James Oliver Curwood.

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necessary, and carry her to my ship. Isn't that better and safer and
just as sure as murder?"

The excitement had gone out of Neil's face. The flush slowly faded from
his cheeks and in his eyes there gleamed something besides the
malevolence of a few moments before. As Nathaniel stepped back from him
half laughing and puffing clouds of smoke from his pipe Marion's brother
thrust his hands into his pockets with an exclamation that forcefully
expressed his appreciation of Captain Plum's scheme.

"I never thought of that," he added, after a moment. "By Heaven, it will
be easy - "

"So easy that I tell you again I am ashamed of you for not having
thought of it!" cried Nathaniel. "The first thing is to get safely
aboard my ship."

"We can do that within an hour."

"And to-night - where will we find Marion?"

"At home," said Neil. "We live near Obadiah. You must have seen the
house as you came out into the clearing this morning from the forest."

Nathaniel smiled as he thought of his suspicions of the old councilor.

"It couldn't be better situated for our work," he said. "Does the forest
run down to the lake on Obadiah's side of the island?"

"Clear to the beach."

Neil's face betrayed a sudden flash of doubt.

"I believe that our place has been watched for some time," he explained.
"I am sure that it is especially guarded at night and that no person
leaves or enters it without the knowledge of Strang. I am certain that
Marion is aware of this surveillance although she professes to be wholly
ignorant of it. It may cause us trouble."

"Can you reach the house without being observed?"

"After midnight - yes."

"Then there is no cause for alarm," declared Nathaniel. "If necessary I
can bring ten men into the edge of the woods. Two can approach the house
as quietly as one and I will go with you. Once there you can tell Marion
that your life depends on her accompanying you to Obadiah's. I believe
she will go. If she won't - " He stretched out his arms as if in
anticipation of the burden they might hold. "If she won't - I'll help you
carry her!"

"And meanwhile," said Neil, "Arbor Croche's men - "

"Will be as dead as herring floaters if they show up!" he cried, leaping
two feet off the ground in his enthusiasm. "I've got twelve of the
damnedest fighters aboard my ship that ever lived and ten of them will
be in the edge of the woods!"

Neil's eyes were shining with something that made Nathaniel turn his own
to the loading of his pipe.

"Captain Plum, I hope I will be able to repay you for this," he said.
There was a trembling break in his voice and for a moment Nathaniel did
not look up. His own heart was near bursting with the new life that
throbbed within it. When he raised his eyes to his companion's face
again there was a light in them that spoke almost as plainly as words.

"You haven't accepted my price, yet, Neil," he replied quietly. "I asked
you if you'd - be - a sort of brother - "

Neil sprang to his side with a fervor that knocked the pipe out of his
hand.

"I swear that! And if Marion doesn't - "

Suddenly he jerked himself into a listening attitude.

"Hark!"

For a moment the two ceased to breathe. The sound had come to them both,
low, distant. After it there fell a brief hush. Then again, as they
stared questioningly into each other's eyes, it rolled faintly into the
swamp - the deep, far baying of a hound.

"Ah!" exclaimed Neil, drawing back with a deep breath. "I thought they
would do it!"

"The bloodhounds!"

Horror, not fear, sent an involuntary shiver through Nathaniel.

"They can't reach us!" assured Neil. There was the glitter of triumph in
his eyes. "This was to have been my way of escape after I killed Strang.
A quarter of a mile deeper in the swamp I have a canoe." He picked up
the gun and box and began forcing his way through the dense alder along
the edge of the stream. "I'd like to stay and murder those dogs," he
called back, "but it wouldn't be policy."

For a time the crashing of their bodies through the dense growth of the
swamp drowned all other sound. Five minutes later Neil stopped on the
edge of a wide bog. The hounds were giving fierce tongue in the forest
on their left and their nearness sent Nathaniel's hand to his pistol.
Neil saw the movement and laughed.

"Don't like the sound, eh?" he said. "We get used to it on Beaver
Island. They're just about at the place where they tore little Jim
Schredder to pieces a few weeks back. Schredder tried to kill one of the
elders for stealing his wife while he was away on a night's fishing
trip."

He plunged to his knees in the bog.

"They caught him just before he reached the swamp," he flung back over
his shoulder. "Two minutes more and he would have been safe."

Nathaniel, sinking to his knees in the mire, forged up beside him.

"Lord!" he exclaimed, as a breath of air brought a sudden burst of
blood-curdling cries to them. "If they'd loosed them on us sooner - "

He shivered at the terrible grimace Neil turned on him.

"Had they slipped the leashes when we escaped, we would have been with
poor Schredder now, Captain Plum. By the way - " he stopped a moment to
wipe the water and mud from his face, " - three days after they covered
Schredder's bones with muck out there, the elder took Schredder's wife!
She was too pretty for a fisherman." He started on, but halted suddenly
with uplifted hand. No longer could they hear the baying of the dogs.
"They've struck the creek!" said Neil. "Listen!"

After an interval of silence there came a long mournful howl.

"Treed - treed or in the water, that's what the howling means. How
Croche and his devils are hustling now!"

A curse was mingled with Neil's breath as he forced his way through the
bog. Twenty rods farther on they came to a slime covered bit of water on
which was floating a dugout canoe. Immense relief replaced the anxiety
in Nathaniel's face as he climbed into it. At that moment he was willing
to fight a hundred men for Marion's sake, but snakes and bogs and
bloodhounds were entirely outside his pale of argument and he exhibited
no hesitation in betraying this fact to his companion. For a quarter of
a mile Neil forced the dugout through water viscid with slime and rotted
substance before the clearer channel of the creek was reached. As they
progressed the stream constantly became deeper and more navigable until
it finally began to show signs of a current and a little later, under
the powerful impetus of Neil's paddle, the canoe shot from between the
dense shores into the open lake. A mile away Nathaniel discerned the
point of forest beyond which the _Typhoon_ was hidden. He pointed out
the location of the ship to his companion.

"You are sure there is a small boat waiting for you on the point?" asked
Neil.

"Yes, since early morning."

Neil was absorbed in thought for some time as he drove the canoe through
the tall rice grass that grew thick along the edge of the shore.

"How would it be if I landed you on the point and met you to-night at
Obadiah's?" he asked suddenly. "It is probable that after we get Marion
aboard your ship I will not return to the island again, and it is quite
necessary that I run down the coast for a couple of miles - for - " He did
not finish his reason, but added: "I can make the whole distance in this
rice so there is no danger of being seen. Or you might lie off the point
yonder and I would join you early this evening."

"That would be a better plan if we must separate," said Nathaniel, whose
voice betrayed the reluctance with which he assented to the project. He
had guessed shrewdly at Neil's motive. "Is it possible that we may have
another young lady passenger?" he asked banteringly.

There was no answering humor to this in Neil's eyes.

"I wish we might!" he said quietly.

"We can!" exclaimed Nathaniel. "My ship - "

"It is impossible. I am speaking of Winnsome. Arbor Croche's house is in
the heart of the town and guarded by dogs. I doubt if she would go,
anyway. She has always been like a little sister to Marion and me and
she has come to believe - something - as we do. I hate to leave her."

"Obadiah told me about her mother," ventured Nathaniel. "He said that
some day Winnsome will be a queen."

"I knew her mother," replied Neil, as though he had not heard
Nathaniel's last words. He looked frankly into the other's face. "I
worshipped her!"

"Oh-h-h!"

"From a distance," he hastened. "She was as pure as Winnsome is now.
Little Winn looks like her. Some day she will be as beautiful."

"She is beautiful now."

"But she is a mere child. Why, it seems only a year ago that I was
toting her about on my shoulders! And - by George, that was a year before
her mother died! She is sixteen now."

Nathaniel laughed softly.

"To-morrow she will be making love, Neil, and before you know it she
will be married and have a family of her own. I tell you she is a
woman - and if you are not a fool you will take her away with Marion."

With a powerful stroke of his paddle Neil brought the canoe in to the
shore.

"There!" he whispered. "You have only to cross this point to reach your
boat." He stretched out his long arm and in the silence the two shook
hands. "If you should happen to think of a way - that we might get
Winnsome - " he added, coloring.

The sudden grip of his companion's fingers made him flinch.

"We must!" said Nathaniel.

He climbed ashore and watched Neil until he had disappeared in the wild
rice. Then he turned into the woods. He looked at his watch and saw that
it was only two o'clock. He was conscious of no fatigue; he was not
conscious of hunger. To him the whole world had suddenly opened with
glorious promise and in the still depths of the forest he felt like
singing out his rejoicing. He had never stopped to ask himself what
might be the end of this passion that had overwhelmed him; he lived only
in the present, in the knowledge that Marion was not a wife, and that it
was he whom fate had chosen for her deliverance. He reasoned nothing
beyond the sweet eyes that had called upon him, that had burned their
gratitude, their hope and their despair upon his soul; nothing beyond
the thought that she would soon be free from the mysterious influence of
the Mormon king and that for days and nights after that she would be on
the same ship with him. He had emptied the pockets of the coat he had
given Neil and now he brought forth the old letter which Obadiah had
rescued from the sands. He read it over again as he sat for a few
moments in the cool of the forest and there was no trouble in his face
now. It was from a girl. He had known that girl, years ago, as Neil knew
Winnsome; in years of wandering he had almost forgotten her - until this
letter came. It had brought many memories back to him with shocking
clearness. The old folk were still in the little home under the hill;
they received his letters; they received the money he sent them each
month - but they wanted _him_. The girl wrote with merciless candor. He
had been away four years and it was time for him to return. She told
him why. She wrote what they, in their loving fear of inflicting pain,
would never have dared to say. At the end, in a postscript, she had
asked for his congratulations on her approaching marriage.

To Nathaniel this letter had been a torment. He saw the truth as he had
never seen it before - that his place was back there in Vermont, with his
father and mother; and that there was something unpleasant in thinking
of the girl as belonging to another. But now matters had changed. The
letter was a hope and inspiration to him and he smoothed it out with
tender care. What a refuge that little home among the Vermont hills
would make for Marion! He trembled at the thought and his heart sang
with the promise of it as he went his way again through the thick growth
of the woods.

It was half an hour before he came out upon the beach. Eagerly he
scanned the sea. The _Typhoon_ was nowhere in sight and for an instant
the gladness that had been in his heart gave place to a chilling fear.
But the direction of the wind reassured him. Casey had probably moved
beyond the jutting promontory, that swung in the form of a cart wheel
from the base of the point, that he might have sea room in case of
something worse than a stiff breeze. But where was the small boat? With
every step adding to his anxiety Nathaniel hurried along the narrow rim
of beach. He went to the very tip of the point which reached out like
the white forefinger of, a lady's hand into the sea; he passed the spot
where he had lain concealed the preceding day; his breath came faster
and faster; he ran, and called softly, and at last halted in the arch of
the cart wheel with the fear full-flaming in his breast. Over all those
miles of sea there was no sign of the sloop. From end to end of the
point there was no boat. What did it mean? Breathlessly he tore his way
through the strip of forest on the promontory until all Lake Michigan
to the south lay before his eyes. The _Typhoon_ was gone! Was it
possible that Casey had abandoned hope of Nathaniel's return and was
already lying off St. James with shotted gun? The thought sent a shiver
of despair through him. He passed to the opposite side of the point and
followed it foot by foot, but there was no sign of life, no distant
flash of white that might have been the canvas of the sloop _Typhoon_.

There was only one thing for him to do - wait. So he went to his
hiding-place of the day before and watched the sea with staring eyes. An
hour passed and his still aching vision saw no sign of sail; two
hours - and the sun was falling in a blinding glare over the Wisconsin
wilderness. At last he sprang to his feet with a hopeless cry and stood
for a few moments undecided. Should he wait until night with the hope of
attracting the attention of Neil and joining him in his canoe or should
he hasten in the direction of St. James? In the darkness he might miss
Neil, unless he kept up a constant shouting, which would probably bring
the Mormons down upon him; if he went to St. James there was a
possibility of reaching Casey. He still had faith in Obadiah and he was
sure that the old man would help him to reach his ship; he might even
assist him in his scheme of getting Marion from the island.

He would go to the councilor's. Having once decided, Nathaniel turned in
the direction of the town, avoiding the use of the path which he and
Obadiah had taken, but following in the forest near enough to use it as
a guide. He was confident that Arbor Croche and his sheriffs were
confining their man-hunt to the swamp, but in spite of this belief he
exercised extreme caution, stopping to listen now and then, with one
hand always near his pistol. A quiet gloom filled the forest and by the
tree-tops he marked the going down of the sun. Nathaniel's ears ached
with their strain of listening for the rumbling roar that would tell of
Casey's attack on St. James.

Suddenly he heard a crackling in the underbrush ahead of him, a sound
that came not from the strain of listening for the rumbling roar and in
a moment he had dodged into the concealment of the huge roots of an
overturned tree, drawn pistol in hand. Whatever object was approaching
came slowly, as if hesitating at each step - a cautious, stealthy
advance, it struck Nathaniel, and he cocked his weapon. Directly in
front of him, half a stone's throw away, was a dense growth of hazel and
he could see the tops of the slender bushes swaying. Twice this movement
ceased and the second time there came a crashing of brush and a faint
cry. For many minutes after that there was absolute silence. Was it the
cry of an animal that he had heard - or of a man? In either case the
creature who made it had fallen in the thicket and was lying there as
still as if dead. For a quarter of an hour Nathaniel waited and
listened. He could no longer have seen the movement of bushes in the
gathering night-gloom of the forest but his ears were strained to catch
the slightest sound from the direction of the mysterious thing that lay
within less than a dozen rods of him. Slowly he drew himself out from
the shelter of the roots and advanced step by step. Half way to the
thicket a stick cracked loudly under his foot and as the sound startled
the dead quiet of the forest with pistol-shot clearness there came
another cry from the dense hazel, a cry which was neither that of man
nor animal but of a woman; and with an answering shout Nathaniel sprang
forward to meet there in the edge of the thicket the white face and
outstretched arms of Marion. The girl was swaying on her feet. In her
face there was a pallor that even in his instant's glance sent a chill
of horror through the man and as she staggered toward him, half falling,
her lips weakly forming his name Nathaniel leaped to her and caught her
close in his arms. In that moment something seemed to burst within him
and flood his veins with fire. Closer he held the girl, and heavier he
knew that she was becoming in his arms. Her head was upon his breast,
his face was crushed in her hair, he felt her throbbing and breathing
against him and his lips quivered with the words that were bursting for
freedom in his soul. But first there came the girl's own whispered
breath - "Neil - where is Neil?"

"He is gone - gone from the island!"

She had become a dead weight now and so he knelt on the ground with her,
her head still upon his breast, her eyes closed, her arms fallen to her
side. And as Nathaniel looked into the face from which all life seemed
to have fled he forgot everything but the joy of this moment - forgot all
in life but this woman against his breast. He kissed her soft mouth and
the closed eyes until the eyes themselves opened again and gazed at him
in a startled, half understanding way, until he drew his head far back
with the shame of what he had dared to do flaming in his face.

And as for another moment he held her thus, feeling the quivering life
returning in her, there came to him through that vast forest stillness
the distant deep-toned thunder of a great gun.

"That's Casey!" he whispered close down to the girl's face. His voice
was almost sobbing in its happiness. "That's Casey - firing on St.
James!"




CHAPTER VII

THE HOUR OF VENGEANCE


For perhaps twenty seconds after the last echoes of the gun had rolled
through the forest the girl lay passive in Nathaniel's arms, so close
that he could feel her heart beating against his own and her breath
sweeping his face. Then there came a pressure against his breast, a
gentle resistance of Marion's half conscious form, and when she had
awakened from her partial swoon he was holding her in the crook of his
arm. It had all passed quickly, the girl had rested against him only so
long as he might have held half a dozen breaths and yet there had been
all of a lifetime in it for Nathaniel Plum, a cycle of joy that he knew
would remain with him for ever. But there was something bitter-sweet in
the thought that she was conscious of what he had done, something of
humiliation as well as gladness, and still not enough of the first to
make him regret that he had kissed her, that he had kissed her mouth and
her eyes. He loved her, and he was glad that in those passing moments he
had betrayed himself. For the first time he noticed that her face was
scratched and that the sleeves of her thin waist were torn to shreds;
and as she drew away from him, steadying herself with a hand on his arm,
his lips were parched of words, and yet he leaned to her eagerly,
everything that he would have said burning in the love of his eyes.
Still irresolute in her faintness the girl smiled at him, and in that
smile there was gentle accusation, the sweetness of forgiveness, and
measureless gratitude, and it was yet light enough for him to see that
with these there had come also a flush into her cheeks and a dazzling
glow into her eyes.

"Neil has escaped!" she breathed. "And you - "

"I was going back to you, Marion!" He spoke the words hardly above a
whisper. The beautiful eyes so close to him drew his secret from him
before he had thought. "I am going to take you from the island!"

With his words there came again that sound of a great gun rolling from
the direction of St. James. With a frightened cry the girl staggered to
her feet, and as she stood swaying unsteadily, her arms half reached to
him, Nathaniel saw only mortal dread in the whiteness of her face.

"Why didn't you go? Why didn't you go with Neil?" she moaned. Her breath
was coming in sobbing excitement. "Your ship is - at - St. James!"

"Yes, my ship is at St. James, Marion!" His voice was tremulous with
triumph, with gladness, with a tenderness which he could not control. He
put an arm half round her waist to support her trembling form and to his
joy she did not move away from him. His hand was buried in the richness
of her loose hair. He bent until his lips touched her silken tresses.
"Neil has told me everything - about you," he added softly. "My ship is
bombarding St. James, and I am going to take you from the island!"

Not until then did Marion free herself from his arm and then so gently
that when she stood facing him he felt no reproof. No longer did shame
send a flush into his face. He had spoken his love, though not in words,
and he knew that the girl understood him. It did not occur to him in
these moments that he had known this girl for only a few hours, that
until now a word had never passed between them. He was conscious only
that he had loved her from the time he saw her through the king's
window, that he had risked his life for her, and that she knew why he
had leaped into the arena at the whipping-post.

The words she spoke now came like a dash of cold water in his face.

"Your ship is not bombarding St. James, Captain Plum!" she exclaimed.
Darkness hid the terror in her face but he could hear the tremble of it
in her voice. "The _Typhoon_ has been captured by the Mormons and those
guns are - guns of triumph - and not - " She caught her breath in a
convulsive sob. "I want you to go - I want you to go - with Neil!" she
pleaded.

"So Casey is taken!"

He spoke slowly, as if he had not heard her last words. For a moment he
stood silent, and as silently the girl stood and watched him. She
guessed the despair that was raging in his heart but when he spoke to
her she could detect none of it in his voice.

"Casey is a fool," he said, unconsciously repeating Obadiah's words.
"Marion, will you come with me? Will you leave the island - and join your
brother?"

The hope that had risen in his heart was crushed as Marion drew farther
away from him.

"You must go alone," she replied. With a powerful effort she steadied
her voice. "Tell Neil that he has been condemned to death. Tell him
that - if he loves me - he will not return to the island."

"And I?"

From her distance she saw his arms stretched like shadows toward her.

"And you - "

Her voice was low, so low that he could hardly hear the words she spoke,
but its sweetness thrilled him.

"And you - if you love me - will do this thing for me. Go to Neil. Save
his life for me!"

She had come to him through the gloom, and in the luster of the eyes
that were turned up to him Nathaniel saw again the power that swayed his
soul.

"You will go?"

"I will save your brother - if I can!"

"You can - you can - " she breathed. In an ecstasy of gratitude she seized
one of his hands in both her own. "You can save him!"

"For you - I will try."

"For me - "

She was so close that he could feel the throbbing of her bosom. Suddenly
he lifted his free hand and brushed back the thick hair from her brow
and turned her face until what dim light there still remained of the day
glowed in the beauty of her eyes. "I will keep him from the island if I
can," he said, looking deep into them, "and as there is a God in Heaven
I swear that you - "

"What?" she urged, as he hesitated.

"That you shall not marry Strang!" he finished.

A cry welled up in the girl's throat. Was it of gladness? Was it of
hope? She sprang back a pace from Nathaniel and with clenched hands
waited breathlessly, as if she expected him to say more.

"No - no - you can not save me from Strang! Now - you must go!"

She retreated slowly in the direction of the path. In an instant
Nathaniel was at her side.

"I am going to see you safely back in St. James," he declared. "Then I
will go to your brother."

She barred his way defiantly.

"You can not go!"

"Why?"

"Because - " He caught the frightened flutter of her voice again.
"Because - they will kill you!"



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