But the guess of Morse had been true. It had been a week since flashes of light had first come to West faintly. He began to distinguish objects in a hazy way. Every day he could see better. Now he could tell Morse from Beresford, one dog from another. Give him a few more days and he would have as good vision as before he had gone blind.
All this he hid cunningly, as a miser does his gold. For his warped, cruel brain was planning death to these two men. After that, another plunge into the North for life and freedom.
THE WILD BEAST LEAPS
Tom Morse was chopping wood. He knew how to handle an axe. His strokes fell sure and strong, with the full circling sweep of the expert.
The young tree crashed down and he began to lop off its branches. Halfway up the trunk he stopped and raised his head to listen.
No sound had come to him. None came now. But dear as a bell he heard the voice of Win Beresford calling.
It was not a cry that had issued from his friend’s throat. Tom knew that. But it was real. It had sprung out of his dire need from the heart, perhaps in the one instant of time left him, and it had leaped silently across space straight to the heart of his friend.
Tom kicked into his snowshoes and began to run. He held the axe in his hand, gripped near the haft. A couple of hundred yards, perhaps, lay between him and camp, which was just over the brow of a small hill. The bushes flew past as he swung to his stride. Never had he skimmed the crust faster, but his feet seemed to be weighted with lead. Then, as he topped the rise, he saw the disaster he had dreaded.
The constable was crumpling to the ground, his body slack and inert, while the giant slashed at him with a dub of firewood he had snatched from the ground. The upraised arm of the soldier broke the force of the blow, but Morse guessed by the way the arm fell that the bone had snapped.
At the sound of the scraping runners, West whirled. He lunged savagely. Even as Tom ducked, a sharp pain shot through his leg from the force of the glancing blow. The axe-head swung like a circle of steel. It struck the convict’s fur cap. The fellow went down like an ox in a slaughter-house.
Tom took one look at him and ran to his friend. Beresford was a sorry sight. He lay unconscious, head and face battered, the blood from his wounds staining the snow.
The man-hunters had come into the wilderness prepared for emergencies. Jessie McRae had prepared a small medicine case as a present for the constable. Morse ran to the sled and found this. He unrolled bandages and after he had washed the wounds bound them. As he was about to examine the arm, he glanced up.
For a fraction of a second West’s wolfish eyes glared at him before they took on again the stare of blindness. The man had moved. He had hitched himself several yards nearer a rifle which stood propped against a balsam.