“The same old legend,” commented Galen Albret in apparent amusement, “I heard it when I first came to this country. You’ll find a dozen such in every Indian camp.”
“Jo Bagneau, Morris Proctor, John May, William Jarvis,” checked off the young man on his fingers.
“Personal enmity,” replied the Factor.
He glanced up to meet the young man’s steady, sceptical smile.
“You do not believe me?”
“Oh, if it amuses you.” conceded the stranger.
“The thing is not even worth discussion.”
“Remarkable sensation among our friends here for so idle a tale.”
Galen Albret considered.
“You will remember that throughout you have forced this interview,” he pointed out. “Now I must ask your definite promise to get out of this country and to stay out.”
“No,” replied Ned Trent.
“Then a means shall be found to make you!” threatened the Factor, his anger blazing at last.
“Ah,” said the stranger softly.
Galen Albret raised his hand and let it fall. The bronzed and gaudily bedecked men filed out.
In the open air the men separated in quest of their various families or friends. The stranger lingered undecided for a moment on the top step of the veranda, and then wandered down the little street, if street it could be called where horses there were none. On the left ranged the square white-washed houses with their dooryards, the old church, the workshop. To the right was a broad grass-plot, and then the Moose, slipping by to the distant offing. Over a little bridge the stranger idled, looking curiously about him. The great trading-house attracted his attention, with its narrow picket lane leading to the door; the storehouse surrounded by a protective log fence; the fort itself, a medley of heavy-timbered stockades and square block-houses. After a moment he resumed his strolling. Everywhere he went the people looked at him, ceasing their varied occupations. No one spoke to him, no one hindered him. To all intents and purposes he was as free as the air. But all about the island flowed the barrier of the Moose, and beyond frowned the wilderness—strong as iron bars to an unarmed man.
Brooding on his imprisonment the Free Trader forgot his surroundings. The post, the river, the forest, the distant bay faded from his sight, and he fell into deep reflection. There remained nothing of physical consciousness but a sense of the grateful spring warmth from the declining sun. At length he became vaguely aware of something else. He glanced up. Right by him he saw a handsome French half-breed sprawled out in the sun against a building, looking him straight in the face and flashing up at him a friendly smile.
“Hullo,” said Achille Picard, “you mus’ been ’sleep. I call you two t’ree tam.”
The prisoner seemed to find something grateful in the greeting even from the enemy’s camp. Perhaps it merely happened upon the psychological moment for a response.