Color flamed into her dusky face. When she spoke there was the throb of contemptuous anger in her voice. “It’s a great thing to be a man.”
“Like to crawfish, would you?”
She swung on him, eyes blazing. “No. I don’t ask any favors of a wolfer.”
She spat the word at him as though it were a missile. The term was one of scorn, used only in speaking of the worst of the whiskey-traders. He took it coolly, his strong white teeth flashing in a derisive smile.
“Then this wolfer won’t offer any, Miss McRae.”
It was the last word that passed between them till they reached the buffalo-hunter’s camp. If he felt any compunctions, she read nothing of the kind in his brown face and the steady stride carrying her straight to punishment. She wondered if he knew how mercilessly twenty-year-old Fergus had been thrashed after his drunken spree among the Indians, how sternly Angus dispensed justice in the clan over which he ruled. Did he think she was an ordinary squaw, one to be whipped as a matter of discipline by her owner?
They climbed a hill and looked down on a camp of many fires in the hollow below.
“Is it you, lass?” a voice called.
Out of the shadows thrown by the tents a big bearded man came to meet them. He stood six feet in his woolen socks. His chest was deep and his shoulders tremendously broad. Few in the Lone Lands had the physical strength of Angus McRae.
His big hand caught the girl by the shoulder with a grip that was half a caress. He had been a little anxious about her and this found expression in a reproach.
“You shouldna go out by your lane for so lang after dark, Jess. Weel you ken that.”
“I know, Father.”
The blue eyes beneath the grizzled brows of the hunter turned upon Morse. They asked what he was doing with his daughter at that time and place.
The Montana trader answered the unspoken question, an edge of irony in his voice. “I found Miss McRae wanderin’ around, so I brought her home where she would be safe and well taken care of.”
There was something about this Angus did not understand. At night in the Lone Lands, among a thousand hill pockets and shoestring draws, it would be only a millionth chance that would bring a man and woman together unexpectedly. He pushed home questions, for he was not one to slough any of the responsibilities that belonged to him as father of his family.
A fat and waistless Indian woman appeared in the tent flap as the three approached the light. She gave a grunt of surprise and pointed first at Morse and then at the girl.
The trader’s hands were covered with blood, his shirt-sleeve soaked in it. Stains of it were spattered over the girl’s clothes and face.
The Scotchman looked at them, and his clean-shaven upper lip grew straight, his whole face stern. “What’ll be the meanin’ o’ this?” he asked.