“Eh? W’at Ah say? Eh?” Leclere cried exultantly. “Dat de one fo’ sure! Ah know. Ah spik true.”
“The thing to do is to teach these damned Siwashes a little manners,” spoke Webster Shaw. “They’re getting fat and sassy, and we’ll have to bring them down a peg. Round in all the bucks and string up the Beaver for an object lesson. That’s the programme. Come on and let’s see what he’s got to say for himself.”
“Heh, M’sieu!” Leclere called, as the crowd began to melt away through the twilight in the direction of Sunrise. “Ah lak ver’ moch to see de fon.”
“Oh, we’ll turn you loose when we come back,” Webster Shaw shouted over his shoulder. “In the meantime meditate on your sins and the ways of Providence. It will do you good, so be grateful.”
As is the way with men who are accustomed to great hazards, whose nerves are healthy and trained in patience, so it was with Leclere who settled himself to the long wait—which is to say that he reconciled his mind to it. There was no settling of the body, for the taut rope forced him to stand rigidly erect. The least relaxation of the leg muscles pressed the rough-fibred noose into his neck, while the upright position caused him much pain in his wounded shoulder. He projected his under lip and expelled his breath upwards along his face to blow the mosquitoes away from his eyes. But the situation had its compensation. To be snatched from the maw of death was well worth a little bodily suffering, only it was unfortunate that he should miss the hanging of the Beaver.
And so he mused, till his eyes chanced to fall upon Batard, head between fore paws and stretched on the ground asleep. And their Leclere ceased to muse. He studied the animal closely, striving to sense if the sleep were real or feigned. Batard’s sides were heaving regularly, but Leclere felt that the breath came and went a shade too quickly; also he felt that there was a vigilance or alertness to every hair that belied unshackling sleep. He would have given his Sunrise claim to be assured that the dog was not awake, and once, when one of his joints cracked, he looked quickly and guiltily at Batard to see if he roused. He did not rouse then but a few minutes later he got up slowly and lazily, stretched, and looked carefully about him.
“Sacredam,” said Leclere under his breath.
Assured that no one was in sight or hearing, Batard sat down, curled his upper lip almost into a smile, looked up at Leclere, and licked his chops.
“Ah see my feenish,” the man said, and laughed sardonically aloud.
Batard came nearer, the useless ear wabbling, the good ear cocked forward with devilish comprehension. He thrust his head on one side quizzically, and advanced with mincing, playful steps. He rubbed his body gently against the box till it shook and shook again. Leclere teetered carefully to maintain his equilibrium.