A pair of cold eyes in a white, bloodless face watched her beneath thin black brows. A shock ran through her, as though she had been drenched with icy water. She shivered. There was a sinister menace in that steady, level gaze. More than once she had felt it. Deep in her heart she knew, from the world-old experience of her sex, that the man desired her, that he was biding his time with the patience and the ruthlessness of a panther. “Poker” Whaley had in him a power of dangerous evil notable in a country where bad men were not scarce.
The officer whispered news to Jessie. “Bully West broke jail two weeks ago. He killed a guard. We’re here looking for him.”
“He hasn’t been here. At least I haven’t heard it,” she answered hurriedly.
For Whaley, in his slow, feline fashion, was moving toward them.
Bluntly the gambler claimed his right. “Ooche-me-gou-kesigow,” he said.
The girl shook her head. “Are you a Cree, Mr. Whaley?”
For that he had an answer. “Is Beresford?”
“Mr. Beresford is a stranger. He didn’t know the custom—that it doesn’t apply to me except with Indians. I was taken by surprise.”
Whaley was a man of parts. He had been educated for a priest, but had kicked over the traces. There was in him too much of the Lucifer for the narrow trail the father of a parish must follow.
He bowed. “Then I must content myself with a dance.”
Jessie hesitated. It was known that he was a libertine. The devotion of his young Cree wife was repaid with sneers and the whiplash. But he was an ill man to make an enemy of. For her family’s sake rather than her own she yielded reluctantly.
Though a heavy-set man, he was an excellent waltzer. He moved evenly and powerfully. But in the girl’s heart resentment flamed. She knew he was holding her too close to him, taking advantage of her modesty in a way she could not escape without public protest.
“I’m faint,” she told him after they had danced a few minutes.
“Oh, you’ll be all right,” he said, still swinging her to the music.
She stopped. “No, I’ve had enough.” Jessie had caught sight of her brother Fergus at the other end of the room. She joined him. Tom Morse was standing by his side.
Whaley nodded indifferently toward the men and smiled at Jessie, but that cold lip smile showed neither warmth nor friendliness. “We’ll dance again—many times,” he said.
The girl’s eyes flashed. “We’ll have to ask Mrs. Whaley about that. I don’t see her here to-night. I hope she’s quite well.”
It was impossible to tell from the chill, expressionless face of the squaw-man whether her barb had stung or not. “She’s where she belongs, at home in the kitchen. It’s her business to be well. I reckon she is. I don’t ask her.”
“You’re not a demonstrative husband, then?”
“Husband!” He shrugged his shoulders insolently. “Oh, well! What’s in a name?”