North is that way.  It has always
been so--and it always will----"

Chloe's hand dropped from her eyes and, she faced him in a sudden burst
of passion.  Her sensitive lips quivered and her eyes narrowed to the
rapier-blade eyes that were the eyes of Tiger Elliston.  She tore the
roll of blue-prints to bits and ground them into the mould with the heel
of her boot.

"_It will not!_"  Her voice cut sharply, and hard.  "What do you know of
what the North _will_ be?  You know it only as it has been--as it is,
perhaps.  But, of its future you know nothing.  I tell you the North will
change!  It is a hard land--cruel--elemental--raw!  But it is _big_!
And, when it awakens, its very bigness, the virile force and strength of
it, will turn against its savagery, its cruelty, its brutishness; and
above all other lands it will stand for the protection of the weak and
for the right of things to live!"

The quarter-breed gazed into her face with a look of undisguised
admiration.  "Ah, Miss Elliston, you are beautiful, now--beautiful
always--but, at this moment--radiant--divine--"  Chloe seemed not to hear
him.

"And that is to be _my_ work--to awaken the North!  To bring to its
people the comforts--the advantages of civilization!"

"The North is too big for you, Miss Elliston.  It is too big for _men_.
Pardon, but it is not a woman's land."

The girl's eyes flashed.  "Suppose we leave sex out of it, Mr. Lapierre.
They said of my grandfather that 'the harder they fought him, the better
he liked 'em,' and that 'he never knew when he was licked.'  Maybe that
is the reason he never was licked, but lived to carry civilization into a
land that was a thousand years deeper in savagery than this land is.  And
today civilization--education--Christianity exist where seventy-five
years ago the chance visitor was tortured first and eaten afterward."

Lapierre shrugged.  "It is useless to argue.  I am in sympathy with your
undertaking.  I admire your courage, and the high ideals of your mission.
But, permit me to remind you that your grandfather, whoever he was, was
_not_ a woman.  Also, that here, in the North, Christianity and education
have failed to civilize--the educated ones and the converts are worse
than the others."

The girl's eyes darkened and the man noticed the peculiar out-thrust of
the chin.  He hastened to change the subject.

"I am glad you have abandoned those plans.  They were useless.  May I now
proceed with the building?"

Chloe smiled.  "Yes," she answered, "by all means.  But, as this is to be
_my_ undertaking, I think I shall have it _my_ way.  Build the store
first, if you please----"

"And the stockade?"

"There will be no stockade."

"No stockade!  Are you crazy?  If MacNair----"

"I will attend to MacNair, Mr. Lapierre."

"Do you imagine MacNair will stand quietly by and allow you to build a
trading-post here on the Yellow Knife?  Do you think he will listen to
our explanation that this is a school and that the store is merely a
plaything?  I tell you he will countenance neither the school nor the
post.  Education for the natives is the last thing MacNair will stand
for."

"As I told you, I will attend to MacNair.  My people will not be armed.
The stockade would be silly."

Lapierre smiled; drew closer, and dropped his voice to a confidential
whisper.  "I can put one hundred rifles and ten thousand cartridges in
the hands of your people in ten days' time."

"Thank you, Mr. Lapierre.  I don't need your guns."

The man made a gesture of impatience.  "If you choose to ignore MacNair,
you must, at least, be prepared to handle the Indians who will crowd your
counter like wolves when they hear you are underselling the H.B.C.  When
you explain that only those who are members of your school may trade at
your post, you will be swamped with enrolments.  You cannot teach the
whole North.

"Those that you will be forced to turn away--what will they do?  They
will not understand.  Instead of returning to their teepees, their nets,
and their traplines, they will hang about your post, growing gaunter and
hungrier with the passing of the days.  And the hunger that gnaws at
their bellies will arouse the latent lawlessness of their hearts, and
then--if MacNair has not already struck, he will strike then.  For
MacNair knows Indians and the workings of the Indian mind.  He knows how
the sullen hatred of their souls may be fanned into a mighty flame.  His
Indians will circulate among the hungry horde, and the banks of the
Yellow Knife will be swept bare.  MacNair will have struck.  And with
such consummate skill will his hand be disguised, that not the faintest
breath of suspicion will point toward himself."

"I shall sell to all alike, while my goods last, whether they are members
of my school or not----"

"That will be even worse than----"

"It seems you always think of the worst thing that could possibly
happen," smiled the girl.

"'To fear the worst, oft cures the worst,'" quoted Lapierre.

"'Don't cross a bridge 'til you get to it' is not so classic, perhaps,
but it saves a lot of needless worry."

"'Foresight is better than hindsight' is equally unclassic, and
infinitely better generalship.  Bridges crossed at the last moment are
generally crossed from the wrong end, I have noticed."  The man leaned
toward her and looked straight into her eyes.  "Oh, Miss Elliston--can't
you see--I am thinking of your welfare--of your safety; I have known you
but a short time, as acquaintance is reckoned, but already you have
become more to me than----"

Chloe interrupted him with a gesture.

"Don't--please--I----"

Lapierre ignored the protest, and, seizing her hand in both his own,
spoke rapidly.  "I will say it!  I have known it from the moment of our
first meeting.  I love you!  And I shall win you--and together we
will----"

"Oh, don't--don't--not--now--please!"

The man bowed and released the hand.  "I can wait," he said gravely.
"But please--for your own good--take my advice.  I know the North.  I was
born in the North, and am of the North.  I have sought only to help you.
Why do you refuse to profit by my experience?  Must you endure what I
have endured to learn what I offer freely to tell you?  I shudder to
think of It.  The knowledge gleaned by experience may be the most
lasting, but it is dearly purchased, and at a great loss--always." The
man's voice was very earnest, and Chloe detected a note of mild reproach.
She hastened to reply.

"I _have_ profited by your advice--have learned much from what you have
told me.  I am under obligation to you.  I appreciate your interest
in--in my work, and am indeed grateful for what you have done to further
it.  But there are some things, I suppose, one _must_ learn by
experience.  I may be silly and headstrong.  I may be wrong.  But I stand
ready to pay the price.  The loss will be mine.  See!" she cried
excitedly, "they are rolling up the logs for the store."

"Yes," answered the man gravely, "I bow to your wishes in the matter of
your buildings.  If you refuse to build a stockade we may erect a few
more buildings--but as few as you can possibly manage with, Miss
Elliston.  I must hasten southward."

Chloe studied for some moments.  "The store"--she checked them off upon
her fingers--"the schoolhouse, two bunkhouses, we can leave off the
bathrooms, the river and the lake will serve until winter."

Lapierre nodded, and the girl continued.  "We can do without the laundry
and the carpenter-shop, and the individual cabins.  The Indians can set
up their teepees in the clearing, and build the cabins and the other
buildings later.  But I _would_ like a little cottage for myself, and
Miss Penny, and Lena.  We _could_ make three rooms do.  Can we have three
rooms?"

Lapierre bowed low.  "It shall be as you say," he replied.  "And now, if
you will excuse me, I shall see to it that these _canaille_ work.  LeFroy
they do not fear."

He turned to go, and at that moment Chloe Elliston saw a look of terror
flash into his eyes.  Saw his fingers clutch and grope uncertainly at the
gay scarf at his throat.  Saw the muscles of his face work painfully.
Saw his colour fade from rich tan to sickly yellow.  An inarticulate,
gurgling sound escaped his lips, and his eyes stared in horror toward a
point beyond and behind her.

She turned swiftly and gazed into the face of a man who had approached
unnoticed from the direction of the river, and stood a few paces distant
with his eyes fixed upon her.  As their glances met the man's gaze
continued unflinching, and the soft-brimmed Stetson remained on his head.
Her slender fingers clenched into her palms and, unconsciously, her chin
thrust forward--for she knew intuitively that the man was "Brute" MacNair.



CHAPTER VI

BRUTE MACNAIR

Estimates are formed, in a far greater measure than most of us care to
admit, upon first impressions.  Manifestly shallow and embryonic though
we admit them to be, our first impressions crystallize, in nine cases
out of ten, into our fixed or permanent opinions.  And, after all, the
reason for this absurdity is simple--egotism.

Our opinions, based upon first impressions--and we rarely pause to
analyse first impressions--have become _our opinions_, the result, as
we fondly imagine, of our judgment.  Our judgment must be
right--because it is our judgment.  Therefore, unconsciously or
consciously, every subsequent impression is bent to bolster up and
sustain that judgment.  We hate to be wrong.  We hate to admit, even to
ourselves, that we are wrong.

Strange, isn't it?  How often we are right (permit the smile) in our
estimate of people?

When Chloe Elliston turned to face MacNair among the stumps of the
sunlit clearing, her opinion of the man had already been formed.  He
was Brute MacNair, one to be hated, despised.  To be fought, conquered,
and driven out of the North--for the good of the North.  His influence
was a malignant ulcer--a cancerous plague-spot, whose evil tentacles,
reaching hidden and unseen, would slowly but surely fasten themselves
upon the civilization of the North--sap its vitality--poison its blood.

In the flash of her first glance the girl's eyes took in every
particular and detail of him.  She noted the huge frame, broad, yet
lean with the gaunt leanness of health, and endurance, and physical
strength.  The sinew-corded, bronzed hands that clenched slowly as his
glance rested for a moment upon the face of Lapierre.  The
weather-tanned neck that rose, columnlike, from the open shirt-throat.
The well-poised head.  The prominent, high-bridged nose.  The lantern
jaw, whose rugged outline was but half-concealed by the roughly trimmed
beard of inky blackness.  And, the most dominant feature of all, the
compelling magnetism of the steel-grey eyes of him--eyes, deep-set
beneath heavy black brows that curved and met--eyes that stabbed, and
bored, and probed, as if to penetrate to the ultimate motive.  Hard
eyes they were, whose directness of gaze spoke at once fearlessness and
intolerance of opposition; spoke, also, of combat, rather than
diplomacy; of the honest smashing of foes, rather than dissimulation.

Ail this the girl saw in the first moments of their meeting.  She saw,
too, that the eyes held a hostile gleam, and that she need expect from
their owner no sympathy--no deference of sex.  If war were to be
between them, it would be a man's war, waged upon man's terms, in a
man's country.  No quarter would be given--Chloe's lips pressed
tight--nor would any be asked.

The moments lengthened into an appreciable space of time and the man
remained motionless, regarding her with that probing, searching stare.
Lapierre he ignored after the first swift glance.  Instinctively the
girl knew that the man had no intention of being deliberately or
studiously rude in standing thus in her presence with head covered, and
eyeing her with those steel-grey, steel-hard eyes.  Nevertheless, his
attitude angered her, the more because she knew he did not intend to.
And in this she was right--MacNair stared because he was silently
taking her measure, and his hat remained upon his head because he knew
of no reason why it should not remain upon his head.

Chloe was the first to speak, and in her voice was more than a trace of
annoyance.

"Well, Mr. Mind-Reader, have you figured me out--why I am here, and----"

"No."  The word boomed deeply from the man's throat, smashing the
question that was intended to carry the sting of sarcasm.  "Except that
it is for no good--though you doubtless think it is for great good."

"Indeed!" The girl laughed a trifle sharply.  "And who, then, is the
judge?"

"I am."  The calm assurance of the man fanned her rising anger, and,
when she answered, her voice was low and steady, with the tonelessness
of forced control.

"And your name, you Oligarch of the Far Outland?  May I presume to ask
your name?"

"Why ask?  My name you already know.  And upon the word of yon scum,
you have judged.  By the glint o' hate, as you looked into my eyes, I
know--for one does not so welcome a stranger beyond the outposts.  But,
since you have asked, I will tell you; my name is MacNair--Robert
MacNair, by my christening--Bob MacNair, in the speech of the
country----"

"And, _Brute_ MacNair, upon the Athabasca?"

"Yes.  Brute MacNair--upon the Athabasca--and the Slave, and
Mackenzie--and in the haunts of the whiskey-runners, and 'Fool'
MacNair--in Winnipeg."

"And among the oppressed and the down-trodden?  Among those whose
heritage of freedom you have torn from them?  What do they call
you--those whom you have forced into serfdom?"  For a fleeting instant
the girl caught the faintest flicker, a tiny twinkle of amusement, in
the steely eyes.  But, when the man answered, his eyes were steady.

"_They_ call me friend."

"Is their ignorance so abysmal?"

"They have scant time to learn from books--my Indians.  They work."

"But, a year from now, when they have begun to learn, what will they
call you then--_your_ Indians?"

"A year from now--two years---ten years--my Indians will call
me--friend."

Chloe was about to speak, but MacNair interrupted her.  "I have scant
time for parley.  I was starting for Mackay Lake, but when Old Elk
reported two of yon scum's satellites hanging about, I dropped down the
river.  By your words it's a school you will be building.  If it were a
post I would have to take you more seriously----"

"There will be a--"  Chloe felt the warning touch of Lapierre's finger
at her back and ceased abruptly.  MacNair continued, as if unmindful of
the interruption.

"Build your school, by all means.  'Tis a spot well chosen by yon
devil's spawn, and for his own ends.  By your eyes you are honest in
purpose--a fool's purpose--and a hare-brained carrying out of it.  You
are being used as a tool by Lapierre.  You will not believe this--not
yet.  Later--perhaps, when it is too late--but, that is your
affair--not mine.  At the proper time I will crush Lapierre, and if you
go down in the crash you will have yourself to thank.  I have warned
you.  Yon snake has poisoned your mind against me.  In your eyes I am
foredamned--and well damned--which causes me no concern, and you, no
doubt, much satisfaction.

"Build your school, but heed well my words.  You'll not tamper, one way
or another, with my Indians.  One hundred and seventy miles north of
here, upon Snare Lake, is my post.  My Indians pass up and down the
Yellow Knife.  They are to pass unquestioned, unmolested, unproselyted.
Confine your foolishness to the southward and I shall not
interfere--carry it northward, and you shall hear from me.

"Should you find yourself in danger from your enemies--or, your
_friends_"--he shot a swift glance toward Lapierre, who had remained a
pace behind the girl--"send for me.  Good day."

Chloe Elliston was furious.  She had listened in a sort of dumb rage as
the man's words stung, and stung again.  MacNair's uncouth manner, his
blunt brutality of speech, his scornful, even contemptuous reference to
her work, and, most of all, his utter disregard of her, struck her to
the very depths.  As MacNair turned to go, she stayed him with a voice
trembling with fury.

"Do you imagine, for an instant, I would stoop to seek _your_
protection?  I would die first!  You have had things your own way too
long, Mr. Brute MacNair!  You think yourself secure, in your smug
egotism.  But the end is in sight.  Your petty despotism is doomed.
You have hoodwinked the authorities, bribed the police, connived with
the Hudson Bay Company, bullied and browbeaten the Indians, cheated
them out of their birthright of land and liberty, and have forced them
into a peonage that has filled your pockets with gold."

She paused in her vehement outburst and glared defiantly at MacNair, as
if to challenge a denial.  But the man remained silent, and Chloe felt
her face flush as the shadow of a twinkle played for a fleeting instant
in the depths of the hard eyes.  She fancied, even, that the lips
behind the black beard smiled--ever so slightly,

"Oh, you needn't laugh!  You think because I'm a woman you will be able
to do as you please with me----"

"I did not laugh," answered the man gravely.  "Why should I laugh?  You
take yourself seriously.  You believe, even, that the things you have
just spoken are true.  They _must_ be true.  Has not Pierre Lapierre
_told_ you they are true?  And, why should the fact that you are a
woman cause me to believe I could influence you?  If an issue is at
stake, as you believe, what has sex to do with it?  I have known no
women, except the squaws and the _kloochmen_ of the natives.

"You said, 'you think, because I am a woman, you will be able to do as
you please with me.' Are women, then, less honest than men?  I do not
believe that.  In my life I have known no women, but I have read of
them in books.  I have not been to any school, but was taught by my
father, who, I think, was a very wise man.  I learned from him, and
from the books, of which he left a great number.  I have always
believed women to be uncommonly like men--very good, or very bad, or
very commonplace because they were afraid to be either.  But, I have
not read that they are less honest than men."

"Thank you!  Being a woman, I suppose I should consider myself
flattered.  A year from this time you will know more about women---at
least, about _me_.  You will have learned that I will not be
hoodwinked.  I cannot be bribed.  Nor can my silence, or acquiescence
in your villainy be bought.  I will not connive with you.  And you
cannot browbeat, nor bully, nor cheat me."

"Yes?"

"Yes.  And of one thing I am glad.  I shall expect no consideration at
your hands because I am a woman.  You will fight me as you would fight
a man."

"Fight you?  Why should I fight you?  I have no quarrel with you.  If
you choose to build a school here, or even a trading-post, I have no
disposition--no right to gainsay you.  You will soon tire of your
experiment, and no harm will be done--the North will be unchanged.  You
are nothing to me.  I care nothing for your opinion of me--considering
its source, I am surprised it is not even worse."

"Impossible!  And do not think that I have not had corroborative
evidence.  Ocular evidence of your brutal treatment of Mr.
Lapierre--and did I not see with my own eyes the destruction of your
whiskey?"

"What nonsense are you speaking now?  My whiskey!  Woman--never yet
have I owned any whiskey."

Chloe sneered--"And the Indians--do they not hate you?"

"Yes, those Indians do--and well they may.  Most of them have crossed
my path at some time or other.  And most of them will cross it
again--at Lapierre's instigation.  Some of them I shall have to kill."

"You speak lightly of murder."

"Murder?"

"Yes, murder!  The murder of poor, ignorant savages.  It is an ugly
word, isn't it?  But why dissimulate?  At least, we can call a spade a
spade.  These men are human beings.  Their right to life and happiness
is as good as yours or mine, and their souls are as----"

"Black as hell!  Woman, from LeFroy down, you have collected about you
as pretty a gang of cut-throats and outlaws as could have been found in
all the North.  Lapierre has seen to that.  I do not envy you your
school.  But as long as you can be turned to their profit your personal
safety will be assured.  They are too cunning, by far, to kill the
goose that lays the golden egg."

"What a pretty speech!  Your polish--your _savoir vivre_, does you
credit, I am sure."

"I do not understand what you are saying, but----"

"There are many things you do not understand now that perhaps you will
later.  For instance, in the matter of the Indians--_your_ Indians, I
believe you call them--you have warned, or commanded, possibly, would
be the better word----"

"Yes," interrupted the man, "that is the better word----"

"Have commanded me not to--what was it you said--molest, question, or
proselyte them."

MacNair nodded.  "I said that."

"And I say _this_!" flashed the girl.  "I shall use every means in my
power to induce your Indians to attend my school.  I shall teach them
that they are free.  That they owe allegiance and servitude to no man.
That the land they inhabit is their land.  That they are their own
masters.  I shall offer them education, that they may be able to
compete on equal terms with the white men when this land ceases to lie
beyond the outposts.  I shall show them that they are being robbed and
cheated and forced into ignominious serfdom.  And mark you this: if I
can't reach them upon the river, I shall go to your village, or post,
or fort, or whatever you call your Snare Lake rendezvous, and I shall
point out to them their wrongs.  I shall appeal to their better
natures--to their manhood, and womanhood.  That's what I think of your
command!  I do not fear you!  I _despise_ you!"

MacNair nodded, gravely.

"I have already learned that women are as honest as men--more so, even,
than most men.  You are honest, and you are earnest.  You believe in
yourself, too.  But you are more of a fool than I thought--more of a
fool than I thought any one could be.  Lapierre is a great fool--but he
is neither honest nor earnest.  He is just a fool--a wise fool, with
the cunning and vices of the wolf, but with none of the wolf's lean
virtues.  You are an honest fool.  You are like a young moose-calf,
who, because he happens to be born into the world, thinks the world was
made for him to be born into.

"Let us say the moose-calf was born upon a great mountain--a mountain
whose sides are crossed and recrossed by moose-trails--paths that wind
in and out among the trees, stamped by the hoofs of older and wiser
moose.  Upon these paths the moose-calf tries his wobbly legs, and one
day finds himself gazing out upon a plain where grass is.  He has no
use for grass--does not even know what grass is for.  Only he sees no
paths out there.  The grass covers a quagmire, but of quagmires the
moose-calf knows nothing, having been born upon a mountain.

"Being a fool, the moose-calf soon tires of the beaten paths.  He
ventures downward toward the plain.  A wolf, skulking through the scrub
at the foot of the mountain, encounters, by chance, the moose-calf.
The calf is fat.  But, the wolf is cunning.  He dares not harm the
moose-calf hard by the trails of the mountain.  He becomes friendly,
and the fool moose-calf tells the wolf where he is bound.  The wolf
offers to accompany him, and the moose-calf is glad--here is a
friend--one who is wiser than the moose-kind, for he fears not to
venture into the country of no trails.

"Between the mountain and the plain stands a tree.  This tree the wolf
hates.  Many squirrels work about its roots, and these squirrels are
fatter than the squirrels of the scrub, for the tree feeds them.  But,
when the wolf would pounce upon them, they seek safety in the tree.
The moose-calf--the poor fool moose-calf--comes to this tree, and,
finding no paths curving around its base, becomes enraged because the
tree does not step aside and yield the right of way.  He will charge
the tree!  He does not know that the tree has been growing for many
years, and has become deeply rooted--immovable.  The wolf looks on and
smiles.  If the moose-calf butts the tree down, the wolf will get the
squirrels--and the calf.  If the calf does not, the wolf will get the
calf."

MacNair ceased speaking and turned abruptly toward the river.

"My!" Chloe Elliston exclaimed.  "Really, you are delightful, Mr. Brute
MacNair.  During the half-hour or more of our acquaintance you have
called me, among other things, a fool, a goose, and a moose-calf.  I
repeat that you are delightful, and honest, shall I say?  No;
candid--for I know that you are not honest.  But do tell me the rest of
the story.  Don't leave it like The Lady or the Tiger.  How will it
end?  Are you a prophet, or merely an allegorist?"

MacNair, who was again facing her, answered without a smile.  "I do not
know about the lady or the tiger, nor of what happened to either.  If
they were pitted against each other, my bet would be laid on the tiger,
though my sympathy might be with the lady.  I am not a prophet.  I
cannot tell you the end of the story.  Maybe the fool moose-calf will
butt its brains out against the trunk of the tree.  That would be no
fault of the tree.  The tree was there first, and was minding its own
business.  Maybe the calf will butt and get hurt, and scamper for home.
Maybe it will succeed in eluding the fangs of the wolf, and reach its
mountain in safety.  In such case it will have learned something.

"Maybe it will butt and butt against the tree until it dislodges a limb
from high among the branches, and the limb will fall to the ground and
crush, shall we say--the waiting wolf?  And, maybe the calf will butt,
learn that the tree is immovable, swallow its hurt, and pass on, giving
the tree a wide berth--pass on into the quagmire, with the wolf licking
his chops, as grinning, he points out the way."

Chloe, in spite of herself, was intensely interested.

"But," she asked, "you are quite sure the tree is immovable?"

"Quite sure."

"Suppose, however, that this particular tree is rotten--rotten to the
heart?  That the very roots that hold it in place are rotten?  And that
the moose-calf butts 'til he butts it down--what then?"

There was a gleam of admiration in MacNair's eyes as he answered:

"If the tree is rotten it will fall.  But it will fall to the mighty
push o' the winds o' God--and not to the puny butt of a moose-calf!"
Chloe Elliston was silent.  The man was speaking again.  "Good day to
you, madam, or miss, or whatever one respectfully calls a woman.  As I
told you, I have known no women.  I have lived always in the North.
Death robbed me of my mother before I was old enough to remember her.
The North, you see, is hard and relentless, even with those who know
her--and love her."

The girl felt a sudden surge of sympathy for this strange, outspoken
man of the Northland.  She knew that the man had spoken, with no
thought of arousing sympathy, of the dead mother he had never known.
And in his voice was a note, not merely of deep regret, but of sadness.

"I am sorry," she managed to murmur.

"What?"

"About your mother, I mean."

The man nodded.  "Yes.  She was a good woman.  My father told me of her
often.  He loved her."

The simplicity of the man puzzled Chloe.  She was at a loss to reply.

"I think--I believe--a moment ago, you asked my name."

"No."

"Oh!"  The lines about the girl's mouth tightened.  "Then I'll tell
you.  I am Chloe Elliston--_Miss_ Chloe Elliston.  The name means
nothing to you--now.  A year hence it will mean much."

"Aye, maybe.  I'll not say it won't.  More like, though, it will be
forgot in half the time.  The North has scant use for the passing whims
o' women!"



CHAPTER VII

THE MASTER MIND

After the visit of MacNair, Chloe noticed a marked diminution in the
anxiety of Lapierre to resume his interrupted journey.  True, he drove
the Indians mercilessly from daylight till dark in the erection of the
buildings, but his air of tense expectancy was gone, and he ceased to
dart short, quick glances into the North, and to scan the upper reach
of the river.

The Indians, too, had changed.  They toiled more stolidly now with
apathetic ears for Lapierre's urging, where before they had worked in
feverish haste, with their eyes upon the edges of the clearing.  It was
obviously patent that the canoemen shared Lapierre's fear and hatred of
MacNair.

In the late afternoon of the twelfth day after the rolling of the first
log into place, Chloe accompanied Lapierre upon a tour of inspection of
the completed buildings.  The man had done his work well.  The
school-house and the barracks with the dining-room and kitchen were
comfortably and solidly built; entirely sufficient for present needs
and requirements.  But the girl wondered at the trading-post and its
appendant store-house they were fully twice the size she would have
considered necessary, and constructed as to withstand a siege.
Lapierre had built a fort.

"Excellent buildings; and solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, Miss
Elliston," smiled the quarter-breed, as with a wave of his hand he
indicated the interior of the trading-room.

"But, they are so big!" exclaimed the girl, as her glance swept the
spacious fur lofts, and the ample areas for the storing of supplies.
She was concerned only with the size of the buildings.  But her wonder
would have increased could she have seen the rows of loopholes that
pierced the thick walls--loopholes crammed with moss against the cold,
and with their openings concealed by cleverly fitted pieces of bark.
Lapierre's smile deepened.

"Remember, you told me you intend to sell to all alike, while your
goods last.  I know what that will mean.  It will mean that you will
find yourself called upon to furnish the supplies for the inhabitants
of several thousand square miles of territory.  Indians will travel far
to obtain a bargain.  They look only at the price--never at the quality
of the goods.  That fact enables us free-traders to live.  We sell
cheaper than the H.B.C.; but, frankly, our goods are cheaper.  The
bargains are much more apparent than real.  But, if I understand your
position, you intend to sell goods that are up to H.B.C. standard at
actual cost?"

Chloe nodded: "Certainly."

"Very well, then you will find that these buildings which look so large
and commodious to you now, must be crowded to the ceiling with your
goods, while the walls of your fur lofts will fairly bulge with their
weight of riches.  Fur is the 'cash' of the North, and the trader must
make ample provision for its storage.  There are no banks in the
wilderness; and the fur lofts are the vaults of the traders."

"But, I don't want to deal in fur!" objected the girl.  "I--since you
have told me of the terrible cruelty of the trappers, I _hate fur_!  I
want nothing to do with it.  In fact, I shall do everything in my power
to discountenance and discourage the trapping."  Lapierre cleared his
throat sharply--coughed--cleared it again.  Discourage trapping--north
of sixty!  Had he heard aright?  He swallowed hard, mumbled an apology
anent the inhalation of a gnat, and answered in all seriousness.

"A worthy object, Miss Elliston--a very worthy object; but one that
will require time to consummate.  At present the taking of fur is the
business of the North.  I may say, the only business of thousands of
savages whose very existence depends upon their skill with the traps.
Fur is their one source of livelihood.  Therefore, you must accept the
condition as it exists.  Think, if you refused to accept fur in
exchange for your goods, what it would mean--the certain and absolute
failure of your school from the moment of its inception.  The Indians
could not grasp your point of view.  You would be shunned for one
demented.  Your goods would rot upon your shelves; for the simple
reason that the natives would have no means of buying them.  No, Miss
Elliston, you must take their fur until such time as you succeed in
devising some other means by which these people may earn their living."

"You are right," agreed Chloe.  "Of course, I must deal in fur--for the
present.  Reform is the result of years of labour.  I must be patient.
I was thinking only of the cruelty of it."

"They have never been taught," said Lapierre with a touch of sadness in
his tone.  "And, while we are on the subject, allow me to advise you to
retain LeFroy as your chief trader.  He is an excellent man, is Louis
LeFroy, and has had no little experience."

"Do you think he will stay?" eagerly asked the girl.  "I should like to
retain, not only LeFroy but a half-dozen others."

"It shall be as you wish.  I shall speak to LeFroy and select also the
pick of the crew.  They will be glad of a steady job.  The others I
shall take with me.  I must gather my fur from its various _caches_ and
freight it to the railway."

"You are going to the railway!  To civilization?"

"Yes, but it will take me three weeks to make ready my outfit.  And in
this connection I may be of further service to you.  I must depart from
here tonight.  Instruct LeFroy to make out his list of supplies for the
winter.  Give him a free hand and tell him to fill the store-rooms.
The goods you have brought with you are by no means sufficient.  Three
weeks from today, if I do not visit you in the meantime, have him meet
me at Fort Resolution, and I shall be glad to make your purchases for
you, at Athabasca Landing and Edmonton."

"You have been very good to me.  How can I ever thank you?" cried the
girl, impulsively extending her hand.  Lapierre took the hand, bowed
over it, and--was it fancy, or did his lips brush her finger-tips?
Chloe withdrew the hand, laughing in slight confusion.  To her surprise
she realized she was not in the least annoyed.  "How can I thank you,"
she repeated, "for--for throwing aside your own work to attend to mine?"

"Do not speak of thanking me."  Once more the man's eyes seemed to burn
into her soul, "I love you!  And one day my work will be your work and
your work will be mine.  It is I who am indebted to you for bringing a
touch of heaven into this drab hell of Northern brutishness.  For
bringing to me a breath of the bright world I have not known since
Montreal--and the student days, long past.  And--ah--more than
that--something I have never known--love.  And, it is you who are
bringing a ray of pure light to lighten the darkness of my people."

Chloe was deeply touched.  "But I--I thought," she faltered, "when we
were discussing the buildings that day, you spoke as if you did not
really care for the Indians.  And--and you made them work so hard----"

"To learn to work would be their salvation!" exclaimed the man.  "And I
beg you to forget what I said then.  I feared for your safety.  When
you refused to allow me to build the stockade, I could think only of
your being at the mercy of Brute MacNair.  I tried to frighten you into
allowing me to build it.  Even now, if you say the word----"

Chloe interrupted him with a laugh.  "No, I am not afraid of
MacNair--really I am not.  And you have already neglected your own
affairs too long."

The man assented.  "If I am to get my furs to the railway, do my own
trading, and yours, and return before the lake freezes, I must, indeed,
be on my way."

"You will wait while I write some letters?  And you will post them for
me?"

Lapierre bowed.  "As many as you wish," he said, and together they
walked to the girl's cabin whose quaint, rustic veranda overlooked the
river.  The veranda was an addition of Lapierre's, and the cabin had
five rooms, instead of three.

The quarter-breed waited, whistling softly a light French air, while
Chloe wrote her letters.  He breathed deeply of the warm spruce-laden
breeze, slapped lazily at mosquitoes, and gazed at the setting sun
between half-closed lids.  Pierre Lapierre was happy.

"Things are coming my way," he muttered.  "With a year's stock in that
warehouse--and LeFroy to handle it--I guess the Indians won't pick up
many bargains--my people!--damn them!  How I hate them.  And as for
MacNair--lucky Vermilion thought of painting _his_ name on that
booze--I hated to smash it--but it paid.  It was the one thing needed
to make me solid with _her_.  And I've got time to run in another batch
if I hurry--got to get those rifles into the loft, too.  When MacNair
hits, he hits hard."

Chloe appeared at the door with her letters.  Lapierre took them, and
again bowed low over her hand.  This time the girl was sure his lips
touched her finger-tips.  He released the hand and stepped to the
ground.

"Good-bye," he said, "I shall try my utmost to pay you a visit before I
depart for the southward, but if I fail, remember to send LeFroy to me
at Fort Resolution."

"I will remember.  Good-bye--_bon voyage_----"

"_Et prompt retour?_"  The man's lips smiled, and his eyes flashed the
question.

"_Et prompt retour--certainement!_" answered the girl as, with a wide
sweep of his hat, the quarter-breed turned and made his way toward the
camp of the Indians, which was located in a spruce thicket a short
distance above the clearing.  As he disappeared in the timber, Chloe
felt a sudden sinking of the heart; a strange sense of desertion, of
loneliness possessed her as she gazed into the deepening shadows of the
wall of the clearing.  She fumed impatiently.

"Why should I care?" she muttered, "I never laid eyes on him until two
weeks ago, and besides, he's--he's an _Indian_!  And yet--he's a
gentleman.  He has been very kind to me--very considerate.  He is only
a quarter-Indian.  Many of the very best families have Indian blood in
their veins--even boast of it.  I--I'm a _fool_!" she exclaimed, and
passed quickly into the house.


Pierre Lapierre was a man, able, shrewd, unscrupulous.  The son of a
French factor of the Hudson Bay Company and his half-breed wife, he was
sent early to school, where he remained to complete his college course;
for it was the desire of his father that the son should engage in some
profession for which his education fitted him.

But the blood of the North was in his veins.  The call of the North
lured him into the North, and he returned to the trading-post of his
father, where he was given a position as clerk and later appointed
trader and assigned to a post of his own far to the northward.

While the wilderness captivated and entranced him, the humdrum life of
a trader wearied him.  He longed for excitement--action.

During the several years of his service with the great fur company he
assiduously studied conditions, storing up in his mind a fund of
information that later was to stand him in good stead.  He studied the
trade, the Indians, the country.  He studied the men of the Mounted,
and smugglers, and whiskey-runners, and free-traders.  And it was in a
brush with these latter that he overstepped the bounds which, under the
changed conditions, even the agents of the great Company might not go.

Chafing under the loss of trade by reason of an independent post that
had been built upon the shore of his lake some ten miles to the
southward, his wild Metis blood called for action and, hastily
summoning a small band of Indians, he attacked the independents.
Incidentally, the free-traders' post was burned, one of the traders
killed, and the other captured and sent upon the _longue traverse_.  In
some unaccountable manner, after suffering untold hardships, the man
won through to civilization and promptly had Pierre Lapierre brought to
book.

The Company stood loyally between its trader and the prison bars; but
the old order had changed in the Northland.  Young Lapierre's action
was condemned and he was dismissed from the Company's service with a
payment of three years' unearned salary whereupon, he promptly turned
free-trader, and his knowledge of the methods of the H.B.C., the
Indians, and the country, made largely for success.

The life of the free-trader satisfied his longing for travel and
adventure, which his life as a post-trader had not.  But it did not
satisfy his innate craving for excitement.  Therefore, he cast about to
enlarge his field of activity.  He became a whiskey-runner.  His
profits increased enormously, and he gradually included smuggling in
his _répertoire_, and even timber thieving, and cattle-rustling upon
the ranges along the international boundary.

At the time of his meeting with Chloe Elliston he was at the head of an
organized band of criminals whose range of endeavour extended over
hundreds of thousands of square miles, and the diversity of whose
crimes was limited only by the index of the penal code.

Pierre Lapierre was a Napoleon of organization--a born leader of men.
He chose his liegemen shrewdly--outlaws, renegades, Indians, breeds,
trappers, canoemen, scowmen, packers, claim-jumpers, gamblers,
smugglers, cattle-rustlers, timber thieves--and these he dominated and
ruled absolutely.

Without exception, these men feared him--his authority over them was
unquestioned.  Because they had confidence in his judgment and cunning,
and because under his direction they made more money, and made it
easier, and at infinitely less risk, than they ever made by playing a
lone hand, they accepted his domination cheerfully.  And such was his
disposition of the men who were the component parts of his system of
criminal efficiency, that few, if any, were there among them who could,
even if he so desired, have furnished evidence that would have
seriously incriminated the leader.

The men who ran whiskey across the line, _cached_ it.  Other men,
unknown to them, disguised it as innocent freight and delivered it to
the scowmen.  The scowmen turned it over to others who, for all they
knew, were bona fide settlers or free-traders; and from their _cache_,
the canoemen carried it far into the wilderness and either stored it in
some inaccessible rendezvous or _cached_ it where still others would
come and distribute it among the Indians.

Each division undoubtedly suspected the others, but none but the leader
_knew_.  And, as it was with the whiskey-running, so was it with each
of his various undertakings.  Religiously, Pierre Lapierre followed the
scriptural injunction; "Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand
doeth."  He confided in no man.  And few, indeed, were the defections
among his retainers.  A few had rebelled, as Vermilion had
rebelled--and with like result.  The man dismissed from Lapierre's
service entered no other.

Moreover, he invariably contrived to implicate one whom he intended to
use, in some crime of a graver nature than he would be called upon to
commit in the general run of his duties.  This crime he would stage in
some fastness where its detection by an officer of the Mounted was
exceedingly unlikely; and most commonly consisted in the murder of an
Indian, whose weighted body would be lowered to the bottom of a
convenient lake or river.  Lapierre witnesses would appear and the man
was irrevocably within the toil.  Had he chosen, Pierre Lapierre could
have lowered a grappling hook unerringly upon a dozen weighted
skeletons.

Over the head of the recruit now hung an easily proven charge of
murder.  If during his future activities as whiskey-runner, smuggler,
or in whatever particular field of endeavour he was assigned, plans
should miscarry--an arrest be made--this man would take his prison
sentence in silence rather than seek to implicate Lapierre, who with a
word could summon the witnesses that would swear the hemp about his
neck.

The system worked.  Now and again plans did miscarry--arrests were made
by the Mounted, men were caught "with the goods," or arrested upon
evidence that even Lapierre's intricate alibi scheme could not refute.
But, upon conviction, the unlucky prisoner always accepted his
sentence--for at his shoulder stalked a spectre, and in his heart was
the fear lest the thin lips of Pierre Lapierre would speak.

With such consummate skill and finesse _did_ Lapierre plot, however,
and with such Machiavelian cunning and _éclat_ were his plans carried
out, that few failed.  And those that did were credited by the
authorities to individual or sporadic acts, rather than to the work of
an intricate organization presided over by a master mind.

The gang numbered, all told, upward of two hundred of the hardest
characters upon the frontier.  Only Lapierre knew its exact strength,
but each member knew that if he did not "run straight"--if he, by word
or act or deed, sought to implicate an accomplice--his life would be
worth just exactly the price of "the powder to blow him to hell."

A few there were outside the organization who suspected Pierre
Lapierre--but only a few: an officer or two of the Mounted and a few
factors of the H.B.C.  But these could prove nothing.  They bided their
time.  One man _knew_ him for what he was.  One, in all the North, as
powerful in his way as Lapierre was in his.  The one man who had spies
in Lapierre's employ, and who did not fear him.  The one man Pierre
Lapierre feared--Bob MacNair.  And he, too, bided his time.



CHAPTER VIII

A SHOT IN THE NIGHT

As Lapierre made his way to the camp of the Indians he pondered deeply.
For Lapierre was troubled.  The fact that MacNair had twice come upon
him unexpectedly within the space of a month caused him grave concern.
He did not know that it was entirely by chance that MacNair had found
him, an unwelcome sojourner at Fort Rae.  Accusations and
recriminations had passed between them, with the result that MacNair,
rough, bluff, and ready to fight at any time, had pounded the
quarter-breed to within an inch of his life, and then, to the
undisguised delight of the men of the H.B.C., had dragged him out and
pitched him ignominiously into the lake.

Either could have killed the other then and there.  But each knew that
to have done so, as the result of a personal quarrel, would have been
the worst move he could possibly have made.  And the forebearance with
which MacNair fought and Lapierre suffered was each man's measure of
greatness.  MacNair went about his business, and to Lapierre came
Chenoine with his story of the girl and the plot of Vermilion, and
Lapierre, forgetting MacNair for the moment, made a dash for the Slave
River.

For years Lapierre and MacNair had been at loggerheads.  Each
recognized in the other a foe of no mean ability.  Each had sworn to
drive the other out of the North.  And each stood at the head of a
powerful organization which could be depended upon to fight to the last
gasp when the time came to "lock horns" in the final issue.  Both
leaders realized that the show-down could not be long delayed--a year,
perhaps--two years--it would make no difference.  The clash was
inevitable.  Neither sought to dodge the crisis, nor did either seek to
hasten it.  But each knew that events were shaping themselves, the
stage was set, and the drama of the wilds was wearing to its final
scene.

From the moment of his meeting with Chloe Elliston, Lapierre had
realized the value of an alliance with her against MacNair.  And being
a man whose creed it was to turn every possible circumstance to his own
account, he set about to win her co-operation.  When, during the course
of their first conversation, she casually mentioned that she could
command millions if she wanted them, his immediate interest in MacNair
cooled appreciably--not that MacNair was to be forgotten--merely that
his undoing was to be deferred for a season, while he, the Pierre
Lapierre once more of student days, played an old game--a game long
forgot in the press of sterner life, but one at which he once excelled.

"A game of hearts," the man had smiled to himself--"a game in which the
risk is nothing and the stakes----  With millions one may accomplish
much in the wilderness, or retire into smug respectability--who knows?
Or, losing, if worse comes to worst, a lady who can command millions,
held prisoner, should be worth dickering for.  Ah, yes, dear lady!  By
all means, you shall be helped to Christianize the North!  To educate
the Indians--how did she say it?  'So that they may come and receive
that which is theirs of right'--fah!  These women!"

While the scows rushed northward his plans had been laid--plans that
included a masterstroke against MacNair and the placing of the girl
absolutely within his power in one move.  And so Pierre Lapierre had
accompanied Chloe to the mouth of the Yellow Knife, selected the site
for her school, and generously remained upon the ground to direct the
erection of her buildings.

Up to that point his plans had carried with but two minor frustrations:
he was disappointed in not having been allowed to build a stockade, and
he had been forced prematurely to show his hand to MacNair.  The first
was the mere accident of a woman's whim, and had been offset to a great
extent in the construction of the trading-post and store-house.

The second, however, was of graver importance and deeper significance.
While the girl's faith in him had, apparently, remained unshaken by her
interview with MacNair, MacNair himself would be on his guard.
Lapierre ground his teeth with rage at the Scotchman's accurate
comprehension of the situation, and he feared that the man's words
might raise a suspicion in Chloe's mind; a fear that was in a great
measure allayed by her eager acceptance of his offer of assistance in
the matter of supplies, and--had he not already sown the seeds of a
deeper regard?  Once she had become his wife!  The black eyes glittered
as the man threaded the trail toward the camp, where his own tent
showed white amid the smoke-blackened teepees of the Indians.

The thing, however, that caused him the greatest uneasiness was the
suspicion that there was a leak in his system.  How had MacNair known
that he would be at Fort Rae?  Why had he come down the Yellow Knife?
And why had the two Indian scouts failed to report the man's coming?
Only one of the Indians had returned at all, and his report that the
other had been killed by one of MacNair's retainers had seemed
unconvincing.  However, Lapierre had accepted the story, but all
through the days of the building he had secretly watched him.  The man
was one of his trusted Indians--so was the one he reported killed.

Upon the outskirts of the camp Lapierre halted--thinking.  LeFroy had
also watched--he must see LeFroy.  Picking his way among the teepees,
he advanced to his own tent.  Groups of Indians and half-breeds,
hunched about their fires, were eating supper.  They eyed him
respectfully as he passed, and in response to a signal, LeFroy arose
and followed him to the tent.

Once inside, Lapierre fixed his eyes upon the boss canoeman.

"Well--you have watched Apaw--what have you found out?"

"Apaw--I'm t'ink she spik de trut'."

"Speak the truth--_hell_!  Why didn't he get down here ahead of
MacNair, then?  What have I got spies for--to drag in after MacNair's
gone and tell me he's been here?"

LeFroy shrugged.  "MacNair Injuns--dey com' pret' near catch Apaw--dey
keel Stamix.  Apaw, she got 'way by com' roun' by de Black Fox."

Lapierre nodded, scowling.  He trusted LeFroy; and having recognized in
him one as unscrupulous and nearly as resourceful and penetrating as
himself, had placed him in charge of the canoemen, the men who, in the
words of the leader, "kept cases on the North," and to whose lot fell
the final distribution of the whiskey to the Indians.  But so, also,
had he trusted the boasting, flaunting Vermilion.

"All right; but keep your eye on him," he said, smiling sardonically,
"and you may learn a lesson.  Now you listen to me.  You are to stay
here.  Miss Elliston wants you for her chief trader.  Make out your
list of supplies--fill that storehouse up with stuff.  She wants you to
undersell the H.B.C.--and you do it.  Get the trade in here--see?  Keep
your prices down to just below Company prices, and then skin 'em on the
fur--and--well, I don't need to tell you how.  Give 'em plenty of debt
and we'll fix the books.  Pick put a half-dozen of your best men and
keep 'em here.  Tell 'em to obey Miss Elliston's orders; and whatever
you do, keep cases on MacNair.  But don't start anything.  Pass the
word out and fill up her school.  Give her plenty to do, and keep 'em
orderly.  I'll handle the canoemen and pick up the fur, and then I've
got to drop down the river and run in the supplies.  I'll run in some
rifles, and some of the _stuff_, too."

LeFroy looked at his chief in surprise.

"Vermilion--she got ten keg on de scow--" he began.

Lapierre laughed.

"Vermilion, eh?  Do you know where Vermilion is?"

LeFroy shook his head.

"He's in hell--that's where _he_ is--I dismissed him from my service.
He didn't run straight.  Some others went along with him--and there are
more to follow.  Vermilion thought he could double-cross me and get
away with it."  And again he laughed.

LeFroy shuddered and made no comment.  Lapierre continued:

"Make out your list of supplies, and if I don't show up in the mean
time, meet me at the mouth of the Slave three weeks from today.  I've
got to count days if I get back before the freeze-up.  And remember
this--you are working for Miss Elliston; we've got a big thing if we
work it right; we've got MacNair where we want him at last.  She thinks
he's running in whiskey and raising hell with the Indians north of
here.  Keep her thinking so; and later, when it comes to a
show-down--well, she is not only rich, but she's in good at
Ottawa--see?"

LeFroy nodded.  He was a man of few words, was LeFroy; dour and
taciturn, but a man of brains and one who stood in wholesome fear of
his master.

"And now," continued Lapierre, "break camp and load the canoes.  I must
pull out tonight.  Pick out your men and move 'em at once into the
barracks.  You understand everything now?"

"_Oui_," answered LeFroy, and stepping from the tent, passed swiftly
from fire to fire, issuing commands in low guttural.  Lapierre rolled a
cigarette, and taking a guitar from its case, seated himself upon his
blankets and played with the hand of a master as he sang a love-song of
old France.  All about him sounded the clatter of lodge-poles, the thud
of packs, and the splashing of water as the big canoes were pushed into
the river and loaded.

Presently LeFroy's head thrust in at the entrance.  He spoke no word;
Lapierre sang on, and the head was withdrawn.  When the song was
finished the sounds from the outside had ceased.  Lapierre carefully
replaced his guitar in its case, drew a heavy revolver from its
holster, threw it open, and twirled the cylinder with his thumb,
examining carefully its chambers.  His brows drew together and his lips
twisted into a diabolical smile.

Lapierre was a man who took no chances.  What was one Indian, more or
less, beside the absolute integrity of his organization?  He stepped
outside, and instantly the guy-ropes of the tent were loosened; the
canvas slouched to the ground and was folded into a neat pack.  The
blankets were made into a compact roll, with the precious guitar in the
centre and deposited in the head canoe.  Lapierre glanced swiftly about
him; nothing but the dying fires and the abandoned lodge-poles
indicated the existence of the camp.  On the shore the canoemen,
leaning on their paddles, awaited the word of command.

He stepped to the water's edge, where, Apaw the Indian, stood with the
others.  For just a moment the baleful eyes of Lapierre fixed the
silent figure; then his words cut sharply upon the silence.

"Apaw--_Chahco yahkwa_!"  The Indian advanced, evidently proud of
having been singled out by the chief, and stood before him, paddle in
hand.  Lapierre spoke no word; seconds passed, the silence grew
intense.  The hand that gripped the paddle shook suddenly; and then,
looking straight into the man's eyes, Lapierre drew his revolver and
fired.  There was a quick spurt of red flame--the sound of the shot
rang sharp, and rang again as the opposite bank of the river hurled
back the sound.  The Indian pitched heavily forward and fell across his
paddle, snapping it in two.

Lapierre glanced over the impassive faces of the canoemen.

"This man was a traitor," he said in their own language.  "I have
dismissed him from my service.  Weight him and shove off!"

The quarter-breed stepped into his canoe.  The canoemen bound heavy
stones to the legs of the dead Indian, laid the body upon the camp
equipage amidship, and silently took their places.


During the evening meal, Chloe was unusually silent, answering Miss
Penny's observations and queries in short, detached monosyllables.
Later she stole out alone to a high, rocky headland that commanded a
sweeping view of the river, and sat with her back against the broad
trunk of a twisted banskian.

The long Northern twilight hung about her like a pall--seemed
enveloping, smothering her.  No faintest breath of air stirred the piny
needles above her, nor ruffled the surface of the river, whose black
waters, far below, flowed broad and deep and silent--smoothly--like a
river of oil.  Ominously hushed, secretive, it slipped out of the
motionless dark.  Silently portentous, it faded again into the dark,
the mysterious half-dark, where the gradually deepening twilight
blended the distance into the enshrouding pall of gloom.  Involuntarily
the girl shuddered and started nervously at the splash of an otter.  A
billion mosquitoes droned their unceasing monotone.  The low sound was
everywhere--among the branches of the gnarled banskian, above the
surface of the river, and on and on and on, to whine thinly between the
little stars.

It was not at all the woman who would conquer a wilderness, that
huddled in a dejected little heap at the foot of the banskian; but a
very miserable and depressed girl, who swallowed hard to keep down the
growing lump in her throat, and bit her lip, and stared with wide eyes
toward the southward.  Hot tears--tears of bitter, heart-sickening
loneliness--filled her eyes and trickled unheeded down her cheeks
beneath the tightly drawn mosquito-net.

Darkness deepened, imperceptibly, surely, fore-shortening the horizon,
and by just so much increasing the distance that separated her from her
people.

"Poor fool moose-calf," she murmured, "you weren't satisfied to follow
the beaten trails.  You had to find a land of your own--a land that----"

The whispered words trailed into silence, and to her mind's eye
appeared the face of the man who had spoken those words--the face of
Brute MacNair.  She saw him as he stood that day and faced her among
the freshly chopped stumps of the clearing.

"He is rough and bearlike--boorish," she thought, as she remembered
that the man had not removed his hat in her presence.  "He called me
names.  He is uncouth, cynical, egotistical.  He thinks he can scare me
into leaving his Indians alone."  Her lips trembled and tightened.  "I
am a woman, and I'll show him what a woman can do.  He has lived among
the Indians until he thinks he owns them.  He is hard, and domineering,
and uncompromising, and skeptical.  And yet--"  What gave her pause was
so intangible, so chaotic, in her own mind as to form itself into no
definite idea.

"He is brutish and brutal and bad!" she muttered aloud at the memory of
Lapierre's battered face, and immediately fell to comparing the two men.

Each seemed exactly what the other was not.  Lapierre was handsome,
debonair, easy of speech, and graceful of movement; deferential,
earnest, at times even pensive, and the possessor of ideals; generous
and accommodating to a fault, if a trifle cynical; maligned, hated,
discredited by the men who ruled the North, yet brave and infinitely
capable--she remembered the swift fate of Vermilion.

His was nothing of the rugged candour of MacNair--the bluff
straightforwardness that overrides opposition; ignores criticism.
MacNair fitted the North--the big, brutal, insatiate North--the North
of storms, of cold and fighting things; of foaming, roaring white-water
and seething, blinding blizzards.

Chloe's glance strayed out over the river, where the farther bank
showed only the serried sky-line of a wall of jet.

Lapierre was also of the North--the North as it is tonight; soft air,
balmy with the incense of growing things; illusive dark, half
concealing, half revealing, blurring distant outlines.  A placid North,
whose black waters flowed silent, smooth, deep.  A benign and harmless
North, upon its surface; and yet, withal, portentous of things unknown.

The girl shuddered and arose to her feet, and, as she did so, from up
the river--from the direction of the Indian camp--came the sharp, quick
sound of a shot.  Then silence--a silence that seemed unending to the
girl who waited breathlessly, one hand grasping the rough bark of the
gnarled tree, and the other shading her eyes as thought to aid them in
their effort to pierce the gloom.

A long time she stood thus, peering into the dark, and then, an
indistinct form clove the black water of the river, and a long body
slipped noiselessly toward her, followed by another, and another.

"The canoes!" she cried, as she watched the sparkling starlight play
upon the long Y-shaped ripples that rolled back from their bows.

Once more the sense of loneliness almost overcame her.  Pierre Lapierre
was going out of the North.

She could see the figures of the paddlers, now--blurred, and
indistinct, and unrecognizable--distinguishable more by the spaces that
showed between them, than by their own outlines.

They were almost beneath her.  Should she call out?  One last _bon
voyage_?  The sound of a voice floated upward; a hard, rasping voice,
unfamiliar, yet strangely familiar.  In the leading canoe the Indians
ceased paddling.  The canoe lost momentum and drifted broadside to the
current.  The men were lifting something; something long and dark.
There was a muffled splash, and the dark object disappeared.  The
canoemen picked up their paddles, and the canoe swung into its course
and disappeared around a point.  The other canoes followed; and the
river rolled on as before--black--oily--sinister.

A broad cloud, pall-like, threatening, which had mounted unnoticed by
the girl, blotted out the light of the stars, as if to hide from alien
eyes some unlovely secret of the wilds.

The darkness was real, now; and Chloe, in a sudden panic of terror,
dashed wildly for the clearing--stumbling--crashing through the bush as
she ran; her way lighted at intervals by flashes of distant lightning.
She paused upon the verge of the bank at the point where it entered the
clearing; at the point where the wilderness crowded menacingly her
little outpost of civilization.  Panting, she stood and stared out over
the smooth flowing, immutable river.

A lightning flash, nearer and more vivid than any preceding, lighted
for an instant the whole landscape.  Then, the mighty crash of thunder,
and the long, hoarse moan of wind, and in the midst of it, that other
sound--the horrible sound that once before had sent her dashing
breathless from the night--the demoniacal, mocking laugh of the great
loon.

With a low, choking sob, the girl fled toward the little square of
light that glowed from the window of her cabin.



CHAPTER IX

ON SNARE LAKE

When Bob MacNair left Chloe Elliston's camp, he swung around by the way
of Mackay Lake, a detour that required two weeks' time and added
immeasurably to the discomfort of the journey.  Day by day, upon lake,
river, and portage, Old Elk and Wee Johnnie Tamarack wondered much at
his silence and the unwonted hardness of his features.

These two Indians knew MacNair.  For ten years, day and night, they had
stood at his beck and call; had followed him through all the vast
wilderness that lies between the railways and the frozen sea.  They had
slept with him, had feasted and starved with him, at his shoulder faced
death in a hundred guises, and they loved him as men love their God.
They had followed him during the lean years when, contrary to the
wishes of his father, the stern-eyed factor at Fort Norman, he had
refused the offers of the company and devoted his time, winter and
summer, to the exploration of rivers and lakes, rock ridges and
mountains, and the tundra that lay between, in search of the lost
copper mines of the Indians; the mines that lured Hearne into the North
in 1771, and which Hearne forgot in the discovery of a fur empire so
vast as to stagger belief.

But, as the canoe forged northward, Old Elk and Wee Johnnie Tamarack
held their peace, and when they arrived at the fort, MacNair growled an
order, and sought his cabin beside the wall of the stockade.

A half hour later, when the Indians had gathered in response to the
hurried word of Old Elk and Wee Johnnie Tamarack, MacNair stepped from
his cabin and addressed them in their own language, or rather in the
jargon--the compromise language of the North--by means of which the
minds of white men and Indians meet on common ground.  He warned them
against Pierre Lapierre, the _kultus_ breed of whom most of them
already knew, and he told them of the girl and her school at the mouth
of the Yellow Knife.  And then, in no uncertain terms, he commanded
them to have nothing whatever to do with the school, nor with Lapierre.
Whereupon, Sotenah, a leader among the young men, arose, and after a
long and flowery harangue in which he lauded and extolled the wisdom of
MacNair and the benefits and advantages that accrued to the Indians by
reason of his patronage, vociferously counselled a summary descent upon
the fort of the _Mesahchee Kloochman_.

The proclamation was received with loud acclaim, and it was with no
little difficulty that MacNair succeeded in quieting the turbulence and
restoring order.  After which he rebuked Sotenah severely and laid
threat upon the Indians that if so much as a hair of the white
_kloochman_ was harmed he would kill, with his own hand, the man who
wrought the harm.

As for Pierre Lapierre and his band, they must be crushed and driven
out of the land of the lakes and the rivers, but the time was not yet.
He, MacNair, would tell them when to strike, and only if Lapierre's
Indians were found prowling about the vicinity of Snare Lake were they
to be molested.

The Indians dispersed and, slinging a rifle over his shoulder, MacNair
swung off alone into the bush.

Bob MacNair knew the North; knew its lakes and its rivers, its forests
and its treeless barrens.  He knew its hardships, dangers and
limitations, and he knew its gentler moods, its compensations, and its
possibilities.  Also, he knew its people, its savage primitive children
who call it home, and its invaders--good and bad, and worse than bad.
The men who infest the last frontier, pushing always northward for
barter, or for the saving of souls.

He understood Pierre Lapierre, his motives and his methods.  But the
girl he did not understand, and her presence on the Yellow Knife
disturbed him not a little.  Had chance thrown her into the clutches of
Lapierre?  And had the man set about deliberately to use her school as
an excuse for the establishment of a trading-post within easy reach of
his Indians?  MacNair was inclined to believe so--and the matter caused
him grave concern.  He foresaw trouble ahead, and a trouble that might
easily involve the girl who, he felt, was entirely innocent of
wrongdoing.

His jaw clamped hard as he swung on and on through the scrub.  He had
no particular objective, a problem faced him and, where other men would
have sat down to work its solution, he walked.

In many things was Bob MacNair different from other men.  Just and
stern beyond his years, with a sternness that was firmness rather than
severity; slow to anger, but once his anger was fairly aroused terrible
in meting out his vengeance.  Yet, withal, possessed of an
understanding and a depth of sympathy, entirely unsuspected by himself,
but which enshrined him in the hearts of his Indians, who, in all the
world were the men and women who knew him.

Even his own father had not understood this son, who devoured books as
ravenously as his dogs devoured salmon.  Again and again he
remonstrated with him for wasting his time when he might be working for
the company.  Always the younger man listened respectfully, and
continued to read his books and to search for the lost mines with a
determination and singleness of purpose that aroused the secret
approbation of the old Scotchman, and the covert sneers and scoffings
of others.

And then, after four years of fruitless search, at the base of a ridge
that skirted the shore of an unmapped lake, he uncovered the mouth of
an ancient tunnel with rough-hewn sides and a floor that sloped from
the entrance.  Imbedded in the slime on the bottom of a pool of
stinking water, he found curious implements, rudely chipped from flint
and slate, and a few of bone and walrus ivory.  Odd-shaped,
half-finished tools of hammered copper were strewn about the floor, and
the walls were thickly coated with verdigris.  Instead of the sharp
ring of steel on stone, a dull thud followed the stroke of his pick,
and its scars glowed with a red lustre in the flare of the smoking
torches.

Old Elk and Wee Johnnie Tamarack looked on in stolid silence, while the
young man, with wildly beating heart, crammed a pack-sack with samples.
He had found the ancient mine--the lost mine of the Indians, which men
said existed only in the fancy of Bob MacNair's brain!  Carefully
sealing the tunnel, the young man headed for Fort Norman; and never did
Old Elk and Wee Johnnie Tamarack face such a trail.  Down the raging
torrent of the Coppermine, across the long portage to the Dismal Lakes,
and then by portage and river to Dease Bay, across the two hundred
miles of Great Bear Lake, and down the Bear River to their destination.

Seven hundred long miles they covered, at a man-killing pace that
brought them into the fort, hollow-eyed and gaunt, and with their
bodies swollen and raw from the sting of black flies and mosquitoes
that swarmed through the holes in their tattered garments.

The men wolfed down the food that was set before them by an Indian
woman, and then, while Old Elk and Wee Johnnie Tamarack slept, the
chief trader led Bob MacNair to the grave of his father.

"'Twas his heart, lad, or somethin' busted inside him," explained the
old man.  "After supper it was, two weeks agone.  He was sittin' i' his
chair wi' his book an' his pipe, an' me in anither beside him.  He gi'
a deep sigh, like, an' his book fell to the ground and his pipe.  When
I got to him his head was leant back ag'in his chair--and he was dead."

Bob MacNair nodded, and the chief trader returned to the store, leaving
the young man standing silent beside the fresh-turned mound with its
rudely fashioned wooden cross, that stood among the other grass-grown
mounds whose wooden crosses, with their burned inscriptions, were
weather-grey and old.  For a long time he stood beside the little
crosses that lent a solemn dignity to the rugged heights of Fort Norman.

It cannot be said that Bob MacNair had loved his father, in the
generally accepted sense of the word.  But he had admired and respected
him above all other men, and his first thought upon the discovery of
the lost mine was to vindicate his course in the eyes of this stern,
just man who had so strongly advised against it.

For the opinion of others he cared not the snap of his fingers.  But,
to read approval in the deep-set eyes of his father, and to hear the
deep, rich voice of him raised, at last, in approbation, rather than
reproach, he had defied death and pushed himself and his Indians to the
limit of human endurance.  And he had arrived too late.  The bitterness
of the young man's soul found expression only in a hardening of the jaw
and a clenching of the mighty fists.  For, in the heart of him, he knew
that in the future, no matter what the measure of the world might be,
always, deep within him would rankle the bitter disappointment--the
realization that this old man had gone to his grave believing that his
son was a fool and a wastrel.

Slowly he turned from the spot and, with heavy steps, entered the
post-store.  He raised the pack that contained the samples from the
floor, and, walking to the verge of the high cliff that overlooked the
river, hurled it far out over the water, where it fell with a dull
splash that was drowned in the roar of the rapids.

"Ye'll tak' charge here the noo, laddie?" asked McTurk, the grizzled
chief trader, the following day when MacNair had concluded the
inspection of his father's papers.  "'Twad be what _he'd_ ha'
counselled!"

"No," answered the young man shortly, and, without a word as to the
finding of the lost mine, hurried Old Elk and Wee Johnnie Tamarack into
a canoe and headed southward.

A month later the officers of the Hudson Bay Company in Winnipeg gasped
in surprise at the offer of young MacNair to trade the broad acres to
which his father had acquired title in the wheat belt of Saskatchewan
and Alberta for a vast tract of barren ground in the subarctic.  They
traded gladly, and when the young man heard that his dicker had earned
for him the name of Fool MacNair in the conclave of the mighty, he
smiled--and bought more barrens.

All of which had happened eight years before Chloe Elliston defied him
among the stumps of her clearing, and in the interim much had
transpired.  In the heart of his barrens he built a post and collected
about him a band of Indians who soon learned that those who worked in
the mines had a far greater number of brass tokens of "made beaver" to
their credit than those who trapped fur.

Those were hard years for Bob MacNair; years in which he worked day and
night with his Indians, and paid them, for the most part, in promises.
But always he fed them and clothed them and their women and children,
although to do so stretched his credit to the limit--raised the
limit--and raised it again.

He uncovered vast deposits of copper, only to realize that, until he
could devise a cheaper method of transportation, the metal might as
well have remained where the forgotten miners had left it.  And it was
while he was at work upon his transportation problem that the shovels
of his Indians began to throw out golden grains from the bed of a
buried creek.

When the news of gold reached the river, there was a stampede.  But
MacNair owned the land and his Indians were armed.  There was a short,
sharp battle, and the stampeders returned to the rivers to nurse their
grievance and curse Brute MacNair.

He paid his debt to the Company and settled with his Indians, who
suddenly found themselves rich.  And then Bob MacNair learned a lesson
which he never forgot--his Indians could not stand prosperity.  Most of
those who had stood by him all through the lean years when he had
provided them only a bare existence, took their newly acquired wealth
and departed for the white man's country.  Some returned--broken husks
of the men who departed.  Many would never return, and for their
undoing MacNair reproached himself unsparingly, the while he devised an
economic system of his own, and mined his gold and worked out his
transportation problem upon a more elaborate scale.  The harm had been
done, however; his Indians were known to be rich, and MacNair found his
colony had become the cynosure of the eyes of the whiskey-runners, the
chiefest among whom was Pierre Lapierre.  It was among these men that
the name of Brute, first used by the beaten stampeders, came into
general use--a fitting name, from their viewpoint--for when one of them
chanced to fall into his hands, his moments became at once fraught with
tribulation.

And so MacNair had become a power in the Northland, respected by the
officers of the Hudson Bay Company, a friend of the Indians, and a
terror to those who looked upon the red man as their natural prey.

Step by step, the events that had been the milestones of this man's
life recurred to his mind as he tramped tirelessly through the scrub
growth of the barrens toward a spot upon the shore of the lake--the
only grass plot within a radius of five hundred miles.  Throwing
himself down beside a low, sodded mound in the centre of the plot, he
idly watched the great flocks of water fowls disport themselves upon
the surface of the lake.

How long he lay there, he had no means of knowing, when suddenly his
ears detected the soft swish of paddles.  He leaped to his feet and,
peering toward the water, saw, close to the shore, a canoe manned by
four stalwart paddlers.  He looked closer, scarcely able to credit his
eyes.  And at the same moment, in response to a low-voiced order, the
canoe swung abruptly shoreward and grated upon the shingle of the
beach.  Two figures stepped out, and Chloe Elliston, followed by Big
Lena, advanced boldly toward him.  MacNair's jaw closed with a snap as
the girl approached smiling.  For in the smile was no hint of
friendliness--only defiance, not unmingled with contempt.

"You see, Mr. Brute MacNair," she said, "I have kept my word.  I told
you I would invade your kingdom--and here I am."

MacNair did not reply, but stood leaning upon his rifle.  His attitude
angered her.

"Well," she said, "what are you going to do about it?"  Still the man
did not answer, and, stooping, plucked a tiny weed from among the
blades of grass.  The girl's eyes followed his movements.  She started
and looked searchingly into his face.  For the first time she noticed
that the mound was a grave.



CHAPTER X

AN INTERVIEW

"Oh, forgive me!" Chloe cried, "I--I did not know that I was intruding
upon--sacred ground!"  There was real concern in her voice, and the
lines of Bob MacNair's face softened.

"It is no matter," he said.  "She who sleeps here will not be
disturbed."

The unlooked for gentleness of the man's tone, the simple dignity of
his words, went straight to Chloe Elliston's heart.  She felt suddenly
ashamed of her air of flippant defiance, felt mean, and small, and
self-conscious.  She forgot for the moment that this big, quiet man who
stood before her was rough, even boorish in his manner, and that he was
the oppressor and debaucher of Indians.

"A--a woman's grave?" faltered the girl.

"My mother's."

"Did _she_ live here, on Snare Lake?" Chloe asked in surprise, as her
glance swept the barren cliffs of its shore.

MacNair answered with the same softness of tone that somehow dispelled
all thought of his uncouthness.  "No.  She lived at Fort Norman, over
on the Mackenzie--that is, she died there.  Her home, I think, was in
the Southland.  My father used to tell me how she feared the
North---its snows and bitter cold, its roaring, foaming rivers, its
wild, fierce storms, and its wind-lashed lakes.  She hated its rugged
cliffs and hills, its treeless barrens and its mean, scrubby timber.
She loved the warm, long summers, and the cities and people, and--" he
paused, knitting his brows--"and whatever there is to love in your land
of civilization.  But she loved my father more than these--more than
she feared the North.  My father was the factor at Fort Norman, so she
stayed in the North--and the North killed her.  To live in the North,
one must love the North.  She died calling for the green grass of her
Southland."

He ceased speaking and unconsciously stooped and plucked a few spears
of grass which he held in his palm and examined intently.

"Why should one die calling for the sight of grass?" he asked abruptly,
gazing into Chloe's eyes with a puzzled look.

The girl gazed directly, searchingly into MacNair's eyes.  The naive
frankness of him--his utter simplicity--astounded her.

"Oh!" she cried, impulsively stepping forward.  "It wasn't the
_grass_--it was--oh! _can't_ you _see_?"  The man regarded her
wonderingly and shook his head.

"No," he answered gravely.  "I can not see."

"It was--everything!  Life--friends--home!  The grass was only the
symbol--the tangible emblem that stood for life!"  MacNair nodded, but,
by the look in his eye, Chloe knew that he did not understand and that
pride and a certain natural reserve sealed his lips from further
questioning.

"It is far to the Mackenzie," ventured the girl.

"Aye, far.  After my father died I brought her here."

"You!  Brought her here!" she exclaimed, staring in surprise into the
strong emotionless face.

The man nodded slowly.  "In the winter it was--and I came
alone--dragging her body upon a sled----"

"But why----"

"Because I think she would have wished it so.  If one hated the wild,
rugged cliffs and the rock-tossed rapids, would one wish to lie upon a
cliff with the rapids roaring, for ever and ever?  I do not think that,
so I brought her here--away from the grey hills and the ceaseless roar
of the rapids."

"But the grass?"

"I brought that from the Southland.  I failed many times before I found
a kind that would grow.  It is little I can do for her, and she does
not know, but, somehow, it has made me feel--easier--I cannot tell you
exactly.  I come here often."

"I think she _does_ know," said Chloe softly, and brushed hot tears
from her eyes.  Could _this_ be the man whose crimes against the poor,
ignorant savages were the common knowledge of the North?  Could this be
he whom men called Brute--this simple-spoken, straightforward, boyish
man who had endured hardships and spared no effort, that the mother he
had never known might lie in her eternal rest beneath the green sod of
her native land, far from the sights, and sounds that, in life, had
become a torture to her soul, and worn her, at last, to the grave?

"Mr.--MacNair."  The hard note--the note of uncompromising
antagonism--had gone from her voice, and the man looked at her in
surprise.  It was the first time she had addressed him without
prefixing the name Brute and emphasizing the prefix.  He stood,
regarding her calmly, waiting for her to proceed.  Somehow, Chloe found
that it had become very difficult for her to speak; to say the things
to this man that she had intended to say.  "I cannot understand
you--your viewpoint."

"Why should you try?  I ask no one to understand me.  I care not what
people think."

"About the Indians, I mean----"

"The Indians?  What do you know of my viewpoint in regard to the
Indians?"  The man's face had hardened at her mention of the Indians.

"I know this!" exclaimed the girl.  "That you are trading them whiskey!
With my own eyes I saw Mr. Lapierre smash your kegs--the kegs that were
cunningly disguised as bales of freight and marked with your name, and
I saw the whiskey spilled out upon the ground."

She paused, expecting a denial, but MacNair remained silent and again
she saw the peculiar twinkle in his eye as he waited for her to
proceed.  "And I--you, yourself told me that you would kill some of Mr.
Lapierre's Indians!  Do you call that justice--to kill men because they
happen to be in the employ of a rival trader--one who has as much right
to trade in the Northland as you have?"

Again she paused, but the man ignored her question.

"Go on," he said shortly.

"And you told me your Indians had to work so hard they had no time for
book-learning, and that the souls of the Indians were black as--as
hell."

"And I told you, also, that I have never owned any whiskey.  Why do you
believe me in some things and not in others?  It would seem more
consistent, Miss Chloe Elliston, for you either to believe or to
disbelieve me."

"But, I _saw_ the whiskey.  And as for what you, yourself, told me--a
man will scarcely make himself out worse than he is."

"At least, I can scarcely make myself out worse than you believe me to
be."  The twinkle was gone from MacNair's eyes now, and he spoke more
gruffly.  "Of what use is all this talk?  You are firmly convinced of
my character.  Your opinion of me concerns me not at all.  Even if I
were to attempt to make my position clear to you, you would not believe
anything I should tell you."

"What defence can there be to conduct such as yours?"

"Defence!  Do you imagine I would stoop to defend my conduct to
_you_--to one who is, either wittingly or unwittingly, hand in glove
with Pierre Lapierre?"

The unconcealed scorn of the man's words stung Chloe to the quick.

"Pierre Lapierre is a man!" she cried with flashing eyes.  "He is
neither afraid nor ashamed to declare his principles.  He is the friend
of the Indians--and God knows they need a friend--living as they do by
sufferance of such men as you, and the men of the Hudson Bay Company!"

"You believe that, I think," MacNair said quietly.  "I wonder if you
are really such a fool, or do you know Lapierre for what he is?"

"Yes!" exclaimed the girl, her face flushed.  "I _do_ know him for what
he is!  He is a _man_!  He knows the North.  I am learning the North,
and together we will drive you and your kind out of the North."

"You cannot do that," he said.  "Lapierre, I will crush as I would
crush a snake.  I bear you no ill will.  As you say, you will learn the
North--for you will remain in the North.  I told you once that you
would soon tire of your experiment, but I was wrong.  Your eyes are the
eyes of a fighting man."

"Thank you, Mr.--MacNair----"

"Why not Brute MacNair?"

Chloe shook her head.  "No," she said.  "Not that--not after--I think I
shall call you Bob MacNair."

The man looked perplexed.  "Women are not like men," he said, simply.
"I do not understand you at times.  Tell me--why did you come into the
North?"

"I thought I had made that plain.  I came to bring education to the
Indians.  To do what I can to lighten their burden and to make it
possible for them to compete with the white man on the white man's
terms when this country shall bow before the inevitable advance of
civilization; when it has ceased to be the land beyond the outposts."

"We are working together then," answered, MacNair.  "When you have
learned the North we shall be--friends."

"Never!  I----"

"Because you will have learned," he continued, ignoring her protest,
"that education is the last thing the Indians need.  If you can make
better trappers and hunters of them; teach them to work in mines,
timber, on the rivers, you will come nearer to solving their problem
than by giving them all the education in the world.  No, Miss Chloe
Elliston, they can't play the white man's game--with the white man's
chips."

"But they can!  In the States we----"

"Why didn't you stay in the States?"

"Because the government looks after the education of the
Indians--provides schools and universities, and----"

"And what do they turn out?"

"They turn out lawyers and doctors and engineers and ministers of the
gospel, and educated men in all walks of life.  We have Indians in
Congress!"

"How many?  And how many are lawyers and doctors and engineers and
ministers of the gospel?  And how many can truthfully be said to be
'educated men in all walks of life'?  A mere handful!  Where one
succeeds, a hundred fail!  And the others return to their reservation,
dissolute, dissatisfied, to live on the bounty of your government; you,
yourself, will admit that when an Indian does rise into a profession
for which his education has fitted him, he is an object of wonder--a
man to be written about in your newspapers and talked about in your
homes.  And then your sentimentalists--your fools--hold him up as a
type!  Not your educated Indians are reaping the benefit of your
government's belated attention, but those who are following the calling
for which nature has fitted them--stock-raising and small farming on
their allotted reservations.  The educated ones know that the
government will feed and clothe them--why should they exert themselves?

"Here in the North, because the Indians have been dealt with sanely,
and not herded onto restricted reservations, and subjected to the
experiments of departmental fools well-intentioned--and otherwise--they
are infinitely better off.  They are free to roam the woods, to hunt
and to trap and to fish, and they are contented.  They remain at the
posts only long enough to do their trading, and return again to the
wilds.  For the most part they are truthful and sober and honest.  They
can obtain sufficient clothing and enough to eat.  The lakes and the
rivers teem with fish, and the woods and the barrens abound with game,

"Contrast these with the Indians who have come more intimately into
contact with the whites.  You can see them hanging about the depots and
the grogeries and rum shops of the railway towns, degenerate, diseased,
reduced to beggary and petty thievery.  And you do not have to go to
the railway towns to see the effect of your civilization upon them.
Follow the great trade rivers!  From source to mouth, their banks are
lined with the Indians who have come into contact with your
civilization!

"Go to any mission centre!  Do you find that the Indian has taken
kindly to the doctrines it teaches?  Do you find them happy,
God-fearing Indians who embraced Christianity and are living in accord
with its precepts?  You do not!  Except in a very few isolated cases,
like your lawyers and doctors of the states, you will find at the very
gates of the missions, be their denomination what they may, debauchery
and rascality in its most vicious forms.  Read your answer there in the
vice-marked, ragged, emaciated hangers-on of the missions.

"I do not say that this harm is wrought wilfully--on the contrary, I
know it is not.  They are noble and well-meaning men and women who
carry the gospel into the North.  Many of them I know and respect and
admire--Father Desplaines, Father Crossett, the good Father O'Reiley,
and Duncan Fitzgilbert, of my mother's faith.  These men are good men;
noble men, and the true friends of the Indians; in health and in
sickness, in plague, famine, and adversity these men shoulder the red
man's burden, feed, clothe, and doctor him, and nurse him back to
health--or bury him.  With these I have no quarrel, nor with the
religion they teach--in its theory.  It is not bad.  It is good.  These
men are my friends.  They visit me, and are welcome whenever they come.

"Each of these has begged me to allow him to establish a mission among
my Indians.  And my answer is always the same--'_No!_'  And I point to
the mission centres already established.  It is then they tell me that
the deplorable condition exists, not because of the mission, but
_despite_ it."  He paused with a gesture of impatience.  "_Because_!
_Despite_!  A quibble of words!  If the _fact_ remains, what difference
does it make whether it is _because_ or _despite_?  It must be a great
comfort to the unfortunate one who is degraded, diseased, damned, to
know that his degradation, disease, and damnation, were wrought not
_because_, but _despite_.  I think God laughs--even as he pities.  But,
in spite of all they can do, the _fact_ remains.  I do not ask you to
believe me.  Go and see it with your own eyes, and then if you _dare_,
come back and establish another plague spot in God's own wilderness.
The Indian rapidly acquires all the white man's vices--and but few of
his virtues.

"Stop and think what it means to experiment with the future of a
people.  To overthrow their traditions: to confute their beliefs and
superstitions, and to subvert their gods!  And what do you offer them
in return?  Other traditions; other beliefs; another God--and
education!  Do  you dare to assume the responsibility?  Do you dare to
implant in the minds of these people an education--a culture--that will
render them for ever dissatisfied with their lot, and send many of them
to the land of the white man to engage in a feeble and hopeless
struggle after that which is, for them, unattainable?"

"But it is _not_ unattainable!  They----"

"I know your sophisms; your fabrication of theory!"  MacNair
interrupted her almost fiercely.  "The _facts_!  I have seen the
rum-sodden wrecks, the debauched and soul-warped men and women who hang
about your frontier towns, diseased in body and mind, and whose
greatest misfortune is that they live.  These, Miss Chloe Elliston, are
the real monuments to your education.  Do you dare to drive one hundred
to certain degradation that is worse than fiery hell, that you may
point with pride to one who shall attain to the white man's standard of
success?"

"That is not the truth!  I do not believe it!  I _will_ not believe it!"

The steel-grey eyes of the man bored deep into the shining eyes of
brown.  "I know that you do not believe it.  But you are wrong when you
say that you _will_ not believe it.  You are honest and unafraid, and,
therefore, you will learn, and now, one thing further.

"We will say that you succeed in keeping your school, or post, or
mission, from this condition of debauchery--which you will not.  What
then?  Suppose you educate your Indians?  There are no employers in the
North.  None who buy education.  The men who pay out money in the waste
places pay it for bone and brawn, not for brains; they have brains--or
something that answers the purpose--therefore, your educated Indian
must do one of two things--he must go where he can use his education or
he must remain where he is.  In either event he will be the loser.  If
he seeks the land of the white man, he must compete with the white man
on the white man's terms.  He cannot do it.  If he stays here in the
North he must continue to hunt, or trap, or work on the river, or in
the mines, or the timber, and he is ever afterward dissatisfied with
his lot.  More, he has wasted the time he spent in filling his brain
with useless knowledge."

MacNair spoke rapidly and earnestly, and Chloe realized that he spoke
from his heart and also that he spoke from a certain knowledge of his
subject.  She was at a loss for a reply.  She could not dispute him,
for he had told her not to believe him; to go see for herself.  She did
not believe MacNair, but in spite of herself she was impressed.

"The missionaries _are_ doing good!  Their reports show----"

"Their reports show!  Of course their reports show!  Why shouldn't
they?  Where do their reports go?  To the people who pay them their
salaries!  Do not understand me to say that in all cases these reports
are falsely made.  They are not--that is, they are literally true.  A
mission reports so many converts to Christianity during a certain
period of time.  Well and good; the converts are there--they can
produce them.  The Indians are not fools.  If the white men want them
to profess Christianity, why they will profess Christianity--or
Hinduism or Mohammedanism.  They will worship any god the white man
suggests--for a fancy waistcoat or a piece of salt pork.  The white man
gives many gifts of clothing, and sometimes of food--to his converts.
Therefore, he shall not want for converts--while the clothing holds
out!"

"And _your_ Indians?  Have they not suffered from their contact with
you?"

"No.  They have not suffered.  I know them, their needs and
requirements, and their virtues and failings.  And they know me."

"Where is your fort?"

"Some distance above here on the shore of this lake."

"Will you take me there?  Show me these Indians, that I may see for
myself that you have spoken the truth?"

"No.  I told you you were to have nothing to do with my Indians.  I
also warned my Indians against you--and your partner Lapierre.  I
cannot warn them against you and then take you among them."

"Very well.  I shall go myself, then.  I came up here to see your fort
and the condition of your Indians.  You knew I would come."

"No.  I did not know that.  I had not seen the fighting spirit in your
eyes then.  Now I know that you will come--but not while I am here.
And when you do come you will be taken back to your own school.  You
will not be harmed, for you are honest in your purpose.  But you will,
nevertheless, be prevented from coming into contact with my Indians.  I
will have none of Lapierre's spies hanging about, to the injury of my
people."

"Lapierre's spies!  Do you think I am a spy?  Lapierre's?"

"Not consciously, perhaps--but a spy, nevertheless.  Lapierre may even
now be lurking near for the furtherance of some evil design."

Chloe suddenly realized that MacNair's boring, steel-grey eyes were
fixed upon her with a new intentness--as if to probe into the very
thoughts of her brain.

"Mr. Lapierre is far to the Southward," she said--and then, upon the
edge of the tiny clearing, a twig snapped.  The man whirled, his rifle
jerked into position, there was a loud report, and Bob MacNair sank
slowly down upon the grass mound that was his mother's grave.



CHAPTER XI

BACK ON THE YELLOW KNIFE

The whole affair had been so sudden that Chloe scarcely realized what
had happened before a man stepped quickly into the clearing, at the
same time slipping a revolver into its holster.  The girl gazed at him
in amazement.  It was Pierre Lapierre.  He stepped forward, hat in
hand.  Chloe glanced swiftly from the dark, handsome features to the
face of the man on the ground.  The grey eyes opened for a second, and
then closed; but in that brief, fleeting glance the girl read distrust,
contempt, and silent reproach.  The man's lips moved, but no sound
came--and with a laboured, fluttering sigh, he sank into
unconsciousness.

"Once more, it seems, my dear Miss Elliston, I have arrived just in
time."

A sudden repulsion for this cruel, suave killer of men flashed into the
girl's brain.   "Get some water," she cried, and dropping to her knees
began to unbutton MacNair's flannel shirt.

"But--" objected Lapierre.

"Will you get some water?  This is no time to argue!  You can explain
later!"  Lapierre turned and without a word, walked to the lake and,
taking a pail from the canoe, filled it with water.  When he returned,
Chloe was tearing white bandages from a garment essentially feminine,
while Big Lena endeavoured to stanch the flow of blood from a small
wound high on the man's left breast, and another, more ragged wound
where the bullet had torn through the thick muscles of his back.

The two women worked swiftly and capably, while Lapierre waited,
frowning.

"Better hurry, Miss Elliston," he said, when the last of the bandages
was in place.  "This is no place for us to be found if some of
MacNair's Indians happen along.  Your canoe is ready.  Mine is farther
down the lake."

"But, this man--surely----"

"Leave him there.  You have done all you can do for him.  His Indians
will find him."

"What!" cried Chloe.  "Leave a wounded man to die in the bush!"

Lapierre stepped closer.  "What would you do ?" he asked.  "Surely you
cannot remain here.  His Indians would kill you as they would kill a
_carcajo_."  The man's face softened.  "It is the way of the North," he
said sadly.  "I would gladly have spared him--even though he is my
enemy.  But when he whirled with his rifle upon my heart, his finger
upon the trigger, and murder in his eye, I had no alternative.  It was
his life or mine.  I am glad I did not kill him."  The words and the
tone reassured Chloe, and when she answered, it was to speak calmly.

"We will take him with us," she said.  "The Indians could not care for
him properly even if they found him.  At home I have everything
necessary for the handling of just such cases."

"But, my dear Miss Elliston--think of the portages and the added
burden.  His Indians----"

The girl interrupted him--"I am not asking you to help.  I have a canoe
here.  If you are afraid of MacNair's Indians you need not remain."

The note of scorn in the girl's voice was not lost upon Lapierre.  He
flushed and answered with the quiet dignity that well became him: "I
came here, Miss Elliston, with only three canoemen.  I returned
unexpectedly to your school, and when I learned that you had gone to
Snare Lake, I followed--to save you, if possible, from the hand of the
Brute."

Chloe interrupted him.  "You came here for that?"

The man bowed low.  "Knowing what you do of Brute MacNair, and of his
hatred of me, you surely do not believe I came here for business--or
pleasure."  He drew closer, his black eyes glowing with suppressed
passion.  "There is one thing a man values more than life--the life and
the safety of the woman he loves!"

Chloe's eyes dropped.  "Forgive me!" she faltered.  "I--I did not
know--I--Oh! don't you see?  It was all so sudden.  I have had no time
to think!  I know you are not afraid.  But, we can't leave him
here--like this."

"As you please," answered Lapierre, gently.

"It is not the way of the North; but----"

"It is the way of humanity."

"It is _your_ way--and, therefore, it is my way, also.  But, let us not
waste time!"  He spoke sharply to Chloe's canoemen, who sprang to the
unconscious form, and raising it from the ground, carried it to the
water's edge and deposited it in the canoe.

"Make all possible speed," he said, as Chloe preceded Big Lena into the
canoe; "I shall follow to cover your retreat."

The girl was about to protest, but at that moment the canoe shot
swiftly out into the lake, and Lapierre disappeared into the bush.

There was small need for the quarter-breed's parting injunction.  The
four Indian canoemen evidently keenly alive to the desirability of
placing distance between themselves and MacNair's retainers, bent to
their paddles with a unanimity of purpose that fairly lifted the big
canoe through the water and sent the white foam curling from its bow in
tiny ripples of protest.

Hour after hour, as the craft drove southward, Chloe sat with the
wounded man's head supported in her lap and pondered deeply the things
he had told her.  Now and again she gazed into the bearded face, calm,
masklike in its repose of unconsciousness, as if to penetrate behind
the mask and read the real nature of him.  She realized with a feeling
almost of fear, that here was no weakling--no plastic irresolute--whose
will could be dominated by the will of a stronger; but a man, virile,
indomitable; a man of iron will who, though he scorned to stoop to
defend his position, was unashamed to vindicate it.  A man whose words
carried conviction, and whose eyes compelled attention, even respect,
though the uncouth boorishness of him repelled.

Yet she knew that somewhere deep behind that rough exterior lay a finer
sensitiveness, a gentleness of feeling, and a sympathy that had
impelled him to a deed of unconscious chivalry of which no man need be
ashamed.  And in her heart Chloe knew that had she not witnessed with
her own eyes the destruction of his whiskey, she would have been
convinced of his sincerity, if not of his postulates.  "He is bad, but
not _all_ bad," she murmured to herself.  "A man who will fight hard,
but fairly.  At all events, my journey to Snare Lake has not been
entirely in vain.  He knows, now, that I have come into the North to
stay; that I am not afraid of him, and will fight him.  He knows that I
am honest----"

Suddenly the very last words she had spoken to him flashed into her
mind--"Mr. Lapierre is far to the Southward"--and then Chloe closed her
eyes as if to shut out that look of mingled contempt and reproach with
which the wounded man had sunk into unconsciousness.  "He thinks I lied
to him--that the whole thing was planned," she muttered, and was
conscious of a swift anger against Lapierre.  Her eyes swept backward
to the brown spot in the distance which was Lapierre's canoe.

"He came up here because he thought I was in danger," she mused.  "And
MacNair would have killed him.  Oh, it is terrible," she moaned.  "This
wild, hard wilderness, where human life is cheap; where men hate, and
kill, and maim, and break all the laws of God and man; it is all
_wrong_!  Brutal, and savage, and wrong!"

The shadows lengthened, the canoe slipped into the river that leads to
Reindeer Lake, and still the tireless canoemen bent unceasingly to
their paddles.  Reindeer Lake was crossed by moonlight, and a late camp
was made a mile to the westward of the portage.  The camp was fireless,
and the men talked in whispers.  Later Lapierre joined them, and at the
first grey hint of dawn the outfit was again astir.  By noon the
five-mile portage had been negotiated, and the canoes headed down Carp
Lake, which is the northmost reach of the Yellow Knife.

The following two days showed no diminution in the efforts of the
canoemen.  The wounded man's condition remained unchanged.  Lapierre's
canoe followed at a distance of a mile or two, and a hundred times a
day Chloe found herself listening with strained expectancy for the
sound of the shots that would proclaim that MacNair's Indians had
overtaken them.  But no shots were fired, and it was with a feeling of
intense relief that the girl welcomed the sight of her own buildings as
they loomed in the clearing on the evening of the third day.

That night Lapierre visited Chloe in the cottage, where he found her
seated beside MacNair's bed, putting the finishing touches to a
swathing of fresh bandages.

"How is he doing?" he asked, with a nod toward the injured man.

"There is no change," answered the girl, as she indicated a chair close
beside a table, upon which were a tin basin, various bottles, and
porcelain cups containing medicine, and a small pile of antiseptic
tablets.  For just an instant the man's glance rested upon the tablets,
and then swiftly swept the room.  It was untenanted except for the girl
and the unconscious man on the bed.

"LeFroy, it seems, has improved his time," ventured Lapierre as he
accepted the proffered chair and drew from his pocket a thick packet of
papers.  "His complete list of supplies," he smiled.  "With these in
your storehouse you may well expect to seriously menace the trade of
both MacNair and the Hudson Bay Company's post at Fort Rae."

Chloe glanced at the list indifferently.  "It seems, Mr. Lapierre, that
your mind is always upon trade--when it is not upon the killing of men."

The quarter-breed was quick to note the disapproval of her tone, and
hastened to reply.  "Surely, Miss Elliston, you cannot believe that I
regard the killing of men as a pleasure; it is a matter of deep regret
to me that twice during the short period of our acquaintance I have
been called upon to shoot a fellow man."

"Only twice!  How about the shot in the night--in the camp of the
Indians, before you left for the Southward?"  The sarcasm of the last
four words was not lost upon the man.  "Who fired that shot?  And what
was the thing that was lifted from your canoe and dropped into the
river?"

Lapierre's eyes searched hers.  Did she know the truth?  The chance was
against it.

"A most deplorable affair--a fight between Indians.  One was killed and
we buried him in the river.  I had hoped to keep this from your ears.
Such incidents are all too common in the Northland----"

"And the murderer----"

"Has escaped.  But to return to the others.  Both shots, as you well
know, were fired on the instant, and in neither case did I draw first."

Chloe, who had been regarding him intently, was forced to admit the
justice of his words.  She noted the serious sadness of the handsome
features, the deep regret in his voice, and suddenly realized that in
both instances Lapierre's shots had been fired primarily in defence of
her.

A sudden sense of shame--of helplessness--came over her.  Could it be
that she did not fit the North?  Surely, Lapierre was entitled to her
gratitude, rather than her condemnation.  Judged by his own standard,
he had done well.  With a shudder she wondered if she would ever reach
the point where she could calmly regard the killing of men as a mere
incident in the day's work?  She thought not.  And yet--what had men
told her of Tiger Elliston?  Without exception, almost, the deeds they
recounted had been deeds of violence and bloodshed.  When she replied,
her voice had lost its note of disapproval.

"Forgive me," she said softly, "it has all been so different--so
strange and new, and big.  I have been unable to grasp it.  All my life
I have been taught to hold human life sacred.  It is not you who are to
blame!  Nor, is it the others.  It is the kill or be killed creed--the
savage wolf creed--of the North."

The girl spoke rapidly, with her eyes upon the face of MacNair.  So
absorbed was she that she did not see the slim fingers of Lapierre
steal softly across the table-top and extract two tablets from the
little pile--failed also to see the swift motion with which those
fingers dropped the tablets into a porcelain cup, across the rim of
which rested a silver spoon.

The man arose at the conclusion of her words, and crossing to her side
rested a slim hand upon the back of her chair.  "No.  Miss Elliston,"
he said gently, "I am not to blame nor, in a measure, are the others.
It is, as you say, the North--the crushing, terrible, alluring
North--in whose primitive creed a good man does not mean a moral one,
but one who accomplishes his purpose, even though that purpose be bad.
End, and not means, is the ethics of the lean, lone land, where human
life sinks into insignificance, beneath the immutable law of savage
might."

His eyes burned as he gazed down into the upturned face of the girl.
His hands stole lightly from the chair back and rested upon her
shoulder.  For one long, intense moment, their eyes held, and then,
with a movement as swift and lithe as the spring of a panther, the man
was upon his knees beside her chair, his arms were about her, and with
no thought of resistance, Chloe felt herself drawn close against his
breast, felt the wild beating of his heart, and then--his lips were
upon hers, and she felt herself struggling feebly against the embrace
of the sinewy arms.

Only for a moment did Lapierre hold her.  With a movement as sudden and
impulsive as the movement that embraced her, the arms were withdrawn,
and the man leaped swiftly to his feet.  Too dazed to speak, Chloe sat
motionless, her brain in a chaotic whirl of emotion, while in her
breast outraged dignity and hot, fierce anger strove for the mastery
over a thrill, so strange to her, so new, so intense that it stirred
her to the innermost depths of her being.

Swiftly, unconsciously, her glance rested for a moment upon the lean,
bearded face of MacNair; and beside her chair, Lapierre noted the
glance, and the thin lips twisted into a smile--a cynical, sardonic
smile, that faded on the instant, as his eyes flashed toward the
doorway.  For there, silent and grim as he had seen her once before,
stood Big Lena, whose china-blue eyes were fixed upon him, in that same
disconcerting, fishlike stare.

The hot blood mounted to his cheeks and suddenly receded, so that his
face showed pallid and pasty in the gloom of the darkened room.  He
drew his hand uncertainly across his brow and found it damp with a
cold, moist sweat.  Was it fancy, or did the china-blue, fishlike eyes
rest for just an instant upon the porcelain cup on the table?  With an
effort the man composed himself, and stooping, whispered a few hurried
words into the ears of the girl who sat with her face buried in her
hands.

"Forgive me, Miss Elliston; for the moment I forgot that I had no
right.  I love you!  Love you more than life itself!  More than my own
life--or the lives of others.  It was but the impulse of an unguarded
moment that caused me to forget that I had not the right--forget that I
am a gentleman.  We love as we kill in the North.  And now, good-by, I
am going Southward.  I will return, if it is within the power of man to
return, before the ice skims the lakes and the rivers."

He paused, but the girl remained as though she had not heard him.  He
leaned closer, his lips almost upon her ear.  "Please, Miss Elliston,
can you not forgive me--wish me one last bon voyage?"

Slowly, as one in a dream, Chloe offered him her hand.  "Good-by!" she
said simply, in a dull, toneless voice.  The man seized the hand,
pressed it lightly, and turning abruptly, crossed to the table.  As he
drew his Stetson toward him, its brim came into violent contact with
the porcelain medicine cup.  The cup crashed to the floor, its contents
splashing widely over the whip-sawed boards.

With a hurried word of apology he passed out of the door--passed close
beside the form of Big Lena onto whose cold, fishlike eyes the black
eyes stared insolently, even as the thin lips twisted into a
smile--cynical, sardonic, mocking.



CHAPTER XII

A FIGHT IN THE NIGHT

The days immediately following Lapierre's departure were busy days for
Chloe Elliston.  The word had passed along the lakes and the rivers,
and stolid, sullen-faced Indians stole in from the scrub to gaze
apathetically at the buildings on the banks of the Yellow Knife.  Chloe
with pain-staking repetition, through LeFroy as interpreter, explained
to each the object of her school; with the result that a goodly number
remained and lost no time in installing themselves in the commodious
barracks.

On the evening of the second day the girl tiptoed into the sick-room
and, bending over MacNair, was startled to encounter the steady gaze of
the steel-grey eyes.  "I thought you never would come to," she smiled.
"You see, I don't know much about surgery, and I was afraid perhaps--"

"Perhaps Lapierre had done his work well?"

Chloe started at the weak, almost gentle tones of the gruff voice she
had learned to associate with this man of the North.  She flushed as
she met the steady, disconcerting stare of the grey eyes.  "He shot on
the spur of the moment.  He thought you were going to shoot him."

"And he shot from--far to the Southward?"

"Oh!  You do not think--you do not believe that I deliberately _lied_
to you!  That I _knew_ Lapierre was on Snare Lake!"  The words fell
from her lips with an intense eagerness that carried the ring of
sincerity.  The hard look faded from the man's eyes, and the bearded
lips suggested just the shadow of a smile.

"No," he answered weakly; "I do not think that.  But tell me, how long
have I been this way?  And what has happened?  For I remember
nothing--after the world turned black.  I am surprised that Lapierre
missed me.  He has the reputation for killing--at his own range."

"But he didn't miss you!" cried the girl in surprise.  "It was his
bullet that--that made the world turn black."

"Aye; but it was a miss, just the same, and a miss, I am thinking, that
will cost him dear.  He should have killed me."

"Please do not talk," said the girl in sudden alarm, and taking the
medicine from the table, held the spoon to the man's lips.  He
swallowed its contents, and was about to speak when Chloe interrupted
him.  "Please do not talk," she begged, "and I'll tell you what
happened.  There is not much to tell: after we bound up your wounds we
brought you here, where I could give you proper care.  It took three
days to do this, and two days have passed since we arrived."

"I knew I was in your----"

Chloe flushed deeply.  "Yes, in my room," she hastened to interrupt
him; "but you must not talk.  It was the only place I knew where you
could be quiet and--and safe."

"But, Lapierre--why did he allow it?"

Chloe flushed.  "Allow it!  I do not take orders from Mr. Lapierre, nor
from you, nor from anybody else.  This is my school; this cottage is
mine; I'll do as I please with it, and I'll bring who I please into it
without asking permission from any one."

While she was speaking, the man's glance strayed from her flashing eyes
to the face of a tarnished, smoke-blackened portrait that showed
indistinct in the dull lamplight of the little room.  Chloe's glance
followed MacNair's, and as the little clock ticked sharply, both stared
in silence into the lean, lined features of Tiger Elliston.

"Your eyes," murmured the man--"sometimes they are like that."
Suddenly his voice strengthened.  He continued to gaze at the face in
the dull gold frame.  With an effort he withdrew an arm from beneath
the cover and pointed with a finger that trembled weakly.  "I should
like to have known him," he said.  "By God, yon is the face of a _man_!"

"My grandfather," muttered the girl.

"You'll love the North--when you know it," said MacNair.  "Tell me, did
Lapierre advise you to bring me here?"

"No," answered Chloe, "he did not.  He--he said to leave you; that your
Indians would care for you."

"And my Indians--did they not follow you?"  Chloe shook her head.  Once
more MacNair bent a searching glance upon the girl's face.  "Where is
Lapierre?" he asked.

"He is gone," Chloe answered.  "Two days ago he left for the----"  She
hesitated as there flashed through her brain the moment on Snare Lake
when, once before, she had answered MacNair's question in almost the
same words.  "_He said_ he was going to the southward," she corrected.

MacNair smiled.  "I think, this time, he has gone.  But why he left
without killing me I cannot understand.  Lapierre has made a mistake."

"You do him an injustice!  Mr. Lapierre does not want to kill you.  He
is sorry he was forced to shoot; but, as he said, it was your life or
his.  And now please do be quiet, or I must leave you to yourself."

MacNair closed his eyes, and, seating herself by the table, Chloe
stared silently into the face of the portrait until the man's deep,
regular breathing told her that he slept.

Slowly the moments passed, and the girl's gaze roved from the face of
the portrait along the walls of the little room.  Suddenly her eyes
dilated in horror; for there, tight pressed against an upper pane of
the window, whose lower sash was daintily curtained with chintz,
appeared a dark, scowling face--the face of an Indian, which she
instantly recognized as one of the two who had accompanied MacNair upon
his first visit to her clearing.

Even as she looked the face vanished, leaving the girl staring
wide-eyed at the black square of the window.  Curbing her impulse to
awake MacNair, she stole softly from the room and, unlocking the outer
door, sped swiftly through the darkness toward the little square of
light that glowed from the window of the store.

The distance was not great from the door of the cottage to the soft
square of radiance that showed distinctly in the darkness.  But even as
Chloe ran, the light was suddenly extinguished, and the outlines of the
big storehouse loomed vague and huge and indistinct against the black
background of the encircling scrub.  The girl stopped abruptly and
stared uncertainly into the darkness.  Her heart beat wildly.  A
strange sense of terror came over her as she stood alone, surrounded by
the blackness of the clearing.  Why had LeFroy extinguished his light?
And why was the night so still?

She strained to catch the familiar sounds of the wilderness--the little
night sounds to which she had grown accustomed: the bellowing of frogs
in the sedges, the chirp of tree-toads, and the harsh squawk of
startled night-fowls.  Even the air seemed unnaturally still, and the
ceaseless drone of the mosquitoes served but to intensify the unnatural
silence.  The mosquitoes broke the spell of the nameless terror, and
she slapped viciously at her face and neck.

"I'm a fool," she muttered; "a perfect fool!  LeFroy puts out his light
every night and--and what if there are no sounds?  I'm just listening
for something to be afraid of."

She glanced backward toward her own cottage where the light still
glowed from the window.  It was reassuring, that little square of
yellow lamp-light that shone softly from the window of her room.  She
was not afraid now.  She would return to the cottage and lock the door.
She shuddered at the thought.  Before her rose the vision of that dark,
shadowy face, tight-pressed against the glass.  Instinctively she knew
that Indian was not alone.  There were others, and--once more her eyes
swept the blackness.

Suddenly the question flashed through her brain:  Why should these
Indians seek to avenge MacNair--the man who held the power of life and
death over them--who had practically forced them into servitude?  Then,
swift as the question, flashed the answer: It was not to avenge MacNair
they came, but, knowing he was helpless, to strike the blow that would
free themselves from the yoke.  Had Lapierre known this?  Had he left,
knowing that the man's own Indians would finish the work his bullet had
only half completed?  No!  Lapierre would not have done that.  Did he
not say: "I am glad I did not kill him"?  He was thinking only of my
safety.

"We'll be safe enough till morning," she muttered.  "Surely I have read
somewhere that Indians never attack in the night.  Tomorrow we must
hide MacNair where they cannot find him.  They will murder him, now
that he is wounded.  How they must hate him!  Must hate the man who has
oppressed and debauched and cheated them!"

The girl had nearly reached the door of the cottage when once more she
halted, rooted in her tracks.  Out of the unnatural silence of the
night, close upon the edge of the clearing, boomed the cry of the great
horned owl.  It was a sound she had often heard here in the northern
night--this hooting of an owl; but, somehow, this sound was different.
Once more her heart thumped wildly against her ribs.  Her fists
clenched, and she peered tensely toward the wall of the scrub timber
that showed silent and black and impenetrable in the little light of
the stars.  Again the portentous silence and then--was it fancy, or
were there shapes, stealthy, elusive, shadowy, moving along the wall of
the intense blackness?

A light suddenly flashed from the window of the storehouse.  It
disappeared.  The great door banged sharply, and out of the blackness
sounded a rush of moccasined feet, padding the earth as they ran.

From the edge of the timber--from the direction of the shadowy
shapes--came a long, thin spurt of flame, and the silence was broken by
the roar of a smooth-bore rifle.  The next instant the roar was
increased tenfold, and from the loopholes high on the walls of the
storehouse flashed other thin red spurts of flame.

Terror-stricken, Chloe dashed for the cottage.  Along the entire length
of the timber-line, spikes of flame belched forth, and the crash and
roar of rifles drowned the rush of the moccasin feet.  A form dashed
past her in the darkness, and then another, forcing Chloe from the
path.  The terrified girl realized that these forms were speeding
straight for the door of the cottage.  Her first thought was for
MacNair.  He would be murdered as he slept.

She redoubled her efforts, feeling blindly in the darkness for the path
that led toward the square of light.  In her ears sounded the sharp
jangle of smashing glass.  Her foot caught in a vine, and she crashed
heavily forward almost at the door.  All about her guns roared; from
the edge of the scrub, from the river-bank, and from the corners of the
long log dormitories.  Bullets whined above her like angry mosquitoes,
and thudded dully against the logs of the cottage.

Again sounded the sharp jangle of glass.  She struggled to her knees,
and was hurled backward as the huge form of an Indian tripped over her
and sprawled, cursing, at her side.  The door of the cottage burst
suddenly open, and in the long quadrangle of light the forms of the two
Indians who had passed her stood out distinctly.  The girl gave a
quick, short sob of relief.  They were LeFroy's Indians!  At the sound
the man on the ground thrust his face close to hers and with a quick
grunt of surprise scrambled to his feet.  Chloe felt her arm seized,
and realized that she was being dragged toward the door of the cottage
through which the other two Indians had disappeared.  She was jerked
roughly across the threshold, and lay huddled up on the floor.  The
Indian released his hold on her arm and, stepping across her body,
reached for the door.

Outside, the roar of the guns was incessant.  Suddenly, close at hand,
Chloe heard a quick, wicked spat, and the Indian reeled from the
doorway, whirled as on a pivot, and crashed, face downward, across the
table.  There was a loud rattle of porcelain dishes, a rifle rang
sharply upon the floor boards, and Chloe gazed in horrid fascination as
the limp form of the Indian slipped slowly from the table.  Its
momentum increased, and the back of the man's head struck the floor
with a sickening thump.  The face turned toward her--a face wet and
dripping with the rich red blood that oozed thickly from the irregular
hole in the forehead where the soft, round ball from a smooth bore had
torn into the brain.  The wide eyes stared stonily into her own.  The
jaws sagged open, and the nearly severed tongue protruded from between
the fang-like yellow teeth.

Someone blew out the lamp.  The door slammed shut.  Chloe felt strong
hands beneath her shoulders; the voice of Big Lena sounded in her ears,
and she was being guided through the pitch blackness to the door of her
own room.  The lamp by the bedside had also been extinguished, and the
girl glanced toward the window, which showed in the feeble starlight a
pattern of jagged panes.  One of the Indians who had preceded her into
the cottage thrust the barrel of a rifle through the aperture and fired
rapidly at the flashes of flame in the clearing.

In the other room someone was shrieking, and Chloe recognized the voice
of Harriet Penny.  Big Lena left her side, and a moment later the
shrieking ceased, or, rather, quieted to a series of terrified, choking
grunts and muffled cries, as though something soft and thick had been
forcibly applied as a gag.  Chloe groped her way blindly toward the
bed, where she had left the wounded man.  Her feet stumbled awkwardly
through the confusion of debris that was the wreck of the over-turned
medicine table.

"Are you hurt?" she gasped as she sank trembling upon the edge of the
bed.  Close beside her sounded the sharp snap of metal as the Indian
jammed fresh cartridges into his magazine.

"No!" said a voice in her ear.  "I'm not hurt.  Are you?"  Chloe shook
her head, forgetting that in the intense blackness she had returned no
answer.  There was a movement upon the bed; a huge hand closed roughly
about her arm.  The Indian was firing again.

"Tell me, are you hurt?" rasped a voice in her ear.  And her arm was
shaken almost fiercely.

"No!" she managed to gasp, struggling to free herself.  "But oh, it's
all too, too horrible, too awful!  There is a dead man in the other
room.  He is one of LeFroy's Indians.  One of _my_ Indians, and they
shot him!"

"I'm damned glad of it!" growled MacNair thickly, and Chloe leaped from
the bed.  The coarse brutality of the man was inconceivable.  In her
mingled emotion of rage and loathing, she hated this man with a fierce,
savage hatred that could kill.  She knew now why men called him Brute
MacNair.  The name fitted!  These Indians had rushed from the security
of the fortlike storehouse upon the first intimation of danger to
protect the defenseless quartet in the cottage--the three women and the
wounded, helpless man.  In the very doorway of the cottage one had been
killed--killed facing the enemy--the savage blood-thirsty horde who,
having learned of the plight of their oppressor, had taken the warpath
to venge their wrongs.  Surely MacNair must know that this man had died
as much in the defense of him as of the women.  And yet, when he
learned of the death of this man, he had said: "I am damned glad of it!"

How long Chloe stood there speechless, trembling, with her heart fairly
bursting with rage, she did not know.  Time ceased to be.  Suddenly she
realized that the room was no longer in intense darkness.  Objects
appeared dim and indistinct: the bed with the wounded man, the contents
of the table strewn in confusion upon the floor, and the Indian
shooting from the window.  Then the flare of flames met her eyes.  The
walls of the storehouse stood out distinctly from its black background
of timber.  Savage forms appeared in the clearing, gliding stealthily
from stump to stump.

The light grew brighter.  She could hear now, mingled with the sharp
crack of the rifles, the dull roar of flames.  The dormitories were
burning!  This added to her consuming rage.  Her eyes seemed fairly to
glow as she fixed them upon the pale face of MacNair, who had struggled
to a sitting posture.  She took a step toward the bed.  A dull red spot
showed on either cheek.  A bullet ripped through the window and
splintered the dull gold frame of Tiger Elliston's portrait, but the
girl had lost all sense of fear.  She shook her clenched fist in the
bearded face of the man, and her voice quavered high and thin.

"You--you--_damn you_!" she cried.  "I wish I'd left you back there to
the mercy of your savages!  You're a brute--a fiend!  It would serve
you right if I should give you up to them!  He--the man who was
killed--was trying to save you from the righteous wrath of those you
have ground down and oppressed!"

MacNair ignored her words, and as his eyes met hers squarely, they
betrayed not the slightest emotion.  The pallid features showed tense
and drawn in the growing firelight.  His gaze projected past her to the
lean face of Tiger Elliston.

"You are a fighter at heart," he said slowly addressing the girl.  "You
are his flesh and blood and he was a fighter.  He won to victory over
the bodies of his enemies.  In his eyes I can see it."

"He was no coward!" flashed the girl.  "He never won to victory over
the bodies of his friends!"  With an effort the man reached for his
clothing, which hung from a peg near the head of the bed.

"Where are you going?" cried the girl sharply.

"I am going," MacNair answered gravely, looking straight into her eyes,
"to take my Indians back to Snare Lake."

"They will kill you!" she cried impulsively.

"They will not!" MacNair smiled; "but if they do, you will be glad.
Did you not say----"

The girl faced swiftly away, and at the same moment the Indian at the
window staggered backward, dropping his rifle and cursing horribly in
the only English he knew, as he clutched frantically at his shoulder.
Chloe turned.  MacNair was lacing his boots.  He raised himself weakly
to his feet, swaying uncertainly, with his hand pressed against his
chest, and laughed harshly into the pain-twisted features of the Indian.

"When the last of yon dogs gets his bullet, I can leave this place in
safety."

"What do you mean?" cried the girl, her eyes blazing.

"I mean," rasped the man, "that you are a fool!  You have listened to
Lapierre and you have easily become his dupe.  There is no Indian in
his employ who would not kill me.  They have had their orders.  Have
you stopped to reflect that the brave Lapierre did not himself remain
to stem this attack?  To protect me from my Indians?"

The sneer in MacNair's voice was not lost upon the girl, who drew
herself up haughtily.

"Mr. Lapierre," she answered, "could hardly be charged with
anticipating this attack, nor could he be blamed for not altering his
plans to fight _your_ battles."

MacNair laughed.  "The idea of Lapierre fighting _my_ battles is,
indeed, unique.  And you may be sure that Lapierre will not fight his
own battles--as long as he can find others to fight them for him.  Miss
Elliston, this attack _was_ anticipated.  Lapierre knew to a certainty
that when my Indians read the signs, and learned what had happened
there on the shore of Snare Lake, their vengeance would not be
delayed."  He looked straight into the eyes of the girl.  "Did you arm
your Indians?"

"I did not!" answered Chloe.  "I brought no guns."

"Then where did your Indians get their rifles?"

"Well, really, Mr. MacNair, I cannot tell you.  Possibly at the same
place your Indians got theirs.  The Indians, who have come to me here
are hunters and trappers.  Is it so extraordinary that men who are
hunters should own guns?"

"Your ignorance would be amusing, if it were not tragic!" retorted
MacNair.  And picking up the gun which the wounded Indian had dropped,
held it before the eyes of the girl.  "The hunters of the North, Miss
Elliston, do not equip themselves with Mausers."

"With Mausers!" cried the girl.  "You mean----"

"I mean just this," broke in MacNair, "that your Indians were armed to
kill men, not animals.  With, or without, your knowledge or sanction,
your Indians have been supplied with the best rifles obtainable.  Your
school is Lapierre's fort!"  Thrusting the rifle into the hands of the
girl, he brushed past her and with difficulty made his way through the
intervening room to the outer door, which he threw open.

Chloe followed.  Outside the firing continued with undiminished
intensity, but the girl was conscious of no sense of fear.  Her eyes
swept the room, flooded now by the glare of the flaring flames.  Beside
the stove stood Big Lena, an ax gripped tightly in her strong hands.
The remaining Indian lay upon the floor, firing slowly through a
loophole punched in the chinking.  At the doorway MacNair turned, and
in the strong light Chloe noticed that his face was haggard and drawn
with pain.

"I thank you." he said, touching his bandaged chest, "for your nursing.
It has probably saved my life."

"Come back!  They will kill you!"  MacNair ignored her warning.  "You
have one redeeming feature," cried the girl.  "At least, you are as
brutal toward yourself as toward others."

MacNair laughed harshly.  "I thank you," he said and staggered out into
the fire-lit clearing.  Dully, Chloe noticed that the Indian who had
been firing from the floor slipped stealthily through the doorway and,
dropping to his knee, raised his rifle.  The next instant the girl's
eyes widened in horror.  The gun was pointed squarely at MacNair's
back.  She tried to cry out, but no sound came.  It seemed minutes that
the Indian sighted as he knelt there in the clearing.  And then--he
pulled the trigger.  There was a sharp, metallic click, followed by a
muttered imprecation.  The man jerked down the rifle and reaching into
his pocket, produced long yellow cartridges, which he jammed into the
magazine.

The horror of it!  The diabolical deliberation of the man spurred the
girl to a fury she had never known.  In that moment her one thought was
to kill--to kill with her hands--to rend--to tear--and to maim!  For
the first time she realized that the thing in her hand was a gun.

Again the Indian was raising his rifle.  The girl twisted and jerked at
the bolt of her own gun.  It was locked.  The next instant, with a
loud, animal-like cry, she leaped for the doorway, trampling, as she
passed, with a wild, fierce joy upon the upturned staring face of the
dead Indian.

Out in the clearing the flames roared and crackled.  Rifles spat.  And
before her the Indian was again lining his sights.  Grasping the heavy
rifle by the barrel, Chloe whirled it high above her and brought it
down with a crash upon the head of the kneeling savage.  The man
crumpled as dead men crumple--in an ugly, twisted heap.  Fierce, swift
exultation shot through the girl's brain as she stood beside the
formless thing on the ground.  She looked up--squarely into the eyes of
MacNair, who had turned at the sound of her outcry.

"I said you would fight!" called the man.  "I have seen it in your
eyes.  They are the eyes of the man on the wall."

Then, abruptly, he turned and disappeared in the direction of the river.



CHAPTER XIII

LAPIERRE RETURNS FROM THE SOUTH

When Pierre Lapierre left Chloe Elliston's school after the completion
of the buildings, he proceeded at once to his own rendezvous on Lac du
Mort.

This shrewdly chosen stronghold was situated on a high, jutting point
that rose abruptly from the waters of the inland lake, which surrounded
it upon three sides.  The land side was protected by an enormous black
spruce swamp.  This headland terminated in a small, rock-rimmed
plateau, perhaps three acres in extent, and was so situated as to be
practically impregnable against the attack of an ordinary force; the
rim-rocks forming a natural barricade which reduced the necessity for
artificial fortification to a minimum.  Across the neck of the tiny
peninsula, Lapierre had thrown a strong stockade of logs, and from the
lake access was had only by means of a narrow, one-man trail that
slanted and twisted among the rocks of the precipitous cliff side.

The plateau itself was sparsely covered with a growth of stunted spruce
and banskian, which served as a screen both for the stockade and the
long, low, fort-like building of logs, which was Lapierre's main cache
for the storing of fur, goods of barter, and contraband whiskey.  The
fort was provisioned to withstand a siege, and it was there that the
crafty quarter-breed had succeeded in storing two hundred Mauser rifles
and many cases of ammunition.  Among Lapierre's followers it was known
as the "Bastile du Mort."  A safe haven of refuge for the hard-pressed,
and, in event of necessity, the one place in all the North where they
might hope indefinitely to defy their enemies.

The secret of this fort had been well guarded, and outside of
Lapierre's organized band, but one man knew its location--and few even
guessed its existence.  There were vague rumours about the Hudson Bay
posts, and in the barracks of the Mounted, that Lapierre maintained
such a fort, but its location was accredited to one of the numerous
islands of the extreme western arm of Great Slave Lake.

Bob MacNair knew of the fort, and the rifles, and the whiskey.  He
knew, also, that Lapierre did not know that he knew, and therein, at
the proper time, would lie his advantage.  The Hudson Bay Company had
no vital interest in verifying the rumour, nor had the men of the
Mounted, for as yet Lapierre had succeeded in avoiding suspicion except
in the minds of a very few.  And these few, realizing that if Lapierre
was an outlaw, he was by far the shrewdest and most dangerous outlaw
with whom they had ever been called upon to deal, were very careful to
keep their suspicions to themselves, until such time as they could
catch him with the goods--after that would come the business of
tracking him to his lair.  And they knew to a certainty that the men
would not be wanting who could do this--no matter how shrewdly that
lair was concealed.

Upon arriving at Lac du Mort, Lapierre ordered the canoe-men to load
the fur, proceed at once to the mouth of Slave River, transfer it to
the scows, and immediately start upon the track-line journey to
Athabasca Landing.  His own canoe he loaded with rifles and ammunition,
and returned to the Yellow Knife.  It was then he learned that Chloe
had gone to Snare Lake, and while he little relished an incursion into
MacNair's domain, he secreted the rifles in the store-house and set out
forthwith to overtake her.  Despite the fact that he knew the girl to
be strongly prejudiced against MacNair, Lapierre had no wish for her to
see his colony in its normal condition of peace and prosperity.  And
so, pushing his canoemen to the limit of their endurance, he overtook
her as she talked with MacNair by the side of his mother's grave.

Creeping noiselessly through the scrub to the very edge of the tiny
clearing, Lapierre satisfied himself that MacNair was unattended by his
Indians.  The man's back was turned toward him, and the quarter-breed
noticed that, as he talked, he leaned upon his rifle.  It was a chance
in a thousand.  Never before had he caught MacNair unprepared--and the
man's blood would be upon his own head.  Drawing the revolver from its
holster, he timed his movements to the fraction of a second; and
deliberately snapped a twig, MacNair whirled like a flash, and Lapierre
fired.  His bullet went an inch too high, and when Chloe insisted upon
carrying the wounded man to the school, Lapierre could but feebly
protest.

The journey down the Yellow Knife was a nightmare for the
quarter-breed, who momentarily expected an attack from MacNair's
Indians.  Upon their safe arrival, however, his black eyes glittered
wickedly--at last MacNair was _his_.  Fate had played directly into his
hands.  He knew the attack was inevitable, and during the
excitement--well, LeFroy could be trusted to attend to MacNair.  With
the rifles in the storehouse, MacNair's Indians would be beaten back,
and in the event of an investigation by the Mounted, the responsibility
would be laid at MacNair's door.  But of that MacNair would never know,
for MacNair would have passed beyond.

Knowing that the vengeance of MacNair's Indians would not be long
delayed, Lapierre determined to be well away from the Yellow Knife when
the attack came.  However, he had no wish to leave without first
assuring himself that the shooting of MacNair stood justified in the
eyes of the girl, and to that end he had called upon her in her cottage.

Then it was that chance seemed to offer a safe and certain means of
putting MacNair away, and he dropped the poisonous antiseptic tablets
into the medicine, only to have his plan frustrated by the unexpected
presence of Big Lena.  He was not sure that the woman had seen his
action.  But he took no chances, and with an apparent awkward movement
of his hat, destroyed the evidence, sought out LeFroy, who had already
been warned of the impending attack, and ordered him to place three or
four of his most dependable Indians in the cottage, with instructions
not only to protect Chloe, but to kill MacNair.

Then he hastened southward to overtake his scowmen, who were toiling at
the track-lines somewhere among the turbulent rapids of the Slave.  And
indeed there was need of haste.  The summer was well advanced.  Six
hundred miles of track-line and portage lay between Great Slave Lake
and Athabasca Landing.  And if he was to return with the many
scow-loads of supplies for Chloe Elliston's store before the water-way
became ice-locked, he had not a day nor an hour to lose.

At Point Brule he overtook the fur-laden scows, and at Smith Landing an
Indian runner reported the result of the fight, and the escape of
MacNair.  Lapierre smothered his rage, and with twenty men at the
track-line of each scow, bored his way southward.

A month later the gaunt, hard-bitten outfit tied up at the Landing.
Lapierre disposed of his fur, purchased the supplies, and within a week
the outfit was again upon the river.

At the mouth of La Biche a half-dozen burlapped pieces were removed
from a _cache_ in a thicket of balsam and added to the outfit.  And at
Fort Chippewayan the scows with their contents were examined by two
officers of the Mounted, and allowed to proceed on their way.

On the Yellow Knife, Chloe Elliston anxiously awaited Lapierre's
return.  Under LeFroy's supervision the dormitories had been rebuilt,
and a few sorry-looking, one-room cabins erected, in which families of
Indians had taken up their abode.

Through the long days of the late summer and early fall, Indians had
passed and repassed upon the river, and always, in answer to the girl's
questioning, they spoke of the brutality of MacNair.  Of how men were
made to work from daylight to dark in his mines.  And of the fact that
no matter how hard they worked, they were always in his debt.  They
told how he plied them with whiskey, and the hunger and misery of the
women and children.  All this the girl learned through her interpreter,
LeFroy; and not a few of these Indians remained to take up their abode
in dormitories or cabins, until the little settlement boasted some
thirty or forty colonists.

It was hard, discouraging work, this striving to implant the rudiments
of education in the minds of the sullen, apathetic savages, whose chief
ambition was to gorge themselves into stupidity with food from the
storehouse.  With the adults the case seemed hopeless.  And, indeed,
the girl attempted little beyond instruction in the simplest principles
of personal and domestic cleanliness and order.  Even this met with no
response, until she established a daily inspection, and it became known
that the filthy should also go hungry.

With the children, Chloe made some slight headway, but only at the
expense of unceasing, monotonous repetition, and even she was forced to
admit that the results were far from encouraging.  The little savages
had no slightest conception of any pride or interest in their daily
tasks, but followed unvaryingly the line of least resistance as
delineated by a simple system of rewards and punishments.

The men had shown no aptitude for work of any kind, and now when the
ice skimmed thinly the edges of the lake and rivers, they collected
their traps and disappeared into the timber, cheerfully leaving the
women and children to be fed and cared for at the school.  As the days
shortened and the nights grew longer, the girl realized, with
bitterness in her heart, that almost the only thing she had
accomplished along educational lines was the imperfect smattering of
the Indian tongue that she herself had acquired.

But her chiefest anxiety was a more material one, and Lapierre's
appearance with the supplies became a matter of the gravest importance,
for upon their departure the trappers had drawn heavily upon the
slender remaining stores, with a result that the little colony on the
Yellow Knife was already reduced to half rations, and was entirely
dependent upon the scows for the winter's supply of provisions.

Not since the night of the battle had Chloe heard directly from
MacNair.  He had not visited the school, nor had he expressed a word of
regret or apology for the outrage.  He ignored her existence
completely, and the girl guessed that many of the Indians who refused
her invitation to camp in the clearing, as they passed and repassed
upon the river, did so in obedience to MacNair's command.

In spite of her abhorrence for the man, she resented his total
disregard of her existence.  Indeed, she would have welcomed a visit
from him, if for no other reason than because he was a white man.  She
spent many hours in framing bitter denunciations to be used in event of
his appearance.  But he did not appear, and resentment added to the
anger in her heart, until in her mind he became the embodiment of all
that was despicable, and brutish, and evil.

More than once she was upon the point of attempting another visit to
Snare Lake, and in all probability would have done so had not Big Lena
flatly refused to accompany her under any circumstances whatever.  And
this attitude the huge Swedish woman stubbornly maintained, preserving
a haughty indifference alike to Chloe's taunts of cowardice, promise of
reward, and threats of dismissal.  Whereupon Chloe broached the subject
to Harriet Penny, and that valiant soul promptly flew into hysteria, so
that for three days Chloe did double duty in the school.  After that
she nursed her wrath in silence and brooded upon the wrongs of
MacNair's Indians.

This continued brooding was not without its effect upon the girl, and
slowly but surely destroyed her sense of proportion.  No longer was the
education and civilization of the Indians the uppermost thought in her
mind.  With Lapierre, she came to regard the crushing of MacNair's
power as the most important and altogether desirable undertaking that
could possibly be consummated.

While in this frame of mind, just at sunset of a keen October day, the
cry of "_la brigade!  la brigade!_" reached her ears as she sat alone
in her room in the cottage, and rushing to the river bank she joined
the Indians who swarmed to the water's edge to welcome the huge freight
canoe that had rounded the point below the clearing.  Chloe clapped her
hands in sheer joy and relief, for there, proud and erect, in the bow
of the canoe stood Lapierre, and behind him from bank to bank the
Yellow Knife fairly swarmed with other full-freighted canoes.  The
supplies had arrived!

Even as the bow of his canoe scraped the bank, Lapierre was at her
side.  Chloe felt her hand pressed between his--felt the grip of his
strong fingers, and flushed deeply as she realized that not alone
because of the supplies was she glad that he had come.  And then, his
voice was in her ears, and she was listening as he told her how good it
was to stand once more at her side, and look into the face whose image
had spurred him to almost super-human effort, throughout the days and
the nights of the long river trail.

Lightly she answered him, and Lapierre's heart bounded at the warmth of
her welcome.  He turned with a word to his canoemen, and Chloe noted
with admiration, how one and all they sprang to do his bidding.  She
marvelled at his authority.  Why did these men leap to obey his
slightest command, when LeFroy, to obtain even the half-hearted
obedience she required of her Indians, was forced to brow-beat and
bully them?  Her heart warmed to the man as she thought of the slovenly
progress of her school.  Here was one who could help her.  One who
could point with the finger of a master of men to the weak spots in her
system.

Suddenly her brow clouded.  For, as she looked upon Lapierre, the words
of MacNair flashed through her mind, as he stood weak from his wounds,
in the dimness of her fire-lit room.  Her eyes hardened, and
unconsciously her chin thrust outward, as she realized that before she
could ask this man's aid, there were things he must explain.

Darkness settled, and at a word from Lapierre, fires flared out on the
beach and in the clearing, and by their light the long line of canoemen
conveyed the pieces upon their heads into the wide door of the
storehouse.  It was a weird, fantastic scene.  The long line of
pack-laden men, toiling up the bank between the rows of flaring fires,
to disappear in the storehouse; and the long line returning
empty-handed to toil again, to the storehouse.  After a time Lapierre
called LeFroy to his side and uttered a few terse commands.  The man
nodded, and took Lapierre's place at the head of the steep slope to the
river.  The quarter-breed turned to the girl.

"Come," he said, smiling, "LeFroy can handle them now.  May we not go
to your cottage?  I would hear of your progress--the progress of your
school.  And also," he bowed, "is it not possible that the great, what
do you call her, Lena, has prepared supper?  I've eaten nothing since
morning."

"Forgive me!" cried the girl.  "I had completely forgotten supper.
But, the men?  Have they not eaten since morning?"

Lapierre smiled.  "They will eat," he answered, "when their work is
done."

Supper over, the two seated themselves upon the little veranda.  Along
the beach the fires still flared, and still the men, like a huge,
slow-moving endless chain, carried the supplies to the store-house.
Lapierre waved his hand toward the scene.

"You see now," he smiled, "why I built the storehouse so large?"

Chloe nodded, and regarded him intently.  "Yes, I see that," she
answered gravely, "but there are things I do not see.  Of course you
have heard of the attack by MacNair's Indians?"

Lapierre assented.  "At Smith Landing I heard it," he answered, and
waited for her to proceed.

"Had you expected this attack?"

Lapierre glanced at her in well-feigned surprise.

"Had I expected it, Miss Elliston, do you think I would have gone to
the Southward?  Would I have left you to the mercy of those brutes?
When I thought you were in danger on Snare Lake, did I----"

The girl interrupted him with a gesture.  "No!  No!  I do not think you
anticipated the attack, but----"

Lapierre finished her sentence.  "But, MacNair told you I did, and that
I had timed accurately my trip to the Southward?  What else did he tell
you?"

"He told me," answered Chloe, "that had you not anticipated the attack
you would not have armed my Indians with Mausers.  He said that my
Indians were armed to kill men, not animals."  She paused and looked
directly into his eyes.  "Mr. Lapierre, where did those rifles come
from?"

Lapierre answered without a moment's hesitation.  "From my--_cache_ to
the westward."  He leaned closer.  "I told you once before," he said,
"that I could place a hundred guns in the hands of your Indians, and
you forbade me.  While I could remain in the North, I bowed to your
wishes.  I know the North and its people, and I knew you would be safer
with the rifles than without them.  In event of an emergency, the fact
that your Indians were armed with guns that would shoot farther, and
harder, and faster, than the guns of your enemies, would offset, in a
great measure, their advantage in numbers.  It seems that my judgment
was vindicated.  I disobeyed you flatly.  But, surely, you will not
blame me!  Oh!  If you knew----"

Chloe interrupted him.

"Don't!" she cried sharply.  "Please--not that!  I--I think I
understand.  But there are still things I do not understand.  Why did
one of my own Indians attempt to murder MacNair?  And how did MacNair
know that he would attempt to murder him?  He said you had ordered it
so.  And the man was one of your Indians--one of those you left with
LeFroy."

Lapierre nodded.  "Do you not see, Miss Elliston, that MacNair is
trying by every means in his power to discredit me in your eyes?
Apatawa, the Indian you--"  Chloe shuddered as he paused, and he
hastened on--"The Indian who attempted to shoot MacNair, was originally
one of MacNair's own Indians--one of the few who dared to desert him.
And, for the wrongs he had suffered, he had sworn to kill MacNair."

"But, knowing that, why did LeFroy send him to the cottage?"

"That," answered Lapierre gravely, "is something I do not know.  I must
first question LeFroy, and if I find that he thus treacherously
endangered the life of a wounded man, even though that man was MacNair,
who is his enemy, and likewise my enemy, I will teach him a lesson he
will not soon forget."

Chloe heaved a sigh of relief.  "I am glad," she breathed softly, "that
you feel that way."

"Could you doubt it?" asked the man.

Chloe hesitated.  "Yes," she answered, "I _did_ doubt it.  How could I
help but doubt, when he warned me what would happen, and it all came
about as he said?  I--I could not help but believe him.  And now, one
thing more.  Can you tell me why MacNair's Indians are willing to fight
to the death to save him from harm?  If the things you tell me are
true, and I know that they are true, because during the summer I have
questioned many of MacNair's Indians, and they all tell the same story;
why do they fight for him?"

Lapierre considered.  "That is one of those things," he answered, "that
men cannot explain.  It is because of his hold upon them.  Great
generals have had it--this power to sway men--to command them to
certain death, even though those men cursed the very ground their
commanders stood upon.  MacNair is a powerful personality.  In all the
North there is not his equal.  I cannot explain it.  It is a
psychological problem none can explain.  For, although his Indians hate
him, they make no attempt to free themselves from his yoke, and they
will fight to the death in defense of him."

"It is hard to believe," answered Chloe, "hard to understand.  And yet,
I think I do understand.  He said of my grandfather, as he looked into
the eyes of his portrait on the wall: 'He was a fighter.  He won to
victory over the bodies of his enemies.'  That is MacNair's idea of
greatness."

Lapierre nodded, and when he looked into the face of the girl he noted
that her eyes flashed with purpose.

"Tell me," she continued almost sharply, "you are not afraid of
MacNair?"

For just an instant Lapierre hesitated.  "No!" he answered.  "I am not
afraid."

Chloe leaned toward him eagerly and placed a hand upon his arm, while
her eyes seemed to search his very thoughts.  "Then you will go with me
to Snare Lake--to carry our war into the heart of the enemy's country?"

"To Snare Lake!" gasped the man.

"Yes, to Snare Lake.  I shall never rest now until MacNair's power over
these poor savages is broken forever.  Until they are free from the
yoke of oppression."

"But it would be suicide!" objected Lapierre.  "No possible good can
come of it!  To kill a lion, one does not thrust his head into the
lion's mouth in an effort to choke him to death.  There are other ways."

Chloe laughed.  "He will not harm us," she answered.  "I am not going
to kill him as one would kill a lion.  There has been blood enough
spilled already.  As you say, there are other ways.  We are going to
Snare Lake for the purpose of procuring evidence that will convict this
man in the courts."

"The courts!" cried Lapierre.  "Where are the courts north of sixty?"

"North of sixty, or south of sixty, what matters it?  There are courts,
and there are prisons awaiting such as he.  Will you go with me, or
must I go alone?"

Lapierre glanced toward the flaring fires, where the endless line of
canoemen still toiled from the river to the storehouse.  Slowly he
arose from his chair and extended his hand.

"I will go with you," he answered simply, "and now I will say good
night."



CHAPTER XIV

THE WHISKEY RUNNERS

When Lapierre left Chloe Elliston's cottage after promising to
accompany her to Snare Lake, he immediately sought out LeFroy, who was
superintending the distribution of the last of the supplies in the
storehouse.

The two proceeded to LeFroy's room, and at the end of an hour sought
the camp of the canoemen.  Ten minutes later, two lean-bodied scouts
took the trail for the Northward, with orders to report immediately the
whereabouts of MacNair.  If luck favoured him, Lapierre knew that
MacNair accompanied by the pick of his hunters, would be far from Snare
Lake, upon his semi annual pilgrimage to intercept the fall migration
of the caribou herd, along the northernmost reaches of the barren
grounds.

If MacNair had not yet started upon the fall hunt, the journey to Snare
Lake must be delayed.  For the crafty Lapierre had no intention
whatever of risking a meeting with MacNair in the heart of his own
domain.  Neither had he any intention of journeying to Snare Lake for
the purpose of securing evidence against MacNair to be used in a court
of law.  His plans for crushing MacNair's power included no aid from
constituted authority.

He noted with keen satisfaction that the girl's hatred for MacNair had
been greatly intensified, not so much by the attack upon her school, as
by the stories she heard from the lips of Indians who passed back and
forth upon the river.  The posting of those Indians had been a happy
bit of forethought on the part of Lapierre; and their stories had lost
nothing in LeFroy's interpretation.

Lapierre contrived to make the succeeding days busy ones.  By
arrangement with Chloe, a system of credits had been established, and
from daylight to dark he was busy about the storehouse, paying off and
outfitting his canoemen, who were to fare North upon the trap-lines
until the breaking up of the ice in the spring would call them once
more to the lakes and the rivers, to move Lapierre's freight, handle
his furs, and deliver his contraband whiskey.

Each evening Lapierre repaired to the cottage, and LeFroy at his post
in the storehouse nodded sagely to himself as the notes of the girl's
rich contralto floated loud and clear above the twang of the
accompanying guitar.

Always the quarter-breed spoke eagerly to Chloe of the proposed trip to
Snare Lake, and bitterly he regretted the enforced delay incident to
outfitting the trappers.  And always, with the skill and finesse of the
born intriguer, by a smile, a suggestion, or an adroitly worded
question, he managed to foster and to intensify her hatred for Brute
MacNair.

On the sixth day after their departure, the scouts returned from the
Northward and reported that MacNair had travelled for many days across
the barrens, in search of the caribou herds.  Followed, then, another
conference with LeFroy.  The remaining canoemen were outfitted with
surprising celerity.  And at midnight a big freight canoe, loaded to
the gunwale with an assortment of cheap knives and hatchets, bolts of
gay-coloured cloth, and cheaper whiskey broke through the ever
thickening skim of shore ice, and headed Northward under the personal
direction of that master of all whiskey runners, Louis LeFroy.

The next day Lapierre, with a great show of eagerness, informed Chloe
that he was ready to undertake the journey to Snare Lake.
Enthusiastically the girl set about her preparation, and the following
morning, accompanied by Big Lena and Lapierre, took her place in a
canoe manned by four lean-shouldered paddlers.


Just below "the narrows," on the northeastern shore of Snare Lake, and
almost upon the site of Old Fort Enterprise, erected and occupied by
Lieutenant, later Sir John Franklin during the second winter of his
first Arctic expedition, Bob MacNair had built his fort.  The fort
itself differed in no important particular from many of the log trading
forts of the Hudson Bay Company.  Grouped about the long, low building,
within the enclosure of the log stockade, were the cabins of Indians
who had forsaken the vicissitudes of the lean, barren grounds and
attached themselves permanently to MacNair's colony.

Under his tutelage, they learned to convert the work of their hands
into something more nearly approaching the comforts of existence than
anything they had ever known.  Where, as trappers of fur, they had
succeeded, by dint of untold hardship and privation and suffering, in
obtaining the barest necessities of life from the great fur company,
they now found themselves housed in warm, comfortable cabins, eating
good food, and clothing their bodies, and the bodies of their wives and
children, in thick, warm clothing that defied the rigours of the Arctic
winters.

While to the credit of each man, upon MacNair's books, stood an amount
in tokens of "made beaver," which to any trapper in all the Northland
would have spelled wealth beyond wildest dreams.  And so they came to
respect this stern, rugged man who dealt with them fairly--to love him,
and also to fear him.  And upon Snare Lake his word became the law,
from which there was no appeal.  Tender as a woman in sickness,
counting no cost or hardship too dear in the rendering of assistance to
the needy, he was at the same time hard and unbending toward wilful
offenders, and a very real terror to the enemies of his people.

He had killed men for selling whiskey to his Indians.  And those of his
own people who drank the whiskey, he had flogged with
dog-whips--floggings that had been administered in no half-hearted or
uncertain manner, and that had ceased only upon the tiring of his arm.
And many there were among his Indians who could testify that the arm
was slow to tire.

To this little colony, upon the fourth day after his departure from
Chloe Elliston's school on the Yellow Knife, came LeFroy with his
freighted canoe.  And because it was not his first trip among them, all
knew his mission.

It so happened that at the time MacNair left for the barren grounds,
Sotenah, the leader of the young men, the orator who had lauded MacNair
to the skies and counselled a summary wiping out of Chloe Elliston's
school, chanced to be laid up with an injury to his foot.  And, as he
could not accompany the hunters, MacNair placed him in charge of the
fort during his absence.  Upon his back Sotenah carried scars of many
floggings.  And the memory of these remained with him long after the
deadly effects of the cheap whiskey that begot them had passed away.
And now, as he stood upon the shore of the lake surrounded by the old
men, and the boys who were not yet permitted to take the caribou trail,
his face was sullen and black as he greeted LeFroy.  For the feel of
the bite of the gut-lash was strong upon him.

"_B'jo'_!  _B'jo'_!  _Nitchi_!" greeted LeFroy, smiling into the
scowling face.

"_B'jo'_!" grunted the younger man with evident lack of enthusiasm.

"_Kah_ MacNair?"

The Indian returned a noncommittal shrug.

LeFroy repeated his question, at the same time taking from his pocket a
cheap clasp-knife which he extended toward the Indian.  The other
regarded the knife in silence; then, reaching out his hand, took it
from LeFroy and examined it gravely.

"How much?" he asked.  LeFroy laughed.

"You ke'p," he said, and stepping to the canoe, threw back the blanket,
exposing to the covetous eyes of the assembled Indians the huge pile of
similar knives, and the hatchets, and the bolts of gay-coloured goods.

A few moments of adroit questioning sufficed to acquaint LeFroy with
MacNair's prices for similar goods; and the barter began.

Where MacNair and the Hudson Bay Company charged ten "skins," or "made
beaver," for an article, LeFroy charged five, or four, or even three,
until the crowding Indians became half-crazed with the excitement of
barter.  And while this excitement was at its height, with scarcely
half of his goods disposed of, LeFroy suddenly declared he would sell
no more, and stepping into the canoe pushed out from the bank.

He turned a deaf ear to the frantic clamourings of those who had been
unable to secure the wonderful bargains, and ordering his canoemen to
paddle down the lake some two or three hundred yards, deliberately
prepared to camp.  Hardly had his canoe touched the shore before he was
again surrounded by the clamouring mob.  Whereupon he faced them and,
striking an attitude, harangued them in their own tongue.

He had come, he said, hoping to find MacNair and to plead with him to
deal fairly with his people.  It is true that MacNair pays more for the
labour of their hands than the company does for their furs, and in
doing so he has proved himself a friend of the Indians.  But he can
well afford to pay more.  Is not the _pil chickimin_--the gold--worth
more even than the finest of skins?

He reached beneath the blankets and, drawing forth one of the cheap
knives, held it aloft.  For years, he told them, the great fur company
has been robbing the Indians.  Has been charging them two, three, four,
and even ten times the real value of the goods they offer in barter.
But the Indians have not known this.  Even he, LeFroy, did not know it
until the _kloshe kloochman_--the good white woman--came into the North
and built a school at the mouth of the Yellow Knife.  She is the real
friend of the Indians.  For she brought goods, even more goods than are
found in the largest of the Hudson Bay posts, and she sells them at
prices unheard of--at their real value in the land of the white man.

"See now!" he cried, holding the knife aloft, "in the store of MacNair,
for this knife you will pay eight skins.  Who will buy it for two?"

A dozen Indians crowded forward, and the knife passed into the hands of
an old squaw.  Other knives and hatchets changed hands, and yards of
bolt goods were sold at prices that caused the black eyes of the
purchasers to glitter with greed.

"Why do you stay here?" cried LeFroy suddenly.  "Oh! my people, why do
you remain to toil all your lives in the mines--to be robbed of the
work of your hands?  Come to the Yellow Knife and join those who are
already enjoying the fruits of their labours!  Where all have plenty,
and none are asked to toil and dig in the dirt of the mines.  Where all
that is required is to sit in the school and learn from books, and
become wise in the ways of the white man."

The half-breed paused, swaying his body to and fro as he gazed intently
into the eyes of the greed-crazed horde.  Suddenly his voice arose
almost to a shriek.  "You are free men--dwellers in a free land!  Who
is MacNair, that he should hold you in servitude?  Why should you toil
to enrich him?  Why should you bow down beneath his tyranny?  Who is
_he_ to make laws that you shall obey?"  He shifted his gaze to the
upturned face of Sotenah.  "Who is he to say: 'You shall drink no
firewater'?  And who is he to flog you when you break that law?  I tell
you in the great storehouse on the Yellow Knife is firewater for all!
The white man's drink!  The drink that makes men strong--and happy--and
wise as gods!"

He called loudly.  Two of his canoemen rolled a cask to his feet, and,
upending it, broached in the head.  Seizing a tin cup, LeFroy plunged
it into the cask and drank with a great smacking of lips.  Then,
refilling the cup, he passed it to Sotenah.

"See!" he cried, "it is a present from the _kloshe kloochman_ to the
people of MacNair!  The people who are down-trodden and oppressed!"
Under the spell of the man's words, all fear of the wrath of MacNair
vanished, and Sotenah greedily seized the cup and drank, while about
him crowded the others rendering the night hideous with their frenzied
cries of exultation.

The cask was quickly emptied, and another broached.  Old men, women,
and children, all drank--and fighting, and leaping, and dancing, and
yelling, returned to drink again.  For, never within the memory of the
oldest, had any Indian drunk the white man's whiskey for which he had
not paid.

Darkness fell.  Fires were lighted upon the beach, and the wild orgy
continued.  Other casks were opened, and the drink-crazed Indians
yelled and fought and sang in a perfect frenzy of delirium.
Fire-brands were hurled high into the air, to fall whirling among the
cabins.  And it was these whirling brands that riveted the attention of
the occupants of the big canoe that approached swiftly along the shore
from the direction of the Yellow Knife.  LeFroy had timed his work
well.  In the bow, Lapierre, with a grim smile upon his thin lips,
watched the arcs of the whirling brands, while from their position
amidship, Chloe and Big Lena stared fascinated upon the scene.

"What are they doing?" cried the girl in amazement.  Lapierre turned
and smiled into her eyes.

"We have come," he answered, "at a most opportune time.  You are about
to see MacNair's Indians at their worst.  For they seem to be even more
drunk than usual.  It is MacNair's way--to make them drunk while he
looks on and laughs."

"Do you mean," cried the girl in horror, "that they are drunk?"

Lapierre smiled.  "Very drunk," he answered dryly.  "It is the only way
MacNair can hold them--by allowing them free license at frequent
intervals.  For well the Indians know that nowhere else in all the
North would this thing be permitted.  Therefore, they remain with
MacNair."

The canoe had drawn close now, and the figures of the Indians were
plainly discernible.  Many were lying sprawled upon the ground, while
others leaped and danced in the red flare of the flames.  At frequent
intervals, above the sound of the frenzied shouts and weird chants,
arose the sharp rattle of shots, as the Indians fired recklessly into
the air.

At a signal from Lapierre the canoemen ceased paddling.  Chloe's eyes
flashed an inquiry, and Lapierre shook his head.

"We can venture no closer," he explained.  "At such times their
deviltry knows no bounds.  They would make short shrift of anyone who
would venture among them this night."

Chloe nodded.  "I have no wish to go farther!" she cried.  "I have seen
enough, and more than enough!  When this night's work shall become
known in Ottawa, its echo shall ring from Labrador to the Yukon until
throughout all Canada the name of MacNair shall be hated and despised!"

At the words, Lapierre glanced into her flushed face, and, removing his
hat, bowed reverently.  "God grant that your prophecy may be fulfilled.
And I speak, not because of any hatred for MacNair, but from a heart
overflowing with love and compassion for my people.  For their welfare,
it is my earnest prayer that this man's just punishment shall not long
be delayed."

While he was yet speaking, from the midst of the turmoil red flames
shot high into the air.  The yelling increased tenfold, and the
frenzied horde surged toward the walls of the stockade.  The cabins of
the Indians were burning!  Wider and higher flared the fire, and louder
and fiercer swelled the sounds of yelling and the firing of rifles.
The walls of the stockade ignited.  The fire was eating its way toward
the long, log storehouse.  Instantly through the girl's mind flashed
the memory of that other night when the sky glowed red, and the crash
of rifles mingled with the hoarse roar of flames.  She gazed in
fascination as the fire licked and curled above the roof of the
storehouse.  Upon the shore, even the canoes were burning.

Suddenly a wild shriek was borne to her ears.  The firing of guns
ceased abruptly, and around the corner of the burning storehouse dashed
a figure of terror, hatless and coatless, with long hair streaming
wildly in the firelight.  Tall, broad, and gaunt it appeared in the
light of the flaring flames, and instantly Chloe recognized the form of
Bob MacNair.  Lapierre also recognized it, and gasped audibly.  For at
that moment he knew MacNair should have been far across the barrens on
the trail of the caribou herd.

"Look!  Look!" cried the girl.  "What is he doing?"  And watched in
horror as the big man charged among the Indians, smashing, driving and
kicking his way through the howling, rum-crazed horde.  At every
lashing blow of his fist, every kick of his high-laced boot, men went
down.  Others reeled drunkenly from his path screaming aloud in their
fright; while across the open space in the foreground four or five men
could be seen dashing frantically for the protection of the timber.
MacNair ripped the gun from the hand of a reeling Indian and, throwing
it to his shoulder, fired.  Of those who ran, one dropped, rose to his
knees, and sank backward.  MacNair fired again, and another crashed
forward, and rolled over and over upon the ground.

Lapierre watched with breathless interest while the others gained the
shelter of the timber.  He wondered whether one of the two men who fell
was LeFroy.

"Oh!" cried Chloe in horror.  "He's killing them!"

Lapierre made a swift sign to his paddlers, and the canoe shot behind a
low sand-point where, in response to a tense command, the canoemen
turned its bow southward; and, for the second time, Chloe Elliston
found herself being driven by willing hands southward upon Snare Lake.

"He pounded--and kicked--and beat them!" sobbed the girl hysterically.
"And two of them he killed!"

Lapierre nodded.  "Yes," he answered sadly, "and he will kill more of
them.  It seems that this time they got beyond even his control.  For
the destruction of his buildings and his goods, he will take his toll
in lives and in the sufferings of his Indians."

While the canoe shot southward through the darkness, Chloe sat huddled
upon her blankets.  And as she watched the dull-red glow fade from the
sky above MacNair's burning fort, her heart cried out for vengeance
against this brute of the North.

One hour, two hours, the canoe plowed the black waters of the lake, and
then, because men must rest, Lapierre reluctantly gave the order to
camp, and the tired canoemen turned the bow shoreward.

Hardly had they taken a dozen strokes when the canoe ground sharply
against the thin, shore ice.  There was the sound of ripping bark,
where the knifelike edge of the ice tore through the side of the frail
craft.  Water gushed in, and Lapierre, stifling a curse that rose to
his lips, seized a paddle, and leaning over the bow began to chop
frantically at the ice.  Two of the canoemen with their paddles held
her head on, while the other two, with the help of Chloe and Big Lena
endeavoured to stay the inrush of water with blankets and fragments of
clothing.

Progress was slow.  The ice thickened as they neared the shore, and
Lapierre's paddle-blade, battered upon its point and edges to a soft,
fibrous pulp, thudded softly upon the ice without breaking it.  He
threw the paddle overboard and seized another.  A few more yards were
won, but the shore loomed black and forbidding, and many yards away.
Despite the utmost efforts of the women and the two canoemen, the water
gained rapidly.  Lapierre redoubled his exertion, chopping and stabbing
at the ever thickening shore-ice.  And then suddenly his paddle crashed
through, and with a short cry of relief he rose to his feet, and leaped
into the black water, where he sank only to his middle.  The canoemen
followed.  And the canoe, relieved of the bulk of its burden, floated
more easily.

Slowly they pushed shoreward through the shallow water, the men
breaking the ice before them.  And a few minutes later, wet and chilled
to the bone, they stepped onto the gravel.

Within the shelter of a small thicket a fire was built, and while the
men returned to examine the damaged canoe, the two women wrung out
their dripping garments and, returning them wet, huddled close to the
tiny blaze.  The men returned to the fire, where a meal was prepared
and eaten in silence.  As he ate, Chloe noticed that Lapierre seemed
ill at ease.

"Did you repair the canoe?" she asked.  The man shook his head.

"No.  It is damaged beyond any thought of repair.  We removed the food
and such of its contents as are necessary, and, loading it with rocks,
sank it in the lake."

"Sank it in the lake!" cried the girl in amazement.

"Yes," answered Lapierre.  "For even if it were not damaged, it would
be of no further use to us.  Tonight the lake will freeze."

"What are we going to do?" cried the girl.

"There is only one thing to do," answered Lapierre quickly.  "Walk to
the school.  It is not such a long trail--a hundred miles or so.  And
you can take it easy.  You have plenty of provisions."

"I!" cried the girl.  "And what will you do?"

"It is necessary," answered the man, "that I should make a forced
march."

"You are going to leave me?"

Lapierre smiled at the evident note of alarm in her voice.  "I am going
to take two of the canoemen and return in all haste to your school.  Do
you realize that MacNair, now that he has lost his winter provisions,
will stop at nothing to obtain more?"

"He would not dare!" cried the girl, her eyes flashing.

Lapierre laughed.  "You do not know MacNair.  You, personally, he would
not venture to molest.  He will doubtless try to buy supplies from you
or from the Hudson Bay Company.  But, in the meantime, while he is upon
this errand, his Indians, with no one to hold them in check, and
knowing that the supplies are in your storehouse, will swoop down upon
it, and your own Indians, without a leader, will fall an easy prey to
the hungry horde."

"But surely," cried the girl, "LeFroy is capable----"

"Possibly, if he were at the school," interrupted Lapierre.  "But
unfortunately the day before we ourselves departed, I sent LeFroy upon
an important mission to the eastward.  I think you will agree with me
upon the importance of the mission when I tell you that, as I swung out
of the mouth of Slave River at the head of the canoe brigade, I saw a
fast canoe slipping stealthily along the shore to the eastward.  In
that canoe, with the aid of my binoculars, I made out two men whom I
have long suspected of being engaged in the nefarious and hellish
business of peddling whiskey among the Indians.  I knew it was useless
to try to overtake them with my heavily loaded canoe, and so upon my
arrival at the school, as soon as we had concluded the outfitting of
the trappers, I dispatched LeFroy to hunt these men down, to destroy
any liquor found in their possession, and to deal with them as he saw
fit."

He paused and gazed steadily into the girl's face.  "This may seem to
you a lawless and high-handed proceeding, Miss Elliston," he went on;
"but you have just witnessed one exhibition of the tragedy that whiskey
can work among my people.  In my opinion, the end justifies the means."

The girl regarded him with shining eyes.  "Indeed it does!" she cried.
"Oh, there is nothing--no punishment--too severe for such brutes, such
devils, as these!  I--I hope LeFroy will catch them.  I
hope--almost--he will kill them."

Lapierre nodded.  "Yes, Miss Elliston," he answered gravely, "one could
sometimes almost wish so, but I have forbidden it.  The taking of a
human life is a serious matter; and in the North the exigencies of the
moment all too frequently make this imperative.  As a last resort only
should we kill."

"You are right," echoed the girl.  "Only after the scene we have just
witnessed, it seemed that I myself could kill deliberately, and be glad
I killed.  Truly the North breeds savagery.  For I, too, have killed on
the spur of the moment!"  The words fell rapidly from her lips, and she
cried out as in physical pain.  "And to think that I killed in defence
of _him_!  Oh, if I had let the Indian shoot that night, all this"--she
waved her hand to the northward--"would never have happened."

"Very true, Miss Elliston," answered Lapierre softly.  "But do not
blame yourself.  Under the circumstances, you could not have done
otherwise."

As he talked, two of the canoemen made up light packs from the outfit
of the wrecked canoe.  Seeing that they had concluded, Lapierre arose,
and taking Chloe's hand in both of his, looked straight into her eyes.

"Good-by," he said simply.  "These Indians will conduct you in safety
to your school."  And, without waiting for a reply, turned and followed
the two canoemen into the brush.

Chloe sat for a long time staring into the flames of the tiny fire
before creeping between her damp blankets.  Despite the utter
body-weariness of her long canoe-trip, the girl slept but fitfully in
her cold bed.

In the early grey of the morning she started up nervously.  Surely a
sound had awakened her.  She heard it distinctly now, the sound of
approaching footsteps.  She strained to locate the sound, and instantly
realized it was not the tread of moccasined feet.  She threw off the
frost-stiffened blankets and leaped to her feet, shivering in the keen
air of the biting dawn.

The sounds of the footsteps grew louder, plainer, as though someone had
turned suddenly from the shore and approached the thicket with long,
heavy strides.  With muscles tense and heart bounding wildly the girl
waited.  Then, scarce ten feet from her side, the thick scrub parted
with a vicious swish, and a man, hatless, glaring, and white-faced,
stood before her.  The man was MacNair.



CHAPTER XV

"ARREST THAT MAN!"

Seconds passed--tense, portentous seconds--as the two stood facing each
other over the dead ashes of the little fire.  Seconds in which the
white drawn features of the man engraved themselves indelibly upon
Chloe Elliston's brain.  She noted the knotted muscles of the clenched
hands and the glare of the sunken eyes.  Noted, also, the cringing
fear-stricken forms of the two Indians, who had awakened and lay
cowering upon their blankets.  And Big Lena, whose pale-blue, fishlike
eyes stared first at one and then the other from out a face absolutely
devoid of expression.

Suddenly a fierce, consuming anger welled into the girl's heart, and
words fell from her lips in a veritable hiss of scorn: "Have you come
to kill me, too?"

"By God, it would be a good thing for the North if I should kill you!"

"A good thing for MacNair, you mean!" taunted the girl.  "Yes, I think
it would.  Well, there is nothing to hinder you.  Of course, you would
have to kill these, also."  She indicated Big Lena and the Indians.
"But what are mere lives to you?"

"They are nothing to me when the fate of my people is at stake!  And at
this very moment their fate--their whole future--the future of their
children and their children's children--is at stake, as it has never
been at stake before.  Many times in my life have I faced crises: but
never such a crisis as this.  And always I have won, regardless of
cost--but the cost only _I_ have ever known."

His eyes glared, and he seemed a madman in his berserk rage.  He drove
a huge fist into his upturned palm and fairly shouted his words: "I am
MacNair!  And if there is a God in heaven, I will win!  From this
moment, it is my life or Lapierre's!  Since last night's outrage there
can be no truce--no quibbling--no parleying--no half-way measures!  My
friends are my friends, and his friends are my enemies!  The war is
on--and it will be a fight to the finish.  A fight that may well
disrupt the North!"  He shook his clenched fist before the face of the
girl.  "I have taken the man-trail!  I am MacNair!  And at the end of
that trail will lie a dead man--myself or Pierre Lapierre!"

"And at the beginning of the trail lie _two_ dead men," sneered Chloe.
"Those who started for the timber----"

"And, by God, if necessary, the trail will be _paved with dead men_!
For Lapierre, the day of reckoning is at hand."

Chloe took a step forward, and with blazing eyes stood trembling with
anger before the man.  "And how about _your own_ day of reckoning?  You
have told me that I am a fool; but it is you who are the fool!  You
killer of helpless men!  You debaucher of women and children!  You
trader in souls!  As you say, the day of reckoning is at hand--not for
Lapierre, but for _you_!  Until this day you have not taken me
seriously.  I _have_ been a fool--a blind, trusting fool.  You have
succeeded, in spite of what I have heard--in spite of my better
judgment--in spite even of what I have seen, in making me believe that,
possibly you had been misunderstood; had been painted blacker than you
really are.  At times I almost _believed_ in you; but I have since
learned enough from the mouths of your own Indians to convince me of my
folly.  And after what I saw last night--"  She paused in very horror
of the thought, and MacNair glared into her outraged eyes.

"You saw that?  You stood by and witnessed the ruination of my Indians?
Deliberately watched them changed from sober, industrious,
simple-hearted children of the wild into a howling, drink-crazed horde
of beasts that thirsted for blood--tore at each other's throats--and,
in the frenzy of their madness, burned their own homes, and their
winter's supplies and provisions?  You stood by and saw them glutted
with the whiskey from your storehouse--by your own paid creatures----"

"Whiskey from my storehouse!"  The girl's voice rose to a scream, and
MacNair interrupted her savagely:

"Aye, whiskey from your storehouse!  Brought in by Lapierre, and by
Lapierre cunningly and freely given out to my Indians."

"You are crazy!  You are mad!  You do not know what you are saying?
But if you _do_ know, you are the most consummate liar on the face of
the earth!  Of all things absurd!  Is it possible that you hope by any
such preposterous and flimsy fabrication to escape the punishment which
will surely and swiftly be meted out to you?  Will, you tell that to
the Mounted?  And will you tell it to the judge and the jury?  What
will they say when I have told my story, and have had it corroborated
by your own Indians--those Indians who have fled to my school to seek a
haven of refuge from your tyranny?  I have my manifest.  My goods were
inspected and passed by the Mounted----"

"Inspected and passed!  And why?  Because they were _your_ goods, and
the men of the Mounted have yet to suspect you.  The inspection was
perfunctorily made.  And as for the manifest--I did not say it was your
whiskey.  I said, 'whiskey from your storehouse.'  It was Lapierre's
whiskey.  And he succeeded in running it in by the boldest, and at the
same time the cleverest and safest method--disguised as your freight.
Tell me this: Did you check your pieces upon their arrival at your
storehouse?"

"No; Lapierre did that, or LeFroy."

"And Lapierre, having first ascertained that I was far on the caribou
trail, succeeded in slipping the whiskey to my Indians, but he----"

"Mr. Lapierre was with me!  Accuse him and you accuse me, also.  He
brought me here because I wished to see for myself the condition of
your Indians--the condition of which I had so often heard."

"Was LeFroy, also, with you?"

"LeFroy was away upon a mission, and that mission was to capture two
others of your ilk--two whiskey-runners!"

MacNair laughed harshly.  "Good LeFroy!" he exclaimed in derision.
"Great God, you are a fool!  You yourself saw LeFroy and his satellites
rushing wildly for the shelter of the timber, when I unexpectedly
appeared among them."  The light of exultation leaped into his eyes.
"I killed two of them, but LeFroy escaped.  Lapierre timed his work
well.  And had it not been that one of my Indians, who was a spy in
Lapierre's camp, learned of his plan and followed me across the
barrens, Lapierre would have had ample time, after the destruction of
my fort, to have scattered my Indians to the four winds.  When I
learned of his plot, I forced the trail as I never had forced a trail,
in the hope of arriving in time to prevent the catastrophe.  I reached
the fort too late to save my Indians from your human wolf-pack, their
homes from the flames, and my buildings and my property from
destruction.  But, thank God, it is not too late to wreck my vengeance
upon the enemies of my people!  For the trail is hot, and I will follow
it, if need be, to the end of the earth."

"Your love for your Indians is, indeed, touching.  I witnessed a
demonstration of that love last night, when you battered and kicked and
hurled them about in their drunken and helpless condition.  But, tell
me, what will become of them while you are following your trail of
blood--the trail you so fondly imagine will terminate in the death of
Lapierre, but which will, as surely and inevitably as justice itself,
lead you to a prison cell, if not the gallows?"

MacNair regarded the girl almost fiercely.  "I must leave my Indians,"
he answered, "for the present, to their own devices.  For the simple
reason that I cannot be in two places at the same time."

"But their supplies were burned!  They will starve!" cried the girl.
"It would seem that one who really loved his Indians would have his
first thought for their welfare.  But no; you prefer to take the trail
and kill men; men who may at some future time tell their story upon the
witness-stand; a story that will not sound pretty in the telling, and
that will mark the crash of your reign of tyranny.  'Safety first' is
your slogan, and your Indians may starve while you murder men."  The
girl paused and suddenly became conscious that MacNair was regarding
her with a strange look in his eyes.  And at his next words she could
scarcely believe her ears.

"Will you care for my Indians?"

The question staggered her.  "What!" she managed to gasp.

"Just what I said," answered MacNair gruffly.  "Will you care for my
Indians until such time as I shall return to them--until I have ridded
the North of Lapierre?"

"Do you mean," cried the astonished girl, "will I care for your
Indians--the same Indians who attacked my school--who only last night
fought like fiends among themselves, and burned their own homes?"

"Just that!" answered MacNair.  "The Indian who warned me of Lapierre's
plot told me, also, of the arrival of your supplies--sufficient, he
said, to feed the whole North.  You will not lose by it.  Name your own
price, and I shall pay whatever you ask."

"Price!" flashed the girl.  "Do you think I would take your gold--the
gold that has been wrung from the hearts' blood of your Indians?"

"On your own terms, then," answered MacNair.  "Will you take them?
Surely this arrangement should be to your liking.  Did you not tell me
yourself, upon the occasion of our first meeting, that you intended to
use every means in your power to induce my Indians to attend your
school?  That you would teach them that they are free?  That they owe
allegiance and servitude to no man?  That you would educate and show
them they were being robbed and cheated and forced into serfdom?  That
you intended to appeal to their better natures, to their manhood and
womanhood?  I think those were your words.  Did you not say that?  And
did you mean it?  Or was it the idle boast of an angry woman?"

Chloe interrupted him.  "Yes, I said that, and I meant it!  And I mean
it now!"

"You have your chance," growled MacNair, "I impose no restrictions.  I
shall command them to obey you; even to attend your school, if you
wish!  You will hardly have time to do them much harm.  As I told you,
the North is not ready for your education.  But I know that you are
honest.  You are a fool, and the time is not far distant when you
yourself will realize this; when you will learn that you have become
the unwitting dupe of one of the shrewdest and most diabolical
scoundrels that ever drew breath.  Again I tell you that some day you
and I shall be friends!  At this moment you hate me.  But I know it is
through ignorance you hate.  I have small patience with your ignorance;
but, also, at this moment you are the only person in all the North with
whom I would trust my Indians.  Lapierre, from now on, will be past
charming them.  I shall see to it that he is kept so busy in the matter
of saving his own hide that he will have scant time for deviltry."

Still Chloe appeared to hesitate.  And through MacNair's mind flashed
the memory of the rapier-blade eyes that stared from out the dull gold
frame of the portrait that hung upon the wall of the little
cottage---eyes that were the eyes of the girl before him.

"Well," he asked with evident impatience, "are you _afraid_ of these
Indians?"

The flashing eyes of the girl told him that the shot had struck home.
"No!" she cried.  "I am not afraid!  Send your Indians to me, if you
will; and when you send them, bid good-by to them forever."

MacNair nodded.  "I will send them," he answered, and, turning abruptly
upon his heel, disappeared into the scrub.


The journey down the Yellow Knife consumed six days, and it was a
journey fraught with many hardships for Chloe Elliston, unaccustomed as
she was to trail travel.  The little-used trail, following closely the
bank of the stream, climbed low, rock-ribbed ridges, traversed black
spruce swamps, and threaded endlessly in and out of the scrub timber.
Nevertheless, the girl held doggedly to the slow pace set by the
canoemen.

When at last, foot-sore and weary, with nerves a-jangle, and with every
muscle in her body protesting with its own devilishly ingenious ache
against the overstrain of the long, rough miles and the chill misery of
damp blankets, she arrived at the school, Lapierre was nowhere to be
found.  For the wily quarter-breed, knowing that MacNair would
instantly suspect the source of the whiskey, had, upon his arrival,
removed the remaining casks from the storehouse, and conveyed them with
all haste to his stronghold on Lac du Mort.

Upon her table in the cottage, Chloe found a brief note to the effect
that Lapierre had been, forced to hasten to the eastward to aid LeFroy
in dealing with the whiskey-runners.  The girl had scant time to think
of Lapierre, however, for upon the morning after her arrival, MacNair
appeared, accompanied by a hundred or more dejected and woe-begone
Indians.  Despite the fact that Chloe had known them only as fierce
roisterers she was forced to admit that they looked harmless and
peaceful enough, under the chastening effect of a week of starvation.

MacNair wasted no time, but striding up to the girl, who stood upon the
veranda of her cottage, plunged unceremoniously into the business at
hand.

"Do not misunderstand me," he began gruffly.  "I did not bring my
Indians here to receive the benefits of your education, nor as a sop to
your anger, nor for any other reason than to procure for them food and
shelter until such time as I myself can provide for them.  If they were
trappers this would be unnecessary.  But they have long since abandoned
the trap-lines, and in the whole village there could not be found
enough traps to supply one tenth of their number with the actual
necessities of life.  I have sent runners to the young men upon the
barren grounds, with orders to continue the caribou kill and bring the
meat to you here.  I have given my Indians their instructions.  They
will cause you no trouble, and will be subject absolutely to your
commands.  And now, I must be on my way.  I must pick up the trail of
Lapierre.  And when I return, I shall confront you with evidence that
will prove to you beyond a doubt that the words I have spoken are true!"

"And I will confront you," retorted the girl, "with evidence that will
place you behind prison bars for the rest of your life!"  Again Chloe
saw in the grey eyes the twinkle that held more than the suspicion of a
smile.

"I think I would make but a poor prisoner," the man answered.  "But if
I am to be a prisoner I warn you that I will run the prison.  I am
MacNair!"  Something in the man's look--he was gazing straight into her
eyes with a peculiar intense gaze--caused the girl to start, while a
sudden indescribable feeling of fear, of helplessness before this man,
flashed over her.  The feeling passed in an instant and she sneered
boldly into MacNair's face.

"My, how you hate yourself!" she cried.  "And how long is it, Mr. Brute
MacNair--" was it fancy, or did the man wince at the emphasis of the
name?  She repeated, with added emphasis, "Mr. Brute MacNair, since you
have deemed it worth your while to furnish me with evidence?  You told
me once, I believe, that you cared nothing for my opinion.  Is it
possible that you hope at this late day to flatter me with my own
importance?"

MacNair, in no wise perturbed, regarded her gravely.  "No," he answered
"It is not that, it is--"  He paused as if at a loss for words.  "I do
not know why," he continued, "unless, perhaps, it is because--because
you have no fear of me.  That you do not fear to take your life into
your hands in defence of what you think is right.  It may be that I
have learned a certain respect for you.  Certainly I do not pity you.
At times you have made me very angry with your foolish blundering,
until I remember it is honest blundering, and that some day you will
know the North, and will know that north of sixty, men are not measured
by your little rule of thumb.  Always I have gone my way, caring no
more for the approval of others than I have for their hatred or
scoffing.  I know the North!  Why should I care for the opinion of
others?  If they do not know, so much the worse for them.  The
reputation of being a fool injures no one.  Had I not been thought a
fool by the men of the Hudson Bay Company they would not have sold me
the barren grounds whose sands are loaded with gold."

"And yet you said _I_ was a fool," interrupted Chloe.  "According to
your theory, that fact should redound to my credit."

MacNair answered without a smile.  "I did not say that _being_ a fool
injured no one.  You _are_ a fool.  Of your reputation I know nothing,
nor care."  He turned abruptly on his heel and walked to the
storehouse, leaving the girl, speechless with anger, standing upon the
veranda of the cottage, as she watched his swinging shoulders disappear
from sight around the corner of the log building.

With flushed face, Chloe turned toward the river, and instantly her
attention centred upon the figure of a man, who swung out of the timber
and approached across the clearing in long, easy strides.  She regarded
the man closely.  Certainly he was no one she had ever seen before.  He
was very near now, and at the distance of a few feet, paused and bowed,
as he swept the Stetson from his head.  The girl's heart gave a wild
bound of joy.  The man wore the uniform of the Mounted!

"Miss Elliston?" he asked.

"Yes," answered Chloe, as her glance noted the clear-cut, almost boyish
lines of the weather-bronzed face.

"I am Corporal Ripley, ma'am, at your service.  I happened on a Fort
Rae Injun--a Dog Rib, a few days since, and he told me some kind of a
yarn about a band of Yellow Knives that had attacked your post some
time during the summer.  I couldn't get much out of him because he
could speak only a few words of English, and I can't speak any Dog Rib.
Besides, you can't go much on what an Indian tells you.  When you come
to sift down their dope, it generally turns out to be nine parts lies
and the other part divided between truth, superstition, and guess-work.
Constable Darling, at Fort Resolution, said he'd received no complaint,
so I didn't hurry through."

With a swift glance toward the storehouse, into which MacNair had
disappeared, Chloe motioned the man into the cottage.  "The--the attack
was nothing," she hastened to assure him.  "But there is something--a
complaint that I wish to make against a man who is, and has been for
years, doing all in his power to debauch and brutalize the Indians of
the North."  The girl paced nervously up and down as she spoke, and she
noted that the youthful officer leaned forward expectantly, his wide
boyish eyes narrowed to slits.

"Yes," he urged eagerly, "who is this man?  And have you got the
evidence to back your charge?  For I take it from your words you intend
to make a charge."

"Yes," answered Chloe.  "I do intend to make a charge, and I have my
evidence.  The man is MacNair.  Brute MacNair he is called----"

"What!  MacNair of Snare Lake--Bob MacNair of the barren grounds?"

"Yes, Bob MacNair of the barren grounds."  A moment of silence followed
her words.  A silence during which the officer's face assumed a
troubled expression.

"You are sure there is no mistake?" he asked at length.

"There is no mistake!" flashed the girl.  "With my own eyes I have seen
enough to convict a dozen men!"

Even as she spoke, a form passed the window, and a heavy tread sounded
on the veranda.  Stepping quickly to the door, Chloe flung it open, and
pointing toward MacNair, who stood, rifle in hand, cried; "Officer,
arrest that man!"

Corporal Ripley, who had risen to his feet, stood gazing from one to
the other; while MacNair, speechless, stared straight into the eyes of
the girl.



CHAPTER XVI

MACNAIR GOES TO JAIL

The silence in the little room became almost painful.  MacNair uttered
no word as his glance strayed from the flushed, excited face of the
girl to the figure of Corporal Ripley, who stood hat in hand, gazing
from one to the other with eyes plainly troubled by doubt and
perplexity.

"Well, why don't you do something?" cried the girl, at length.  "It
seems to me if I were a man I could think of something to do besides
stand and gape!"

Corporal Ripley cleared his throat.  "Do I understand," he began
stiffly, "that you intend to prefer certain charges against
MacNair--that you demand his arrest?"

"I should _think_ you would understand it!" retorted the girl.  "I have
told you three or four times."

The officer flushed slightly and shifted the hat from his right to his
left hand.

"Just step inside, MacNair," he said, and then to the girl: "I'll
listen to you now, if you please.  You must make specific charges, you
know--not just hearsay.  Arresting a man in this country is a serious
matter, Miss Elliston.  We are seven hundred miles from a jail, and the
law expects us to use discretion in making an arrest.  It don't do us
any good at headquarters to bring in a man unless we can back up our
charge with strong evidence, because the item of transportation of
witnesses and prisoner may easily run up into big money.  On the other
hand it's just as bad if we fail or delay in bringing a guilty man to
book.  What we want is specific evidence.  I don't tell you this to
discourage any just complaint, but only to show you that we've got to
have direct and specific evidence.  Now, Miss Elliston, I'll hear what
you've got to say."

Chloe sank into a chair and motioned the others to be seated.  "We may
as well sit down while we talk.  I will try to tell you only the facts
as I myself have seen them--only such as I could swear to on a witness
stand."  The officer bowed, and Chloe plunged directly into the subject.

"In the first place," she began, "when I brought my outfit in I noticed
in the scows, certain pieces with the name of MacNair painted on the
burlap.  The rest of the outfit, I think, consisted wholly of my own
freight.  I wondered at the time who MacNair was, but didn't make any
inquiries until I happened to mention the matter to Mr. Lapierre.  That
was on Slave River.  Mr. Lapierre seemed very much surprised that any
of MacNair's goods should be in his scows.  He examined the pieces and
then with an ax smashed them in.  They contained whiskey."

"And he destroyed it?  Can you swear it was whiskey?" asked the officer.

"Certainly, I can swear it was whiskey!  I saw it and _smelled_ it."

"Can you explain why Lapierre did not know of these pieces, until you
called his attention to them?"

Chloe hesitated a moment and tapped nervously on the table with her
fingers.  "Yes," she answered, "I can.  Mr. Lapierre took charge of the
outfit only that morning."

"Who was the boss scowman?  Who took the scows down the Athabasca?"

"A man named Vermilion.  He was a half-breed, I think.  Anyway, he was
a horrible creature."

"Where is Vermilion now?"

Again Chloe hesitated.  "He is dead," she answered.  "Mr. Lapierre shot
him.  He shot him in self-defence, after Vermilion had shot another
man."

The officer nodded, and Chloe called upon Big Lena to corroborate the
statement that Lapierre had destroyed certain whiskey upon the bank of
Slave Lake.  "Is that all?" asked the officer.

"No, indeed!" answered Chloe.  "That isn't all!  Only last week, I went
to visit MacNair's fort on Snare Lake in company with Mr. Lapierre and
Lena, and four canoemen.  We got there shortly after dark.  Fires had
been built on the beach--many of them almost against the walls of the
stockade.  As we drew near, we heard loud yells and howlings that
sounded like the cries of animals, rather than of human beings.  We
approached very close to the shore where the figures of the Indians
were distinctly visible by the light of the leaping names.  It was then
we realized that a wild orgy of indescribable debauchery was in
progress.  The Indians were raving drunk.  Some lay upon the ground in
a stupor--others danced and howled and threw fire-brands about in
reckless abandon.

"We dared not land, but held the canoe off shore and watched the
horrible scene.  We had not long to wait before the inevitable
happened.  The whirling fire-brands falling among the cabins and
against the walls of the stockade started a conflagration, which soon
spread to the storehouse.  And then MacNair appeared on the scene,
rushing madly among the Indians, striking, kicking, and hurling them
about.  A few sought to save themselves by escaping to the timber.
And, jerking a rifle from the hand of an Indian, MacNair fired twice at
the fleeing men.  Two of them fell and the others escaped into the
timber."

"You did not see any whiskey in the possession of these Indians?" asked
Corporal Ripley.  "You merely surmised they were drunk by their
actions?"

Chloe nodded.  "Yes," she admitted, "but certainly there can be no
doubt that they were drunk.  Men who are not drunk do not----"

MacNair interrupted her.  "They were drunk," he said quietly, "very
drunk."

"You admit that?" asked the officer in surprise.  "I must warn you,
MacNair, that anything you say may be used against you."  MacNair
nodded.

"And, as to the killing of the men," continued Chloe, "I charge MacNair
with their murder."

"Murder is a very serious charge, Miss Elliston.  Let's go over the
facts again.  You say you were in a canoe near the shore--you saw a man
you say was MacNair grab a rifle from an Indian and kill two men.  Stop
and think, now--it was night and you saw all this by firelight--are you
sure the man who fired the shots was MacNair?"

"Absolutely!" cried the girl, with a trace of irritation.

"It was I who shot," interrupted MacNair.

The officer regarded him curiously and again addressed the girl.  "Once
more, Miss Elliston, do you know that the men you saw fall are dead?
Mere shooting won't sustain a charge of murder."

Chloe hesitated.  "No," she admitted reluctantly.  "I did not examine
their dead bodies, if that is what you mean.  But MacNair afterward
told me that he killed them, and I can swear to having seen them fall."

"The men are dead," said MacNair.

The officer stared in astonishment.  Chloe also was puzzled by the
frank admission of the man, and she gazed into his face as though
striving to pierce its mask and discover an ulterior motive.  MacNair
returned her gaze unflinchingly and again the girl felt an
indescribable sense of smallness--of helplessness before this man of
the North, whose very presence breathed strength and indomitable
man-power.

"Was it possible," she wondered, "that he would dare to flaunt this
strength in the very face of the law?"  She turned to Corporal Ripley,
who was making notes with a pencil in a little note-book.  "Well," she
asked, "is my evidence _specific_ enough to warrant this man's arrest?"

The officer nodded slowly.  "Yes," he answered gravely.  "The evidence
warrants an arrest.  Very probably several arrests."

"You mean," asked the girl, "that you think he may have--an accomplice?"

"No, Miss Elliston, I don't mean that.  In spite of your evidence and
his own words, I don't think MacNair is guilty.  There is something
queer here.  I guess there is no doubt that whiskey has been run into
the territory, and that it has been supplied to the Indians.  You
charge MacNair with these crimes, and I've got to arrest him."

Chloe was about to retort, when the officer interrupted her with a
gesture.

"Just a moment, please," he said quietly; "I'm not sure I can make
myself plain to you, but you see in the North we know something of
MacNair's work.  Of what he has done in spite of the odds.  We know the
North needs men like MacNair.  You claim to be a friend of the Indians.
Do you realize that up on Snare Lake, right now, are a bunch of Indians
who depend on MacNair for their existence?  MacNair's absence will
cause suffering among them and even death.  If his storehouse has been
burned, what are they going to eat?  On your statements I've got to
enter charges against MacNair.  First and foremost the charge of
murder.  He will also be charged with importing liquor, having liquor
in prohibited territory, smuggling whiskey, and supplying liquor to the
Indians.

"Now, Miss Elliston, for the good of those Indians on Snare Lake I want
you to withdraw the charge of murder.  The other offences are bailable
ones, and in my judgment he should be allowed to return to his Indians.
Then, when his trial comes up at the spring assizes, the charge of
murder can be placed against him.  I'll bet a year's pay, MacNair isn't
to blame.  In the meantime we will get busy and comb the barrens for
the real criminals.  I've got a hunch.  And you can take my word that
justice shall be done, no matter where the blow falls."

Suddenly, through Chloe's mind flashed the memory of what Lapierre had
told her of the Mounted.  She arose to her feet and, drawing herself up
haughtily, glared into the face of the officer.  When she spoke, her
voice rang hard with scorn.

"It is very evident that you don't want to arrest MacNair.  I have
heard that he is a law unto himself--that he would defy arrest--that he
has the Mounted subsidized.  I did not believe it at the time.  I
regarded it merely as the exaggerated statement of a man who justly
hates him.  But it seems this man was right.  You need not trouble
yourself about MacNair's Indians.  I will stand sponsor for their
welfare.  They are my Indians now.  I warn you that the day of MacNair
is past.  I refuse to withdraw a single word of my charges against him,
and you will either arrest him, or I shall go straight to Ottawa.  And
I shall never rest until I have blazoned before the world the whole
truth about your rotten system!  What will Canada say, when she learns
that the Mounted--the men who have been held up before all the world as
models of bravery, efficiency, and honour--are as crooked and grafting
as--as the police of New York?"

Corporal Ripley's face showed red through the tan, and he started to
his feet with an exclamation of anger.  "Hold on, Corporal."  The voice
of MacNair was the quiet voice with which one sooths a petulant child.
He remained seated and pushed the Stetson toward the back of his head.
"She really believes it.  Don't hold it against her.  It is not her
fault.  When the smoke has cleared away and she gets her bearings,
we're all going to like her.  In fact, I'm thinking that the time is
coming when the only one who will hate her will be herself.  I like her
now; though she is not what you'd call my friend.  I mean--not yet."

Corporal Ripley gazed in astonishment at MacNair and then very frigidly
he turned to Chloe.  "Then the charge of murder stands?"

"Yes, it does," answered the girl.  "If he were allowed to go free now
there would be three murders instead of two by the time of the spring
assizes or whatever you call them, for he is even now upon the trail of
a man he has threatened to kill.  I can give you his exact words.  He
said: 'I have taken the man-trail . . . and at the end of that trail
will lie a dead man--myself or Pierre Lapierre!'"

"Lapierre!" exclaimed the officer.  "What has he got to do with it?"
He turned to MacNair as if expecting an answer.  But MacNair remained
silent.  "Why don't you charge Lapierre with the crimes you told me he
was guilty of?" taunted the girl.  Again she saw that baffling twinkle
in the grey eyes of the man.  Then the eyes hardened.

"The last thing I desire is the arrest of Lapierre," he answered.
"Lapierre must answer to me."  The words, pronounced slowly and
distinctly, rasped hard.  In spite of herself, Chloe shuddered.

Corporal Ripley shifted uneasily.  "We'd better be going, MacNair," he
said.  "There's something queer about this whole business--something I
don't quite understand.  It's up to me to take you up the river; but,
believe me, I'm coming back!  I'll get at the bottom of this thing if
it takes me five years.  Are you ready?"

MacNair nodded.

"I can let you have some Indians," suggested the girl.

"What for?"

"Why, for a guard, of course; to help you with your prisoner."

Ripley drew himself up and answered abruptly: "The Mounted is quite
capable of managing its own affairs, Miss Elliston.  I don't need your
Indians, thank you."

Chloe glanced wrathfully into the boyish face of the officer.  "Suit
yourself," she answered sweetly.  "But if I were you, I'd want a whole
regiment of Indians.  Because if MacNair wants to, he'll eat you up."

"He won't want to," snapped Ripley.  "I don't taste good."

As they passed out of the door, MacNair turned.  "Good-by, Miss
Elliston," he said gravely.  "Beware of Pierre Lapierre."  Chloe made
no reply and as MacNair turned to go, he chanced to glance into the
wide, expressionless face of Big Lena, who had stood throughout the
interview leaning heavily against the jamb of the kitchen door.
Something inscrutable in the stare of the fishlike, china-blue eyes
clung in his memory, and try as he would in the days that followed,
MacNair could not fathom the meaning of that stare, if indeed it had
any meaning.  MacNair did not know why, but in some inexplainable
manner the memory of that look eased many a weary mile.



CHAPTER XVII

A FRAME-UP

News, of a kind, travels on the wings of the wind across wastes of the
farther land.  Principalities may fall, nations crash, and kingdoms
sink into oblivion, and the North will neither know nor care.  For the
North has its own problems--vital problems, human problems--and
therefore big.  Elemental, portentous problems, having to do with life
and the eating of meat.

In the crash and shift of man-made governments; in the redistribution
of man-constituted authority, and man-gathered surplus of increment,
the North has no part.  On the cold side of sixty there is no surplus,
and men think in terms of meat, and their possessions are meat-getting
possessions.  Guns, nets, and traps, even of the best, insure but a
bare existence.  And in the lean years, which are the seventh
years--the years of the rabbit plague--starvation stalks in the
teepees, and gaunt, sunken-eyed forms, dry-lipped, and with the skin
drawn tightly over protruding ribs, stiffen between shoddy blankets.
For even the philosophers of the land of God and the H.B.C. must eat to
live--if not this week, at least once next week.

The H.B.C., taking wise cognizance of the seventh year, extends it
credit--"debt" it is called in the outlands--but it puts no more wool
in its blankets, and for lack of food the body-fires burn low.  But the
cold remains inexorable.  And with the thermometer at seventy degrees
below zero, even in the years of plenty, when the philosophers eat
almost daily, there is little of comfort.  With the thermometer at
seventy in the lean years, the suffering is diminished by the passing
of many philosophers.

The arrest of Bob MacNair was a matter of sovereign import to the
dwellers of the frozen places, and word of it swept like wildfire
through the land of the lakes and rivers.  Yet in all the North those
upon whom it made the least impression were those most vitally
concerned--MacNair's own Indians.  So quietly had the incident passed
that not one of them realized its importance.

With them MacNair was _God_.  He was the _law_.  He had taught them to
work, so that even in the lean years they and their wives and their
babies ate twice each day.  He had said that they should continue to
eat twice each day, and therefore his departure was a matter of no
moment.  They knew only that he had gone southward with the man of the
soldier-police.  This was doubtless as he had commanded.  They could
conceive of MacNair only as commanding.  Therefore the
soldier-policeman had obeyed and accompanied him to the southward.

With no such complacency, however, was the arrest of MacNair regarded
by the henchmen of Lapierre.  To them MacNair was not God, nor was he
the law.  For these men knew well the long arm of the Mounted and what
lay at the end of the trail.  Lean forms sped through the woods, and
the word passed from lip to lip in far places.  It was whispered upon
the Slave, the Mackenzie, and the Athabasca, and it was told in the
provinces before MacNair and Ripley reached Fort Chippewayan.  Along
the river, men talked excitedly, and impatiently awaited word from
Lapierre, while their eyes snapped with greed and their thoughts flew
to the gold in the sands of the barren grounds.

In the Bastile du Mort, a hundred miles to the eastward, Lapierre heard
the news from the lips of a breathless runner, but a scant ten hours
after Corporal Ripley and MacNair stepped from the door of the cottage.
And within the hour the quarter-breed was upon the trail, travelling
light, in company with LeFroy, who, fearing swift vengeance, had also
sought safety in the stronghold of the outlaws.


Chloe Elliston stood in the doorway and watched the broad form of Bob
MacNair swing across the clearing in company with Corporal Ripley.  As
the men disappeared in the timber, a fierce joy of victory surged
through her veins.  She had bared the mailed fist!  Had wrested a
people from the hand of their oppressor!  The Snare Lake Indians were
henceforth to be _her_ Indians!  She had ridded the North of MacNair!
Every fibre of her sang with the exultation of it as she turned into
the room and encountered the fishlike stare of Big Lena.

The woman leaned, ponderous and silent, against the jamb of the door
giving into the kitchen.  Her huge arms were folded tightly across her
breast, and, for some inexplicable reason, Chloe found the stare
disconcerting.  The enthusiasm of her victory damped perceptibly.  For
if the fish-eyed stare held nothing of reproach, it certainly held
nothing of approbation.  Almost the girl read a condescending pity in
the stare of the china-blue eyes.  The thought stung, and she faced the
other wrathfully.

"Well, for Heaven's sake say something!  Don't stand there and stare
like a--a billikin!  Can't you talk?"

"Yah, Ay tank Ay kin; but Ay von't--not yat."

"What do you mean?" cried the exasperated girl, as she flung herself
into a chair.  But without deigning to answer, Big Lena turned heavily
into the kitchen, and closed the door with a bang that impoverished
invective--for volumes may be spoken--in the banging of a door.  The
moment was inauspicious for the entrance of Harriet Penny.  At best,
Chloe merely endured the little spinster, with her whining, hysterical
outbursts, and abject, unreasoning fear of God, man, the devil, and
everything else.  "Oh, my dear, I am so glad!" piped the little woman,
rushing to the girl's side: "we need never fear him again, need we?"

"Nobody ever did fear him but you," retorted Chloe.

"But, Mr. Lapierre said----"

The girl arose with a gesture of impatience, and Miss Penny returned to
MacNair.  "He is so big, and coarse, and horrible!  I am sure even his
looks are enough to frighten a person to death."

Chloe sniffed.  "I think he is handsome, and he is big and strong.  I
like big people."

"But, my dear!" cried the horrified Miss Penny.  "He--he kills Indians!"

"So do I!" snapped the girl, and stamped angrily into her own room,
where she threw herself upon the bed and gave way to bitter
reflections.  She hated everyone.  She hated MacNair, and Big Lena, and
Harriet Penny, and the officer of the Mounted.  She hated Lapierre and
the Indians, too.  And then, realizing the folly of her blind hatred,
she hated herself for hating.  With an effort she regained her poise.

"MacNair is out of the way; and that's the main thing," she murmured.
She remembered his last words: "Beware of Pierre Lapierre," and her
eyes sought the man's hastily scribbled note that lay upon the table
where he had left it.  She reread the note, and crumpling it in her
hand threw it to the floor.  "He always manages to be some place else
when anything happens!" she exclaimed.  "Oh, why couldn't it have been
the other way around?  Why couldn't MacNair have been the one to have
the interest of the Indians at heart?  And why couldn't Lapierre have
been the one to browbeat and bully them?"

She paced angrily up and down the room, and kicked viciously at the
little ball of paper that was Lapierre's note.  "He couldn't browbeat
anything!" she exclaimed.  "He's--he's--sometimes, I think, he's almost
_sneaking_, with his bland, courtly manners, and his suave tongue.  Oh,
how I could hate that man!  And how I--" she stopped suddenly, and with
clenched fists fixed her gaze upon the portrait of Tiger Elliston, and
as she looked the thin features that returned her stare seemed to
resolve into the rugged outlines of the face of Bob MacNair.

"He's big and strong, and he's not afraid," she murmured, and started
nervously at the knock with which Big Lena announced supper.

When Chloe appeared at the table five minutes later she was quite her
usual self.  She even laughed at Harriet Penny's horrified narrative of
the fact that she had discovered several Indians in the act of affixing
runners to the collapsible bathtubs in anticipation of the coming snow.

Chloe spent an almost sleepless night, and it was with a feeling of
distinct relief that she arose to find Lapierre upon the veranda.  She
noted a certain intense eagerness in the quarter-breed's voice as he
greeted her.

"Ah, Miss Elliston!" he cried, seizing both her hands.  "It seems that
during my brief absence you have accomplished wonders!  May I ask how
you managed to bring about the downfall of the brute of the North, and
at the same time win his Indians to your school?"

Under the enthusiasm of his words the girl's heart once more quickened
with the sense of victory.  She withdrew her hands from his clasp and
gave a brief account of all that had happened since their parting on
Snare Lake.

"Wonderful," breathed Lapierre at the conclusion of the recital.  "And
you are sure he was duly charged with the murder of the two Indians?"

Chloe nodded.  "Yes, indeed I am sure!" she exclaimed.  "The officer,
Corporal Ripley, tried to get me to put off this charge until his other
trial came up at the spring assizes.  He said MacNair could give bail
and secure his liberty on the liquor charges, and thus return to the
North--and to his Indians."

Lapierre nodded eagerly.  "Ah, did I not tell you, Miss Elliston, that
the men of the Mounted are with him heart and soul?  He owns them!  You
have done well not to withdraw the charge of murder."

"I offered to furnish him with an escort of Indians, but he refused
them.  I don't see how in the world he can expect to take MacNair to
jail.  He's a mere boy."

Lapierre laughed.  "He'll take him to jail all right, you may rest
assured as to that.  He will not dare to allow him to escape, nor will
MacNair try to escape.  We have nothing to fear now until the trial.
It is extremely doubtful if we can make the murder charge stick, but it
will serve to hold him during the winter, and I have no doubt when his
case comes up in the spring we will be able to produce evidence that
will insure conviction on the whiskey charges, which will mean at least
a year or two in jail and the exaction of a heavy fine.

"In the meantime you will have succeeded in educating the Indians to a
realization of the fact that they owe allegiance to no man.  MacNair's
power is broken.  He will be discredited by the authorities, and hated
by his own Indians--a veritable pariah of the wilderness.  And now,
Miss Elliston, I must hasten at once to the rivers.  My interests there
have long been neglected.  I shall return as soon as possible, but my
absence will necessarily be prolonged, for beside my own trading
affairs and the getting out of the timber for new scows, I hope to
procure such additional evidence as will insure the conviction of
MacNair.  LeFroy will remain with you here."

"Did you catch the whiskey runners?" Chloe asked.

Lapierre shook his head.  "No," he answered, "they succeeded in eluding
us among the islands at the eastern end of the lake.  We were about to
push our search to a conclusion when news reached us of MacNair's
arrest, and we returned with all speed to the Yellow Knife."

Somehow, the man's words sounded unconvincing--the glib reply was too
ready--too like the studied answer to an anticipated question.  She
regarded him searchingly, but the simple directness of his gaze caused
her own eyes to falter, and she turned into the house with a deep
breath that was very like a sigh.

The sense of elation and self-confidence inspired by Lapierre's first
words ebbed as it had ebbed before the unspoken rebuke of Big Lena,
leaving her strangely depressed.  With the joy of accomplishment dead
within her, she drove herself to her work without enthusiasm.  In all
the world, nothing seemed worth while.  She was unsure--unsure of
Lapierre; unsure of herself; unsure of Big Lena--and, worst of all,
unbelievable and preposterous as it seemed in the light of what she had
witnessed with her own eyes, unsure of MacNair--of his villainy!

Before noon the first snow of the season started in a fall of light,
feathery flakes, which gradually resolved themselves into fine, hard
particles that were hurled and buffeted about by the blasts of a fitful
wind.

For three days the blizzard raged--days in which Lapierre contrived to
spend much time in Chloe's company, and during which the girl set about
deliberately to study the quarter-breed, in the hope of placing
definitely the defect in his make-up, the tangible reason for the
growing sense of distrust with which she was coming to regard him.
But, try as she would, she could find no cause, no justification, for
the uncomfortable and indefinable _something_ that was gradually
developing into an actual doubt of his sincerity.  She knew that the
man had himself well in hand, for never by word or look did he express
any open avowal of love, although a dozen times a day he managed subtly
to show that his love had in no wise abated.

On the morning of the fourth day, with forest and lake and river buried
beneath three feet of snow, Lapierre took the trail for the southward.
Before leaving, he sought out LeFroy in the storehouse.

"We have things our own way, but we must lie low for a while, at least.
MacNair is not licked yet--by a damn' sight!  He knows we furnished the
booze to his Indians, and he will yell his head off to the Mounted, and
we will have them dropping in on us all the winter.  In the meantime
leave the liquor where it is.  Don't bring a gallon of it into this
clearing.  It will keep, and we can't take chances with the Mounted.
There will be enough in it for us, with what we can knock down here,
and what the boys can take out of MacNair's diggings.  They know the
gold is there; most of them were in on the stampede when MacNair drove
them back a few years ago.  And when they find out that MacNair is in
jail, there will be another stampede.  And we will clean up big all
around."

LeFroy, a man of few words, nodded sombrely, and Lapierre, who was
impatient to be off to the rivers, failed to note that the nod was far
more sombre than usual--failed, also, to note the pair of china-blue,
fishlike eyes that stared impassively at him from behind the goods
piled high upon the huge counter.

Once upon the trail, Lapierre lost no time.  As passed the word upon
the Mackenzie, where the men who had heard of the arrest of MacNair
waited in a frenzy of impatience for the signal that would send them
flying over the snow to Snare Lake.  Day and night the man travelled;
from the Mackenzie southward the length of Slave and up the Athabasca.
And in his wake men, whose eyes fairly bulged with the greed of gold,
jammed their outfits into packs and headed into the North.

At Athabasca Landing he sent a crew into the timber, and hastened on to
Edmonton where he purchased a railway ticket for a point that had
nothing whatever to do with his destination.  That same night he
boarded an east-bound train, and in an early hour of the morning, when
the engine paused for water beside a tank that was the most conspicuous
building of a little flat town in the heart of a peaceful farming
community, he stepped unnoticed from the day coach and proceeded at
once to the low, wooden hotel, where he was cautiously admitted through
a rear door by the landlord himself, who was, incidentally, Lapierre's
shrewdest and most effective whiskey runner.

It was this Tostoff: Russian by birth, and crook by nature, whose
business it was to disguise the contraband whiskey into
innocent-looking freight pieces.  And, it was Tostoff who selected the
men and stood responsible for the contraband's safe conduct over the
first stage of its journey to the North.

Tostoff objected strenuously to the running of a consignment in winter,
but Lapierre persisted, covering the ground step by step while the
other listened with a scowl.

"It's this way, Tostoff: For years MacNair has been our chief
stumbling-block.  God knows we have trouble enough running the stuff
past the Dominion police and the Mounted.  But the danger from the
authorities is small in comparison with the danger from MacNair."
Tostoff growled an assent.  "And now," continued Lapierre, "for the
first time we have him where we want him."

The Russian looked sceptical.  "We got MacNair where we want him if
he's dead," he grunted.  "Who killed him?"

Lapierre made a gesture of impatience.  "He is not dead.  He's locked
up in the Fort Saskatchewan jail."

For the first time Tostoff showed real interest.  "What's against him?"
he asked eagerly.

"Murder, for one thing," answered Lapierre.  "That will hold him
without bail until the spring assizes.  He will probably get out of
that, though.  But they are holding him also on four or five liquor
charges."

"Liquor charges!" cried Tostoff, with an angry snort.  "O-ho! so that's
his game?  That's why he's been bucking us--because he's got a line of
his own!"

Lapierre laughed.  "Not so fast, Tostoff, not so fast.  It is a
frame-up.  That is, the charges are not, but the evidence is.  I
attended to that myself.  I think we have enough on him to keep him out
of the cold for a couple of winters to come.  But you can't tell.  And
while we have him we will put the screws to him for all there is in it.
It is the chance of a lifetime.  What we want now is evidence--and more
evidence.

"Here is the scheme: You fix up a consignment, five or ten gallons, the
usual way, and instead of shooting it in by the Athabasca, cut into the
old trail on the Beaver and take it across the Methye portage to a
_cache_ on the Clearwater.  Brown's old cabin will about fill the bill.
We ought to be able to _cache_ the stuff by Christmas.

"In the meantime, I will slip up the river and tip it off to the
Mounted at Fort McMurray that I got it straight from down below that
MacNair is going to run in a batch over the Methye trail, and that it
is to be _cached_ on the bank of the Clearwater on New Year's Day.
That will give your packers a week to make their getaway.  And on New
Year's Day the Mounted will find the stuff in the _cache_.  There will
be nobody to arrest, but they will have the evidence that will clinch
the case against MacNair.  And with MacNair behind the bars we will
have things our own way north of sixty."

Tostoff shook his head dubiously.

"Bad business, Lapierre," he warned.  "Winter trailing is bad business.
The snow tells tales.  We haven't been caught yet.  Why?  Not because
we've been lucky, but because we've been careful.  Water leaves no
trail.  We've always run our stuff in in the summer.  You say you've
got the goods on MacNair.  I say, let well enough alone.  The Mounted
ain't fools--they can read the sign in the snow."

Lapierre arose with a curse.  "You white-livered clod!" he cried.  "Who
is running this scheme?  You or I?  Who delivers the whiskey to the
Indians?  And who pays you your money?  I do the thinking for this
outfit.  I didn't come down here to _ask_ you to run this consignment.
I came here to _tell_ you to do it.  This thing of playing safe is all
right.  I never told you to run a batch in the winter before, but this
time you have got to take the chance."

Lapierre leaned closer and fixed the heavy-faced Russian with his
gleaming black eyes.  He spoke slowly so that the words fell distinctly
from his lips.  "You _cache_ that liquor on the Clearwater on Christmas
Day.  If you fail--well, you will join the others that have been
dismissed from my service--see?"

Tostoff's only reply was a ponderous but expressive shrug, and without
a word Lapierre turned and stepped out into the night.



CHAPTER XVIII

WHAT HAPPENED AT BROWN'S

It was the middle of December.  Storm after storm had left the North
cold and silent beneath its white covering of snow.  A dog-team swung
across the surface of the ice-locked Athabasca, and took the steep
slope at Fort McMurray on a long slant.

Leaving the dogs in care of the musher, Pierre Lapierre loosened the
thongs of his rackets, and, pushing open the door, stamped noisily into
the detachment quarters of the Mounted and advanced to the stove where
two men were mending dog-harness.  The men looked up.

"Speaking of the devil," grinned Constable Craig, with a glance toward
Corporal Ripley, who greeted the newcomer with a curt nod.  "Well,
Lapierre, where'd you come from?"

Lapierre jerked his thumb toward the southward.  "Up river," he
answered.  "Getting out timber for my scows."  Removing his cap and
mittens, the quarter-breed loosened his heavy moose-hide _parka_, beat
the clinging snow from the coarse hair, and drew a chair to the stove.

"Come through from the Landing on the river?" asked Ripley, as he
filled a short black pipe with the tobacco he shaved from a plug.
"How's the trail?"

"Good and hard, except for the slush at the Boiler and another stretch
just below the Cascade."  Lapierre rolled a cigarette.  "Hear you
caught MacNair with the goods at last," he ventured.

Ripley nodded.

"Looks like it," he admitted.  "But what do you mean, 'at last'?"

The quarter-breed laughed lightly and blew a cloud of cigarette-smoke
ceilingward.  "I mean he has had things pretty much his own way the
last six or eight years."

"Meanin' he's been runnin' whiskey all that time?" asked Craig.

Lapierre nodded.  "He has run booze enough into the North to float a
canoe from here to Port Chippewayan."

It was Ripley's turn to laugh.  "If you are so all-fired wise, why
haven't you made a complaint?" he asked.  "Seems like I never heard you
and MacNair were such good friends,"

Lapierre shrugged.  "I know a whole lot of men who have got their full
growth because they minded their own business," he answered.  "I am not
in the Mounted.  That's what you are paid for."

Ripley flushed.  "We'll earn our pay on this job all right.  We've got
the goods on him this time.  And, by the way, Lapierre, if you've got
anything in the way of evidence, we'll be wanting it at the trial.
Better show up in May, and save somebody goin' after you.  If you run
onto any Indians that know anything, bring them along."

"I will be there," smiled the other.  "And since we are on the subject,
I can put you wise to a little deal that will net you some first-hand
evidence."  The officers looked interested, and Lapierre continued:
"You know where Brown's old cabin is, just this side of the Methye
portage?"  Ripley nodded.  "Well, if you should happen to be at Brown's
on New Year's Day, just pull up the puncheons under the bunk and see
what you find."

"What will we find?" asked Craig.

Lapierre shrugged.  "If I were you fellows I wouldn't overlook any
bets," he answered meaningly.

"Why New Year's Day any more than Christmas, or any other day?"

"Because," answered Lapierre, "on Christmas Day, or any other day
before New Year's Day, you won't find a damned thing but an empty
hole--that is why.  Well, I must be going."  He fastened the throat of
his _parka_ and drew on his cap and mittens.  "So long!  See you in the
spring.  Shouldn't wonder if I will run onto some Indians, this winter,
who will tell what they know, now that MacNair is out of the way.  I
know plenty of them that can talk, if they will."

"So long!" answered Ripley as Lapierre left the room.  "Much obliged
for the tip.  Hope your hunch is good."

"Play it and see," smiled Lapierre, and banged the door behind him.


Moving slowly northward upon a course that paralleled but studiously
avoided the old Methye trail, two men and a dog-team plodded heavily
through the snow at the close of a shortening day.  Ostensibly, these
men were trappers; and, save for a single freight piece bound securely
upon the sled, their outfit varied in no particular from the outfits of
others who each winter fare into the North to engage in the taking of
fur.  A close observer might have noted that the eyes of these men were
hard, and the frequent glances they cast over the back-trail were tense
with concern.

The larger and stronger of the two, one Xavier, a sullen riverman of
evil countenance, paused at the top of a ridge and pointed across a
snow-swept beaver meadow.  "T'night we camp on dees side.  T'mor' we
cross to de mout' of de leetle creek, and two pipe beyon' we com' on de
cabin of Baptiste Chambre."

The smaller man frowned.  He, too, was a riverman, tough and wiry and
small.  A man whose pinched, wizened body was a fitting cloister for
the warped soul that flashed malignantly from the beady, snakelike eyes.

"_Non, non_!" he cried, and the venomous glance of the beady eyes was
not unmingled with fear.  "We ke'p straight on pas' de beeg swamp.
Me--I'm no lak' dees wintaire trail."  He pointed meaningly toward the
marks of the sled in the snow.

The other laughed derisively.  "_Sacré_! you leetle man, you Du Mont,
you 'fraid!"

The other shrugged.  "I'm 'fraid, _Oui_, I'm lak' I ke'p out de jail.
Tostoff, she say, you com' on de cabin of Brown de Chrees'mas Day.
_Bien_!  Tostoff, she sma't mans.  Lapierre, too.  Tostoff, she 'fraid
for de wintaire trail, but she 'fraid for Lapierre mor'."

Xavier interrupted him.  "_Tra la_, Chrees'mas Day!  Ain't we got de
easy trail?  Two days befor' Chrees'mas we com' on de cabin of Brown.
Baptiste Chambre, she got de beeg jug rum.  We mak' de grand dronk--one
day--one night.  Den we hit de trail an com' on de Clearwater
Chrees'mas Day sam' lak' now.  Tostoff, de Russ, she nevair know,
Lapierre, she nevair know.  _Voilà_!"

Still the other objected.  "Mebe so com' de storm.  What den?  We was'e
de time wit' Baptiste Chambre.  We no mak' de Clearwater de Chrees'mas
Day--eh?"

Xavier growled.  "De Chrees'mas Day, damn!  We no mak' de Chrees'mas
Day, we mak' som' odder day.  Lapierre's damn' Injuns com' for de
wheeskey on Chrees'mas Day, she haf to wait.  Me--I'm goin' to Baptiste
Chambre.  I'm goin' for mak' de beeg dronk.  If de snow com' and de dog
can't pull, I'm tak' dees leetle piece on ma back to the Clearwater."

He reached down contemptuously and swung the piece containing ten
gallons of whiskey to his shoulder with one hand, then lowered it again
to the sled.

"You know w'at I'm hear on de revair?" he asked, stepping closer to Du
Mont's side and lowering his voice.  "I'm hearin' MacNair ees een de
jail.  I'm hearin' Lapierre she pass de word to hit for Snare Lake, for
deeg de gol'."

"Did Lapierre tell you to deeg de gol', or me?  _Non_.  He say, you go
to Tostoff."  The snakelike eyes of the smaller man glittered at the
mention of gold.  He clutched at the other's arm and cried out sharply:

"MacNair arres'!  _Sacré_!  Com', we tak' de wheeskey to de Clearwater
an' go on to Snare Lake."

This time it was Xavier's eyes that flashed a hint of fear.  "_Non_!"
he answered quickly.  "Lapierre, she----"

The other silenced him, speaking rapidly.  "Lapierre, she t'ink she
mak' us w'at you call, de double cross!"  Xavier noted that the
malignant eyes flashed dangerously--"Lapierre, she sma't but me--I'm
sma't too.  Dere's plent' men 'long de revair lak' to see de las' of
Pierre Lapierre.  And plent' Injun in de Nort' dey lak' dat too.  But
dey 'fraid to keel him.  We do de work--Lapierre she tak' de money.
_Sacré_!  Me--I'm 'fraid, too."  He paused and shrugged significantly.
"But som' day I'm git de chance an' den leetle Du Mont she dismees
Lapierre from de serveece.  Den me--I'm de bos'.  _Bien_!"

The other glanced at him in admiration.

"Me, I'm goin' 'long to Snare Lake," he said, "but firs' we stop on
Baptiste Chambre an' mak' de beeg dronk, eh!"  The smaller man nodded,
and the two sought their blankets and were soon sleeping silently
beside the blazing fire.

A week later the two rivermen paused at the edge of a thicket that
commanded the approach to Brown's abandoned cabin on the Clearwater.
The threatened storm had broken while they were still at Baptiste
Chambre's cabin, and the two days' debauch had lengthened into five.

Chambre's jug had been emptied and several times refilled from the
contents of Tostoff's concealed cask, which had been skilfully tapped
and as skilfully replenished as to weight by the addition of snow water.

The effect of their protracted orgy was plainly visible in the
bloodshot eyes and heavy movements of both men.  And it was more from
force of long habit than from any sense of alertness or premonition of
danger that they crouched in the thicket and watched the smoke curl
from the little iron stovepipe that protruded above the roof of the
cabin.

"Dem Injun she wait," growled Xavier.  "Com' on, me--I'm lak' for ketch
som' sleep."  The two swung boldly into the open and, pausing only long
enough to remove their rackets, pushed open the door of the cabin.

An instant later Du Mont, who was in the lead, leaped swiftly backward
and, crashing into the heavier and clumsier Xavier bowled him over into
the snow, where both wallowed helplessly, held down by Xavier's heavy
pack.

It was but the work of a moment for the wiry Du Mont to free himself,
and when he leaped to his feet, cursing like a fiend, it was to look
squarely into the muzzle of Corporal Ripley's service revolver, while
Constable Craig loosened the pack straps and allowed Xavier to arise.

"Caught with the goods, eh?" grinned Ripley, when the two prisoners
were seated side by side upon the pole bunk.

The sullen-faced Xavier glowered in surly silence, but the malignant,
beady eyes of Du Mont regarded the officer keenly.  "You patrol de
Clearwater now, eh?"

Ripley laughed.  "When there's anything doin' we do."

"How you fin' dat out?  Dem Injun she squeal?  I'm lak' to know 'bout
dat."

"Well, it wasn't exactly an Indian this time," answered Ripley; "that
is, it wasn't a regular Indian.  Pierre Lapierre put us on to this
little deal."

"_Pierre_--LAPIERRE!"

The little wizened man fairly shrieked the name and, leaping to his
feet, bounded about the room like an animated rubber ball, while from
his lips poured a steady stream of vile epithets, mingled with every
curse and gem of profanity known to two languages.

"That's goin' some," enthused Constable Craig, when the other finally
paused for breath.  "An' come to think about it, I believe you're
right.  I like to hear a man speak his mind, an' from your remarks it
seems like you're oncommon peeved with this here little deal.  It ain't
nothin' to get so worked up over.  You'll serve your time an' in a
couple of years or so they'll turn you loose again."

At the mention of the prison term the burly Xavier moved uneasily upon
the bunk.  He seemed about to speak, but was forestalled by the quicker
witted Du Mont.

"Two years, eh!" asked the outraged Metis, addressing Ripley.  "Mebe so
you mak' w'at you call de deal.  Mebe so I'm tell you who's de boss.
Mebe so I'm name de man dat run de wheeskey into de Nort'.  De man dat
plans de cattle raids on de bordair.  De man dat keels mor' Injun dan
mos' men keels deer, eh!  Wat den?  Mebe so den you turn us loose, eh?"

Ripley laughed.  "You think I'm goin' to pay you to tell me the name of
the man we've already got locked up?"

"You got MacNair lock up," Du Mont leered knowingly.  "_Bien_!  You
t'ink MacNair run de wheeskey.  But MacNair, she ain't run no wheeskey.
You mak' de deal wit' me.  Ba Gos'!  I'm not jus' tell you de name, I'm
tell you so you fin' w'at you call de proof!  I no fin' de proof--you
no turn me loose.  _Voilà_!"

Corporal Ripley was a keen judge of men, and he knew that the
vindictive and outraged Metis was in just the right mood to tell all he
knew.  Also Ripley believed that the man knew much.  Therefore, he made
the deal.  And it is a tribute to the Mounted that the crafty and
suspicious Metis accepted, without question, the word of the corporal
when he promised to do all in his power to secure their liberty in
return for the evidence that would convict "the man higher up."

Corporal Ripley was a man of quick decision; with him to decide was to
act.  Within an hour from the time Du Mont concluded his story the two
officers with their prisoners were headed for Fort Saskatchewan.  Both
Du Mont and Xavier realized that their only hope for clemency lay in
their ability to aid the authorities in building up a clear case
against Lapierre, and during the ten days of snow-trail that ended at
Athabasca Landing each tried to outdo the other in explaining what he
knew of the workings of Lapierre's intricate system.

At the Landing, Ripley reported to the superintendent commanding N
Division, who immediately sent for the prisoners and submitted them to
a cross-examination that lasted far into the night, and the following
morning the corporal escorted them to Fort Saskatchewan, where they
were to remain in jail to await the verification of their story.

Division commanders are a law unto themselves, and much to his
surprise, two days later, Bob MacNair was released upon his own
recognizance.  Whereupon, without a moment's delay, he bought the best
dog-team obtainable and headed into the North accompanied by Corporal
Ripley, who was armed with a warrant for the arrest of Pierre Lapierre.



CHAPTER XIX

THE LOUCHOUX GIRL

Winter laid a heavy hand upon the country of the Great Slave.  Blizzard
after howling blizzard came out of the North until the buildings of
Chloe Elliston's school lay drifted to the eaves in the centre of the
snow-swept clearing.

With the drifting snows and the bitter, intense cold that isolated the
little colony from the great world to the southward, came a sense of
peace and quietude that contrasted sharply with the turbulent,
surcharged atmosphere with which the girl had been surrounded from the
moment she had unwittingly become a factor in the machinations of the
warring masters of wolf-land.

With MacNair safely behind the bars of a jail far to the southward, and
Lapierre somewhere upon the distant rivers, the Indians for the first
time relaxed from the strain of tense expectancy.  Of her own original
Indians, those who had remained at the school by command of the crafty
Lapierre, there remained only LeFroy and a few of the older men who
were unfit to go on the trap-lines, together with the women and
children.

MacNair's Indians, who had long since laid down their traps to pick up
the white man's tools, stayed at the school.  And much to the girl's
surprise, under the direction of the refractory Sotenah, and Old Elk,
and Wee Johnnie Tamarack, not only performed with a will the necessary
work of the camp--the chopping and storing of firewood, the shovelling
of paths through the huge drifts, and the drawing of water from the
river--but took upon themselves numerous other labours of their own
initiative.

An ice-house was built and filled upon the bank of the river.  Trees
were felled, and the logs ranked upon miniature rollways, where all
through the short days the Indians busied themselves in the rude
whip-sawing of lumber.

Their women and children daily attended the school and worked
faithfully under the untiring tutelage of Chloe and Harriet Penny, who
entered into the work with new enthusiasm engendered by the interest
and the aptness of the Snare Lake Indians--absent qualities among the
wives and children of Lapierre's trappers.

LeFroy was kept busy in the storehouse, and with the passing of the
days Chloe noticed that he managed to spend more and more time in
company with Big Lena.  At first she gave the matter no thought.  But
when night after night she heard the voices of the two as they sat
about the kitchen-stove long after she had retired, she began to
consider the matter seriously.

At first she dismissed it with a laugh.  Of all people in the world,
she thought, these two, the heavy, unimaginative Swedish woman, and the
leathern-skinned, taciturn wood-rover, would be the last to listen to
the call of romance.

Chloe was really fond of the huge, silent woman who had followed her
without question into the unknown wilderness of the Northland, even as
she had accompanied her without protest through the maze of the far
South Seas.  With all her averseness to speech and her vacuous, fishy
stare, the girl had long since learned that Big Lena was both loyal and
efficient and shrewd.  But, Big Lena as a wife!  Chloe smiled broadly
at the thought.

"Poor LeFroy," she pitied.  "But it would be the best thing in the
world for him.  'The perpetuity of the red race will be attained only
through its amalgamation with the white,'" she quoted; the trite
banality of one of the numerous theorists she had studied before
starting into the North.

Of LeFroy she knew little.  He seemed a half-breed of more than average
intelligence, and as for the rest--she would leave that to Lena.  On
the whole, she rather approved of the arrangement, not alone upon the
amalgamation theory, but because she entertained not the slightest
doubt as to who would rule the prospective family.  She could depend
upon Big Lena's loyalty, and her marriage to one of their number would
therefore become a very important factor in the attitude of the Indians
towards the school.

Gradually, the women of the Slave Lake Indians taking the cue from
their northern sisters, began to show an appreciation of the girl's
efforts in their behalf.  An appreciation that manifested itself in
little tokens of friendship, exquisitely beaded moccasins, shyly
presented, and a pair of quill-embroidered leggings laid upon her desk
by a squaw who slipped hurriedly away.  Thus the way was paved for a
closer intimacy which quickly grew into an eager willingness among the
Indians to help her in the mastering of their own language.

As this intimacy grew, the barrier which is the chief stumbling-block
of missionaries and teachers who seek to carry enlightenment into the
lean lone land, gradually dissolved.  The women with whom Chloe came in
contact ceased to be Indians _en masse_; they became
_people_--personalities--each with her own capability and propensity
for the working of good or harm.  With this realization vanished the
last vestige of aloofness and reserve.  And, thereafter, many of the
women broke bread by invitation at Chloe's own table.

The one thing that remained incomprehensible to the girl was the
idolatrous regard in which MacNair was held by his own Indians.  To
them he was a superman--the one great man among all white men.  His
word was accepted without question.  Upon leaving for the southward
MacNair had told the men to work, therefore they worked unceasingly.
Also he had told the women and the children to obey without question
the words of the white _kloochman_, and therefore they absorbed her
teaching with painstaking care.

Time and again the girl tried to obtain the admission that MacNair was
in the habit of supplying his Indians with whiskey, and always she
received the same answer.  "MacNair sells no whiskey.  He hates
whiskey.  And many times has he killed men for selling whiskey to his
people."

At first these replies exasperated the girl beyond measure.  She set
them down as stereotyped answers in which they had been carefully
coached.  But as time went on and the women, whose word she had come to
hold in regard, remained unshaken in their statements, an uncomfortable
doubt assailed her--a doubt that, despite herself, she fostered.  A
doubt that caused her to ponder long of nights as she lay in her little
room listening to the droning voices of LeFroy and Big Lena as they
talked by the stove in the kitchen.

Strange fancies and pictures the girl built up as she lay, half waking,
half dreaming between her blankets.  Pictures in which MacNair,
misjudged, hated, fighting against fearful odds, came clean through the
ruck and muck with which his enemies had endeavoured to smother him,
and proved himself the man he might have been; fancies and pictures
that dulled into a pain that was very like a heartache, as the vivid
picture--the real picture--which she herself had seen with her own eyes
that night on Snare Lake, arose always to her mind.

The tang of the northern air bit into the girl's blood.  She spent much
time in the open and became proficient and tireless in the use of
snowshoes and skis.  Daily her excursions into the surrounding timber
grew longer, and she was never so happy as when swinging with strong,
wide strides on her fat thong-strung rackets, or sliding with the speed
of the wind down some steep slope of the river-bank, on her smoothly
polished skis.

It was upon one of these solitary excursions, when her steps had
carried her many miles along the winding course of a small tributary of
the Yellow Knife, that the girl became so fascinated in her exploration
she failed utterly to note the passage of time until a sharp bend of
the little river brought her face to face with the low-hung winter sun,
which was just on the point of disappearing behind the shrub pines of a
long, low ridge.

With a start she brought up short and glanced fearfully about her.
Darkness was very near, and she had travelled straight into the
wilderness almost since early dawn.  Without a moment's delay she
turned and retraced her steps.  But even as her hurrying feet carried
her over the back-trail she realized that night would overtake her
before she could hope to reach the larger river.

The thought of a night spent alone in the timber at first terrified
her.  She sought to increase her pace, but her muscles were tired, her
footsteps dragged, and the rackets clung to her feet like inexorable
weights which sought to drag her down, down into the soft whiteness of
the snow.

Darkness gathered, and the back-trail dimmed.  Twice she fell and
regained her feet with an effort.  Suddenly rounding a sharp bend, she
crashed heavily among the dead branches of a fallen tree.  When at
length she regained her feet, the last vestige of daylight had
vanished.  Her own snowshoe tracks were indiscernible upon the white
snow.  She was off the trail!

Something warm and wet trickled along her cheek.  She jerked off her
mittens and with fingers tingling in the cold, keen air, picked bits of
bark from the edges of the ragged wound where the end of a broken
branch had snagged the soft flesh of her face.  The wound stung, and
she held a handful of snow against it until the pain dulled under the
numbing chill.

Stories of the night-prowling wolf-pack, and the sinister, man-eating
_loup cervier_, crowded her brain.  She must build a fire.  She felt
through her pocket for the glass bottle of matches, only to find that
her fingers were too numb to remove the cork.  She replaced the vial
and, drawing on her mittens, beat her hands together until the blood
tingled to her finger-tips.  How she wished now that she had heeded the
advice of LeFroy, who had cautioned against venturing into the woods
without a light camp ax slung to her belt.

Laboriously she set about gathering bark and light twigs which she
piled in the shelter of a cut-bank, and when at last a feeble flame
flickered weakly among the thin twigs she added larger branches which
she broke and twisted from the limbs of the dead trees.  Her camp-fire
assumed a healthy proportion, and the flare of it upon the snow was
encouraging.

At the end of an hour, Chloe removed her rackets and dropped wearily
onto the snow beside the fire-wood which she had piled conveniently
close to the blaze.  Never in her life had she been so utterly weary,
but she realized that for her that night there could be no sleep.  And
no sooner had the realization forced itself upon her than she fell
sound asleep with her head upon the pile of fire-wood.

She awoke with a start, sitting bolt upright, staring in bewilderment
at her fire--and beyond the fire where, only a few feet distant, a
hooded shape stood dimly outlined  against the snow.  Chloe's garments,
dampened by the exertion of the earlier hours, had chilled her through
while she slept, and as she stared wide-eyed at the apparition beyond
the fire, the figure drew closer and the chill of the dampened garments
seemed to clutch with icy fingers at her heart.  She nerved herself for
a supreme effort and arose stiffly to her knees, and then suddenly the
figure resolved itself into the form of a girl--an Indian girl--but a
girl as different from the Indians of her school as day is different
from night.

As the girl advanced she smiled, and Chloe noted that her teeth were
strong and even and white, and that dark eyes glowed softly from a face
as light almost as her own.

"Do not 'fraid," said the girl in a low, rich voice.  "I'm not hurt
you.  I'm see you fire, I'm com' 'cross to fin'.  Den, ver' queek you
com' 'wake, an' I'm see you de one I'm want."

"The one you want!" cried Chloe, edging closer to the fire.  "What do
you mean?  Who are you?  And why should you want me?"

"Me--I'm Mary.  I'm com' ver' far.  I'm com' from de people of my
modder.  De Louchoux on de lower Mackenzie.  I'm com' to fin' de
school.  I'm hear about dat school."

"The lower Mackenzie!" cried Chloe in astonishment.  "I should think
you have come very far."

The girl nodded.  "Ver' far," she repeated.  "T'irty-two sleep I'm on
de trail."

"Alone!"

"Alone," she assented.  "I'm com' for learn de ways of de white women."

Chloe motioned the girl closer, and then, seized by a sudden chill,
shivered violently.  The girl noticed the paroxysm, and, dropping to
her knees by Chloe's side, spoke hurriedly.

"You col'," she said.  "You got no blanket.  You los'."

Without waiting for a reply, she hurried to a light pack-sled which
stood nearby upon the snow.  A moment later she returned with a heavy
pair of blankets which she spread at Chloe's side, and then, throwing
more wood upon the fire, began rapidly to remove the girl's clothing.
Within a very short space of time, Chloe found herself lying warm and
comfortable between the blankets, while her damp garments were drying
upon sticks thrust close to the blaze.  She watched the Indian girl as
she moved swiftly and capably about her task, and when the last garment
was hung upon its stick she motioned the girl to her side.

"Why did you come so far to my school?" she asked.  "Surely you have
been to school.  You speak English.  You are not a full-blood Indian."

The girl's eyes sought the shadows beyond the firelight, and, as her
lips framed a reply, Chloe marvelled at the weird beauty of her.

"I go to school on de Mission, two years at Fort MacPherson.  I learn
to spik de Englis'.  My fadder, heem Englis', but I'm never see heem.
Many years ago he com' in de beeg boat dat com' for ketch de whale an'
got lock in de ice in de Bufort Sea.  In de spring de boat go 'way, an'
my fadder go 'long, too.  He tell my modder he com' back nex' winter.
Dat many years ago--nineteen years.  Many boats com' every year, but my
fadder no com' back.  My modder she t'ink he com' back som' day, an'
every fall my modder she tak' me 'way from Fort MacPherson and we go up
on de coast an' build de _igloo_.  An' every day she set an' watch
while de ships com' in, but my fadder no com' back.  My modder t'ink he
sure com' back, he fin' her waitin' when he com'.  She say, mebe so he
ketch 'm many whale.  Mebe so he get reech so we got plen' money to buy
de grub."

The girl paused and her brows contracted thoughtfully.  She threw a
fresh stick upon the fire and shook her head slowly.  "I don' know,"
she said softly, "mebe so he com' back--but heem been gone long tam'."

"Where is your mother now?" asked Chloe, when the girl had finished.

"She up on de coast in de little _igloo_.  Many ships com' into Bufort
Sea las' fall.  She say, sure dis winter my fadder com' back.  She got
to wait for heem."

Chloe cleared her throat sharply.  "And you?" she asked, "why did you
come clear to the Yellow Knife?  Why did you not go back to school at
the Mission?"

A troubled expression crept into the eyes of the Louchoux girl, and she
seemed at a loss to explain.  "Eet ees," she answered at length, "dat
my man, too, he not com' back lak' my fadder."

"Your man!" cried Chloe in astonishment.  "Do you mean you are married?
Why, you are nothing but a child!"

The girl regarded her gravely.  "Yes," she answered, "I'm marry.  Two
years ago I git marry, up on de Anderson Reever.  My man, heem
free-trader, an' all summer we got plent' to eat.  In de fall he tak'
me back to de _igloo_.  He say, he mus' got to go to de land of de
white man to buy supplies.  I lak' to go, too, to de land of de white
man, but he say no, you Injun, you stay in de Nort', an' by-m-by I com'
back again.  Den he go up de reever, an' all winter I stay in de igloo
wit' my modder an' look out over de ice-pack at de boats in de Bufort
Sea.  In de spreeng my man he don' com' back, my fadder he don' com'
back neider.  We not have got mooch grub to eat dat winter, and den we
go to Fort MacPherson.  I go back to de school, and I'm tell de pries'
my man he no com' back.  De pries' he ver' angry.  He say, I'm not got
marry, but de pries' he ees a man--he don' un'stan'.

"All summer I'm stay on de Mackenzie, an' I'm watch de canoes an' I'm
wait for my man to com' back, but he don' com' back.  An' in de fall my
modder she go Nort' again to watch de ships in de Bufort Sea.  She say,
com' 'long, but I don' go, so she go 'lone and I'm stay on de
Mackenzie.  I'm stay 'til de reever freeze, an' no more canoe can com'.
Den I'm wait for de snow.  Mebe so my man com' wit' de dog-team.  Den
I'm hear 'bout de school de white woman build on de Yellow Knife.
Always I'm hear 'bout de white women, but I'm never seen none--only de
white men.  My man, he mos' white.

"Den I'm say, mebe so my man lak' de white women more dan de Injun.  He
not com' back dis winter, an' I'm go on de school and learn de ways of
de white women, an' in de spreeng when my man com' back he lak' me
good, an' nex' winter mebe he tak' me 'long to de land of de white
women.  But, eet's a long trail to de Yellow Knife, an' I'm got no
money to buy de grub an' de outfit.  I'm go once mor' to de pries' an'
I'm tell heem 'bout dat school.  An' I'm say, mebe so I'm learn de ways
of de white women, my man tak' me 'long nex' tam'.

"De pries' he t'ink 'bout dat a long tam'.  Den he go over to de Hudson
Bay Pos' an' talk to McTavish, de factor, an' by-m-by he com' back and
tak' me over to de pos' store an' give me de outfit so I'm com' to de
school on de Yellow Knife.  Plent' grub an' warm blankets dey give me.
An' t'irty-two sleep I'm travel de snow-trail.  Las' night I'm mak' my
camp in de scrub cross de reever.  I'm go 'sleep, an' by-m-by I'm wake
up an' see you fire an' I'm com' 'long to fin' out who camp here."

As she listened, Chloe's hand stole from beneath the blankets and
closed softly about the fingers of the Louchoux girl.  "And so you have
come to live with me?" she whispered softly.

The girl's face lighted up.  "You let me com'?" she asked eagerly, "an'
you teach me de ways of de white women, so I ain't jus' be Injun girl?
So when my man com' back, he lak' me an' I got plent' to eat in de
winter?"

"Yes, dear," answered Chloe, "you shall come to live with me always."

Followed then a long silence which was broken at last by the Indian
girl.

"You don' say lak' de pries'," she asked, "you not marry, you bad?"

"No!  No!  No!  You poor child!" cried Chloe, "of course you are not
bad!  You are going to live with me.  You will learn many things."

"An' som' tam', we fin' my man?" she asked eagerly.

Chloe's voice sounded suddenly harsh.  "Yes, indeed, we will find him!"
she cried.  "We will find him and bring him back--" she stopped
suddenly.  "We will speak of that later.  And now that my clothes are
dry you can help me put them on, and if you have any grub left in your
pack let's eat.  I'm starving."

While Chloe finished dressing, the Louchoux girl boiled a pot of tea
and fried some bacon, and an hour later the two girls were fast asleep
in each other's arms, beneath the warm folds of the big Hudson Bay
blankets.

The following morning they had proceeded but a short distance upon the
back-trail when they were met by a searching party from the school.
The return was made without incident, and Chloe, who had taken a great
fancy to the Louchoux girl, immediately established her as a member of
her own household.

During the days which followed, the girl plunged with an intense
eagerness into the task of learning the ways of the white women.
Nothing was too trivial or unimportant to escape her attention.  She
learned to copy with almost pathetic exactness each of Chloe's little
acts and mannerisms, even to the arranging of her hair.  With the other
two inmates of the cottage the girl became hardly less a favourite than
with Chloe herself.

Her progress in learning to speak English, her skill with the needle
and the rapidity with which she learned to make her own clothing
delighted Harriet Penny.  While Big Lena never tired of instructing her
in the mysteries of the culinary department.  In return the girl looked
upon the three women with an adoration that bordered upon idolatry.
She would sit by the hour listening to Chloe's accounts of the wondrous
cities of the white men and of the doings of the white men's women.

Chloe never mentioned the girl's secret to either Harriet Penny or Big
Lena, and carefully avoided any allusion to the subject to the girl
herself.  Nothing could be done, she reasoned, until the ice went out
of the rivers, and in the meantime she would do all in her power to
instil into the girl's mind an understanding of the white women's
ethics, so that when the time came she would be able to choose
intelligently for herself whether she would return to her free-trader
lover or prosecute him for his treachery.

Chloe knew that the girl had done no wrong, and in her heart she hoped
that she could be brought to a realization of the true character of the
man and repudiate him.  If not--if she really loved him, and was
determined to remain his wife--Chloe made up her mind to insist upon a
ceremony which should meet the sanction of Church and State.

Christmas and New Year's passed, and Lapierre did not return to the
school.  Chloe was not surprised at this, for he had told her that his
absence would be prolonged; and in her heart of hearts she was really
glad, for the veiled suspicion of the man's sincerity had grown into an
actual distrust of him--a distrust that would have been increased a
thousand-fold could she have known that the quarter-breed was even then
upon Snare Lake at the head of a gang of outlaws who were thawing out
MacNair's gravel and shovelling it into dumps for an early clean-up;
instead of looking after his "neglected interests" upon the rivers.

But she did not know that, nor did she know of his midnight visit to
Tostoff, nor of what happened at Brown's cabin, nor of the release of
MacNair.



CHAPTER XX

ON THE TRAIL OF PIERRE LAPIERRE

Bob MacNair drove a terrific trail.  He was known throughout the
Northland as a hard man to follow at any time.  His huge muscles were
tireless at the paddle, and upon the rackets his long swinging stride
ate up the miles of the snow-trails.  And when Bob MacNair was an a
hurry the man who undertook to keep up with him had his work cut out.

When he headed northward after his release from the Fort Saskatchewan
Jail, MacNair was in very much of a hurry.  From daylight until far
into the dark he urged his malamutes to their utmost.  And Corporal
Ripley, who was by no means a _chechako_, found himself taxed to the
limit of his endurance, although never by word or sign did he indicate
that the pace was other than of his own choosing.

Fort McMurray, a ten- to fourteen-day trip under good conditions, was
reached in seven days.  Fort Chippewayan in three days more, and Fort
Resolution a week later--seventeen days from Athabasca Landing to Fort
Resolution--a record trip for a dog-train!

MacNair was known as a man of few words, but Ripley wondered at the
ominous silence with which his every attempt at conversation was met.
During the whole seventeen days of the snow-trail, MacNair scarcely
addressed a word to him--seemed almost oblivious to his presence.

Upon the last day, with the log buildings of Fort Resolution in sight,
MacNair suddenly halted the dogs and faced Corporal Ripley.

"Well, what's your program?" he asked shortly.

"My program," returned the other, "is to arrest Pierre Lapierre,"

"How are you going to do it?"

"I've got to locate him first, the details will work out later.  I've
been counting a lot on your help and judgment in the matter."

"Don't do it!" snapped MacNair.

The other gazed at him in astonishment.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I'm not going to help you arrest Lapierre.  He's mine!  I
have sworn to get him, and, by God, I _will_ get him!  From now on we
are working against each other."

Ripley flushed, and his eyes narrowed.  "You mean," he exclaimed, "that
you defy the Mounted!  That you refuse to help when you're called on?"

MacNair laughed.  "You might put it that way, I suppose, but it don't
sound well.  You know me, Ripley.  You know when my word has
passed--when I've once started a thing--I'll see it through to the
limit.  I've sworn to get Lapierre.  And I tell you, he's mine!  Unless
you get him first.  You're a good man, Ripley, and you may do it--but
if you do, when you get back with him, you'll know you've been
somewhere."

The lines of Ripley's face softened; as a sporting proposition the
situation appealed to him.  He thrust out his hand.  "It's a go,
MacNair," he said, "and let the best man win!"

MacNair wrung the officer's hand in a mighty grip, and then just as he
was on the point of starting his dogs, paused and gazed thoughtfully
after the other who was making his way toward the little buildings of
Fort Resolution.

"Oh, Ripley," he called.  The officer turned and retraced his steps.
"You've heard of Lapierre's fort to the eastward.  Have you ever been
there?"

Ripley shook his head.  "No, but I've heard he has one somewhere around
the east end of the lake."

MacNair laughed.  "Yes, and if you hunted the east end of the lake for
it you could hunt a year without finding it.  If you really want to
know where it is, come along, I'll show you.  I happen to be going
there."

"What's the idea?" asked the officer, regarding MacNair quizzically.

"The idea is just this.  Lapierre's no fool.  He's got as good a chance
of getting me as I have of getting him.  And if anything happens to me
you fellows will lose a lot of valuable time before you can locate that
fort.  I don't know myself exactly why I'm taking you there, except
that--well, if anything should happen to me, Lapierre would--you see,
he might--that is----  Damn it!" he broke out wrathfully.  "Can't you
see he'll have things his own way with _her_?"

Ripley grinned broadly.  "Oh!  So that's it, eh?  Well, a fellow ought
to look out for his friends.  She seemed right anxious to have _you_
put where nothing would hurt you."

"Shut up!" growled MacNair shortly.  "And before we start there's one
little condition you must agree to.  If we find Lapierre at the fort,
in return for my showing you the place, you've got to promise to make
no attempt to arrest him without first returning to Fort Resolution.
If I can't get him in the meantime I ought to lose."

"You're on," grinned Ripley, "I promise.  But man, if he's there he
won't be alone!  What chance will you have single-handed against a
whole gang of outlaws?"

MacNair smiled grimly.  "That's my lookout.  Remember, your word has
passed, and when we locate Lapierre, you head back for Fort Resolution."

The other nodded regretfully, and when MacNair turned away from the
fort and headed eastward along the south shore of the lake, the officer
fell silently in behind the dogs.

They camped late in a thicket on the shore of South Bay, and at
daylight headed straight across the vast snow-level, that stretched for
sixty miles in an unbroken surface of white.  That night they camped on
the ice, and toward noon of the following day drew into the scrub
timber directly north of the extremity of Peththenneh Island.

Long after dark they made a fireless camp directly opposite the
stronghold of the outlaws on the shore of Lac du Mort.  Circling the
lake next morning, they reconnoitred the black spruce swamp, and
working their way, inch by inch, passed cautiously between the dense
evergreens in the direction of the high promontory upon which Lapierre
had built his "Bastile du Mort."

Silence enveloped the swamp.  An intense, all-pervading stillness,
accentuated by the low-hung snow-weighted branches through which the
men moved like dark phantoms in the grey half-light of the dawn.  They
moved not with the stealthy, gliding movement of the Indian, but with
the slow caution of trained woodsmen, pausing every few moments to
scrutinize their surroundings, and to strain their ears for a sound
that would tell them that other lurking forms glided among the silent
aisles and vistas of the snow-shrouded swamp.  But no sounds came to
them through the motionless air, and after an hour of stealthy advance,
they drew into the shelter of a huge spruce and peered through the
interstices of its snow-laden branches toward the log stockade that
Lapierre had thrown across the neck of his lofty peninsula.

Silent and grey and deserted loomed the barrier so cunningly devised as
to be almost indistinguishable at a distance of fifty yards.  Snow lay
upon its top, and vertical ridges of snow clung to the crevices of the
upstanding palings.

A half-hour passed, while the two men remained motionless, and then,
satisfied that the fort was unoccupied, they stepped cautiously from
the shelter of their tree.  The next instant, loud and clear,
shattering the intense silence with one sharp explosion of sound, rang
a shot.  And Corporal Ripley, who was following close at the heels of
MacNair, staggered, clawed wildly for the butt of his service revolver
which protruded from its holster, and, with an imprecation on his lips
that ended in an unintelligible snarl, crashed headlong into the snow.

MacNair whirled as if upon a pivot, and with hardly a glance at the
prostrate form, dashed over the back-trail with the curious lumbering
strides of the man who would hurry on rackets.  He had jerked off his
heavy mitten at the sound of the shot, and his bared hand clutched
firmly the butt of a blue-black automatic.  A spruce-branch, suddenly
relieved of its snow, sprang upward with a swish, thirty yards away.
MacNair fired three times in rapid succession.

There was no answering shot, and he leaped forward, charging directly
toward the tree that concealed the hidden foe before the man could
reload; for by the roar of its discharge, MacNair knew that the weapon
was an old Hudson Bay muzzle-loading smoothbore--a primitive weapon of
the old North, but in the hands of an Indian, a weapon of terrible
execution at short range, where a roughly moulded bullet or a slug
rudely hammered from the solder melted from old tin cans tears its way
through the flesh, driven by three fingers of black powder.

Near the tree MacNair found the gun where its owner had hurled it into
the snow--found also the tracks of a pair of snowshoes, which headed
into the heart of the black spruce swamp.  The tracks showed at a
glance that the lurking assassin was an Indian, that he was travelling
light, and that the chance of running him down was extremely remote.
Whereupon MacNair returned his automatic to its holster and bethought
himself of Ripley, who was lying back by the stockade with his face
buried in the snow.

Swiftly he retraced his steps, and, kneeling beside the wounded man,
raised him from the snow.  Blood oozed from the corners of the
officer's lips, and, mingling with the snow, formed a red slush which
clung to the boyish cheek.  With his knife MacNair cut through the
clothing and disclosed an ugly hole below the right shoulder-blade.  He
bound up the wound, plugging the hole with suet chewed from a lump
which he carried in his pocket.  Leaving Ripley upon his face to
prevent strangulation from the blood in his throat, he hastened to the
camp on the shore of the lake, harnessed the dogs, and returned to the
prostrate man; it was the work of a few moments to bind him securely
upon the sled.  Skilfully MacNair guided his dogs through the maze of
the black spruce swamp, and, throwing caution to the winds, crossed the
lake, struck into the timber, and headed straight for Chloe Elliston's
school.


In the living-room of the little cottage on the Yellow Knife, Harriet
Penny and Mary, the Louchoux girl, sat sewing, while Chloe Elliston,
with chair pulled close to the table, read by the light of an oil-lamp
from a year-old magazine.  If the Louchoux girl failed to follow the
intricacies of the plot, an observer would scarcely have known it.  Nor
would he have guessed that less than two short months before this girl
had been a skin-clad native of the North who had mushed for thirty days
unattended through the heart of the barren grounds.  So marvellously
had the girl improved and so desirously had she applied her needle,
that save for the beaded moccasins upon her feet, her clothing differed
in no essential detail from that of Chloe Elliston or of Harriet Penny.

Chloe paused in her reading, and the three occupants of the little room
stared inquiringly into each other's faces as a rough-voiced "Whoa!"
sounded from beyond the door.  A moment of silence followed the
command, and then came the sounds of a heavy footfall upon the veranda.
The Louchoux girl sprang to the door, and as she wrenched it open the
yellow lamplight threw into bold relief the huge figure of a man, who,
bearing a blanket-wrapped form in his arms, staggered into the room,
and, without a word deposited his burden upon the floor.  The man
looked up, and Chloe Elliston started back with an exclamation of angry
amazement.  The man was Bob MacNair!  And Chloe noticed that the
Louchoux girl, after one terrified glance into his face, fled
incontinently to the kitchen.

"You!  You!" cried Chloe, groping for words.

The man interrupted her gruffly.  "This is no time to talk.  Corporal
Ripley has been shot.  For three days I have burned up the snow getting
him here.  He's hard hit, but the bleeding has stopped, and a good bed
and good nursing will pull him through."

As he snapped out the words, MacNair busied himself in removing the
wounded man's blankets and outer garments.  Chloe gave some hurried
orders to Big Lena, and followed MacNair into her own room, where he
laid the wounded man upon her bed--the same he, himself, had once
occupied while recovering from the effect of Lapierre's bullet.  Then
he straightened and faced Chloe, who stood regarding him with flashing
eyes.

"So you did get away from him after all?" she said, "and when he
followed you, you shot him!  Just a boy--and you shot him in the back!"
The voice trembled with the scorn of her words.  MacNair pushed roughly
past her.

"Don't be a damn fool!" he growled, and called over his shoulder:
"Better rest him up for three or four days, and send him down to Fort
Resolution.  He'll stand the trip all right by that time, and the
doctor may want to poke around for that bullet."  Suddenly he whirled
and faced her.  "Where is Lapierre?"  The words were a snarl.

"So you want to kill him, too?  Do you think I would tell you if I
knew?  You--you _murderer_!  Oh, if I--"  But the sentence was cut
short by the loud banging of the door.  MacNair had returned into the
night.

An hour later, when she and Big Lena quitted the bedroom, Corporal
Ripley was breathing easily.  Her thoughts turned at once to the
Louchoux girl.  She recalled the look of terror that had crept into the
girl's eyes as she gazed into the upturned face of MacNair.  With the
force of a blow a thought flashed through her brain, and she clutched
at the edge of the table for support.  What was it the girl had told
her about the man who had deceived her into believing she was his wife?
He was a free-trader!  MacNair was a free-trader!  Could it be----

"No, no!" she gasped--"and yet----"

With an effort she crossed to the door of the girl's room and, pushing
it open, entered to find her cowering, wide-eyed between her blankets.
The sight of the beautiful, terrorized face did not need the
corroboration of the low, half-moaned words, "Oh, please, please, don't
let him get me!" to tell Chloe that her worst fears were realized.

"Do not be afraid, my dear," she faltered.  "He cannot harm you now,"
and hurriedly closing the door, staggered across the living-room, threw
herself into a chair beside the table, and buried her face in her arms.

Harriet Penny opened her door and glanced timidly at the still figure
of the girl, and, deciding it were the better part of prudence not to
intrude, noiselessly closed her door.  Hours later, Big Lena, entering
from the kitchen, regarded her mistress with a long vacant-faced stare,
and returned again to the kitchen.  All through the night Chloe dozed
fitfully beside the table, but for the most part she was
widely--painfully--awake.  Bitterly she reproached herself.  Only she
knew the pain the discovery of MacNair's treachery had caused her.  And
only she knew why the discovery had caused her pain.

Always she had believed she had hated this man.  By all standards, she
should hate him.  This great, elemental brute of the North who had
first attempted to ignore, and later to ridicule and to bully her.
This man who ruled his Indians with a rod of iron, who allowed them
full license in their debauchery, and then shot them down in cold
blood, who shot a boy in the back while in the act of doing his duty,
and who had called her a "damn fool" in her own house, and was even
then off on the trail of another man he had sworn to kill on sight.  By
all the laws of justice, equity, and decency, she should hate this man!
She was conscious of no other feeling toward him than a burning,
unquenchable hate.  And yet, deep down in her heart she knew--by the
pain of her discovery of his treachery--she knew she loved him, and
utterly she despised herself that this could be so.

Daylight softly dimmed the yellow lamplight of the room.  The girl
arose, and, after a hurried glance at the sleeping Ripley, bathed her
eyes in cold water and passed into the kitchen, where Big Lena was busy
in the preparation of breakfast.

"Send LeFroy to me at once!" she ordered, and five minutes later, when
the man stood before her, she ordered him to summon all of MacNair's
Indians.

The man shifted his weight uneasily from one foot to the other as he
faced her upon the tiny veranda.  "MacNair Injuns," he answered, "dem
gon' las' night.  Dem gon' 'long wit' MacNair.  Heem gon' for hunt
Pierre Lapierre!"

CHAPTER XXI

LAPIERRE PAYS A VISIT

Up on Snare Lake the men to whom Lapierre had passed the word had taken
possession of MacNair's burned and abandoned fort, and there the leader
had joined them after stopping at Fort McMurray to tip off to Ripley
and Craig the bit of evidence that he hoped would clinch the case
against MacNair.  More men joined the Snare Lake stampede--flat-faced
breeds from the lower Mackenzie, evil-visaged rivermen from the country
of the Athabasca and the Slave, and the renegade white men who were
Lapierre's underlings.

By dog-train and on foot they came, dragging their outfits behind them,
and in the eyes of each was the gleam of the greed of gold.  The few
cabins which had escaped the conflagration had been pre-empted by the
first-comers, while the later arrivals pitched their tents and shelter
tarps close against the logs of the unburned portion of MacNair's
stockade.

At the time of Lapierre's arrival the colony had assumed the aspect of
a typical gold camp.  The drifted snow had been removed from MacNair's
diggings, and the night-fires that thawed out the gravel glared red and
illuminated the clearing with a ruddy glow in which the dumps loomed
black and ugly, like unclean wens upon the white surface of the
trampled snow.

Lapierre, a master of organization, saw almost at the moment of his
arrival that the gold-camp system of two-man partnerships could be
vastly improved upon.  Therefore, he formed the men into shifts: eight
hours in the gravel and tending the fires, eight hours chopping
cord-wood and digging in the ruins of MacNair's storehouse for the
remains of unburned grub, and eight hours' rest.  Always night and day,
the seemingly tireless leader moved about the camp encouraging,
cursing, bullying, urging; forcing the utmost atom of man-power into
the channels of greatest efficiency.  For well the quarter-breed knew
that his tenure of the Snare Lake diggings was a tenure wholly by
sufferance of circumstances--over which he, Lapierre, had no control.

With MacNair safely lodged in the Fort Saskatchewan jail, he felt safe
from interference, at least until late in the spring.  This would allow
plenty of time for the melting snows to furnish the water necessary for
the cleaning up of the dumps.  After that the fate of his colony hung
upon the decision of a judge somewhere down in the provinces.  Thus
Lapierre crowded his men to the utmost, and the increasing size of the
black dump-heaps bespoke a record-breaking clean-up when the waters of
the melting snow should be turned into sluices in the spring.

With his mind easy in his fancied security, and in order that every
moment of time and every ounce of man-power should be devoted to the
digging of gold, Lapierre had neglected to bring his rifles and
ammunition from the Lac du Mort rendezvous and from the storehouse of
Chloe Elliston's school.  An omission for which he cursed himself
roundly upon an evening, early in February when an Indian, gaunt and
wide-eyed from the strain of a forced snow-trail, staggered from the
black shadow of the bush into the glare of the blazing night-fires, and
in a frenzied gibberish of jargon proclaimed that Bob MacNair had
returned to the Northland.  And not only that he had returned, but had
visited Lac du Mort in company with a man of the Mounted.

At first Lapierre flatly refused to credit the Indian's yarn, but when
upon pain of death the man refused to alter his statement, and added
the information that he himself had fired at MacNair from the shelter
of a snow-ridden spruce, and that just as he pulled the trigger the man
of the soldier-police had intervened and stopped the speeding bullet,
Lapierre knew that the Indian spoke the truth.

In the twinkling of an eye the quarter-breed realized the extreme
danger of his position.  His wrath knew no bounds.  Up and down he
raged in his fury, cursing like a madman, while all about him--blaming,
reviling, advising--cursed the men of his ill-favoured crew.  For not a
man among them but knew that somewhere someone had blundered.  And for
some inexplicable reason their situation had suddenly shifted from
comparative security to extreme hazard.  They needed not to be told
that with MacNair at large in the Northland their lives hung by a
slender thread.  For at that very moment Brute MacNair was, in all
probability, upon the Yellow Knife leading his armed Indians toward
Snare Lake.

In addition to this was the certain knowledge that the vengeance of the
Mounted would fall in full measure upon the heads of all who were in
any way associated with Pierre Lapierre.  An officer had been shot, and
the men of Lapierre were outlawed from Ungava to the Western sea.  The
intricate system had crumbled in the batting of an eye.  Else why
should a man of the Mounted have been found before the barricade of the
Bastile du Mort in company with Brute MacNair?

The quick-witted Lapierre was the first to recover from the shock of
the stunning blow.  Leaping onto the charred logs of MacNair's
storehouse, he called loudly to his men, who in a panic were wildly
throwing their outfits onto sleds.  Despite their mad haste they
crowded close and listened to the words of the man upon whose judgment
they had learned to rely, and from whose dreaded "dismissal from
service" they had cowered in fear.  They swarmed about Lapierre a
hundred strong, and his voice rang harsh.

"You dogs!  You _canaille_!" he cried, and they shrank from the baleful
glare of his black eyes.  "What would you do?  Where would you go?  Do
you think that, single-handed, you can escape from MacNair's Indians,
who will follow your trails like hounds and kill you as they would kill
a snared rabbit?  I tell you your trails will be short.  A dead man
will lie at the end of each.  But even if you succeed in escaping the
Indians, what, then, of the Mounted?  One by one, upon the rivers and
lakes of the Northland, upon wide snow-steeps of the barren grounds,
even to the shores of the frozen sea, you will be hunted and gathered
in.  Or you will be shot like dogs, and your bones left to crunch in
the jaws of the wolf-pack.  We are outlaws, all!  Not a man of us will
dare show his face in any post or settlement or city in all Canada."

The men shrank before the words, for they knew them to be true.  Again
the leader was speaking, and hope gleamed in fear-strained eyes.

"We have yet one chance; I, Pierre Lapierre, have not played my last
card.  We will stand or fall together!  In the Bastile du Mort are many
rifles, and ammunition and provisions for half a year.  Once behind the
barricade, we shall be safe from any attack.  We can defy MacNair's
Indians and stand off the Mounted until such time as we are in a
position to dictate our own terms.  If we stand man to man together, we
have everything to gain and nothing to lose.  We are outlawed, every
one.  There is no turning back!"

Lapierre's bold assurance averted the threatened panic, and with a yell
the men fell to work packing their outfits for the journey to Lac du
Mort.  The quarter-breed despatched scouts to the southward to
ascertain the whereabouts of MacNair, and, if possible, to find out
whether or not the officer of the Mounted had been killed by the shot
of the Indian.

At early dawn the outfit crossed Snare Lake and headed for Lac du Mort
by way of Grizzly Bear, Lake Mackay, and Du Rocher.  Upon the evening
of the fourth day, when they threaded the black-spruce swamp and pulled
wearily into the fort on Lac du Mort, Lapierre found a scout awaiting
him with the news that MacNair had headed northward with his Indians,
and that LeFroy was soon to start for Fort Resolution with the wounded
man of the Mounted.  Whereupon he selected the fastest and freshest
dog-team available and, accompanied by a half-dozen of his most trusted
lieutenants, took the trail for Chloe Elliston's school on-the Yellow
Knife, after issuing orders as to the conduct of defence in case of an
attack by MacNair's Indians.


Affairs at the school were at a standstill.  From a busy hive of
activity, with the women and children showing marked improvement at
their tasks, and the men happy in the felling of logs and the
whip-sawing of lumber, the settlement had suddenly slumped into a
disorganized hodge-podge of unrest and anxiety.  MacNair's Indians had
followed him into the North; their women and children brooded sullenly,
and a feeling of unrest and expectancy pervaded the entire colony.

Among the inmates of the cottage the condition was even worse.  With
Harriet Penny hysterical and excited, Big Lena more glum and taciturn
than usual, the Louchoux girl cowering in mortal dread of impending
disaster, and Chloe herself disgusted, discouraged, nursing in her
heart a consuming rage against Brute MacNair, the man who had wrought
the harm, and who had been her evil genius since she had first set foot
into the North.

Upon the afternoon of the day she despatched LeFroy to Fort Resolution
with the wounded officer of the Mounted, Chloe stood at her little
window gazing out over the wide sweep of the river and wondering how it
all would end.  Would MacNair find Lapierre, and would he kill him?  Or
would the Mounted heed the urgent appeal she despatched in care of
LeFroy and arrive in time to recapture MacNair before he came upon his
victim?

"If I only knew where to find him," she muttered, "I could warn him of
his danger."

The next moment her eyes widened with amazement, and she pressed her
face close against the glass; across the clearing from the direction of
the river dashed a dog-team, with three men running before and three
behind, while upon the sled, jaunty and smiling, and debonair as ever,
sat Pierre Lapierre himself.  With a flourish he swung the dogs up to
the tiny veranda and stepped from the sled, and the next moment Chloe
found herself standing in the little living-room with Lapierre bowing
low over her hand.  Harriet Penny was in the schoolhouse; the Louchoux
girl was helping Big Lena in the kitchen, and for the first time in
many moons Chloe Elliston felt glad that she was alone with Lapierre.

When at length she removed her hand from his grasp she stood for some
moments regarding the clean-cut lines of his features, and then she
smiled as she noted the trivial fact that he had removed his hat, and
that he stood humbly before her with bared head.  A great surge of
feeling rushed over her as she realized how clean and good--how perfect
this man seemed in comparison with the hulking brutality of MacNair.
She motioned him to a seat beside the table, and drawing her chair
close to his side, poured into his attentive and sympathetic ears all
that she knew of MacNair's escape, of the shooting of Corporal Ripley,
and his departure in the night with his Indians.

Lapierre listened, smiling inwardly at her version of the affair, and
at the conclusion of her words leaned forward and took one of the slim
brown hands in his.  For a long, long time the girl listened in silence
to the pleading of his lips; and the little room was filled with the
passion of his low-voiced eloquence.

Neither was aware of the noiseless opening of a door, nor of the
wide-eyed, girlish face that stared at them through the aperture, nor
was either aware that the man's words were borne distinctly to the ears
of the Louchoux girl.  Nor could they note the change from an
expression of startled surprise to slitlike, venomous points of fire
that took place in the eyes of the listening girl--nor the clenching
fists.  Nor did they hear the soft, catlike tread with which the girl
quit the door and crossed to the kitchen table.  Nor could they see the
cruel snarl of her lips as her fingers closed tightly about the haft of
the huge butcher-knife, whose point was sharp and whose blade was keen.
Nor did they hear the noiseless tread with which the girl again
approached the door, swung wider now to admit the passage of her tense,
lithe body.  Nor did they see her crouch for a spring with the
tight-clutched knife upraised and the gleaming slitlike eyes focused
upon a point mid-way between Lapierre's shoulder-blades as his arm
unconsciously came to rest upon the back of Chloe Elliston's chair.

For a long moment the girl poised, gloating--enjoying in its fulness
the measure of her revenge.  Before her, leaning in just the right
attitude to receive upon his defenceless back the full force of the
blow, sat the man who had deceived her.  For not until she had listened
to the low-voiced, impassioned words had she realized there had been
any deception.  With the realization came the hot, fierce flame of
anger that seared her very soul.  An anger engendered by her own wrong,
and fanned to its fiercest by the knowledge that the man was at that
moment seeking to deceive the white woman--the woman who had taught her
much, and who with the keenest interest and gentleness had treated her
as an equal.

She had come to love this white woman with the love that was greater
than the love of life.  And the words to which this woman was now
listening were the same words, from the same lips, to which she herself
had listened beside the cold waters of the far-off Mackenzie.  Thus the
Louchoux girl faced suddenly her first great problem.  And to the
half-savage mind of her the solution of the problem seemed very simple,
very direct, and, had Big Lena not entered by way of the outer door at
the precise moment that the girl crouched with uplifted knife, it would
doubtless have been very effective.

But Big Lena did enter, and, with a swiftness of perception that belied
the vacuous stare of the fishlike eyes, took in the situation at a
glance; for LeFroy had already hinted to her of the relation which
existed between his erstwhile superior and this girl from the land of
the midnight sun.  Whereupon Big Lena had kept her own counsel and had
patiently bided her time, and now her time had come, and she was in no
wise minded that the fulness of her vengeance should be marred by the
untimely taking off of Lapierre.  Swiftly she crossed the room, and as
her strong fingers closed about the wrist of the Indian girl's upraised
knife-arm, the other hand reached beyond and noiselessly closed the
door between the two rooms.

The Louchoux girl whirled like a flash and sank her strong, white teeth
deep in the rolled-sleeved forearm of the huge Swedish  woman.  But a
thumb, inserted dextrously and with pressure in the little hollow
behind the girl's ear, caused her jaws instantly to relax, and she
stood trembling before the big woman, who regarded her with a tolerant
grin, and the next moment laid a friendly hand upon her shoulder and,
turning her gently about, guided her to a chair at the farther side of
the room.

Followed then a quarter of an hour of earnest conversation, in which
the older woman managed to convey, through the medium of her broken
English, a realization that Lapierre's discomfiture could be
encompassed much more effectively and in a thoroughly orthodox and less
sanguinary manner.

The ethics of Big Lena's argument were undoubtedly beyond the Louchoux
girl's comprehension; but because this woman had been good to her, and
because she seemed greatly to desire this thing, the girl consented to
abstain from violence, at least for the time being.  A few minutes
later, when Chloe Elliston opened the door and announced that Mr.
Lapierre would join them at supper, she found the two women busily
engaged in the final preparation of the meal.

Big Lena passed into the dining-room, which was also the living-room,
and without deigning to notice Lapierre's presence, proceeded to lay
the table for supper.  Returning to the kitchen, she despatched the
Indian girl to the storehouse upon an errand which would insure her
absence until after Chloe and Lapierre and Harriet Penny had taken
their places at the table.

Since her arrival at the school the Louchoux girl had been treated as
"one of the family," and it was with a look of inquiry toward the
girl's empty chair that Chloe seated herself with the others.
Interpreting the look, Big Lena assured her that the girl would return
in a few moments; and Chloe had just launched into an impassioned
account of the virtues and the accomplishments of her ward, when the
door opened and the girl herself entered the room and crossed swiftly
to her accustomed place.  As she stood with her hand on the back of her
chair, Lapierre for the first time glanced into her face.

The quarter-breed was a man trained as few men are trained to meet
emergencies, to face crises with an impassiveness of countenance that
would shame the Sphinx.  He had lost thousands across the green cloth
of gambling-tables without batting an eye.  He had faced death and had
killed men with a face absolutely devoid of expression, and upon
numerous occasions his nerve--the consummate _sang-froid_ of him--had
alone thrown off the suspicion that would have meant arrest upon
charges which would have taken more than a lifetime to expiate.  And as
he sat at the little table beside Chloe Elliston, his eyes met
unflinchingly the flashing, accusing gaze of the black eyes of the girl
from the Northland--the girl who was his wife.

For a long moment their glances held, while the atmosphere of the
little room became surcharged with the terrible portent of this silent
battle of eyes.  Harriet Penny gasped audibly; and as Chloe stared from
one to the other of the white, tense faces before her, her brain seemed
suddenly to numb, and the breath came short and quick between her
parted lips to the rapid heaving of her bosom.  The Louchoux girl's
eyes seemed fairly to blaze with hate.  The fingers of her hand dug
into the wooden back of her chair until the knuckles whitened.  She
leaned far forward and, pointing directly into the face of the man,
opened her lips to speak.  It was then Lapierre's gaze wavered, for in
that moment he realized that for him the game was lost.

With a half-smothered curse he leaped to his feet, overturning his
chair, which banged sharply upon the plank floor.  He glanced wildly
about the little room as if seeking means of escape, and his eyes
encountered the form of Big Lena, who stood stolidly in the doorway,
blocking the exit.  In a flash he noted the huge, bared forearm; noted,
too, that one thick hand gripped tightly the helve of a chopping ax,
with which she toyed lightly as if it were a little thing, while the
thumb of her other hand played smoothly, but with a certain terrible
significance, along the keen edge of its blade.  Lapierre's glance
flashed to her face and encountered the fishlike stare of the
china-blue eyes, as he had encountered it once before.  The eyes, as
before, were expressionless upon their surface, but deep down--far into
their depths--Lapierre caught a cold gleam of mockery.  And then the
Louchoux girl was speaking, and he turned upon her with a snarl.



CHAPTER XXII

CHLOE WRITES A LETTER

When Bob MacNair, exasperated beyond all patience by Chloe Elliston's
foolish accusation, stamped angrily from the cottage, after depositing
the wounded Ripley upon the bed, he proceeded at once to the barracks,
where he sought out Wee Johnnie Tamarack, who informed him that Lapierre
was up on Snare Lake, at the head of a band of men who had already
succeeded in dotting the snow of the barren grounds with the black dumps
of many shafts.  Whereupon he ordered Wee Johnnie Tamarack to assemble
the Indians at once at the storehouse.

No sooner had the old Indian departed upon his mission than the door of
the barracks was pushed violently open and Big Lena entered, dragging by
the arm the thoroughly cowed figure of LeFroy.  At sight of the man who,
under Lapierre's orders, had wrought the destruction of his post at Snare
Lake, MacNair leaped forward with a snarl of anger.  But before he could
reach the trembling man the form of Big Lena interposed, and MacNair
found himself swamped by a jargon of broken English that taxed to the
utmost his power of comprehension.

"Ju yoost vait vun meenit.  Ay tal ju som'ting gude.  Dis damn LeFroy, he
bane bad man.  He vork by Lapierre, and he tak' de vhiskey to jour
Injuns, but he don't vork no more by Lapierre; he vork by me.  Ay goin'
to marry him, and ju bet Ay keep him gude, or Ay bust de stove chunk
'crost his head.  He vork by Mees Chloe now, and he lak ju gif him chance
to show he ain't no bad man no more."

Big Lena shook the man roughly by way of emphasis, and MacNair smiled as
he noted the foolish grin with which LeFroy submitted to the inevitable.
For years he had known LeFroy as a bad man, second only to Lapierre in
cunning and brutal cruelty; and to see him now, cowering under the
domination of his future spouse, was to MacNair the height of the
ridiculous--but MacNair was unmarried.

"All right," he growled, and LeFroy's relief at the happy termination of
the interview was plainly written upon his features, for this meeting had
not been of his own seeking.  The memory of the shots which had taken off
two of his companions that night on Snare Lake, was still fresh, and in
his desire to avoid a meeting with MacNair he had sought refuge in the
kitchen.  Whereupon Big Lena had taken matters into her own hands and
literally dragged him into MacNair's presence, replying to his terrified
protest that if MacNair was going to kill him, he was going to kill and
he might as well have it over with.

Thus it was that the relieved LeFroy leaped with alacrity to obey when, a
moment later, MacNair ordered him to the storehouse to break out the
necessary provisions for a ten-days' journey for all his Indians.  So
well did the half-breed execute the order that upon MacNair's arrival at
the store-house he found LeFroy not only supplying provisions with a
lavish hand, but taking huge delight in passing out to the waiting
Indians Lapierre's Mauser rifles and ammunition.

When MacNair, with his Indians, reached Snare Lake, it was to find that
Pierre Lapierre had taken himself and his outlaws to the Lac du Mort
rendezvous.  Whereupon he immediately despatched thirty Indians back to
LeFroy for the supplies necessary to follow Lapierre to his stronghold.
Awaiting the return of the supply train, MacNair employed his remaining
Indians in getting out logs for the rebuilding of his fort, and he smiled
grimly as his eyes roved over the dumps--the rich dumps which represented
two months' well-directed labour of a gang of a hundred men.


As Chloe Elliston sat in the little living-room and listened to the
impassioned words of Lapierre, the man's chance of winning her was far
better than at any time in the whole course of their acquaintance.
Without in the least realizing it, the girl had all along held a certain
regard for MacNair--a regard that was hard to explain, and that the girl
herself would have been the first to disavow.  She hated him!  And
yet--she was forced to admit even to herself, the man fascinated her.
But never until the moment of the realization of his true character, as
forced upon her by the action and words of the Louchoux girl, had she
entertained the slightest suspicion that she loved him.  And with the
discovery had come a sense of shame and humiliation that had all but
broken her spirit.

Her hatred for MacNair was real enough now.  That hatred, the shame and
humility, and the fact that Lapierre was pleading with her as he had
never pled before, were going far to convince the girl that her previous
estimate of the quarter-breed had been a mistaken estimate, and that he
was in truth the fine, clean, educated man of the North which on the
surface he appeared to be.  A man whose aim it was to deal fairly and
honourably with the Indians, and who in reality had the best interests of
his people at heart.

No one but Chloe herself will ever know how near she came upon that
afternoon to yielding to his pleading, and laying her soul bare to him.
But something interposed--fate?  Destiny?  The materialist smiles
"supper."  Be that as it may, had she yielded to Lapierre's plans, they
would have stolen from the school that very night and proceeded to Fort
Rae, to be married by the priest at the Mission.  For Lapierre, fully
alive to the danger of delay, had eloquently pleaded his cause.

Not only was MacNair upon his trail--MacNair the relentless, the
indomitable--but also the word had passed in the North, and the men of
the Mounted--those inscrutable sentinels of the silence whose watchword
is "get the man"--were aroused to avenge a comrade.  And Lapierre
realized with a chill in his heart that he was "the man"!  His one chance
lay in a timely marriage with Chloe Elliston, and a quick dash for the
States.  If the dash succeeded, he had nothing to fear.  Even if it
failed, and he fell into the hands of the Mounted--with the Elliston
millions behind him, he felt he could snap his fingers in the face of the
law.  Men of millions do not serve time.

For the men who awaited him in the Bastile du Mort, Lapierre gave no
thought.  He would stand by them as long as it furthered his own ends to
stand by them.  When they ceased to be a factor in his own safety, they
could shift for themselves, even as he, Lapierre, was shifting for
himself.  Someone has said every man has his price.  It is certain that
every man has his limit beyond which he may not go.

Lapierre, a man of consummate nerve, had put forth a final effort to save
himself.  Had put forth the best effort that was in him to induce Chloe
Elliston to marry him.  He had found the girl kinder, more receptive than
he had dared hope.  His spirits arose to a point they had never before
attained.  Success seemed within his grasp.  Then, suddenly, just as his
fingers were about to close upon the prize--the prize that meant to him
life and plenty, instead of death--the Louchoux girl, a passing folly of
a bygone day, had suddenly risen up and confronted him--and he knew that
his cause was lost.

Lapierre had reached his limit of control, and when he turned at the
sound of the Indian girl's voice, his hand instinctively flew to his
belt.  In his rage at the sudden turn of events, he became for the
instant a madman, whose one thought was to destroy her who had wrought
the harm.  The next instant the snarl died upon his lips and his hand
dropped limply to his side.  In two strides Big Lena was upon him and her
thick fingers bit deep into his shoulder as she spun him to face her--to
face the polished bit of the keen-edged ax which the huge woman
flourished carelessly within an inch of his nose.

The fingers released their grip, Lapierre's gun was jerked from its
holster, and a moment later thumped heavily upon the floor of the kitchen
fifteen feet away, while the woman pointed grimly toward the overturned
chair.  Lapierre righted the chair, and as he sank into it, Chloe, who
had stared dumbfounded upon the scene, saw that little beads of sweat
stood out sharply against the pallor of his bloodless brow.  As from a
great distance the words of the Louchoux girl fell upon her ears.  She
was speaking rapidly, and the finger which she pointed at Lapierre
trembled violently.

"You lied!" cried the girl.  "You have always lied!  You lied when you
told me we were married.  You lied when you said you would return!  Since
coming to this school I have learned much.  Many things have I learned
that I never knew before.  When you said you would return, I believed
you--even as my mother believed my father when he went away in the ship
many years ago, and left me a babe in arms to live or to die among the
teepees of the Louchoux, the people of my mother, who was the mother of
his child.  My mother has not been to the school, and she believes some
day my father will return.  For many years she has waited, has starved,
and has suffered--always watching for my father's return.  And the
factors have laughed, and the rivermen taunted her with being the mother
of a fatherless child!  Ah, she has paid!  Always the Indian women must
pay!  And I have paid also.  All my life have I been hungry, and in the
winter I have always been cold.

"Then you came with your laughing lips and your words of love and I went
with you, and you took me to distant rivers.  All through the summer
there was plenty to eat in our teepee.  I was happy, and for the first
time in my life my heart was glad--for I loved you!  And then came the
winter, and the freezing up of the rivers, and the day you told me you
must return to the southward--to the land of the white men--without me.
And I believed you even when they told me you would not return.  I was
brave--for that is the way of love, to believe, and to hope, and to be
brave."

The girl's voice faltered, and the trembling hand gripped the back of the
chair upon which she leaned heavily for support.

"All my life have I paid," she continued, bitterly.  "Yet, it was not
enough.  Years, when the children of the trappers had at times plenty to
eat I was always hungry and cold.

"When you came into my life I thought at last I had paid in full--that my
mother and I both had paid for her belief in the white man's word.  Ah,
if I had known!  I should have known, for well I remember, it was upon
the day before--before I went away with you--that I told you of my
father, and of how we always went North in the winter, knowing that again
his ship would winter in the ice of the Bufort Sea.  And you heard the
story and laughed, and you said that my father would not return--that the
white men never return.  And when I grew afraid, you told me that you
were part Indian.  That your people were my people.  I was a fool!  I
listened to your words!"

The girl dropped heavily into her chair and buried her face in her arms.

"And now I know," she sobbed, "that I have not even begun to pay!"

Suddenly she leaped to her feet and, dashing around the table placed
herself between Lapierre and Chloe, who had listened white-lipped to her
words.  Once more the voice of the Louchoux girl rang through the
room--high-pitched and thin with anger now--and the eyes that glared into
the eyes of Lapierre blazed black with fury.

"You have lied to her!  But you cannot harm her!  With my own ears I
heard your words!  The same words I heard from your lips before, upon the
banks of the far-off rivers, and the words are lies--lies--lies!"--the
voice rose to a shriek--"the white woman is good!  She is my friend!  She
has taught me much, and now, I will save her."

With a swift movement she caught the carving-knife from the table and
sprang toward the defenceless Lapierre.  "I will cut your heart in little
bits and feed it to the dogs!"

Once more the hand of Big Lena wrenched the knife from the girl's grasp.
And once more the huge Swedish woman fixed Lapierre with her vacuous
stare.  Then slowly she raised her arm and pointed toward the door: "Ju
git!  And never ju don't come back no more.  Ay don't lat ju go 'cause Ay
lak' ju, but Ay bane 'fraid dis leetle girl she cut ju up and feed ju to
de dogs, and Ay no lak' for git dem dogs poison!"

And Lapierre tarried not for further orders.  Pausing only to recover his
hat from its peg on the wall, he opened the outer door and with one
sidewise malevolent glance toward the little group at the table, slunk
hurriedly from the room.

Hardly had the door closed behind him than Chloe, who had sat as one
stunned during the girl's accusation and her later outburst of fury,
leaped to her feet and seized her arm in a convulsive grip.  "Tell me!"
she cried; "what do you mean?  Speak!  Speak, can't you?  What is this
you have said?  What is it all about?"

"Why it is he, Pierre Lapierre.  He is the free-trader of whom I told
you.  The man who--who deceived me into believing I was his wife."

"But," cried Chloe, staring at her in astonishment.  "I thought--I
thought MacNair was the man!"

"No!  No!  No!" cried the girl.  "Not MacNair!  Pierre Lapierre, he is
the man!  He who sat in that chair, and whose heart I would cut into tiny
bits that you shall not be made to pay, even as I have paid, for
listening to the words of his lips."

"But," faltered Chloe, "I don't--I don't understand.  Surely, you, fear
MacNair.  Surely, that night when he came into the room, carrying the
wounded policeman, you fled from him in terror."

"MacNair is a white man----"

"But why should you fear him?"

"I fear him," she answered, "because among the Indians--among the
Louchoux--the people of my mother, and among the Eskimoes, he is called
'The Bad Man of the North.'  I hated him because Lapierre taught me to
hate him.  I do not hate him now, nor do I fear him.  But among the
Indians and among the free-traders he is both hated and feared.  He
chases the free-traders from the rivers, and he kills them and destroys
their whiskey.  For he has said, like the men of the soldier-police, that
the red man shall drink no whiskey.  But the red men like the whiskey.
Their life is hard and they do not have much happiness, and the whiskey
of the white man makes them happy.  And in the days before MacNair they
could get much whiskey, but now the free-traders fear him, and only
sometimes do they dare to bring whiskey to the land of the far-off rivers.

"At the posts my people may trade for food and for guns and for clothing,
but they may not buy whiskey.  But the free-traders sell whiskey.  Also
they will trade for the women.  But MacNair has said they shall not trade
for the women.  At times, when men think he is far away, he comes
swooping through the North with his Snare Lake Indians at his heels, and
they chase the free-traders from the rivers.  And on the shores of the
frozen sea he chases the whalemen from the Eskimo villages even to their
ships which lie far out from the coast, locked in the grip of the
ice-pack.

"For these things I have hated and feared him.  Since I have been here at
the school I have learned much.  Both from your teachings, and from
talking with the women of MacNair's Indians.  I know now that MacNair is
good, and that the factors and the soldier-police and the priest spoke
words of truth, and that Lapierre and the free-traders lied!"

As the Indian girl poured forth her story, Chloe Elliston listened as one
in a dream.  What was this she was saying, that it was Lapierre who sold
whiskey to the Indians, and MacNair who stood firm, and struck mighty
blows for the right of things?  Surely, this girl's mind was
unhinged--or, had something gone wrong with her own brain?  Was it
possible she had heard aright?

Suddenly she remembered the words of Corporal Ripley, when he asked her
to withdraw the charge of murder against MacNair: "In the North we know
something of MacNair's work."  And again: "We know the North needs men
like MacNair."

Could it be possible that after all--with the thought there flashed into
the girl's mind the scene on Snare Lake.  Had she not seen with her own
eyes the evidence of this man's work among the Indians!  With a gesture
of appeal she turned to Big Lena.

"Surely, Lena, you remember that night on Snare Lake?  You saw MacNair's
Indians, drunk as fiends--and the buildings all on fire?  You saw MacNair
kicking and knocking them about?  And you saw him fire the shots that
killed two men?  Speak, can't you?  Did you see these things?  Did I see
them?  Was I dreaming?  Or am I dreaming now?"

Big Lena shifted her weight ponderously, and the stare of the china-blue
eyes met steadily the half-startled eyes of the girl.  "Yah, Ay seen das
all right.  Dem Injuns dey awful drunk das night and MacNair he come
'long and schlap dem and kick dem 'round.  But das gude for dem.  Dey got
it comin'.  Dey should not ought to drink Lapierre's vhiskey."

"Lapierre's whiskey!" cried the girl.  "Are you crazy?"

"Naw, Ay tank Ay ain't so crazy.  Lapierre he fool ju long tam'."

"What do you mean," asked Chloe.

"Ah, das a'right," answered the woman.  "He fool ju gude, but he ain't
fool Big Lena.  Ay know all about him for a jear."

"But," pursued the girl, "Lapierre was with us that night!"

Lena shrugged.  "Yah, Lapierre very smart.  He send LeFroy 'long wit' das
vhiskey.  Den v'en he know MacNair's Injuns git awful drunk, he tak' ju
'long for see it."

"LeFroy!" cried Chloe.  "Why, LeFroy was off to the eastward trying to
run down some whiskey-runners."

Big Lena laughed derisively.  "How ju fin' out?" she asked.

Chloe hesitated.  "Why--why, Lapierre told me."

Again Big Lena laughed.  "Yah, Lapierre tal ju, but, LeFroy, he don't
know nuthin' 'bout no vhiskey-runners.  Only him and Lapierre dos all de
vhiskey-running in dis country.  LeFroy, he tal me all 'bout das.  He
tak' das vhiskey up dere and he sell it to MacNair's Injuns, and MacNair
shoot after him and kill two LeFroy's men.  Ay goin' marry LeFroy, and he
tal me de trut'.  He 'fraid to lie to me, or Ay break him in two.
LeFroy, he bane gude man now, he quit Lapierre.  Ju bet ju if he don't
bane gude Ay gif him haal.  Ay tal him it bane gude t'ing if MacNair kill
him das night.

"Den MacNair come on de school and brung de policeman, LeFroy he 'fraid
for scart, and he goin' hide in de kitchen, and Ay drag him out and brung
him 'long to see MacNair.  LeFroy, he 'fraid lak' haal.  He squeal
MacNair goin' kill him.  But Ay tal him das ain't much loss annyhow.  If
he goin' kill him it's besser he kill him now, den Ay ain't got to bodder
wit' him no more.  But MacNair, he don't kill him.  Ay tal him LeFroy
goin' to be gude man now, and den MacNair he laugh, and tal LeFroy to go
'long and git out de grub."

"But," cried Chloe, "you say you have known all about Lapierre for a
year, and you knew all the time that MacNair was right, and Lapierre was
wrong, and you let me go blindly on thinking Lapierre was my friend, and
treating MacNair as I did!  Why didn't you tell me?"

"Ju got yoost so manny eyes lak' me!" retorted the woman.  "Ju neffer ask
me vat Ay tank 'bout MacNair and 'bout Lapierre.  And Ay neffer tal ju
das 'cause Ay tank it besser ju fin' out yourself.  Ay know ju got to
fin' das out sometam'.  Den ju believe it.  Ju know lot 'bout vat stands
in de books, but das mos' lak' MacNair say: 'bout lot t'ing, you damn
fool!"

Chloe gasped.  It was the longest speech Big Lena had ever made.  And the
girl learned that when the big woman chose she could speak straight from
the shoulder.

Harriet Penny gasped also.  She pushed back her chair, and shook an
outraged finger at Big Lena.  "Go into the kitchen where you belong!" she
cried.  "I really cannot permit such language in my presence.  You are
unspeakably coarse!"

Chloe whirled on the little woman like a flash.  "You shut up, Hat
Penny!" she snapped savagely.  "You don't happen to do the permitting
around here.  If your ears are too delicate to listen to _the truth_ you
better go into your own room and shut the door."  And then crossing
swiftly to her own room, she opened the door, but before entering she
turned to Big Lena, "Make a pot of strong coffee," she ordered, "and
bring it to me here."

A few minutes later when the woman entered and deposited the tray
containing coffee-pot, cream-pitcher, and sugar-bowl upon the table, she
found Chloe striding up and down the room.  There was a new light in the
girl's eyes, and, very much to Big Lena's surprise, she turned suddenly
upon her and throwing her arms about the massive shoulders, planted a
kiss squarely upon the wide, flat mouth.

"Ah, Lena," she cried, happily, "you--you are a dear!"  And the Swedish
woman, with unexpected gentleness, patted the girl's shoulder, and as she
passed out of the door smiled broadly.

For an hour Chloe paced up and down the little room.  At first she could
scarcely bring herself to realize that the two men, MacNair and Lapierre,
had changed places.  She remembered that in that very room she had more
than once pictured that very thing.  As the conviction grew upon her, her
pulse quickened.  Never before had she been so supremely--so wildly
happy.  There was a strange barbaric singing in her heart, as for the
first time she saw MacNair--the real MacNair at his true worth.  MacNair,
the big man, the really great man, strong and brave, alone in the North
fighting, night and day, against the snarling wolves of the world-waste.
Fighting for the good of his Indians and the right of things as they
should be.

Her mind dwelt upon the fine courage and the patience of him.  She
recalled the hurt look in his eyes when she ordered his arrest.  She
remembered his words to the officer--words of kindly apology for her own
blind folly.  She penetrated the rough exterior, and read the real
gentleness of his soul.  And then, with a shame and mortification that
almost overwhelmed her, she saw herself as she must appear to him.  She
recollected how she had accused him, had sneered at him, had called him a
liar and a thief, a murderer, and worse.

Tears streamed unheeded from her eyes as she recalled the unconscious
pathos of his words as he stood beside his mother's grave.  And the look
of reproach with which he sank, to the ground when Lapierre's bullet laid
him low.  Her heart thrilled at the memory of the blazing wrath of him,
the cold gleam of his eyes, the wicked snap of his iron jaw, as he said,
"I have taken the man-trail!"  She remembered the words he had once
spoken: "When you have learned the North, we shall be friends."  She
wondered now if possibly this thing could ever be?  Had she learned the
North?  Could she ever atone in his eyes for her cocksureness, her blind
egotism?

Chloe quickened her pace, as if to walk away and leave these things
behind.  How she hated herself!  It seemed to her, in her shame and
mortification, that she could never look into this man's eyes again.  Her
glance strayed to the portrait of Tiger Elliston that stared down at her
from its bullet-shattered frame upon the wall.  The eyes of the portrait
seemed to bore deep into her own, and the words of MacNair flashed
through her brain--the words he had used as he gazed into the eyes of
that selfsame portrait.

Unconsciously--fiercely she repeated those words aloud: "By God!  Yon is
the face of a _man_!"  She started at the sound of her own voice.  And
then, like liquid flame, it seemed to the girl the blood of Tiger
Elliston seethed and boiled in her veins--spurring her on to _do_!

"Do what?" she questioned.  "What was there left to _do_, for one who had
blundered so miserably?"

Like a flash came the answer.  She had done MacNair a great wrong.  She
must right that wrong, or at least admit it.  She must own her error and
offer an apology.

Seating herself at the table, she seized a pen and wrote rapidly for a
long, long time.  And then for a long time more she sat buried in
thought, and at the end of an hour she arose and tore up the pages she
had written, and sat down again and penned another letter which she
placed in an envelope addressed with the name of MacNair.  This done she
took the letter, tiptoed across the living-room, and pushing open the
Louchoux girl's door entered and seated herself upon the edge of the bed.
The Indian girl was wide awake.  A brown hand stole from beneath the
covers and clasped reassuringly about Chloe's fingers.

She handed the girl the letter.

"I can trust you," she said, "to place this in MacNair's hands.  Go to
sleep now, I will talk further with you tomorrow."  And with a hurried
good-night, Chloe returned to her own room.

She blew out the lamp and threw herself fully dressed upon the bed.
Sleep would not come.  She stared long at the little patch of moonlight
that showed upon the bare floor.  She tried to think, but her heart was
filled with a strange restlessness.  Arising from the bed, she crossed to
the window and stared out across the moonlit clearing toward the dark
edge of the forest--the mysterious forest whose depths seemed black with
sinister mystery--whose trees bed-coned, stretching out their branches
like arms.

A strange restlessness came over her.  The confines of the little room
seemed smothering--crushing her.  Crossing to the row of pegs she drew on
her _parka_ and heavy mittens, and tiptoeing to the outer door, passed
out into the night, crossed the moonlit clearing, and stepped
half-fearfully into the deep shadow of the forest--to the call of the
beckoning arms.

As her form was swallowed up in the blackness, another form--a gigantic
figure that bore clutched in the grasp of a capable hand the helve of an
ax, upon the polished steel of whose double-bitted blade the moonbeams
gleamed cruelly--slipped from the door of the kitchen and followed
swiftly in the wake of the girl.  Big Lena was taking no chances.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE WOLF-CRY!

So sudden and unexpected had been Lapierre's _dénouement_ at the hands
of the Indian girl and Big Lena, that when he quitted Chloe Elliston's
living-room the one thought in his mind was to return to his stronghold
on Lac du Mort.  For the first time the real seriousness of his
situation forced itself upon him.  He knew that no accident had brought
the officer of the Mounted to the Lac du Mort stronghold in company
with Bob MacNair, and he realized the utter futility of attempting an
escape to the outside, since the shooting of the officer at the very
walls of the stockade.

As the husband of Chloe Elliston, the thing might have been
accomplished.  But alone or in company with the half-dozen outlaws who
had accompanied him to the school, never.  There was but one course
open to him: To return to Lac du Mort and make a stand against the
authorities and against MacNair.  And the fact that the man realized in
all probability it would be his last stand, was borne to the
understanding of the men who accompanied him.

These men knew nothing of the reason for Lapierre's trip to the school,
but they were not slow to perceive that whatever the reason was,
Lapierre had failed in its accomplishment.  For they knew Lapierre as a
man who rarely lost his temper.

They knew him as one equal to any emergency--one who would shoot a man
down in cold blood for disobeying an order or relaxing vigilance, but
who would shoot with a smile rather than a frown.

Thus when Lapierre joined them in their camp at the edge of the
clearing, and with a torrent of unreasoning curses ordered the dogs
harnessed and the outfit got under way for Lac du Mort, they knew their
cause was at best a forlorn hope.

Darkness overtook them and they camped to await the rising of the late
moon.  While the men prepared the supper, Lapierre glowered upon his
sled by the fire, occasionally leaping to his feet to stamp impatiently
up and down upon the snow.  The leader spoke no word and none ventured
to address him.  The meal was eaten in silence.  At its conclusion the
men took heart and sprang eagerly to obey an order--the order puzzled
them not a little, but no man questioned it.  For the command came
crisp and sharp, and without profanity, in a voice they well knew.
Lapierre was himself again, and his black eyes gleamed wickedly as he
rolled a cigarette by the light of the rising moon.

The dogs were whirled upon the back-trail, and once more the outfit
headed for the school upon the bank of the Yellow Knife.  It was well
toward midnight when Lapierre called a halt.  They were close to the
edge of the clearing.  Leaving one man with the dogs and motioning the
others to follow, he stole noiselessly from tree to tree until the dull
square of light that glowed from the window of Chloe Elliston's room
showed distinctly through the interlacing branches.  The quarters of
the Indians were shrouded in darkness.  For a long time Lapierre stood
staring at the little square of light, while his men, motionless as
statues, blended into the shadows of the trees.  The light was
extinguished.  The quarter-breed moved to the edge of the clearing and,
seating himself upon the root of a gnarled banskian, rapidly outlined
his plan.

Suddenly his form stiffened and he drew close against the trunk of his
tree, motioning the others to do likewise.  The door of the cottage had
opened.  A parka-clad figure stepped from the little veranda, paused
uncertainly in the moonlight, and then, with light, swinging strides,
moved directly toward the banskian.  Lapierre's pulse quickened, and
his lips twisted into an evil smile.  That the figure was none other
than Chloe Elliston was easily discernible in the bright moonlight, and
with fiendish satisfaction the quarter-breed realized that the girl was
playing directly into his hands.  For, as he sat upon the sled beside
the little camp-fire, his active brain had evolved a new scheme.  If
Chloe Elliston could not be made to accompany him willingly, why not
unwillingly?

Lapierre believed that once safely entrenched behind the barriers of
the Bastile du Mort, he could hold out for a matter of six months
against any forces which were likely to attack him.  He realized that
his most serious danger was from MacNair and his Indians.  For Lapierre
knew MacNair.  He knew that once upon his trail, MacNair would
relentlessly stick to that trail--the trail that must end at a
grave--many graves, in fact.  For as the forces stood, Lapierre knew
that many men must die, and bitterly he cursed LeFroy for disclosing to
MacNair the whereabouts of the Mausers concealed in the storehouse.

The inevitable attack of the Mounted he knew would come later.  For the
man knew their methods.  He knew that a small detachment, one officer,
or perhaps two, would appear before the barricade and demand his
surrender, and when surrender was refused, a report would go in to
headquarters, and after that--Lapierre shrugged--well, that was a
problem of tomorrow.  In the meantime, if he held Chloe Elliston
prisoner under threat of death, it was highly probable that he could
deal to advantage with MacNair, and, at the proper time, with the
Mounted.  If not--_Voilà_!  It was a fight to the death, anyway.  And
again Lapierre shrugged.

Nearer and nearer drew the unsuspecting figure of the girl.  The man
noted the haughty, almost arrogant beauty of her, as the moonlight
played upon the firm resolute features, framed by the oval of her
_parka_-hood.  The next instant she paused in the shadow of his
banskian, almost at his side.  Lapierre sprang to his feet and stood
facing her there in the snow.  The smile of the thin lips hardened as
he noted the sudden pallor of her face and the look of wild terror that
flashed for a moment from her eyes.  And then, almost on the instant,
the girl's eyes narrowed, the firm white chin thrust forward, and the
red lips curled into a sneer of infinite loathing and contempt.
Instinctively, Lapierre knew that the hands within the heavy mittens
had clenched into fighting fists.  For an instant she faced him, and
then, drawing away as if he were some grizzly, loathsome thing
poisoning the air he breathed, she spoke.  Her voice trembled with the
fury of her words, and Lapierre winced to the lash of a woman's scorn.

"You--you _dog_!" she cried.  "You dirty, low-lived _cur_!  How _dare_
you stand there grinning?  How _dare_ you show your face?  Oh, if I
were a man I would--I would strangle the life from your vile, sneaking
body with my two hands!"

The words ended in a stifled cry.  With a snarl, Lapierre sprang upon
her, pinning her arms to her side.  The next instant before his eyes
loomed the form of Big Lena, who leaped toward him with upraised ax
swung high.  In the excitement of the moment, the man had not noted her
approach.  With a swift movement he succeeded in forcing the body of
the girl between himself and the up-raised blade.

With a shrill cry of rage Lena dropped the ax and rushed to a grip.
Sounded then a sickening thud, and the huge woman pitched face downward
into the snow, while behind her one of Lapierre's outlaws tossed a
heavy club into the bush and rushed to the assistance of his chief.
The others came, and with incredible rapidity Chloe Elliston was gagged
and bound hand and foot, and the men were carrying her to the waiting
sled.

For a moment Lapierre hesitated, gazing longingly toward the cottage as
he debated in his mind the advisability of rushing across the clearing
and settling his score with Mary, the Louchoux girl, whose unexpected
appearance had turned the tide so strongly against him.

"Better let well enough alone!" he growled savagely.  "I must reach Lac
du Mort ahead of MacNair."  And he turned with a curse from the
clearing to see an outlaw, with knife unsheathed, stooping over the
unconscious form of Big Lena.  The quarter-breed kicked the knife from
the man's hand.

"Bring her along!" he ordered gruffly.  "I will attend to her later."
And, despite the hurt of his bruised fingers, the man grinned as he
noted the venomous gleam in the leader's eye.  For not only was
Lapierre thinking of the proselyting of LeFroy, who had been his most
trusted lieutenant, but of his own disarming, and the meaning stare of
the fishlike eyes that had prompted him to abandon his attempt to
poison MacNair when wounded in Chloe Elusion's room.


It was yet early when, as had become her custom, the Louchoux girl
dressed hurriedly and made her way to the kitchen to help Lena in the
preparation of breakfast.  To her surprise she found that the fire had
not been lighted nor was Big Lena in the little room which had been
built for her adjoining the kitchen.

The quick eyes of the girl noted that the bed had not been disturbed,
and with a sudden fear in her heart she dashed to the door of Chloe's
room, where, receiving no answer to her frantic knocking, she pushed
open the door and entered.  Chloe's bed had not been slept in, and her
_parka_ was missing from its peg upon the wall.

As the Indian girl turned from the room, Harriet Penny's door opened,
and she caught a glimpse of a night-capped head as the little spinster
glanced timidly out to inquire into the unusual disturbance.

"Where have they gone?" cried the girl.

"Gone?  Gone?" asked Miss Penny.  "What do you mean?  Who has gone?"

"She's gone--Miss Elliston--and Big Lena, too.  They have not slept in
their beds."

It took a half-minute for this bit of information to percolate Miss
Penny's understanding, and when it did she uttered a shrill scream,
banged her door, turned the key, and shot the bolt upon the inside.

Alone in the living-room, the last words Chloe had spoken to her
flashed through the Indian girl's mind: "I can trust you to place this
in MacNair's hands."

Without a second thought for Miss Penny, she rushed into her room,
recovered the letter from its hiding-place beneath the pillow, thrust
it into the bosom of her gown, and hastily prepared for the trail.

In the kitchen she made up a light pack of provisions, and, with no
other thought than to find MacNair, opened the door and stepped out
into the keen, frosty air.  The girl knew only that Snare Lake lay
somewhere up the river, but this gave her little concern, as no snow
had fallen since MacNair had departed with his Indians a week before,
and she knew his trail would be plain.

From her window Harriet Penny watched the departure of the girl, and
before she was half-way across the clearing the little woman appeared
in the doorway, commanding, begging, pleading in shrill falsetto, not
to be left alone.  Hearing the cries, the girl quickened her pace, and
without so much as a backward glance passed swiftly down the steep
slope to the river.

Born to the snow-trail, the Louchoux girl made good time.  During the
month she had spent at Chloe's school she had for the first time in her
life been sufficiently clothed and fed, and now with the young muscles
of her body well nourished and in the pink of condition she fairly flew
over the trail.

Hour after hour she kept up the pace without halting.  She passed the
mouth of the small tributary upon which she had first seen Chloe.  The
place conjured vivid memories of the white woman and all she had done
for her and meant to her--memories that served as a continual spur to
her flying feet.  It was well toward noon when, upon rounding a sharp
bend, she came suddenly face to face with the Indians and the dog-teams
that MacNair had despatched for provisions.

She bounded among them like a flash, singled out Wee Johnnie Tamarack,
and proceeded to deluge the old man with an avalanche of words.  When
finally she paused for sheer lack of breath, the old Indian, who had
understood but the smallest fragment of what she had said, remained
obviously unimpressed.  Whereupon the girl produced the letter, which
she waved before his face, accompanying the act with another tirade of
words of which the Indian understood less than he had of the previous
outburst.

Wee Johnnie Tamarack took his orders only from MacNair.  MacNair had
said, "Go to the school for provisions," and to the school he must go.
Nevertheless, the sight of the letter impressed him.  For in the
Northland His Majesty's mail is held sacred and must be carried to its
destination, though the heavens fall.

To the mind of Wee Johnnie Tamarack a letter was "mail," and the fact
that its status might be altered by the absence of His Majesty's stamp
upon its corner was an affair beyond the old man's comprehension.

Therefore he ordered the other Indians to continue their journey, and,
motioning the girl to a place on the sled, headed his dogs northward
and sent them skimming over the back-trail.

Wee Johnnie Tamarack was counted one of the best dog-mushers in the
North, and as the girl had succeeded in implanting in the old man's
mind an urgent need of haste, he exerted his talent to the utmost.
Mile after mile, behind the flying feet of the tireless _malamutes_,
the sled-runners slipped smoothly over the crust of the ice-hard snow.

And at midnight of the second day they dashed across the smooth surface
of the lake and brought up with a rush before the door of MacNair's own
cabin, which luckily had been spared by the flames.

It was a record drive, for a "two-man" load--that drive of Wee Johnnie
Tamarack's, having clipped twelve hours from a thirty-six-hour trail.

MacNair's door flew open to their frantic pounding.  The girl thrust
the letter into his hand, and with a supreme effort told what she knew
of the disappearance of Chloe and Big Lena.  Whereupon, she threw
herself at full length upon the floor and immediately sank into a
profound sleep.

MacNair fumbled upon the shelf for a candle and, lighting it, seated
himself beside the table, and tore the envelope from the letter.  Never
in his life had the man read words penned by the hand of a woman.  The
fingers that held the letter trembled, and he wondered at the wild
beating of his heart.

The story of the Louchoux girl had aroused in him a sudden fear.  He
wondered vaguely that the disappearance of Chloe Elliston could have
caused the dull hurt in his breast.  The pages in his hand were like no
letter he had ever received.  There was something
personal--intimate--about them.  His huge fingers gripped them lightly,
and he turned them over and over in his hand, gazing almost in awe upon
the bold, angular writing.  Then, very slowly, he began to read the
words.

Unconsciously, he read them aloud, and as he read a strange lump arose
in his throat so that his voice became husky and the words faltered.
He read the letter through to the end.  He leaped to his feet and
strode rapidly up and down the room, his fists clenched and his breath
coming in great gasps.

Bob MacNair was fighting.  Fighting against an irresistible impulse--an
impulse as new and strange to him as though born of another world--an
impulse to find Chloe Elliston, to take her in his arms, and to crush
her close against his wildly pounding heart.

Minutes passed as the man strode up and down the length of the little
room, and then once more he seated himself at the table and read the
letter through.


"DEAR MR. MACNAIR:

"I cannot leave the North without this little word to you.  I have
learned many things since I last saw you--things I should have learned
long ago.  You were right about the Indians, about Lapierre, about
_me_.  I know now that I have been a fool.  Lapierre always removed his
hat in my presence, therefore he was a gentleman!  Oh, what a fool I
was!

"I will not attempt to apologize.  I have been too _nasty_, and
_hateful_, and _mean_ for any apology.  You said once that some day we
should be friends.  I am reminding you of this because I want you to
think of me as a friend.  Wherever I may be, I will think of
you--always.  Of the splendid courage of the man who, surrounded by
treachery and intrigue and the vicious attacks of the powers that prey,
dares to stand upon his convictions and to fight alone for the good of
the North--for the cause of those who will never be able to fight for
themselves.

"It will not be necessary to tell you that I shall go straight to the
headquarters of the Mounted and withdraw my charge against you.  I have
heard of your lawless raids into the far North; I think they are
_splendid_!  Keep the good work up!  Shoot as straight as you can--as
straight as you shot that night on Snare Lake.  I should love to stand
at your side and shoot, too.  But that can never be.

"Just a word more.  Lena is going to marry LeFroy; and, knowing Lena as
I do, I think his reformation is assured.  I am leaving everything to
them.  The contents of the storehouse will set them up as independent
traders.

"And now farewell.  I want you to have my most valued possession, the
portrait of my grandfather, Tiger Elliston, the man I have always
admired more than any other until----"


Until what?  wondered MacNair.  The word had been crossed out, and he
finished the letter still wondering.


"When you look at the picture in its splintered frame, think sometimes
of the 'fool moose-calf,' who, having succeeded by the narrowest margin
in eluding the fangs of 'the wolf' is returning, wiser, to its
mountains.

"Yours very truly--and very, very repentantly,

"CHLOE ELLISTON."


Bob MacNair lost his fight.  He arose once more, his great frame
trembling in the grip of a new thrill.  He stretched his great arms to
the southward in a silent sign of surrender.  He sought not to dodge
the issue, strange and wonderful as it seemed to him.  He loved this
woman--loved her as he knew he could love no other--as he had never
dreamed it was in the heart of man to love.

And then, with the force of a blow, came the realization that this
woman--his woman--was at that very instant, in all probability, at the
mercy of a fiend who would stop at nothing to gain his own ends.

He leaped to the door.

"By God, I'll tear his heart out!" he roared as he wrenched at the
latch.  And the next instant the shores of Snare Lake echoed to the
wild weird sound of the wolf-cry--the call of MacNair to his clan!
Other calls and other summons might be ignored upon provocation, but
when the terrible wolf-cry shattered the silence of the forest
MacNair's Indians rushed to his side.

Only death itself could deter them from fore-gathering at the sound of
the wolf-cry.  Before the echoes of MacNair's voice had died away dark
forms were speeding through the moonlight.  From all directions they
came; from the cabins that yet remained standing, from the tents
pitched close against the unburned walls of the stockade, from rude
wickiups of skins and of brushwood.

Old men and young men they answered the call, and each in his hand bore
a rifle.  MacNair snapped a few quick orders.  Men rushed to harness
the dog-teams while others provisioned the sleds for the trail.

With one arm MacNair swung the Louchoux girl from the floor, and,
picking up his rifle, dashed out into the night.

Wee Johnnie Tamarack, just in from a twenty-four-hour trail, stood at
the head of MacNair's own dogs--the seven great Athabasca River dogs
that had carried him into the North.  With a cry to his Indians to
follow and to bring the Louchoux girl, MacNair threw himself belly-wise
onto his sled, gave voice to a weird cry as his dogs shot out across
the white snow-level of Snare Lake, and headed south-ward toward the
Yellow Knife.

He laughed aloud as he glanced over the back-trail and noted that half
of his Indians were already following.  He had chosen that last cry
well.  Never before had the Indians heard it from the white man's lips,
and they thrilled at the sound to the marrow.  The blood surged through
the veins of the wild men as it had not surged in long decades.  _It
was the war-cry of the Yellow Knives_!



CHAPTER XXIV

THE BATTLE

Bob MacNair's sled seemed scarcely to touch the hard surface of the
snow.  The great _malemutes_ ran low and true over the well-defined
trail.  He had selected the dogs with an eye to speed and endurance at
the time he had headed northward with Corporal Ripley after his release
from the Fort Saskatchewan jail.

The shouts of the following Indians died away.  Familiar landmarks
leaped past, and save for an occasional word of encouragement MacNair
let the dogs set their own pace.  For, consumed as he was by anxiety
for what might lie at the end of the trail, he knew that the homing
instinct of the wolf-dogs would carry them more miles and in better
heart than the sting of his long gut-lash.

At daylight the man halted for a half-hour, fed his dogs, and boiled
tea, which he drank in great gulps, hot and black, from the rim of the
pot.  At noon one of the dogs showed signs of distress, and MacNair cut
him loose, leaving him to follow as best as he could.  When darkness
fell only three dogs remained in harness, and these showed plainly the
effects of the long trail-strain.  While behind, somewhere upon the
wide stretch of the Yellow Knife, the other four limped painfully in
the wake of their stronger team-mates.

An hour passed, during which the pace slackened perceptibly, and then
with only ten miles to go, two more dogs laid down.  Pausing only to
cut them free from the harness, MacNair continued the trail on foot.
The hard-packed surface of the snow made the rackets unnecessary, and
the man struck into a long, swinging trot--the stride of an Indian
runner.

Mile after mile slipped by as the huge muscles of him, tireless as
bands of steel, flexed and sprung with the regularity of clockworks.
The rising moon was just topping the eastern pines as he dashed up the
steep bank of the clearing.  For a moment he halted as his glance swept
the familiar outlines of the log buildings, standing black and
clean-cut and sombre in the light of the rising moon.

MacNair drew a deep breath, and the next moment the long wolf-cry
boomed out over the silent snow.  As if by magic, the clearing sprang
into life.  Lights shone from the barrack windows and from the windows
of the cabins beyond; doors banged.  The white snow of the clearing was
dotted with swift-moving forms as men, women, and children answered the
clan-call of MacNair, shouting to one another as they ran, in hoarse,
deep gutturals.

In an instant MacNair singled out Old Elk from among the crowding forms.

"What's happened here?" he cried.  "Where is the white _kloochman_?"

Old Elk had taken charge of the thirty Indians MacNair had despatched
for provisions, and immediately upon learning from the lips of the
Indian women of Chloe's disappearance he had left the loading of the
sleds to the others while he worked out the signs in the snow.  Thus at
MacNair's question the old Indian motioned him to follow, and, starting
at the door of the cottage, he traced Chloe's trail to the banskian,
and there in a few words and much silent pantomime he explained without
doubt or hesitation exactly what had taken place from the moment of
Chloe's departure from the cottage until she was carried, bound and
gagged and placed upon Lapierre's waiting sled.

As MacNair followed the old Indian's story his fists clenched, his eyes
hardened to points, and the breath whistled through his nostrils in
white plumes of frost-steam.

Old Elk finished and, pointing eloquently in the direction of Lac du
Mort, asked eagerly:

"You follow de trail of Lapierre?"

MacNair nodded, and before he could reply the Indian stepped close to
his side and placed a withered hand upon his arm.

"Me, I'm lak' y'u fadder," he said; "y'u lak' my own son.  Y'u follow
de trail of Lapierre.  Y'u tak' de white _kloochman_ away from
Lapierre, an' den, by gar, when y'u got her y'u ke'p her.  Dat
_kloochman_, him damn fine 'oman!"

Realizing his worst fears were verified, MacNair immediately set about
preparations for the attack on Lapierre's stronghold.  All night he
superintended the breaking out of supplies in the storehouse and the
loading of sleds for the trail, and at the first streak of dawn the
vanguard of Indians who had followed him from Snare Lake swarmed up the
bank from the river.

MacNair selected the freshest and strongest of these, and with the
thirty who were already at the school, struck into the timber with
sleds loaded light for a quick dash, leaving the heavier impedimenta to
follow in care of the women and those who were yet to arrive from Snare
Lake.

The fact that MacNair had made use of the wolf-cry to call them
together, his set face, and terse, quick commands told the Indians that
this was no ordinary expedition, and the eyes of the men glowed with
anticipation.  The long-promised--the inevitable battle was at hand.
The time had come for ridding the North of Lapierre.  And the fight
would be a fight to the death.

It took three days for MacNair's flying squadron to reach the fort at
Lac du Mort.  By the many columns of smoke that arose from the surface
of the little plateau, he knew that the men of Lapierre waited the
attack in force.  MacNair led his Indians across the lake and into the
black spruce swamp.  A half-dozen scouts were sent out to surround the
plateau, with orders to report immediately anything of importance.

Old Elk was detailed to follow the trail of Lapierre's sled to the very
walls of the stockade.  For well MacNair knew that the crafty
quarter-breed was quite capable of side-stepping the obvious and
carrying the girl to some rendezvous unknown to any one but himself.
The remaining Indians he set to work felling trees for a small stockade
which would serve as a defence against a surprise attack.  Saplings
were also felled for light ladders to be used in the scaling of
Lapierre's walls.

Evening saw the completion of a substantial five-foot barricade, and
soon after dark Old Elk appeared with the information that both Chloe
and Big Lena, as well as Lapierre himself, were within the confines of
the Bastile du Mort.  The man also proudly displayed a bleeding scalp
which he had ripped from the head of one of Lapierre's scouts who had
blundered upon the old man as he lay concealed behind a snow-covered
log.  The sight of the grewsome trophy with its long black hair and
blood-dripping flesh excited the Indians to a fever pitch.  The scalp
was placed upon a pole driven into the snow in the centre of the little
stockade.  And for hours the Indians danced about it, rendering the
night hideous with the wild chants and wails of their weird
incantations.

As the night advanced and the incantations increased in violence,
MacNair arose from the robe he had spread beside his camp-fire, and
drawing away from the wild savagery of the scene, stole alone out into
the dense blackness of the swamp and detouring to the shore of the
lake, seated himself upon an uprooted tree-butt.

An hour passed as he sat thinking--staring into the dark.  The moon
rose and illumined with soft radiance the indomitable land of the raw.
MacNair's gaze roved from the forbidding blackness of the farther
shore-line, across the dead, cold snow-level of the ice-locked lake, to
the bold headlands that rose sheer upon his right and upon his left.
The scene was one of unbending _hardness_--of nature's frowning
defiance of man.  The soft touch of the moonlight jarred upon his mood.
Death lurked in the shadows--and death, and worse than death, awaited
the dawning of the day.  It was a _hard_ land--the North--having naught
to do with beauty and the soft brilliance of moonlight.  He glanced
toward the jutting rock-ribbed plateau that was Lapierre's stronghold.
Out of the night--out of the intense blackness of the spruce-guarded
dark came the wailing howl of the savage scalp-dance.

"The real spirit of the North," he murmured bitterly.  He arose to his
feet, and, with his eyes fixed upon the bold headland of the little
plateau, stretched his great arms toward the spot that concealed the
woman he loved--and then he turned and passed swiftly into the
blackness of the forest.

But despite the frenzy of the blood-lust, at no time were the Indians
out of MacNair's control, and when he ordered quiet, the incantations
ceased at the word and they sought their blankets to dream eagerly of
the morrow.

Morning came, and long before sunrise a thin line of men, women, and
heavily laden dog-sleds put out from the farther shore of the lake and
headed for the black spruce swamp.  The clan of MacNair was gathering
to the call of the wolf.

The newcomers were conducted to the log stockade where the women were
left to store the provisions, while MacNair called a council of his
fighting men and laid out his plan of attack.  He glanced with pride
into the eager faces of the men who would die for him.  He counted
eighty-seven men under arms, thirty of whom were armed with Lapierre's
Mausers.

The position of the quarter-breed's fort admitted only one plan of
attack--to rush the barricade that stretched across the neck of the
little peninsula.  MacNair longed for action.  He chafed with
impatience to strike the blow that would crush forever the power of
Lapierre, yet he found himself wholly at the mercy of Lapierre.  For
somewhere behind that barrier of logs was the woman he loved.  He
shuddered at the thought.  He knew Lapierre.  Knew that the man's white
blood and his education, instead of civilizing, had served to heighten
and to refine the barbaric cruelty and savagery of his heart.  He knew
that Lapierre would stop at nothing to gain an end.  His heart chilled
at the possibilities.  He dreaded to act--yet he knew that he must act.

He dismissed the idea of a siege.  A quick, fierce assault--an attack
that should have no lull, nor armistice until his Indians had scaled
the stockade, was preferable to the heart-breaking delay of a siege.
MacNair decided to launch his attack with so fierce an onslaught that
Lapierre would have no time to think of the girl.  But if worse came to
worst, and he did think of her, what he would do he would be forced to
do quickly.

Grimly, MacNair led his warriors to the attack, and as the lean-faced
horde moved silently through the timbered aisles of the swamp, the
sound of scattering shots was borne to their ears as the scouts
exchanged bullets with Lapierre's sentries.

A cleared space, thirty yards in width, separated the forest from the
barricade, and with this clearing in sight, in the shelter of the
snow-laden spruces, MacNair called a halt, and in a brief address gave
his Indians their final instructions.  In their own tongue he addressed
them, falling naturally into the oratorical swing of the council fire.

"The time has come, my people, as I have told you it must sometime
come, for the final reckoning with Lapierre.  Not because the man has
sought my life, am I fighting him.  I would not call upon you to risk
your lives to protect mine; not to avenge the burning of my storehouse,
nor yet, because he dug my gold.  I am fighting him because he has
struck at your homes, and the homes of your wives and your children.
You are my people, and your interests are my interests.

"I have not preached to you, as do the good fathers at the Mission, of
a life in a world to come.  Of that I know nothing.  It is this
life--the daily life we are living now, with which I have to do.  I
have taught you to work with your hands, because he who works is better
clothed, and better fed, and better housed than he who does not work.
I have commanded you not to drink the white man's fire-water, not
because it is wrong to be drunken.  A man's life is his own.  He may do
with it as he pleases.  But a man who is drunk is neither well nor
happy.  He will not work.  He sees his women and his children suffering
and in want, and he does not care.  He beats them and drives them into
the cold.  He is no longer a man, but a brute, meaner and more to be
despised than the wolf--for a wolf feeds his young.  Therefore, I have
commanded you to drink no fire-water.

"I have not made you learn from books; for books are things of the
white men.  In books men have written many things; but in no book is
anything written that will put warmer clothes upon your backs, or more
meat in your _caches_.  The white _kloochman_ came among you with
books.  Her heart is good and she is a friend of the Indians, but all
her life has she lived in the land of the white men.  And from books,
the white men learn to gather their meat and their clothing.
Therefore, she thought that the Indians also should learn from books.

"But the white _kloochman_ has learned now the needs of the North.  At
first I feared she would not learn that it is the work of the hands
that counts.  When I knew she had learned I sent you to her, for there
are many things she can teach you, and especially your women and
children, of which I know nothing.

"The white _kloochman_, your good friend, has fallen into the hands of
Lapierre.  We are men, and we must take her from Lapierre.  And now the
time has come to fight!  You are fighting men and the children of
fighting men!  When this fight is over there will be peace in the
Northland!  It will be the last fight for many of us--for many of us
must die!  Lapierre's men are well armed.  They will fight hard, for
they know it is their last stand.  Kill them as long as they continue
to fight, but _do not kill Lapierre_!"

His eyes flashed dangerously as he paused to glance into the faces of
his fighters.

"No man shall kill Lapierre!" he repeated.  "He is _mine_!  With my own
hands will I settle the score; and now listen well to the final word:

"Drag the ladders to the edge of the clearing, scatter along the whole
front in the shelter of the trees, and at the call of the hoot-owl you
shall commence firing.  Shoot whenever one of Lapierre's men shows
himself.  But remain well concealed, for the men of Lapierre will be
entrenched behind the loop-holes.  At the call of the loon you shall
cease firing."

MacNair rapidly tolled out twenty who were to man the ladders.

"At the call of the wolf, rush to the stockade with the ladders, and
those who have guns shall follow.  Then up the ladders and over the
walls!  After that, fight, every man for himself, but mind you well,
that you take Lapierre alive, for Lapierre is mine!"

The laddermen stationed themselves at the edge of the timber, and the
men who carried guns scattered along the whole width of the clearing.
Then from the depths of the forest suddenly boomed the cry of the
hoot-owl.  Heads appeared over the edge of Lapierre's stockade, and
from the shelter of the black spruce swamp came the crash of rifles.
The heads disappeared, and of Lapierre's men many tumbled backward into
the snow, while others crouched upon the firing ledge which Lapierre
had constructed near the top of his log stockade and answered the
volley, shooting at random into the timber.  But only as a man's head
appeared, or as his body showed between the spaces of the logs, were
their shots returned.  MacNair's Indians were biding their time.

For an hour this ineffectual and abortive sniping kept up, and then
from the walls of the stockade appeared that for which MacNair had been
waiting--a white flag fluttering from the end of a sapling.  Raising
his head, MacNair imitated the call of the loon, and the firing ceased
in the timber.  Having no white rag, MacNair waved a spruce bough and
stepped boldly out into the clearing.

The head and shoulders of Lapierre appeared above the wall of the
barricade, and for several moments the two faced each other in silence.
MacNair grim, determined, scowling--Lapierre defiant, crafty, with his
thin lips twisted into a mocking smile.  The quarter-breed was the
first to speak.

"So," he drawled, "my good friend has come to visit his neighbour!
Come right in, I assure you a hearty welcome, but you must come alone!
Your retainers are too numerous and entirely too _bourgeois_ to eat at
a gentleman's table."

"But not to drink from his bottle," retorted MacNair.  "I am coming
in--but not alone!"

Lapierre laughed derisively.  "O-ho, you would come by force--by force
of arms, eh!  Well, come along, but I warn you, you do so at your
peril.  My men are all armed, and the walls are thick and high.
Rather, I choose to think you will listen to reason."

"Reason!" roared MacNair.  "I will reason with you when we come to
hands' grips!"

Lapierre shrugged.  "As you please," he answered: "I was only thinking
of your own welfare, and, perhaps, of the welfare of another, who will
to a certainty fare badly in case your savages attack us.  I myself am
not of brutal nature, but among my men are some who--"  He paused and
glanced significantly into MacNair's eyes.  Again he shrugged--"We will
not dwell upon the possibilities, but here is the lady, let her speak
for herself.  She has begged for the chance to say a word in her own
behalf.  I will only add that you will find me amenable to reason.  It
is possible that our little differences may be settled in a manner
satisfactory to all, and without bloodshed."

The man stepped aside upon the firing ledge, evidently in order to let
someone pass up the ladder.  The next instant the face of Chloe
Elliston appeared above the logs of the stockade.  At the sight of the
girl MacNair felt the blood surge through his veins.  He took a quick
step toward and at a glance noted the unwonted pallor of her cheeks,
the flashing eyes, and the curve of the out-thrust chin.

Then clear and firm her voice sounded in his ears.  He strained forward
to catch the words, and at that moment he knew in his heart that this
woman meant more to him than life itself--more than revenge--more even
than the welfare of his Indians.

"You received my letter?" asked the girl eagerly.  "Can you forgive me?
Do you understand?"

MacNair answered, controlling his voice with difficulty.  "There is
nothing to forgive.  I have understood you all along."

"You will promise to grant one request--for my sake?"

Without hesitation came the man's answer; "Anything you ask."

"On your soul, will you promise, and will you keep that promise
regardless of consequences?"

"I promise," answered the man, and his voice rang harsh.  For revenge
upon Lapierre with his own hands had been the dearest hope of his life.
At the next words of the girl, an icy hand seemed clutching at his
heart.

"Then fight!" she cried.  "Fight!  Fight!  Fight!  Shoot!  And cut!
And batter!  And kill!  Until you have ridded the North of this fiend!"

With a snarl, Lapierre leaped toward the girl with arm upraised.  There
was a chorus of hoarse cries from behind the walls.  Before the
uplifted arm could descend the figure of Lapierre disappeared with
startling suddenness.  The next instant the gigantic form of Big Lena
appeared, head and shoulders above the walls of the stockade at the
point where Lapierre had been.  The huge shoulders stooped, the form of
Chloe Elliston arose as on air, shot over the wall, and dropped into a
crumpled heap upon the snow at its base.  The face of Big Lena framed
by flying strands of flaxen hair appeared for a moment above the wall,
and then the sound of a shot rang sharp and clear.  The face
disappeared, and from beyond the wall came the muffled thud of a heavy
body striking the snow.

A dark head appeared above the walls at the point near where the girl
had fallen, and an arm was thrust over the logs.  MacNair caught the
glint of a blue-black barrel.  Like a flash he drew his automatic and
fired.  The revolver dropped from the top of the wall to the snow, and
the hand that held it gripped frantically at the logs and disappeared.

MacNair threw back his head, and loud and clear on the frosty air
blared the call of the wolf.  The whole line of the forest spit flame.
The crash and roar of a hundred guns was in the air as the men from
behind the barricade replied.  Lithe forms carrying ladders dashed
across the open space.  Many pitched forward before the wall and lay
doubled grotesquely upon the white strip of snow, while eager hands
carried the ladders on.

Suddenly, above the crash of the guns sounded the war-cry of the Yellow
Knives.  The whole clearing sprang alive with men, yelling like fiends
and firing as they ran.  Dark forms swarmed up the ladders and over the
walls.  MacNair grabbed the rungs of a ladder and drew himself up.
Above him climbed the Indian who had carried the ladder.  He had no
gun, but the grey blade of a long knife flashed wickedly between his
teeth.

The Indian crashed backward, carrying MacNair with him into the snow.
MacNair struggled to his feet.  The Indian lay almost at the foot of
the ladder, and, gurgling horribly, rose to his knees.  MacNair glanced
into his face.  The man's eyes were rolled backward until only the
whites showed.  His lips moved, and he clung to the rungs of the
ladder.  Blood splashed down his front and reddened the trampled snow,
then he fell heavily backward, and MacNair saw that his whole throat
had been shot away by the close fired charge of a shotgun.

With a roar, MacNair scrambled up the ladder, automatic in hand.  On
the firing ledge's narrow rim a riverman snapped together the breech of
his shotgun, and looked up--his face close to the face of MacNair.  And
as he looked his jaw sagged in terror.  MacNair jammed the barrel of
the automatic into the open mouth and fired.



CHAPTER XXV

THE GUN-BRAND

Chloe Elliston lay in the snow, partially stunned by her fall from the
top of the stockade.  She was not unconscious--her hearing and vision
were unimpaired, but her numbed brain did not grasp the significance of
the sights and sounds which her senses recorded.  She wondered vaguely
how it happened she was lying there in the snow when she distinctly
remembered that she was standing upon the narrow firing ledge urging
MacNair to fight.  There was MacNair now!  She could see him
distinctly.  Even as she looked the man drew his pistol and fired.
Something struck the snow almost within reach of her hand.  It was a
revolver.  Chloe glanced upward, but saw only the log wall of the
stockade which seemed to tower upward until it touched the sky.

A blood-curdling cry rang out upon the air--a sound she had heard of
nights echoing among rock-rimmed ridges--the pack-cry of the
wolf-breed.  She shuddered at the nearness of the sound and turned,
expecting to encounter the red throat and slavering jaws of the
fang-bared leader of the pack, and instead she saw only MacNair.

Then along the wall of the forest came thin grey puffs of smoke, and
her ears rang with the crash of the rifle-volley.  She heard the wicked
spit and thud of the bullets as they ripped at the logs above her, and
tiny slivers of bark made black spots upon the snow.  A piece fell upon
her face, she brushed it away with her hand.  The sounds of the shots
increased ten fold.  Answering spurts of grey smoke jutted from the
walls above her.  The loop-holes bristled with rifle-barrels!

In her nostrils was the rank smell of powder-smoke, and across the
clearing, straight toward her, dashed many men with ladders.  A man
fell almost at her side, his ladder, tilting against the wall, slipped
sidewise into the snow, crashing against one of the protruding
rifle-barrels as it fell.  Two other men came, and uprighting the
ladder, climbed swiftly up the wall.  Chloe saw that they were
MacNair's Indians.

The scene changed with lightning rapidity.  Men with rifles were in the
clearing, now running and shooting, and falling down to remain
motionless in the snow.  Above the uproar of the guns a new sound
rolled and swelled.  An eery, blood-curdling sound that chilled the
heart and caused the roots of her hair to prickle along the base of her
skull.  It was the war-cry of the Yellow Knives as they fired, and ran,
and clambered up the ladders,

The sights and sounds were clean-cut, distinct, intensely
thrilling--but impersonal, like the shifting scenes of a photo-play.
She glanced about for MacNair.  Her eyes travelled swiftly from face to
swarthy face of the men who charged out of the timber.  She directed
her glance toward the wall, and there, not twenty feet away, she saw
him reach for the rungs of the ladder.  And the next moment two forms
crashed backward into the snow.  For an instant the girl closed her
eyes, and in that instant her brain awoke with a start.  About her the
sounds leaped into terrible significance.  She realized that she was
outside the walls of the stockade.  That the sights and sounds about
her were intensely real.

The forces of MacNair and Lapierre had locked horns in the final
struggle, and her fate, and the fate of the whole North, hung in the
balance.  All about her were the hideous sounds of battle.  She was
surprised that she was unafraid; instead, the blood seemed coursing
through her veins with the heat of flame.  Her heart seemed bursting
with a wild, fierce joy.  Something of which she had always been dimly
conscious--some latent thing which she had always held in check--seemed
suddenly to burst within her.  A flood of fancies crowded her brain.
The wicked crack of the rifles became the roar of cannon.  Tall masts,
to which clung shot-torn shrouds, reared high above a fog of
powder-smoke, and beyond waved the tops of palm-trees.  The spirit of
Tiger Elliston had burst its bounds!

With a cry like the scream of a beast, the girl leaped to her feet.
She tore the heavy mittens from her hands, and reached for the revolver
which lay in the snow at her side.  She leaped toward MacNair who had
regained his feet, red with the life-blood of the Indian who lay upon
his back in the snow, staring upward wide-eyed, unseeing, throatless.
She called loudly, but her voice was lost in the mighty uproar, and
MacNair sprang up the ladder.

Like a flash Chloe followed, holding her heavy revolver as he had held
his.  She glanced upward; MacNair had disappeared over the edge of the
stockade.  The next instant she, too, had reached the top.  She paused,
looking downward.  MacNair was scrambling to his feet.  Ten feet away a
man levelled a gun at him.  He fired from his knee, and the man pitched
forward.  Upon him, from behind, rushed two men swinging their rifles
high.  They had almost reached him when Chloe fired straight down.  The
nearest man dropped his rifle and staggered against the wall.  The
other paused and glanced upward.  Chloe shot squarely into his face.
The bullet ripped downward, splitting his jaw.  The man rushed
screaming over the snow, tearing with both hands at the wound.

MacNair was upon his feet now.  Beyond him the fighting was hand to
hand.  With clubbed guns and axes, Lapierre's men were meeting the
Indians who swarmed over the walls.  Once more the wild wolf-cry rang
in the girl's ears as MacNair leaped into the thick of the fight.  The
girl became conscious that someone was pounding at her feet.  She
glanced downward.  Two Indians were upon the ladder waiting to get over
the wall.  Without hesitation she tightened her grip upon her revolver
and leaped into the stockade.  She sprawled awkwardly in the snow.  She
felt her shoulder seized viciously.  Someone was jerking her to her
feet.  She looked up and encountered the gleaming eyes of Lapierre.

Chloe tried to raise her revolver, but Lapierre kicked it from her
hand.  There was the sound of a heavy impact.  Lapierre's hand was
jerked from her shoulder; he was hurled backward, cursing, into the
snow.  One of the Indians who had followed Chloe up the ladder had
leaped squarely upon the quarter-breed's shoulders.  Like a flash
Lapierre drew his automatic, but the Indian threw himself upon the gun
and tore it from his grasp.  Then he scrambled to his feet.  Lapierre,
too, was upon his feet in an instant.

"Shoot, you fool!  Kill him!  Kill him!" cried Chloe.

But the Indian continued to stare stupidly, and Lapierre dashed to
safety around the corner of his storehouse.

"MacNair say no kill," said the Indian gravely.

"Not kill!" cried the girl.  "He is crazy!  What is he thinking of?"
But the Indian was already out of ear-shot.  Chloe glanced about her
for her revolver.  An evil-faced half-breed, dragging his body from the
hips, pulled himself toward it, hunching along with his bare hands
digging into the crust of the snow.  The girl reached it a second
before him.  The man cursed her shrilly and sank into the snow, crying
aloud like a child.

Suddenly Chloe realized that the battle had surged beyond her.  Shots
and hoarse cries arose from the scrub beyond the storehouse, while all
about her, in the trampled snow, wounded men cursed and prayed, and
dead men froze in the slush of their own heart's blood.  The girl
followed into the scrub, and to her surprise came face to face with the
Louchoux girl, who was carrying armfuls of dry brushwood, which she
piled against the corner of the storehouse.

Chloe glanced into the black eyes that glowed like living coals.  The
Indian girl added her armful to the pile and, drawing matches from her
pocket, dropped to her knees in the snow.  She pointed toward the log
storehouse.

"Lapierre ran inside," she said.

With a wild laugh Chloe passed on.  The scrub thinned toward the point
of the peninsula, where the rim-rocks rose sheer two hundred feet above
the level of the lake.  Chloe caught sight of MacNair's Indians leaping
before her, and, beyond, the crowding knot of men who gave ground
before the rush of the Yellow Knives.  One by one the men dropped,
writhing, into the snow.  The others gave ground rapidly, shooting at
their advancing enemies, cursing, crowding--but always giving ground.

At last they were upon the rim-rocks, huddled together like cattle.
Chloe could see them outlined distinctly against the sky.  They fired
one last scattering volley, and then the ranks thinned suddenly; many
were leaping over the edge, while others, throwing down their rifles,
advanced with arms raised high above their heads.  Some Indians fired,
and two of these pitched forward.  Then MacNair bellowed a hoarse
order, and the firing ceased, and the Indians bound the prisoners with
thongs of _babiche_.

The girl found herself close to the edge of the high plateau.  She
leaned far over and peered downward.  Upon the white snow of the rocks,
close to the foot of the cliff, lay several dark forms.  She drew back
and turned to MacNair, but he had gone.  A puff of smoke arose into the
air above the tops of the scrub-trees, and Chloe knew that the
storehouse was burning.  The smoke increased in volume and rolled
heavily skyward upon the light breeze.  She could hear the crackle of
flames, and the smell of burning spruce was in the air.

She pushed forward into the cordon of Indians which surrounded the
burning building, glancing hurriedly from face to face, searching for
MacNair.  Upon the edge of the little clearing which surrounded the
storehouse she saw the Louchoux girl bending over a form that lay
stretched in the snow.  Swiftly she made her way to the girl's side.
She was bending over the inert form of Big Lena.  The big woman opened
her eyes, and with a cry Chloe dropped to her knees by her side.

"Ay ain't hurt much," Lena muttered weakly.  "Vun faller shoot me on de
head, but de bullet yump off sidevays.  Ju bet MacNair, he gif dem
haal!"

At the mention of MacNair's name Chloe sprang to her feet and continued
along the cordon.

One end of the storehouse and half the roof was ablaze, while thick,
heavy smoke curled from beneath the full length of the eaves and
through the chinkings of the logs.  Chloe had almost completed the
circle when suddenly she came to a halt, for there, pressed tight
against the logs close beside the jamb of the closed door, stood
MacNair.  All about her the Indians stood in tense expectancy.  Their
eyes gleamed bright, and the breath hissed between parted lips--short,
quick breaths of excitement.  The flames had not yet reached the front
of the storehouse, but tiny puffs of smoke found their way out above
the door.  As she looked the form of MacNair stiffened, and Chloe
gasped as she saw that the man was unarmed.

Suddenly the door flew open, and Lapierre, clutching an automatic in
either hand, leaped swiftly into the open.  The next instant his arms
were pinioned to his sides.  A loud cry went up from the watching
Indians, and from all quarters came the sound of rushing feet as those
who had guarded the windows crowded about.

Lapierre was no weakling.  He strained and writhed to free himself from
the encircling arms.  But the arms were bands of steel, clamping
tighter and tighter about him.  Slowly MacNair worked his hand downward
to the other's wrist.  There was a lightning-like jerk, and the
automatic new into the air and dropped harmless into the snow.  The
same instant MacNair's grasp tightened about the other wrist.  He
released Lapierre's disarmed hand and, reaching swiftly, tore the other
gun from the man's fingers.

Lapierre swung at his face, but MacNair leaned suddenly backward and
outward, still grasping the wrist, Lapierre's body described a short
half-circle, and he brought up with a thud against a nearby pile of
stove-wood.  Releasing his grip, MacNair crowded him close and closer
against the wood-pile which rose waist high out of the snow.  Slowly
Lapierre bent backward, forced by the heavier body of MacNair.  MacNair
released his grip on the other's wrist, but his right hand still held
Lapierre's gun.  A huge forearm slid up the quarter-breed's chest and
came to rest under the chin, while the man beat frantically with his
two fists against MacNair's shoulders and ribs.

He stared wildly into MacNair's eyes--eyes that glowed with a greenish
hate-glare like the night-eyes of the wolf.  Backward and yet backward
the man bent until it seemed that his spine must snap.  His clenched
fists ceased to beat futilely against the huge shoulders of his
opponent, and he clawed frantically at the snow that hung in a
miniature cornice along the edge of the wood-pile.

Chloe crowded close, shoving the Indians aside.  There was a swift
movement near her.  The Louchoux girl forced past and leaped lightly to
the top of the wood-pile, where she knelt close, staring downward with
hard, burning eyes into the up-turned face of Lapierre.

The man could bend no farther now, his shoulders were imbedded in the
snow and the back of his head was buried to the ears.  His chest heaved
spasmodically as he gasped for air, and the thin breath whined through
his teeth.  His lips turned greyish-blue and swelled thick, like strips
of blistered rubber, and his eyes rolled upward until they looked like
the sightless eyes of the blind.  The blue-grey lips writhed
spasmodically.  He tried to cry out, but the sound died in a horrible
throaty gurgle.

Slowly, MacNair raised his gun--Lapierre's own gun that he had
wrenched, bare-handed from his grasp.  Raised it until the muzzle
reached the level of Lapierre's eyes.  Chloe had stared wide-eyed
throughout the whole proceeding.  Gazing in fascination at the slow
deliberateness of the terrible ordeal.

As the muzzle of the gun came to rest between Lapierre's eyes the girl
sprang to MacNair's side.  "Don't!  Oh, don't kill him!"  Her voice
rose almost to a shriek.  "Don't kill him--for my sake!"

The muzzle of the gun lowered and without releasing an ounce of
pressure upon the grip-locked body of the man, MacNair slowly turned
his eyes to meet the eyes of the girl.  Never in her life had she
looked into eyes like that--eyes that gleamed and stabbed, and burned
with a terrible pent-up emotion.  The eyes of Tiger Elliston,
intensified a hundredfold!  And then MacNair's lips moved and his voice
came low but distinctly and with terrible hardness.

"I am not going to kill him," he said, "but, by God!  He will wish I
had!  I hope he will live to be an old, old man.  To the day of his
death he will carry my mark.  Bone-deep he will carry the scar of the
gun-brand!  The cross of the curse of Cain!"

MacNair turned from the girl and again the gun crept slowly upward.
The quarter-breed had heard the words.  With a mighty effort he filled
his lungs and from between the blue-grey lips sang a wild, shrill
scream of abysmal soul-terror.  Chloe Elliston's heart went sick at the
cry, which rang in her ears as the very epitome of mortal agony.  She
felt her knees grow weak and she glanced at the Louchoux girl, who
knelt close, still staring into the upturned face, the while her red
lips smiled.

Closer, and closer crowded the Indians.  MacNair deliberately reversed
the gun, his huge fist still gripping the butt.  The top of the barrel
was turned downward, and the sight bit deep into the skin at the roots
of the hair on Lapierre's temple.  Deeper and deeper sank the sight.
MacNair's fingers tightened their grip until the knuckles whitened and
a huge shoulder hunched to throw its weight upon the arm.

Slowly, very slowly, the sight moved across the upturned brow, tearing
the flesh, rolling up the skin before its dull, broad edge.  The
quarter-breed's muscles strained and his legs twined spasmodically
about the legs of MacNair, while his fingers tore through the snow and
clawed at the bark of the wood-pile.  Deliberately, the gun-sight
ripped and tore across the forehead--grooving the bone.  The wide scar
showed raw and red, and in spots the skull flashed white.  The broad
line lost itself in the hair upon the opposite temple.

Again MacNair buried the sight, this time among the hair roots of the
median line.  Once more the gun began its slow journey, travelling
downward, crossing the lateral scar with a ragged tear.  Once more the
flesh and skin ripped and rolled before the unfaltering sight and
gathered upon the edges of the wound in ragged, tight-rolled knots and
shreds that would later heal into snaggy, rough excrescences, grey,
like the unclean dregs of a slag-pot.

A thin trickle of blood followed slowly along the groove.  The
gun-sight was almost between the man's eyes, when, with a scream, Chloe
sprang forward and clutched MacNair's arm in both her hands.

"You brute!" she cried.  "You inhuman brute!  _I hate you_!"

MacNair answered never a word.  With a sweep of his arm he flung her
from him.  She spun dizzily and fell in a heap on the snow.  Once more
the gun-sight rested deep against the bone at the point of its
interruption.  Once more it began its inexorable advance, creeping down
between the eyes and along the bridge of the nose.  Cartilage split
wide, the upper lip was cleft, and the steel clicked sharply against
blood-dripping teeth.

Then MacNair stood erect and gazed with approval upon his handiwork.
His glance swept the lake, and suddenly his shoulders stiffened as he
scrutinized several moving figures that approached across the level
surface of the snow.  Striding swiftly to the edge of the plateau, he
shaded his eyes with his hand and gazed long and earnestly toward the
approaching figures.  Then he returned to Lapierre.  The man had stood
the terrible ordeal without losing consciousness.  Reaching down,
MacNair seized him by the collar, and jerking him to his feet, half
dragged him to the rim of the plateau.

"Look!" he cried savagely.  "Yonder, comes LeFroy--and with him are the
men of the Mounted."

Lapierre stared dumbly.  His thin hand twitched nervously, and his
fists clasped and unclasped as the palms grew wet with sweat.

MacNair gripped his shoulder and twisted him about his tracks.  Slow
seconds passed as the two men stood facing each other there in the
snow, and then, slowly, MacNair raised his hand and pointed toward the
forest--toward the depths of the black spruce swamp.

"Go!" he roared.  "Damn you!  Go hunt your kind!  I did not brand you
to delight the eyes of prison guards.  Go, mingle with free men, that
they may see--and be warned!"

With one last glance toward the approaching figures, Pierre Lapierre
glided swiftly to the foot of the stockade, mounted the firing ledge,
and swung himself over the wall.

Bob MacNair watched the form of the quarter-breed disappear from sight
and then, tossing the gun into the snow, turned to Chloe Elliston.
Straight toward the girl he advanced with long, swinging strides.
There was no hesitancy, no indecision in the free swing of the
shoulders, nor did his steps once falter, nor the eyes that bored deep
into hers waver for a single instant.  And as the girl faced him a
sudden sense of helplessness overwhelmed her.

On he came--this big man of the North; this man who trampled rough-shod
the conventions, even the laws of men.  The man who could fight, and
kill, and maim, in defence of his principles.  Whose hand was heavy
upon the evil-doer.  A man whose finer sensibilities, despite their
rough environment, could rise to a complete mastery of him.  Inherently
a fighting man.  A man whose great starved heart had never known a
woman's love.

Instinctively, she drew back from him and closed her eyes.  And then
she knew that he was standing still before her--very close--for she
could hear distinctly the sound of his breathing.  Without seeing she
knew that he was looking into her face with those piercing, boring,
steel-grey eyes.  She waited for what seemed ages for him to speak, but
he stood before her--silent.

"He is rough and uncouth and brutal.  He hurled you spinning into the
snow," whispered an inner voice.

"Yes, strong and brutal and good!" answered her heart.

Chloe opened her eyes.  MacNair stood before her in all his bigness.
She gazed at him wide-eyed.  He was fumbling his Stetson in his hand,
and she noticed the long hair was pushed back from his broad brow.  The
blood rushed into the girl's face.  Her fists clenched tight, and she
took a swift step forward.

"Bob MacNair!  _Put on your hat_!"

A puzzled look crept into the man's eyes, his face flushed like the
face of a schoolboy who had been caught in a foolish prank, and he
returned the hat awkwardly to his head.

"I thought--that is--you wrote in the letter, here--" he paused as his
fingers groped at the pocket of his shirt.

Chloe interrupted him.  "If any man ever takes his Stetson off to me
again I'll--I'll _hate_ him!"

Bob MacNair stared down upon the belligerent figure before him.  He
noticed the clenched fists, the defiant tilt of the shoulders, the
unconscious out-thrust of the chin--and then his eyes met squarely the
flashing eyes of the girl.

For a long, long time he gazed into the depths of the upturned eyes,
and then, either the significance of her words dawned suddenly upon
him, or he read in that long glance the wondrous message of her love.
With a low, glad cry he sprang to her and gathered her into his great,
strong arms and pressed her lithe, pliant body close against his
pounding heart, while through his veins swept the wild, fierce joy of a
mighty passion.  Bob MacNair had come into his own!

There was a lively commotion among the Indians, and MacNair raised his
head to meet the gaze of LeFroy and Constable Craig and two others of
the men of the Mounted.

"Where is Lapierre?" asked the constable.

Chloe struggled in confusion to release herself from the encircling
arms, but the arms closed the tighter, and with a final sigh of
surrender the girl ceased her puny struggles.

Constable Craig's lips twitched in a suppressed smile.  "Ripley was
right," he muttered to himself as he awaited MacNair's reply.  "They
have found each other at last."

And then the answer came.  MacNair stared straight into the officer's
eyes, and his words rang with a terrible meaning.

"Lapierre," he said, "has gone away from here.  If you see him again
you shall never forget him."  His eyes returned to the girl, close-held
against his heart.  Her two arms stole upward until the slender hands
closed about his neck.  Her lips moved, and he bent to catch the words.

"I love you," she faltered, and glancing shyly, almost timidly into his
face, encountered there the look she had come to know so well--the
suspicion of a smile upon the lips and just the shadow of a twinkle
playing in the deep-set eyes.  She repeated, softly, the words that
rang through her brain: "I love you--_Brute MacNair_!"



THE END.





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