The tree was now a pyramid of fire, lighting up the snow for a long distance round. Outside this circle the wolves could be heard whining and whimpering, occasionally uttering a long-drawn howl.
“They know that they are baulked of their prey,” Stanislas said. “We shall have some of the big branches falling soon, and shall be able to keep up a roaring fire, that will last until daylight. I should think by that time the wolves will be tired of it, and will make off; but if not, the captain will be sure to send men out to search for us. He will guess we have been treed by wolves, and we have only to get into another tree, and fire our pistols, to bring them in this direction.”
“But they may be attacked, too,” Charlie remarked.
“There are ten of them, and they are sure to come armed with axes and swords. They ought to be able to fight their way through a good-sized pack. Besides, the wolves will be so cowed by this great fire, that I don’t think they will have the courage to meddle with so strong a party.”
One by one the arms of the tree fell, burnt through at the point where they touched the trunk. They would have been far too heavy to be dragged, but three or four of them fell across the lower fire, and there lay blazing. Not knowing which way the tree itself would fall, Charlie and his companion were obliged to remain at some distance off, but the heat there was amply sufficient for them. At last the trunk fell with a crash, and they at once established themselves as near the fire as they could sit, without being scorched, and there chatted until morning began to break.
They felt sure that some, at least, of the wolves were around them, as they occasionally caught sight of what looked like two sparks among the undergrowth; these being, as they knew, the reflection of the fire in the eyes of a wolf. There was a tree hard by in which they could, if necessary, take refuge, and they therefore resolved to stay near the fire.
Fortunately the night had been perfectly still, and, as the tree they had fired was a detached one, the flames had not spread, as Charlie had at one time been afraid they would do.
Half an hour after daylight had fairly broken, they discharged three shots at regular intervals with their pistols, then they waited half an hour.
“Shall we fire again?”
“No. Not until we hear shots from them,” Charlie replied. “We have but four charges left, and if the wolves made a sudden rush, we might want to use them.”
After a time, both thought they heard the distant report of a musket. Stanislas looked at Charlie inquiringly. The latter shook his head.
“No, no! Stanislas. That gun would be heard twice as far as one of these pistols. Let us wait until we are pretty sure that they are near. I don’t like leaving ourselves without other protection than our axes.”