As with the Indians, his cross-examination had borne scant results. The best of his questions but involved him in a maze of baffling surmises. Gradually his anger had mounted, until now the Indian at the door knew by the wax-like appearance of the more prominent places on his deeply carved countenance that he had nearly reached the point of outbreak.
Swiftly, like the play of rapiers, the questions and answers broke across the still room.
“You had aid,” the Factor asserted, positively.
“You think so?”
“My Indians say you were alone. But where did you get this rifle?”
“I stole it.”
“You were alone?”
Ned Trent paused for a barely appreciable instant. It was not possible that the Indians had failed to establish the girl’s presence, and he feared a trap. Then he caught the expressive eye of Me-en-gan at the door. Evidently Virginia had friends.
“I was alone,” he repeated, confidently.
“That is a lie. For though my Indians were deceived, two people were observed by my clergyman to leave the Post immediately before I sent out to your capture. One rounded the island in a canoe; the other took the Woods Trail.”
“Bully for the Church,” replied Trent, imperturbably. “Better promote him to your scouts.”
“Who was that second person?”
“Do you think I will tell you?”
“I think I’ll find means to make you tell me!” burst out the Factor.
Ned Trent was silent.
“If you’ll tell me the name of that man I’ll let you go free. I’ll give you a permit to trade in the country. It touches my authority—my discipline. The affair becomes a precedent. It is vital.”
Ned Trent fixed his eyes on the bay and hummed a little air, half turning his shoulder to the older man.
The latter’s face blazed with suppressed fury. Twice his hand rested almost convulsively on the butt of his heavy revolver.
“Ned Trent,” he cried, harshly, at last, “pay attention to me. I’ve had enough of this. I swear if you do not tell me what I want to know within five minutes, I’ll hang you to-day!”
The young man spun on his heel.
“Hanging!” he cried. “You cannot mean that?”
The Free Trader measured him up and down, saw that his purpose was sincere, and turned slowly pale under the bronze of his out-of-door tan. Hanging is always a dreadful death, but in the Far North it carries an extra stigma of ignominy with it, inasmuch as it is resorted to only with the basest malefactors. Shooting is the usual form of execution for all but the most despicable crimes. He turned away with a little gesture.
“Well!” cried Albret.
Ned Trent locked his lips in a purposeful straight line of silence. To such an outrage there could be nothing to say. The Factor jerked his watch to the table.
“I said five minutes,” he repeated. “I mean it.”