“Hurry, M’sieu!” she cried; “they have awakened!”
“Hi! Hi! Hi-a! He-a! Hi!”
Danger was waking in the camp behind, first with one sharp cry, then another and another, until throat after throat took up the sound and the yapping turned into a roar.
They were but half-way through the narrow gorge. The two men broke into a stumbling run. Ridgar was going backwards, half-turned to see ahead, and suddenly his foot struck a loose pebble and he fell headlong. De Courtenay stumbled, and in the scramble to right themselves they lost more time than they could spare. Before they were up and started, a shrill voice came into the gorge, yelling its “Hi! Hi! Hi-a!”
De Courtenay suddenly stopped.
“’Tis useless!” he said breathlessly; “We’ll never make it! Here,—do you take my place, Ma’amselle!”
He caught Maren’s shoulder and pushed her forward.
“Take his knees,—so! You are strong,—give me the rifle. Make haste, Ridgar,—Ma’amselle!”
He bowed in the darkness.
“The last turn of the wheel, Ma’amselle,—and I take the plunge alone. All in the day’s march!”
With the last words he turned back to face the way they had come, shook his long curls back across his shoulder, and lifted the rifle to his cheek.
The footsteps of Ridgar and Maren were echoing down the rocky gap.
It had been a promising escape, a neat plan well carried out, and there was but one thing lacking to its fulfilment,—another step to pace the deserted lodge of captives.
Across in the darkness among the Bois-Brules one ear had lain close to the tell-tale earth, one evil face peered unsleeping among the dusky shapes of the camp, a swarthy face with a white lock on its temple.
Keener than all the rest, Bois DesCaut, driven by personal hate, listened to all the sounds of night.
And he had heard a changing in the steps that passed and repassed, that separated and came together, before that lodge across the sleeping mob,—a change, a little silence, and then the steps again that presently thinned to one,—one step that paced evenly, with a measured tread, a moccasined step like that of an Indian, yet somehow alien in its firmness and swing.
One step where there should have been two,—and the half-breed trapper raised himself and gave the first “Hi! Hi!”
Like startled wolves they were up all around him in a moment and down on that empty tepee with its one sentry!
A torch flared redly with the sudden revealing of a slim youth in buckskins and two Nakonkirhirinon warriors deep in the Great Sleep.
What was there for Marc Dupre in that moment of roused fury,—that tense moment of awaking rage, of baffled rights of payment?
What but death too swift and unrestrained for torture?
A dozen weapons reached him from as many crowding hands and he went down on the last earth her feet had trod, the spot where she had last touched his hand.