“Oh!” she gasped, a trifle hysterically. “Don’t do that again! Please don’t. I do not understand it! You must not!”
He laughed again, but with a note of tenderness in his voice, and took her hand to lead her away, humming in an undertone the last couplet of his song:
“Non, ce n’est qu’une
Qu’eclaire nos amours!”
Virginia went with this man passively—to an appointment which, but an hour ago, she had promised herself she would not keep. Her inmost soul was stirred, just as before. Then it had been few words, now it was a little common song. But the strange power of the man held her close, so she realized that for the moment at least she would do as he desired. In the amazement and consternation of this thought she found time to offer up a little prayer, “Dear God, make him kind to me.”
They leaned against the old bronze guns, facing the river. He pulled her shawl about her, masterfully yet with gentleness, and then, as though it was the most natural thing in the world, he drew her to him until she rested against his shoulder. And she remained there, trembling, in suspense, glancing at him quickly, in birdlike, pleading glances, as though praying him to be kind. He took no notice after that, so the act seemed less like a caress than a matter of course. He began to talk, half-humorously, and little by little, as he went on, she forgot her fears, even her feeling of strangeness, and fell completely under the spell of his power.
“My name is Ned Trent,” he told her, “and I am from Quebec. I am a woods runner. I have journeyed far. I have been to the uttermost ends of the North even up beyond the Hills of Silence.” And then, in his gay, half-mocking, yet musical voice he touched lightly on vast and distant things. He talked of the great Saskatchewan, of Peace River, and the delta of the Mackenzie, of the winter journeys beyond Great Bear Lake into the Land of the Little Sticks, and the half-mythical lake of Yamba Tooh. He spoke of life with the Dog Ribs and Yellow Knives, where the snow falls in midsummer. Before her eyes slowly spread, like a panorama, the whole extent of the great North, with its fierce, hardy men, its dreadful journeys by canoe and sledge, its frozen barrens, its mighty forests, its solemn charm. All at once this post of Conjurors House, a month in the wilderness as it was, seemed very small and tame and civilized for the simple reason that Death did not always compass it about.
“It was very cold then,” said Ned Trent “and very hard. Le grand frete [froid—cold] of winter had come. At night we had no other shelter than our blankets, and we could not keep a fire because the spruce burned too fast and threw too many coals. For a long time we shivered, curled up on our snowshoes; then fell heavily asleep, so that even the dogs fighting over us did not awaken