West came slouching out of the woods at Tom’s signal. Directed by the officer, he made a fire and prepared for business. The stars were out as they dressed the meat and cooked a large steak on the coals. Afterward they hung the caribou from the limb of a spruce, drawing them high enough so that no prowling wolves could reach the game.
With the coming of night the temperature had fallen and the snow hardened. The crust held beneath their webs as they returned to the sled. West wanted to camp where the deer had been killed. He protested, with oaths, in his usual savage growl, that he was dead tired and could not travel another step.
But he did. Beneath the stars the hunters mushed twenty miles back to camp. They made much better progress by reason of the frozen trail and the good meal they had eaten.
It was daybreak when Morse sighted the camp-fire smoke. His heart leaped. Beresford must have been able to keep it alive with fuel. Therefore he had been alive an hour or two ago at most.
Dogs and men trudged into camp ready to drop with fatigue.
Beresford, from where he lay, waved a hand at Tom. “Any luck?” he asked.
“Good. I’ll be ready for a steak to-morrow.”
Morse looked at him anxiously. The glaze had left his eyes. He was no longer burning up with fever. Both voice and movements seemed stronger than they had been twenty-four hours earlier.
“Bully for you, Win,” he answered.
A CREE RUNNER BRINGS NEWS
“Don’t you worry about that lad, Jessie. He’s got as many lives as a cat—and then some. I’ve knew him ever since he was knee-high to a grasshopper.”
Brad Stearns was talking. He sat in the big family room at the McRae house and puffed clouds of tobacco, smoke to the rafters.
“Meaning Mr. Beresford?” asked Jessie demurely. She was patching a pair of leather trousers for Fergus and she did not raise her eyes from the work.
“Meanin’ Tom Morse,” the old-timer said. “Not but what Beresford’s a good lad too. Sand in his craw an’ a kick like a mule in his fist. But he was brought up somewheres in the East, an’ o’ course he’s a leetle mite less tough than Tom. No, sir. Tom’ll bob up one o’ these here days good as ever. Don’t you worry none about that. Why, he ain’t been gone but—lemme see, a week or so better’n four months. When a man’s got to go to the North Pole an’ back, four months—”
Beneath her long lashes the girl slanted a swift look at Brad. “That makes twice you’ve told me in two minutes not to worry about Mr. Morse. Do I look peaked? Am I lying awake nights thinking about him, do you think?” She held up the renewed trousers and surveyed her handiwork critically.
Brad gazed at her through narrowed lids. “I’ll be doggoned if I know whether you are or you ain’t. I’d bet a pair o’ red-topped boots it’s one of them lads. ‘Course Beresford’s got a red coat an’ spurs that jingle an’ a fine line o’ talk. Tom he ain’t got ary one o’ the three. But if it’s a man you’re lookin’ for, a two-fisted man who—”