The cry in the convict’s throat broke forth into words.
“Mart Wiley!” he cried, “Mart Wiley! Mart—Wiley!”
Clear, sharp, distinct was the shape of that never-to-be-forgotten pompadour against the disk of the winter moon. His features could not be discerned, for the source of light was behind him, but the silhouette was sufficient. It was Martin Wiley; he was alive. His head and his wirelike hair were moving—rising, falling.
Ruggam, his eyes riveted upon the phantom, recoiled mechanically to the western wall. He finished loading the revolver by the sense of touch. Then:
Spurt after spurt of fire lanced the darkness, directed at the Thing in the window. While the air of the hut reeked with the acrid smoke, the echo of the volley sounded through the silent forest-world miles away.
But the silhouette in the window remained.
Once or twice it moved slightly as though in surprise; that was all. The pompadour rose in bellicose retaliation—the gesture that had always ensued when Wiley was angered or excited. But to bullets fired from an earthly gun the silhouette of the murdered deputy’s ghost, arisen in these winter woods to prevent another slaughter, was impervious.
Ruggam saw; he shrieked. He broke the gun and spilled out the empty shells. He fumbled in more cartridges, locked the barrel and fired again and again, until once more it was empty.
Still the apparition remained.
The man in his dementia hurled the weapon; it struck the sash and caromed off, hitting the stove. Then Hap Ruggam collapsed upon the floor.
The woman sprang up. She found the rope thongs which had bound her pack to her shoulders. With steel-taut nerves, she rolled the insensible Ruggam over.
She tied his hands; she tied his ankles. With her last bit of rope she connected the two bindings tightly behind him so that if he recovered, he would be at her mercy. Her task accomplished, on her knees beside his prone figure, she thought to glance up at the window.
Wiley’s ghost had disappeared.
Sheriff Crumpett and his party broke into the Lyons clearing within an hour. They had arrived in answer to five successive shots given a few moments apart, the signal agreed upon. The mystery to them, however, was that those five shots had been fired by some one not of their party.
The sheriff and his men found the McBride woman, her clothing half torn from her body, her features powder-marked and blood-stained; but she was game to the last, woman-fashion weeping only now that all was over. They found, too, the man they had combed the country to find—struggling fruitlessly in his bonds, her prisoner.
And they likewise found the miracle.
On the snow outside under the window they came upon a black porcupine about the size of a man’s head which, scenting food within the cabin, had climbed to the sill, and after the habit of these little animals whose number is legion all over the Green Mountains, had required fifteen bullets pumped into its carcass before it would release its hold.