“Women?” murmured Father Chaumonot, in perplexity. “Oh, this is fortunate and yet unfortunate! What shall we do with them here? I can spare no men to take them back to Quebec; and the journey would only plunge them into danger even worse.”
The Senecas, sullen but dignified, and their captives were brought ashore and led toward the fire. The Onondagas crowded around. These, then, were the fair flowers which grew in the gardens of the white man; and the young braves, who had never before set eyes upon white women, gazed wonderingly and curiously at the two marvels. The women sustained with indifference and composure this mild investigation. They had gone through so much that they were not interested in what they saw. The firelight illumined their sadly arrayed figures and played over their worn and weary faces. Father Chaumonot extended his hands toward them reassuringly; and they followed his every gesture with questioning eyes. Corn Planter, the Seneca chief, began to harangue. Since when had the Onondaga brother taken it upon himself to meddle with the affairs of the Senecas? Was not the law written plainly? Did the Onondaga wish to defy the law of their forefathers? The prisoners were theirs by right of their cunning. Let the Senecas proceed with their captives, as their villages were yet very far away, and they had spent much time in loitering.
“We will buy,” said Father Chaumonot, knowing the savage’s cupidity. “Two belts of wampum.”
The Corn Planter made a negative sign.
“Ten beaver skins,” said the priest.
“The daughters of Onontio are worth a thousand beaver skins.”
“Well, then,” said leather Chaumonot, reaching down and taking a musket from the ground, “this with powder and ball to go with it.”
The Corn Planter wavered. He took the gun and inspected it, turned it over to his companions that they might also pass judgment upon it; and they whispered among themselves for a space.
“Corn Planter accepts the thunderer for himself and ten beaver skins for his brave warriors,” and the barter was consummated.
It was now that madame saw four familiar faces beyond the fire. These men, these men; even here, in the heart of the wilderness! With an odd little smile she extended her hands, swayed, and became limp upon Brother Jacques’s arm.
THE FLASH FROM THE SPURT OF FLAME
The presence of the women in the settlement brought about a magic change. Beards were clipped, locks were trimmed, clothes overhauled, and the needle and thread performed an almost forgotten office; the jest was modified, and the meal hours were quiet and decorous. The women were given a separate cabin in which they were to sleep, and every one contributed something toward their comfort. Father Le Mercier even went so far as to delay mass the first morning in order that the women might be thoroughly rested. Thus, a grain of humor entered into the lives of these grim men.