This Dane realised was only too true, and the blood surged madly through his veins. He must reach the camp first and warn the men of their danger. And he would lead them against the slashers, for nothing would give him greater satisfaction than to surprise and confound those skulking rebels. His heart turned toward Jean, and he longed to go in search of her. But now, as when standing near that line drawn in the sand, duty came first. He felt that Jean was safe, but the lives of the King’s men were at stake, so there must be no hesitation on his part. But what was he to do with the injured man? That he was in a critical condition, he was well aware, but how bad he did not know. It was getting dark now, and he could not delay much longer.
“When did the slashers leave here?” he asked.
“When?” Botreau repeated in a dazed manner. “I don’t know when. But it seems an age.”
“Then, I must get ahead of them, and warn the mast-cutters.”
But the stricken man gave a pitiful cry, and reaching out, caught Dane feebly by the hand.
“Don’t leave me,” he pleaded. “I’m dyin’, an’ I’m afraid to die alone. Oh, it’s terrible here, an’ I’m gettin’ so weak. I wonder what makes this room so dark. An’ it’s cold, too. Fix the fire, won’t ye, an’ lay me near it.”
Dane stooped and held the candle close to the man’s face. He knew that he was dying, bleeding to death, for the floor was wet with blood. There was nothing that he could do, and of no use would it be to attend to the fire. No earthly heat could now warm the body of the wretched man before him. All he could do was to watch and wait while the life slowly ebbed away.
For a few minutes silence reigned in the room, broken only by the dying man’s laboured breathing. At length he slightly lifted his head and looked wildly around.
“Keep back!” he cried. “Don’t touch me! I didn’t steal the girl! I didn’t, I say!”
“Hush, hush,” Dane soothed, kneeling by his side and taking his hand in his. “I won’t let anything touch you.”
But nothing could comfort the unhappy man. He fought his imaginary foe, and pleaded to be saved.
“It’s the devil that did it, I tell ye,” he wailed. “Look, there’s the marks of his fingers upon Seth. Don’t let him get me, for God’s sake, don’t!”
Never before had Dane been in such an awkward predicament. It was hard to listen to the raving man when he could do nothing to help him. And all the time it was getting later, and he should be on his way to warn the King’s men. He rose to his feet, stepped to the door, and looked out. It was blowing hard, and he knew that the storm was not far off. He must get away before it burst.
A peculiar sound from the man on the floor caused him to hasten to his side. In an instant he saw that all was over, and that the earthly career of Bill Botreau was ended.