The Maid of the Whispering Hills
by Vingie E. Roe
Who Has Been My Constant Help
Who Was Proud Of Me
My Little Brother,
These Two Long Asleep On The Hill At Carney—
This Book Is Lovingly Inscribed
V. E. R.
CHAPTER I THE
CHAPTER II THE
CHAPTER III NEW
CHAPTER IV THE
CHAPTER IX GOLD
CHAPTER X THE
LEAVEN AT WORK
CHAPTER XII THE
CHAPTER XIII "A
SKIN FOR A SKIN"
CHAPTER XV LONG
CHAPTER XVII THE
CHAPTER XVIII "I
AM A STONE TO
CHAPTER XIX THE
CHAPTER XX THE
WOLF AND THE
THE PAINTED POST
CHAPTER XXIV THE
STONE TO THE
FOOT OF LOVE
THE OLD DREAM
CHAPTER XXX THE
LAND OF THE
CHAPTER I THE VENTURERS
"Mercy!" shrieked little Francette, her red-rose face aghast, "he
will begin before I can bring the help!"
Like a flash of flame the maid in her crimson skirt shot up the
main way of Fort de Seviere to where the factory lay asleep in the
warm spring sun.
On its log step, pipe in mouth, young Anders McElroy leaned against
the jamb and looked smilingly out upon his settlement. Peace lay
softly upon it, from the waters of the small stream to the east where
nine canoes lay bottom up upon the pebbly shore, to the great dark
wall of the forest shouldering near on three sides. To him ran little
Francette, light on her moccasined feet as the wind in the tender
pine- tops, her eloquent small hands outstretched and clutching at his
None other in all the post would have dared as much, for this
smiling young man with the blue eyes was the Law at Fort de Seviere,
factor of the Company and governor of the handful of humanity lost in
the vast region of the Assiniboine. But to Francette he was Power and
Help, and she thought of naught else, as it is not likely she would
have done even at another time.
"Oh, M'sieu!" she cried, gasping from her run, "come at once beyond
the great gate! Bois DesCaut,—Oh, brute of the world!—whips that
great grey husky leader of his team, because it did but snap at his
heel beneath an idle prod! Hasten, M'sieu! He drags it, glaring, along
the shore to where lie those clubs brought for the kettles!"
In the dark eyes upraised to him there swam a mist of tears and the
heart of the little maid tore at her breast in anguish.
The smile slipped swiftly from the factor's face, leaving it grave.
"Where, little one?" he asked.
"Beyond the palisade. But hurry, M'sieu,—for the love of God!"
At the great gate in the eastern wall he paused and looked either
way. To the southward all was peaceful. An aged Indian of the
Assiniboines squatted at the water's edge mending the broken bottom of
a skin canoe, and two voyageurs, gay in the matter of sash and crimson
cap, lay lazily beneath a drowsing tree.
To the northward there flashed into McElroy's vision one of those
pictures a man sees but few times and never forgets, a picture
startling in its clear-cut strength.
Against the mellow background of the weather-beaten stockade that
surrounded the post there stood two figures, a man and a woman, and
between the two there crouched with snarling lips and flaming eyes a
huge grey dog.
Tall he was, that man, tall and broad of shoulder, but the head of
the woman, shining like blue-black satin in the morning sun, was level
with his brows.
She leaned a trifle forward and her eyes held fast to his passion-
flooded face. It was evident that she had but just reached the spot
from the fact that the club, arrested in its upward swing, still was
poised in the air.
They faced each other and the factor stopped in his tracks.
"Quick, M'sieu!" begged Francette at his side, but he put out a
commanding hand and ceased to breathe.
"Hold!" said the tall young woman at last, and her voice cut cold
and clear in the sun-filled morning. "No more! You have whipped the
The red face of the trapper flamed into purple and his lips opened
for an oath. Quick as the heat lightning that flutters on the waters
of Winipigoos in the hot summers the cruel club came down. McElroy
heard its dull impact, and the husky crumpled like a broken reed.
With stern face the factor started forward, while the little maid
covered her pretty eyes and whimpered.
But quicker than his stride retribution leaped to meet DesCaut.
He saw the woman's arm shoot out and her strong hand, smooth and
tawny as finest tanned buckskin, double itself hard and leap in where
the jaw turns downward into the curve of the throat.
The stroke of a man it was, clean and sharp and well delivered, and
DesCaut, catching his heel on a buried stone's sharp jut, went
backward with his head in the young grass of the sloping shore.
For a moment she stood as it had left her, leaning forward, and
there was a shine of satisfaction in her eyes.
Then as the man essayed to rise there was a mighty laughter from
the two youths on the river bank and the spell was broken.
McElroy went forward.
"DesCaut," he said sharply, and his words cut like the lash of the
long dog-whips, "you deserves death but you have been beaten by a
woman. Go, and boast of your strength. It is sufficient."
DesCaut stood a moment swaying drunkenly with the force of passion
within him, his lips snarling back from his teeth and his eyes
measuring the factor unsteadily then he snatched off the little cap he
wore and hurled it at him.
Turning on his heel he swung down toward the gate and the two
voyageurs now standing and still laughing merrily.
One look at his bloodshot eyes sobered their mirth, and Pierre
Garcon reached involuntarily for the knife in his sash.
But Bois DesCaut, savage to silence, swung past them into the fort.
McElroy watched him until he disappeared, fearing he knew not what.
Then he faced the little scene again.
Down on her knees little Francette had lifted the heavy head with
its dull eyes and pitiful hanging tongue, lifted it to her breast,
weeping and smoothing the short ears deaf to her soft words, and sat
rocking to and fro in an ecstasy of grief. Beyond SHE stood, that tall
woman, stood silent and frowning, looking down upon the two, and the
factor saw with a strange thrill that the hand, yet doubled, was
flecked with blood.
"Ma'amselle," he said, "is of the new people who arrived last night
from Portage la Prairie?"
Then they were lifted for the first time to his face, those dark
eyes smouldering like banked fires, and he saw their marvellous
"Of a surety," she said slowly, and there was a subtle tone in her
deep-throated voice that made the blood stir vaguely within the
factor's veins, "does M'sieu have so many strangers passing through
his gates that he is at loss to place each one?"
And with that word she turned deliberately away, walked down toward
the gate, and entered the stockade.
McElroy watched her go, until the last glint of her sober dress,
plain and clinging easily to the magnificent shoulders that swung
slightly with her free walk, had passed from view. And not alone he,
for the two voyageurs alike gazed after her, this new-comer from the
farther ways of civilisation who dared the brute DesCaut and struck
like a man.
Then the factor bent above the little Francette.
"Sh!" he said gently, "little one, let go. The dog is dead, poor
beast. Come away."
But the maid would not give up the battered body, and with the
audacity of her beauty and life-long spoiling, besought the young
factor for help.
"There is yet life, M'sieu. See! The breath lifts in his sides. Is
there naught to be done when one sleeps, so? He is so strong at the
sledges and he did not whimper,—no, not once,—when DesCaut was
beating him to death. Is there nothing, M'sieu?"
Very pretty she was in her pleading, the little Francette, with her
misty eyes and the frank tears on her cheeks; and McElroy went to the
river and filled his cap with water. This he poured into the open jaws
and sopped over the blood-clotted head, wetting the limp feet and
watching for the life she so bravely proclaimed.
And presently it was there, twitching a battered muscle; lifting
the side with its broken ribs, fluttering the lids over the fierce
eyes; for this was Loup, the fiercest husky this side of the
With pity McElroy gathered up the great dog, staggering under the
load, for it was that of a big-framed man, and entered the post, the
little maid at has side. Near the gate a running crowd met them, for
the tale had spread apace and wondering eyes looked on.
Down to the southern wall where lived the family of Francette they
went, and the factor laid Loup in the shade of the cabin.
"If he lives, little one, he shall be yours," said he, "for he is
worth a tender hand. We'll try its power."
And as he turned away he caught a glimpse of the tall stranger
looking at them from a distance.
Small it was and crowded, this little trading post of the great
Hudson's Bay Company in that year of 1796, and a goodly stream of
beaver found its way through it to the mighty outside world.
Squatted alone on the shores of the Assiniboine, shouldering back
the wilderness with the spirit of the conqueror, it faced the rising
sun with its square stockade, strong and well built, log by log, its
great, brass-studded gate in the eastern centre, its four bastions
rising at its corners.
Here was a little world of itself, a small community of voyageurs,
trappers, coureurs du bois, and a11 those that cast their lot in the
Adventurers from the Old World often passed through it on their way
to the farther west, lured by the tales of dreamers who spoke of the
Northwest Passage and the world that opened beyond the setting sun;
renegades of the lakes and forest came for and found its ready
hospitality, and into it came at all seasons those Indians whose skill
and cunning accounted for so much of that great fur trade which made
for wealth in the distant cities beyond the eastern sea.
Too small for a council, it gave allegiance wholly to its factor,
young Anders McElroy, at whose right hand for sage advice and honest
friendship stood that most admirable of men, Edmonton Ridgar, chief
trader and anything else from accountant to armourer. Beneath them and
in good command were some thirty able men whose families lived in the
neat log cabins within the stockade.
With its back to the western wall there stood in the centre the
factory itself, a good log building of somewhat spacious size; its big
room, divided by a breast-high solid railing, with a small gate in the
middle, serving as office and general receiving-place. Beyond the
railing, in the smaller space toward the north, there stood the great
wooden desk of the factor, its massive book of accounts always open on
its face, its hand-made drawers filled with the documents of the
Company. Here McElroy was wont to take account of the furs brought in,
to distribute recompense, and to enforce the simple law. Attached to
this room on the south was the great store-room, packed with those
articles of merchandise most likely to seem of worth in savage eyes
and brought, with such infinite labour by canoe and portage, from
those favoured lower points whose waters admitted the yearly
ships—namely, rifles and ammunition, knives of all sorts, bolts of
bright cloth and beads of the colour of the rainbow, great iron
kettles such as might hang most fittingly above an open fire, and
bright woven garments made by hands across seas.
At the back of the big room was the small one where McElroy and
Ridgar had their living, furnished scantily with a bed and table, an
open fireplace and crane, some rude, hand-made chairs, and a shelf of
And to this post of De Seviere had come in the dusk of the previous
night a little company of people.
They were tired and travel-stained, with their belongings in packs
on the shoulders of the men, and the joy of the venturer in their
From far down in the country below the Rainy River they had come,
pushing to the west in that hope of gain and desire of travel which
opens the wilderness of every land. They had met the factor at the
great gate and entered in to rest and feast, as is the rule of every
fire. By morning had come the leaders of the party to McElroy, and
there had been talk that ended in an agreement, and the tired
venturers had dropped their burden of progress.
When they had rested, there were to be three new cabins squeezed
somehow into the already overcrowded stockade, and five more men and
six women would belong to Fort de Seviere.
As he walked toward the factory the young man was thinking of all
this. Of a surety the tall girl, had come with the strangers, yet he
had not noticed her until that moment outside the stockade wall, when
he had caught the striking picture in the morning sun.
Name? Most certainly it would be in that list which the leader of
the party had promised him by noon. When he entered the big room the
man was there before him, a picturesque figure of a man, big and
graceful and dark of brow, with long black curls beneath his crimson
cap. As McElroy went forward he straightened up from his lounging
position against the railing and held out the paper he had promised.
"For enrollment, M'sieu," he said simply.
The factor took the proffered slip and read eagerly down its
length, done neatly in a finished hand.
"Adventurers," he read, "from Grand Portage on Lake Superior, bound
for the west,—agreed to stop for the length of one year at Fort de
Seviere on the Assiniboine River,—Prix Laroux and wife Ninette,
Pierre and Cif Bordoux and their wives Anon and Micene, Franz LeClede
and wife Mora, Henri Baptiste and wife Marie, and Maren Le Moyne, an
unmarried woman and sister to Marie Baptiste."
A sudden little light flamed for a moment in the young factor's
For some unknown reason it had pleased him, that last ingenious
"Prix Laroux," he said, turning to his new acquisition, "we will
get to the work of our contract."
CHAPTER II THE SPRING
Springtime lay over the vast region of lake and forest. Along the
shores of the little rivers the new grass was springing, and in nook
and sheltered corner of rock and depression shy white flowers lifted
their pretty heads to the coaxing sun. Deep in the budding woods birds
in flocks and bevies called across the wilderness of tender green,
while at the post the youths sang snatches of wild French songs and
all the world felt the thirst of the new life.
A somewhat hard winter it had been, long and cold, with crackling
frost of nights and the snow piled deep around the stockade, and the
gracious release was very welcome.
The somewhat fickle stream of the Assiniboine had loosed its locks
of ice and rolled and gurgled, full to its low banks, as if the late
summer would not see it shrunk to a lazy thread, refusing sometimes
even the shallow canoes and barely licking the parched lips of the
In gay attire the maids of De Seviere ventured beyond the gates to
stray a little way into the forest and come back laden with tiny green
sprays of the golden trailer, with wee white blossoms and now and
again a great swelling bud of the gorgeous purple flower of the death
"Bien! It is of a drollness, mes cheries," laughed Tessa Bibye one
day, stopping at the cabin by the south wall; "how Francette does but
sit in the shade and nurse that half-dead wolf. Is it by chance
because of the owner, or that hand which carried it here, Francette?
Look for the man behind Francette's devotion ever!"
Whereat there was a laugh and crinkling of pretty dark eyes at the
little maid's expense, but she sprang to her feet and faced her mates
"Begone, you Tessa Bibye!" she cried hotly; "'tis little you know
beyond the thought of a man truly, and that because you have lacked
one from the cradle!"
Tessa flushed and drew away, vanquished. Merry laughter, turned as
readily upon her, wafted back on the golden wind. Francette, her eyes
flaming with all too great a fire, set a pan of cool water beneath the
fevered muzzle of the husky and glanced, scowling, across her shoulder
toward the factory.
Five days had passed since the episode beside the stockade, and
Bois DesCaut had said no word, of his property. In fact, the great dog
was seemingly scarce worth a thought, much less a word. Helpless,
bruised from tip to tip, one side flat under its broken ribs, he lay
sullenly in the shade; of the cabin where McElroy had put him down,
covered at night from the cool air by Francette's' own blanket of the
gorgeous stripes, fed by her small loving hands bit by bit, submitting
for the first time in his hard and eventful life to the touch of
woman, thrilling in his savage heart to the word of tenderness.
Gently the little maid stroked the rough grey fur and scowled
toward the factory.
So intent was she with her thought that she did not hear the step
beside her, springing quickly up when a voice spoke, cool and amused,
behind. "Well said, little maid," it praised; "that was a neat turn."
The tall stranger, Maren Le Moyne, stood smiling down upon her.
Francette, sharpest of tongue in all the settlement, was at sudden
loss before this woman. She looked up into her face and stood silent,
searching it with the gaze of a child.
It was a wondrous face, dark as her own, its cheeks as dusky red,
but in it was a baffling something that held her quick tongue mute, a
look as of great depth, of wondrous strength, and yet of fitful
tenderness, —the one playing through the other as flame about black
marble, and with the rest a smile.
More than little Francette had beheld that baffling expression and
squirmed beneath its strangeness. Francette looked, and the scowl drew
She saw again this woman leaning slightly forward, her eyes
a-glitter on the prostrate DesCaut, her strong hand doubled and
flecked with blood, with Loup at her feet,—and quick on the heels of
it she saw the look in the factor's eyes as he had commanded her to
silence with a motion.
"So?" she flamed at last, recovering her natural audacity, for the
maid was spoiled to recklessness by reason of her beauty; "I meant it
to be neat."
At the look which leaped into the eyes of the stranger her own
began to waver, to shift from one to the other, and lastly dropped in
"But spoiled at the end by foolishness," said Maren Le Moyne, and
all the pleasure had slipped from her deep voice, leaving it cold as
Abruptly she turned away, her high head shining in the sun, her
strong shoulders swinging slightly as she walked.
Francette looked after her, with small hands clinched and breast
heaving with, anger, and there had the stranger made her second enemy
in Fort de Seviere within the first fortnight.
Along the northern wall there was much bustle and scurry, the noise
of voices and of preparation, for the men were busy with the raising
of the first new cabin. As some whimsical fate would have it, there
were the hewn logs that Bard McLellan had prepared a year back for his
own new house when he should have married the pretty Lila of old
McKenzie, who sickened suddenly in the early autumn when the leaves
were dropping in the forest and fled from his eager arms. No heart had
been left in the breast of the trapper after that and the logs lay
where he had felled them.
Now McElroy, tactful of tongue and gentle, touched the sore spot,
and Bard gave sad consent to their use.
"Take them, M'sieu," he said wearily; "my pain may save another's
So the first new cabin went up apace.
Anders McElroy looked over his settlement day by day and there was
great satisfaction in his eyes. Fort de Seviere was none so strong
that it could afford to look carelessly on the acquisition of five
good men and hardy trappers, and, beside, somehow there was a
pleasanter feeling to the warm spring air since they had arrived-a new
sense of bustle and accomplishment.
Often he stood in the door of the factory and looked to where the
women sang at their work or carried the shining pails full of water
from the one deep well of the settlement, situated near the gate in
the eastern wall, and the smiles were ever ready in his blue eyes.
A handsome man was this factor of Fort de Seviere, tall and well
formed, with that grace of carriage which speaks of perfect manhood;
his head, covered with a thick growth of sun-coloured hair curling
lightly at the ends, tossed ever back, ready to laugh. Scottish blood,
mingled with a strong Irish strain, ran riot in him, giving him at
once both love of life and honour.
They had known what they were doing, those lords of the H. B.
Company, when they had sent this young adventurer from Fenchurch
Street to the new continent, and, after five years among the hardships
of the trade, he found himself factor of Fort de Seviere,—lord of his
little world, even though that world were but one tiny finger of the
great system spreading itself like a stretching hand outward from the
shores of the Bay to that interior whose fringed skirts alone had been
A high station it was for so young a man, for his twenties were not
yet behind him, and the pride of his heart, its holding.
Therefore, life was a living wine to Anders McElroy, and the small
world of his post a kingdom. And into it, with that travel-tired band
of venturers from Rainy Lake, had passed a princess.
Not yet did he know this,—not for many days, in which he looked
from the factory door among the women, singling out one who wore no
brilliant garment, yet whose shining head drew the eyes of the men
like a magnet.
Slowly speech grew among them, very slowly, as if something held
back the usual comment of the trappers, concerning this Maren Le
"Look you, Pierre," ventured Marc Dupre to Pierre Garcon, as they
beached their canoe one dusk after a short trip up the river; "yonder
is the young woman of the strong arm. A high head, and eyes like a
thunderous night,—Eh? Is there love, think you, asleep anywhere
Whereat Pierre glanced aside under his cap to where Maren hauled up
the bucket from the well, hand over hand, with the muscles slipping
under her tawny skin like whipcords.
"Nom de Dieu!" ejaculated Pierre under his breath; "if there is, I
would not be the one to awaken it and not be found its master! It
would be a thing of flame and fury."
"Ah!" laughed the other, "but I would. It would be, past all
chance, a thing to remember, howe'er it went! But it is not like that
you or I will be the one to wake it. Milady, though clad in seeming
poverty, fixes those disdainful eyes upon the clouds."
CHAPTER III NEW HOMES
The work of raising the new cabins went forward merrily. Every one
lent a hand, and by the end of May the new families were installed and
living happily. In that last house near the northeast corner of the
post dwelt Henri and Marie Baptiste and Maren Le Moyne.
A goodly place it was, divided into two rooms and already the hands
of the two sisters had fashioned of such scant things as they
possessed and dared buy from the factory on the year's debt, a
semblance of comfort.
In the other cabins the rest of the party managed to double, each
family taking one of the two rooms in each, and the women at least
drew a sigh of content that the long trail had at last found an end,
however unstable of tenure.
"Ah, Maren," said Marie Baptiste, sitting on the shining new log
step of her domicile, "what it is to have a home! Does it not clutch
at your heart sometimes, ma cherie, the desire for a home, and that
which goes with it, the love of a man?"
She raised her eyes to the face of Maren leaning above her against
the lintel, and they were full of a puzzled question.
Maren answered the look with a swift smile, toying lightly with a
fold of the faded sleeve rolled above her elbow.
"Home for me, Marie, is the wide blue sky above, the wind in the
tossing trees, the ripple of soft waters on the bow of a canoe. For
me,—I grieve that we have stopped. Not this year do we reach the Land
of the Whispering Hills."
A swift change had fallen into the depth of her golden voice, a
subtle wistfulness that sang with weird pathos, and the eyes raised
toward the western rim of the forest were suddenly far and sombre.
"Forgive!" said her sister gently; "I had forgot. I know the dream,
but is it not better that we rest and gain new strength for another
season? Here might well be home, here on this pretty river. We have
come a mighty length already. What could be fairer, cherie,—even
though we leave another to win to the untracked West."
A small spasm drew across the features of Maren, a twitching of the
"Faint heart of you," she said sadly. "Oh, Marie, 'tis your voice
has ever held us back. They would prod faster but for you. Is there no
glory within you, no daring, no dreams of conquest? Bien! But I could
go alone. This dallying stiffles the breath in me!"
She put up a hand and tore open the garment at her throat, taking a
deep breath of the sunlit air.
"But it is poverty that must be reckoned with. By spring again we
may be better equipped than ever."
So rode up the hope that was ever in her.
"Yes," sighed Marie, "as the good God wills."
But she glanced wistfully around the new cabin, to be her own for
the length of the four seasons. And who should say what might not
happen in four seasons?
She wondered fretfully what fate had fashioned the glorious
creature beside her in the form of Love itself to put within the soul
of the restless conqueror. Never had she known Maren, though they two
had come from the same lap.
Presently Maren looked down at her, and the shimmering smile, like
light across dark waters, had again returned.
"Nay," she said gently, "fret not. It is spring-and you have at
last a home."
True, it was spring.
Did not each breath of the south wind tell it, each flute-like call
from the budding forest without the post, each burst of song from some
hot-blooded youth with his red cap perched on the back of his head,
his gay sash knotted jauntily?
It stirred the heart in the breast of Maren Le Moyne, but not with
the thought of love. It called to her as she stood at night alone
under the stars, with her head lifted as if to drink the keen, sweet
darkness; called to her from far-distant plains of blowing grass,
virgin of man's foot; from rushing rivers, bare of canoe and raft;
from high hills, smiling, sweet and fair, up to the cloudless sky—and
always it called from the West.
Spring was here and cast its largess at her feet,—fate held back
her eager hand.
A year she must wait, a year in which to win those necessaries of
the long trail, without which all would fail.
Travel, even by so primitive a method as canoe and foot, must
demand its toll of salvage.
At Rainy Lake they had been held by thieving Indians and a great
part of their provisions taken from them, leaving them to make their
way in comparative poverty to the next post of De Seviere.
Further progress that year was impossible. Therefore, the contract
of the trappers with the factor.
And Maren Le Moyne—venturer of the venturers, flame of fire among
them, urger, inspirer, and moral leader, a living pillar before them
in her eagerness—must needs curb her soul in bonds of patience and
wait at Fort de Seviere for another spring.
Close beside her in her visions and her high hope, her courage and
her eagerness, stood that leader of the little band, Prix Laroux. Fed
by her fire, touched by her enthusiasm, the man was the mouth piece
for the woman's force, the masculine expression of that undying hope
of conquest which had drawn the small party together and set it forth
on the perilous venture of pushing toward the unknown West to find for
itself an ideal holding.
Back at Grand Portage the girl had listened from her late childhood
to tales of the wilderness told at her father's cabin by voyageurs and
trappers, by returning wanderers and stray Indians smoking the peace-
pipe at his hearth. Long before she had reached the stature of woman
she had sat on her stool beside that jovial old man, her father, grimy
from his forge, and drunk the tales wide-eyed, to creep away and watch
the stars, to dream of those dashing streams and to clinch her hands
for that she was not born a man.
And then when she was fifteen had come the day when the tales had
at last kindled to flame the parent fire of that wildness in her which
slept unsuspected in the breast of the blacksmith, then old as the way
of life runs, and he had closed his cabin and his forge, given his two
motherless girls to the wife of Jacques Baptiste, joined a party going
into the wilderness, and gone out of their lives.
Eleven years had passed with its varied life, at Grand Portage and
he had never returned,—only vague rumors that had sunk in tears the
head of gentle Marie, the younger of the two sisters, and lifted with
sympathetic understanding that of Maren the elder.
Why not? She had asked herself in the starlit nights of those
years, why not? All their lives he had been a good father to them,
taking the place of the mother dead since she could just remember,
speeding with tap and stroke of his humble craft those luckier ones
who streamed through the stirring headquarters of Grand Portage at the
mouth of Pigeon River each season, going into that untracked region of
romance and dreams where the call of his still sturdy manhood had
beckoned him,—how long none might know. And at last he had heeded,
laid down the staid, the sane, and followed the will-o'-the-wisp of
conquest and adventure that took the current by his door.
Never had Maren chided him,—never for one moment held against him
the desertion of his children. For that, they were well provided for
since he had left with Jacques Baptiste the savings of his life, not
much, but enough to bring both of them to the marriage age.
And well and tenderly had old Jacques and his wife fulfilled the
trust,—Maren's dark eyes were often misty as she recalled the parting
at Grand Portage.
So tenderly had the two maids grown in the love of the family that
Marie had, but at the start of the great journey, married young Henri
Marie was all for a home and some black-eyed babies, but she clung
to Maren as she had ever done,—and now, in her twenty-sixth year,
Maren had risen to the call as her father had done before her, and
lifted her face, rapt as some pagan Priestess', toward that mystic
West,—bound for the Land of the Whispering Hills, whence had come
that old, vague rumour, lured alike by love of the unknown and shy,
unspoken longing for the father whose heart must be the pattern of her
And in her train, swept together by that fire within her, touched
into flame by her ever-mounting hope, her courage, and her magnetism,
went that small band of men and women, all young, all of adventurous
blood, all daring the odds that let reluctantly a woman into the
Yet it has been ever women who have conquered the wilderness, for
until they trod the trace the men had cut it still remained a
So she leaned in the door of Marie's new home, this taut-strung
Maren Le Moyne, and gazed away above the rim of the budding forest,
and her spirit was as a chaffing steed held into quiet by a hand it
knows its master.
For a year she must endure the strain,—then, as the good God
willed, the leap forward, the wild breath in her nostrils, the forging
into the unknown.
"Ah, yes!" she said again, "it is the spring."
"Bon jour," she nodded, unsmiling, as a slim youth swung jauntily
up the hard-beaten way between the cabins.
"Eh!" said Marie, alert, "and who is that lord-high-mighty, with
his red cheeks and his airs, Maren? You know, as it is always, every
man in the post already. It is not so with the women, I'll wager. For
instance, who lives in the tiny house there by the south bastion?"
"I know not," answered Maren, as though she humoured a child, and
taking the last question first; "as for the youth, 'tis young Marc
Dupre, and one of a sturdy nature. I like his spirit, though all I
know of it is what sparkles from his roguish eyes. A fighter,—one to
dare for love of chance."
Marie looked quickly up, ever ready to pounce on the first gleam of
aught that might ripen into a love interest, but she saw Maren's eyes,
cool and shining, watching the swaggering figure with a look that
measured its slim strength, its suggestion of reserve, its gay joy of
life, and naught else.
"A pretty fellow," she said, with a touch of disappointment.
Each and every man went by Maren just so,—eliciting only that
interest which had to do apart from the personal.
But the black eyes of Marc Dupre had softened a bit under their
daring as he approached the factory.
"Holy Mother!" he whispered to himself; "what a woman! No maid, but
a WOMAN—for whose word one would fillip the face of Satan. She is
fire—and, if I am sure, all men are tow."
CHAPTER IV THE STRANGER FROM
"How goes it, little one, with Loup?"
The factor stopped a moment in the sunshine before the cabin of old
Clad in a red skirt, brilliant in its adornment of stained quills
of the porcupine got from the Indians, Francette paced daintily here
and there in the clean-swept yard, now snapping her small fingers, now
coaxing with soft noises in her round throat, her sparkling eyes fixed
on the gaunt grey skeleton that stood on its four feet braced wide
apart, wavering dizzily.
For a time she did not answer, as if he who spoke was no more than
any youth of the settlement, so exaggeratedly absorbed was she.
Then, pushing back the curls from her face, a pretty motion that
always wakened a look of admiration in masculine eyes beholding,—
"If he would only try, M'sieu," she said, frowning, "but he does
nothing save stand and look at me like that. The strength is gone from
It seemed even as the little maid protested. Massive, silent,
contemptuous, his small eyes under the wolfish skull cold and alight
with a look that sent shuddering from him the timid,—thus he had been
in his hard-fought and hard-won supremacy, a great, mysterious beast
brought full-grown from the snowbound wilderness of the forest one
famine-time by old Aquamis and sold to Bois DesCaut for a tie of
Now he stood, a pitiable shadow, and begged mutely of the only
tender hand he had known for understanding of this strange weakness
that took his limbs and sent the heavens whirling.
McElroy looked long upon him.
"'Tis a shame," he said, his straight brows drawing together, "the
dog is a better brute than Bois."
"Aye," flashed Francette, talking as though it were no uncommon
thing for the factor to stop at the cabin of the Molines, "and no more
shall the one brute serve the other. You have said, M'sieu."
"Yes," laughed the factor, "I have said and it shall be so. I will
buy the dog from Bois if he speaks of the matter. Take good care of
him, little one," and McElroy turned down toward the gate. As he moved
away, free of step and straight as an Indian, he filliped away a small
budding twig of the saskatoon which one of the youths had brought in
to show how the woods were answering the call of the warm sun, and
which he had dandled in his fingers as he walked. It fell at the edge
of the beaded skirt and quick as thought the hand of Francette shot
out and covered it. A hot flush mounted under the silken black curls
and she dropped her eyes, peering under their lashes to see if any
observed. She drew the faded sprig toward her and hid it in her
Before the cabin of the Baptistes, Jean Saville touched his cap and
"Yes?" said the factor; "what is it, Jean?"
"Assuredly, M'sieu, has the tide of the spring set in. Pierre but
now reports the coming of a band of strangers down the river. They
come in canoes, five of them, well manned and armed as if the country
of the Assiniboine were bristling with dangers instead of being the
abode of God's chosen. Within the hour they will arrive at the
"Thank you, Jean," said McElroy; "I will prepare for the meeting."
The trapper touched his cap and passed.
"Ah," smiled the factor to himself, "I like this bustle of passage.
It is good after the winter's housing, and who knows? There may be
those among the strangers who bring word from Hudson Bay."
He turned briskly back and gave word to Jack de Lancy and his wife
Rette to cook a great meal, also to see that the store-room was
cleared sufficiently by the more orderly packing back of the goods to
allow of five canoe-loads of men sleeping upon the floor. Then he
passed down the main way, out of the gate in the warm sun and took his
place at the landing to look eagerly down stream for the first coming
of the strangers. Not far from the enthusiasm of boyhood was this
young factor of Fort de Seviere.
And within the hour, as Jean had said, they came, rounding the
distant bend in an even distanced string, long narrow craft, each
bearing the regular complement of five men, a bowman, a steersman, and
three middlemen whose paddles shone like crystal as they sank and
lifted evenly. Strangers they were in very truth, as McElroy saw at
the first glance.
Never had they been bred in the wilderness, these men, unless it
were the two guides in the first and fourth canoe, picked out readily
by their swarthy skins, their crimson caps, and their rugged
litheness. Fairer, all, were the rest, paler of skin, more loose of
muscle, shown by the very way they bent to their work. Their garments,
too, as they drew nearer brought a smile to the watcher's lips, a
smile of memory. Those coats, brave in their gilt braid, had assuredly
come across seas. Thus might one behold them on the Strand.
Ah! These were, without doubt, part of the fall ship's load of
adventurers come to the new continent filled with the fire of
achievement and excitement that brought so many youths over seas. They
had, most like, come down from the great bay by way of God's Lake and
the house there, traversed the length of Winnipeg, come along the
river at the southern end, and at last turned westward into the
Assiniboine. A long rest they would no doubt take at Fort de Seviere,
and there would be news of the outside world.
McElroy was at the water's very edge as the first canoe of the
string curved gracefully in and cut slimly up to the landing.
"Welcome, M'sieurs," called the factor of Fort de Seviere, using
unconsciously the speech of the region, which had become his own in
five years, "in to the right a bit,—so! Well done!"
The word was not so sincere as he would have made it, for the
bowman, jumping out into the knee-deep water to keep the boat from
touching bottom, had floundered like an ox, thereby proving his
newness at the business. On the face of the swarthy Canuck guide who
sat in the stern there was a weary contempt.
"Friends, M'sieurs?" called McElroy tardily, scarcely deeming such
precaution necessary, yet giving the hail from force of habit.
They looked for the most part Scottish, these men, save here and
there among them one who might be anything of the motley that came
across each year.
In the first canoe a figure had risen and stood tall and straight
among the bales of goods with which the craft was seen to be close
packed from bow to stern, a figure striking in its lack of kinship to
its surroundings, yet commanding in its beauty. Garments of cloth, of
a gay blue shade and much adorned with trimming of gold braid, fitted
close to the slender form of the man. His limbs from the knee were
encased in leggings made, most evidently, in some leather shop, while
tilted on his splendid head he wore a hat of so wide a brim that no
sunlight touched either face or throat, while from beneath this
covering there fell to his shoulder long curls of hair that shone like
silk. This, evidently, was the leader of the party.
"Friends," he said, "bound for the west and the country of the
For all his appearance he spoke with the accent of the French, and
for a moment McElroy looked closely at him.
"Of the Company?" he asked sharply.
"Aye," said the other, with a little of wonder in voice and look,
"of the Company, M'sieu most assuredly."
The momentary flicker of uneasiness that had gripped the factor
with the stranger's speech died at his words.
So, of a surety, why not?
Had not he himself, born in the smoke of a London street, accepted
with the ingenious adaptability of the Irish blood within him the very
speech he now wondered at in the other?
As the young man sprang lightly to land he held out his hand, and
it was gripped with a force that showed the spirit behind the beauty
of this new guest.
"Welcome, M'sieu," said the factor, "to Fort de Seviere and all it
"Bien!" laughed the other with a show of fine white teeth, "but it
is good to behold neighbours in so deadly a wilderness as we have
passed through for these many days. Naught but God-forgotten
loneliness and never-ending forest. Yet it is for these that we barter
the comforts of civilisation, eh, M'sieu, and waste ourselves on
solitude and the savage?" He turned and waved his gloved hand over the
five canoes, now curving one by one in to the landing, and shouted a
few terse orders and commands.
"But I had nigh forgot, so unused am I to society and the usages
thereof,"—he said, turning back with an engaging smile, "Alfred de
Courtenay, known in that world across the water; and which my taste,
or that of itself, more properly speaking, has caused me to forswear
for some length of time, as Mad Alfred, I am, M'sieu—?"
"Anders McElroy," supplied the other, "and factor of Fort de
"Monsieur le facteur, your servant, of French lineage, English
nativity, and adventurous spirit."
With a motion indescribably graceful he swept off his wide hat and
executed a bow which in itself was proof of his gentleness.
"And now, M'sieu, lead on to those delights of rest and converse
which your hospitality hath so graciously promised."
Leaving his company to beach and store for the night the canoes
with their loads of merchandise, under the direction of his aide or
lieutenant whom he introduced to the factor as John Ivrey, a young man
of fine presence, Alfred de Courtenay walked beside McElroy up the
gentle slope of the river bank, entered the great eastern gate of the
post, not without an appreciative glance at its massive strength and
at the well-nigh impregnable thickness of the stockade, the
well-placed surveillance of the towering bastions, and thus up the way
between the cabins to the door of the factory, open and inviting.
"Mother of God, M'sieu!" he said with a copious sigh; "what it is
to meet with white faces! For weeks I have beheld along the shores
peering brown countenances that lifted my gorge, and I have well-nigh
been tempted to turn back."
"It has been a long journey, then, to you?"
McElroy smiled, thinking of the first impressions and effect of the
wilderness on such a man fresh from the ways of civilisation.
"Long? Though it is my initial journey, yet am I veteran
He turned upon the factor the brilliance of his smile, a
combination of dazzling teeth and eyes that fairly danced with spirit,
like bubbling wine, blue and swift in their changes from laughter to
an exaggerated dolorousness, as when he spoke of these terrible
And if they were quick after this fashion they were no less so in
roaming keenly over every corner of the enclosed space within the
Before they had reached the factory the stranger knew that there
were three rows of cabins in the post, that the factory was a mighty
fortress in its low solidity, and that the small log structure to the
right of it with the barred window was the pot au beurre.
As they neared the factory the figure of a tall woman, young by the
straightness of the back, the gracious yet taut beauty of line and
curve, came from behind the cabin of the Savilles, and on her shoulder
was perched a three-year-old child which laughed and gurgled with
delight, holding tight to her widespread hands. The woman's face was
hidden by the child's body, but her voice, deep-throated and rich with
sliding minor tones, mingled with the high shrillness of the little
"Hold fast, ma cherie," came its laughing caution, smothered by the
flying folds of the baby's little cotton shift." See! The ship dips
so, in the ocean,—and so,—and so!"
The strong arms, bare and brown and muscular, swayed backward,
throwing up the milky whiteness of the little throat, the tiny feet
flew heavenward and the baby's wee heart choked it, as witness the
screams of irrepressible joy. As the child swayed back there came into
view the face of Maren Le Moyne, flushed all over its rare darkness,
glowing with tenderness, its great beauty transfigured divinely. The
black braids, wrapped smoothly round her head, shone in the evening
sun, and the faded garment, plain and uncompromising, but served to
heighten the effect of her physical perfection.
Alfred de Courtenay stopped in his tracks, the smile fixed on his
face, and drank in the pretty scene like one starved.
So long he looked that McElroy turned toward him and only then did
he shift his glance, remembering himself, while a blush suffused his
rather delicate features.
"Pardon!" he murmured; "truly do I forget myself, M'sieu; but not
for a twelvemonth have I seen aught to match this moment. I pray you,
of what station of life is the glorious young Madonna before
you;—wife or widow or maid? By Saint Agnes, never have I beheld such
"Maid," replied McElroy; "by name Maren Le Moyne, one of a party of
venturers who came but a short while back from Rainy River, and who
have cast in their lot with us for the matter of a year."
The woman and the child passed on their way, disappearing again
behind the next cabin, unconscious of observation, still lost in their
play of the tossing ship at sea, and the two men entered the great
trading-room of Fort de Seviere, where Edmonton Ridgar, chief trader
and accountant, came forward to meet the stranger.
The young factor went in search of Jack de Lancy and word of the
meal he had ordered, and for some reason there was within him a vague
vexation which had to do with the look he had seen in the merry eyes
of Alfred de Courtenay,
He found the great kettles boiling over the fires and a ten-gallon
pot of coffee Venting the evening air.
As he gave word for the feast to be spread on strips of cloth laid
on the hard-beaten ground before the factory that many might sit round
at once and partake, there came from the direction of the gate the
voices of De Courtenay's men. The stranger and himself, with young
Ivrey and Ridgar should be served in the little room off to the west
where were the small table, the chairs, and the row of books.
Not often did Fort de Seviere have so illustrious a guest as must
be this young adventurer.
CHAPTER V NOR'WESTERS
"Merci, my friend, what extravagance is this! The savour of that
pot does fairly turn my head!"
Alfred de Courtenay settled himself gracefully in one of McElroy's
chairs and smiled across at his host with a twinkle in his laughing
A dozen candles, lit in his honour, where three were wont to
suffice, shone mellowly in the little room, and Rette de Lancy, still
comely despite her forty years and a certain lavishness in the matter
of avoirdupois, set down in the midst of the table a steaming dish
with a cover. There were a white cloth of bleached linen and cups of
blue ware that had come with her and Jack from across seas, also a
silver coffee- urn that had been her great-grandmother's. When the
factor gave word for a meal to these two he knew well that all dignity
would be observed. As for himself, his living of every day was scant
and plain as regarded the manner of its serving.
"What is it, M'sieu, that so assails the nostrils with delicious
aroma, if I may so far forget politeness? 'Tis not beef,
assuredly,—there is too much of the scent of the wild about it."
"Moose," replied McElroy, and by this time the vague vexation had
blown out of his heart as all ill-feelings were wont to do, "moose,
killed in the snows and hung in the smoke of a little fire until the
very heart of the wood is in the meat. And now, M'sieu, fall to. I
would I had something better than Rette's strong coffee in which to
pledge you, but, as you see, Fort de Seviere has no cantine salope. It
is not the policy of the Great Company, as you doubtless know, to abet
its trade with the Indians by the use of liquor."
De Courtenay looked quickly up.
"Why, I thought,—but then I have much to learn, in fact, all to
learn, since I am but raw in the wilderness."
Like men hungry and athirst from the hardships of the trail and the
stream, the camp and the portage, the guests did justice to the
savoury viands, and at last leaned back in repletion, while Rette took
off the plates and cups; the spoons and forks, and set in their stead
a huge pot of crumbled tobacco with a tin box containing pipes.
"And now," said the factor, smiling, "let us have talk of that
world of which I am hungering for news. You are of the fall ship's
load of new arrivals, I take it?"
"No," said De Courtenay, "it was last spring, about this time, that
I first saw the shores of the New World. Five of my men came with me
from across seas and the rest I picked on starting into the
wilderness. They are mostly Canadians of Scottish blood. I have a
fancy that the strong blond peoples are best for the rigours of what
one may find in this country. Though," he laughed as at some
reminiscence, "I have found so far that my two swarthy guides are
worth any three of the rest."
"You have found the way hard?"
"Mother of God! If the rest is like the first of it, I think you
may find my bones bleaching beside some portage where I have given up
the ghost. Truly do we pay for our whims of caprice, M'sieu."
"Aye, what save a whim of the moment could have induced me to
undertake so great a hardship as this winning to the Saskatchewan?
What save the love of excitement sent me to be, like yourself, the
head of a lost trading-post in this far north country?"
The merry blue eyes were full of gaiety and light.
"Truly,—and I pay."
A whim it might be, yet there was in the spirited face of Alfred de
Courtenay that which told plainly that it would be followed to its
end, be that what it might, as faithfully as though it were a deeper
For a moment a little line appeared between the straight brows of
The word of so grave an office mentioned as a "whim," "a caprice,"
went down hard with him. There was nowhere in the heavens above nor
the earth below so serious a thing as that same office, and he served
it with his whole heart. Therefore he could not quite understand the
other. Yet he thought in a moment of De Courtenay's newness and the
frown cleared. Of a very wide tolerance was McElroy.
"And you came, I suppose, from York Factory, down by way of God's
Lake and the house there. What is the word of Anderson who presides
there? A fine fellow,—I met him once at Churchill."
"York Factory? God's Lake?"
De Courtenay lowered his pipe and looked through the smoke.
"Nay," he said, "I know nothing of those places, M'sieu."
He turned to young Ivrey.
"It might be that these locations answer to different names. Heard
you aught from the guides of these two posts?"
"We did not pass them, Sir Alfred," answered the young man soberly.
"Then, in Heaven's name, which way have you journeyed?" asked
"Why, by way of Lake Nipissing, across the straits below the Falls
of St. Mary, by canoe along the shores of Lake Superior, into Pigeon
River, and so on up the various streams to your own Assiniboine—from
Montreal. How else, M'sieu?"
But the factor of Fort de Seviere had risen in his place, his face
gone blank with consternation.
"From Montreal!" he cried, "but did you not answer to me as friends
and of the Company"
"Aye," answered De Courtenay, also rising, the gaiety fading from
his face and his eyes beginning to sparkle bodefully, "of the
North-west Company, trading from Montreal into the fur country. I am
sent of my uncle Elsworth McTavish, who is a shareholder and a most
responsible man, to take charge of the post De Brisac on the south
branch of the Saskatchewan. But I like not this sudden gravity,
M'sieu. Wherein have I offended?"
"In naught, De Courtenay," said McElroy quite simply, "save that
you are in the heart of the country belonging to the Hudson's Bay
Company, as does this fort and all therein."
"Nom de Dieu!" cried the other, springing back and tossing up his
head; "I knew it not! How is it, then, that at midday of this day we
met on the river one who told us of this post of De Seviere, and that
it served the Montreal merchants? That we should here find hospitality
"Eh?" shot out McElroy sharply. "Of what like was such a person?"
"A big man, swarthy and dark, with sullen eyes, clad in garments of
tanned hides and wearing a red cap and a knife in his belt. He bore on
his left temple a pure white lock amid his black hair."
"Bois DesCaut!" said Edmonton Ridgar; "he has been these two days
gone in his canoe."
"A traitorous trapper, M'sieu," said the factor, "one who has
umbrage at me for a rebuke administered some time back and hopes by
this sorry joke to win revenge. But what is done cannot be helped. We
have met as friends,—the unfortunate fact that we find ourselves
rivals,—that almost speaks the word 'foes,' I must inform you,
M'sieu, since the strife between our companies has become so
sharp,—should not cause us to forget the bread we have broken between
us personally. I still offer you a night's rest."
But De Courtenay had drawn himself to his slender height, his hand
at his hip, where, in other times, had dangled a sword.
"Nay, M'sieu," he said quickly, "a blunder found and unremedied
becomes two. If I ay gather my men we will sleep outside an unfriendly
fort,— and in the name of De Courtenay allow me to repay the cost of
Reckless, indeed, was this young cavalier, else he would not have
made that speech.
Anders McElroy turned white beneath his tan and his fingers tapped
"Not ungrateful am I, M'sieu, but I stick by the colours I choose.
If our companies are rivals, then we are such, and I follow my
master's lead. It is at present the North-west organisation. I am
pledged in Montreal—and—I prove faithful."
The young man's face was fired with that spirit which ever lay so
near the surface and he looked at his whilom host with a mighty
"I thank you for your kindness, M'sieu, but I must decline it
further. Come, Ivrey," and turning he picked up his wide hat, bowed
first to McElroy and then to Ridgar, and strode toward the outer door.
As he passed the lintel the not insignificant form of Rette blocked
his exit, en route for a cup she had left behind. With an instant
flourish the hat in his hand swept the logs of the floor, he seized
the woman's toil-hard fingers and bore them to his lips.
"Excellent, Madame, was that meal," he murmured, "and never to be
forgot so long as one unused to hardship faces privation. I thank
Comely Rette flushed to her sleek hair and some flicker of a
girlhood that had its modicum of grace, flared up in the swift curtsy
with which she acknowledged the compliment.
And with a last flash of his blue coat Alfred de Courtenay was
McElroy ran his fingers helplessly through his tousled light hair
and faced his friend.
"Now, by all the Saints!" he said with a strange mixture of regret
and relief, "what an unhapy ending!"
But at that moment he was thinking of the wondrous beauty of the
man and of the picture of Maren Le Moyne's brown arms spread wide
apart with the laughing child between, and again that little feeling
of vexation crept into his wholesome heart.
Without in the soft night the late guest was striding, a graceful
figure, hurriedly down toward the gate he had entered so short a time
ago, and his slender hand played restlessly at his hip. His heart was
seething with swift-roused emotions. So had its quick stirrings
brought him into many a scrape in his eventful life. That word of his
host, "which speaks almost of foes," sang in his ears.
And yet it had been given only in the spirit of enlightenment.
Behind, John Ivrey gathered up the men idling about the fire and
talking with the men of the post, where question and answer had begun
to stir uneasiness.
In a ragged, uneven line they strung out, fading into the darkness,
and presently from down the river some forty rods there rose up the
columns of their fires.
Fort de Seviere closed its gates and settled into the night with a
feeling of something gone awry.
By morning all was early astir, those within to witness the
departure of the strangers, and, those without for that same
The canoes were floated, the men embarked, and all in readiness
with the first flame of the sun above the eastern forest when Alfred
de Courtenay presented himself at the gate and called for McElroy.
Gladly the factor responded, hoping somewhat to soften the
awkwardness of the situation by a godspeed, to be met by the Frenchman
high-headed and most carefully polite. A servant beside him held a
"With your leave, M'sieu," said De Courtenay, "I wish to leave some
earnest of my gratefulness for what we have received at your hands.
Therefore accept with my compliments this small gift, which, as you
say you have no cantine salope, must come most happily. Once more,
The man set down the jug at McElroy's feet and strode toward the
landing. The master was turning more leisurely away with his uncovered
curls shining in the first level beams of morning, when he stopped and
looked past the portal within the stockade.
With a small brass kettle in her hand, Maren Le Moyne was coming
down the open way toward the well.
With a colossal coolness he forgot the presence of the factor and
the ready light began to sparkle in his blue eyes with every step of
the approaching girl. Swiftly he glanced to right and left, as if in
search of something, and meeting only the green slope of the shore, a
growing excitement flushed his face.
Suddenly he snatched from a crevice of the stockade a tiny crimson
flower which nodded, frail and fragrant, from its precarious foothold,
and sprang forward as she set her vessel on the well's stone wall.
Unsurpassed was the bow he swept her, this daring soldier of
fortune, to whose delicate nostrils the taking of chances was the
breath of life, and his smile was brilliant as the spring morning
"A chance is a chance, Ma'amselle," he said winningly, "and who
would not risk its turning? For me,—I looked upon your face but now,
and behold! I must give you something, and this was all the moment
With hand on heart he held forth the little flower.
"In memory of a passing stranger far from all beauty, wear it, I
pray you, this day in the dusk of that braid, just there above the
temple. Have I permission ?"
He stepped near and lifted the crimson star, smiling down into the
astonished eyes of Maren Le Moyne, to whom no man in all her life had
ever spoken thus.
For a moment she stared at him, and her face was a field of
fleeting sensations. And then, slowly, the sparkle in his eyes lit her
own, the smile on his lips curled up the corners of her full red
mouth, and the charm of the moment, fresh and sweet as the new day,
swept over her.
"A venturer,-you!" she said; "some kin we must surely be, M'sieu!
She rested her hands on the kettle's rim, and bent forward her
head, wrapped round and round with its heavy braids, and with fingers
deft as a woman's Alfred de Courtenay placed the flower in a shining
Somewhat lengthy was the process, for the braid was tight and the
green stem very fragile, but at last it was accomplished, and Maren
lifted her face flushed and laughing.
"Thank you, M'sieu," she said demurely; "God speed your journey."
De Courtenay took the kettle from her, filled it himself, and when
he gave it back the smile was gone; from his face, but the light
"Some day, Ma'amselle," he said gravely, "I shall come back to Fort
The tall girl turned away with her morning's kettle of fresh water,
and the man stood by the well watching her swinging easily to its
weight, forgetful of the canoes, manned and waiting on the river's
breast for their leader, forgetful of the factor .of the post, waiting
in the shadow of the wall, on whose face there sat a deeper shade.
Then he turned and ran lightly down the bank, leaped into the canoe
held ready, once more bowed, and as the little craft swept out to
midstream, he shook back his curls and lifted his face toward the
country of the Saskatchewan.
CHAPTER VI SPRING TRADE
So passed out of Fort de Seviere one who was destined to be
interwoven with its fortunes.
Anders McElroy watched him go until the shadow of the great trees
on the eastern shore, long in the level sun, quenched the light on his
silken head and the men of the five canoes had taken up a song of the
boats, their voices lifting clear and fresh on the wings of the new
day, until the first canoe turned with the curve of the river above
and was lost, the second and the third, and even until the last had
passed from view and only the song came back.
Then he turned back into the gate and the tender mouth that was all
Irish above the square Scottish jaw was set tight together.
His foot touched the wickered jug and he called Jean Saville.
"Take this, Jean," he said, "and give each of the men a cup. 'Tis a
shame to waste it."
But for himself he had no taste for the stranger's gift of payment.
He was thinking of the red flower in Maren Le Moyne's black hair
and a vexation, past all reason held him.
But the spring was open and there was soon more to occupy his mind
than a maid and a posy and a reckless blade from Montreal.
At dusk of a day within that week a trapper brought word of a
hundred canoes on the river a day's journey up-country, laden with
packs of winter beaver, and bound for the post.
The Indians were coming down to trade.
Picturesque they were, in their fringed buckskin cunningly tanned
and beaded, their feathers and their ornaments of elk teeth and claws
of the huge, thick-coated bears. At day-dawn they came, having camped
for the night a short distance above the fort, to the letter display
of their arrival, and they swept down in a flotilla of graceful craft
made of the birch bark and light as clouds upon the water.
All was in readiness for them, for the factor had been expecting
them for a fortnight back; and, when the crackling shots of the braves
announced their coming, McElroy gave orders that the three small
cannon mounted on a half-moon of narrow breastwork to the south of the
main gate, and just before a small opening in the stockade for use in
case of attack, should be fired in salute.
These were the quiet and friendly Assiniboines, and the first of
the tribes, being the nearest, to reach the factory that year.
De Seviere was early awake and all was astir within its walls, for
this was the great time of the four seasons. Eagerly the maids and the
younger matrons flocked down to the great gate to peer out at the
gathering craft, afloat like the leaves of autumn upon the breast of
the little river,—two braves to a canoe, the gallant front of the
young men flanking and preceding that which held the leader of the
expedition, chief of the tribe, distinguished by its flag fluttering
in the morning wind upon a pole at the stern,—at the bedizened figure
of the chief himself, and lastly those canoes which held the women,
the few children, and even a dog or two.
Thus they came, those simple children of the forest and the lakes,
the open ways and the fastnesses, of the untrammelled summers, and the
snow-hindered winters, to the doors of the white man, dependent at
last upon him for the implements of life,—the gun, the trap, the
knife, the kettle, and the blanket.
Presently Edmonton Ridgar, chief trader of Fort de Seviere, came
down the main way between the cabins, passing alone between the rows
of the populace, and went forward to the lading to receive the guests.
The canoes had by this time swept swiftly and with utmost skill
into two half-moons, their points cutting to the landing; and down the
reach of water between them, slightly ruffled into little waves and
sparkling ripples by the soft wind and the deftly dipping paddles,
there came the larger craft of Quamenoka the leader.
"Welcome, my brothers!" called Ridgar, in their own tongue, for
this man had been born on the shores of Hudson Bay and knew the speech
of every tribe, from the almost extinct Nepisingues, of the Nepigon,
to the far-away Ouinebigonnolinis on the sea coast. His hair was
thickly silvered from the years he had spent in the service of the H.
B. C., and his heart was full of knowledge gathered from the four
winds. Therefore, his worth was above price and he hould have been
factor of a post of his own, instead of chief trader for young Anders
"We greet our brother," gravely replied Quamenoka as he stepped
from his canoe, gathering his blanket around his body with a practised
Swiftly four headmen disembarked from the first four canoes of the
half-moon which closed in with scarce a paddle dip, so deft were the
braves with their slender, shining blades of white ash, and stood
Side by side, conversing in a few sentences, the trader and the
chief entered the post, followed by the headmen and proceeded to the
factory, where McElroy stood to welcome them in the open door.
They entered, to the ceremony of the pipe, the speech, and the
bargain, while those without made a great camp two hundred strong all
along the bank of the stream, beached the canoes, stacked the beaver
packs, set up the tepees of the seventeen sticks, and built the little
fires without which no camp is a camp.
In a little space the quiet shore was all a-bustle and activity
reigned where the silence of the spring morning had lain, dew-heavy.
Among those most eager who peered at the gate, and who presently
ventured forth to the better view the bustling concourse of braves and
squaws, was Maren Le Moyne, her dark eyes wide, soft lips apart, and
face all a-quiver with keen enjoyment of the scene.
These were the first she had ever seen of those Indians who came
from the west. Who knew? Perhaps those moccasined feet had trod the
virgin forest of her dreams, those sombre eyes looked upon the
Whispering Hills, those grave faces been lifted to the sweet wind that
sang from the west and whose caress she felt even now upon her cheeks.
Perhaps,—perhaps, even, some swift forest-runner among them, far
on his quest of the home of the caribou or with news of some friendly
tribe, had come upon a man, an old man rugged of frame and face, with
blue eyes like lakes in his swarthy darkness, and muscles that bespoke
the forge and hammer.
Maren's strongly modelled chin twitched a bit while the little
flame of tenderness that flickered ever behind the graveness of her
eyes leaped up. She longed for their speech that she might go among
them and ask.
A little way along the stockade wall to the north there lay a great
rock, flat and smooth of surface, and here the girl drew apart from
the women and sat herself down thereon, hands clasping her knees and
the level sun in her eyes. Her thoughts were soon faraway on the misty
trail they had worn for themselves in the many years they had
traversed the wilderness in search of what it held, and the eyes
between the narrowed lids became blank with introspection. And as she
sat thus, a little way withdrawn from the scurrying activity of the
scene, there came a, step on the soft green sod and a slim form in
buckskins halted beside her.
It was young Marc Dupre, and his devil-may-care face was alert and
"Is that seat big enough for two, Ma'amselle?" he asked
impertinently, though the heart in him was thumping a bit. This was a
woman, he recalled having thought, for whom one would fillip the face
of Satan, and he was uncertain whether or no he had made a right
Maren started and looked swiftly up at him.
"It is, M'sieu," she said quietly, "if those two are in simple,
sensible accord. Not if one of the two coquettes."
Over the handsome features of the youth there spread a deep red
"Forgive me, Ma'amselle," he said, "my speech was foolish as my
heart. They are both sobered."
"Then," said the girl, drawing aside the folds of her dress, "you
may sit beside me."
With a sudden diffidence he sank upon the stone, this handsome boy
whose tongue was ever ready and whose heart of a light o' love had
taken toll from every maid in the settlement, and for the first time
in his life he had no sprightly word, no quip for his careless tongue.
They sat in silence, and presently he saw that her eyes were again
half-closed and the dreaming look had settled back in them. She had
forgotten his presence.
Never before in his experience had a woman sat thus unmoved beside
him when he longed to make her speak, and it stilled him with silent
He thought of the words of Pierre Garcon that day on the river bank
when this maid was new to the post, "if there is, I would not be the
one to waken it and not be found its master," and they sent a thrill
to his inmost being.
Who would awaken her; he wondered, as he watched the cheek beside
him from the tail of his eye, a round womanly cheek, sweet and full
and rich as a damask rose with the thick lashes above shining like
Obedient to her silence, he sat still while she dreamed her dream
out to its conclusion, and presently she straightened with a little
breath like a sigh, unclasped her hands from her knees and turned her
glance upon him as if she saw him for the first time.
His head whirled suddenly and he sought for some common word to
cover his rare confusion.
"See, Ma'amselle," he said, pointing, "the well-lashed packs of the
fat winter beaver. Truly they come well laden, these Assiniboines, and
we may well thank le bon Dieu for the wealth of skins. Is it not a
The eyes of Maren Le Moyne left his face and swept swiftly down the
gentle slope to where the Indians had piled their bales of furs. At
the sight they darkened like the waters of a lake when a little wind
runs over its surface.
"A heartening sight? Nay, M'sieu," she said, shaking her head, "I
can find no joy in it."
The trapper was aghast.
"No pleasure in the fruits of a fat season?"
"See the packs of marten, the dark streaks showing a bit at the
edges where the fur rounds over the dried skin. How were those pelts
"How? Why, most cunningly, Ma'amselle,—in traps of the H. B.
Company, set with utmost skill, perhaps on a stump above the line of
the heavy snows, or balanced nicely at the far end of a slender pole
set leaning in the ground. The delicate hand of a seasoned player must
match itself with the forest instinct of these small creatures. The
little pole holds little snow and the scent of the bait calls the
marten up, when, snap! it is fast and waiting for the trapper and the
lodge of the Assiniboines, the women and the drying."
"Yes. And those hundreds of beaver, M'sieu?"
Marc Dupre's eyes were shining and the red in his cheeks flushing
What more to a man's liking than the exploitation of knowledge
gained first-hand in the pursuit of his life's work?
"Again the trap," he said, "set this time at the edge of a stream
where the beaver huts peek through the ice, or lift their tops above
the open water. Neatly they are set, cunning as an Indian himself;
hidden in the soft slime at the margin if the water runs, waiting with
open jaws in the small runway above the dam where the creatures come
out from the swim. A sleek head lifting above the ripples a scrambling
foot or two, —snap! again the price of a pound and a half of powder,
a tie of tobacco. No footmark must the hunter leave, Ma'amselle,
unsplashed with water, no tainting touch of a hand ungloved on chain
or stake or trap itself. Ah! one must know the woods and the stream,
the cold and the snow and the winds."
"You know them, M'sieu, I have no doubt," said Maren, "for you
follow the trapping trail. And those beautiful silver fox, frosty and
fine as the sparkle of a winter morning? The heavy hides of the bear,
soft and glossy and thick as a folded blanket?"
"All the trap,—unless the latter drops through the flimsy roof of
some well-hidden dead-fall, covered with brush."
The girl was not looking at him, her glance being still on the
bustling camp below. The fingers on her knee were laced tight
Now she began to speak in a low voice, deep and even.
"Aye! All you have said is true. Wealth, indeed, is in those packs,
and patience and cunning and utmost skill, defiance of the snows and
the crackling cold, long miles on snowshoes and the hardships of the
trail, the nights in the bough-tied huts, the pack galling the
shoulders. But what is all this beside that which waits the runner of
the trail at every 'set' in those many miles? Here he finds his
leaning-pole. There have been little tracks up its slim roadway, but
those were covered by the fall of three days back and the little
creature who made them hangs there at the end, three small feet
beating the cold air feebly, a tiny head squirming from side to side,
two dull black eyes set at the distorted world. He has caught his
marten. It has not frozen, for the snow was light and the forest still
and thick, and three days have passed, M'sieu. Three days! Mon Dieu!
How much were those three days worth? The trapper taps the squirming
head and puts the bit of fur in his pack-bag. On to the next. The
beaver? Dead, M'sieu, thanks to the good God, drowned in its own sweet
water. The pack is heavy with small bodies ere the Assiniboine reaches
the place where he has laid his trap for the silver fox. And what
greets him here? Only a foot gnawed off in the silence of the day and
the night, and some beauty gone staggering away to lie and suffer with
starvation in the cold."
The youth was staring at the averted face beside him, mouth open
and utter amazement on his features.
Maren went on.
"And lastly, M'sieu, far at the end of the trail,—at the outer,
rim of the circle traced by his traps,—he comes eagerly, to peep and
peer for what might have happened at the head of the little dip
leading down to the stream where the firs bend heavily under their
weight of snow.
"Here he had laid his cunningest instrument, a thing of giant jaws,
of sharp ragged points, each inlocking with the other, the whole
unholy thing hung to a chain at whose other end there lay a ball of
iron, weighing, M'sieu, some eighty pounds. That was for the .great
shy bear, rocking along ire his quest of berries or some tree that
should ring hollow under his scratching claws, bespeaking the hive of
the wild bees. The oiled and fur-wrapped Indian stoops down and looks
along the dip. Ah! There he sees that which brings a glint to his
small eyes. No bear, M'sieu, nor yet the trap he had left, but a
thrashed and broken space where the snow went flying in clouds and the
bushes were torn from their roots, where the very tree-trunks bore
marks of the conflict and a wide and terrible trail led wildly off to
the deeper forest.
"He takes it up.
"All day he follows it. At night he camps and sleeps by his fire in
comfort. By daybreak again he is swinging along on that trail. Its
word is plain to him. At first it raged, that great shaggy creature,
tall as an ox and slow, raged and fought and broke its teeth on the
strange thing that bit to the bone with its relentless jaws, and tore
along the white silence dragging its hindering ball, that, catching on
bush and root, skinned down the flesh from the shining bone. And
presently the wild trail narrowed to undisturbed snow, with naught
save two great footprints, one after the other. With the cunning of a
man, M'sieu, the tortured animal has gathered in its arms that chain
and ball, and is walking upright. For another day and night the
trapper follows this trail of tragedy and at their end he comes upon
"Beside a boulder, where the snow is pushed away there lies a round
heap of anguish, curled up, pinched nose flat on the snow and two ears
laid lop to a vanquished head. It is still breathing, though the dull
eyes open not at sound of the trapper, bold in his safety, who lifts
his gun and ends it all.
"A fine pelt,—save that the right foreleg is somewhat spoiled.
"It lies there in that pile, M'sieu, and makes for wealth,—but to
me it is no heartening sight. I have followed that trail to the deeper
The eyes of the woman were deep as wells, flickering with light,
and the dark brows frowned down the slope. She had drawn her hands
tight around her knees, so tight that each knuckle stood out white
from the surrounding tan.
The young man shut his open lips and drew in a breath that
"Ma'amselle," he said huskily, "nowhere in the wide world is there
another woman so deep of heart, so strong in tenderness. Never before
have I seen that side of the trapping. To a man that is shut. It needs
the soul of a woman to see behind those things. And, oh, Ma'amselle!"
his voice fell low and trembling, "I have seen more,—the divinity
within your spirit. May the good God make me worthy that you may speak
so to me again. I would I might serve you,—with my life I would serve
you, Ma'amselle, for I have seen no woman like you." He was on his
feet, this young Marc Dupre, and the hot blood was coursing fast in
his veins. The awakening was coming, though not for Maren Le Moyne.
"May the time come when I may be a stone for your foot," he said
swiftly. "I ask no better fate."
Maren looked up at him and a wonderful tenderness spread on her
"I think the time will come, M'sieu,—and, when it does, it will be
worth while. I think it would be a lifting sight to see you in some
great crisis, before some heavy test."
"You do?" he said slowly; "you do, Ma'amselle? Then, by Heaven, it
"And some day I shall see it."
They little knew, these two in their glowing youth, how true was
that word, nor how tragic that sight would be.
"And till then," said this wild youth of the forest, "until then
may we be friends?" The head under the crimson cap was whirling.
"Friends?" smiled Maken, and her voice was very gentle; "assuredly,
M'sieu—I had destined you for that some time ago."
As she turned away, her glance once more fell upon the long camp of
the Assiniboines, and Marc Dupre faded from her mind.
Not so with him, left sitting on the flat stone, the blood hot in
his face and a sudden mist before his eyes.
Her last words sang in his ears like the voice of many waters.
He did not look after her,—there was something within that held
him silent, staring at the waters of the river, now sparkling like a
stream of diamonds in the risen sun, the lightness gone from him and a
trembling loosed in his bosom.
Within the big trading-room at the factory, seats had been placed,
the chief and his headmen sat in a solemn circle, and McElroy, holding
in his two hands the long calumet, stood in the centre of the small
Very gravely he pointed the stem, clinking with its dangling
ornaments, to east and west, to the heavens and to the earth, and then
with a deft motion swung it around his head.
"My brothers," he said, glancing around at the solemn visages of
these his friends and people, "may the sun smile all day upon us
together in peace."
Wherewith he smoked a moment at the carven mouthpiece and handed
the pipe to Quamenoka.
With the utmost gravity Ridgar took it from the chief, passed it to
the savage on his right, who likewise smoked and passed, it on, and
presently the ceremony was done and the visit had begun.
"My brothers are late this year at the trading," said the factor.
"For a fortnight has the ox waited in the pen, the bread of the feast
been set. So do we love our brothers of the forest. What is the word
of the west? What tribes come in to the factory with peltry? We would
hear Quamenoka speak."
He fell silent, sat down in his chair, and waited.
In the hush of that moment a shadow falling in the open door of the
factory caught his eye and he looked up to see the form of Maren Le
Moyne leaning against the lintel, her face filled with eagerness, her
eyes, clear as a child's and as far-seeing, fixed on the Indians. He
glanced swiftly to that tight braid just above the temple, where he
had last seen a small red flower nodding impishly, and was conscious
of a feeling of relief to find it gone.
It was irregular, the intrusion of an outsider in the ceremony of
the opening of the trade; but for his life the young factor of De
Seviere could not have said so to this girl who went fearlessly where
she listed and whose eyes held such mystery of strength and
Moreover, Quamenoka was speaking and the council harkened.
CHAPTER VII FOREST NEWS
He was an old man, this chief of the Assiniboines, and his face was
wrinkled like the dried bed of a stream` where the last little ripples
have cast up the sand in a thousand ridges. His black eyes were mild,
for these Indians were a peaceful people, relying on the trapping and
the hunting and the friendship of the white men at the posts which
they had held for three generations.
Fear of their more warlike kin had kept them near the factories and
driven them into the ways of civilisation.
Now he sat with quiet glance upon the floor looking back into the
past year, his feathered head-dress quivering a bit and the blue smoke
rising from the pipe.
"The wind in the woods aisles is full of words, my brothers," he
said, in his own tongue, "and tales flit down the lakes like the
leaves in autumn. From the Saskatchewan come the French, who tell the
Assiniboines that at their posts will be given four axes for one
beaver, eight pounds of shot and four of powder. Yet thy brothers come
down from their lodges to Fort de Seviere because of the love they
bear to you, and for the fairness in trade that never varies. Many
beavers are in the packs, much marten and fox and ermine. We will do
good trade. Guns that are light and neat shaped to the hand, with good
locks. Also much tobacco and sweet fruits. Of these things we are
sure,—also are we sure of the next year and the next. Therefore do we
come down the rivers to the Assiniboine.
"The tales that flit in the forest, my brothers, tell of a new fort
of the French far, far to the northwest on the shores of the Slave
Lake, whose factor is of the name Living Stone. Also there are
whispers that fly like the wintering birds of new people, fair-skinned
and red in the cheeks, who come into the upper country from the west
where lies the Big Water. These are strange people, like none that
trade with the Indians, who are neither friends to the English, nor
yet the French, but strive for barter with those tribes that come up
from the Blackfeet Hills and down from the frozen regions of the North
with bearskins, the one, and seal and sea-otter, the other.
"A runner of the Saulteurs, resting in the lodges of the
Assiniboines, has told Quamenoka of their strange customs, their
hardness, and their shut forts guarded with suspicion and sentinelled
He ceased a moment and smoked in silence.
No breath of sound broke the stillness, for this was ceremony and
of great dignity.
Only McElroy was acutely conscious of the figure in the doorway and
the peering face of the girl, so full of hushed intensity.
"Also do we bring word of a great tribe, the Nakonkirhirinons,
living far beyond the River Oujuragatchousibi, who this year journey
down to Fort de Seviere with many furs,—more than all that will come
from the Assiniboines, the Crees, the Ojibways, and the
Migichihilinons put together.
"Past York and Churchill on the Great Bay they come, because of
unfair dealings which met them at those places last year and the year
before, down to the country of the Assiniboines, in whose lodges they
will eat the great feast of the Peace Dance. Not long have the
Nakonkirhirinons traded their furs, living to themselves in their
hills, and much credit is due Quamenoka by whose word they come this
year to his brothers on the Assiniboine."
The chief paused impressively and raised his glance to the factor's
"Greatly does the heart of thy brother rejoice at such word, and a
present over and above that meant for him shall be given Quamenoka.
Let the talk go on. We listen."
But before the chief could speak again, Edmonton Ridgar had broken
"Negansahima is chief of that tribe and my Indian father, he having
adopted me with all ceremony once when I sojourned a year among them.
The sight of him will gladden my spirit."
Swift surprise spread on the factor's face, but he did not speak.
There was much in the checkered life of his friend that had not been
set before him, and each revelation was full to the brim of romance,
of daring, and of that excitement which attends a life spent in the
The Indian nodded and went on:
"And last of the news of forest and lake and river is word of the
meeting of canoes, the half of one-ten, laden with goods and going up
the river, which passed but few suns back. A sun-man sat in the first,
beautiful of face and with hair like light, who strove to barter. But
the Assiniboines come to their brothers. They heeded not his words,
though they were sweet with promise. I have spoken."
The chief fell silent, for the year had been told, and McElroy
spoke presently of his joy at their presence, their words, and their
friendship, as was the custom of the H. B. Company's factors on such
occasions; and Ridgar rose from the council to bid a young clerk, one
Gifford, bring forth the presents for the guests,—a coat with coarse
white lace and lining of vermilion, a hat of felt and a sash of many
colours for Quamenoka, and lesser glories for his four headmen. These
presented with due formality, and actually donned by the recipients
without loss of time, the ceremony of the opening council was over,
save for the triumphal march of the potentate, accompanied by McElroy
and Ridgar, back to the camp on the river bank.
As they passed out the factory door, they brushed by Maren Le
Moyne, where she had drawn aside, still wistfully watching the comers
from the wilderness.
The young factor's eyes went to her face and for a moment held her
Instantly, with that deep look, the girl's hand shot forth and
touched his arm, a light touch with the deftness of strength held in
abeyance, and McElroy felt his flesh tingle beneath it.
"M'sieu," she said, "where do they come from, how far in the west?"
"Not far, Ma'amselle,—only from the Lower Saskatchewan. The
Assiniboines are our nearest tribe, living along the country from the
Hare Hills to the parting of the twin rivers above the Qui Appelle.
Hold they interest for you?"
"Nay," she said, shaking her black head, "not if they come not far,
other than that excited by their strangeness. I thank you."
She drew back, and McElroy, perforce, followed his way to the
encampment, but he thought not this time of the red flower.
Only within him was roused that same desire which had prompted De
Courtenay to snatch the bloom from the stockade wall,—a longing to
give her something, to offer homage to this tall young woman with the
wondrous face of beauty and wistful strength. Since she was but a
child had men who looked upon her felt this same longing, this
stirring of the worshipper within. But few had dared the wall of
quietness about her; therefore, she had remained apart. Only Prix
Laroux of all those who had seen her grow into her magnificent
womanhood at Grand Portage had come to her with his gift of faith and
tied himself to hand for life, and he came not with the love of man
but rather as one who follows a goddess. Yet it was that aching desire
to serve her which sent him.
And now it gripped the young factor of Fort de Seviere and he
looked among the Assiniboines for a gift.
Here a squaw held forth to him a garment that took his eye at once.
Of doeskin it was, soft and white as a lady's hand, and cut after
the fashion of the Indian woman's dress, in a single piece from throat
to ankle, the sleeves straight from the shoulder, and at edge and
seam, sewed with thorn and sinew, rippled and fluttered a heavy fringe
the length of a man's hand.
Across the breast there gleamed and glittered a solid plastron of
the beadwork so justly famed for its beauty of colour and design,
which came from the hands of none save the women of this tribe, and at
hem and elbow, above the dangling fringe, there ran a heavy band of
it. Above the hips there hung a belt made of the brilliant stained
quills of the porcupine.
The factor took the beautiful thing in his hands, and the purpose
in his mind crystallised.
In a swift moment he had bargained with the silent woman for a
price that astonished her and was back within the post, walking
hurriedly toward the cabin of the Baptistes.
At the door Marie met him, her bright eyes sparkling with the
honour of this visit of him who was the Law, the Head of De Seviere,
and at her eager greeting the first abating of the flush within took
hold upon him.
He stood like a boy, the gorgeous garment hanging in his hand and
the word on his lips forgotten.
"Madame," he stammered, "I would—" and got no further.
Sudden embarrassment took him and he grew angry with himself.
What could he say, how dared he do what he had done?
He could have thrown the white garment into the river in his sudden
vexation. Factor of the post, he had made of himself a stammering
youth, all for sake of the compelling beauty of a woman's eyes.
But at that moment, while Marie stood blankly on the sill holding
to the doorside and the silence grew unbearable, there was a step
within the cabin and Maren Le Moyne came from the inner room.
In one moment, so keen was the perception of her, she had seen the
red blood in McElroy's face, the wonder on Marie's, and she, too,
stood in the open door.
"Ah, M'sieu!" she said quickly, "do some of them, by chance, come
from the west?"
The tone of her deep voice broke the spell, so subtly natural was
it, and McElroy found his tongue.
"No, Ma'amselle," he smiled, the ease coming back to his blue eyes,
"but I have found something very beautiful among them which I wish you
to have. It is more beautiful than a red flower."
He held up to her the doeskin garment and his eyes were very
For a moment Maren stared as she had stared at De Courtenay and a
curious expression of perplexity spread on her face.
Truly men were different here in this wilderness from those who
lived at the Grand Portage, and for a moment she drew herself up and
the straight brows began to frown. But as she had felt the whimsical
charm of De Courtenay, so now she felt the eagerness, the taut anxiety
of this man, and she noticed that there was no smile on his face as
Moreover, Marie was watching, sharp as a little hawk.
"Why, M'sieu," she said, and there was a baffling note to the voice
this time, "why,—you wish me to have this?"
"Yes, Ma'amselle," said McElroy simply.
The girl stooped and took it from him, and for a moment her hand
lay against his palm, a smooth warm hand.
"And you wish me to wear it?" she asked.
"If it shall please you."
"Then it shall please me," she said quite easily, "and I thank
McElroy turned away and walked back to the factory, and all the way
he did not know what he had done. It had been an impulse, and he had
rushed to its fulfilling without a thought. Had he bungled in giving
her a garment where De Courtenay had played on a wind-harp in giving
her a little red flower?
He was hot and cold alternately, and the memory of that momentary
frown came turn and turn with that of the gentle manner in which she
had reached down for the lifted gift.
And Maren Le Moyne?
Within the cabin she had turned to that portion which was her own,
the while Marie's sharp eyes followed her with questions that were
ripe on her tongue.
"Maren," she cried, as the girl passed the inner door, unable to
longer hold herself, "know you the factor well?"
But Maren only shook her head and closed the slab door between.
Once alone she laid the gift on the bed, covered with a patchwork
quilt made from the worn garments that had seen the long trail, and
stood bending above, looking closely at each beauty of colour, of
softness and design.
She spread the straight sleeves apart, smoothing out the dangling
fringe, and her hand lingered with a strange gentleness a-down the
glowing plastron of bright beads.
This was the first gift a man had ever given her, other than De
Courtenay's red flower, and somehow it pleased her vastly.
She fell to thinking of the factor, of his open face, his light
head forever tilted back with the square chin lifted, of the mouth
above and of the eyes, clear as the new day and anxious as a child's
the while she halted above his offering, and unconsciously she began
within her mind to compare him with all other men she had ever known.
There was Prix Laroux. Not like. Also Jean Folliere and Anthon
Brisbee of Grand Portage, who came to the wilderness each year.
Neither were they like this man, nor Cif and Pierre Bordoux, nor Franz
LeClede, nor yet her brother Henri. These she knew and they were of a
Also there was that venturer of the great beauty and the silken
curls who had spoken so prettily. With all his grace, he was unlike
this strong young man whose tongue faltered and whose eyes were
Verily, for the first time; this maid of the wilderness was
thinking of men.
And it was because he had seemed so ill-beset that she had taken
the gift so readily.
She would not have him stumble longer under the sharp eyes of
And then thought of him faded from her mind and she fell to
contemplation of the doeskin garment again. Things of its like she had
seen at Grand Portage, but nothing of its great beauty, and for the
first time she gave thought to self-adornment. She was strong, this
woman, and given to serious dreams, and the small things of womanhood
had left her wide apart in a land of her own wherein there were only
visions of afar country, of travel and of conquest, and perhaps of a
man, old and rugged and kindly, who had followed the long trail, and
this small new thought lodged wonderingly in her mind.
For the first time she was conscious of the plainness of the
garment that folded her form, and she held up her arms and looked at
them, brown beneath the up-rolled sleeves.
Yes, some day she would put it on, this gorgeous thing of white
fringe and sparkling colour, because she had told that man she would.
Unlike most women, she did not hold it up to her, pointing a foot
beneath its pretty edge, gathering it into her waist, trying its
effect. She was content to run a hand along its length, to feel the
caress of its softness.
Yet even as she touched it she thought of the pretty creature which
had worn it first, the slim-legged doe bounding in the forest depth,
and a little sigh lifted her breast.
But this had been the quick and merciful death of the bullet, the
legitimate death. That she could understand.
More quick and merciful than that which would come in the natural
life of the forest. Therefore this pelt held no such repugnance as
those stacked on the river bank.
Suddenly, as she bent above the bed, she felt the presence of
another, the peculiar power of eyes, upon her, and, turning quickly,
she saw a black head, black as her own and running with curls, that
dipped from the window.
There was no little head in all the post like that save one, and it
belonged to little Francette, the pretty maid who had run by the
factor's side that day of the meeting of Bois DesCaut by the river.
With the drop of that head from the sill there passed over Maren a
strange feeling, a prescience of evil, a thrill of fear in a heart
that had never known fear.
She left the tiny room with the gift of the factor still outspread,
and joined Marie in the outer space, where yawned a wide fireplace
with its dogs on the hearth, its swinging crane made from a rod of
iron, its bed and its hand-made table.
Here had come Anon Bordoux and Mora Le-Clede, drawn by the sight of
the factor at the Baptistes' door, their tongues flying in eager
"—of such gorgeousness," Marie was saying, "such softness of white
doeskin, such wealth of the beading—"
"Marie," said Maren sharply, "is there naught to do save gossip?"
Anon and Mora fell into confused silence, the habit of the trail
where this girl's word had been the law falling upon them, but Marie,
saucy and not to be daunted, was not so easily hushed.
"Is it not true," she cried, "that the factor brought it but now to
the door in plain sight of all?"
Whereon Maren passed, out the open door and the tongues began
again, more carefully.
In the distance there flashed a crimson skirt at whose beaded edge
there hung a great grey dog, his heavy head waist-high to the little
maid who wore it.
CHAPTER VIII FIRST DAWN
Throughout the week that followed Fort de Seviere was gay with the
bustle of trading. Packs of furs went up the main way and loads of
merchandise went down, carried on the backs of the braves, guns and
blankets and many a foot of Spencer's Twist at one beaver a foot,
powder and balls in buckskin bags, and all the things of heart's
desire that had brought the Assiniboines from the forks of the
Kept close to the factory by the bartering, McElroy and Ridgar and
the two clerks hardly saw the blue spring sky, nor caught a breath of
the scented air of the spring. Within the forest the Saskatoon was
blooming and the blueberry bushes were tossing soft heads of foam,
while many a tree of the big woods gave forth a breath of spice. It
came in at the door and the young factor raised his head many times a
day to drink its sweetness in a sort of wistfulness. At dusk he stood
on the sill, released from the trade, and looked over his settlement
as was his habit, and ever his eyes strayed to that new cabin at the
far end, of the northern row.
What was she thinking, that dark-browed girl with the deep eyes
that changed as the waters of a lake with each breath of wind, of him
and the blundering gift he had carried to her door? What had she done
with it, and would he ever see it clinging to those splendid
shoulders, falling over the rounded breast?
A feeling of warmth grew at his heart each day with thought of her,
and when he saw her swinging down toward the well he felt the blood
leap in his veins. The very shine of the sun was different when it
struck the tight black braids wrapped round her head.
Verily the little kingdom had brought forth its Princess.
And with her coming there was one heart that burned hot with
passion, that fashioned itself after the form of hatred, for little
Francette had seen, first a glow in a man's eyes and then a gift in
his hand, and she fingered a small, flat blade that hung in her sash
with one hand, the while the other strayed on the head of Loup. Dark
was the fire that played in her pretty eyes, heavy the anguish that
rode her breast.
She hated the memory of that white garment spread out on Maren Le
"Tessa," she said one day, sidling up to that Tessa Bibye who had
cast a taunt in her teeth, "know you the charm which that doctress of
the Crees gave to Marci Varendree when she sickened for love of that
half- breed, Tohi Stannard?"
"Oho!" cried Tessa gleefully, "a man again! Who lacks one now,
"Nay," said Francette, "but I know of one who sickens inwardly and
I would give her the charm."
"Go into the flats of the Beaver House after Marci and her Indian,
whither they went," Tessa laughed. "I know not the charm. But it was
good, for she got him, and went to the wilds with him. Follow and
But Francette, with a gesture of disgust, turned away.
The warm spring days passed in a riot of song from the depths
outside the post, the Assiniboine rippled and whispered along its
shores and over the illimitable stretches of the wilderness there hung
the very spirit of the mating-time.
Within the stockade, mothers sat in the doors crooning to the babes
that clutched at the sunbeams, dogs slept in the cool shadows of the
cabins, and here and there a youth sang a snatch of a love song.
"Verily, Marie, it is good to be here," sighed Micene Bordoux,
sitting on her sill with her capable arms folded on her knees, and her
eyes, cool and sane and tolerant, roving over the settlement lolling
so quietly in the sun. "After the trail the rest is good, and yet I
will be eager long before the year has passed to follow Maren,—may
Mary give her grace!—into that wilderness which so draws at her
"Oh, Micene!" cried Marie, a trifle vexed, "if only she might
forget her dreams! What is it like, the heart of a maid, that turns
from thought of love to that of these wild lands, to the mystery of
the Whispering Hills that lie, the good God knows where, in that dim
and untracked West! I would that Maren might love! Then would we have
peace and stop forever at this pleasant place."
Good Micene, with her brave heart and her whole-souled sense,
smiled at Marie.
"Love," she said,—"and think you THAT could turn that exalted
spirit from its quest? Still the stir of conquest within her bosom,
hush the call of that glorious country which we know from rumor, and.
plain hearsay lies at the heart of the Athabasca?
"Little do you know Maren, Marie, though the same mother gave you
birth. There is naught that could turn the maid, and I love her for
it. It is that undaunted faith, that steadfast purpose, that white
fire in her face which holds at her heels the whole of us, that turns
to her the faces of our men, as those legions of France turned to the
Holy Maid. Love? She would turn not for it if she could not take it
Micene looked off across the cabins, and there was a warm light in
"Nay, Marie," she said, "make ready for the trail the coming
spring, for we will surely go."
It was this day, golden and sweet with little winds that wafted
from the blossom-laden woods, that Maren Le Moyne, drawn by the dusky
depths, passed, out the stockade gate, traversed slowly the length of
the Indian camp, stopping here and there to hold out a hand to a
frightened pappoose peeking from behind its mother's fringed leggings,
to watch a moment at the cooking fires, to smile at a slim young boy
brave in a checkered shirt, and entered the forest.
From the door of the factory McElroy saw her go and the call of the
spring suddenly became unbearable.
With a word to Ridgar he stepped off the long log step and
The Irish blood within him lifted his head and sent his heart a-
bounding, while the half-holy mysticism that came from the Scottish
hills drew his glance upward to the blue sky arching above.
A tumult surged in his breast and every pulse in his body leaped at
thought of speech with her, and yet again a diffidence fell upon him
that set him trembling.
As the conqueror he went, pushing toward victory, yet humble in his
He felt a mist in his eyes as he entered the high arched aisles,
cool beneath their canopy of young green, and he looked eagerly here
and there for sight of a tall form, upright, easy, plain in its dark
Along the river bank he went where he saw a footprint in the soft
loam, and presently it turned deeper into the great woods and he swung
forward into those depths whose sweetness had called him subtly for
these many days.
She was a strong traveller, that straight young creature of the
open ways, and a full hour went swiftly before he caught the sight he
At sight of her he halted and stood a moment in hushed joy, looking
with eyes that knew their glory, for with every passing second Anders
McElroy was learning that nowhere in all the world, as had said that
flaming youth Marc Dupre, was there another woman like this Maren Le
She stood in a little glade, cool, high-canopied, where the
sunlight came in little spots to play over the soft carpet of the pale
forest grass thick-starred with frail white flowers, and her back was
to a tree that towered to heaven in its height. At her sides her brown
arms hung, palms out in an utter abandon of pleasure, while her lifted
face, with its closed eyes, communed with the very Spirit of the Wild.
Like some priestess she was, and McElroy felt an odd sensation of
unworthiness sweep over him as he stood silent, his sober blue eyes on
the beauty of her face. He cast swiftly back across his life. Was
there anything there which might forbid him now, when he would go
forward to so pure a thing as this maid, dreaming her dreams of
prowess in the wilderness?
Nay, he saw no unworthy deed, nothing to spoil the page of a
commonplace life spent at his old father's side across the sea,
nothing of the so common evils of the settlement. Within him there was
that which thanked its Maker unashamed that he had kept himself from
one or two temptations which had beset him in these stirring years of
service on the fringes of the great country spreading from the bay.
With that thought he went forward, and Maren did not hear his step
on the soft grass, so far was she on her well-worn trail of dreams,
until he stood near and the feeling of a presence finally brought back
the wandering soul.
Then she opened her eyes and they fell full upon the factor, his
light head bared to the dancing sun-spots, his blue eyes sober and
touched again with that anxiety which had compelled her to take his
There was no sudden start of fear, no little startled breath, for
this woman was calm as the dreaming woods and as serene.
"Bon jour, M'sieu," she said, and at sound of her voice, so deep
and full of those sliding minors, McElroy felt her power sweep over
him in a tumultuous flood.
"Ma'amselle," he said, "Ma'amselle!"
And in the next moment stopped, for the words of love were on his
tongue and the wide dark eyes were looking at him wonderingly.
"No longer could I withstand the call of the springtime and the
woods," he finished falteringly; "the trading-room and the bargain
were grown hateful to me in these warm days with the scent of flower
and leaf and heated mould coming in at the door and bidding me come. I
left my post, a traitor, Ma'amselle, betrayed by the forest. Too weak
am I for courage when the big woods call."
Maren looked at him and the light grew up in her eyes, that little
flame that flickered and leaped and gave so baffling a charm to her
"Ah!" she said softly; "you love it too, the great wilderness?"
"Aye, most truly."
"And you can hear the whisper of the far countries, the ripple of
distant streams, the wind in the pines that have never sheltered a
white man? You know these things, M'sieu?"
She leaned forward from the great smooth-barked tree and looked at
"They are what brought me over seas," he said quietly, "what sent
me to De Seviere, what hold me to the tribes that come each year to my
Maren's lips were parted, the fire of her passion in her flaming
face. "Then you know why I come to the woods, why I grieve that the
spring is passing, why I can scarcely hold my soul in patience through
With the suddenness of her words her breath had leaped to a heaving
tumult, the wide eyes, so calm, so cool, had filled first with fire
and then with a mist. That clouded them like tears.
"Oh, M'sieu!" she cried tensely; "know you of that country which
lies far to the west and which the Indians call the Land of the
"Aye. It lies circling a great lake, blue as the summer skies, its
waters forever rippled by the winds of the west which sing in the
grassy vales and over the rounded knolls that stud the region,—a land
of waving trees, of high coolness, or rich valleys thick with rank
grasses and abounding with the pelt animals. It is the country of the
Athabasca and from it came last year a band of the Chippewas heavily
laden with furs. They told fine tales of its beauty. It is for that
land you are bound?"
"For that land, M'sieu," said Maren Le Moyne, and her lips
trembled; "for that virgin goddess of the dreams of years! I have seen
its hills, its waving grass, wind-blown, its leaping streams,—I have
breathed the sweet air of its forests and gazed on its beauties since
my early childhood, in dreams, always in dreams, M'sieu, until I could
bear the strain no longer. And now, when it beckons almost within my
reach, when its very breath seems in my nostrils, I must stop for a
year's space! You know, M'sieu,—you comprehend?"
She leaned forward looking earnestly into McElroy's eyes, and a
surge of painful ecstasy shot to the man's heart, so near she seemed
in the suddenly created sympathy of the moment, so near and gracious,
so strong in her pure passion, so infinitely sweet.
"I know," he said, and his voice sounded strange in his ears; "I
know every pulse of your heart, Ma'amselle, every longing of your
spirit, every pure thought of your mind,—for these many days I have
trembled to every vibration that has touched or thrilled you. Oh,
With the surge of that overwhelming thing within him the young man
had forgot all things,—that this girl was near a stranger, that he
had quaked at his temerity of the gift, forgot all but that she leaned
toward him with the mist in her wide eyes, and he strode forward the
step between them, his arms reaching out instinctively to enfold her.
With the swiftness of the impulse he swept her into them until the
eager face lay on his breast, the smooth black braids pressing his
lips with their satiny folds.
For one intoxicating moment he held her, as the primal man takes
and holds his woman, tightly against his beating heart as though he
would defy the world, lost in a sea of strange new emotions that
rolled in golden billows high above his head.
Then from the depths there came a cry that cleared his whirling
brain, a very embodiment of startled amaze, of indefinable horror, of
Maren Le Moyne wrenched herself free and lifted her face to look at
It was a warring field.
Upon it lay a great astonishment, a wonder, and a newness. Behind
these there came, creeping swiftly with each moment of her startled
gaze, an odd excitement that mounted with each panting breath that
left his lips, for it was from him that it took its life. Her red
mouth dropped apart, showing the gleam of the white teeth between. She
looked like a child rudely shaken from its sleep, startled, perhaps
vaguely frightened at the strange shapes of familiar things distorted
by the vision not yet adjusted.
"M'sieu!" she stammered; "M'sieu!"
And with her voice McElroy felt the arrested blood rush back to his
heart again, for it held no anger. Instead it was full of that
startled wonder, and it was as gold to him.
"Maren," he said, the emotion choking him; "Maren—" and with that
new courage he put both hands on her shoulders and drew her near,
looking down into the eyes so near on a level with his own.
Deliberately, slowly, that she might fully catch the meaning of
what he was about to do, he drooped his lips until they rested square
on the red mouth.
This was the thing he had left the factory for, this was what had
drawn him, unconsciously perhaps, to the path along the river's bank,
that had made him follow deliberately the light trail of the girl into
"Maren," he said, so thrilled that his words shook, "from this day
forth you are mine. Mine only and against the whole world. I have
taken you and you are mine."
He was full of his glory, dominating the dark eyes that had never
left his own, and his soul was big within him. He was still very much
a boy, this young factor, and the crowning moment of life had him in
He knew no fear, no thought of her next word or action touched him
until she, as deliberately as he had acted, reached up and took both
his hands from her shoulders.
"Adieu, M'sieu," said Maren Le Moyne quietly, the excitement of
that breathed "M'sieu! M'sieu!" quite lost in the calmness that was
her usual characteristic, and turning she walked away down the glen
toward the river bank, the little spots of sun dancing on her black
head like a leopard's gold as she passed in the checkered shade, and
not once did she turn her head to see the factor of De Seviere
standing where she had left him beside the forest giant.
CHAPTER IX GOLD FIRE
If that time in the tuneful spring was crowded full to the brim of
emotions scarce bearable to McElroy, how much more wonderful was it to
Maren Le Moyne, for the first time in her life trembling in all her
being from the touch of a man's lips?
To the outward world there was no sign of the tumult within her as
she came and went about the business of the new cabin by the stockade
wall, but in her virgin heart there stirred strange new things that
filled her calm eyes with wonder.
In the seclusion of the little room to the east she spread out on
the patchwork quilt the Indian garment and looked at it with a new
Never before in her life had she thought of a man's eyes as she
thought of McElroy's, thrilling to the very tips of her fingers at
memory of the blue fire in them, and never before had she been
conscious of anything as she was conscious of the flesh on her
shoulders where his hands had rested, her lips sealed under the warm
caress of his. Verily, there was nowhere another such man as this one
who knew the longing of the wild as did she, whose heart responded to
the same call of the great wilderness.
Night and day she thought of him, and the memory of that day in the
forest glade haunted her like a golden melody newly heard.
Yet something within her held her back from his sight, kept her
eyes from that part of the small settlement where stood the factory
with its wide doorway. She could not bear to look upon him yet in the
newness of this awakening.
And McElroy, deep in the work of the trading, was eaten by a
thousand qualms and torments. All those doubts that beset lovers tore
at his heart and made of his days a nightmare.
With the cooling of his exalted intoxication what time the touch of
the girl's young body had fired him with all confidence, came a
thousand condemnations for his blundering haste, his stupid boasting
To what depths of scorn might he not now be fallen in the mind of
such a girl as Maren Le Moyne with her calm judgment; how far might he
not be from the object of his longing!
And the fact that he could catch no sight of her, no matter how
often he stepped near the door nor how diligently he sought for a
glimpse of the shining braids and plain garment among the women at the
well, but added fuel to the fire that scorched him.
But the times were getting very busy at Fort de Seviere. Before the
Assiniboines were ready to depart back up the waterways down which
they had come, their canoes laden with the wealth of the coming
season, other flotillas were on the little waves of the river, other
chiefs made their entrance up the main way of the post, and the goods
of the Hudson's Bay Company went out in a stream as the priceless
pelts came in.
"Lad," said Edmonton Ridgar with that easy probing of the
well-known friend, "there is something eating at your mind these days.
The trade goes differently from that of last year. It is not so
all-absorbing. I fear me that the Nor'westers, with their plundering
and their tales of deportation, have entered a wedge of worry."
"'Tis not of the Nor'westers I give a thought, Ridgar," he smiled,
accepting the veiled raillery, "for you well know that we of the
Company are above them, though it was but yesterday that an Indian
brought word of a trapper at Isle a La Crosse being maltreated in the
woods by a couple of their sneaking cutthroats and two packs of beaver
taken from him for which they laughingly offered him in payment a
bundle of mangy skins cast out from the summer's pickings. 'Twas Peter
Brins and I'll wager that those two are marked for a long reckoning
when the tables turn. And by the same Indian I hear that the young
blade from Montreal with his light-haired brigade who stumbled upon us
a while back, has reached his post on the Saskatchewan and has taken
hold with a high hand, doing his utmost to intercept our Indians and
turn the tide of the Company's furs into the trading-rooms of the
Nor'westers. I think it will be a bootless process, for we hold our
people with the hand of surety."
"Aye, but what of the Nakonkirhirinons, making their initial trip
by way of Rapid River and Deer Lake, coming through the country of the
Saskatchewan and held by no bond of loyalty? I see trouble ahead if
this young De Courtenay gets wind of their coming, for they will be
rich in peltry and they are a warlike tribe."
"But they are to celebrate the Peace Dance in the lodges of the
Assiniboines. Surely they will come straight to their friends before
trusting their trade to any."
Edmonton Ridgar shook his head.
"Hey fear nothing, these Nakonkirhirinons, and would as soon enter
trade with one as another, having come for trade, if the values were
above those at York and Churchill. I hope they swing eastward to
Winipigoos and thus miss that young hot-brain on the Saskatchewan."
"By the way, Ridgar, Pierre Garcon says that Bois DesCaut is at
Seven Isles on the Qui Appelle with Henderson. Since telling that
wanton lie to the Nor'wester he has not had enough to show his face
here. A bad lot Bois, and one to be watched for tricks."
"Aye, a bad lot, but salted with a prudence that savours of
cowardice. His tricks are all turncoats that slip danger like an old
But for all Ridgar's hope, at that very moment the great tribe from
the far north country, even twelve leagues beyond the
Oujuragatchousibi, was swinging down through the wilderness bound for
the lodges of the Assiniboines, burdened with a wealth of peltry to
make a trader's eyes stand out and clad in all the glory of the
visiting tribes, and it was heading straight for the country of the
Towering head-dresses swept above their moving columns, pomp and
ceremony showed in the panoply of carved spear-heads, feathered
shafts, and slung bows of the white ash which decked them on their
peaceful mission, while underneath fringed garments of buckskin,
stained and beaded with porcupine quills, were bands and stripes of
war-paint. They were ready for anything that might happen in this
unknown country into which they journeyed at the word of their friends
the Assiniboines, given at the buffalo hunt the fall before, above the
Great Slave Lake.
Never before had the Nakonkirhirinons been so far in the south.
And long before they reached Deer Lake word had been brought to
that new venturer in his post on the Saskatchewan, Alfred de
Courtenay, and he was keenly alert.
About the same time a half-breed trapper came into Fort de Seviere,
loud in his lamentations, and sought McElroy.
From the flats south of the Capot River, where he had wintered amid
a band of Blackfoot Indians, a rare thing for a white man, he had come
laden with rich furs from that unopened country, bound for De Seviere,
and on the banks of the Qui Appelle three men had come upon him who
had shared his lonely campfire. Rollicking fellows they were, brawny
of form and light of head, and they had carried much liquor in flasks
in their leg-straps, which liquor flowed freely amid songs and
In the morning when he awoke late with, Mon Dieu! such a head!
there were no three men, who had vanished like dreams of the liquor,
likewise there was no well-strapped pack of fat winter beaver!
The man, a French half-breed, whimpered and cursed in impotent
wrath, and showed McElroy one of the flasks that had been in the
leg-straps of his visitors. It was covered with a fine light wicker
weave, of the same pattern as that jug which De Courtenay had left at
the post gate that morning in early spring.
"Ridgar," said the factor, showing the thing to him, "our friend
from Montreal is taking a high hand with the country. The freedom of
the wild has gone to his head."
Indeed it seemed as though that were true, for the tales of the
reckless doings of that post of the Nor'westers on the Saskatchewan
over which De Courtenay presided became more frequent and always they
were characterised by a wildness and folly that were only exceeded by
The young adventurer had already made a headlong sally into the
fringes of that country which came too near his Tom-Thumb garrison,
and along which roving bands of the sullen Blackfeet trailed with a
watching eye on the white men at the forts, and returned without two
of those long curls of which he was so proud, a spear-head pinning
them in the trunk of a tree which happened to form a convenient
To add to the small resentment against him which began to rankle in
McElroy's heart, and which had never really left it since that evening
in De Seviere when Maren Le Moyne had passed behind the cabin of the
Savilles with some voyageur's tot on her shoulder and the handsome
gallant from Montreal had lost his manners staring, one day in this
same week a Bois-Brules came to the post gates and asked for one Maren
He stood without and stubbornly refused to give his message, and at
last McElroy himself went to the cabin of the Baptistes.
He had not seen the girl since that day in the forest, and his
heart beat to suffocation as he neared the open door and caught the
sound of her voice singing a French love song. He stopped on the step,
and for a moment his glance took in the interior: By a window to the
north she stood at a table, its wooden surface soft and white as
doeskin from water and stone, and prepared the meal for ash-cakes, her
sleeves, as usual, rolled to her shoulder and the collar of her dress
open at the throat.
To the young factor's eyes she was a sight that weakened the knees
beneath him and set him quaking with a new fear. He dared not speak
and bring her gaze upon him, the memory of his boastful words in the
forest was too poignant.
But it needed not speech. Had he but known the wonder that had
lived within her all these days he would have understood the force
that presently stopped the song on her lips, as if her soul listened
unconsciously for tangible knowledge of the presence it already felt
near, that slowed her nimble brown fingers in the pan, that presently
lifted her head and turned her face to him.
Instantly a warm flush leaped up to the dark cheeks, and McElroy
felt its answer in his own.
"Ma'amselle," he stammered, far from that glib "Maren" of the
glade, "there is one at the gate who demands speech of you."
The words were commonplace enough and the girl did not get their
import for the intensity of her gaze into the eyes whose blue fire had
set her first wondering and then a-thrill with these strange emotions.
"Eh, M'sieu?" she smiled, and McElroy, revived through all his
being with that smile, repeated his message.
She took her hands from the yellow meal and dusted them on a hempen
towel, and was ready to go forth beside him.
That short walk to the stockade gate was silent with the silence of
shy new joy, and once the factor glanced sidewise at the drooped
lashes above the dusky cheeks.
"Had you expected any messenger, Ma'amselle?" he asked
indifferently as they neared the portal with its fringe of peeping
women and saw beyond them the tall figure of the Bois-Brule, his lank
hair banded back by a red kerchief.
"Nay, M'sieu," replied the girl, and went forward to stand in the
The messenger from the woods asked in good French if she were Maren
Le Moyne, and being answered in the affirmative, he took from his
hunting shirt a package wrapped in broad green leaves and placed it in
The leaves were wilted with the heat of the man's body and came
easily off in her fingers, disclosing a small square box cunningly
made from birchbark and stained after the Indian fashion in brilliant
colours. A tiny lid was fastened with a thong of braided grass.
Wonderingly she slipped the little catch and lifted the cover.
Inside upon a bed of dampened moss there lay a wee red flower, the
exact counterpart of that one which Alfred de Courtenay had fastened
in her hair that morning by the well.
McElroy, at her shoulder, looked down upon it, and instantly the
warmth in his heart cooled.
When Maren looked up it was to find his eyes fixed on the messenger
whose tall figure swung away up the river's bank toward the north
forest, and they were coolly impersonal.
She was unversed in the ways of men where a maid is concerned, this
woman of the trail and portage, and she only knew vaguely that
something had gone wrong with sight of the little flower.
She stood, holding the box in her hand, among the women craning
their necks for a glimpse of the contents, and looked in open
perplexity at McElroy until a light laugh from the fringe behind her
broke the silence.
"A gift!" cried the little Francette, her childish voice full of a
concealed delight; "a gift from the forest; and where do such trinkets
come from save the lower branch of the Saskatchewan! It savours of our
pretty man of the long gold curls! Mon Dieu! The cavalier has made
Whereat there was a stirring at the gate, and the peeping fringe
drew back while the factor turned on his heel and strode away toward
the factory, leaving the tall girl alone at the portal, holding her
There was a devilish light in the dancing eyes of Francette as she
But Maren Le Moyne walked slowly back to the cabin, wondering.
CHAPTER X THE SASKATOON
It was at dusk of that same day that McElroy, as near sullen anger
as one of his temperament could be, sat alone on the log step of the
factory, his pipe unlighted in his lips and his moody eyes on the
beaten ground worn hard by the passing feet of moccasined Indians from
the four winds.
Edmonton Ridgar, with that keenness which gave him such tact, had
shut himself in the living-room, and the two clerks were off among the
maids at the cabins.
Once again McElroy had made himself ridiculous by that abrupt
turning away because of a small red flower sent a maid by a man he now
knew to be his foe and rival in all things of a man's life.
Down by the southern wall an old fiddle squeaked dolefully, and
from beyond the stockade came the drowsy call of a bird deep in the
On the river bank young Marc Dupre sang as he fumbled at a canoe
awaiting the morn when he was to set off up-stream for any word that
he might pick up of the coming of the Nakonkirhirinons. There was no
moon and the twilight had deepened softly, covering the post with a
soft mantle of dreams, when there was a step on the hard earth and the
factor turned sharply to behold a little figure in a red kirtle, its
curly head hanging a bit as if in shame, and at its side the shadowy
form of the great dog Loup.
"M'sieu," said Francette timidly, and the tone was new to that
audacious slip of impudence; "M'sieu."
"What is it, little one?" said McElroy gently, his own disgust of
his morning's quickness softening his voice that he might not again
play the hasty fool, and Francette crept nearer until she stood close
to the log step.
The small hands were twisting nervously and the little breast
lifting swiftly with an agitation entirely new to her.
Presently she seemed to find the voice that eluded her.
"Oh, M'sieu!" she cried at last, breaking out as if the words were
thick crowded in her throat; "a heavy burden has fallen upon me! Is it
right, M'sieu, for a maid to die for love of a man, waiting, waiting,
waiting for the look, the word that shall crown her bondage? Love
lives all round in the post save in the heart that is all the world to
Francette! Why should there be happiness everywhere but here?"
With a gesture pathetically dramatic the little maid threw her
hands across her heaving breast and gazed at McElroy with big eyes,
starry in the dusk.
Her emotion was genuine he could not help but see, even through his
astonishment, and he stared at her with awaking sympathy.
"Is there some one who is so much to you, little one?" he asked. "I
thought there wasn't a youth in the post—no, nor in any other this
side the Red River-who did not pay homage to France Moline's little
daughter. Who is of such poor taste? Tell me, and what I can do I will
do to remedy the evil."
He was smiling at the little maid's pretty daring in coming
straight to the very head of De Seviere with her trouble, and he
reached out a hand to draw her down on the step beside him. There was
never a woman in distress who did not pull at the strings of his
heart, and he longed to soothe her, even while he smiled to himself at
But Francette was not so childish, and he was one day to marvel at
her artless skill.
At the touch of his hand she came down, not upon the step beside
him as he meant, but upon her knees before him, with her two little
hands upon his knees and her face of elfin beauty upheld to him in the
"Oh, M'sieu, there is one who is so much,—oui, even more than all
the world, more than life itself,—more than heaven or hell, for whose
sake I would die a thousand deaths! One at whose feet I worship,
scorning all those youths of the settlement and the posts. See,
M'sieu," she leaned forward so close that the fragrance of her curls
blew into the man's nostrils and he could see that the little face was
pale with a passion that caused him wonder; "see! Today came one from
the forest bringing love's message to that tall woman of Grand
Portage,—the little red flower in the birchbark case. It spoke its
tale and she knew,"—subtle Francette!—"she knew its meaning by the
eye of love itself. So would I, who have no words and am a woman, send
my message by a flower."
The hands on the factor's knees were trembling with a rigour that
shook the whole small form before him.
"See, M'sieu!" she cried, with the sudden sound of tears in the low
voice; "read the heart of the little Francette!"
She took from her bosom a fragile object and laid it in his palm,
then clasped her hands over her face and bowed until the little head
with its running curls was low to the log step.
McElroy strained his eyes to see what he held.
It was a dried spray of the blossoms of the saskatoon.
For a moment he sat in stupid wonder. Then swiftly, more by
intuition and that strange sense which recalls a previous happening by
a touch, or a smell, than by actual memory, he saw that golden morning
when he had stopped by the Molines' cabin and watched the great husky
balance on his shaky legs. He had twirled in his fingers the first
little spray of the saskatoon, brought in by Henri Corlier to show how
the woods were answering the call of the spring.
"Why," he said, astounded beyond measure, "why, Francette,—little
one, what does this mean?"
But Francette had lost her tongue and there was no answer from the
bowed figure at his knees.
He put out a hand and laid it on her shoulder and it was shaken
with sobs,—the sobs of a woman who has cast her all on the throw of
the die and in a panic would have it back.
Off in the forest a night bird called to its mate and the squeaky
fiddle whined dolorously and a profound pity began to well in the
factor's heart. She was such a little maid, such a childish thing, a
veritable creature of the sunlight, like those great golden
butterflies that danced in the flowered glades of the woods, and she
had brought her one great gift to him unasked.
Some thought of Maren Le Moyne and of that reckless cavalier with
his curls and his red flowers crept into his voice and made it
wondrously tender with sympathy.
"Sh, little one," he comforted, as he had comforted that day on the
river bank when she had wept over Loup; "come up and let us talk of
this." He lifted her as one would lift a child and strove to raise the
weeping eyes from the shelter of her hands, but the small head drooped
toward him so near that it was but a step until it lay in the shelter
of his shoulder, and he was rocking a bit, unconsciously, as the
sobbing grew less pitiful.
"Sh-sh-little one," he said gently; "sh—sh."
Meanwhile Maren Le Moyne sat in the doorway of her sister's cabin
with her chin on her hands and stared into the night. Marie and Henri
were at the cabin of the Bordoux, laughing and chattering in the gay
abandon of youth. She could hear their snatches of songs, their quips
and laughter rising now and again in shrill gusts. Also the wailing
fiddle seemed a part of the warm night, and the bird that called in
All the little homely things of the post and the woods crept into
her heart, that seemed to her to be opening to a vague knowledge, to
be looking down sweet vistas of which she had never dreamed among her
other dreams of forest and lake and plain, and, at each distant focus
where appeared a new glory of light, there was always the figure of
the young factor with his anxious eyes. Strange new thrills raced
hotly through her heart and dyed her cheeks in the darkness. She
tingled from head to foot at the memory of that day in the glade, and
for the first time in her life she read the love-signs in a man. That
change in his eyes when he had looked upon De Courtenay's red flower
was jealousy. With the thought came a greater fulness of the
unexplainable joy that had flooded her all these days. Aye, verily,
that red flower had caused him pain,—him,—with his laughing blue
eyes and his fair head tilted back ever ready for mirth, with his
tender mouth and his strong hands. The very thought of that killed the
joy of the other. If love was jealousy, and jealousy was pain, the one
must be healed for sake of the other. With this girl to think was to
do, and with that last discovery she was upon her feet, straight and
lithe as a young animal beside the door. She would go to this man and
tell him that the red flower was less than nothing to her, its giver
less than it.
At that moment a figure came out of the dusk and stopped before
It was her leader, Prix Laroux, silent, a shadow of the shadows.
"Maren," he said, in that deep confidence of trusted friends,
"Maren, is all well with you?"
"All is well, Prix," said the girl, her voice tremulous with
pleasure, "most assuredly. Thought you aught was wrong?"
"Nay,—only I felt the desire to know."
"Friend," said Maren, reaching out a hand which the man took
strongly in both his own; "good, good friend! Ever you are at my
"Where you may easily reach me when you will."
"I know. 'Tis you alone have made possible the long trail. Ah! how
long until another spring?"
But, when Prix had lounged away into the dusk and the girl had
stepped into the soft dust of the roadway, she fell to wondering how
it was that mention of the year's wait brought no longer its
impatience, its old dissatisfaction.
She was thinking of this as she neared the factory, her light tread
muffled in the dust.
"Foolish Francette! What should I do with a gay little girl like
you? Play in the sunshine years yet, little one, and think not of the
bonds and cares of marriage. How could these little hands lift the
heavy kettles, wash the blankets, and do the thousand tasks of a
household? You are mistaken, child. It is not love you feel, but the
changing fancies of maidenhood. Play in the sun with Loup and wait for
the real prince. He will come some day with great beauty and you will
give no more thought to me. He must be young, little one, a youth of
twenty; not one like me, nearer the mark of another decade. It would
not be fitting. Youth to youth, and those of a riper age to each
other." He was thinking of a tall form, full and round with womanhood,
whose eyes held knowledge of the earth, and yet, had he been able to
define their charm, were younger even than Francette's.
The little maid had ceased her weeping long since and the face on
McElroy's shoulder, turned out toward the night, was drawn and hard.
The black eyes were no longer starry with passion, but glittering with
failure. And the man, stupid and good of heart as are all men of his
type, congratulated himself that he had talked the nonsense out of her
Suddenly he felt the slender figure shiver in his arms and the
curly head brushed his cheek as she raised her face.
"Aye, M'sieu," she whispered, "it is as you say, but only one thing
remains. Kiss me, M'sieu, and I go to—forget."
The factor hesitated.
He felt again his one passionate avowal on the lips of his one
This was against the grain.
"Please, M'sieu," begged the childish voice, with a world of
coaxing; and, thinking to finish his gentle cure, he bent his head and
kissed her lightly on the cheek.
"And now—" he started to admonish, when she threw her arms about
his neck, stiffling the words in her garments.
At the corner of the factory Maren Le Moyne stood looking through
the twilight at the scene.
When Francette released him there were only they two and he had
heard no step nor seen the silent beholder.
When the little French maid slipped away with the husky she
fingered the carved toy of a knife in her sash and tossed her short
curls in triumph.
Her failure had taken on a hue of victory.
CHAPTER XI LEAVEN AT WORK
"M'sieu," said Marc Dupre, coming up the slope from the river, his
buckskins much tattered, showing a swift cross-country run, "I have
news of the great tribe. Like the forest leaves in fall in point of
numbers they are, and they wear a wealth of wampum and elk teeth, so
much that they are rich beyond any other tribe. Their young men are
tall and heavy of stature and wonderful in the casting of their great
carven spears. Also do they excel in the use of the bow. Warlike and
suspicious, scouting every inch of country before them, they come down
by way of Dear Lake,—and the young Nor'wester at Fort Brisac has
already sent forth his messengers to meet them."
Double anger swelled suddenly within him. In two ways had De
Courtenay crossed his plane at opposing angles. It was evidently war
that the adventurer wanted, the hot war of the two fur companies
coupled to that of man and man for a maid. He stood a while and
thought. Then he turned to Dupre.
"You have done well, Dupre," he said shortly. "Get you to your
cabin and rest, for I may want your wit again. Only, on the way, send
Pierre Garqon to me."
The young man touched his red toque, symbol of safety to all
trappers in a land where the universal law is "kill," for no wild
animal of the woods bears a crimson head save that animal man who is
the greatest killer of all, and turned away. He was draggled and
stained from a forced march through forest and up-stream, over portage
and rapid, carrying his tiny birchbark craft on his head, snatching a
short sleep on a bed of moss, hurrying on that he might learn of the
Nakonkirhirinons travelling slowly down from that unknown land to the
far north, even many leagues beyond York factory on the shores of the
As he went toward his own cabin he glanced swiftly at the open door
of the Baptistes. Always these days he glanced that way with a sick
feeling in the region of his heart. Who was he, Marc Dupre, trapper of
the big woods, that he should dare think so often of that woman from
Grand Portage, with her wondrous beauty and her tongue that could be
like a cold knife-blade or the petal of a lily for softness? And yet
he was conscious of a mighty change that had come over him with that
day on the flat rock by the stockade when she had talked to him of the
trapping,—a change like that which comes to one when he is so
fortunate as to be in distant Montreal and sits in the dusk of the
great church there among the saints and the incense.
There was no longer pleasure in flipping jests and love words with
the red-cheeked maids, and something had happened to the dashing
spirit of the youth. All through those long days in the forest, those
short blue nights under the velvet sky, one image had stood before
him, calm, smiling, quivering with that illusive light which held
men's hearts. Never a day that he could win forgetfulness of the face
of Maren Le Moyne, and now he glanced toward her doorway. It lay in
the sunlight without a foot upon its sill, and Marc sighed
unconsciously. He was not to see her, perhaps, to-day.
But suddenly, as he rounded a corner among the cabins, he came full
upon her, and his flippant tongue clove to the roof of his mouth
She came toward him with a bread-pan in her hands and her eyes were
cast down. The heart in him ran to water at sight of her, and he
Once more thought of his unworthiness abased him.
Then she felt his presence and raised her eyes, and the young
trapper looked deep into them with that helplessness which draws the
look of a child. Deep he looked and long, and the woman looked back,
and in that moment there sprang into life the first thrill of that
thing which was to lead to the great crisis which she had predicted
that day by the stockade.
With it Marc Dupre found his tongue.
"Ma'amselle!" he cried sharply, "what is it? Mon Dieu! What is it?"
For the dark eyes, with their light-behind-black-marble splendour,
were quenched and dazed and all knowledge seemed stricken from them.
The look of them cut to his very soul, quick and sensitive from the
working of the great change, made ready as a wind-harp by the silent
days of dreams, the nights of visions. To him alone was the
devastation within them apparent. He stretched out a timid hand and
touched her sleeve.
"What is it, Ma'amselle?" he begged abjectly. "I would heal it with
Extravagant, impulsive, the boy was in deadly earnest, and Maren Le
Moyne was conscious of it as simply as that she lived.
Just as simply she acknowledged to him what she would have to none
other in De Seviere, that something had fallen from a clear sky.
"Nay," she said, and the deep voice was lifeless, "I am beyond
Dupre's fingers slipped, trembling, around her arm.
"But I am a stone to your foot, Ma'amselle,—always remember that.
When the way becomes too hard there shall be a stone to your foot. I
ask no better fate and you have said."
The miserable eyes were not dead to everything. At his swift words
they glowed a moment.
"Aye,—I have said, and I thank God, M'sieu, for such friendship. I
am rich, indeed."
"Oho! Marc Dupre does better at the lovemaking than at the
trapping! His account at the factory suffers from les amours!"
A childish voice broke in upon them, and Francette's mpish face
peeped round the corner of the nearest cabin.
"Let it be, Marc Dupre," as the youth dropped his and from Maren's
arm. "Ma'amselle does not object,—a trapper or a cavalier, all are
fish to Ma'amselle's net. Mon Dieu! If all were so attractive as
The little maid sighed in exaggerated dolour.
Dupre flashed round on his moccasined heel and reached her in a
"Aha! It is you, by all the saints!" he said beneath his breath, as
he took her none too gently by the shoulder. "I know your tricks."
Aloud he said, "Francette, children should keep from where they are
not wanted. Get you back to your mother."
"Children, you say, M'sieu Dupre? Is eighteen so far behind
twenty-two? Grow a beard on your cheek before you give yourself the
airs of a man. And, anyway, grown men of twice eighteen have been
known to love children of that age."
It was a dagger thrust, and it found its mark even as the girl
glanced slily at her victim. Maren's full mouth twitched and she
looked dully away to the fort gate. Dupre gave Francette an ungallant
push. "Begone!" he cried angrily; "you little cat!"
With a ringing laugh the maid danced away in the sunshine, and
Dupre faced Maren.
"It is that imp of le diable, Francette?" he asked. "What has she
done to you, Ma'amselle?"
But Maren shook her head.
"The maid is not to blame. She is but a child in spirit and what le
bon Dieu has seen fit to give her has gone to her head. That is all,
save as your quick eye has detected, M'sieu, I have received a heavy
Suddenly, with that whimsical youthfulness of soul which glimmered
at times through her apparent strength, she looked at Dupre with a
sort of fright.
"Merci, M'sieu! For what reason does the good God let some things
befall? ...But I have still a stone. Throughout I will remember that."
In a moment she was gone, walking toward the cabin of Micene
Bordoux, and Marc Dupre went on his quest of Pierre, wondering and all
a-tremble with pity and thought of that promise.
Where Marc, with the revelation of adoration, had seen sharply,
Micene with her good sense felt vaguely that something was wrong with
the intrepid leader of the long trail.
"Maren," she said this day, as she took the bread pan which had
been borrowed, "I fear there is something troubling you. Is there bad
news from Athabasca?"
Always there lay behind Maren's eagerness a fear, sleeping like a
hidden fawn but ever ready to quiver into life, a fear of news from
the Whispering Hills, news that should make the promise of the trail a
"Nay, Micene," smiled Maren, "these latest Indians come from the
"And all is well with the plans?"
The vague uneasiness was not stilled in Micene.
"All is well with the plans. There is not a year now."
The girl looked straight in her friend's eyes without a trace of
the dazed misery which Marc Dupre had surprised in her own.
Micene smiled back, but that night she lay far into the dark hours
thinking of the subtle change in the maid of the trail. With a woman's
intuition she knew that the girl had lied, that all was not well with
And one other there was of that small party of venturers housed in
the new cabins of De Seviere who knew vaguely that something had gone
wrong-Prix Laroux, the sturdy prow of that little vessel of progress
of which the girl was the beating heart, the unresting engine.
He had felt its coming even before it fell, that mighty shadow
which blotted out the heavens and the earth, for to Maren, once given,
there was no recalling the gift, and with that day in the glade she
had lost possession of her soul and body forever.
Dazed in all the regions of her being, enshadowed in every vista of
hope and scarce-tasted joy, she went quietly about the cabin, her mind
a dark space in which there flashed sudden, reiterated visions,—now
McElroy's blue eyes, anxious and eager as he held up the doeskin dress
at the door-sill, burning with fire and truth and passion in the glade
in the forest, again tender and diffident what time they walked
together to the gate to meet De Courtenay's messenger, and again it
was that scene at the factory steps that haunted her,—McElroy with
his arms about Francette Moline, the grey husky crouching in the
twilight. Throughout the whole sick tangle there went a twisting
thread of wonder, of striving for understanding. What was this thing
which had come clutching sweetly at her heart, which had stilled the
very life in her with holy mystery, and whose swift passing had left
her benumbed within as some old woman numbling in the sun on a
door-sill? Where was the glory of the spring? What had come upon the
face of the waters, that the light had gone from them? What was this
thing that the good God wished her to learn, where was the lesson?
Given to reason and plain judgment of all things, the girl tried to
think out her problem, to fathom the meaning of this which had
befallen her, and to find if there was any good in it. But everywhere
she looked there was the laughing face of the factor with his sunburnt
hair and his blue eyes. The spring days were heavy as those steel-grey
stretches that pass for the days in winter.
Too dull for sharp pain, she went about in a sort of apathy.
For several days McElroy watched uneasily for her, hoping for a
chance meeting. He was anxious to speak about his boyish jealousy, to
beg forgiveness for that abrupt leaving at the gate. So close did she
stay at the cabin, however, that at last he was forced to go to her.
It was twilight again, soft, filled with the breath of the forest,
vibrant with the call of birds off in some marshy land to the south,
and he found her alone, sitting upon the step, staring into the
gathering dusk, listening to the laughter of the young married folk
from the cabin next where Marie and Henri were loudest.
A lump rose in his throat as he caught the outline of the braided
head bowed lower than he had ever seen it, saw the whole attitude of
the strong figure, every line relaxed as if in a great weariness.
"Maren," he said, with the wonder of love in his voice, "Maren—my
And he strode forward swiftly, stooped, and laid his hand on her
With a jerk the drooped head came up. She drew from his touch as if
it burned her.
"If you please, M'sieu," she said coldly, "go away."
McElroy sprang back.
"What? Go away! You wish that,—Ma'amselle?"
The tone more than the words drove out of him all daring of her
sweet name, took away in a flash all the personal.
"Of a surety,—go away."
The factor stood a moment in amazed silence. Did the red flower
mean so much to her, then? Had she accepted its message? And yet he
knew in his heart that the look in her eyes, the smile on her lips had
told their own tale of awakening to his touch. What but the red flower
in its birchbark case had wrought the change?
He thought swiftly of De Courtenay's beauty, of his sparkling
grace, his braided blue coat, his wide hat, and the long golden curls
sweeping his shoulder. Truly a figure to turn a woman's head. But
within him there rose a tide of rage, blind vent of the hurt of love,
that boded ill for the dashing Nor'wester on the Saskatchewan.
Sick to the very bottom of his heart, he bowed ever so slightly to
the tense figure on the step and strode away in the shadows.
So! Thus ended his one love.
For this he had kept himself from the common lot of the factors in
their lonely posts; for this he had never looked with aught save
friendly compassion upon the maids of the settlements, the half breed
girls of the wilderness, the wild daughters of the forest.
Waiting for this one princess in his small kingdom, he had thrown
himself on the out-bearing tide of love only to be stranded on some
barren beach, to see her taken from him by some reckless courtier not
fit to touch a woman's hand!
Thus they turned apart, these two meant for each other from the
beginning, and in each love worked its will of pain.
Maren on the step stared dry-eyed into the night, uncomprehending,
unrebelling, and McElroy strode ahead, blind with sudden anguish,
scarce knowing which way his steps tended.
And, like a ghoul behind a stone, a small dark face peeped keenly
from a corner.
Francette was watching her leaven work.
CHAPTER XII THE NAKONKIRHIRINONS
In the week that followed the waters of the Assiniboine grew black
with myriads of canoes. Like the leaves in fall, truly, they came
drifting out of the forest, long slim craft, made with a wondrous
cunning of birchbark peeled from the tree in one piece, fitted to
frames of ash fragile as cockleshell and strong as steel under the
practised hand, and smeared in every crinkle and crease and crevasse
with the resinous gum of the pine tree. By scores and hundreds and
battalions, it seemed to the traders at De Seviere, they poured out of
the wilderness, choking the river with their numbers, spilling their
contents on the slope under the bastioned walls until a camp was made
so vast that it stretched into the forest on each side the clearing of
the post and even extended to the marsh at the south.
Half-naked braves stalked in countless numbers among the tepees
that went rapidly up, tall fellows, mighty of build and fearless of
carriage and of eagle eye, aloof, suspicious, watching the fort,
guarding the rich piles of peltry and exchanging a word with none.
These were the great Nakonkirhirinons from that limitless region of
the Pays Ten d'en Haut.
If McElroy's heart had not been so full of his own trouble he would
have exulted mightily in their coming, for did it not prove one
failure for that reckless Nor'wester on the Saskatchewan? They had
come, past all his blandishments of trade, to Fort de Seviere, and
their coming spelled a number of furs this season far in advance of
any other for that small post. If he wondered at first how they had
held out against De Courtenay it was all made plain when among the
strangers he espied many Assiniboines and saw in the great canoe of
the chief Negansahima, old Quamenoka, who had boasted of the coming of
this tribe to De Seviere as his work.
He had spoken truly and had evidently made his word good by meeting
the approaching columns and returning with them.
To him alone was due the failure of De Courtenay, McElroy felt at
once, and determined in his mind on that present which he had promised
for this zeal.
With the coming of the strangers Fort de Seviere was put under
military rule. The half-moon to the right of thegate, with its small
cannon, received a quota of menwho strayed carelessly all day within
reach of the low rampart; a guard lounged in the great gate, ready at
a moment's notice to clang it shut, and seemingly matter-of-course
precautions were taken throughout, for these Indians were as uncertain
as the flickering north lights crackling in a frosty sky.
There was a scene not to be likened to any other outside the region
of the Hudson Bay country, where strange relations existed between
white trader and savage, when Edmonton Ridgar met the canoe of the
chief at the landing.
Savage delight overspread the eagle features of Negansahima as he
beheld the white man.
Towering mightily in the prow of his canoe, the sweeping head-dress
of feathers crowning him with a certain majesty, he fixed his keen
glance on Ridgar and came gliding toward him across the rippled water.
As the canoe cut cleanly up and stopped just short of scraping on
the stones at the edge, obeying the paddles like a thoroughbred the
bit, the chief trader of De Seviere stepped forward and held out his
"Who art thou?" he called.
Deep and guttural as thunder from the broad chest, naked under the
lines of elk teeth, came the reply,
"And master of my goods. The heart of thy son melts as the snow in
spring. Wiskendjac has sent thee."
McElroy, standing near, saw the face of his friend illumined with a
real affection as the savage landed and, contrary to the custom of the
Indians in the lower country, embraced with every sign of joy the lean
white man whose skin was nearly as dark as his own and whose greying
temples bespoke almost a as many years as the chief's black locks
In the eyes of both, as they regarded each other, were memories
known to no one else. McElroy wondered what they were and what that
year, of which Ridgar had spoken only once, had held.
The trader spoke their tongue as easily as he spoke any other that
came to the post, naturally and with quiet fluency.
So deep was the apparent pleasure of the meeting that, when the
interpreting was done and the ceremonies over, Ridgar went with the
Indian among the tepees and no more did McElroy see him until he came
to the factory at dusk.
"Mother of Heaven!" he ejaculated, flinging himself down at the
table in the living-room where Rette's strong coffee tempted the
nostril; "such furs! Beaver in countless packs, all the fat winter
skins, no Bordeaux, no Mittain. Fox, also of the best only,—black
fox, fine and shining, fox of those far-north regions where they hunt
beyond the sun, white as the snow it runs on, and Mon Dieu, McElroy!
Seven silvers as I hope for salvation! Verily are they a prize beyond
price, these Indians that have come in to us, and I fancy that young
Nor'wester is swearing at his luck in losing them. Old Quamenoka
struts as if their wealth belonged to his meek Assiniboines.... But
the furs! Ermine and nekik and sakwasew and wapistan, all the little
fellows that, taken from those virgin north lands, are worth their
weight in gold! Nowhere have I seen a common pelt. They are
connoisseurs, these wild Nakonkirhirinons, and they carry a king's
ransom in their long canoes. White bear and brown arctic wolf and
everywhere the best of its kind! To-morrow's trade will be worth
while—but keep the guns in evidence and quiet above all things."
"Ah!" said McElroy, "what is there to fear, think you? Is not the
chief bound to you by all ties of ceremony and regard?"
"Most assuredly," returned Ridgar quietly, "but those young braves
are strung like a singing wire and swift as a girl to take suspicious
fright; and there are somewhere near five hundred of them, as near as
I can make out from the numbers seething among the lodges. They are in
a strange country and watching every leaf and shadow."
Thus the sun went down on De Seviere, with the eager maids and
women passing and repassing near the gate to peep out at the rustling
throng, at the tepees with their fine skin coverings painted with all
the wonders of battle and the chase, at the comely squaws and maidens,
the chubby brown children, the dogs snarling arid savage, for they had
full complement of the grey northern huskies.
To a woman they peeped at the gate from all the cabins of the post,
save only that one who had been most eager before when the Indians
came, Maren Le Moyne, sitting in idle apathy on her sister's doorstep.
"Ma'amselle," said Marc Dupre, stopping hesitant before her, "have
you seen the Nakonkirhirinons?"
"Nay," she said listlessly, "I care not, M'sieu."
And the youth went gloomily away.
"Something there is which preys on her like the blood-sucker on the
rabbit's throat. But what? Holy Mother, what?"
His handsome eyes were troubled.
By dawn on the following day the trading had begun. Up the main way
passed a line of braves, each laden with his winter's catch of furs,
to barter at the trading-room, haggle with the clerks by sign and
pantomime, and pass down again with gun and hatchet and axe, kettle
and bright blanket, beads, and, most eagerly sought of all, yards of
There was babble of chatter among the squaws, shrill laughter, and
comparison of purchases.
In the trading-room sat the chief with his headmen and old
Quamenoka of the Assiniboines, smoking gravely many pipes and
listening to the trading. Like some wild eagle of the peaks brought
down to earth he seemed, ever alert and watchful behind his stately
For two days the trading progressed finely, and McElroy had so far
laid aside his doubts as to take delight in the quality of the rare
Never before had such pelts stacked themselves in the sorting-room.
It was a sight for eyes tired by many springs of common trade.
Then, like a bomb in a peaceful city, came a running word of
The Nor'wester from the Saskatchewan was among the
Nakonkirhirinons! Was at the very gates of De Seviere! When Pierre
Garcon brought the news, McElroy flushed darkly to his fair hair and
went on with his work.
This was unbearable insolence.
"An', M'sieu," pursued Pierre, "not only the man from Montreal,
but, like the treacherous dog he is, among the Nor'westers is that
vagabond Bois DesCaut."
"Turncoat?" said the factor.
True enough. When McElroy, after trading hours, strolled down to
the gate between the bastions, whom should he behold but the hulking
figure of his erstwhile trapper, sulky of appearance, shifty eyes
flitting everywhere but toward his old factor. And farther down the
bank, among a group of warriors, a brown baby on his shoulder and his
long curls shining in the sunset, was that incomparable adventurer,
Alfred de Courtenay.
Apparently he had not come for barter, nor for anything save the
love of the unusual, the thirst for adventure that had brought him
primarily to the wilderness.
"A fine fit of apoplexy would he have, that peppery old uncle at
Montreal, Elsworth McTavish, could he see his precious nephew
following his whims up and down the land, leaving his post in the
hands of his chief trader," thought McElroy, as he looked at the scene
While he stood so, there was a rustle of women behind him and
voices that bespoke more eager eyes for the Indians, and he glanced
over his shoulder.
Micene Bordoux and Mora LeClede approached, and between them walked
Maren Le Moyne. McElroy's heart pounded hard with a quick excitement
as he saw the listless droop of the face under the black braids and
stopped with a prescience of disaster. His glance went swiftly to the
long-haired gallant in the braided coat. Surely were the elements
It seemed as if Fate was weaving these little threads of destiny,
for no sooner did Maren Le Moyne step through the gate among the
lodges than her very nearness drew round upon his heel De Courtenay.
His eyes lighted upon her and the sparkling smile lit up his
features. With inimitable grace he swung the child from his shoulder,
tossed it to a timid squaw watching like a hawk, and, shaking back his
curls, came forward.
"Ah, Ma'amselle!" he said, bending before her with his courtly
manner, "you see, as I said in the early spring,—I have come back to
Fort de Seviere."
"So I see, M'sieu," smiled Maren, with a touch of whimsical
amusement at the memory of that morning, and his venturesome spirit.
"Have you by chance brought me a red flower?"
"Why else should I come?" he returned, and, with a flourish,
brought from his bosom a second birchbark box which he held out to the
Over her face there spread a crimson flood at this swift, literal
proving of a secret pact and she stood hesitating, at loss.
The stretch of beach was alive with spectators. Near the wall a
group of girls hugged together, with Francette Moline in the centre;
down by the canoes Pierre Garcon and Marc Dupre stood, the dark eyes
of the latter watching every move, while at the door of the chief's
lodge, directly before the fort and between it and the river, Edmonton
Ridgar talked in low tones with Negansahima. Indeed, like father and
son seemed this strangely assorted pair. Maren remembered afterward
how near together they had stood, the wild savage in his elk teeth and
scant buckskin garments, an indiscreet band of yellow paint showing a
corner above his blanket, and the dark, wiry trader with the grey
eyes. Scattered, here and there among the braves were many
Bois-Brules, lean Runners of the Burnt Woods, belonging she knew to
the North-west Company. Also in that moment she saw the frowning face
and ugly eyes of Bois DesCaut beneath the white lock on his temple.
Long afterward was the girl to recall that evening scene.
For another moment she hesitated, and then, from sheer loss of
poise, reached out her hand. The dancing eyes of the cavalier lit with
all the daring of conquest.
"My heart, Ma'amselle," he said gallantly, as he pressed the
fragile thing in her palm; and in another second he had stooped and
kissed her, as he had kissed many another woman, lightly, delicately,
in the face of the populace, joying to the depths of his careless
nature in the dare of the thing.
With a cry the girl sprang back, crushing the birchbark case with
its red flower into shapeless ruin. There was a muffled word, the
flash of a figure, and McElroy the factor had flung himself before
her. She caught the thud of a blow upon flesh and in a moment there
were two men locked in deadly combat before the post gate. In less
time than the telling, a circle of faces drew round, dark faces of
Indians and Bois- Brules, light faces of De Courtenay's men, and in
all there leaped swift excitement as they saw the combatants. White
with passion, his brilliant eyes flaming and dancing with fury, De
Courtenay fought like a madman to avenge that blow in the face, while
McElroy, flushed and calmer, took with his hands payment for all
things,—slighted kindliness, Company thefts, and, above all else, the
stolen heart of his one woman.
How it would have ended there is no telling, for these two were
evenly matched—what De Courtenay lacked in weight he made up in
swiftness and agility,—had it not been for the side arm that hung at
his hip, one of those small pistols in use across the water where
gentlemen fight at given paces and not across a frozen river or
through a mile of brush.
Once, twice, he tried to reach it, and twice did McElroy snatch the
groping hand away. Three times he passed swiftly for the inlaid handle
and, as if there lay luck in the number, the weapon flashed in the red
Swift as was the draw, McElroy was swifter.
With an upward stroke he flung up the hand that held it. There was
a shot, ringing down the Assiniboine and echoing in the woods, and
little Francette by the stockade wall screamed. With the first flash
of metal Maren Le Moyne had gripped her hands until the nails cut raw,
standing where she had sprung at the stranger's kiss.
She could no more move than the bastioned wall behind her.
For a moment there was deathly silence after that shot. Then
pandemonium broke loose as Negansahima, chief of the Nakonkirhirinons,
flung up his arms, the dull metal bands with their inset stones
catching the crimson light, and fell into the outstretched arms of
A long cry broke from his lips, the death-cry of a warrior.
CHAPTER XIII "A SKIN FOR A SKIN"
For a moment the whole evening scene, red with the late light, was
set in the mould of immobility. The two fighting men at sound of that
cry following hard upon the shot stopped rigidly, still clasped in the
grip of rage, the women staring wide-eyed from the wall, the
Bois-Brules, the leaning eager faces of the wild Nakonkirhirinons, the
figure of the girl in the foreground, all, all were stricken into
stillness by that dirge-like cry. For only the fraction of a second it
held, that tense waiting.
Then from nine hundred throats there shot up to the sky, turquoise
and pink and calm, such a sound as all the northland knew,—the wild
blood- cry of the savage.
It filled the arching aisles of the shouldering forest, rolled down
the breast of the river, and echoed in the cabins of the post, and
with it there broke loose the leashed wildness of the Indians. There
was one vast surging around the lodge where Ridgar knelt with the
figure of the chief in his arms, another where a tumbling horde fought
to get to the factor and De Courtenay.
At the stockade gate Prix Laroux, swift of foot and strong as
twenty men in the exigency of the moment, swept the women into his
arms and rushed them within the post. Above the hideous turmoil his
voice rose in carrying command,
"Into the post! Into the post,—every man inside! Man the rampart!"
It fell on ears startled into apathy by the suddenness of the
tragic happening, and there was a wild confusion of white people
pulling out of the mass like threads, all headed for the open gate.
Swift as light those guards of the guns on the rampart sprang to
place, the watcher of the portal swung the great studded gate ready
for the clanging close, and, in a twinkling, so alert to peril do they
become who pierce the wilderness, there were without only that howling
mass of savages, De Courtenay, McElroy, and Edmonton Ridgar gazing
with dimmed vision into the fast glazing eyes of the dying chief.
Only they? Standing where she had leaped at the cavalier's kiss,
her eyes wide, her lips apart, was Maren Le Moyne. In the hurrying
rush of frantic people she had been forgotten and she was utterly
As in a dream she saw the leaping forms close in upon the two men
who fought for her, knew that those of De Seviere were pouring past
her to safety, heard the boom of the great gate as it swung into
place, and for her life she could move. neither hand nor foot. Her
body stood frozen as in those horrid dreams of night when one is
conscious, yet held, in a clutch of steel.
Over the heaving heads with their waving eagle feathers she saw the
head and shoulders of De Courtenay rise, tipped sidewise so that his
long curls swung clear, shining in the light, and already he was bound
with thongs of hide.
She saw his handsome face again sparkling with that smile that was
so brilliant and that bore such infinite shades of meaning.
Now it was full of devil-may-care, as if he shrugged his shoulders
at a loss at cards, and in that second it fell upon her standing in
"Ah, Ma'amselle!" he called, across the surging feathers; "the tune
changes! But you have my heart, and I,—I have one kiss! Adieu, my
Maid of the Long Trail! The chance was worth its turning."
Then the shining head sank into the mass and she heard no more.
She was conscious only of a giant form lurching, red-eyed and
yelling, out of the turmoil, of brown hands that clutched her arms,
and of another form which shot past her. For the second time in a few
moments one man had reached for her and another flung himself to her
rescue. She saw the Indian reel back with a red line spurting across
his eyes, felt herself lifted and flung across a shoulder, and knew
that the gate behind was swinging open. The next instant she slid down
to her feet with her face in the buckskin shirt of Marc Dupre, who
leaned shaking against the stockade wall and held her in a grip like
steel, while Henri Corlier shot the bolts into place.
Huddled in white groups were the women, some of them already
raising their voices in weeping, others silent with the training of
the women of the wilderness. The men faced each other with lips drawn
tight and breath that came swiftly. Prix Laroux, his dark eyes cool
and sharp, looked swiftly over the populace as they stood, for with
that first shot every man in Fort de Seviere had rushed to the gate,
and in that first moment of getting breath he calculated their
strength and their ability.
A leader born himself, he was looking for a leader among McElroy's
men; but, with that intrepid factor himself gone and Edmonton Ridgar
also, there was nowhere a man with the signs of leadership upon him.
Through Prix's mind this went while they stood listening to the
death- wail that was beginning to rise from the tepees without.
Then he quietly took command, knowing himself to be best fitted.
"Corlier," he said quietly, "leave the gate to Cif Bordoux. Take
one man and get to the southwest bastion. You, Gifford," turning to
that young clerk who worked in the sorting-room, "man the northwest.
Garcon and Dupre will take the forward two. The rest will stand ready
with guns and ammunition along the four walls and at the gates. We
know not what will transpire."
As if their factor spoke, the men of De Seviere turned to obey,
feeling that strange compelling which causes men to follow one man to
death on the field of battle, and which is surely the gift of God.
Out of his shaking arms Marc Dupre loosed Maren, the trembling
lessening as the danger passed. That sight of the defenceless girl
among the Indians had shaken him like a leaf in the wind, had nerved
his arms with iron, had worked in him both with strength and weakness.
Now he looked into her eyes and said never a word, for once again
he saw that they were dazed and void of knowledge.
As he set her upon her own strength, she swayed. Her eyes went
round the hushed groups of faces with wild searching. At last they
found the face of her leader, and clung there, dark and dull.
"Prix!" she cried. "Prix! Open the gate!"
"I cannot, Maren," he said quietly; "'twould be but madness."
"But they are without!"
All horror was in the cry.
"They are among the Indians!"
"Aye,—and may the good God have mercy on them!"
Laroux hastily made the sign of the cross.
"We must guard the post, Maren."
"But—" She turned her eyes slowly around from face to face and not
a woman there but read her secret plain, the open script of love,—but
for which man?
"But-they-will—be—" She did not finish the sentence, staring at
Laroux. Once she moistened her lips.
"They will—Prix,—as I am your leader, open that gate!"
With sudden reviving the daze went out of her features and the old
light came back to her eyes, the far-seeing, undaunted light that had
beaconed the long way from Grand Portage. She was every inch the
leader again, tall, straight against the logs, her brown arm pointing
imperiously to the closed gate.
"Open, I say!"
For a moment Laroux faced her squarely, the man who had tied
himself to her hand, pledged himself to forge the way to the
Whispering Hills, who followed her compelling leadership as these
lesser men had turned to follow his but now. Then he set his will to
"I will not," he said quietly.
With no more words she flung herself upon the gate and tore at the
chains, her strong hands able as a man's. As the sight of her in peril
had worked for both weakness and strength in Dupre, so had McElroy's
plight affected her. That helpless moment was the one defection of her
Now again she was herself, reaching for the thing of the moment,
and the roar outside the palisade, constantly rising in volume, in
menace and savagery, brushed out of her brain every cloud of shock.
Laroux caught her from behind, pinioning her arms.
"Maren," he said quietly, "hear me. Out there are five hundred
warriors wild as the heart of the Pays d'en Haut, howling over the
body of their dying chief. What would be the opening of the gate but
the massacre of all within? Could forty men take the factor from them?
There would be but as many more scalps on their belts as there are
heads within the post. See you not, Maren?"
In his iron grip the girl stood still, breathing heavily. As he
ceased speaking a great sigh came from her lips, a sigh like a sob.
"Aye," she said brokenly, "I see,—I see! Mary Mother! Let me go,
Prix. I see."
Laroux loosed her, knowing that the moment was past, and went at
once about his duties of throwing the post into a state of defence.
Once more strong and quiet, Maren went to the cabin by the gate.
Here Marie knelt at her bed with a crucifix grasped in her shaking
hands, her face white as milk and prayers on her trembling lips.
"Maren!" she gasped, with the child's appeal to the stronger
nature. "Oh, Maren, what will befall? For love of God, what will
"Hush, Marie," answered Maren; "'tis but a tragedy of the wild.
Naught will befall us of the post."
"But those without? What is that roaring of many throats? Little
Jean Bleaureau but now ran past crying that the Nakonkirhirinons were
killing the factor"
"No!" Marie jumped at the word like one shot, so wild and sudden it
was. "No! No! Not yet!"
Even in the stress of the moment Marie stared open-mouthed at her
"Holy Mother! It is love,—that cry! You love the factor!"
"Hush!" whispered Maren, dry-lipped.
The roar from the river bank had sharpened itself into one point of
utterance which pierced the calm heavens in a mingling of native
speech, French and broken English from Nakonkirhirinon and halfbreed,
and, worse than both, dissolute "white Indian," and its burden was,
"A skin for a skin!"
CHAPTER XIV FELLOW CAPTIVES
After that tense moment of hush following the shot, McElroy had no
distinct recollection of what occurred. He was conscious of a
sickening knowledge of Negansahima with his banded brown arms
stretching into the evening light, of the tepees, of the river beyond,
of the face of Edmonton Ridgar, and of all these etched distinctly in
that effect of sun and shade which picks out each smallest detail
sometimes of a rare evening in early summer. Then the whole scene went
out in a smother as an avalanche of bodies descended upon him. He
could smell the heavy odour of flesh half-naked, the scent of the
hidden paint, he felt arms that fought to grip him and fingers that
clutched like talons. Under it all he went down in the grass of the
slope, fighting with all his strength, but powerless as a gnat in a
pond. Above the turmoil of cries and guttural yells, even while he
felt himself crushed at the bottom of that boiling mass, he heard the
light voice of De Courtenay ringing clear in his whimsical farewell to
Maren Le Moyne. Then he was wrenched up through the mass, something
struck him on the head with a sharp blow, a shower of stars fell like
a cataract, and the sickening scents in his nostrils faded away.
When he again opened his eyes it was to behold real stars shining
down from a velvet sky, to hear the river lapping gently at the
landing, and the night birds calling in the forest. From the prairie
beyond the fringe of woods to the east there came the yapping of the
coyotes, and far to the north a wolf howled.
At first a sense of bewilderment held him. Then in a rush came back
the memory of what had happened. He listened intently. Back and forth,
back and forth somewhere near went a soft footstep, the swish and
glide of a moccasin. He strained his eyes, which smarted terribly,
into the darkness, and presently descried a tall form pacing slowly up
against the skyline of his vision and back again into the shadows. A
single feather slanted against the stars. A guard pacing the place of
With a slight movement McElroy tried to lift a hand.
It was immovable. He tried the other. It likewise refused his will.
So with both feet when he attempted, ever so cautiously, to move
He was bound hand and foot, and with cruel tightness, for with that
tiny slipping of his muscles there set up all through him such a
tingling and aching as was almost unbearable.
His head seemed a lump of lead, glued to whatever it lay upon, and
big as a buttertub.
Turning his eyes far as he could to the right, he looked long in
that direction. Faintly, after a while, he picked out the straight
line of the stockade top, the rising tower at the corner. The line of
the wall faded out in darkness the other way, strain as he might. To
the left were the ragged tops of the tepees, their two longer sticks
pointing above the others.
From the sound of the river, he must be between it and the stockade
Presently his numbed hearing became conscious of a sound somewhere
near, a sound that had rung so ceaselessly since his waking that it
had seemed the background for the lesser noise of the sentry's
slipping moccasin. It was the weird, unending, unbeginning wail of the
women, the death-song of the tribe mourning the passing of a chief,
the voices of some four hundred squaws blending indescribably.
With consciousness of that his mind grew clearer and he began to
What a fool he had been!
Once more had he played like an unbalanced boy at the game of love.
What right had he to strike De Courtenay for kissing the woman whom
he had won with his red flowers and his curls before the populace?
That he himself had fancied for a brief space that she was his was no
excuse for plunging like a boy at his rival's throat. If he had held
his peace, all would be well now and the old chief would not be lying
stiff and stark somewhere in the shadowed camp, the women wailing
It was no balm to his sore heart that he in his blundering wrath
had wrought this fresh disaster. And his post, De Seviere, which he
had won by daring service and loyalty to the H. B. C., what would
become of it?
Who after him would rule on the Assiniboine?
For well he knew that death, and death thrice,—aye, a million
times refined,—awaited so luckless a victim as he whose hand had
killed the great chief. But he had not killed Negansahima. It was the
gun in De Courtenay's hand. Ah, De Courtenay! Where was De Courtenay?
A captive assuredly, if he was one. They had both gone down together
under the foam of that angry human sea. And, if he was here, his
antagonist must be somewhere near. With exquisite torture, McElroy
slowly turned his head to right and left. At the second motion his
face brushed something close against his shoulder. It was cloth, a
rough surface corrugated and encrusted with ridges,—what but the
braid on the blue coat of the Montreal gallant!
There was no start, no answering movement at his touch. The rough
surface seemed strangely set and still.
He lay silent and thought a moment with strange feelings of new
horror surging through him.
Was De Courtenay dead?
Or was it by chance a stone under the braided coat, a hillock where
it had been thrown? That strange feeling of starkness never belonged
to a human body soft with the pulse of life.
For hours McElroy lay staring into the night sky with its frosting
of great northern stars, and passed again over every week, every
day,— nay, almost every hour,—since that morning in early spring
when she had stepped off the factory-sill to accompany little
Francette to the river bank where Bois DesCaut stood facing a tall
young woman against the stockade wall.
With dreary insistence his sore heart brought up each sweet memory,
each thrill of joy of those warm days. He saw every flush on her open
face, every droop of her eyes. Again he saw the white fire in her
features that day in the forest glade when she spoke of the Land of
the Whispering Hills. He pondered for the first time, lying bound and
helpless among savages, of that unbending thing within her which drove
her into the wilderness with such resistless force. Granted that she
had loved him as he thought during that delirious short space of time,
would love have been stronger than that force, or would it have been
sacrificed? She was so strong, this strange girl of the long trail, so
strong for all things gentle, so unmoving from the way of tenderness.
Proving that came the picture of the tot on her shoulder. "dipping as
the ships at sea, ma cherie," and the look of her face transfigured.
And yet home for her was "the blue sky above, the wind in the pine-
tops, the sound of water lapping at the prow of a canoe." So she had
said on that last day they spoke together in happiness, passing in
diffident joy to the gate to meet De Courtenay's fateful messenger.
Of all women in the vast world she was the one woman. There was
never another face with that strange allurement, that baffling light
of strength and tenderness.
Sore, sore, indeed, was the heart of the young factor of Fort de
Seviere as he lay under the stars and listened to the death-wail in
the darkened camp.
Nowhere was there a fire.
Desolation sat upon the Nakonkirhirinons.
Along toward dawn, presaged by the westward wheeling of the big
stars, tom-toms began to beat throughout the maze of lodges. They beat
oddly into the air, cold with the chill of the coming day,
McElroy's thoughts had left the great country of the Hudson Bay and
travelled back along the winding waterways, across the lakes, and at
last out on that heaving sea which bore away from his homeland. Once
more he had been in the smoke of London town, had looked into the
loving eyes of his mother and gripped the hand of his tradesman
father. Once more he had wondered what the future held.
The sudden striking up of the tom-toms answered him.
This was to be the end of his eager advance in the Company's
favour, the end of that good glass of life whose red draught he had
drunk with wholesome joy, the end of love that had but dawned for him
to sink into aching darkness.
He sighed wearily. So poignant was his sense of loss and the pain
of it that the end was a weariness rather than a new pain.
The thing that hurt was the fact that he himself had juggled the
cards of fate to this sorry dealing.
The sudden rage concerning De Courtenay had spent itself. There
remained only the deep anger of the man who has lost in the game of
love. And yet, what right had he to cherish even this wholesome anger
against his rival when the maid had chosen of her own free will? As
well hold grudge to the great Power whose wisdom had given the man
such marvellous beauty. As he lay in the darkness listening to the
unearthly noises he worked it all out with justice.
He alone was to blame for the sorry state of things.
De Courtenay was but a man, and what man, looking upon Maren Le
Moyne, could fail to love her?
Therefore, he freed his rival of all blame.
And Maren,—oh, blameless as the winds of heaven was Maren!
What had she given him that he could construe as love?
Only a look, a blush to her cheek, the touch of a warm hand.
In his folly he had hailed himself king of her affections when
perchance it was but the kindliness of her womanly heart.
And what maid could be blind to De Courtenay's sparkling grace,—
compared to which he was himself a blundering yokel?
Thus in bound darkness he reasoned it all out and strove to wash
away the anger from his heart.
And presently there came dawn. First a cold air blowing out of the
forest, and then a deeper darkness that presently gave way to faint,
Here and there tall figures came looming, ghostly-fashion, out of
chaos, to take slow shape and form, to resolve themselves into
tapering lodges, into hunched and huddled groups.
And with light came action.
McElroy saw that around the central lodge before the gate there was
a solid pack of prostrate Indians covering the ground like a cloth,
and from this centre came the tom-toms and the wailing.
It was the lodge of the chief and within lay the stark body of the
As the faint light grew, one by one the warriors rose out of the
mass like smoke spirals, drawing away to disappear among the tepees.
Soon there came the sound of falling poles and McElroy knew that they
were striking the camp.
Why, surely, for one thing.
A chief must go to the great Hunting Ground from his own country;
in his own country must his bones seek rest.
They would journey back up the long and difficult trail down which
they had just come to that vague region from which they hailed.
But what of him, and of De Courtenay, if he was yet alive?
He wondered why they had been reserved.
The light came quickly and he looked eagerly around on the moving
With quickness and precision the whole long village was reduced in
a few minutes to rolled coverings, gathered and tied utensils, stacked
packs of furs, and ranged canoes already in the water lining the
He could not help a feeling of regret for this wild people, coming
but few suns back with their rich peltry, their pomp, and their hopes
of gain, as they prepared for the back trail, the whole tribe in
Of all the tents, that one before the post gate alone stood, silent
reproach to the white man's ways.
Around it still knelt a solid pack, wailing and beating the drums.
As the grey light turned whiter, he turned his stiffened neck for a
glance at the thing against his shoulder.
He looked into the smiling eyes of Alfred de Courtenay.
"Bonjour, M'sieu," whispered that ardent venturer; "you nuzzled my
arm all night. Apparently we are fellows in captivity, as we have been
opposed in war,—and love."
"Aye, M'sieu," whispered back McElroy, not relishing the turn of
the sentence but passing it by; "and a sorry man am I for this state
of events. I owe you my regrets,—not for what I did, mark you,—but
for the way and the time and place. Had I waited and proceeded as a
gentleman, we should not be in this devilish plight, nor that fine old
chief a victim to our blunder."
"Tish!" said De Courtenay lightly; "'tis all in a day's march. And,
besides, I have,—memories,—to shorten the way."
The pacing guard came back and the two men fell silent.
At that moment a stentorian call pealed above the dismantled camp,
and there began a vast surge of the mass of Nakonkirhirinons toward
the waiting canoes, a dragging of goods and chattels, a hurry of
crying children, a scurrying of squaws. In the midst of it the flaps
of the big lodge were opened and, amid redoubled wailing, a stark
wedge of the length of a tall man came headforemost out, carried on
the shoulders of six gigantic warriors; and walking beside it,
bareheaded in the new day, was Edmonton Ridgar, his face pale and
downcast. He paid no heed to the two men on the ground, though one was
his factor and his friend.
CHAPTER XV LONG TRAIL
The women changed their wail as the procession started for the
waiting canoes, and from all the long camp there drew in a horde of
savages, their eagle feathers slanting in the light, bare shoulders
shining under unhidden paint, skin garments and gaudy shirts alike
cast to the winds.
They surged along chanting their unearthly song, and the mass of
them swept by where lay the two men.
Not a glance was given them, no taunts, no jeers with which the
tribes of the North-west were wont to torment their captives.
The swish of the moccasined feet was as the sound of many waters.
"No time for play," thought McElroy; "that will come later,—when
we have reached the Pays d'en Haut."
For he knew now that he and De Courtenay were to be taken along.
The body of Negansahima was placed in the first canoe, covered with
a priceless robe of six silver foxskins laced together; the six big
warriors, their halfnaked bodies painted black, manned the paddles,
and at the prow there stood the sad figure of Edmonton Ridgar.
At one side had drawn out old Quamenoka and his Assiniboines, their
way lying to the west. They raised a chant as the first canoe circled
out and headed down the stream. Behind it fell in five canoe-loads of
Bois- Brules, their attachment a mystery, and the river became alive
with the great flotilla.
Not until the death-boat had passed the far bend did the pacing
Indian give way to a dozen naked giants, who lifted the captives with
ceremony and carried them down the slope.
As he swung between his captors McElroy looked back at the closed
gates of De Seviere and a sharp pain struck at his heart, a childish
hurt that the post he had loved should watch his exit from the light
of life with unmoved front. It seemed almost that the bastioned wall
was sensate, as if the small portholes here and there were living
eyes, cold and hard with indifference, nay, even a-glitter with
But quick on the sense of hurt came the knowledge which is part of
every man in the wilderness; and he knew well that every face in the
little fort was drawn with the tragedy, that from those blank
portholes looked human eyes, sick with the thing they could not avert,
that whoever had taken charge within was only working for the safety
of the greatest number, and with the thought his weakness passed.
Only one more pang assailed him.
He gave one swift thought to Maren Le Moyne. Where in Fort de
Seviere was she, and what was in her heart?
Then he was swung, still bound, into the bottom of a canoe, saw De
Courtenay tossed into another, felt the careless feet of
Nakonkirhirinons as the paddlemen stepped in, and existence became a
thing of gliding motion, the lapping of water on birchbark, and the
passing of a long strip of cloud-flecked sky, pink and blue and gold
with the new day.
Lulled by the rocking of the fragile craft that shot forward like a
thing of life beneath the paddles dipping in perfect unison, McElroy
lay its a sort of apathy for hours, watching the sliding strip of sky
and the bending bodies of the Indians. He knew that the end awaited
him somewhere ahead, but it was far ahead, very far, even many leagues
beyond York factory, and his mind, again dropping into the dulness of
his early awakening, refused to concern itself with aught save the
blue sky and the sound of water lapping on birchbark. That sound was
sweet to his befuddled brain, suggesting something vaguely pleasant.
Ah, yes, it was the deep voice of the maid of the long trail
speaking of the streams and the waving grass of that visionary Land of
the Whispering Hills.
He fell to wondering at broken intervals if she would ever reach
it, to see drowsy visions of the tall form leading its band of
venturers into the wilderness beyond Lac a la Croix, penetrating that
country which tried the hearts of men, and with the visions came a
She would go without love, mourning her cavalier of the curls, and
who would be responsible for the desolation of the heart he would fain
have made happy but himself?
McElroy sighed, and the visions faded.
When he again awakened it was evening and camp had been made. Fires
danced and crackled all up and down the reach of shore set like a
half- moon of pearl in a sea of emerald, where the forest shouldered
down to the stream, and the smell of cooking meat was poignantly
sweet. Women were busy at the work of the camp, carrying wood, mending
the fires, tending the kettles swung from forked sticks, and scolding
the scrambling children.
Here and there a half-naked Indian stalked silently, his long
feather slanting in the light, but for the most part the warriors were
gathered in a silent mass a little way apart where the big tepee had
been set up.
The clouds were gone from his brain, and he was keenly conscious of
He was still bound, though not so tightly, some of the thongs
having been taken off entirely, and he found that he could sit up with
comparative ease, though his hands were still fast behind him and his
There was no pacing guard this time, distance and possession making
such precaution needless, for well the Nakonkirhirinons knew that none
from the little post on the Assiniboine would attempt rescue in face
of so great a horde as an entire tribe.
McElroy sat up and looked around.
One of the first things he encountered was the face of the
cavalier, still smiling and looking very much as it had looked in the
Like that encounter, too, De Courtenay was the first to speak in
"Aha, my fighter of the H. B. C.," he laughed from his seat against
a towering maple, "have your laggard wits come in from
He, too, was more comfortably bound, and McElroy noticed that there
were little rubbed creases in the sleeves of the gay blue coat where
the numbing bonds had cut. The sparkling spirit was as high in his
handsome face as it had been that long past morning morning by the
well. The factor wondered if there was in heaven or earth anything
with power to dim it.
He was to see, and marvel at, the test.
"Aye," he answered the cheerful query; "it has been a weary day,
M'sieu, it would seem, with my senses drifting out and in at ragged
intervals of which I have only vague impressions. How has it fared
"Much as another day. There has been plenty to see and enjoy, even
from under the feet of our hasty friends of the paddles."
"Enjoy! Holy Mother! Have you not been thinking over your sins,
"Sins? I have none. Who thinks of sins while the red blood runs?
Rather have I dreamed dreams of,—memories. Ah, no, M'sieu, it has not
been a weary day to me, but one of swift emotions, of riots of colour
in a strip of racing sky when the sun turned his palette for a
gorgeous spread. The sunset was stupendous at its beginning. Now the
darker greys come with so much forest."
McElroy fell silent, biting his lip.
Sorry as he felt for the plight of his rival, the old anger was
close to his heart, and it seemed that the rascal knew it and probed
for a weak spot with his smiling allusions to his memories. Memories
of what but of the red lips of a girl?
The young factor, too, had memories of those red lips, though they
gave him only a pain so bitter as not to be borne.
Almost it forced from his heart the gentle justice he had striven
so hard to keep in sight.
As he sat thinking and staring at the twilight river rippling
below, a man came from the forest at the back of the camp and passed
near on his way to the fires.
It was Bois DesCaut, and he did not lift his evil eyes.
The white lack on his temple gleamed with a sinister distinctness
amid his black hair.
"Double foe," thought McElroy; "I am to pay for my own words and
As the trapper passed he sidled swiftly near the Nor'wester and
something dropped from a legstrap. It was a small knife, and it
tumbled with seeming carelessness close to De Courtenay's knee.
"So," thought McElroy again; "by all rights that should have been
DesCaut went on into the heart of the camp among the women, and De
Courtenay began moving ever so cautiously toward the priceless bit of
With that hidden in one's garments what not of hope might rise
within a daring heart?
What not, indeed! Life and liberty and escape and a home-coming to
a rival's very hearthstone, and more,—soft lips and arms of a woman.
The cavalier was smiling still as he edged inch by inch along the
little way, his back against the maple.
"See you, M'sieu," he whispered; "how loyal are the servants of the
McElroy did not answer. Bitterness was rife within him. Even his
one friend in the wilderness, Edmonton Ridgar, on whose sound heart he
would have risked his soul, had passed him by without a look.
Verily, life had suddenly been stripped, as the hapless birch, of
all its possessions.
He was thinking grimly of these things when a young squaw came
lightly up from somewhere and stopped for a second beside De
Courtenay. She looked keenly at him, and stooping, picked up the
"Another turn to the wheel, M'sieu," said that intrepid venturer;
As if his thought had reached out among the shadows of the wood
where stood the death tepee and touched its object, Edmonton Ridgar
appeared among the lodges. He was bare-headed, and McElroy saw that
his face was deep-lined and anxious, filled with a sadness at which he
could but marvel and he passed within a stone's throw without so much
as a glance at his superior.
No captive was this man, passing where he listed, but McElroy
noticed the keen eyes watching his every move.
What was he among this silent tribe with their war-paint and their
distrust of white men?
It was a hopeless puzzle, and the factor laid it grimly aside. Next
to the closed and impregnable front of his own post what time he
passed from its sight, this cold aloofness of his chief trader cut to
But these things were that life of the great North-west whose
unspeakable lure thralled men's souls to the death, and he was
It was chance and daring and danger which drew him in the beginning
to the country, love of the wild and breath of the vast reaches,
something within which pushed him forward among these savage peoples,
even as the same thing pushed Maren Le Moyne toward the Whispering
Hills, sent De Courtenay to the Saskatchewan.
At any rate he was very hungry, and when a bent and withered crone
of a squaw brought food and loosed his right hand, the young factor
tossed up his head to get the falling hair out of his eyes and fell to
with a relish.
"Faugh!" said De Courtenay with the first mouthful; "I wonder,
M'sieu, is there nothing we can do to hasten the end? Many meals of
this would equal the stake."
Whereat the gallant smilingly tossed the meat and its birchbark
platter at the woman's feet.
"If you would not prefer starvation, I would suggest that you crawl
for that, M'sieu," said McElroy gravely; but the wrinkled hag gathered
it up, and left them to the night that was fast settling over the
Thus began the long trail up to the waters of Churchill and beyond
into that unknown region where few white men had yet penetrated, and
fewer still. returned.
CHAPTER XVI TRAVEL
Day followed day. Summer was upon the land, early summer, with the
sweet winds stirring upon the waters, with gauze-winged creatures
flitting above the, shallows where willow and vine-maple fringed the
edges and silver fish leaped to their undoing, with fleecy clouds
floating in a sapphire sky, and birds straining their little throats
in the forest.
McElroy and De Courtenay were loosed of their bonds and given
paddles in the canoes, a change which was welcomed gladly.
At night a guard paced their sleeping-place and the strictest
surveillance was kept over them.
Down the Assiniboine, into Red River, and across Portage la Prairie
went the great flotilla, green shores winding past in an endless
pageant of foliage, all hands falling to at the portages and trailing
silently for many pipes, one behind the other, all laden with
provisions and packs of furs, the canoes upturned and carried on heads
Of unfailing spirits was Alfred de Courteray.
"'Od's blood, M'sieu," he would laugh, oddly mixing his dialect,
"but this is seeing the wilderness with a vengeance! Though there is
no lack of variety to speed the days, yet I would I were back in my
post of Brisac on the Saskatchewan, with a keg of good-liquor on the
table and my hearty voyaguers shouting their chansons outside, my
clerks and traders making merry within. Eh, M'sieu, is it not a better
"For you, no doubt. For me, I had rather contemplate a prayer-book
and recall my mother's teaching in these days," answered McElroy
"What it is to have sins upon one's conscience!" sighed the
venturer. "Verily, it must preclude all pleasant thoughts." And he
fell to humming a gay French air.
Presently the foaming river, growing swifter as it neared the great
lake, leaped and plunged into the wide surface of Winnipeg, shooting
its burdens out upon the glassy breast of the lake like a spreading
Here the blue sky was mirrored faithfully below with its lazy
clouds, the green shores rimmed away to right and left, and the
swarming canoes, with their gleaming paddles, made a picture well
worth looking at.
The Nakonkirhirinons were going back to the Pays d'en Haut by
another way than that by which they had come.
Hugging the western shore, the flotilla strung out into the
formation of a wedge, with the canoe of the dead chief at the apex,
and went on, day after day, in comparative silence.
With the passing of the sleeping green shores, the ceaseless slide
of the quiet waters, a tender peace began to come into McElroy's soul.
With the gliding days he could think of Maren without the poignant
pain which had been unbearable at the beginning, could linger in
thought over each .detail of her wondrous beauty, the clear dark eyes,
sane and earnest and full of the hope of the dreamer, the full red
mouth with its sweetness of curled corners, the black hair banded
above the smooth brow, the rounded figure under the faded garment, the
shoulders swinging with the free walk after the fashion of a man.
Verily, the wilderness held healing as well as hurt.
So followed each other the dawns and the summer noons and the
marvellous twilights, with pageantry of light and colour and soft
winds attuned to the songs of birds, and the two men neared the
mystery of Fate.
CHAPTER XVII THE COMPELLING POWER
Back in De Seviere the gloom of the forest in bleak winter sat
heavily on every cabin.
Women went about with misty eyes and men were oddly silent.
Not one of all his people who did not love the whole-hearted factor
with his ready laugh, his sympathy in all the little life of the post,
his unfailing justice; not one who did not strive to keep away the
haunting visions of leaping flames above fagots, and all the ugly
scenes that imagination, abetted by grim reality, could conjure up.
On that fateful morning when the rising sun saw the slim canoes of
the Nakonkirhirinons trailing around the lower bend, Maren Le Moyne
stood by the little window in the small room to the east of the
Baptiste cabin and covered her face with her hands.
Great breaths lifted her breast, breaths that fluttered her open
lips and could not fill the gasping lungs beneath, that sounded in the
little room like tearless tearing sobs.
"Heavenly Mother!" she gasped between them; "Thou who art
But the prayer hung aborted between the shuddering sighs.... Who
shall say that it is not such a cry, torn from the depths of the
spirit by instinct groping for its god, which reaches swiftest the
Until the last sound had faded into the morning, until the last
little ripple had widened to the shores and died among the willows,
until the screaming birds, startled from the edges of the river, had
settled into quiet, she stood so, fainting in her Gethsemane. She
alone of all the post had remained away from the great gate where was
gathered the populace at the nearest vantage point.
Silence of the young day hung in the palisade, a silence that cut
the soul with its tragic portent.
Even little Francette Moline, weeping openly, pressed close in the
mass and jerked with unconscious savagery of spirit the short ears of
the husky at her heels,—that Loup whom no man dared to touch save
only the master his fierce spirit must needs acknowledge. It had been
DesCaut by brutality. Now it was the little maid by love.
Strange cat of the woods, Francette could be as riotous in her
tenderness as in her enmity.
In the bastions Dupre and Garcon and Gifford watched the scene with
the grim quiet of men born in the wilderness, while at the portholes
trapper and voyageur and the venturers from Grand Portage handled
their guns and waited.
None knew what might happen, for these Indians were not to be
judged by any standard they knew.
Henri Baptiste held the trembling Marie in his arm, while Mora and
Anon and Ninette clung together in a white-faced group. A little way
aside Micene Bordoux comforted a frightened woman and held a child by
Big Bard McLellan stood by a porthole, his eyes always pensive with
his own sadness, gazing with grave sorrow to where McElroy swung down
the slope between his captors.
Thus they watched his going, and he had been spared that sick pain
had he known.
When it was over, Prix Laroux turned back to the deserted factory
and stood hesitating on its step.
This was one of the crises which so commonly confronted the fur
industry in the North-west.
What had he a right to do?
The simple man considered carefully. What right but the right of
humanity to do the best for the many could send a servant into the
seat of power?
And yet who among them all was fitted?
Not the clerks, youths from the Bay, not the traders nor the
With a daring heart the venturer from Grand Portage went in across
To a man the men of De Seviere rallied to him and council was held.
Everywhere in the trading-room, the living-room behind, were
evidences of the factor and Ridgar. It seemed as if the two men had
but just stepped out-were not in hostile hands drifting down the river
toward an unspeakable fate.
In the midst of the grave-faced council another step sounded on the
sill and once again Maren Le Moyne stood looking in at the factory
door, though this time there was no eager interest on her face, only a
drawn tenseness which cut to the heart of her leader like a knife.
"Come in, Maren," he said in aching sympathy.
"Men," she said straightly, "is there none among you who will turn
a hand to save his factor?"
Over every face her eyes travelled slowly, hot and burning.
In every face she read the same thing,—a pitying wonder at the
folly of her words.
"Aye," spoke up Henri Corlier, grizzled and weathered by his years
of loyal service to the Great Company, "not a man among us,
Ma'amselle, but would give his life if it would serve. It would not
"And you?" her gaze shifted feverishly to Laroux; "you, Prix?"
"'Tis useless, Maren. What would you have us do?"
She straightened by the door, and the hand on the lintel gripped
until the nails went white.
"Do? Anything save sit with closed gates in safety while savages
burn your factor at the stake! The Hudson's Bay brigade comes from
York this very month. What easier than to meet it and get help of men
"Nay," said Laroux gently; "you do but dream, Maren."
Whereat the girl turned abruptly from the doorway and went down
among the cabins.
Here and there in the doorways groups of women stood together,
their voices hushed and trouble in their eyes.
As Maren passed, seeing nothing to right or left, they looked in
pity upon her.
The heart of this woman was drifting with the canoes,—but with
"'Tis the gay Nor'wester with his golden curls," whispered Tessa
"The Nor'wester? 'Tis little you know, truly, Tessa," said the
young wife of old Corlier. "What maid in her senses would look twice
at yonder be-laced dandy when a man like Anders McElroy stood near?"
"Aye, an' may the Good God have mercy on our factor!" whimpered a
withered old woman, wife of a trapper, making the sign of the cross;
"nor hold back His mercy from the other!"
Night seemed to fall early on Fort de Seviere, waiting sadly for
its healing touch on fevered hearts.
Throughout the long day a waiting hush had lain upon the post, an
expectancy of ill.
Over the dark forest the stars came out on a velvet sky, and a
little wind came out of the south, nightbirds called from the depths,
and peace spread over the Northland like a blanket.
While the twilight lasted with its gorgeous phantasmagoria there
were none of the accustomed sounds of pleasure in the post,—no fiddle
squeaked by the stockade wall, no happy laughter wafted from the
cabins. Even the sleepy children seemed to feel the strangeness and
hushed their peevish crying.
Night and darkness and loneliness held sway, and in one heart the
shadows of the world were gathered.
What was the meaning of this Life whose gift was Pain, where was
the glory of existence?
By the window to the east Maren Le Moyne stood in the darkness,
with her hands upon her breast and her face set after the manner of
the dreamer who follows his visions in simpleness of soul.
Once again a great call was sounding from the wilderness, as that
which lured her to the Whispering Hills had sounded since she could
remember, once more the Long Trail beckoned, and once more she
answered, simply and without fear.
She waited for the depth of night.
Long she stood at the little window, facing the east like some
worshipper, even until the wheeling stars spelled the mid hour.
To Marie she gave one thought,—child-like Marie with her
dependence and her loving heart. But Marie, to whom she had been all
things, was safe in the care of Henri. There remained only the dream
of the Whispering Hills and the illusive figure of a man,—an old man,
sturdy of form and with blue eyes set in swarthy darkness.
Poignant was the pain that assailed her at that memory. Would she
ever reach that shadowy country, ever fulfil the quest that was hers
from the beginning? Did she not wrong that ghostly figure which seemed
to gaze with reproach across the years? Her own blood called, and she
turned aside to follow the way of a stranger, an alien whose kiss had
brought her all sorrow.
And yet she was helpless as the water flowing to the sea. The
primal quest must wait. Her being turned to this younger man as the
needle to the pole, even though his words were false, his kiss a
When the mid hour hung in silence over the wilderness a figure came
out of the darkness and stood at the gate beside that watcher, Cif
Bordoux, who paced its length with noiseless tread.
A strange figure it was, clad in garments that shone misty white in
the shadow, whose fringes .fluttered in the warm wind and whose
glowing plastron glittered in the starlight.
"Cif Bordoux," said the figure, "I would go without."
Wondering and startled, Bordoux would have refused if he dared; but
this was the leader of the Long Trail and her word had been his law
for many moons, nor had he ever questioned her wisdom.
Therefore he drew the bolts and opened the gate the width of a
man's body, and Maren Le Moyne slipped outside the palisade into the
A rifle hung in her arm and a pouch of bullets dangled at her knee.
Swiftly and silently she pushed a canoe into the water at the
landing, stepped in, and with one deep dip of a paddle sent the frail
craft out to midstream. She did not turn her head for a farewell
glance toward the post, but set her face toward the way that led to
the Pays d'en Haut and the man who journeyed thither.
Deep and even her paddle took the sweet waters and the current shot
her forward like a racer. The dark shores flowed by in a long black
ribbon of soft shadow, their leaning grasses and foliage playing with
the ripples in endless dip and lift. No fear was in her, scarce any
thought of what she did, only an obeying of the call which simplified
McElroy was in danger, and she followed him.
That was all she knew, save the mighty sorrow of his falseness
which never left her day or night.
He had taught her love in that one passionate embrace in the
forest, and it was for all time.
What mattered it that he had turned from her for another? That was
the sorry tangle of the threads of Fate,—she had naught to do with
Love was born in her and it set a new law unto her being, the law
Every fibre in her revolted at thought of his death. If it was to
be done beneath the pitying Heaven, he should be saved. He must be
helped to escape. The other was insupportable. Nothing mattered in all
the world save that. Therefore she set herself, alone and fearless, to
follow the tribe of the Nakonkirhirinons to the far North if need be,
to hang on their flank like a wolverine, to take every chance the good
God might send. Chief of these was her hope of the Hudson's Bay
brigade which should be coming into the wilderness at this time of
year. Somewhere she must meet them and demand their help.
There was no rebellion in her, no hope of gain in what she did.
Love was of her own soul alone, since that evening by the factory when
she had seen the factor bend his head and kiss the little Francette.
No more did she think of his words in the forest, no more did she
dream of the wondrous glory of that first kiss.
Far apart and impersonal was McElroy now,—only she loved him with
that vast idolatry which seeks naught but the good of its idol.
Even if he loved Francette he must be saved for that happiness.
Therefore she knelt in a cockleshell alone on a rushing river and
sped through, a wilderness into appalling danger.
Such was the compelling power of that love which had come tardily
CHAPTER XVIII "I AM A STONE TO YOUR
At dawn Maren shot her craft into a little cove, opal and pearl in
the pageantry of breaking light, and drawing it high on shore, went
gathering little sticks for a micmac fire.
The bullet pouch held small allowance of food. She would eat and
sleep for a few hours.
Deep and ghostly with white mist-wraiths was the forest,
shouldering close to the living water, pierced with pine, shadowy with
trembling maple, waist-high with ferns. She looked about with the old
love of the wild stirring dumbly under the greater feeling that
weighted her soul with iron and wondered vaguely what had come over
the woods and the waters that their familiar faces were changed.
With her arms full of dead sticks she came back to the canoe,—and
face to face with Marc Dupre. His canoe lay at the cove's edge and his
eyes were anguished in a white face.
"Ma'amselle," he said simply, "I came."
No word was ready on the maid's lips. She stood and looked at him,
with the little sticks in her arms, and suddenly she saw what was in
his eyes, what made his lips ashen under the weathered tan.
It was the same thing that had changed for her the face of the
waters and the wood. She had learned in that moment to read a man
better than she had read aught in her life beside the sign of leaf and
"Oh, M'sieu!" she cried out sharply; "God forbid!"
The youth came forward and took the sticks from her, dropping them
on the ground and holding both her hands in a trembling clasp.
"Forbid?" he said and his voice quivered; "Ma'amselle, I love you.
Though my heart is full of dread, I am at your feet. By the voice of
my own soul I hear the cry of yours. We are both past help, it seems,
Ma'amselle,-yet am I that stone to your foot which we pledged yonder
by the stockade wall. You will let me go the long trail with you? You
will give me to be your stay in this? You will let me do all a man can
do to help you take the factor from the Nakonkirhirinons?"
The infinite sadness in Dupre's voice was as a wind across a harp
of gold, and it struck to Maren's heart with unbearable pain.
Her eyes, looking straight into his, filled slowly with tears, and
his white face danced grotesquely before her vision.
"M'sieu," she said quite simply, "I would to God it had been given
me to love you. We have ever seen eye to eye save in that wherein we
should have. And I know of nothing dearer than this love you have
given me. If you would risk your life and more, M'sieu, I shall count
your going one of the gifts of God."
"I cannot ask you to return, Ma'amselle,—too well do I know
you,—nor to consider all you must risk for, this,—life and death and
the certain slander of the settlement,—though by all the standards of
manhood I should do so. The heart in me is faithful echo of your own.
This trail must be travelled,—therefore we travel it together. And,
oh, Ma'amselle! Think not of my love as that of a man! Rather do I
adore the ground beneath your foot, worship at the shrine of your pure
and gentle spirit! See!"
With all the prodigal fire of his wild French blood, the youth
dropped on his knee and, catching the fringe on the buckskin garment,
pressed it to his lips.
For once Maren, unused to tears, could speak no word.
She only drew him up, her grip like a man's upon his wrists, and
turned to the making of the fire.
Dupre drew up his canoe and took a snared wild hen from the bow.
* * * * * * * * *
"I think, Ma'amselle," said the youth when Maren awaked some hours
later from a heavy sleep, during which Dupre had killed the little
smoke of the fire and kept silent watch from the shore, "that we had
best leave your canoe here and take mine. It is much the better
"So I see. Mine was but the first I could put my hands upon in the
"'Tis that of old Corlier, and sadly lacking in repair. If you will
Thus set forth as forlorn a hope as ever lost itself in that vast
region of hard living and daily tragedy, with the strength of the man
set behind the woman's wisdom in as delicate a compliment as ever
breathed itself in silken halls, and the blind courage of the dreamer
urged it on. .
At the forks of Red River they passed the signs of a landing.
Here had the Indians summarily sent ashore all of the Nor'westers
who had been with De Courtenay and who had followed in the uncertainty
of fear, not daring to desert lest they be overtaken and massacred.
All, that is, save Bois DesCaut and the lean, hawk-faced Runners of
the Burnt Woods.
Thanking their gods, the North-west servants had lost no time in
taking advantage of the fact that they were not wanted, leaving their
Montreal master to whatever fate might befall him.
Dupre went ashore and examined the reach of land, the trampled
grass, a broken bush or two.
"Ten men, I think," he said, returning, "and all in tremendous
haste. The Nor'westers escaping, I have no doubt. Would our captives
were among them."
"No such fortune, M'sieu," said Maren calmly, "Heard you not the
cry before the gate in that unhallowed scramble what time they took
the factor and the venturer? 'Twas 'a skin for a skin.' There are many
The summer day dreamed by in drowsy beauty, like a woman or a rose
full-blown, and Maren, who would at another time have seen each
smallest detail of its perfection through the eye of love, saw only
the rushing water ahead and counted time and distance.
Dupre, kneeling in the bow, his lithe brown arms bare to the
shoulder, where the muscles lifted and fell like waves, was silent.
Sadness sat upon him like a garment, yet lightened by a holy joy.
Odd servers of Love, these two, who knew only its pain without its
pleasure, yet who were standing on the threshold of its Holy of
Of nights they sat together at the tiny fire of a few laid sticks
and talked at intervals in a strange companionship.
Never again did they speak of love, nor even so much as skirt its
fringes, though the young trapper read with wistful eyes its working
in the woman's face. Out of her eyes had gone a certain light to be
replaced by another, as if a star had passed near a smouldering world
and gone on, changed by the contact, its radiance darkened by a deeper
The firm cheeks, dusky as sunset, had lost something of their
Like comrades, too, they shared the work and the watches, the girl
standing guard with rifle and ball while Dupre snatched heavy sleep,
herself dropping down like the veriest old wolf of the North on mossy
bank or green grass for the rest they sternly shortened.
"'Tis near the time of the Hudson's Bay brigade, is it not,
M'sieu?" she would ask sometimes. "Think you we shall meet them surely
if we skirt the eastern shore of Winnipeg?"
And Dupre would always answer, "Assuredly. By the third week in
July they will be at the upper bend where the river comes down from
York. The Nakonkirhirinons will hold to the west, going up Nelson
River and west through the chain of little lakes that lie to the south
of Winnipeg, thence gaining Deer River and that Reindeer Lake which
sends them forth into their unknown region beyond the
Oujuragatchousibi. We, then, will make straight for the eastern shore,
skirting upward to the interception of the ways, and we will surely
meet the brigade."
"And they will surely lend help, think you, to a factor of the
Company in such grave plight?"
So the hours of day and darkness slipped by with dip of paddle and
with portage, with snatched rest and fare of the wild.
In a plentiful forest and on an abundant stream Dupre was at no
loss for food. Trout, sparkling and fresh from the icy water, roasted
on forked sticks stuck in the ground beside a bed of coals, made fare
for an epicure, and the young trapper, watching Maren as she knelt to
tend them, shielding her face with her hand, thought wistfully of a
cabin where the fire leaped on the hearth and where this woman passed
back and forth at the tasks of home.
"'Tis too great a thing to ask of le bon Dieu," he said in his
heart; "'tis not permitted even that one dream of such joy,—'twould
be heaven robbed of its glory."
So he fished and hunted for her, as the primal man has hunted and
fished for his woman since time began, tended her fires and guarded
her sleep, and the wistful sadness within him grew with the passing
Down that northbound river the lone canoe with its two people
hurried after the great flotilla, silent and determined, like a
starved wolf on the flanks of a caribou herd.
Out on the breast of the great blue lake it, too, was shot by the
rushing waters, lone little cockleshell, to head its prow to the
eastward, where the green shore curved away, to take its infinitesimal
chance of victory against all odds.
When the sun came out of the eastern forest, a golden ball in a
cloud of fire, it saw the light craft already cutting the cool waters
of Winnipeg. When it sank into the western woods the bobbing dot was
still shooting forward.
Child of the wilderness by birth was Dupre, child of the wilderness
by dream and desire was Maren, and its simple courage was inborn in
The Indians were a day and night ahead, hurrying by dawn and dusk
to the north, that the body of the dead chief, cured like a mummy by
the smoke curling from the big tepee at every stop, might have burial,
the earth-bound spirit begin its journey to the shadowy
When McElroy took his last look backward at the blue lake from the
northern end, Maren and Dupre were making their last camp before the
Big Bend on the eastern shore.
"How soon, think you, M'sieu?" she asked that night, standing
beside the little fire; "how soon will they come,—the H. B. C.'s from
"To-morrow, most like, or in a few days at most."
This evening luck had deserted his fishing, so the trapper took a
rifle and went into the woods after a fool-hen. Thoughts kept him
company; thoughts of love and its strangeness, of the odd decrees of
Fate and the helplessness of man. How all the world had changed with
its coming, this love which hail been born in an hour what time he had
listened to a woman's voice beside the stockade wall, and how the very
soul within him had changed also.
Where had been lightness and the recklessness of youth there was
now a wistful tenderness so vast that it covered his life as the
pearly mist covered the world at dawn.
Where he had taken all of joy that post and settlement, friend and
foe could give, lived for naught but his sparkling pleasures, he was
now possessed of a great yearning to give to this woman, this goddess
of the black braids; to give, only to give to her; to give of his
strength, of his overwhelming love; aye, of even his heart's blood
itself as he had told her in the beginning.
He was long in finding a fat grouse this evening, and when he
returned night was thick on forest and shore.
Light of tread in his moccasins, Dupre came quietly out not far
from the blaze of the small fire, and stopped among the shoulder-high
brush that fringed the forest.
In the glow of the fire Maren knelt before a green stake set
upright in the earth, from a fork of which there hung a black iron
crucifix, its ivory Christ gleaming in the light. On either side of
this pitiful altar there flamed, in lieu of candles, a fagot taken
from the pine.
On her knees, her hanging hands clasped and her face, raised to the
Symbol, she spoke, and the deep voice was sweet with its sliding
"Jesu mia," she said softly, "forgive Thou our sins—Ours. Teach me
Thy lesson,—me with pain that will not cease. For him,—Oh, Thou Lord
of Heaven, comfort him living,—shrive him Thyself in dying! Let not
the unspeakable happen! Send, send Thou that help without which I am
helpless, and failing that, send me the strength of him who wrestled
with the Angel, the wisdom of Solomon! Not for my love, O Christ, but
for him, grant that I may find help to save him from death! And more,
—deliver also that venturer who, but for my thoughtless words of the
red flower, would be now safe on the Saskatchewan. These I implore, in
mercy. And for this last I beg in humbleness of spirit
complete,—Grant Thou peace to the friend whose eyes eat into my heart
with pity! Peace, peace, Jesu of the Seven Scars, have mercy on him,
for he is good to his foundations! I beg for him peace and forgetting
of unhappy me! Reward him in some better fate, this youth of the
tender heart, of the great regard! Save us, Thou Lamb Jesus—"
In the dark eyes there was a shine of tears, the lips, with their
curled corners, were trembling. The face upturned in the fitful light
was all tenderness. The calm brown hands clasped before her were all
Marc Dupre, in the forest's edge, felt his breast heave with an
emotion beyond control as he stood so, looking upon the scene,
listening to the sliding voice. Darkness hid the wilderness, out on
the face of the lake a fish leaped with a slap, and a nightbird called
shrilly off to the south. With aching throat the trapper turned softly
back into the woods. When he came later along the shore, with heavier
step than was his wont, the fagot and the forked stake were gone,
there was no black crucifix, and Maren waited by the fire, water
brought from the lake in Dupre's small pail, the little sticks ready
for the roasting.
"Let me have the grouse, M'sieu," she said; "the hunt was long?"
But Dupre did not answer.
CHAPTER XIX THE HUDSON'S BAY BRIGADE
The two days that followed were heavy ones to Maren.
No farther did they dare venture lest they pass to the west and
miss the brigade coming down from the north and entering the lake at
the northeast extremity.
So they waited on the shore in anxiety of spirit, watching the
bright waters with eyes that ached with the intensity of the vigil,
and Dupre hunted in the forest and over the sand dunes, among the high
meadows that broke the heavy woods in this region, and down along the
reaches of the water.
"Farther with each day!" thought Maren to herself. "Holy Mother,
send the brigade!"
And Dupre echoed the thought in sadness of soul.
"More pain for her heart in each hour's delay. Would the trial were
About three of the clock on the first day of waiting there came
sounds of singing and a string of canoes rounded a bend of the shore
at the south.
"M'sieu!" cried Maren swiftly; "who comes?"
Dupre, tinkering at the canoe overturned on the pebbly beach,
straightened and looked in the direction she indicated.
He looked long with hand to eye, and presently turned quietly.
"Nor'westers, I think, Ma'amselle. They come from Fort William to
Back along the trail went memory with mention of the post on the
distant shore of Lake Superior. How oft had she peeped with fascinated
eyes from behind her father's forge at sturdy men in buckskins who
spoke with the blacksmith about the wonders of the country of the Red
River, and they had come from Fort William. She saw again the bustle
and activity of Grand Portage, the comfortable house of the Baptistes.
Once more she felt the old yearning for the unknown.
And this was it,—this gleaming stretch of inland sea, one man who
stood by her and another who betrayed her with a kiss, yet who drew
her after him as the helpless leaf, fallen to the stream, is whirled
into the white destruction of the rapids.
Aye, verily, this was the unknown.
She was looking down the lake with the sun on her uncovered head,
on the soft whiteness of the doeskin garment, and to young Dupre she
had never seemed so near the divine, so far and unattainable.
"Ma'amselle," he said presently, "if these newcomers speak us, heed
you not what I may say. There are times in the open ways when a man
must lie for the good of himself—or others."
The girl turned her eyes from the canoes, some twenty of them, to
his face. It was grave and quiet.
"Assuredly," she said after a moment's scrutiny. "Had I best hide
in the bushes, M'sieu?"
"No, they have seen us."
Sweeping forward, the brigade of the Nor'westers, for such it
proved to be, headed near in a circle and the head canoe turned in to
"Friend?" called a man in the prow; whom Dupre knew for a wintering
partner by the name of McIntosh of none too savoury report.
"Hudson's Bay trapper, M'sieu," he said politely, going a step
nearer the water. "I wait, with Madame my wife, the coming of our
brigade from York, now one day overdue."
"Ah,—my mistake. I had thought the H. B. C.'s this fortnight gone
down. As ever, they are a trifle behind."
While he addressed Dupre his bold eyes were fastened on Maren,
where she hung a dressed fish on a split prong.
"Not behind, M'sieu," said the young man gently. "They but take the
time of certainty. A Saulteur passing this way at daylight reported
them as at McMillan's Landing."
"Then your waiting is short. I am glad,—for Madame. So lone a camp
must be hard for a woman."
With the words the Nor'wester scanned the girl's face with a glance
that pierced her consciousness, though her eyes were fixed on her
task. Not a tinge of deeper colour came to her cheeks. There was no
betrayal of the part Dupre had assigned her, and with a word of
parting the canoe swung out to its place, though McIntosh's eyes clung
boldly to her beauty so long as he could see her.
"Ah-h,—a close shave!" thought the trapper as he picked up a
splinter and once more fell to upon the boat.
Twenty-four hours later there came out of the north the thrice
blessed brigade of the H. B. C., bound down the lake to Grand Rapids,
where the canoes would separate into two parties, one going up the
Saskatchewan to Cumberland House, the other down to the country of the
Eager as a hound for the quarry Maren stood forth beside Dupre to
Head of the brigade was Mr. Thomas Mowbray, a gentleman of fine
presence and of gentle manners.
In answer to the hail from shore he came to, and presently he stood
in the prow of his boat listening to an appeal that lightened his
"Men we must have, M'sieu," Maren was saying passionately; "men of
the Hudson's Bay. Against all odds we go of a truth, but strategy and
wit accomplish much, and the Nakonkirhirinons have no thought of
rescue. Besides, the farther north they get the less keen will be
their vigilance. With men, M'sieu, we may retake, by strategy alone of
course, the factor of Fort de Seviere. Therefore have we come across
your way, In the Name of Mary, M'sieu, I beg that you refuse me not!"
She was like some young priestess as she stood in the westering
light on the green-fringed shore, one hand caught in the buckskin
fringe at her throat and her eyes on Mr. Mowbray's upright face.
"Upon my word, Madame—?" he said when she had finished.
"Ma'amselle, M'sieu," she corrected simply.
"Ma'amselle,—your pardon,—upon my word, have I never seen such
appalling courage! Do you not know that you go upon a quest as
hopeless as death? This tribe,—I have heard a deal too much about
them, and once they came to York two seasons back,—are unlike any
others of the Indians of the country. Ruled by a peculiar justice
which takes 'a skin for a skin'—not ten or an hundred as do the
Blackfeet or the Sioux,— they yet surpass all others in the cruelty
of that taking. Have you not heard tales of this surpassing cruelty,
"Aye, we have heard. It hastens our going. M'sieu the factor awaits
that cruelty in its extremest manner with the reaching of the Pays
"Mother of God!" said Mr. Mowbray wonderingly. "And yet,—I see!"
"And he is Hudson's Bay, M'sieu," said the girl sharply; "a good
factor. Would the Company not make an effort to save such, think you?"
Mr. Mowbray stood a moment, many moments, thinking with a line
drawn deep between his eyes. Out on the burnished water the canoes lay
idly, the red kerchiefs of the trappers making bright points of colour
against the blue background.
Presently he said slowly
"What yon ask is against all precedent, Ma'amselle, and I may lose
my head for tampering with my orders,—but I will see what can be
The brigade drew in, and when dusk fell upon the wilderness a dozen
fires kept company with the lone little spiral from Dupre's camp.
Sitting upon the shingle with her hands clasped hard on her knees,
Maren shook her head when the young trapper brought her the breast of
a grouse, roasted brown, along with tea and pemmican from the packs of
the H. B. men.
"I thank you, my friend," she said uncertainly; "but I cannot—not
now. Not until I know, M'sieu. Without many hands at the paddles how
can we overtake the Nakonkirhirinons?"
Thus she sat, alone among men, staring into the fire, and it seemed
as if the heart in her breast would burst with its anxiety. A woman
was at all times a thing of overwhelming interest in the wilderness,
and such a woman as this drew every eye in the brigade to feast upon
her beauty, each according to the nature of the man, either furtively,
with tentative admiration, or openly, with boldness of daring.
And presently, after the meal was over, she saw Mr. Mowbray gather
his men in a group. For a few moments he spoke to them, and a ripple
of words, of ejaculations and exclamations, went across the assemblage
like a wave.
"Nom de Dieu! Not alone?"
"To the Pay d'en Haut,—those two?"
"A woman? Mother of God!"
Wondering eyes turned to the figure in the glow of the fire, to the
brown hands hard clasped, the face with its flame-lit eyes.
"Five men and a good canoe I send with them," said Mowbray quietly;
"who goes? Know you it is a quest of death."
"Who goes, M'sieu?" cried a French trader. "I! 'Tis worth a year of
the fur trade!"
Once more she had made her appeal to man, man in the abstract, and
once more he had come to her, this maid of dreams.
Mr. Mowbray had lost half his brigade had he not fixed on those who
were the strongest among the volunteers, the best canoe-men, the best
Such were these men of the wilderness, excitable, ready for any
hazard, drawn by the longest odds, and to serve a woman gave the last
zest to danger.
Seldom enough did a woman appeal to them in such romantic wise.
"Brilliers,—Alloybeau,—Wilson," picked out Mr Mowbray, with a
finger pointing his words; "McDonald,—Frith,—make ready the fourth
canoe, Take store of pemmican and all things necessary for light
travel and quick. From to-morrow you will answer to Ma'amselle. When
she is through with you report to me, either at Cumberland or York,
according to the time."
And he left his men to walk over and seat himself beside Maren Le
Moyne on the shingle.
It was dark of the moon and the night was thick with stars and
forest sounds. Out on the lake beyond the ranged canoes at the water's
edge, the fish were slapping.
"Ma'amselle," said Mr. Mowbray gravely, "I have detailed you five
men, a canoe, and stores. May God grant that they may serve your
A long sigh escaped the girl's lips.
"And may He forever hold you in His grace, M'sieu!" she said
tremulously; "and bless you at the hour of death!"
"And now, Ma'amselle," he said gently, "tell me more of this
strange adventure. How comes it that a young maid, alone but for a
youthful trapper, goes to the Pays d'en Haut after a factor, of the
Company? Why did this duty not fall to the men of the post?"
"They said, as you, M'sieu, but an hour back, that it was a quest
of death. They love life. I love the factor."
She made her explanation simply, in all innocence, looking gravely
into the fire, and Mr. Mowbray gasped inwardly.
"I see. So Anders McElroy is your lover. A fine man, worthy of the
love of such a woman, and blessed above men in its possessing if I may
make so bold, Ma'amselle."
Maren shook her head.
"Not my lover. I but said that I love the factor He does not love
"What? Heaven above us! What was that? Does not love you! And yet
you go into the Pays d'en Haut after the North Indians? You speak in
"Why, what plainer? Life would die in me, M'sieu, did I leave him
to death by torture. I can do no less."
Mr. Mowbray sat in silence, amazed beyond speech.
When he rose an hour later to go to his camp he laid a hand on the
beaded shoulder wet with the night dew.
"Ma'amselle," he said, "I have seen a glimpse of God through the
blind eyes of a woman. May Destiny reward you."
Thus it came that before the dawn reddened the east the camp of the
brigade broke up for the start to the south and west, and one big
canoe with six men waited at the shore for one woman, who held both
the hands of Mr. Mowbray in her own and thanked him without words.
As the lone craft shot forth upon the steel-blue waters the leader
of the Hudson's Bay brigade looked after the figure in the bow,
glimmering whitely in the mists, and an unaccustomed tightness gripped
He had two daughters of his own, sheltered safe in London,—two
maids as far from this woman of the wild as darkness from the light,
soft, gentle creatures, and yet he wondered if either were half so
gentle, so truly tender.
Ere the paddles dipped, the men in the canoes with one accord,
touched off by some quick-blooded French adventurer, set up a
chanson,—a beating rhythmic song of Love going into Battle,—and
every throat took it up.
It flowed across the lightening face of the waters, circled around
the lone canoe and the woman therein, and seemed to waft her forward
with the God-speed of the wilderness.
She lifted her hand above her without turning her head, and it
shone pale in the mist, an eerie beacon, and thus the boat passed from
view in the greyness, though as the paddles dipped for the start the
song still rung forth, beating along the shore.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Men," said Maren Le Moyne at the first stop, "this is a trail of
great hazard. There is in it neither gift nor gain, only a mighty
risk. Yet I have asked you forth upon it as men of the H. B. C.
because the man I would save is a factor of the Great Company."
"Ma'amselle," said Bitte Alloybeau, a splendid black-browed fellow,
"it is enough."
"Aye,—and more." So was bound their simple allegiance.
CHAPTER XX THE WOLF AND THE CARIBOU
Northward along Nelson River went the concourse of the
Nakonkirhirinons, turning westward into the chain of little lakes
above Winnipeg of which Dupre had spoken, sweeping forward over
portage and dalle, and after them came the lone canoe, leaping the
leagues like a loup-garou, for it never rested.
Day and night it shot forward, pulled by sturdy arms, half its
people sleeping curled between thwarts, the other half manning the
paddles, stopping for snatched rations, reading the signs of passing.
So it crept forward upon the thing it sought, untiring, eager, absurd
in its daring and its hope.
Like an embodiment of that very absurdity of courage so dear to the
hearts of these men, the girl sat in the prow, taking a hand in the
work with the best of them, beaconing the way as she had done before
her venturers of Grand Portage, firing them with her calm certainty,
binding them to her more firmly with each day.
To each bit of courtesy done eagerly to her there was her grave "I
thank you,"—at each portage and line her hand to the rope, her
shoulder to the pack, and all in the simple unconsciousness of her
womanhood that made her what she was,—a leader.
Before forty-eight hours had passed they would have followed her to
the brink of death,—to the Pays d'en Haut, to the heart of an hostile
They fixed their eyes on her shining braids, bare to the sun, and
anticipated her commands, obeyed her few words implicitly, and who
shall say that many a dream did not weave itself around her in the
summer days, for every man in the boat was young.
Perhaps the Nakonkirhirinons had already yielded to the savage
wrath that takes a "skin for a skin,"—perhaps they had passed
somewhere in the forest, hidden from view from the water, the too
well-known blackened stake, the trodden circle. Perhaps there was no
factor of Fort de Seviere.
Only Marc Dupre, nearest Maren in every change and arrangement, had
no such thoughts. Dreams enough he wove in all surety, but they had to
do with the blinding heights of sacrifice, the wistful valleys of
His heart was full to overflowing with idolatry. From shadow and
fireglow his dark eyes looked upon her with a love that had passed far
beyond the need of word or touch, that buoyed her up and supported her
in strength and purity, like the silver cloud beneath the feet of the
And Maren, too, dreamed her dreams, for she had dreamed since the
days of the forge in Grand Portage, and they were sad as death. No
more did she list the sound of a western wind in the bending grass of
a far country, the rush of virgin rivers, the whisper of pine-clad
hills. The joy of the great quest was dead within her, the love of
forest and stream, the lure of trail and trace. Sadness sat upon her
like a garment. She only knew the pain that had birth that night in De
Seviere when she sought McElroy to disclaim the giver of the red
flower and found him kissing the red-rose cheek of the little
So went forth this little barque o' dreams.
Meanwhile what of the two men who journeyed ahead?
With each day they lost a little of the love of life, for with the
cunning which gave them their hazy fame the Nakonkirhirinons were
tightening the screws of cruelty.
Work beyond a man's strength was meted out to them. Alone in a long
canoe heavily laden, McElroy and De Courtenay were forced to keep the
pace set by the boats, each of which carried five men. Blisters came
in their hands, broke and rose again, sweat poured from their
straining bodies, and if they fell slow a spear-prod from the boat
behind sent them forward.
How much more exquisite could be made the torture of a victim
already worn to the ragged edge, how much sooner the scream be wrung
from his throat. With each passing league that brought them nearer the
end of the journey could be seen the fiendish eagerness rearing in the
Turn and turn they took, these two, of the hindmost seat in the
canoe, for the back of each was unspeakable from the spear-prods.
Without a word McElroy took his punishment as the lagging became more
pronounced from arms overtaxed at the paddles, but the long-haired
adventurer from the Saskatchewan taunted them to their faces.
Taunt and fling were unavailing. Of an unearthly poise were these
savages from the distant north. With grinning good humour they
withheld their anger, knowing full well that time would doubly repay.
Here and there among them appeared those worst monsters of the
wilds, INDIANS WITH BLUE EYES AND SQUARED-OUT TOES.
Far up ahead went forward the canoe of the dead chief, with
Edmonton Ridgar sitting in silence among the blackened warriors.
Never once did he glance backward, never once at the night camps
did he come near his factor.
Throughout the long days McElroy pondered this in his heart and
turned it over and over without satisfaction. Unable to form any
conclusion he fell to thinking of their friendship and of the gentle
nature of the man, the unbending faith of him.
It was all a sorry riddle.
"Brace up, M'sieu," De Courtenay would laugh, even in the midst of
exhaustion; "sing,—smile,—perhaps it will be only the stake, not
something worse. Console yourself, as do I, with—memories."
And McElroy would say nothing, trying in his heart to hold back his
wrath against this man for whose death he was to be responsible.
So went the uneven chase. Day's march of the savages and night's
rest on the green shores, mummying fires in the big tepee and the
captives lying in the sleep of exhaustion with one guard pacing the
lodge opening,—day's pursuit of the lone canoe, brief landings for
tea made at a micmac fire, scanning of lake and river and forest,
night's unceasing forging .ahead with Maren asleep in the prow, her
head on Dupre's blanket.
When the last hard portage was made which carried them into Deer
River, the girl looked to the west with a sudden fire of the old
passion in her eyes.
"So, M'sieu?" she said to Dupre, "it lies yonder, the Land of the
Whispering Hills? Would God our course lay there!"
And Dupre, wondering, answered, "Aye, at the Athabasca," for it was
to McElroy alone that she had uncovered her soul concerning the great
In Deer River the signs began to be plainer and fresher, showing
the passing of the Indians,—here a camp but two days deserted, there
scraps of refuse not yet cleared away by forest scavengers, and the
pursuers knew they drew close to danger and excitement.
All day the men of Mowbray's brigade bent to the paddles in growing
eagerness, and at the evening's stop Maren spoke to them, gathered
around with cold rations in their hands, for no fire was lighted now.
"To-morrow we will overtake the Nakonkirhirinons," she said simply,
as if that meant no more than speaking a brother brigade of Hudson's
Bays, "and then will come the time of action. At night-camp we will
make our effort of deliverance. You, Alloybeau, and you, McDonald,
will keep within my call whatever happens, while Frith and Brilliers
and Wilson will stay with the canoe, ready for instant flight.
M'sieu," she laid a hand on Dupre's arm and her voice deepened softly,
"is scout and captain and he goes at my side. More I cannot say until
we know the lie of land to-morrow."
So they again took boat, this little band of venturers than whom
there were no more daring threaders of the wilderness in all the vast
unknown country; and Maren sat in the prow, her hands idle in her lap,
for she had paddled since four by the sun.
Beside her, huddled half under the feet of Wilson on the foremost
thwart, Dupre watched the stars as they came out in a turquoise sky,
for the sleep that was due him would not come. He thought of the
morrow and what it would bring, and the sadness in his heart grew with
the deepening shades.
The fringed garment of white doeskin lay under his elbow and a fold
of it brushed his cheek, and, boy that he was, its touch brought the
quick tears to his eyes.
"Ma'amselle," he said presently, when the turquoise had faded to
purple and the purple to velvet black, with the stars like a dowager's
diamonds thickset upon it, "Ma'amselle, what think you is behind the
Maren turned her face to him like a sweet young moon, pale in the
"Behind the stars? Why, Heaven, M'sieu, where all is glory; Heaven
"Aye. Where all is glory. Yes, for those who keep the holy
mandates, whose hearts are pure as that heaven itself. For such as
you. Oh, Holy Mother!—" his voice fell to a whisper; "there is no
heaven, Ma'amselle, so pure as the white heart of you! But for him
whose days have gone like the butterfly's flight from one prodigal joy
to the next, whose heart has known neither love of God nor love of a
good woman, save for a little space, whose tongue has boasted and
blasphemed, and whose life has been worth no jot of good,—what, think
you, a waits so lost a man as this?"
The light "whoosh,—sst—whoosh" of the dipping paddles, the
occasional rattle of a handle on a gunwale, formed a blending
background against which his low words were distinguishable only to
the girl beside him.
She looked long into his upturned face. The wistfulness sat heavy
upon it. The youthfulness of this dashing trapper of the posts and
settlements came out plain in the starlight. She saw again the pliant
strength beneath the slender grace, caught the suggestion of
contradicting forces that she had felt one day in Marie's doorway when
young Dupre swung up the main way of Fort de Seviere, and beneath it
all she saw that which had caused her to say on that first morning of
the long trail when he faced her in the hidden cove, "Would it had
been given me to love you, M'sieu!"
All this passed through her aching heart, and presently she said
with a little catch in her deep voice,
"What awaits a man like this? A man who has done all these things
and who speaks of their folly, who thinks of God in the nighttimes,
whose heart turns with longing to that land behind the stars, and who
gives,"—she paused a moment,—"I cannot say the rest,—But—but—Oh,
there awaits this man the smile of that Christ of the Seven Scars, the
loving tears of Our Lady of Sorrows, the very grace of the Good God!"
"Truly,—Ma'amselle?" asked Marc Dupre wistfully, "in your
heart—not out of its goodness?"
"In my heart of hearts I think this, M'sieu."
They fell silent for a long time, while the stars travelled with
them in the broken water and the ripples lapped and sucked at the
shores and the swift stream hurried to the bay.
At length the trapper tentatively raised his hand and touched the
bare arm of Maren where it shone brown beneath the white of the
"I thank you for those words, Ma'amselle," he said simply; "they
are healing as the Confessional to my ragged soul."
CHAPTER XXI TIGHTENED SCREWS
"M'sieu," said De Courtenay, "what think you? It would seem that
something stirs in this camp of squaws and old men. Gaiety and festive
garb appear. Behold yonder brave with a double allowance of painted
feathers and more animation than seems warrantable. What's to do?"
The man was worn to the bone with the day's work, yet the old
brilliance played whimsically in his eyes. This day a wearing burden
of skin packs had been added to the canoe, ladening it to the water's
lip, and the vicious prodding from behind had been in consequence of
McElroy, reclining beside him on his face,—to lie on his back was
unbearable,—to one side of the camp, looked at the scene before them.
Surely it seemed as if something was toward.
Here and there among the Indians appeared strangers. More
Bois-Brules, lean half-breeds more to be feared than any Indian from
the Mandane country to the polar regions, decked half after the manner
of white man and savage, all more animated than was the wont of these
sullen Runners of the Burnt Woods, they passed back and forth among
the fires, and presently McElroy caught the gleam of liquid that shone
like rubies or topaz in the evening light.
"Aha!" he said, "these Bois-Brules that have joined our captors
appear to have had dealings with the whites. Yonder is the source of
your discovered animation. Whiskey, as I live, and circling fast among
the braves. It bodes ill for us, my friend."
"So? Why so?"
"Because never was redskin yet who could hold fire-water and
himself at the same time. No matter how determined they are to reach
their stamping-ground before the ceremonies of our despatch, their
determination will evaporate like morning mists before the sun in the
warmth of the spirit, or I know not Indian nature. Prepare for
As the evening fell and the fires leaped against the darkness,
sounds increased in the camp. Groups of warriors gathered and broke,
voices rose; and shrill yells began to cut above the melee of the
From time to time a brave would come running out of the bustle and,
stopping near, glare ferociously at the captives. Twice a hatchet came
flittering through the firelight, its bright blade flashing as it
circled, to fall perilously close, and several times a squaw or two
prodded one or the other with a moccasined toe.
Once a young brave, his black eyes alight with devilishncss, sprang
out from the bushes behind and caught McElroy's face in a pinching
clasp of fingers. With one bound the factor was on his feet and had
dealt the stripling a blow which sent him sprawling with his oiled
head in a squaw's fire. Instantly his long feather was ablaze and his
yelp of dismay brought forth a storm of derisive yells of laughter.
McElroy sat quietly down again.
"It has begun, M'sieu," he said grimly.
All night the liquor circled among the savages, as the spirit fired
the brains in their narrow skulls the aproar became worse. A huge fire
was built in the centre of the camp, tom-toms placed beside it in the
hands of old men, and, forming in a giant circle, the braves began a
At first it was the stamp-dance*, harmless enough, with bending
forms and palms extended to the central fire and the ceaseless "Ah-a,
ah-a-a, ah-a," capable of a thousand intonations and the whole gamut
of suggestion and portent, blood-chilling in its slow excitement.
*I have witnessed this.—V. R.
Without the circle the squaws fought and quarrelled over the
portion of liquor doled out to them by their lords, and their clamour
was worse than the rest.
No sleep came to the two white men lying at the foot of a tree to
the west of the camp, with a guard pacing slowly between them and
Instead, thoughts were seething like dalle's foam in the mind of
If only this giant guard might drink deep enough of the libations
of the others,—who knew?—there might be the faint chance of escape
for which they had watched ceaselessly since leaving Red River.
But, with the irony of fate, this one Indian became the model
warrior of the tribe. As the confusion and uproar grew in intensity,
one after another joined the dancing circle, until it seemed that
every brave in the camp was leaping around the fire. Blue-eyed
Indians, Bois-Brules, Nakonkirhirinons, they circled and uttered the
monotonous "Ah-a, ah-a," and in the light could be seen the white lock
on the temple of Bois DesCaut.
"I should have killed him long ago," thought McElroy simply, "as
one kills a wolf,—for the good of the settlement."
As they lay watching the unearthly orgy at the fire a plan slowly
took shape in McElroy's mind. They were unbound as they had been for
many days, the silent guard proving sufficient surety for their
retention, and they were two to one in the wild confusion of the
growing excitement. What easier than a swift grapple in the dusk, one
man locked in combat with the sentinel and one lost in the forest and
the night? It was a desperate chance, but they were desperate men with
the post, the hatchet, and the matete before them. As the thought grew
it took on proportions of possibility and the factor threw up his head
with the old motion, shaking out of his eyes the falling sun-burnt
"M'sieu," he said, in a low voice, carefully modulated to the
careless tone of weary speech which was their habit of nights;
"M'sieu, I have a plan."
The cavalier looked up quickly.
"Ah!" he said; "a plan? Of what,—conduct at the stake? The
etiquette of the ceremony of the Feast of Flame?"
"Peace!" replied McElroy sternly; "you jest, M'sieu. We are in sore
straits and a drowning man snatches at straws. It is this. The fire of
liquor is rising out there. Hear it in the rising note of the blended
voices. How long, think you, will they be content with the dance and
the chanting, the tom-toms and the empty fire? How long before we are
dragged in, to be the centre of affairs? In this plan of mine there is
room for one of us, a bare chance of escape. This guard behind,—he is
a powerful man, but, with every warrior wild in the circling mass
yonder, he might be engaged for the moment needed for one to dart into
the darkness and take to the river. Once there, the mercy of night and
bending bushes might aid him. What think you?"
"Truly 'tis worth the try. My blood answers the risk. At the most
it would but hasten things. But give the word and we'll at it."
"Nay,—we must understand each other, lest we bungle. As the plan
was mine, I take the choice of parts. There is a stain upon my
conscience, M'sieu." McElroy spoke simply from his heart, as was his
wont. "Throughout this long journey it has lain heavy. Though I hold
against you one grave offence, yet I grieve deeply that it was through
my hasty anger you were brought to such sorry plight. As I am at
fault, so would I heal that fault. This the way I find given me. When
I spring for our friend of the painted feather, do you, M'sieu,
waiting for nothing, take to the bush with all the speed there is in
you. And before we part know that, were we free, I would punish you as
man to man for that moment before the gate of De Seviere with all
"Ah! You refer to Ma'amselle Le Moyne? By what right?"
"By the right of love, whose advances were more than
half-reciprocated before the advent of your accursed red flowers,—the
right of man to fight for his woman."
"Nom de Dieu!" De Courtenay threw back his head and laughed, the
flecks of light from the fire flittering across his handsome features.
"You speak a lost cause, my friend! She was mine since that first
morning by your well when the high head bent to my hand. What a woman
she is,— Maid of the Long Trail, Spirit of the Woods and Lakes! A
lioness with a dove's heart! I have seen the Queen of the World in
this God-forsaken wilderness; therefore is it worth while."
"Stop!" cried McElroy sharply; "let the old wound be. Only make
ready to act at once."
"Aye,—I am ready now."
"Then rise with me,—swiftly as possible,—when I count to three.
The two men strained their bodies, leaning forward, for both had
risen to sit facing the fire when the dance began.
"Two,—" breathed McElroy, "ready, M'sieu,—three!"
With one accord they leaped to their feet, and the factor in a
flash was upon the Indian just passing behind him. He had leaped high,
for the Nakonkirhirinon was taller than a common man, and he clutched
the muscled neck in a grasp of steel, pressing his shoulder against
his adversary's face, to still the outcry he knew would come.
The orgy at the fire was lifting its tone of riot into one of
savagery and menace, the tom-toms beat more swiftly with gaining
excitement, and the yapping yells were growing more frequent.
It was an auspicious moment and the heart of McElroy throbbed with
a savage pleasure, but suddenly he felt other hands disputing his grip
on the astonished Indian, who was raining blows upon him having
dropped his gun in the first shock. Over the bare shoulder of the
warrior, shining like bronze in a gleam of light, he saw the face of
De Courtenay, its blue eyes alight.
In a flash his grip was torn from behind, and, as the Indian reared
his head and threw back his great shoulders, lifting him clear of the
earth, he heard the joyous voice of the cavalier.
"Run!" it cried, as he fell clear; "run! And tell Maren Le Moyne
that her name is last upon my lips,—her face last before—"
Out above the words there rang the shrill cry of the guard, his
mouth uncovered by McElroy's shaking off.
The Indian had whirled and grappled with De Courtenay, and, before
McElroy could tear him loose, fighting like a madman, out from the
yelling circle there poured an avalanche of lunatics, jerked from
Gehenna by that ringing cry.
Foremost was Bois DesCaut, his evil eyes glinting like a witch's
Yelling, jumping, flaming with the liquor of the Bois-Brules, they
fell upon the two men and dragged them, half-falling, half-running,
toward the circle, into it, and up to the fire.
"Ho-ho! ho-ho-o! Ha-ha! ha-ha-a! ha-ha!"
Faces wild as the devil's dreams pushed close, hands plucked at
them, and suddenly a dozen painted braves caught up handfuls of live
coals and flung them upon them.
In the midst of it McElroy looked stupidly at De Courtenay.
"For the love of God!" he said, "why did you not run?"
"Why didn't you?"
The cavalier was laughing.
"I could not, M'sieu," he added; "the charm of the hazard was too
And that was the last word he offered the man who would have
delivered him, turning to face the savages.
"Dogs!" he cried in French; "dogs and sons of dogs!"
Stooping suddenly, he snatched a horned headdress from the crown of
an aged medicine man, scooped it full of glowing brands, and tossed
its contents straight into the wild faces before him.
Then he straightened, crossed his arms, and smiled upon them in
Pandemonium was loose.
In breathless swiftness the captives were stripped to the skin,
tied hand and foot, and fastened to stakes set hastily up on either
side the fire.
"It begins to look, M'sieu," called De Courtenay, across the space
and the roaring flames, "as if the Nor'westers and the Hudson's Bays
must scratch up a new wintering partner and a fresh factor,—though,
'ods blood! this one is fresh enough! Will they cure us as as they
At mention of the dead chief a dozen missiles cut the night air and
struck the speaker. One, a lighted torch, landed full in his face, and
McElroy groaned aloud.
If De Courtenay hoped by his taunts and his jeers to reach a
swifter end, he was mistaken in that hope. No fire was kindled at
their stakes, no sudden stroke of death maul or tomahawk followed his
words. The Nakonkirhirinons had keener tortures, torments of a finer
fibre than mere physical suffering, and the Bois-Brules' liquor had
stirred the hidden resources.
Again the dancing commenced, but this time it was not the harmless
measure of the stamp-dance. Instead of the bending bodies, the
rhythmic stamping of soft-shod feet, the extended palms, there were
unspeakable leapings, writhings, and grimaces revolting in their
horror, brandishing of knives, and yelling that was incessant.
McElroy closed his eyes and forced his mind to the Petition for
Through the tenor of the beautiful words there cut from time to
time De Courtenay's voice, cool, contemptuous, a running fire of
invective, now in French, now in English, and again in the Assiniboine
tongue, which was familiar to the Nakonkirhirinons, they being friends
with that tribe.
As the hubbub rose with the liquor two slabs were brought, rough
sections of trees hastily smoothed with axe and hatchet, of the height
of a man and the thickness thereof, with a slight margin at top and
sides. These were set up behind the stakes that held them, thus
forming a background, and the two naked forms stood out in the
firelight like pictures in white frames.
A wise old sachem, hideously painted, drew a line on the ground at
thirty feet, facing the central fire, and with a bony finger picked
out a certain number of warriors.
Full fifty there seemed to McElroy when he opened his eyes to see
them ranged before the line, all armed with knives that shone in the
glow, and (grim irony of fate!) in the blades of some there was a
familiar stamp—H. B. C.!
"Ah! Yuagh!" called the sachem, and two young men stepped forward,
toe on the line, glanced each at a framed picture, drew up an arm,
and, "Whut-t-t t-e-e-p," whined two knives that flittered through the
light and struck quivering, one with its cool kiss on McElroy's cheek,
the other just in the edge of the slab at De Courtenay's shoulder.
A shout of derision greeted this throw, and two more took the place
of the retiring braves, this time a Runner of the Burnt Woods, wearing
the garments of the white man, but smeared with bars of red and yellow
paint across the cheeks, and a white renegade.
"A Nor'wester's man once," thought McElroy; "another DesCaut."
Again the "whut-t" of the whimpering blades, again the little
impact in the wood behind, this time with more indifferent aim; for
never was white man yet who sank or rose to Indian level in the matter
of spear or tomahawk.
They were brave men, these two, and they faced the singing knives
without a quiver of muscle, a droop of eye, while the joy of the
savages, at last turned loose, rose and rose in its wildness.
For an hour the mob at the line threw and shifted, the vast circle
sitting or standing in every attitude of keenest enjoyment. The slabs
bristled with steel, to be cleaned and decorated anew, while the fire
in the centre leaped and crackled with an hundred voices.
A stone's-throw away the grim tepee of the dead chief glimmered now
out of the shadow, now in, and to the east behind a rocky bluff,
through which led a narrow gorge, the river hurried to the north.
Blood-painted brilliant splotches here and there against the white
pictures, but neither man was limp in his bonds, neither fair head
drooped, neither pair of blue eyes flinched. De Courtenay's long curls
hung like cords of gold against his bare shoulder, enhancing the great
beauty of him, while his brilliant smile flashed with uncanny
steadiness. McElroy's face was grave, lips tight, eyes narrow, and
forehead furrowed with the thought he strove in vain to make
Suddenly every shade of colour drained out of his countenance,
leaving it white as the virgin slab behind.
On the outskirts of the concourse, just at the edge of shadow and
light, Edmonton Ridgar stood apart and the look on his face was of
mortal agony. As his eyes met those of his factor all doubt was swept
away. This was his friend, McElroy knew in that one swift moment, even
as he watched his torture, his friend on whose faith and goodness he
would stake his soul anew. It was strange what a keen joy surged
through him with that subtle knowledge, what smart of tear-mist stung
Long their gaze clung, filled with unspeakable things, things that
were high as Heaven itself, that pass only between men clean of heart
on the Calvaries of earth.
Then, as gleaming eyes began to follow the fixed look of McElroy,
heads to turn with waving of feathers on scalp-locks, the factor with
an effort took his eyes from Ridgar's.
"Dog-eaters!" De Courtenay was laughing. "Birds of carrion! Old
men! Squaws of the North!"
And above the hubbub the ritual chanting in his brain turned into
an Act of Thanksgiving.
CHAPTER XXII "CHOOSE, WHITE WOMAN!"
Another day had gone into the great back country of time, from
which the hand of God alone can pluck them and their secrets. Soft
haze of blue and gold hung over forest and stream, sweet breath of
summer fondled the high carpet of interlaced tree-tops, blew down the
waters and wimpled the bending grasses, and the wolf had sighted the
In a shelter of spruce within sight of the Indian smoke the lone
canoe and its people lay hidden, awaiting the coming of night.
"Now, Ma'amselle," said Dupre earnestly, "do you remain close here
with Frith and Wilson and Alloybeau while Brilliers and McDonald go
with me to reconnoitre."
Maren knelt beside a fallen log binding up the heavy ropes of her
hair. Before her were spread the meagre adjuncts of her toilet, in all
conscience slim enough for any masculine runner of the forest,—a
dozen little pegs hand-whittled from hard wood and polished to finest
gloss by contact with the shining braids.
She looked up at him with eyes that were unreadable to his simple
"Remain?" she said; "and send you into my danger alone? You know me
Purple dusk was thick upon the underworld of lesser growth beneath
the towering woods. In its half-light the trapper saw that her face,
usually of so sad a calm, was glowing with excitement.
"Brilliers," she said, rising and fastening the last strand, "bring
me the brown no-wak-wa berries from the pail yonder."
She stood crushing the ripe fruit in her hands and looked into the
faces of her little band. In every countenance she read what she had
read in men's faces all of her life, the dumb longing to serve, and it
lifted her heart with tenderness.
"My men," she said presently, "remember we are Hudson's Bays, and
that we have behind us the Great Company which punishes guilt and
upholds loyalty, and that we go to rescue a factor of the Company.
Alloybeau and McDonald go with me, flanking either side. You, Frith,
take up position a hundred yards inland to cover what retreat may
happen. Wilson and Brilliers stand at the canoe, and, M'sieus, keep
hand at prow ready for instant action. We know not what may happen. I,
who am most concerned, go first. You, Marc Dupre, go with me."
Her voice dropped as it ever did of late when she spoke to this
"And now we wait only for full darkness."
"You must go, Ma'amselle?" said Alloybeau miserably. "Cannot
another make the first scouting? Send me."
"And me!" Frith pushed softly forward. "At the last, Ma'amselle, we
are old women. We cannot let you go."
"Cannot?" said Maren sharply. "Do Mr. Mowbray's men so soon forget
his orders? I am good as a man, M'sieus. See!"
She held up her right arm, with the fringed sleeve falling loose.
The muscle sprang up magnificently.
"Fear not for me,—and yet,—I thank you! Now we wait."
One hour,—two,—passed and the last light crept, afraid, out of
the forest to linger a trembling moment on the waters and be drawn up
to the darkening sky.
At last the maid arose, tall and quiet, save for the excitement in
her eyes, and one by one her chosen followers stepped noiselessly
Silent as the wood around, the forlorn hope crept forward.
"Here, Frith," commanded Maren, when they had reached a vantage
point of higher ground, "and here you, Alloybeau and McDonald,
separate. If during this night the good God shall deliver into our
hands Mr. McElroy and the venturer from Montreal, you will hear a
panther's far-off call. Make for the canoe, for that will mean swift
flight. If, on the other hand, aught should befall us ahead, a
night-hawk will cry once. Hide and wait. Wait one day, two, three.
There is always hope. So. We go now."
Thus they separated, that small band, as hopeless together as apart
in case of discovery, and at last Dupre followed alone, his heart
heavy within him and a grip in his throat of tears. On through the
leafy forest, parting the lacing vines, holding each branch that it
might not swish to place, they went, far from safety and the
commonplace of life, and a prescience of disaster weighed on the
trapper's soul like lead.
At last it grew more than he could bear, and he reached a hand to
Maren's shoulder, a tentative hand, hesitating, as if it felt its
"Ma'amselle," he faltered, "forgive me! But, oh! without confession
this night I am sick to my heart's core! I lied to you back at the
cove, though with a clean conscience, for it is love,—love of a man
warm and wild that tears my soul to tatters! I love you with all love,
of saint and sinner, of Heaven and earth, and I would have you know
His low voice was shaking, as was his whole slim body, and Maren
felt it in the hand on her shoulder.
"As a man, Ma'amselle, I would give my life for one touch of your
lips! As a lost monk I would kiss your garment's hem! See!"
He dropped to his knee and, catching her beaded skirt, pressed it
to his lips again and again, passionately, swept away by his French
"As I live I love you as the dog loves his master! I am naught save
the dust under your feet, the thorn you brush in the forest, yet like
them I catch and cling! Forgive, Ma'amselle, and if the future is fair
for you, think sometimes in the dusk of Marc Dupre!"
"Hush!" said Maren, catching the hand at her knee, a shaking hand
more slender than her own; "hush, my friend! You break my heart anew.
I know the inmost grace of you, the glory of the love you tell, and be
it of heaven or earth, of angel or man, I would to the Good God there
was yet life enough within me to buy it with my own! I have seen
naught so holy, so worth all price, in the years of my life. It is
dear to my heart as that life itself. Dear as yourself, my more than
In all tenderness she stooped from her fair height and laid her arm
around the shoulders of the youth, drew his head against the beadwork
of McElroy's gift, and kissed him upon the lips,—once, twice,
yearningly, as a mother kisses a weakling child.
At that moment there came, borne on a waking breeze of the night,
the sound of the tom-toms, the yapping of many throats.
"The gods beckon," she said sadly; "this life and love is all awry
and we who are bound against our will must but abide the end."
"Aye," whispered young Dupre, from the warm depths of her shoulder,
and his voice was like gold for joy; "aye,—the end."
He rose swiftly.
"Forgive the passion that could forget the great business of the
night," he said, and they went forward, though Maren's fingers still
rested in his clasp.
Through the thinning wood which neared the stream presently there
came a glow and then the shine of a great fire ahead, with massed
figures that leaped and sprang, fantastic as a witch's carnival, and a
roar of frightful voices.
"Stay now, Ma'amselle!" begged Dupre, at last, for he had caught a
sight that shook him through and through; "stay you here in the wood
while I go forward!"
But his protest was lost on the maid. Eagerly she was pushing on,
hid by the shadows,—nearer and nearer, until suddenly she stopped and
stared upon the scene, the fingers in his clasp gripping Dupre's hand
"God! God! God!" breathed Maren Le Moyne at the forest's edge as
she looked once more upon the face of the factor of Fort de Seviere.
Unspeakable was that scene. All reason had fled from the North
What small veneer of docility had been spread over them by their
three years' dealing with the Hudson's Bays and their intercourse with
the quiet and tractable Assiniboines, had vanished. They were
themselves as nature made them, cruel to the point of art.
The work of the day was visible upon the captives tied to their
stakes on either side the fire. Half-clothed, for they had been thrown
into a lodge to recuperate for the night's festivities, they stood in
weariness, that from time to time drooped one head or the other, only
to lift again with taunt and jeer.
De Courtenay, his thin face between the curls thinner, was still
facing the mob with the smile that would not down. McElroy was as
Maren had ever known him, patient and strong, and from time to time he
tossed up the light hair falling in his eyes.
"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.
She might still have had a chance, for she was as strong as he, but
that he raised his voice in a call for help.
Thus it was that, in less time than the telling, Maren Le Moyne,
rescuer, leader of the long trail, was dragged, fast bound by a dozen
gripping hands, into the firelit space in the great circle, a captive
under the eyes of the man she had come to save.
Stumbling, jerked this way and that, one white shoulder gleaming
against the brown stain of throat and face where the doeskin garment
was pulled awry, she came into the central space before the great
Every inch an Indian woman she looked, with the no-wak-wa berries
darkening her bright cheeks, her moccasins and beaded garment belted
with wampum got from the Indians by Henri, save for one thing, no
Indian woman in all the wilderness wrapped her braids around her head
and pinned them with whittled pegs. There alone had she blundered.
As the renegades loosed her and dropped away, leaving her alone in
the appalling light, for one instant she flung her hands over her
The quick disaster stunned her.
There was no longer hope within her for the moment. But, with the
rise of the roar of triumph, that part of her nature which joyed in
the facing of odds snatched down her hands, lifted her head, and set
the old fires sparkling in her eyes.
"White! White! White!" was the cry lifting on all sides. "A white
woman of the Settlements! Wis-kend-jac has sent the White Doe! A sign!
A sign! The Great Spirit would know the slayer of Negansahima!"
"The White Doe shall choose!"
CHAPTER XXIII THE PAINTED POST
When McElroy's eyes fell upon the woman he loved the breath was
stopped in his throat. For a moment it seemed he would suffocate with
the surge of emotions that choked him. Then a great sigh filled his
lungs and a cry was forced from him which pierced the uproar like an
"Maren!" he cried, in anguish; "Maren!"
It drew her eyes as the pole the faithful needle, and across the
fire they stared wide-eyed at each other.
Then De Courtenay's silver voice cut them apart.
"Again, Ma'amselle!" he cried, with the old magic of his smile. "Do
you bring by any chance a red flower to the council of the
But the Indians closed in around her, pulling and plucking at her
with eager fingers, and they saw her fighting among them like a man.
McElroy for the first time loosed his tongue in blasphemy and
cursed like a madman, tugging at the bonds which held him.
"'Tis all in a day's march, M'sieu," said De Courtenay, "and the
sweet spirit of Ma'amselle is like to cross the Styx with us."
But for the first time, also, there was in his tone a note of
weariness, a breath of sadness that sang under the light words with
The new attraction drew the crowd, and the old ones were left in
solitude, while the Nakonkirhirinons surged and scrambled for a look
at the white woman fallen from a clear sky, leagues from where they
had seen her. Half-breeds, dissolute renegades, and Indians, they
pushed and peered and in many a face was already burning the
excitement of her beauty, especially those of the savage Bois-Brules.
McElroy prayed aloud to God for the heavens to fall, for some great
But soon it became apparent that something of importance was to
take place. A hundred headmen gathered in knots and there was
dissension and brawling and once near a riot, while the girl stood in
a circle of malodorous, leering humans with her back against a tree,
warding off hands with man-like blows.
There was no order in the tribe. Negansahima, whose iron hand had
ruled with power and justice above the average, was dead. The new
chief had not yet come into power with fitting ceremony, and thus the
old men of the tribe were for the moment authority, and, as too many
cooks spoil the broth, so too many rulers breed dissension.
But finally a conclusion was reached.
A hundred hands scurried into preparation and the shouts were
filled with anticipation.
In the open space a post was set up, tall as a man's head and some
two feet thick, adzed flat on one side and painted in two sections,
perpendicularly, one half in red, the other in black. A medicine man,
hideous in adornments of buffalo horns and bearskin, approached De
Courtenay and with a feather painted on his bare breast a circle of
black with little red flames within.
McElroy was decorated in like manner, save that his circle was red
and it enclosed a death-maul, a dozen little arrows, and two knives.
Thus was foreshadowed the manner of their death.
Then arose a babble of voices.
"The White Doe! The White Doe that runs in the forest! Now shall
She who Follows decide!"
And into the midst of the vast circle once more Maren Le Moyne was
brought. She stood panting as they drew back and left her, and McElroy
looked upon her as he had never looked upon living being in all his
There was the same high head, shining in the light, the same tall
form sweet in its rounded womanhood, the same strong shoulders, and
from them hung the white garment that he had carried to her door that
day, in spring. He had wondered then if he would ever see it cling to
the swelling breast, set up the round throat from its foamy fringe.
And thus he saw it again as he had dreamed, though, Holy Mother! in
what sad plight!
She had told him she would wear it. She had relied upon it to help
her get to De Courtenay! Of what depth and glory must be the love that
sent her after the savages! Even in the stress of the moment the old
pain came back an hundredfold. But events went forward and he had soon
no time to think.
They drew a line upon the earth as they had done before, squabbling
over its distance from the painted post; Bois-Brules, their keen eyes
gleaming, haggling for a greater stretch, and presently Maren stood
upon that line and they had pressed into her hand a bright new
hatchet, one of those bought from McElroy himself in the first days of
Then an Indian, naked and painted like a fiend, whose toes turned
out, stepped forth and spoke in good English.
"Woman Who Follows," he said distinctly, "one of these two dogs is
a murderer,—having killed the Great Chief when his people came in
peace to trade at the Fort. Therefore, one of them must die. The
Nakonkirhirinons take a skin for a skin,—not two skins for one. So
did the Great Chief teach his people. But none know which hand is red
with his blood. For two sleeps and a sun have the braves given them
the tests,—the Test of the Flying Knives, the Test of the Pine
Splinters, the Test of the Little Lines, but neither has shown Colour
of the Dog's Blood. Therefore, justice waits. Now has Wiskend-jac, the
Great Spirit, sent the White Doe from the forest to decide. Throw,
White Woman, and where the tomahawk strikes shall Death sit. Hi-a-wo!"
The renegade stepped back and a silence like death itself fell upon
Then did the colour drain out of the soft cheeks under the berry
stain and the girl from Grand Portage stand fingering the bright
hatchet in her hand. Her eyes went to McElroy's face and then to that
of the cavalier leaning forward between his swinging curls, and both
men saw the shine that was like light behind black marble, so mystic
was it and thrilling, beginning to flicker in them.
"Bravo!" cried De Courtenay, his brilliant face aglow with the
splendid hazard. "Bravo! We are akin, Ma'amselle,—both venturers, and
my blood leaps to your spirit! Throw, Sweetheart, throw! And may the
gods of Chance guide your hand!"
"Think not of me, Maren!" cried McElroy, in deadly earnest. "You
owe me naught! Throw for M'sieu, whose peril is my doing!"
For many moments she stood so, fingering the white handle of the
weapon, and there was no sound in all the vast assemblage save the
crackle of the flames. Then they saw her muscles tauten throughout her
whole young body, saw her draw herself up to her full height, and
again for a second's space she stood still. In that moment she had
deliberately put herself back in the surging turmoil of Grand Portage,
was listening to the words of old Pierre Vernaise: "Well done, Little
Maid! Again now! Into the cleft! Into the cleft! Ah-a! Little One,
well done! Alas, but you beat your old teacher!"—was feeling again
the surge of a childhood triumph which scorned to bring nearer that
wilderness of her dreams.
With a swift motion her arm shot up and forward and the tomahawk
left her hand, flying straight as an arrow for the target. It struck
with a clean impact and stood, the handle a little raised and the
point well set in the green wood. There was a rush of the medicine
men, who seemed to act as judges, and then a silence. Peering, bending
near to look closer, they gathered with confusion of voices and
presently stepped back, that all might see.
Neither in black nor red, but directly between the two, the blade
cleaved cleanly down the dividing-line.
They surged forward, gathering round like flies with buzzing and
excitement, examining it from all sides, while the girl stood upon the
line with her hands shut hard beside her.
She did not glance again at the two men beside the fire.
A sachem pulled out the hatchet and carried it back to her, while
the circle formed and widened again.
Again she stood at poise, again they saw the tension of her body,
again the little wait, while the two men held their breath and De
Courtenay's eyes were shining like stars.
"A fitting close!" he was saying to himself, in that joy which was
of his venturer's soul and knew not time or place. "Heart of my Life!
What a close to a merry span!"
Again the swift, sure motion, unmeasured of the brain, coming out
of habit and pure instinct, again the "thud" of the strike, again the
rush, and again the wondering buzz of talk.
Once more the hatchet stood upon the line between the black and the
red, directly in its own cleft!
There was wondering comment, gesticulation, and swarthy faces
turned upon the woman on the line.
Once more the sachem in his waving feathers and tinkling ornaments
drew the blade from the post and gravely carried it back to her.
Excitement was riding high in the eager faces bending forward on
all sides, and everywhere a growing admiration. A tribe of prowess
themselves, the Nakonikirhirinons knew a clever feat when they saw it.
For the third time the tall woman in the beaded garment took the
hatchet and squared her shoulders.
"What does it mean?" McElroy was thinking wildly; "why does she not
save him while there is time?" And, even as the words went through his
brain, something snapped therein and he was conscious of the circle of
faces in the forest edge waving in grotesque undulations, of the arm
of Maren as it straightened forward, of the flash of the hatchet as it
flew for the painted post, and then of great darkness sewn with a
As Maren had raised her hand for the throw, from somewhere out of
the darkness behind the fire a stone death-maul had hurtled, aimed at
her wrist, but he who threw was sorry of sight as a drunken man, for
it struck the head of McElroy instead and he sagged down against the
moosehide thongs, even as the hatchet once more clicked snugly in its
Then from all the concourse there went up a shout, half in anger
and half in wild applause.
"Nik-o-men-wa!" they cried; "the Thrower of the Seven Tribes! But
the White Doe plays with the decree of Gitche Manitou! Bring the
spear! Fetch forth the spears, oh, Men of Wisdom!"
But in the midst of the excitement a figure walked slowly forth in
the light and held up a hand for silence.
It was Edmonton Ridgar.
Reluctantly they obeyed, sullenly, as if bound by a bond against
In the sudden hush he spoke.
"What do ye here, my brothers?" he asked, and waited.
There was no reply from the mass before him.
"Wherefore is the spirit of my Father vexed that it disturbs my
watch inside the death-lodge?"
The small rustling of the excited crowd ceased in every quarter.
They stilled themselves in a peculiar manner.
"Oh, ye sachems and Men of Wisdom," he said, turning to the headmen
gathered together, "come ye to the tepee of Negansahima and behold
what ye have done!"
Slowly, as he had come, the chief trader of De Seviere turned about
and passed out of the light. One by one, in utter silence, their faces
changed in a moment into masks of uneasiness, the sachems and medicine
men rose and followed. In the wavering shadows thrown by the central
fire the big tepee stood in awesome majesty. Ridgar raised the flap
and entered, dropping it as the savages filed in to the number of all
it would hold.
"See!" he said dramatically.
Over the bier of piled skins which held the wrapped and smoke-dried
figure of the dead chief there danced upon the darkness, eerie in
pale- green living fire, the ghost of the crested and sweeping
head-dress that he had worn in life.
There was never a word among them, but, with one accord, after one
awe- struck look at the ghostly thing, they fled the lodge in a mass.
For several moments Ridgar stood in the darkness as those outside
peered fearfully in, and, when the last moccasin had slipped silently
away, he reached up and took down the fearsome thing, folding it
beside the chief.
"We were wise together, old friend," he said sadly; "would I had
your knowledge and your power."
Outside the word was spreading wildly.
"The spirit of Negansahima rests not in the lodge! The medicine men
have not dreamed true! Silence in the camp while They who Dream repair
to the forest fastnesses and seek true wisdom!"
And while the sachems and the headmen, the beaters of the tom-toms,
and those who tended the Sacred fires of the Dreamers formed into
procession and slowly filed out into the forest, Edmonton Ridgar drew
a long breath of relief. Maren had postponed the sure culmination of
the tests by her clever feat, he had postponed it a little longer by
his own. Full well he knew that the girl could not go on forever after
the manner of her beginning. She knew the hatchet, but would she know
the spear, the arrow, and the Test of the Flaming Ring? .Sooner or
later she would fail, and then would come the last orgy of the rites
of a Skin for a Skin. He thought of the whimsical fate which so oddly
gave the "Pro pelle cutem" of the H. B. C. to this unknown tribe of
the North, and flayed one with the other.
This night was the last wherein there lay one chance of help for
the two men and this woman who had so strangely followed from the
post, and he lay in the darkness of the death-lodge watching the
hushing of the camp, the loosing of the captives, the carrying of his
factor, a limp figure, to the lodge of captives on the edge, the
leading thither of De Courtenay and Maren.
"Fool woman!" he said in his heart; "sweet, brave, loving fool with
the woman's heart and the man's simple courage!"
CHAPTER XXIV THE STONE TO THE FOOT
Long Ridgar lay in the darkness listening to the hushed sounds that
came from lodge and dying fire—vague, awed sounds, that presently
died into silence as night took toll of humanity and sleep settled
among the savages.
Here and there low gutturals droned into the stillness, and at the
west there was oath and whispered comment where the Bois-Brules camped
together. Not wholly under the spell of mystery were these
half-breeds, but restless and suspicious under the conflicting
promptings of their mixed blood. Slower than the Indians were they to
obey the mandate of silence and peace that the Spirits of Dreams might
descend upon the forest, but at last they were quiet, the tires burned
down to red heaps of coals, then to white ashes, the great fire in the
centre flamed and died and flamed again like some vindictive spirit
striving for vengeance in the grip of death, and the utter stillness
of the solitude fell thick as a garment on all the wilderness. It
seemed to Ridgar that only himself in all the earth was awake and
watching, save perhaps the two guards pacing without a sound the lodge
of the captives, and those two within, so oddly brought near.
As for McElroy, his friend of friends, an aching fear tugged in his
heart that he had waited too long for the chance to help, that the
patient strength was sapped at last, that the end had come. He had
seen the flight of the maul, the sagging of the sturdy figure.
Who had thrown it, if not that brute DesCaut? Who save DesCaut was
so keen on the trail of the factor and the girl? True, De Courtenay
was his latest master, and his spoiling of Maren's aim might as easily
send the blade into the black as the red, but in either case he would
cause her to decide the death she was trying so bravely to postpone.
The stars wheeled in their endless march, the well-known ones of
the forenight giving place to strangers of the after hours, and Ridgar
had begun to move with the caution of the hunted, inch by inch, out
from the shelter of the lodge, when he felt a hand steal from the
darkness and touch him with infinite care. He lay still and presently
a voice whispered,
"Aye?" breathed Ridgar.
"'Tis I,—Marc Dupre from De Seviere."
"Voila! Another! Are there more of you?"
"I would know first, M'sieu,—where is your heart, with savage or
"Fair question, truly. I but now am started for yonder lodge on
quest of their deliverance, though without hope. Your appearance lends
"Sacre! 'Tis done already. Listen, M'sieu, with all your ears. Just
beyond earshot, up the river to the south there lies a big canoe, with
at its nose for instant action two men of Mowbray's brigade, while a
hundred yards inland another waits, armed and ready to cover a hurried
flight. There needs but loosing of those yonder, M'sieu, and here are
we. Two Indians pace the lodge.... You one, me one. What easier?
"Many things, my young hot-blood. Yet it is our only way. Here are
death-mauls,—two. Take you,—they make no sound, provided a practised
hand is behind. Strike near and ease the fall, there are those who
sleep lightly here. Even the earth has ears to-night."
"Think you Ma'amselle is bound?" whispered Dupre next; "I could not
see for the swinging of the factor's body."
"No," replied the trader; "both she and the Nor'wester walked free.
But how, for love of Heaven, comes she here?" he added.
Dupre sighed softly in the darkness.
"For love," he said; "for love of a man."
"I had guessed as much,—how how did she pass the many miles of
lake and stream and forest? And how overtake us?"
"I brought her. By day and night also, without camp, have we come,
aided by canoe-men from Mr. Mowbray's brigade, which we met on the
eastern shore of Winnipeg coming down from York, bound for the
Assiniboine and Cumberland House."
"But for which man? She is unreadable, that woman, though love
lives naked in her face."
But a sudden ache had gripped the throat of the young trapper and
he did not answer.
"Let us be off, M'sieu," he whispered; "now is the time."
Slowly, inch by inch, lifting their bodies that they might not
rustle the loose earth and trampled leaves of the camp, Ridgar and
Dupre drew forth into the shadows.
Meantime, within the skin tepee, where all three had been summarily
placed, Maren Le Moyne sat with her head upon her arms and her arms
crossed on her drawn-up knees. Across the opening, just inside the
flap, the body of McElroy lay inert, though she knew that a low breath
rose and fell within him, for she had laid a hand upon his breast.
Beside her, close in the darkness, De Courtenay sat upright and alert,
as if no forty hours of torture had hail their will of him. She could
hear his quick breathing.
Anguish rode her soul like a thousand imps and the slow tears were
falling, bitter as aloes, the symbol of defeat. Every fibre of her
being trembled with love of the man stretched beyond; she longed with
all the passion of her nature to gather the tawny head in her arms, to
kiss the silent lips, the closed eyes. Through the dim cloud that
seemed to envelop him since that night at the factory steps, holding
her from him like bars of iron, she heard again the ringing sweetness
of his voice:
"From this day forth you are mine! Mine only and against the whole
world! I have taken you and you are mine!"
False as Lucifer, but, O bon Dieu! sweet as salvation to the lost
A hundred feelings tore at her heart,—bitterness and unbearable
scorn of her own blundering, and wild protest against failure, but
chief of all was the love that drew her to this man like running water
to the sea.
Now that death was near, so near that even now it might be calling
his earnest spirit out of the darkness, she would do more—a
thousandfold! —to give him life. Only life, the gentle, strong soul
of him safe in the sturdy body!
And she had but hastened the end she had come to avert!
"Jesu mia," she prayed, from the shelter of her arms, "help! Help
Thou —Lord of Heaven, give him to be spared!"
And not once did she think of the great quest, broken by a meagre
waiting by the way; no thought crossed her mind in this crisis of the
Land of the Whispering Hills, of an old man, dreaming his dreams in
Thus had love set aside like a bauble the thing for which her life
had been lived, for which she had grown and prepared herself in the
attainments of men.
She had felt the magic touch of the great mystery, and henceforth
she was captive, servant to its will, and its mandate had been
service. And here was the end—
A hand touched her shoulder, a hand infinitely soft of prcssurc,
"Ma'amselle," whispered the cavalier in her ear, "one more turn of
the wheel of Fate,—and we take the plunge together. Kin are we,
truly; kin of the tribe of Daring Hearts. A lioness are you, oh, maid
with the Madonna face! No woman, but a creature of the wild, superb in
courage and unknown to fear! I saw it in your face that day in De
Seviere,—the something alien to the common race, the spark, the
light; oh, I know not what it is, save that it is Divine and yet
splendidly of the earth! We are matched in heart. Venturers both, and
like true venturers we shall take the longest trail with a laugh and
our hands together,—and trust to the Aftermath to give us largess of
that love which has its beginning in such glorious wise. Pledge me,
oh, my Queen of the World!"
With a grace beyond compare he drew her into his arms, silent and
velvet soft, light and inimitable in his love way.
In utter astonishment Maren felt his silken curls sweep her cheek,
his lips on hers. Her tears were wet on his face. She put up her hands
and pushed him loose.
"M'sieu!" she said, "what do you do?"
"Do? Why, bow to the One Woman of my heart," he said; "my Maid of
the Red Flower, whom love has led to share my fate."
"In all pity! M'sieu, you do mistake most grievously!"
"What? Was it not confession at the post gate when this painted
rabble fell upon us? Or is it still the maiden within fearing the word
of love? In such short space, Sweetheart, there is no time for girlish
fears. Be strong in that as in the courage of the lone trail. Speak!"
"Speak?" said Maren, with her old calmness; "of a surety, M'sieu.
Though I have thrilled at your careless bravery, your laughing daring
which, as you say truly, is kin of my heart,—though I have taken your
red flowers, yet there is in me no spark of love for you, no thought
beyond the admiration of a true son of fortune. That alone, M'sieu."
De Courtenay was staring at her in the blackness of the lodge, his
arm fallen loose about her shoulders.
"Name of God!" he whispered wonderingly, "it is not love? Then
what, in the living world, has brought you over the waste to this camp
of hostile savages?"
"This," said Maren, and she reached a hand to the body of McElroy.
"Sancta Maria! This factor? This heavy-blooded man?.... But he did
speak of half-requited—Oh, Saints of Heaven! What a jest of the
world! The threads of tragedy are tangled into a farce!"
De Courtenay threw up his head and took a silent laugh at the ways
"Three fools together! And the riddle's key too late! At least I
can set it straight for one—"
He broke his laughing whisper to listen to new sounds without, a
dull blow, muffled and heavy, the slight whisper of garments sliding
against garments, the crunch and rustle of a body eased down to
earth,—nay, two blows, coming at a little interval, and from either
end the beat walked by the two guards, and from the southern end there
came a grunt, a cry choked in the throat that uttered it. Instantly
the venturer was up and. at the flap, peering outside. A figure loomed
against the stars, paced slowly by with an audible step, passed and
turned and passed again.
It was Marc Dupre, an eagle feather, snatched from the quivering
form of the guard lying in the darkness by the wall of the lodge,
slanting from his head against the heavens.
A little way beyond at the ashes of a fire a warrior stirred,
lifted a head, and peered toward the tepee of captives; then,
satisfied that all was well, lay down again to slumber. Back and
forth, back and forth paced the solitary watcher. De Courtenay within
was quivering from head to foot with the knowledge that something was
happening. As he stood so the pacing figure halted a moment before the
"S-s-t!" it whispered; "warn Ma'amselle!" then walked away.
Swift on the words another figure crept noiselessly to the lodge
"M'sieu," said Edmonton Ridgar, beneath his breath, "give me the
factor's shoulders. Do you take his feet and follow,—softly, for your
life. Bring the maid."
De Courtenay stepped back, groped for Maren, took her head in his
hands, and brought her ear up to his lips.
"Rescue!" he breathed; "Ridgar and Dupre. We carry our friend of
the fort here. Follow."
He loosed her and bent to lift McElroy.
With all her courage leaping at the turn, Maren quietly raised the
flap and in a moment they were all outside among the sleeping camp.
With measured tread Dupre came up to them, walked with them as they
moved silently back, and was on the turn when Maren touched his arm.
"This way," she whispered; "straight ahead."
One more step,—two,—the youth took beside her. It seemed that the
heart within him was breaking in his agony. The shadows of the wood
were drawing very near, the chances of escape multiplying with every
Another sweet moment of nearness and the misty white figure beside
him would fade into the darkness forever, pass forever out of his
Dearer than all the joys of Paradise was that black head, that
wondrous face with its strength and its tenderness so adoringly
mingled. The one supreme thing in all the universe was this
woman,—and she was passing. With an involuntary motion he touched her
softly and she stopped instantly, even at that great moment. It
thrilled through him, that quick perception of his desire.
"Ma'amselle," he whispered, "fare thee well!"
She caught his hand swiftly, pulling him forward. "Eh?" she said.
"What mean you?"
There was startled anxiety in her voice and the heart of Dupre
"Naught," he lied bravely, "save that I must hang behind for a
moment or so to cover any sound with my sentry's step, but I cannot
part from you even so small a space without,—God-speed. Hurry now,
Ma'amselle! They pass from sight!"
He pushed her gently after, but she turned against his hand.
"Come!" she commanded; "I will not leave you!"
"Nay,—how long, think you, before utter silence awakes that mob?
You must be at the water's edge before I follow. Go now,—quick, for
love of Heaven!"
He pushed her away and turned back toward the camp, pacing slowly
by the huddled heap that attested Ridgar's hand, past the empty lodge,
and on to the northern turn, where lay that other figure prone upon
the earth, yet still quivering in every muscle. He died hardly, this
strong North warrior, and Dupre almost regretted the need, though the
trapper of the Pays d'en Haut took without thought whatever of life
menaced his own and considered the deed accomplishment.
Back and forth, back and forth he walked the beat of the watcher
and a holy joy played over his soul like a light from the beyond. He
turned his mind to that hour in the woods, to the memory of the lips
of Maren Le Moyne, the warm sweetness of her beaded breast, the tender
affection of her embrace, and the present faded into that land of
dreams wherein walk those who love greatly.
Meanwhile Ridgar and De Courtenay pushed silently forward with the
limp body of McElroy swinging between, while the girl stepped softly
in their trail, straining her ears for sounds from the camp, and
carrying the only weapon among them, a rifle which Ridgar had taken
from the Indian he had killed.
"To the east," she whispered, "down the little defile to the river,
then south along the shore,—it is shingled and open,—to the canoe.
Walk fast as you can, M'sieu."
It was riskful going through the strip of woods, but when they
entered the little canon that cleft a ridge of cliffs, rising
impudently out of a level land, they mended their pace. Here was
solid, dry rock beneath them, walls of rock on either side, and a
narrow strip of star-strewn sky above.
"Thank God!" Ridgar was saying, under his breath, "the distance
But no sooner were the words out of his mouth than a cold chill
shot through him, and Maren pushed forward with compelling hands on De
"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!
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
"Only a matter of time,—a little time," thought Wilson, at the
prow, but never a word was uttered in the canoe.
Exerting every atom of strength, calling on all the will-power
aboard, they shot forward into the night and the current.
The noise behind increased, as the tones of a bell blown by the
wind increase when the wind sets in one's direction.
"Not now!" Maren was saying to herself. "Not now,—when we are so
far toward the winning! Not now,—oh, Friend of my heart! why was that
price demanded? Holy Mary rest him, that young Marc Dupre—and send
deliverance for this—"
Ahead the river swept around a turn. Keeping close to the shore
they caught shallow water and cut round into a wider opening.
The cries behind veered and deadened, and suddenly Wilson in the
prow raised his blade.
Maren leaned behind him and looked into the shadows.
On every side dark shapes covered the face of the stream like
water- bugs, from every side there came the "whoo-sh-st-whoo-sh" of
dipping paddles, the little plank and rattle of their shafts against
They had glided into the midst of a flotilla of canoes travelling
at night and in silence.
The maid from Grand Portage threw up her head.
"In among them," she whispered, "quick! Deep as we can!"
"But, Ma'amselle," whispered back Wilson, "they may be Indians."
"What matters? A chance is a chance, and who would not risk its
Unconsciously she was quoting that kinsman whose dauntless courage
and love of venture had found its last thrill in covering her retreat
in the gorge.
"In among them! Deep!"
Softly, as one of their number, the fugitive craft crept out to
midstream and forward, usurping boldly place and speed.
Leaning low at each stroke the little company strained eye and ear
for sight and sound, but, look as they might, they saw no eagle
feathers against the stars, heard no word or whisper.
Barely had they reached their uncertain sanctuary when the light of
torches shot southward across the bend and next moment circled, a far-
reaching arm, to spread out and illumine the river broadcast as the
Nakonkirhirinons swept into view, their savage faces peering under the
raised flambeaux, their eyes like fiery points—searching their prey.
It fell on all the river, that light, on the running waters
disturbed by myriad blades of white ash, on the banked background of
the trees, on the drooping foliage at the stream's edge,—frail
triflers of the wilderness, stooping from the sweet winds of Heaven to
the water's wanton kiss,—and on a swarm of canoes, each manned by
full complement of men, most of whose faces were eagle-featured and
dark, blackeyed and high-cheekboned, though here and there were the
fair hair and white skin of white men.
Odd, indeed, was the effect of this tableau on the Indians under
the torches. They had come for one lone canoe,—to find a horde; for
one man and one woman,—to fall upon a brigade.
They halted and the distance widened between.
And then the flotilla parted at a word of command from the darkness
ahead and a boat came back among them. It passed close to the
fugitives, and Maren saw a tall man with a square chin, who stood up
When it reached the fringe it went on out into the open water
toward the halted canoes of the Nakonkirhirinons, on whose eager faces
sat a sort of stupid awe.
"What do yez want?" called the tall man sternly, as he swept face
to face with the foremost canoe in which stood a headman of the tribe.
"Whyfore is all this bally-hoo wid th' lights?"
There was no answer and he roared at them like a lion
"Can yez not shpake, ye haythen?"
Whereat a canoe glided from the back shadows and the voice of Bois
DesCaut came in its broken English,
"A boat,—M'sieu,—we seek a boat that but now escaped from camp
with a murderer aboard,—one who killed in cold blood the chief
Negansahima back at the post of De Seviere. My brothers travel to the
Pays d'en Haut that justice may be done. We only seek the murderer."
The tall man stood in silence a moment and glared at the scene, at
the excited faces, the gleaming eyes, the shifting glance of the
"A likely sthory!" he said presently. "An' who, may I make bould to
ask, is this murderer?"
DesCaut squirmed a moment in silence.
"Who,—did ye say?"
"A man, M'sieu,—a-a-trapper."
"One lone man? Troth I commend his valour in evadin' such a rabble
o' hell-spawn! An' what from did he escape,—th' sthake an' th'
"Justice, M'sieu,—his life for the chief's."
"Ho-ho! From th' looks o' yer fri'nds, me lad, I'm thinkin' 'twill
be justice wid her eyes shut!...But ye may turrn back an' search the
forest,—we have no sthrangers in our party."
DesCaut glowered at him a moment and spoke to the headmen around in
their speech. There were threatening gutturals and gestures.
The flotilla was small compared to that of the tribe back at the
gorge, they would know, at any rate.
"They say, if M'sieu will let one canoe go through his people with
the torches, all will be well. Otherwise,—five hundred warriors,
M'sieu, can take their will with two hundred."
"Aye?" said the tall man, jerking his head around. He had been
scanning the mass of his own craft, packed behind him, fading into the
shadows out of the light. There was a peculiar look in his eyes when
he faced DesCaut again, a thrust to his square jaw. In that backward
look he had caught sight of the brown face of Maren Le Moyne, the
white garment, glittering with its beads,—but he had seen, too, the
crown of braids, wrapped round her head after the manner of the white
"Go yer ways," he said; "we thravel fast on urgent business,—ye
cannot throuble us wid yer lookin' an' pokin'. Tell yer fri'nds—No."
At this there was commotion among the Indians. A hurried
consultation took place, with indrawing of canoes under the flambeaux,
waving arms, and angry gestures.
"Then, M'sieu,—we come,—make way!" It was DesCaut, important and
"No, ye don't, me lad. Shwing back The Little Devil, bhoys!"
The leader's canoe shifted sidewise and another craft, heavy,
lumbersome, and vastly bigger than the light boats of the rest poked
its nose into its place,—and that nose was brass and round with a
gaping maw,—a small cannon, scarcely big enough for the name, but a
roaring braggart for all that.
"Belch, me darlin', if ye have th' belly-ache!" cried this tall
man, and, without more warning, there was a tremendous flash and
detonation, a mighty flying of the clear waters just under the bows of
the foremost canoes of the Indians.
There was hiss and sputter of the torches, an upward leap of canoe
and savage, capsize and panic and fear, and the night screamed with
"Formation again, lads!" called the sturdy voice of the leader. "We
do be wastin' time wid these haythen!"
The canoe rounded, passed up between the others, which closed in
behind, and the cannon-boat lumbered into place in the rear.
As he passed the strangers in their midst the tall man looked hard
at Maren, the five men, and leaned out a bit to see what lay in the
"A close shave!" he said; "kape close in the middle an' shpake me
at camp in the marnin'."
The mass of dark objects, drawing out of the light, moved forward
and, with a rush of intuition, the girl knew that all danger was past
and that safety hovered over them like the luminous wings of an angel.
"Holy Master!" she cried within, "Thou didst answer my prayer,—but
at what cost! Oh, Lord of Heaven, what cost!"
Then she dropped her blade and, under cover of the darkness, sat
back upon her heels, covered her face with her hands, and wept.
In the silence that had fallen deep again, save for the lessening
tumult behind, her weeping sounded to the outermost canoe low and
awful, hard and terrible as the weeping of a man.
She did not even feel if the breath was still in McElroy.
Friendship was taking its toll of love.
CHAPTER XXVI SANCTUARY
"'Twas yer leader I meant, lassie, should rayport to me. Is it he I
saw yez rollin' out like a bag o' beans?"
"Nay, M'sieu," said Maren Le Moyne, standing before the tall man in
the flush of dawn at the morning camp, her eyes red-rimmed and the
curling corners of her mouth drooped and sad; "what poor leader there
is among us has been myself."
All along the river bank were little fires, their blue smoke
curling up to the blue sky above, the bustle and fuss of preparation
for the morning meal. At one place in the centre of camp two women,
their appearance that of great fatigue, were languidly directing the
work of a couple of Indians. An abundance of truck was
everywhere—utensils for cooking, clothing, and blankets out of all
reason to one used to the trail.
These things had not escaped Maren as she came through them in
search of the leader. They all set his status in her mind, told her
much of the history of her rescuers.
"Eh?" he said in surprise again; "you the leader? An' whatlike was
the evil hap that placed ye in among that rabble o' painted beauties,
may I ask? An' how comes a slip of a lass"—he looked her over from
head to heel with his sharp grey eyes; "—well, not so much a slip,
still a colleen—like you wid th' command o' men in this part o' th'
"Of a surety you may ask, M'sieu, and it will be my happiness to
tell you, since but for you and your quick help, given without
knowledge, we should be now in sorry plight.
"The man you saw taken from the canoe is Monsieur Anders McElroy,
Factor of Fort de Seviere on the Assiniboine, and of the Hudson's Bay
"Faith of me fathers! Say ye so! A man of our own men!"
"Aye. Then you are also of the Company? Good! Surely have we fallen
on the lap of fortune.... Those Indians, Nakonkirhirinons from the far
north and strangers in this country, came to De Seviere to trade. For
two—three dais, maybe more,—I have lost track of time, M'sieu,—they
passed up and down at the trading,—camped on the shoreand all seemed
well, though they were wild and shy as partridges. One man among them
seemed to wear the cloak of civilisation,—Negansahima the chief.
"Then one day at dusk,—it was a soft day, gold and sweet, M'sieu,
and soft, with all the post at the great gate watching the
Indians,—there were many,—four or five hundred warriors and as many
women and children,—this day there was,—a tragedy. Something
The girl stopped a moment and a sigh caught her breath.
"Just a trifle—but two men fought at the gate, the factor and
another —a Nor'wester from the Saskatchewan,—a long-haired
venturer,—a man from Montreal, but a brave man, M'sieu, oh, a very
brave man! They fought and there was the discharge of a
pistol,—and—the shot went wild. It slew the good chief, M'sieu.
There was uproar,—they swarmed upon the two and bound them."
Maren's eyes were growing large with the remembered excitement of
The tall Irishman was watching her keenly.
"They bound them and struck away to the north, taking them along,
and the burden of their cry was, 'A skin for a skin!'
"They brought them so far,—they would have reached their own
country but for a band of Bois-Brules, who joined them some suns back
with that red liquor whose touch is hell to an Indian. They had gone
wild, M'sieu; wild!"
She was very weary and she shuddered a bit at the word.
"And,—so,—that is all,—save that we had done that much toward
escaping when you found us."
She ceased and looked gravely into his face.
"Howly Moses! I see,—I see! But ye have left a wide rent in th'
tale. Wherefore are yez here yerself, lassie?"
"I?" said Maren, swaying where she stood. "I followed, M'sieu."
"Followed? From the Assiniboine? Alone?"
"Nay. There was one came with me,—a youth,—a trapper,—my
comrade, my friend. He died yonder in that surging purgatory—"
The tears were welling to her weary eyes.
"The Nor'wester, Alfred de Courtenay, also—We only of that venture
are escaped alive,—a sorry showing. The five men who man my boat
belong to the brigade under Mr. Mowbray, which we met on Winnipeg.
Such is our small history, M'sieu, and all we ask is your protection
out of the reach of the Nakonkirhirinons. I take him back to De
Seviere,—God knows if he will live to reach it. He lies so still. But
I must get him back—"
She ceased and passed her hand across her eyes.
"I must get him back,—I must get him back."
"Aye, aye. Ye come with me. Ye need a woman's hand, girl. Ye're
well in yerself."
There was a huskiness to the sharp voice and the man took her by
the arm, turning her toward the fire and the two women. She stumbled a
step or two in the short stretch.
"I must go back to him, M'sieu!" she protested. "He will need—will
need—broth—and a wet cloth to his bruised head—"
"We'll see to him, don't ye fret. It's shlape ye need yerself.
Sheila, whativer do ye think o' this! Here's a colleen shlipped
through the fingers of those bow-legged signboards and fair done wid
heroism an' strategy, an' Lord knows what all, an' off her feet wid
tire! Do ye take her an' feed her. Put her to bed on th' blankets an'
do for her like yerself knows how, darlint! 'Tis an angel unaware, I'm
thinkin'— an' her on Deer River!"
One of the women, a little creature with dark hair and blue eyes,
Irish eyes "rubbed in with a smutty finger," came forward and looked
up into Maren's stained face, streaked with her tears, her eyes dazed
and all but closing with the weariness that had only laid its hand
upon her in the last few moments, but whose sudden touch was heavy as
"Say ye so!" she said wonderingly; "a girl! So this was what caused
the rumpus in the night! But come, dearie, 'tis rest ye want, sure!"
She laid her and on Maren's arm and there was in its gentle touch
something which broke down the last quivering strand of strength
within the girl, striving to stand upright.
"Yes, Madame," she said dreamily. "Yes, but he must have—he must
have —broth—and a bandage,—wet"
"Sure, sure,—he shall,—but come to the blankets!"
As Maren went down with a long sigh, her limbs shirking the last
task of straightening themselves upon the softness of the unwonted
couch, the little woman looked up across her at the man with a world
of questions in her face.
"Poor darlin'!" she said softly. "Whativer is it, Terence?"
"A heroine, if all she says be thrue, an' as unconscious of it as a
When Maren awoke the sun was straight overhead and some one had
been calling from a distance for a very long time.
"Come, come, asthore! Opin yer eyes! That's it! A little more, now.
Wake up, for love av Heaven, or we'll all be overtaken be th' Injuns!"
Ah! Indians! At that she opened her eyes and looked into the pretty
blue ones she remembered last.
The little woman was kneeling beside her with an arm about her
shoulder, trying to lift her heavy head and falling short in the
Maren was too much in her muscled height for the bird-like
creature. She sat up at once and looked around. The canoes were in the
water, all the miscellaneous luggage had been put aboard, and every
one was ready for a new start. Only herself, the blanket bed, and the
little woman were unready.
Just below, her own canoe, with Brilliers, Wilson, Frith, McDonald,
and Alloybeau in place, waited her presence. She could see, from the
elevation of the shore, the stretched form of McElroy in the bottom, a
bright blanket beneath him and his fair head pillowed on a roll of
leaves. A shelter of boughs hid his face, and for one moment her heart
stopped while the river and the woods, the people and the boats
whirled together in a senseless blur.
She sprang to her feet.
"Is he—" she faltered thickly, "is he—"
"No, no, dearie! He is like he was, only they have fixed him a bit
av a shelther from th' sun. Do ye dhrink this now," she coaxed in her
pretty voice; "dhrink it, asthore,—ye'll nade it f'r th' thrip."
She held up a bowl of broth, steaming and sweet as the flesh-pots
of Egypt, and Maren took it from her.
"But—did M'sieu—Oh, I have slept when I should have tended him!"
"Ye poor girl. Dhrink,—he has been fed like a babe be me own
There were tears in the little woman's eyes, and Maren took the
bowl and drained it clear.
"You are good, Madame," she said, with a long breath. "Merci! How
good to those in need! But now am I right as a trivet and shamed that
I must fail at the last. Are you ready?"
She picked up the blankets, smiled at the tall man who came for
them, and walked with them down to the canoes.
"In th' big boat, lass, wid th' women," said the leader; "'tis more
"I thank you, M'sieu, but I have my place. I cannot leave it." And
she stepped in her own canoe.
"Did ye iver behold such a shmile, Terence?" cried the little
woman, when the flotilla had strung into shape and the green summer
shores were slipping past. "'Tis like the look av th' Virgin in th'
little Chapel av St. Joseph beyant Belknap's skirts,—so sad and yet
as fair as light!"
And so began with the slipping green shores, the airy summer sky
laced with its vanity of fleecy clouds, the backward journey to safety
and De Seviere.
The large party travelled at forced time, short camps and long
pulls, for, as the little woman told Maren at the next stop, they were
hurrying south to Quebec.
"Where th' ships sail out to th' risin' sun, ochone, and Home calls
over th' sea,—the little green isle wid its pigs an' its shanties,
its fairs an' its frolics, an' the merry face av th' Father to laugh
at its weddin's an' cry over its graves. Home that might make a lass
forget such a haythen land as this, though God knew if it would ever
get out av th' bad dreams at night!
"An' now will ye be afther tellin' us th' sthory av yer adventures,
Maren was cooking a broth of wild hen in the little pail of poor
Marc Dupre, across the fire, and the little woman was busy watching a
bit of bread baking on a smoothed plank. Her companion, a tall,
fair-haired woman with pale eyes, light as the grey-green sheen
sometimes seen on the waters before a storm, was reclining in tired
idleness beside her. This woman had not spoken to Maren, but her cold
eyes followed her now with an odd persistence.
"Or is it too wild and sad? If it gives ye pain, don't say a
word,— though, wurra! 'tis woild I am to hear!"
Maren looked up, and once more the smile that was stranger to her
features played over them in its old-time beauty.
"Nay,—why should I not tell so good a heart as yours?" said the
girl simply, and she began at the beginning and told the sorry tale
through to its end.
"And so he died, this young trapper with the soul of pearl, and I
alone go back to De Seviere with—with M'sieu the factor," she
"Mother av Heavin! An' which,—forgive me lass,—which man av the
three did ye love? For 'tis only love could be behind such deeds as
The ready tears were swimming in the Irishwoman's blue eyes,
straight from her warm heart, and she was leaning forward in the
intensity of her sympathy and excitement.
"Which, Madame? Why, M'sieu the factor, surely."
And Maren looked into the red heart of the fire.
With a sudden impulse this daughter of Erin dropped her plank in
the ashes, and coming swiftly forward, fell on her knees with her arms
around the girl's neck.
"Saints be praised!" she cried, weeping openly. "Saints be praised,
ye have him safe! An' there can nothin' ha'arm ye now, with us goin'
yer ways so close! An' there'll be a weddin' av coorse whin th' poor
lad comes round! F'r a flip av ale I'd command Terence to turn aside
an' go triumphant entry-in' to this blessid fort av yours and witness
Maren smiled sadly and laid her hand on the black head tucked into
her neck. It was a caress, that touch, tender and infinitely sweet,
for with the quick heart of her she knew the little woman to be of the
gold of earth, and she was conscious of a longing to keep her near,
who was so soon to sail "into the risin' sun" and who had been so
short a time her friend.
Friend, assuredly, for friendship was not a thing of time, but
hearts alike, and they had turned together with the first look.
So they sat a while, these two from the ends of the earth, and the
warm Irish heart cleared itself of tears, like April weather, to come
up laughing in another moment.
"An' to think ye niver told us your name, asthore!" she said,
wiping her eyes; "nor yer home place! Were ye raised in this post av
"Maren Le Moyne of Grand Portage. My father—was a smith."
"Of Grand Portage! An' ye are so far inland! I am Sheila
O'Halloran, av all Oirland, an' wife to Terence th' same,—yer fri'nd
for always, asthore, f'r niver will I be forgettin' this time!"
She turned to the fair woman, smiling and alight.
"Did ye iver dhrame av such romance, my dear?" she asked. "An'
isn't it just wonderful to find a real live heroine in th'
The woman was toying with a bunch of grass, winding the slim green
blades around her pale fingers, and she looked back with peculiar
"It is all very wonderful, Sheila, and commands admiration, of
course; but, for my part, a strange woman alone on the rivers with a
party of men must have something beside her own word to vouch for her
before I should take her in with open arms. You are too ready to
believe anything. How do you know this venturess is not a—Jezebel?"
For a moment an awful silence fell upon the three, and they could
hear the myriad sounds of the evening camp round about.
Then Maren, her eyes wide in amaze, said stupidly:
And the Irishwoman cried: "Frances! For shame!"
But the other was very much composed.
"I am right, all the same,—what woman of modesty would follow a
man to the wilderness, confessing brazenly her love? You haven't
noticed any hysterics on my part over it,—nor will you. I think it
all a very open scandal."
The little woman was flying into a rage of tumbled words and
hopeless brogue, but Maren Le Moyne, the blood red to her temples,
rose silently, took the pot of broth, and walked away, and never in
her life did she hold herself so tall and straight.
As she knelt beside the blanket bed of McElroy, and lifted his
helpless head, her eyes were burning sombrely.
"This, too?" she was saying dumbly, within herself. "Is this, too,
part of the lesson of life?"
And all through the days that followed, long warm days, with the
songs of birds from the gliding shores, the ripple of waters beneath
the prow of a canoe, she sat beside the unconscious man and looked at
him with dumb yearning.
For love of him,—what would she not have done, what would she not
do still for love of him,—he who had sold her for a kiss; and for it
there came something,—she could not define it,—something that seemed
to live in the atmosphere, to taint the glory of the sunshine, to
speak under every word and whisper.
Never again did she cook at the fire with the others, but had her
own on the outskirts, and Sheila O'Halloran came and cooked with her,
talked and comforted and hovered about Anders McElroy where he lay in
a silence like death, his fair face flushed with fever and his strong
hands plucking at everything within their reach.
"Don't ye worry, dear, he'll not die. 'Twouldn't be accordin' to
th' rights av life,—not afther all ye've done f'r him. He'll opin his
blessid eyes some day an' know ye, an' Heaven itself will not be like
thim f'r glory."
But Maren only looked tragically down upon him.
What would they say, those eyes that she had thought so earnest, so
all-deserving in their eager honesty, if they should open to her
Would they lie as they had done before, with the thought of
Francette behind their blue clearness?
Ah, well,—it was all in the day's march.
This day at noon camp she came upon, close to a fallen tree, a wee
red flower nodding on its slender stalk. She sighed and broke it.
"In memory of a brave man," she said sadly. "Oh, a very brave man!"
CHAPTER XXVII RETURN
Eastward through the little lakes, across the portages where
McElroy was carried by means of pole and blanket swung from sturdy
shoulders, they went at hurried pace, and never a man of Maren's small
command but watched the sadness of her face, that seemed to grow with
the days and to feel an aching counterpart of it within his own heart.
"Take my coat for your head, Ma'amselle," when she rested among the
thwarts,—"Let me, Ma'amselle," when she would do some little task.
Thus they served her from the old desire that sight of her face had
ever stirred in the breasts of men, she who had never played at the
game of love, nor knew its simplest trick.
Southward, presently, up the rivers hurrying to the great bay at
the north, and at last out upon the broad waters of Winnipeg, and
never for an hour had McElroy's wandering soul come back to his
suffering body. Day by day Maren tended him, feeding him as one feeds
a helpless babe, shielding him from the sun by her own shadow when the
branches gathered at morn withered ere noon, wetting the fair head
with its waving sunburnt hair with water dipped from overside, and
praying constantly for his life.
As they neared the southern end, where Winnipeg narrows like the
neck of a bottle, his tongue loosened from its silence and he began to
babble and talk in broken sentences, and it was all about De Courtenay
and a remorse that ate the troubled soul.
"I owe you apologies, M'sieu,—'tis a sorry plight and I alone am
to blame. And yet I have a score,—gladly would I take my will of you
for that one fault,—another time,—another place. Still have I no
right, save as one man who,—But I have a plan,—one may
escape,—listen—when I grapple with this guard, do you make for the
river—with all speed— My God! My God! M'sieu! Why did you not run?"
And so he muttered and sighed, and Maren bent above with wide eyes.
Something there was between these two, some enmity that followed
even into the land of shadows and yet held them gentlemen through it
all, offering and rejecting some chance of escape. A weary, weary
Again he would fancy himself back in De Seviere and always there
was De Courtenay with his smiling face and tantalizing beauty.
"Welcome, M'sieu, to our post! Seldom do we meet so gay a guest!"
Often the wandering words would stumble among his accounts at the
factory and he would give directions to the clerks, and then Ridgar's
name would come, only to carry him instantly to the camp of the
savages on Deer River.
"Edmonton,—friend of my heart,—alone! and you pass me without
speech! Ah,—that look! That look! I'd stake my soul—"
And once in the cool twilight of an ended day, with the tall trees
above and the river lapping below, he cried out her name,
"Maren!" and once again, "Maren!" with a world of change between
the two words.
The first plunged the girl's heart to her throat with its passion,
the second chilled her like a cool wind.
And all at once he said, after a pause, "What is it, little one?"
So passed the days of the return.
Hour by hour the bright waters of the lake spoke to the girl with
voices of regret and sadness. The blue sky above seemed to mirror the
dark face of Marc Dupre, the wind from the shores to be his low voice,
each passing shadow among the trees his slender figure returning from
the hunt for her.
Her heart was sore that Fate had willed it so, and yet, looking
down at the face of this man at her feet, she knew it had to be and
that she would do again all that she had done.
And ever before her passed the scornful face of the fair woman who
had set the little undertone to all the world.
It troubled her, and for hours together she sat in silence
reasoning it all out, while Mowbray's men dipped the shining blades
and here and there the voyageurs and Indians who wore no feathers sang
snatches of song, now a chanson of the trail and rapid, again a
wordless monotony of savage notes.
The evening camps were short spaces of blessed quietude and
converse when Sheila O'Halloran sat beside her and they talked of many
things,— chiefly the dear little Island whose green sod would soon
again receive the feet of "herself an' Terence."
"'Tis thankful I am, me dear, to be out av this forsaken land alive
wid me hair on me head instid av on a hoop painted green wid little
red arrows on th' stretched shkin inside! 'Tis a sorry counthry an'
fit f'r no woman, but whin Terence must come on some mysterious
business av th' government,—an' niver, till this minute, accushla, do
I know whut it is,—a cryin' shame 'tis, too, wid me, his devoted
wife!—I must come along or die. Wurra! Many's th' time I thought I'd
do th' thrick here! But now are th' dangers passin' wid ivery
mile,—hark to th' men singin'! 'Tis bad business whin men do not sing
at th' day's work. 'Tis glad I am f'r safe deliverance from that
counthry av nightmares wid its outlandish name,—Athabasca,—where
Terence must moon from post to post av th' Hudson's Bay—"
Maren's head was up and she was looking at the little woman with an
"The Land of the Whispering Hills!"
"Thrue,—'tis th' Injun word,—but a woild, woild land f'r all
"But beautiful, Madame,—oh! it is beautiful, is it not?"
"Fair,—wid high hills an' a great blue lake an' woildness!—Ah!"
But the tall leader was calling and camp was breaking for another
And under the travelling stars of that night there awoke in the
heart of the maid of the trail something of the old love, the old
longing for that goal of her life's ambition.
She had turned aside from it, only to be taught a lesson whose
scars would stay deep in her soul so long as life lasted.
At last came an hour when the party under O'Halloran must turn to
the east, where the bottle-neck of Winnipeg split in two, going down
that well-worn way which led to Lake of the Woods, Rainy River, and at
last to the wide lakes, whose sparkling waves would waft them on to
the great outside world.
There was a scene at parting, when the warmhearted Irishwoman clung
to Maren and wept against her bosom, calling her all the hundred words
for "darling" in the Celtic and vowing to remember her always.
The fair woman, wife of a Scotchman who acted as some sort of
secretary to O'Halloran, sat apart in cold silence.
"M'sieu," said Maren, at the last, "I have no words to thank you
for this that you have done. I but cast it into the balance of God,
which must hang heavy with your goodness."
She had given her hand to the leader, and that impulsive son of the
ould sod kissed it gallantly.
"'Tis little we did, lass, for you and your poor lad yonder, and
'twas in our hearts to do more. But here's luck to you both,—an early
weddin' an' sturdy sons!"
And, as the morning sun glittered on the ripples of the departing
boats, Maren stood long looking after them, a mist in her eyes and her
full lips quivering.
She looked until the gathering dimness hid the waving kerchief of
the only woman friend who had ever truly reached her heart.
Then she sat down and took up a paddle.
"Last lap, Messieurs," she said, above the mutter of McElroy at her
feet, and they turned toward where the familiar river came rushing to
The summer lay heavy on the land when they reached the Assiniboine.
Deep green of the forests, deep green of fern and bush and
understuff, told of the full tide of the year. Here and there a leaf
trailed in the shallows, yellow as gold in an early death.
She thought of the spring, so long past, when she had first come
into this sweet land, and it seemed like another time, another life,
This day at dusk they passed the hidden cove where she had found
Marc Dupre waiting to build her fire. The abandoned canoe still lay
hidden where he left it.
Cool blue dawn, hushed and wide-reaching, still with that stillness
which precedes the sunrise, lay over the river, when the lone canoe
rounded the lower bend and Anders McElroy, factor of Fort de Seviere,
came back to his own again.
In the prow there knelt a weary figure in a soiled and sun-bleached
garment of doeskin, its glittering plastron of bright beads broken
here and there, the ragged ends of sinews hanging as they were left by
briar and branch, and the haggard eyes went with eager swiftness to
the stockade standing in its grim invincibility facing the east.
The row of wonted canoes lay upturned upon the shelving shore at
the landing, the half-moon at the right still glowered with its puny
cannon which had spoken no word to save their master on that fateful
day, and all things looked as if but a day had passed between.
The great gate with its studded breast was closed, the bastions at
the corners were empty of watchers, for peace folded its wings above
Without sound the boat cut up to the landing, Brilliers leaped out
and steadied it to place, and Maren stepped once more upon the
They lifted McElroy, swinging in his blanket, and the tread of the
moccasined feet was hollow on the planks.
Thus there passed up to the gate of De Seviere a triumphal
procession of victory, whose heart was heavy within it, and whose
leader in her tattered dress was the saddest sight of all.
She raised her hand and beat upon the gate, and a voice cried, "Who
"Open, my brother," she called, for the voice was that of Henri
Baptiste, whose turn at the gate it was.
There was an ejaculation, a swift rattle of chains, and the heavy
portal swung back, while the blanched face of young Henri stared into
the dawn. Maren motioned to the men and they stepped in with their
"Holy Mary! Maren! Maren! Maren!" cried Henri Baptiste, and took
both her arms in a gripping clasp. He looked into her face with fear
and wonder, as if the girl had returned from the dead, while joy
unspeakable began to lighten his features.
"Sister! Holy Mary!"
And then, when the touch of her in the flesh had dispelled his
first horror, when the sight of the factor swinging grotesquely in the
blanket had taken on the sense of reality, he raised his voice in a
From every door it brought the populace running, half-dressed and
startled, and in scant space a ring of faces stared upon the strangers
in stupid awe.
"Ma'amselle Le Moyne!" they whispered, fearfully.
"Mother of Heaven! The factor!"
"Our factor! Out of the hands of Death!"
"Mon Dieu! One of them! And the maid!"
And in the midst of the awed and hushed excitement that was growing
with each passing moment, there cut the voice of McElroy, babbling
from the blanket.
"Throw! Throw, Ma'amselle,—for M'sieu!"
"Hush!" said Maren; "where is Prix Laroux?"
The big fellow was pushing through the gathering crowd, to stand
before the weary girl with burning eyes.
"Maren!" he said simply, and could say no more.
"Take him, Prix," she said quietly; "take him to the factory. Get
Rette de Lancy's hand above him for care, and Jack for all things
else. Take these my men, and give them all the post affords, but
chiefly rest at present. They have—"
Here there came a tumult among the listening populace, and Marie
rushed through and flung herself upon Maren and there was time for
nothing else, save that, as Maren turned with her hanging like a vice
about her throat and Henri's arm across her shoulders, there was a
streak of crimson, a flash of ornaments in the sun, but now risen
above the forest's rim, and some one threw herself upon the
unconscious form of McElroy, kissing his face and his helpless hands
and weeping terribly.
It was the little Francette. At her heels the great dog, Loup,
halted and glowered at the strangers.
CHAPTER XXVIII THE OLD DREAM ONCE
They led her through the new day, between the staring, whispering
people, this comer from beyond the grave, to the little new cabin
beside the northern wall, across its step and into its sweet, fresh
cleanliness of home; and when Henri had shut the door they stood
together in a group, their arms inwound, and Marie wept helplessly
while Maren looked down with moist and weary eyes.
"There! There! Hush, ma cherie! Hush!" she was saying, but Henri
was reading with amaze the change in her glorious face.
"It has been a long trail, Prix, but a longer one beckons with
ceaseless insistence. No longer can I sit in idleness. Can we, think
you, raise the debt to carry us on at once? My heart is sick for the
Maren stood by the factory door conversing earnestly with Laroux.
From every point of the post curious eyes looked upon her. Here and
there groups of women whispered in the doorways, and once and again a
laugh, quick hushed, broke on the evening air.
Somehow they struck upon the girl's ears with an ugly sound,
reminding her vaguely of the fair woman who travelled eastward with
Sheila O'Halloran, and her voice grew more earnest.
Laroux, who had not spoken with her since that one word of the
morning at the gate, was dumb of tongue, aching with the old feeling
in his heart which had told him faithfully so long ago that all was
not well with her.
"At once, Maren," he said huskily, "I will raise the debt. When
would you be gone?"
"Soon, my friend,—soon, soon."
"The word shall go round to-night. All shall be ready in
He paused a moment and presently, "Maren, maid," he said.
"Hold you aught against me for the stand I took that day—the duty
I saw first?"
"Against you, Prix?—the truest, bravest friend I own? Nay,
man,—you are my staff, my hope, my courage. Would I had had your
strength these heavy days."
"Would to the good God you had! It shall not fail you again."
Maren held out her hand and Laroux grasped it in a clasp of faith.
"See!" cried Tessa Bibye, peeping eagerly from among the women,
"she holds hands with that blackhaired man of her people who spurs the
rest. One man or another,—as Francette says,—little cat!—all are
fish who come to Ma'amselle's net! The factor, or the cavalier, or a
"Can they not see, these fool men, that the woman is a venturess,
playing with all?"
"You lie, Tessa Bibye!"
Micene Bordoux had passed unnoticed. Now she turned her accusing
glance on the loose-tongued girl.
"Because you are so small of soul yourself, are your eyes blinded
to the greater heights? Ma'amselle is lost in the clouds above you."
She went on, and Maren at the factory door turned to enter.
"Give the word,—and make all haste. Fix all things as you think
The great trading-room, lined with its shelves and circled with
counters, was empty, save for a clerk, Gifford, who cast accounts in
the big book on the factor's desk, and Maren's footsteps rang heavy to
her ears as she passed through it to the little room behind, where she
could see Rette passing back and forth at her tasks of mercy.
She stopped at the open door and looked within that little room.
Here were the things of McElroy's life,—the plain chairs, the table,
the shelf with its books, the chest against the western wall, and on
the bed, pulled out to get the breeze, lay the man himself prone in
his splendid strength.
The light from the setting sun was on his head with its fair hair
and flushed face, rolling restlessly from side to side. There was no
reason in the earnest blue eyes, and Maren felt a mighty anguish swell
and grip her throat as she stood looking on the pathetic scene.
"Come in, Ma'amselle," whispered Rette from her motherly heart,
drawn by sight of her haggard face, but Maren's eyes had fallen on a
little figure huddled on the far side of the bed with its face buried
against McElroy's left hand.
She knew the small head running over with black curls.
"Nay, Rette," she said quietly, "I would speak a moment with you."
The woman came out and closed the door.
"Poor little fool!" she whispered, "she is worn to a shadow with
these weeks of weeping, and, now that he is back, will not give over
hanging to his hand like one drowning."
"Heed not. Is it in your heart, Rette, to do a deed of kindness for
me, to keep a word of faith?"
"With all my heart, Ma'amselle!"
"Then," whispered Maren, apart from the clerk's listening ears,
"take you this letter. Keep it until M'sieu the factor is in his right
mind, then give it him with your own hands. If he—if he should—burn
it, Rette, unopened."
And she gave into the woman's keeping the only letter she had ever
written to a man.
It was in French, and the script was fine and finished.
This was what she had said, alone in the little room with its
eastern window at the end of the Baptiste cabin:
"MONSIEUR MCELROY, Factor of Fort de Seviere, ave atque vale." (The
tender word of Father Tenau when he blessed her that last time in
"The time has come when I must take my people out of your post,
must break their contract and their word. Forgive them, M'sieu, and
lay not the fault to them, for I, and I only, am to blame. But the
time I promised is too long.... I can no longer hold back the tide of
longing which drives me to that land of which we spoke once...." (Here
there was a break in the letter, a smudge on the page, as if the quill
had caught the paper or a drop of moisture run into the ink.)
"I must go forward, and at once, to the Athabasca. The great quest
is strong at my heartstrings again. I thank you, M'sieu, for all
kindness done my people, and I promise that, should fortune favour
them and me in that far land to which we journey, they shall send what
trade lies with them to De Seviere. For one thing I ask,—if it be
possible, M'sieu, give to certain men who will be found by word to Mr.
Mowbray of York, such stipend as you can, for they were good and
faithful,— namely, Frith and Wilson and McDonald, Brilliers and
Alloybeau.... Adieu, M'sieu. God send you health. (Signed)
"MAREN LE MOYNE, of Grand Portage."
Laroux was worth his word.
Forty-eight hours later there stood at the portal of Fort de
Seviere, ready for the trail, that small band of wanderers who had
come into it in the early spring.
They were fuller of hope, more eager to face the wilderness than on
that day, for joy after sorrow sat blithely on their faces, turned to
the tall young woman at their head. And they were fully equipped for
travel. Three canoes held wealth of supplies, while six huskies whined
in leash, nervous under new masters, touched with the knowledge of
Not a man in De Seviere who had not given gladly, nay, vied with
his neighbour to give, to the helping of this woman.
Had they not their factor back from death and its torments?
There was God-speed and hearty handclasp from the men, and Maren
smiled into their faces, reading their simple hearts.
With the women it was different. They hung, gazing, on the
outskirts, calling farewell to Marie, who wept a little at sight of
her deserted cabin, to Anon and Mora and Ninette, but there was no
reflection of the feeling of their masters for this girl with her
weary beauty, her steady, half-tragic eyes. Nor was there great regret
over Micene. Too sharp had been her tongue, too keen her perception of
True, the autumn was near at hand. Winter would come with its
myriad foes before they could hope to be ready for it, and Maren,
looking far ahead, saw it and its dangers, and her heart sickened a
bit with the thought of her people; but the thing within was stronger
than all else.
She must leave De Seviere at once. Therefore, she raised her head
with her face to the west.
It was early dawn again. It seemed that it had ever been dawn when
fateful things had happened in this post, every log and stone of which
was suddenly dear to her.
She stood in the opened gate and looked back upon it, on the
cabins, the well where De Courtenay had placed his first red flower in
her hair, the storehouses, and the factory.
With sight of it once more the wave of anguish swept over her. She
saw the small plain room at the back, the figure of a man prone in his
helplessness, a fair head with blue eyes, pleading in their honest
clearness, and her lips trembled.
"Ready?" she said, and the deep voice slipped unsteadily.
"Aye," answered Prix Laroux, and picked up the last pack of
At that moment there was a flurry among the pressing men around, a
sound above the many voices wishing them luck, and little Francette
"Ma'amselle!" she cried, looking up into Maren's eyes with
conflicting expressions on her small face, misery and solemn joy and
hatred that strove to soften itself beneath a better emotion;
"Ma'amselle,—I would thank you! Oh, bon Dieu! I am not all bad! Here"
She seized Loup by the ears and dragged him forward, snarling.
"Take him, Ma'amselle! I love him! Do you take
All her red-rose beauty had gone from the little maid along with
her dancing lightness.
These long weeks had turned her into a woman with a woman's heart.
They drew back and looked on with wonder, and then smiles of
amusement, but Maren, gazing into the tragic little face, saw deeper.
"Why,—little one," she said gently, unconsciously falling into
McElroy's words after a trick she had, "I—I understand. You need not
give up the dog,—I know what you would say."
"No!" cried Francette fiercely. "No! Take him! Take him! I will
make you take him! I will!"
She was whimpering, and Maren, stooping, laid a hand on the husky's
Without more words she turned and followed her people down to the
landing, half-dragging the brute, who hung back and turned his giant
head to the little maid, standing with her hands over her face.
He snarled and bit at Maren's wrist, but she picked him up and
flung him, half-dragging on the ground, for he was a mighty beast,
into the first canoe.
"Push off," she said; and, taking her place in the prow, she raised
her face to the cool blue sky, and turned once more to that West whose
voice had called from her cradle, but, with some strange perversity
of fate, her heart drew back to the squat stockade slowly fading into
The sweet wind of the Whispering Hills was very faint on her soul.
CHAPTER XXIX BITTER ALOES
Eight months passed over the country of the Assiniboine, bringing
their changes. The short full-tide of the summer seemed to run out
with the going of the venturers, and the autumn to come from the
north-west in a night.
Great splashes of colour dropped on the land, spilled from the
palette of some careless giant,—gold and crimson and purple. Glorious
fires burned in the cooling skies and the sweet breath of autumn
tingled in the air.
There was comment, and the shaking of heads among the old trappers.
The wrong time of year to take the long trail with women,—the wrong
time, but, bon Dieu! who was to stop that woman with the sombre eyes?
Voila! A woman to thrill the blood in any man who was still warm with
"Love awakened in her would be a thing of flame and fury, they had
thought, that long past day," thought Pierre Garcon to himself; "he
and that friend of his heart, Marc Dupre,—it had been a thing of
patient servitude, of transcendent daring, and Marc Dupre; ah! He had
been a part of it. But there was much of mystery about it all, and no
one knew, nor would any know, all that it had meant."
So the changes came and passed, and when Anders McElroy again
opened his eyes to reason, the world was white against the pane of the
one window of the little room,—the long snows had arrived. Winter was
upon the Northland.
It was on a night when the wind without howled like a lost soul
shut out from the universe and the sucking of the chimney-throat
roared to heaven.
Edmonton Ridgar sat at the hearth gazing into the leaping flames,
and Rette de Lancy passed and repassed among the shifting shadows,
busy at some kindly task.
Long he lay, this man returned from the Borderland of the Unknown,
and stared weakly at the familiar sights that were yet touched with a
It seemed that this was all as it should be, and yet there was
something lacking,—a great gap, whose images and happenings were
wiped out as a cloth wipes clean a slate,—a space of darkness, of
blankness, whose empty void held prescience of some great sadness. He
lay on his side facing the fire, and twice he thought to speak to
Ridgar with a question of this strangeness, and each time he was
conscious of a vast surprise that the man did not answer.
His lips, so long unused to sane direction, had made no sound in
the roar of the night.
And then Ridgar, drawn by that intangible sense of eyes upon him,
raised his head; and, as their glances met, that great void flashed
suddenly into full panoply of life peopled with a ring of painted
faces against the background of a night forest, a leaping fire, and
the heroic figure of a tall woman who stood in the dancing light and
threw a hatchet at a painted post.
Ridgar's eyes, as he had seen them in the dimness of the outskirts
of that massed circle, brought back the lost period of time and all
that had passed therein.
He stared wildly at him, and then around the firelit room.
"Ah!" said Ridgar softly, getting slowly to his feet with a smile
at once tender and exaggeratedly calm. "You have awakened, have you;
eh, lad? Would you sleep the whole night away as well as the day?"
He came to the bed and took McElroy's hand tenderly in his, while
he gave Rette a warning glance.
McElroy tried to rise, but only his head obeyed, lifting itself a
bit from the pillow to fall helplessly back.
He looked up at Ridgar with a look that cut that good man's heart,
so full was it of wild entreaty and piteous grief.
"Maren?" whispered the weak lips. "Maren,—where—?" And they, too,
"Safe," said Ridgar gently; "all is well. We are at De Seviere and
there is no need to think. Do you drink a sip of Rette's good broth
and sleep again."
With a sigh of ineffable relief the sick man obeyed like a child,
falling back into the shadows, though this time they were the blessed
shades of the Vale of Healing Rest.
Rette in a corner was wiping her eyes and saying, over and over, a
prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance from death.
With infinite tact Ridgar kept him quiet, promising the tale of
what had happened, and, when the flow of returning life could no
longer be stemmed, he set himself the task of telling what he knew of
those swift days.
It was again night, though a week of nights had passed since that
on which the factor had awakened to consciousness, and Ridgar had
There was only the roar of the wind without, the whistle of the
fire, and the two men alone in the room as they had been many a
"Now,—where shall I begin?" said the chief trader, gazing into the
fire. "At what point?"
"Maren," said McElroy eagerly, from the bed; "begin with her."
Ridgar shook his head.
"Nay, it goes farther back. Let it begin with the leaving of De
Seviere and the coldness of my bearing to you.... Did you never think,
lad, that it was but a blind, covering the determination to help you
at the first opportunity? Thought you the friendship of years so poor
a thing as to be turned in a day? Day by day my heart ached for some
word with you, or even a glance that would make all straight; but
those painted devils watched my every move, my every look, the very
intaking of my breath, as the coyote watches the gopher-hole when the
badger is below. Only for sake of the dead chief at my feet was I
given such seemingly free leave among them,—for myself, I had been
shipped as were poor De Courtenay's Nor'westers at Wenusk Creek. And
now is the time when I must go farther back and tell you of the good
chief who was my father, indeed, at heart."
Ridgar paused a moment, and his eyes took on a look of distant
"Have you not wondered how it was, lad, that a man should live long
as I have lived in the wilderness, alone, without ties other than
those which bind him to the Great Company, without love of woman,
without the joy of children?...I have not always lived so. Time was
when I had my own wickiup, when I lay by my own night-fire and played
with the braids of a woman's hair,—long black braids, bound with
crimson silk and heavy with ornaments, for whose buying I paid my
year's catch, when I looked into eyes black as the woods at night and
dumb with the great love she could not speak.... She lived it one
day,...nay, died it—when I had some words with a young man of the
tribe, who drew a spear before I knew what he meant and hurled it at
me. She...leaped between. God!"
He ceased again, and McElroy could hear his breathing, see the
whitened knuckles of his hands grasping the poker from the hearth
where he had absently stirred the leaping fire.
"It went quite through her,—a foot beyond her swelling breast,
full for my only child, unborn.... She was Negansahima's daughter....
We mourned together, the old chief and I, and our hearts were bound
close as the tree and its bark. In a far high hill of the Pays d'en
Haut we put her to sleep with that last look of love on her dark
face...and we made a pact to lie beside her when our time should come,
he who out- lived the other to see the rites of the Death Feast. He
has joined her. I saw his rites. So for this end, reaching far back, I
did not return when you came back to De Seviere, going on with that
rabble who dared not harm me who am to share the Sleep of Chiefs some
"Now for the rest. I know no more of Maren Le Moyne than that first
tragic sight of her, hauled into the light by the brute DesCaut. I
only know that she stood before those savages as fearless as a lioness
and threw again and again, her black head up and sane, her young body
under her own command in every taut cord and muscle, and that again
and again and yet again the flying hatchet landed in its own cleft,—a
wonderful performance!—putting off with coolness and skill the death
they would see her decide, choosing neither man of you."
"But," cried McElroy, "it was De Courtenay she came to see,—to
save,— to die with,—she loved him, man!"
"Aye,—maybe. But I know only that that young trapper, Marc Dupre,
gave his life as gallantly as might be to cover our retreat while we,
the Nor'wester and I, slipping among the sleepers, carried you to the
river; that they woke, those devils, before we had cleared the little
gorge, and that M'sieu de Courtenay, brave man and gay cavalier, gave
your knees to this woman who helped me get you to the canoe, himself
taking the only gun and meeting what fate was his in the narrow seam
among the rocks. She had with her men of Mr. Mowbray's brigade, that
she had got somewhere on Winnipeg, and we put you in their waiting
canoe. She was dragged in among the thwarts,—while I—slipped back
among the shadows, circled the camp, and was at my death-watch inside
the big tepee when peering eyes looked in. I saw no more of the
dashing Nor'wester, save a flash of long gold curls at a headman's
belt. What fate was meted out to him was swift and therefore merciful.
Peace be to him!
"No more I know, my friend, save that, when I returned to De
Seviere, I found you ill with some fever of the brain."
"But, Ridgar, for love of Heaven, what of Maren?"
"She had brought you here, and Rette says the women hung off from
her and laughed in corners, whispering and talking, and that her face
was worn and greatly changed, as if with some deep sorrow."
McElroy turned his head upon the pillow and weak tears smarted
under his lids.
"Me! It was I she saved when it was I who slew her lover! God
forgive me, for I cannot forgive myself!"
"Nay, boy, hush! It is all as God wills. We are but shuttles in the
web of this tangled life."
"But—tell me,—what does she now? How looks her dear face?"
Ridgar was silent a moment, and McElroy repeated his question, with
his face still turned away:
"Does she pass among them,—the vipers? Does she seem to care for
life at all now?"
"Lad," said Ridgar gently, "I know not, for she is gone."
The pale man on the pillow sprang upright, staring at the other
with open mouth.
"Aye, softly, boy; softly! She has been gone these many weeks; even
while summer was here she gathered her people, outfitted by our men,
all of whom were so glad for your deliverance that they gave readily
to their debt, and took up again her long trail to the Athabasca.
Rette, I believe, has a letter which she left for you.... Would you
read it now?"
McElroy nodded dumbly, and Ridgar went out in the night to Rette's
cabin for this last link between the factor and the woman he loved.
When he returned, and McElroy had taken it in his shaking hands, he
sat down and turned his face to the fire.
There was silence while the flames crackled and the chimney roared,
and presently the factor said heavily:
"I cannot! Read..."
So Ridgar, bending in the light, read aloud Maren's letter.
At its end the man on the bed turned his face to the wall and spoke
From that time forth the tide of returning life in him stopped
sluggishly, as if the locks were set in some ocean-tapping channel.
The bleakness of the cold north winter was in his heart and life
was barren as the eastern meadows.
So passed the days and the weeks, with quip and jest from Ridgar,
whose eyes wore a puzzled expression; with such coddling and coaxing
from Rette as would have spoiled a well man, and, with not the least
to be counted, daily visits to the factory of the little Francette,
who defied the populace and came openly.
With returned consciousness to McElroy, there came back to the
little maid much of her damask beauty. The pretty cheeks bloomed again
and she was like some bright butterfly flitting about the bare room in
her red kirtle.
Sometimes McElroy would smile, watching her play with a young
bob-cat, which some trapper had brought her from the woods, and whose
savage playfulness seemed to be held in leash under her small hands.
The creature would mouth and fawn upon her, taking her cuffs and
slaps, and follow her about like a dog.
Rette tolerated the two with a bad grace, for, since the day when
Maren Le Moyne had stood at the door with her haggard beauty so
wistfully sad, her sympathies had been all with the strange girl of
Light and flitting, sparkling as an elf, full to the brim of
laughter and light, little Francette was playing the deepest game of
With the cunning of a woman she was trying to woo this man back to
the joy of earth, to wind herself into his heart, and so to fill his
hours with her brightness that he would come to need her always.
So she came by day and day, and now it would be some steaming
dainty cooked at her father's hearth by her own hands, again a branch
of the fir-tree coated with ice and sparkling with a million gems,
that she brought into the dull blankness of the room, and with her
there always came a fresh sweet breath of the winter world without.
McElroy smiled at her pretty conceits, her babbling talk, her
gambols, and her gifts.
"What have you done with Loup, little one?" he asked, one day.
"Does he wait on the steps to growl at this usurper purring at your
The little maid grew pearly white and looked away at Rette
fearfully, as if at sudden loss, in danger of some betrayal.
"Nay," she said, "Loup...is an ingrate. He has ceased to care."
And always after she avoided aught that could excite mention of the
But, in spite of all her effort, McElroy lay week after week in the
back room, looking for hours together into the red heart of the fire,
silent, uncomplaining, in no apparent pain, but shiftless as an Indian
in the matter of life.
The business of the factory was brought to him nightly by Ridgar
and the young clerk Gifford, and he would look over things and make a
few suggestions, dispose of this and that as a matter of course and
fall back into his lethargy.
"What think you, M'sieu?" asked Rette anxiously, of Ridgar. "Is
there naught to stir him from these hours of dulness?"
"I know not, Rette. Would I did! The surgeon says there is nothing
wrong with the man, save lack of desire to live. He has lost the love
And so it seemed. Weeks dragged themselves by and months rolled
after them, and still he lay in a great weakness that held his strong
limbs as in a vice.
Winter was roaring itself away with tearing winds, with snow that
fell and drifted against the stockade wall, and fell again, with vast
silences and cold that glazed the surface of the world with ice.
January dragged slowly by, with dances for the young couples in the
cabins at nights, and little Francette, for the first time in her
life, refused to share in the merry-making of which she had always
been the heart and soul.
Instead, she lay awake in the attic of the Moline cabin and cried
in her hands, listening to the whirl of the nights without.
Alone in those long vigils instinct was telling her that she had
failed. Failed utterly!
The young factor cared no more for her than on that night in spring
when he had kissed her and told her to "play in the sunshine and think
no more of him."
She had played for a man and failed.
Moreover, she had not played fairly, and for her wickedness he lay
now as he had lain so long, drifting slowly but surely toward that
land of shadows whence there is no return.
She clinched her small hands in the darkness and wept, and they
were woman's tears.
Back to her led all the threads of tragedy, of death and danger and
heartbreak, that had so hopelessly tangled themselves in Fort de
But for that one hour at the factory steps what time she lay in
McElroy's arms and saw Maren Le Moyne pause at the corner, all would
Young Marc, Dupre would be singing his gay French songs with his
red cap tilted on his curls, that handsome Nor'wester of the
Saskatchewan would be going his merry way, loving here and
there,—instead of bleaching their bones in some distant forest, as
the whispers said; and, last of all, this man she loved with all the
intensity of her soul would be brown and strong with life, not the
weary wreck of a man who gazed into the fire and would not get well.
So the long nights took toll of the little Francette and a purpose
grew in her chastened heart, a purpose far too big for it.
At last the purpose blossomed into full maturity, hastened by the
dark shadows that were beginning to spread beneath McElroy's hopeless
eyes, as if the spirit, so little in the body, were already leaving it
to its earthly end, and one day at dusk, trembling and afraid, she
went to the factory for the last time.
"Rette," she said plaintively, "will you leave me alone with M'sieu
the factor for an hour? Think what you will," she added fiercely, as
she saw the woman's look; "tell all the populace! I care not! Only
give me one hour! Mon Dieu! A little space to pay the debt of life!
Leave me, Rette, as you hope for Heaven!"
And Rette, wondering and vaguely touched, complied.
McElroy was looking, after his habit, at the leaping flames and his
thin hands played absently and constantly with the covering of the
bed, when the door opened and closed and the little maid stood
shrinking against it.
He did not look up for long, thinking, if his dull mind could form
a thought through his melancholy dreams, that Ridgar had come in.
At last a sigh that was like a gasp pierced his lethargy and he
raised his eyes.
She stood with one small hand over her beating heart and her cheeks
white in the firelight.
"Ah! little one!" he said gently. "Why did you come through such a
night? 'Tis wild as—as—Sit in the big chair," he added kindly.
But Francette, in whose face was an unbearable anguish, came
swiftly and fell on her knees beside the bed, raising her eyes to his.
"M'sieu!" she cried, with great labouring breaths. "Oh! M'sieu, I
have come to confess! If there is in your good heart pity for one who
has sinned beyond pardon, give it me, I pray, for love of the good
God!" McElroy stared down at her in wonder.
"Confess? Sinned?" he said. "Why, little one, what can a child like
you know of sin? 'Tis only some blunderer like myself who should speak
its damnable name."
"Nay, nay! Oh, no! No! No! Not on you is there one lightest touch,
M'sieu, but on me,—me—me—does rest the weight of all!"
Her eyes were wide and full of tears, and McElroy laid a weak hand
on her head.
"Hush, child!" he said, with some of his old sternness, when
condemning wrong; "there is a fever at your brain. You have come too
long to this dull room—"
"No! No! Take away your hand! Touch me not, M'sieu, for I am as
dust beneath your feet! I alone am at bottom of all that has happened
in Fort de Seviere this year past! Through me alone have come death
and sorrow and misunderstanding! I caused it all, M'sieu, because
I—loved you! For love of you and hope to gain your heart I set you
apart from that woman of Grand Portage!"
She buried her face on the covering of the bed and her voice came
muffled and choking.
"That night at the factory steps,—you recall, M'sieu,—she came to
you,—I saw her in the dusk as she turned at the corner, a rod away,
saw her and knew with some touch of deviltry the sudden way of keeping
you from her, your arms from about her, your lips from hers! Oh, that
I could not bear, M'sieu! Not though I died for it! So I threw my own
arms about your throat—you remember, M'sieu—and whispered that for
one kiss I would go and forget. In the gentleness of your heart you
kissed me—and—she saw that kiss. Saw me lying in your arms as if you
held me there from love,—saw and turned away. She made no sound in
the soft dust, and when I loosed your face from my clasp she was gone!
So I broke your faith, M'sieu,—so I dragged forth one by one all the
sorry happenings that have followed that evil night."
The muffled voice fell silent, save for the sobs that would no
longer be withheld, and there was an awful stillness in the room,
broken by a stick falling on the hearth and the added roar in the
When Francette raised her weeping eyes she saw McElroy's face above
her like a mask.
Its lips were open as if breath had suddenly been denied them, its
wasted cheeks were blue, and its eyes stared down upon her in horror:
"Oh! O God! Rette!"
She screamed and sprang up, to run back and crouch against the
empty chair beside the hearth.
The figure upon the bed, half-risen, worked its lips and then fell
back, and the little maid raised her voice and screamed again and
again in mortal terror.
It brought Rette running from where she had waited in the
She raised him, and her face was red with rage.
"What have you done! You evil cat! What have you done to the man?"
But McElroy's breast had heaved with a great breath, sweet as the
wind over a harvest field to a tired man, and he looked up at Rette
with eyes that seemed to be suddenly flooded with life.
"Done?" he whispered; "done, Rette? The child has given me
salvation!" And then he held out a shaking, thin hand.
"Come here," he said softly; "come here."
Fearful, trembling, tear-stained Francette crept back, and the
factor took both her small hands in a tender clasp:
"I thank you, little one," he said, "from my heart I thank
you,—there is nothing to forgive. We are all sinners through the only
bit of Heaven we possess,—love. Go, little one, and cease this
crying. Know that I shall sleep this night in a mighty peace. You have
given me— life!"
CHAPTER XXX THE LAND OF THE
Springtime once more kissed all the wilderness into tender green.
From the depths of the forest, lacing its myriad branches in finest
fluff of young leaves, came the old-new sound of birds at the mating,
rivers and tiny streams rushed and tumbled to the lakes, and overhead
a sky as blue and sweet as the eyes of loved rocked its baby clouds in
cradles of fresh winds.
They blew over vast reaches of forest and plain, these winds,
wimpling the new grass with playful fingers, and whispering in the ear
of bird and bee and flower that spring was come once more.
They came from the west, sweeping over sweet high meadows, over
rushing streams, and down from fair plateaus, and their breath was
fresh and cool with promise to one who faced them, eager in his hope,
for they brought the virgin sweetness of the Land of the Whispering
Hills. By streams, clear as crystal, he passed with a swinging stride,
this lean young man in the buckskins of the forest traveller, over
meadows soft in their green carpets, through woodlands whose flecked
sunshine quivered and shook on the young moss beneath, and ever his
face was lifted to the west with undying hope, with calmness of faith,
and that great joy which is humble in its splendour.
Thus he swung forward all through the pleasant hours of that last
day. Before him, raised against the sky, there loomed the magic Hills
themselves, fair to the eye of man, clothed in the green of blowing
grass and girdled about below with the encroaching forest.
At dusk he set foot upon their swelling slopes, and knew himself to
be near the goal of his heart's desire.
Over among them somewhere lay the blue lake. He could already hear
the murmur of its whispering shores, the roar of its circling forests,
for the trees followed on and over through some low defile as if loath
to lose the hills themselves, rising to heaven in virgin smoothness of
The sun had gone behind them in splendid panoply of fire when he
came down into the sheltered woods, and through them to a wondrous
meadow, beautiful as the fields of Paradise, sloping, to the shore
beyond where waters blue as the sky above sent back the pageantry of
Here were the signs of tillage and cultivation, and even now a long
dark strip attested the spring's new work, sending forth on the
evening air the sweet scent of fresh-turned earth.
Beyond, across the field, in the edge of the farther woods, thin
blue smoke curled peacefully up from the pointed tops of some forty
native lodges, while nearer the lake there stood two cabins, one old
and solid with a look of having faced the elements for years, the
other staring in its newness. Indian ponies grazed at the clearing's
edge or drank of the rippling waters on the pebbly beach, and a plough
lay in the last furrow.
The stranger stood in amaze and gazed on the scene before him.
While he looked women came from the cabins and passed blithely
about at evening tasks, and one went to the lake with a vessel for
water. He could see its gleam in the reflection of the gorgeous light.
Thin and high came the sound of a voice singing, the ring of an axe
somewhere in the wood beyond the cabins, and peace ineffable seemed to
lie upon this blessed place. Here truly was Arcadia.
Long he stood in the fringe of the forest and looked eagerly among
the distant figures for one, taller than all the rest, clad in plain
dark garments, whose regal head should catch the dying glow, but
strain as he might, he saw no familiar form, could not detect the free
and swinging step.
Now that the goal of his hope was so near, within the very grasp of
his hand, a strange timidity fell upon him, and he shrank from
crossing the open field.
Rather would he follow the circling wood and come out at the upper
end by the lake, going down along the shore to the cabins.
Keeping well within the trees, giants of the wild nursed in this
cradle of sun and water, he bore to the north and ever his eager eyes
peered between the bolls at the distant habitat.
He had gone but short space when, suddenly, he stopped, drawn up by
sight of what lay in his path.
He had pierced a thicket of hanging vines, too eager to go around,
and come abruptly upon some pagan shrine, some savage Holy of Holies.
And yet not wholly savage, for the signs of the red man and the
white were strangely blended.
In the centre of the open space within the hanging wall of the
vines,— perfect sylvan temple,—there lay a mounded grave, covered
from head to foot with articles he knew at once to be the gifts of
Indians to some great chief gone to the shadowy hunting-grounds. Rich
they were, these gifts, in workmanship and carving, though mean and
poor in quality, showing that great love had attended their giving,
though the givers themselves must be a meagre people.
At the head of the mound towered a gigantic totem pole, carved and
painted with scenes of a most minute history, while at the foot of a
smaller stake, alike carved and coloured, bore, one upon another,
twelve rings of bone, each one of which stood for the circle of a
Crossed and shielded with infinite care, in the centre there lay a
set of smith's tools, crudely fashioned and well worn, tongs and a
heavy hammer and a small anvil.
But beyond all this, a thing that held his wondering gaze and
brought the fur cap from his head, there stood an altar, rude as the
rest, but still an altar of God, with a black iron crucifix, whose
pale ivory Christ glimmered in the gathering evening, upright upon it.
Before the crucifix, and at either end, were the burnt-out evidences
of tallow candles, while flanking the holy Symbol there stood two
wooden crosses, their pieces held together by bindings of thread.
Before one there lay a heap of little withered flowers, frail things
of the forest and the spring, and every one was snowy white. Across
the other hung a solitary blossom, first of its kind to open its
passionate eyes to the sun, and it was blood-red, counterpart of that
wee star which Alfred de Courtenay had snatched from the stockade wall
one day in another spring.
The earnest blue eyes of the man were very grave, touched with a
"Maren!" he whispered reverently; "maid of the splendid heart!"
So deep was he in contemplation of the things before him and his
own holy thoughts that he did not hear a soft sound behind him, the
fall of a light step.
A breath that was half a gasp turned him on his heel.
Leaning through the parted curtain of the hanging vines, one hand
at her throat, the other holding three candles, and her dark eyes wide
above her thinned brown cheeks, she stood herself. At her knee there
hung the heavy head of the great dog, Loup.
She, as she had been when first he looked upon her, yet intangibly
changed, the same yet not the same.
They stood in silence and looked into each other's eyes as if void
of speech, of motion, held by the mighty yearning that must look and
look with insatiable intensity, the half unreal reality of the moment.
And then the stopped breath in the girl's throat caught itself with
a little sound that broke the spell.
The man sprang forward and took her in his arms, not passionately,
strongly, as he had done once before, but with a love so high, so
chastened, so humble that it gentled his touch to reverence.
"I have come, Maren," he said brokenly; "I have followed you to the
land you sought. Maid of my heart! My soul!"
Without words, without question, she yielded herself to his
embrace, lifted her face to him and gave into his keeping that which
was his from the beginning.
"Mother Mary! I thank Thee!" he heard her whisper, and when he
loosed her to look once more into her level eyes, they were dim with
. . . . . . . . .
Night had fallen on the Athabasca when they passed out of the wood
across the field, and they walked together hand in hand.
A great round moon was rising over the eastern forest, silvering
the hills with shining crowns.
Peace brooded on the world.
"And here I found him, M'sieu," Maren Le Moyne was saying sadly,
"in that low mound, cared for and worshipped by these peaceful beings
who till the land and follow his teachings. They were his people. He
taught them purity and peace, the use of plough and tool, the creed of
love and kindness. Here was his dream of empire, his plan of progress.
He of the Good Heart they called him, these Indians who were his
people, and mourn him as a chief. That was his castle yonder, the
older cabin to the east. Here is the fruit of his labour." She
motioned over the new- ploughed land.
"Beyond the trees yonder are bigger fields, a wider holding. And
yet they are poor, these people of peace. The tribes despise them and
scoff at their worship...He taught them the prayers,—the rosary. I
have come after him...Who knows? This is my dream also, my fulfilment.
Love, M'sieu," she raised her face to him, and the deep eyes
flickering with the old elusive light, "Love shall be my crown!"
"Aye," said Anders McElroy, after the manner of a covenant,
"together we shall work and dream yet greater things, trusting in
God,—live and love and enter into our heritage.... I have left the
Company forever. Together we shall build the empire of your dreams....
Oh, Maid of my Heart, the Long Trail has ended in the harbour of New