Now the bell rang again. It was “smoke time.” Everyone quit work for a half-hour. The sun climbed higher in the heavens. The laughing crews of idlers sprawled in the warmth, gambling, telling stories, singing. Then one might have heard all the picturesque songs of the Far North—“A la claire Fontaine”; “Ma Boule Roulant”; “Par derrier’ chez-mon Pere”; “Isabeau s’y promene”; “P’tite Jeanneton”; “Luron, Lurette”; “Chante, Rossignol, chante”; the ever-popular “Malbrouck”; “C’est la belle Francoise”; “Alouette”; or the beautiful and tender “La Violette Dandine.” They had good voices, these voyageurs, with the French artistic instinct, and it was fine to hear them.
At noon the squaws set out to gather canoe gum on the mainland. They sat huddled in the bottom of their old and leaky canoe, reaching far over the sides to dip their paddles, irregularly placed, silent, mysterious. They did not paddle with the unison of the men, but each jabbed a little short stroke as the time suited her, so that always some paddles were rising and some falling. Into the distance thus they flapped like wounded birds; then rounded a bend, and were gone.
The sun swung over and down the slope, Dinner time had passed; “smoke time” had come again. Squaws brought the first white-fish of the season to the kitchen door of the factory, and Matthews raised the hand of horror at the price they asked. Finally he bought six of about three pounds each, giving in exchange tea to the approximate value of twelve cents. The Indian women went away, secretly pleased over their bargain.
Down by the Indian camp suddenly broke the roar of a dog-fight. Two of the sledge giddes had come to teeth, and the friends of both were assisting the cause. The idlers went to see, laughing, shouting, running impromptu races. They sat on their haunches and cheered ironically, and made small bets, and encouraged the frantic old squaw hags who, at imminent risk, were trying to disintegrate the snarling, rolling mass. Over in the high log stockade wherein the Company’s sledge animals were confined, other wolf-dogs howled mournfully, desolated at missing the fun.
And always the sun swung lower and lower toward the west, until finally the long northern twilight fell, and the girl in the little white bedroom at the factory bathed her face and whispered for the hundredth time to her beating heart:
“Night has come!”
That evening at dinner Virginia studied her father’s face again. She saw the square settled line of the jaw under the beard, the unwavering frown of the heavy eyebrows, the unblinking purpose of the cavernous, mysterious eyes. Never had she felt herself very close to this silent, inscrutable man, even in his moments of more affectionate expansion. Now a gulf divided them.
And yet, strangely enough, she experienced no revulsion, no horror, no recoil even. He had merely become more aloof, more incomprehensible; his purposes vaster, less susceptible to the grasp of such as she. There may have been some basis for this feeling, or it may have been merely the reflex glow of a joy that made all other things seem insignificant.