“Listen.” His raucous voice cut through her entreaties. “I’ve heard more’n plenty about McRae. All I want o’ him is to get a bead on him once with a rifle. Get me? Now this other talk—about killin’ yoreself—nothin’ to it a-tall. Go to it if tha’s how you feel. Yore huntin’-knife’s right there in yore belt.” He reached forward and plucked it from its sheath, then handed it to her blade first, stepping back a pace at once to make sure she did not use it on him. “You got yore chance now. Kill away. I’ll stand right here an’ see nobody interferes with you.”
She shifted the knife and gripped the handle. A tumult seethed in her brain. She saw nothing but that evil, grinning face, hideous and menacing. For a moment murder boiled up in her, red-hot and sinister. If she could kill him now as he stood jeering at her—drive the blade into that thick bull neck....
The madness passed. She could not do it even if it were within her power. The urge to kill was not strong enough. It was not overwhelming. And in the next thought she knew, too, that she could not kill herself either. The blind need to live, the animal impulse of self-preservation, at whatever cost, whatever shame, was as yet more powerful than the horror of the fate impending.
She flung the knife down into the snow in a fury of disgust and self-contempt.
His head went back in a characteristic roar of revolting mirth. He had won. Bully West knew how to conquer ’em, no matter how wild they were.
With feet dragging, head drooped, and spirits at the zero hour, Jessie moved down a ravine into sight of a cabin. Smoke rose from the chimney languidly.
“Home,” announced West.
To the girl, at the edge of desperation, that log house appeared as the grave of her youth. All the pride and glory and joy that had made life so vital a thing were to be buried here. When next she came out into the sunlight she would be a broken creature—the property of this horrible caricature of a man.
Her captor opened the door and pushed the girl inside.
She stood on the threshold, eyes dilating, heart suddenly athrob with hope.
A man sitting on a stool before the open fire turned his head to see who had come in.
“My damn pretty li’l’ high-steppin’ squaw”
The man on the stool was Whaley.
One glance at the girl and one at West’s triumphant gargoyle grin was enough. He understood the situation better than words could tell it.
To Jessie, at this critical moment of her life, even Whaley seemed a God-send. She pushed across the room awkwardly, not waiting to free herself of the webs packed with snow. In the dusky eyes there was a cry for help.
“Save me from him!” she cried simply, as a child might have done. “You will, won’t you?”