“Of course, it’s a story of the Police,” he began. “And I won’t mention this fellow’s name. You may think of him as that red-headed O’Connor, if you want to. But I don’t say that it was he. He was a constable in the Service and had been away North looking up some Indians who were brewing an intoxicating liquor from roots. That was six years ago. And he caught something. Le Mort Rouge, we sometimes call it—the Red Death—or smallpox. And he was alone when the fever knocked him down, three hundred miles from anywhere. His Indian ran away at the first sign of it, and he had just time to get up his tent before he was flat on his back. I won’t try to tell you of the days he went through. It was a living death. And he would have died, there is no doubt of it, if it hadn’t been for a stranger who came along. He was a white man. Marette, it doesn’t take a great deal of nerve to go up against a man with a gun, when you’ve got a gun of your own; and it doesn’t take such a lot of nerve to go into battle when a thousand others are going with you. But it does take nerve to face what that stranger faced. And the sick man was nothing to him. He went into that tent and nursed the other back to life. Then the sickness got him, and for ten weeks those two were together, each fighting to save the other’s life, and they won out. But the glory of it was with the stranger. He was going west. The constable was going south. They shook hands and parted.”
Marette’s fingers tightened on Kent’s arm. And Kent went on.
“And the constable never forgot, Gray Goose. He wanted the day to come when he might repay. And the time came. It was years later, and it worked out in a curious way. A man was murdered. And the constable, who had become a sergeant now, had talked with the dead man only a little while before he was killed. Returning for something he had forgotten, it was the sergeant who found him dead. Very shortly afterward a man was arrested. There was blood on his clothing. The evidence was convincing, deadly. And this man—”
Kent paused, and in the darkness Marette’s hand crept down his arm to his hand, and her fingers closed round it.
“Was the man you lied to save,” she whispered.
“Yes. When the halfbreed’s bullet got me, I thought it was a good chance to repay Sandy McTrigger for what he did for me in that tent years before. But it wasn’t heroic. It wasn’t even brave. I thought I was going to die and that I was risking nothing.”
And then there came a soft, joyous little laugh from where her head lay on the pillow. “And all the time you were lying so splendidly, Jeems—I knew,” she cried. “I knew that you didn’t kill Barkley, and I knew that you weren’t going to die, and I knew what happened in that tent ten years ago. And—Jeems—Jeems—”
She raised herself from the pillow. Her breath was coming a little excitedly. Both her hands, instead of one, were gripping his hand now. “I knew that you didn’t kill John Barkley,” she repeated. “And—Sandy MCTRIGGER didn’t kill him!”