The young man’s hands fell from her arms. Hard-eyed and grim, he looked her over from head to foot. The short skirt and smock of buckskin, the moccasins of buffalo hide, all dusty and travel-stained, told of life in a primitive country under the simplest and hardest conditions.
Yet the voice was clear and vibrant, the words well enunciated. She bloomed like a desert rose, had some quality of vital life that struck a spark from his imagination.
What manner of girl was she? Not by any possibility would she fit into the specifications of the cubby-hole his mind had built for Indian women. The daughters even of the boisbrules had much of the heaviness and stolidity of their native mothers. Jessie McRae was graceful as a fawn. Every turn of the dark head, every lift of the hand, expressed spirit and verve. She must, he thought, have inherited almost wholly from her father, though in her lissom youth he could find little of McRae’s heavy solidity of mind and body.
“Your brother is of the metis. He’s not a tribesman. And he’s no child. He can look out for himself,” Morse said at last.
[Footnote 2: The half-breeds were known as “metis.” The word means, of course, mongrel. (W.M.R.)]
His choice of a word was unfortunate. It applied as much to her as to Fergus. Often it was used contemptuously.
“Yes, and the metis doesn’t matter,” she cried, with the note of bitterness that sat so strangely on her hot-blooded, vital youth. “You can ride over him as though you’re lords of the barren lands. You can ruin him for the money you make, even if he’s a subject of the Great Mother and not of your country. He’s only a breed—a mongrel.”
He was a man of action. He brushed aside discussion. “We’ll be movin’ back to camp.”
Instantly her eyes betrayed the fear she would not put into words. “No—no! I won’t go.”
His lids narrowed. The outthrust of his lean jaw left no room for argument. “You’ll go where I say.”
She knew it would be that way, if he dragged her by the hair of the head. Because she was in such evil case she tamed her pride to sullen pleading.
“Don’t take me there! Let me go to father. He’ll horsewhip me. I’ll have him do it for you. Isn’t that enough? Won’t that satisfy you?”
Red spots smoldered like fire in his brown eyes. If he took her back to the traders’ camp, he would have to fight Bully West for her. That was certain. All sorts of complications would rise. There would be trouble with McRae. The trade with the Indians of his uncle’s firm, of which he was soon to be a partner, would be wrecked by the Scotchman. No, he couldn’t take her back to the camp in the coulee. There was too much at stake.
“Suits me. I’ll take you up on that. He’s to horsewhip you for that fool trick you played on us and to make good our loss. Where’s his camp?”
From the distance of a stone-throw a heavy, raucous voice called, “’Lo, Morse!”