But if man were absent, there was at least no want of life. It buzzed and chirped and chattered all round them from marsh and stream and brushwood. Sometimes it was the dun coat of a deer which glanced between the distant trunks, sometimes the badger which scuttled for its hole at their approach. Once the long in-toed track of a bear lay marked in the soft earth before them, and once Amos picked a great horn from amid the bushes which some moose had shed the month before. Little red squirrels danced and clattered above their heads, and every oak was a choir with a hundred tiny voices piping from the shadow of its foliage. As they passed the lakes the heavy gray stork flapped up in front of them, and they saw the wild duck whirring off in a long V against the blue sky, or heard the quavering cry of the loon from amid the reeds.
That night they slept in the woods, Amos Green lighting a dry wood fire in a thick copse where at a dozen paces it was invisible. A few drops of rain had fallen, so with the quick skill of the practised woodsman he made two little sheds of elm and basswood bark, one to shelter the two refugees, and the other for Ephraim and himself. He had shot a wild goose, and this, with the remains of their biscuit, served them both for supper and for breakfast. Next day at noon they passed a little clearing, in the centre of which were the charred embers of a fire. Amos spent half an hour in reading all that sticks and ground could tell him. Then, as they resumed their way, he explained to his companions that the fire had been lit three weeks before, that a white man and two Indians had camped there, that they had been journeying from west to east, and that one of the Indians had been a squaw. No other traces of their fellow-mortals did they come across, until late in the afternoon Amos halted suddenly in the heart of a thick grove, and raised his hand to his ear.
“Listen!” he cried.
“I hear nothing,” said Ephraim.
“Nor I,” added De Catinat.
“Ah, but I do!” cried Adele gleefully. “It is a bell—and at the very time of day when the bells all sound in Paris!”
“You are right, madame. It is what they call the Angelus bell.”
“Ah, yes, I hear it now!” cried De Catinat. “It was drowned by the chirping of the birds. But whence comes a bell in the heart of a Canadian forest?”
“We are near the settlements on the Richelieu. It must be the bell of the chapel at the fort.”
“Fort St. Louis! Ah, then, we are no great way from my friend’s seigneury.”
“Then we may sleep there to-night, if you think that he is indeed to be trusted.”
“Yes. He is a strange man, with ways of his own, but I would trust him with my life.”
“Very good. We shall keep to the south of the fort and make for his house. But something is putting up the birds over yonder. Ah, I hear the sound of steps! Crouch down here among the sumach, until we see who it is who walks so boldly through the woods.”