“We are none too soon,” she said tensely; “tonight it must end. Go you around to the east, M’sieu, between the camp and the river. Look for the lodge of the dead chief, for there will be the trader, Ridgar. Look for him and read his face,—whether or no he will help us. I will skirt to the north.”
“I—Ma’amselle! Stay far from their sight, for love of Heaven!”
“Sh! Go, my friend;” and Maren turned into the darkness.
“Mary Mother, now do thou befriend!” she whispered, as she felt her way forward. With touch of tree trunk and slipping moccasin, lithe bend and sway and turning, as sure in the forest as any savage, this Maid of the Trail took into her hands the saving of a man. It was simple. Wit must play the greater part, wit that invades a sleeping camp, risks its life, and laughs at its victory. So would she work in the late hours when revelry had worked its own undoing. Now she would learn the camp and the safest side of it, the place of the captives and a way of escape. With thought and eager plan she pushed from her mind the look of McElroy’s body.
In the darkness she stopped with inheld breath. Her groping foot had touched an object, a soft object that stirred and rolled over on its side and presently sat up. So near it was that she could feel the movements of its garments, which fact told her it was human.
Then, without warning, a hand shot out and caught her knee in a grip of steel. With all her strength the girl tore away, leaping backward. But a tangle of vines snatched at her foot and she fell crashing forward with a figure prone upon her, and in the darkness she fought silently for life.
As in the camp of the Nakonkirhirinons the thin veneer had slipped away, so now in the forest its heavier counterpart fell from this woman and she turned savage as the thing with which she fought.
Of superb stature and strength, she was a match for the man, and two pairs of hands searched for a throat, two bodies strained and struggled for the mastery. It seemed that the noise of the conflict, the snapping of dry dead wood, the swish and crash of leafy brush, must draw attention from the camp, but it was too engrossed in its own mad hilarity to heed so small a sound.
Over and over strained the strangely-met foes in silence, and presently they struggled up, barehanded, face to face, for Maren had dropped her rifle when she fell. As they whirled into a more open space the light from the fire struck through the foliage and glistened on a tuft of white hair on the swarthy temple before her.
“Hola! DesCaut!” gasped the girl.
“Oho! I win!”
For, with the sudden illumination, she forgot for a moment the present and DesCaut; for it was the turncoat awaked from a drunken sleep apart, who pushed swiftly forward, took the moment’s advantage of her hesitation, and pinioned her arms to her sides.