“I’m alone,” Jessie explained. “Father and Fergus have gone out to the traps. They’ll not be back till to-morrow. Mother’s with Mrs. Whaley.”
Tom knew that the trader’s wife was not well. She was expecting to be confined in a few weeks.
He was embarrassed at being alone with the girl inside the walls of a house. His relations with Angus McRae reached civility, but not cordiality. The stern old Scotchman had never invited him to drop in and call. He resented the fact that through the instrumentality of Morse he had been forced to horsewhip the lass he loved, and the trader knew he was not forgiven his share in the episode and probably never would be. Now Tom had come only because a matter of business had to be settled one way or the other at once.
“Blandoine is leavin’ for Whoop-Up in the mornin’. I came to see your father about those robes. If we buy, it’ll have to be now. I can send ’em down with Blandoine,” he explained.
She nodded, briskly. “Father said you could have them at your price if you’ll pay what he asked for those not split. They’re good hides—cows and young bulls."
[Footnote 5: A split robe was one cut down the middle and sewn together with sinews. The ones skinned from the animal in a single piece were much more valuable, but the native women usually prepared the hides the other way because of the weight in handling. One of the reasons the Indians gave the missionaries in favor of polygamy was that one wife could not dress a buffalo robe without assistance. The braves themselves did not condescend to menial labor of this kind. (W.M.R.)]
“It’s a deal,” the fur-trader said promptly. “Glad to get ’em, though I’m payin’ all I can afford for the split ones.”
“I’ll get the key to the storehouse,” Jessie said.
She walked out of the room with the springy, feather-footed step that distinguished her among all the women that he knew. In a few moments she was back. Instead of giving him the key, she put it down on the table near his hand.
Beneath the tan the dark blood beat into his face. He knew she had done this in order not to run the risk of touching him.