Her golden voice, sweet with its sliding minors, was in his ears, the sweetness of her lips on his.
“A stone to your foot, Ma’amselle,” he whispered, as the darkness broke and the stars began to dance on a sky of blood-red fire; “serve you with my life,—no better fate,—oh, I love you! I—a stone to your foot,—Ma’amselle!”
And at that moment Maren Le Moyne, straining every muscle of her young body to save the man she loved, looked swiftly back, having left the defile to stagger, stumbling, southward to where Mowbray’s men waited with the canoe.
She saw the sudden flaming of the torch, the slim, boyish figure in its buckskins, the ring of faces, and the flash of weapons; saw the forms close in and the slim boy go down like a reed in the winter storm, and a cry broke from her lips as De Courtenay’s rifle began to sound in the gorge.
With tears on her cheeks and her face drawn hard, she raised her head and gave a panther’s far-off call.
CHAPTER XXV ANSWERED PRAYERS
Out of the forest at the signal came running Alloybeau and McDonald and Frith, alert, ready for anything, wondering beyond wonder at the call that meant deliverance. Not one of them had thought to see again this strange, intrepid woman who pierced the forbidden places and wound men like Mr. Mowbray around her fingers. It would have been a toss-up for men to attempt what she had done.
She was coming to the canoe, and she was victorious. Yet they knew that death was up and at her heels, from the sound of the shots.
The big canoe was in the water, the men were ready, paddle in hand, with Wilson knee-deep in the stream ready to push off, when along the reach of shore there came that sorry ending to the gallant venture,— Ridgar and the girl, staggering, stumbling, trying to make what haste they could, with swinging roughly between them the apparently lifeless body of the factor of Fort de Seviere.
Breathless and exhausted they reached the boat. Brilliers and Wilson reached for their burden, threw it into the bottom, and hauled Maren on her knees among the thwarts.
There was a shove, a word, a dip of the paddles, and the canoe shot out to the deeper waters, and none aboard her saw the form of Edmonton Ridgar draw back into the shelter of tangled vines on shore.
“Give me a blade!”
From the rocking bottom Maren was reaching for a paddle, got it, thrust by some one into her hands, and was cleaving water with the best of them, deep stroke after deep stroke, the rush and suck of the eddy in her ears.
In the cold blue darkness the stream whispered and warned like some old witch at her cauldron, the night was clammy, and behind the new fires flared against the towering trees.
A babble of voices told of pursuit,—shouts and gutturals that strung out from the camp all through the gorge and were beginning to flow with the river.