On the morning of the fourth day Howland was awakened by a sound that came through the aperture in the wall. It was the sharp yelping bark of a dog, followed an instant later by the sharper crack of a whip, and a familiar voice.
Jean Croisset had returned!
With a single leap he was out of his bunk. Half dressed he darted to the door, and crouched there, the muscles of his arms tightening, his body tense with the gathering forces within him.
The spur of the moment had driven him to quick decision. His opportunity would come when Jean Croisset passed through that door!
Beyond the door Howland heard Jean pause. There followed a few moments silence, as though the other were listening for sound within. Then there came a fumbling at the bar and the door swung inward.
“Bon jour, M’seur,” called Jean’s cheerful voice as he stepped inside. “Is it possible you are not up, with all this dog-barking and—”
His eyes had gone to the empty bunk. Despite his cheerful greeting Howland saw that the Frenchman’s face was haggard and pale as he turned quickly toward him. He observed no further than that, but flung his whole weight on the unprepared Croisset, and together they crashed to the floor. There was scarce a struggle and Jean lay still. He was flat on his back, his arms pinioned to his sides, and bringing himself astride the Frenchman’s body so that each knee imprisoned an arm Howland coolly began looping the babeesh thongs that he had snatched from the table as he sprang to the door. Behind Howland’s back Jean’s legs shot suddenly upward. In a quick choking clutch of steel-like muscle they gripped about his neck like powerful arms and in another instant he was twisted backward with a force that sent him half neck-broken to the opposite wall. He staggered to his feet, dazed for a moment, and Jean Croisset stood in the middle of the floor, his caribou skin coat thrown off, his hands clenched, his eyes darkening with a dangerous fire. As quickly as it had come, the fire died away, and as he advanced slowly, his shoulders punched over, his white teeth gleamed in a smile. Howland smiled back, and advanced to meet him. There was no humor, no friendliness in the smiles. Both had seen that flash of teeth and deadly scintillation of eyes at other times, both knew what it meant.
“I believe that I will kill you, M’seur,” said Jean softly. There was no excitement, no tremble of passion in his voice. “I have been thinking that I ought to kill you. I had almost made up my mind to kill you when I came back to this Maison de Mort Rouge. It is the justice of God that I kill you!”
The two men circled, like beasts in a pit, Howland in the attitude of a boxer, Jean with his shoulders bent, his arms slightly curved at his side, the toes of his moccasined feet bearing his weight. Suddenly he launched himself at the other’s throat.