They grappled and fought, alone and unseen, and yet it was no fight, for Runnion, though a vigorous, heavy-muscled man, was beaten down, smothered, and crushed beneath the onslaught of this great naked fellow, who all the time sobbed and whined and mewed in a panting fury.
I help you get feex." Runnion shrank from his proffered assistance half fearfully, but, reassured, allowed the Frenchman to help him towards the shore. "We tell it de first boat 'bout you, an' dey pick you up. You wait here, Necia."
They rounded a bend where the left bank crumbled before the untiring teeth of the river, forming a bristling chevaux-de-frise of leaning, fallen firs awash in the current. The short side of the curve, the one nearest them, protected a gravel bar that made down-stream to a dagger-like point, and towards this Runnion propelled the skiff. The girl's heart sank and she felt her limbs grow cold.
"I? What do you mean?" "I double-crossed you, Stark, nobody else." The Kentuckian glared at him with a look like that which Runnion had seen in his face on that first day at the trading-post. The thought of these five men banded together to rob this little maid had caused a giddiness to rise up in him, and his passions were beginning to whirl and dance.
He or Runnion, or both of them, had broken Lee's oath of secrecy even before leaving camp, which accounted for the presence of these thugs; and now, as he revolved the situation rapidly in his mind, the soldier looked up at a sudden thought.
Just to show you how I stand, I've put Runnion on guard over my pile of stuff, and I'll be glad when it's under cover. It isn't the severity of punishment that keeps a man from going wrong, it's the certainty of it."
Runnion snarled angrily and thrust her away, for he had waited till the canoe was close. "Let me go, you devil!" he cried, and aimed again; but again she ran at him. This time, however, she did not pit her strength against his, but paused, and as he undertook to fire she thrust at his elbow, then dodged out of his way. Her blow was crafty and well-timed, and his shot went wild.
She recalled the old Corporal's words of a few weeks ago, and her conversation with Stark came back to her. What if it were true that which Runnion implied? What if he did not intend to ask her, after all? What if he had only been amusing himself? She cried out sharply at this, and when Doret staggered in beneath a great load of skins he found her in a strange excitement.
She started to run down the gravelled ridge behind her enemy, not realizing the value or moment of her action, nor knowing clearly what she would do; but as she drew near she saw Runnion raise his gun again, and, without thought of her own safety, threw herself upon him Again his shot went wide as he strove to hurl her off, but his former taste of her strength was nothing to this, now that she fought for Poleon's life.
As the two came up past him he saw that he was mistaken this man was no more of a tenderfoot than Runnion; on the contrary, he had the bearing of one to whom new countries are old, who had trod the edge of things all his life.