In the moment of stillness between them, when their hearts seemed to have stopped beating that they might not lose the faintest whispering of the twilight, a sound came to Alan, and he knew it was the toe of a boot striking against stone. Not a foot in his tribe would have made that sound; none but Stampede Smith’s or his own.
“Were they many?” he asked.
“I could not see. The sun was darkening. But five or six were running—”
“And they saw us?”
“I think so. It was but a moment, and they were a part of the dusk.”
He found her hand and held it closely. Her fingers clung to his, and he could hear her quick breathing as he unbuttoned the flap of his automatic holster.
“You think they have come?” she whispered, and a cold dread was in her voice.
“Possibly. My people would not appear from that direction. You are not afraid?”
“No, no, I am not afraid.”
“Yet you are trembling.”
“It is this strange gloom, Alan.”
Never had the arctic twilight gone more completely. Not half a dozen times had he seen the phenomenon in all his years on the tundras, where thunder-storm and the putting out of the summer sun until twilight thickens into the gloom of near-night is an occurrence so rare that it is more awesome than the weirdest play of the northern lights. It seemed to him now that what was happening was a miracle, the play of a mighty hand opening their way to salvation. An inky wall was shutting out the world where the glow of the midnight sun should have been. It was spreading quickly; shadows became part of the gloom, and this gloom crept in, thickening, drawing nearer, until the tundra was a weird chaos, neither night nor twilight, challenging vision until eyes strained futilely to penetrate its mystery.
And as it gathered about them, enveloping them in their own narrowing circle of vision, Alan was thinking quickly. It had taken him only a moment to accept the significance of the running figures his companion had seen. Graham’s men were near, had seen them, and were getting between them and the range. Possibly it was a scouting party, and if there were no more than five or six, the number which Mary had counted, he was quite sure of the situation. But there might be a dozen or fifty of them. It was possible Graham and Rossland were advancing upon the range with their entire force. He had at no time tried to analyze just what this force might be, except to assure himself that with the overwhelming influence behind him, both political and financial, and fired by a passion for Mary Standish that had revealed itself as little short of madness, Graham would hesitate at no convention of law or humanity to achieve his end. Probably he was playing the game so that he would be shielded by the technicalities of the law, if it came to a tragic end. His gunmen would undoubtedly be impelled to a certain extent by an idea of authority. For Graham was an injured husband “rescuing” his wife, while he—Alan Holt—was the woman’s abductor and paramour, and a fit subject to be shot upon sight!