It seemed to him that only yesterday Marette had gone. She could not be far away, even now. And in these moments, with the breath of freedom stirring him with the glory of new life, she was different for him from what she had ever been. She was a part of him. He could not think of escape without thinking of her. She became, in these precious moments, the living soul of his wilderness. He felt her presence. The thought possessed him that somewhere down the river she was thinking of him, waiting, expecting him. And in that same flash he made up his mind that he would not discard the boat, as he had planned; he would conceal himself by day, and float downstream by night, until at last he came to Marette Radisson. And then he would tell her why he had come. And after that—
He looked toward Crossen’s place. He would make straight for it, openly, like a man bent on a mission there was no reason to conceal. If luck went right, and Crossen was abed, he would be on the river within fifteen minutes. His blood ran faster as he took his first step out into the open starlight. Fifty yards ahead of him was the building which Cardigan used for his fuel. Safely beyond that, no one could see him from the windows of the hospital. He walked swiftly. Twenty paces, thirty, forty—and he stopped as suddenly as the half-breed’s bullet had stopped him weeks before. Round the end of Cardigan’s fuel house came a figure. It was Mercer. He was twirling his little cane and traveling quietly as a cat. They were not ten feet apart, yet Kent had not heard him.
Mercer stopped. The cane dropped from his hand. Even in the starlight Kent could see his face turn white.
“Don’t make a sound, Mercer,” he warned. “I’m taking a little exercise in the open air. If you cry out, I’ll kill you!”
He advanced slowly, speaking in a voice that could not have been heard at the windows behind him. And then a thing happened that froze the blood in his veins. He had heard the scream of every beast of the great forests, but never a scream like that which came from Mercer’s lips now. It was not the cry of a man. To Kent it was the voice of a fiend, a devil. It did not call for help. It was wordless. And as the horrible sound issued from Mercer’s mouth he could see the swelling throat and bulging eyes that accompanied the effort. They made him think of a snake, a cobra.
The chill went out of his blood, replaced by a flame of hottest fire. He forgot everything but that this serpent was in his path. Twice he had stood in his way. And he hated him. He hated him with a virulency that was death. Neither the call of freedom nor the threat of prison could keep him from wreaking vengeance now. Without a sound he was at Mercer’s throat, and the scream ended in a choking shriek. His fingers dug into flabby flesh, and his clenched fist beat again and again into Mercer’s face.
He went to the ground, crushing the human serpent under him. And he continued to strike and choke as he had never struck or choked another man, all other things overwhelmed by his mad desire to tear into pieces this two-legged English vermin who was too foul to exist on the face of the earth.