The big fellow wheeled, the rifle jumping to his shoulder. Instantly he knew he had been tricked, led into a trap. They must have heard him coming, whoever they were, and left his own men for bait.
From the other side two streaks of scarlet launched themselves at him. West turned to meet them. A third flash of red dived for his knees. He went down as though hit by a battering-ram.
But not to stay down. The huge gorilla-shaped figure struggled to its feet, fighting desperately to throw off the three red-coats long enough to drag out a revolver. He was like a bear surrounded by leaping dogs. No sooner had he buffeted one away than the others were dragging him down. Try as he would, he could not get set. The attackers always staggered him before he could quite free himself for action. They swarmed all over him, fought close to avoid his sweeping lunges, hauled him to his knees by sheer weight of the pack.
Lemoine flung one swift look around and saw that his captors were very busy. Now if ever was the time to take a hand in the melee. Swiftly he rose. He spoke a hurried word in French.
“One moment, s’il vous plait.” From the bushes another man had emerged, one not in uniform. Lemoine had forgotten him. “Not your fight. Better keep out,” he advised, and pointed the suggestion with a short-barreled shotgun.
The trapper looked at him. “Is it that this iss your fight, Mistair Morse?” he demanded.
“Fair enough. I’ll keep out too.”
The soldiers had West down by this time. They were struggling to handcuff him. He fought furiously, his great arms and legs threshing about like flails. Not till he had worn himself out could they pinion him.
Beresford rose at last, the job done. His coat was ripped almost from one shoulder. “My word, he’s a whale of an animal,” he panted. “If I hadn’t chanced to meet you boys he’d have eaten me alive.”
The big smuggler struggled for breath. When at last he found words, it was for furious and horrible curses.
Not till hours later did he get as far as a plain question. “What does this mean? Where are you taking me, you damned spies?” he roared.
Beresford politely gave him information. “To the penitentiary, I hope, Mr. West, for breaking Her Majesty’s revenue laws.”
All week Jessie and her foster-mother Matapi-Koma had been busy cooking and baking for the great occasion. Fergus had brought in a sack full of cottontails and two skunks. To these his father had added the smoked hindquarters of a young buffalo, half a barrel of dried fish, and fifty pounds of pemmican. For Angus liked to dispense hospitality in feudal fashion.
Ever since Jessie had opened her eyes at the sound of Matapi-Koma’s “Koos koos kwa” (Wake up!), in the pre-dawn darkness of the wintry Northern morn, she had heard the crunch of snow beneath the webs of the footmen and the runners of the sleds. For both full-blood Crees and half-breeds were pouring into Faraway to take part in the festivities of Ooche-me-gou-kesigow (Kissing Day).