“The last thing I desire is the arrest of Lapierre,” he answered. “Lapierre must answer to me.” The words, pronounced slowly and distinctly, rasped hard. In spite of herself, Chloe shuddered.
Corporal Ripley shifted uneasily. “We’d better be going, MacNair,” he said. “There’s something queer about this whole business—something I don’t quite understand. It’s up to me to take you up the river; but, believe me, I’m coming back! I’ll get at the bottom of this thing if it takes me five years. Are you ready?”
“I can let you have some Indians,” suggested the girl.
“Why, for a guard, of course; to help you with your prisoner.”
Ripley drew himself up and answered abruptly: “The Mounted is quite capable of managing its own affairs, Miss Elliston. I don’t need your Indians, thank you.”
Chloe glanced wrathfully into the boyish face of the officer. “Suit yourself,” she answered sweetly. “But if I were you, I’d want a whole regiment of Indians. Because if MacNair wants to, he’ll eat you up.”
“He won’t want to,” snapped Ripley. “I don’t taste good.”
As they passed out of the door, MacNair turned. “Good-by, Miss Elliston,” he said gravely. “Beware of Pierre Lapierre.” Chloe made no reply and as MacNair turned to go, he chanced to glance into the wide, expressionless face of Big Lena, who had stood throughout the interview leaning heavily against the jamb of the kitchen door. Something inscrutable in the stare of the fishlike, china-blue eyes clung in his memory, and try as he would in the days that followed, MacNair could not fathom the meaning of that stare, if indeed it had any meaning. MacNair did not know why, but in some inexplainable manner the memory of that look eased many a weary mile.
News, of a kind, travels on the wings of the wind across wastes of the farther land. Principalities may fall, nations crash, and kingdoms sink into oblivion, and the North will neither know nor care. For the North has its own problems—vital problems, human problems—and therefore big. Elemental, portentous problems, having to do with life and the eating of meat.
In the crash and shift of man-made governments; in the redistribution of man-constituted authority, and man-gathered surplus of increment, the North has no part. On the cold side of sixty there is no surplus, and men think in terms of meat, and their possessions are meat-getting possessions. Guns, nets, and traps, even of the best, insure but a bare existence. And in the lean years, which are the seventh years—the years of the rabbit plague—starvation stalks in the teepees, and gaunt, sunken-eyed forms, dry-lipped, and with the skin drawn tightly over protruding ribs, stiffen between shoddy blankets. For even the philosophers of the land of God and the H.B.C. must eat to live—if not this week, at least once next week.