“Then why did she look at you so ‘squarely?’ Trying to flirt, do you suppose?”
Surprise shot into Gregson’s face.
“By thunder, no, she wasn’t flirting!” he exclaimed. “I’d stake my life on that. A man never got a clearer, more sinless look than she gave me, and yet—Why, deuce take it, she stared at me! I didn’t see her again after that, but the dark fellow was in here half of the afternoon, and now that I come to think of it he did show some interest in me. Why do you ask?”
“Just curiosity,” replied Howland, “I don’t like flirts.”
“Neither do I,” said Gregson musingly. Their supper came on and they conversed but little until its end. Howland had watched his companion closely and was satisfied that he knew nothing of Croisset or the girl. The fact puzzled him more than ever. How Gregson and Thorne, two of the best engineers in the country, could voluntarily surrender a task like the building of the Hudson Bay Railroad simply because they were “tired of the country” was more than he could understand.
It was not until they were about to leave the table that Howland’s eyes accidentally fell on Gregson’s left hand. He gave an exclamation of astonishment when he saw that the little finger was missing. Gregson jerked the hand to his side.
“A little accident,” he explained. “You’ll meet ’em up here, Howland.”
Before he could move, the young engineer had caught his arm and was looking closely at the hand.
“A curious wound,” he remarked, without looking up. “Funny I didn’t notice it before. Your finger was cut off lengthwise, and here’s the scar running half way to your wrist. How did you do it?”
He dropped the hand in time to see a nervous flush in the other’s face.
“Why—er—fact is, Howland, it was shot off several months ago—in an accident, of course.” He hurried through the door, continuing to speak over his shoulder as he went, “Now for those after-supper cigars and our investigation.”
As they passed from the dining-room into that part of the inn which was half bar and half lounging-room, already filled with smoke and a dozen or so picturesque citizens of Le Pas, the rough-jowled proprietor of the place motioned to Howland and held out a letter.
“This came while you was at supper, Mr. Howland,” he explained.
The engineer gave an inward start when he saw the writing on the envelope, and as he tore it open he turned so that Gregson could see neither his face nor the slip of paper which he drew forth. There was no name at the bottom of what he read. It was not necessary, for a glance had told him that the writing was that of the girl whose face he had seen again that night; and her words to him this time, despite his caution, drew a low whistle from his lips.
“Forgive me for what I have done,” the note ran. “Believe me now. Your life is in danger and you must go back to Etomami to-morrow. If you go to the Wekusko camp you will not live to come back.”