“Howland!” he gasped.
It was all he said, but in that one word and in the strange excitement in the superintendent’s face Howland read that which made him turn quickly to the men, giving them his first command as general-in-chief of the road that was going to the bay.
“Get out of the coyote, boys,” he said. “We won’t do anything more until morning.”
To MacDonald, as the men went out ahead of them, he added in a low voice:
“Guard the entrance to this tunnel with half a dozen of your best men to-night, MacDonald. I know things which will lead me to investigate this to-morrow. I’m going to leave you as soon as I get outside. Spread the report that it was simply a bad fuse. Understand?”
He crawled out ahead of the superintendent, and before MacDonald had emerged from the coyote he had already lost himself in the starlit gloom of the night and was hastening to his tryst with the beautiful girl, who, he believed, would reveal to him at least a part of one of the strangest and most diabolical plots that had ever originated in the brain of man.
It still lacked nearly an hour of the appointed time when Howland came to the secluded spot in the trail where he was to meet Meleese. Concealed in the deep shadows of the bushes he seated himself on the end of a fallen spruce and loaded his pipe, taking care to light it with the flare of the match hidden in the hollow of his hands. For the first time since his terrible experience in the coyote he found himself free to think, and more than ever he began to see the necessity of coolness and of judgment in what he was about to do. Gradually, too, he fought himself back into his old faith in Meleese. His blood was tingling at fever heat in his desire for vengeance, for the punishment of the human fiends who had attempted to blow him to atoms, and yet at the same time there was no bitterness in him toward the girl. He was sure that she was an unwilling factor in the plot, and that she was doing all in her power to save him. At the same time he began to realize that he should no longer be influenced by her pleading. He had promised—in return for her confidence this night—to leave unpunished those whom she wished to shield. He would take back that promise. Before she revealed anything to him he would warn her that he was determined to discover those who had twice sought to kill him.
It was nearly midnight when he looked at his watch again. Was it possible that Meleese would not come? He could not bring himself to believe that she knew of his imprisonment in the coyote—of this second attempt on his life. And yet—if she did—
He rose from the log and began pacing quickly back and forth in the gloom, his thoughts racing through his brain with increasing apprehension. Those who had imprisoned him had learned of his escape an hour ago. Many things might have happened in that time. Perhaps they were fleeing from the camp. Frightened by their failure, and fearing the punishment which would be theirs if discovered, it was not improbable that even now they were many miles from the Wekusko, hurrying deeper into the unknown wilderness to the north. And Meleese would be with them!