The fire had just been replenished, and the flames were roaring merrily up the big chimney, when the door was thrown unceremoniously open, and Dane Norwood staggered into the room, bearing in his arms the limp form of Jean Sterling. Amazed beyond words, the men sprang to their feet, and quickly relieved the courier of his burden just as he reeled and sank in a helpless heap upon the rough floor.
“It’s Dane Norwood!” one of the men gasped, bending over the prostrate form. “What in the name of heaven has happened?”
Before any one could reply Jean was on her feet, and started to cross the room. But she tottered through weakness, and was forced to place her hands upon the table for support.
“I am Colonel Sterling’s daughter,” she explained to the staring mast-cutters, “and Dane Norwood saved my life. Help him, quick.”
At these words several men hurried forward, lifted Dane from the floor, and laid him gently in one of the bunks arranged along the walls. They then bathed his face with water, and in a short time they had the satisfaction of seeing him open his eyes and look around. In another minute Jean was kneeling by his side, with the men standing silently near. Dane smiled as he saw the girl, and reached out his hand which she at once clasped in hers.
“What a baby I am,” he said. “I didn’t expect to go under this way. There must be something wrong with me.”
“Don’t say that,” Jean remonstrated. “No other man could have done what you did. It was wonderful.”
“I was afraid the slashers might overtake us,” Dane replied. “Have you told the men about them?”
“Oh, no, I forgot all about them.”
As briefly as possible she explained how the rebels were on their way, and planning to attack the mast-cutters that very night. Dane also related his experience at the little cabin on the shore of the Washademoak, and how he had overtaken and outstripped the slashers. He told, too, how Jean had started in the dead of night to give the warning, but becoming bewildered by the storm had wandered from the trail, and he had by chance found her and brought her into camp.
The mast-cutters were now thoroughly aroused. Word was at once sent to the various cabins, and all were ordered to prepare to march against the enemy. Muskets were brought forth and examined with the greatest care, and swords were unearthed from most unlikely places. Powder-horns were filled, and a supply of bullets doled out to each man. Snow-shoes were attended to, and complete arrangements made for an early departure.
In less than an hour’s time fifty men were lined up, the final instructions issued, and the order to march given. They laughed as they breasted the wind which swept across the little clearing, and they looked like a bunch of school boys as they plunged through the snow to the shelter of the trees beyond.