“Quite so,” replied the young man, deliberately, “La Longue Traverse.”
At this unexpected pronouncement of that dread name two of the men swore violently; the others thrust back their chairs and sat, their arms rigidly braced against the table’s edge, staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the speaker. Only Galen Albret remained unmoved.
“What do you mean by that?” he asked, calmly.
“It amuses you to be ignorant,” replied the stranger, with some contempt. “Don’t you think this farce is about played out? I do. If you think you’re deceiving me any with this show of formality, you’re mightily mistaken. Don’t you suppose I knew what I was about when I came into this country? Don’t you suppose I had weighed the risks and had made up my mind to take my medicine if I should be caught? Your methods are not quite so secret as you imagine. I know perfectly well what happens to Free Traders in Rupert’s Land.”
“You seem very certain of your information.”
“Your men seem equally so,” pointed out the stranger.
Galen Albret, at the beginning of the young man’s longer speech, had sunk almost immediately into his passive calm—the calm of great elemental bodies, the calm of a force so vast as to rest motionless by the very static power of its mass. When he spoke again, it was in the tentative manner of his earlier interrogatory, committing himself not at all, seeking to plumb his opponent’s knowledge.
“Why, if you have realized the gravity of your situation have you persisted after having been twice warned?” he inquired.
“Because you’re not the boss of creation,” replied the young man, bluntly.
Galen Albret merely raised his eyebrows.
“I’ve got as much business in this country as you have,” continued the young man, his tone becoming more incisive. “You don’t seem to realize that your charter of monopoly has expired. If the government was worth a damn it would see to you fellows. You have no more right to order me out of here than I would have to order you out. Suppose some old Husky up on Whale River should send you word that you weren’t to trap in the Whale River district next winter. I’ll bet you’d be there. You Hudson Bay men tried the same game out west It didn’t work. You ask your western men if they ever heard of Ned Trent.”
“Your success does not seem to have followed you here,” suggested the Factor, ironically.
The young man smiled.
“This Longue Traverse,” went on Albret, “what is your idea there? I have heard something of it. What is your information?”
Ned Trent laughed outright. “You don’t imagine there is any secret about that!” he marvelled. “Why, every child north of the Line knows that. You will send me away without arms, and with but a handful of provisions. If the wilderness and starvation fail, your runners will not. I shall never reach the Temiscamingues alive.”