On the second day of Pierrot’s absence Nepeese dressed herself like this, but today she let her hair cascade in a shining glory about her, and about her forehead bound a circlet of red ribbon. She was not yet done. Today she had marvelous designs. On the wall close to her mirror she had tacked a large page from a woman’s magazine, and on this page was a lovely vision of curls. Fifteen hundred miles north of the sunny California studio in which the picture had been taken, Nepeese, with pouted red lips and puckered forehead, was struggling to master the mystery of the other girl’s curls!
She was looking into her mirror, her face flushed and her eyes aglow in the excitement of the struggle to fashion one of the coveted ringlets from a tress that fell away below her hips, when the door opened behind her, and Bush McTaggart walked in.
The Willow’s back was toward the door when the factor from Lac Bain entered the cabin, and for a few startled seconds she did not turn. Her first thought was of Pierrot—for some reason he had returned. But even as this thought came to her, she heard in Baree’s throat a snarl that brought her suddenly to her feet, facing the door.
McTaggart had not entered unprepared. He had left his pack, his gun, and his heavy coat outside. He was standing with his back against the door; and at Nepeese—in her wonderful dress and flowing hair—he was staring as if stunned for a space at what he saw. Fate, or accident, was playing against the Willow now. If there had been a spark of slumbering chivalry, of mercy, even, in Bush McTaggart’s soul, it was extinguished by what he saw. Never had Nepeese looked more beautiful, not even on that day when MacDonald the map maker had taken her picture. The sun, flooding through the window, lighted up her marvelous hair. Her flushed face was framed in its lustrous darkness like a tinted cameo. He had dreamed, but he had pictured nothing like this woman who stood before him now, her eyes widening with fear and the flush leaving her face even as he looked at her.
It was not a long interval in which their eyes met in that terrible silence. Words were unnecessary. At last she understood—understood what her peril had been that day at the edge of the chasm and in the forest, when fearlessly she had played with the menace that was confronting her now.
A breath that was like a sob broke from her lips.
“M’sieu!” she tried to say. But it was only a gasp—an effort.
Plainly she heard the click of the iron bolt as it locked the door. McTaggart advanced a step.