He stood for a moment looking at the confused and troubled clergyman. Then he went out.
Almost immediately the door opened again,
“You, Miss Albret!” cried Crane.
“What does this mean?” demanded Virginia, imperiously. “Who is that man? In what danger does he stand? What does he want a rifle for? I insist on knowing.”
She stood straight and tall in the low room, her eyes flashing, her head thrown back in the assured power of command.
The Reverend Crane tried to temporize, hesitating over his words. She cut him short.
“That is nonsense. Everybody seems to know but myself. I am no child. I came to consult you—my spiritual adviser—in regard to this very case. Accidentally I overheard enough to justify me in knowing more.”
The clergyman murmured something about the Company’s secrets. Again she cut him short.
“Company’s secrets! Since when has the Company confided in Andrew Laviolette, in Wishkobun, in you?”
“Possibly you would better ask your father,” said Crane, with some return of dignity.
“It does not suit me to do so,” replied she. “I insist that you answer my questions. Who is this man?”
“Ned Trent, he says.”
“I will not be put off in this way. Who is he? What is he?”
“He is a Free Trader,” replied the Reverend Crane with the air of a man who throws down a bomb and is afraid of the consequences. To his astonishment the bomb did not explode.
“What is that?” she asked, simply.
The man’s jaw dropped and his eyes opened in astonishment. Here was a density of ignorance in regard to the ordinary affairs of the Post which could by no stretch of the imagination be ascribed to chance. If Virginia Albret did not know the meaning of the term, and all the tragic consequences it entailed, there could be but one conclusion: Galen Albret had not intended that she should know. She had purposely been left in ignorance, and a politic man would hesitate long before daring to enlighten her. The Reverend Crane, in sheer terror, became sullen.
“A Free Trader is a man who trades in opposition to the Company,” said he, cautiously.