The man who had ordered Vermilion to release her, and who had fired the shot that had killed him, stood calmly watching four lithe-bodied canoemen securely bind the arms of the two scowmen who had attacked Big Lena.
So sudden had been the transition from terror to relief in her heart that the scene held nothing of repugnance to the girl, who was conscious only of a feeling of peace and security. She even smiled into the eyes of her deliverer, who had turned his attention from his canoemen and stood before her, his soft-brimmed Stetson in his hand.
“Oh! I—I thank you!” exclaimed the girl, at a loss for words.
The man bowed low. “It is nothing. I am glad to have been of some slight service.” Something in the tone of the well-modulated voice, the correct speech, the courtly manner, thrilled the girl strangely. It was all so unexpected—so out of place, here in the wild. She felt the warm colour mount to her face.
“Who are you?” she asked abruptly.
“I am Pierre Lapierre,” answered the man in the same low voice.
In spite of herself, Chloe started slightly, and instantly she knew that the man had noticed. He smiled, with just an appreciable tightening at the corners of the mouth, and his eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. He continued:
“And now, Miss Elliston, if you will retire to your tent for a few moments, I will have these removed.” He indicated the bodies. “You see, I know your name. The good Chenoine told me. He it was who warned me of Vermilion’s plot in time for me to frustrate it. Of course, I should have rescued you later. I hold myself responsible for the safe conduct of all who travel in my scows. But it would have been at the expense of much time and labour, and, very possibly, of human life as well—an incident regrettable always, but not always avoidable.”
Chloe nodded, and, with her thoughts in a whirl of confusion, turned and entered her tent, where Harriet Penny lay sobbing hysterically, with her blankets drawn over her head.
A half-hour later, when Chloe again ventured from the tent, all evidence of the struggle had disappeared. The bodies of the two dead men had been removed, and the canoemen were busily engaged in gathering together and restoring the freight pieces that had been ripped open by the scowmen.
Lapierre advanced to meet her, his carefully creased Stetson in hand.
“I have sent word for the other scows to come on at once, and in the meantime, while my men attend to the freight, may we not talk?”
Chloe assented, and the two seated themselves upon a log. It was then, for the first time that the girl noticed that one side of Lapierre’s face—the side he had managed to keep turned from her—was battered and disfigured by some recent misadventure. Noticed, too, the really fine features of him—the dark, deep-set eyes that seemed to smoulder in their depths, the thin, aquiline nose, the shapely lips, the clean-cut lines of cheek and jaw.