The voices became fainter; he heard retreating footsteps, and at last they died away entirely. Through a rift in the trees straight above him the white, cold stars of the night gleamed down on him, and Howland stared up at them fixedly until they seemed to be hopping and dancing about in the skies. He wanted to swear—yell—fight. In these moments that he lay on his back in the freezing snow a million demons were born in his blood. The girl had betrayed him again! This time he could find no excuse—no pardon for her. She had accepted his love—had allowed him to kiss her, to hold her in his arms—while beneath that hypocrisy she had plotted his downfall a second time. Deliberately she had given the signal for attack, and now—
He heard again the quick, running step that he had recognized on the trail. The bushes behind him parted, and in the white starlight Meleese fell on her knees at his side, her glorious face bending over him in a grief that he had never seen in it before, her eyes shining on him with a great love. Without speaking she lifted his head in the hollow of her arm and crushed her own down against it, kissing him, and softly sobbing his name.
“Good-by,” he heard her breathe. “Good-by—good-by—”
He struggled to cry out as she lowered his head back on the snow, to free his hands, to hold her with him—but he saw her face only once more, bending over him; felt the warm pressure of her lips to his forehead, and then again he could hear her footsteps hurrying away through the forest.
A RACE INTO THE NORTH
That Meleese loved him, that she had taken his head in her arms, and had kissed him, was the one consuming thought in Howland’s brain for many minutes after she had left him bound and gagged on the snow. That she had made no effort to free him did not at first strike him as significant. He still felt the sweet, warm touch of her lips, the pressure of her arms, the smothering softness of her hair. It was not until he again heard approaching sounds that he returned once more to a full consciousness of the mysterious thing that had happened. He heard first of all the creaking of a toboggan on the hard crust, then the pattering of dogs’ feet, and after that the voices of men. The sounds stopped on the trail a dozen feet away from him.
With a strange thrill he recognized Croisset’s voice.
“You must be sure that you make no mistake,” he heard the half-breed say. “Go to the waterfall at the head of the lake and heave down a big rock where the ice is open and the water boiling. Track up the snow with a pair of M’seur Howland’s high-heeled boots and leave his hat tangled in the bushes. Then tell the superintendent that he stepped on the stone and that it rolled down and toppled him into the chasm. They could never find his body—and they will send down for a new engineer in place of the lost M’seur.”