Jean lifted a warning hand. Faintly there came to them through the forest the distant baying of a hound.
“That is one of our dogs from the Mackenzie country,” he went on softly, an insinuating triumph in his low voice. “Now, M’seur, that I have brought you here what are you going to do? Shall we go on and take dinner with those who are going to kill you, or will you wait a few hours? Eh, which shall it be?”
For a moment Howland stood motionless, stunned by the Frenchman’s words. Quickly he recovered himself. His eyes burned with a metallic gleam as they met the half taunt in Croisset’s cool smile.
“If I had not stopped you—we would have gone on?” he questioned tensely.
“To be sure, M’seur,” retorted Croisset, still smiling. “You warned me to lose no time—that something would happen if I did.”
With a quick movement Howland drew his revolver and leveled it at the Frenchman’s heart.
“If you ever prayed to those blessed saints of yours, do it now, Jean Croisset. I’m going to kill you!” he cried fiercely.
THE GLEAM OF THE LIGHT
In a single breath the face of Jean Croisset became no more than a mask of what it had been. The taunting smile left his lips and a gray pallor spread over his face as he saw Howland’s finger crooked firmly on the trigger of his revolver. In another instant there came the sound of a metallic snap.
“Damnation! An empty cartridge!” Howland exclaimed. “I forgot to load after those three shots at the cup. It’s coming this time, Jean!”
Purposely he snapped the second empty cartridge.
“The great God!” gasped Jean. “M’seur—”
From deep in the forest came again the baying of the Mackenzie hound. This time it was much nearer, and for a moment Howland’s eyes left the Frenchman’s terrified face as he turned his head to listen.
“They are coming!” exclaimed Croisset. “M’seur, I swear to—”
Again Howland’s pistol covered his heart.
“Then it is even more necessary that I kill you,” he said with frightful calmness. “I warned you that I would kill you if you led me into a trap, Croisset. The dogs are bushed. There is no way out of this but to fight—if there are people coming down the trail. Listen to that!”
This time, from still nearer, came the shout of a man, and then of another, followed by the huskies’ sharp yelping as they started afresh on the trail. The flush of excitement that had come into Howland’s face paled until he stood as white as the Frenchman. But it was not the whiteness of fear. His eyes were like blue steel flashing in the sunlight.
“There is nothing to do but fight,” he repeated, even more calmly than before. “If we were a mile or two back there it could all happen as I planned it. But here—”
“They will hear the shots,” cried Jean. “The post is no more than a gunshot beyond the forest, and there are plenty there who would come out to see what it means. Quick, M’seur—follow me. Possibly they are hunters going out to the trap-lines. If it comes to the worst—”