“A few miles. I’m bound upcountry—beyond the Barrens.”
McTaggart felt again the strange thrill.
“Government?” he asked.
The stranger nodded.
“The—police, perhaps,” persisted McTaggart.
“Why, yes—of course—the police,” said the stranger, looking straight into the factor’s eyes. “And now, m’sieu, as a very great courtesy to the Law I’m going to ask you to send a bullet through that beast’s head before we go on. Will you? Or shall I?”
“It’s the law of the line,” said McTaggart, “to let a trap robber rot in the traps. And that beast was a devil. Listen—”
Swiftly, and yet leaving out none of the fine detail, he told of the weeks and months of strife between himself and Baree; of the maddening futility of all his tricks and schemes and the still more maddening cleverness of the beast he had at last succeeded in trapping.
“He was a devil—that clever,” he cried fiercely when he had finished. “And now—would you shoot him, or let him lie there and die by inches, as the devil should?”
The stranger was looking at Baree. His face was turned away from McTaggart. He said:
“I guess you are right. Let the devil rot. If you’re heading for Lac Bain, m’sieu, I’ll travel a short distance with you now. It will take a couple of miles to straighten out the line of my compass.”
He picked up his gun. McTaggart led the way. At the end of half an hour the stranger stopped, and pointed north.
“Straight up there—a good five hundred miles,” he said, speaking as lightly as though he would reach home that night. “I’ll leave you here.”
He made no offer to shake hands. But in going, he said:
“You might report that John Madison has passed this way.”
After that he traveled straight northward for half a mile through the deep forest. Then he swung westward for two miles, turned at a sharp angle into the south, and an hour after he had left McTaggart he was once more squatted on his heels almost within arms’ reach of Baree.
And he was saying, as though speaking to a human companion:
“So that’s what you’ve been, old boy. A trap robber, eh? An outlaw? And you beat him at the game for two months! And for that, because you’re a better beast than he is, he wants to let you die here as slow as you can. An outlaw!” His voice broke into a pleasant laugh, the sort of laugh that warms one, even a beast. “That’s funny. We ought to shake hands, Boy, by George, we had! You’re a wild one, he says. Well, so am I. Told him my name was John Madison. It ain’t. I’m Jim Carvel. And, oh Lord!—all I said was ‘police.’ And that was right. It ain’t a lie. I’m wanted by the whole corporation—by every danged policeman between Hudson’s Bay and the Mackenzie River. Shake, old man. We’re in the same boat, an’ I’m glad to meet you!”