The following morning they had proceeded but a short distance upon the back-trail when they were met by a searching party from the school. The return was made without incident, and Chloe, who had taken a great fancy to the Louchoux girl, immediately established her as a member of her own household.
During the days which followed, the girl plunged with an intense eagerness into the task of learning the ways of the white women. Nothing was too trivial or unimportant to escape her attention. She learned to copy with almost pathetic exactness each of Chloe’s little acts and mannerisms, even to the arranging of her hair. With the other two inmates of the cottage the girl became hardly less a favourite than with Chloe herself.
Her progress in learning to speak English, her skill with the needle and the rapidity with which she learned to make her own clothing delighted Harriet Penny. While Big Lena never tired of instructing her in the mysteries of the culinary department. In return the girl looked upon the three women with an adoration that bordered upon idolatry. She would sit by the hour listening to Chloe’s accounts of the wondrous cities of the white men and of the doings of the white men’s women.
Chloe never mentioned the girl’s secret to either Harriet Penny or Big Lena, and carefully avoided any allusion to the subject to the girl herself. Nothing could be done, she reasoned, until the ice went out of the rivers, and in the meantime she would do all in her power to instil into the girl’s mind an understanding of the white women’s ethics, so that when the time came she would be able to choose intelligently for herself whether she would return to her free-trader lover or prosecute him for his treachery.
Chloe knew that the girl had done no wrong, and in her heart she hoped that she could be brought to a realization of the true character of the man and repudiate him. If not—if she really loved him, and was determined to remain his wife—Chloe made up her mind to insist upon a ceremony which should meet the sanction of Church and State.
Christmas and New Year’s passed, and Lapierre did not return to the school. Chloe was not surprised at this, for he had told her that his absence would be prolonged; and in her heart of hearts she was really glad, for the veiled suspicion of the man’s sincerity had grown into an actual distrust of him—a distrust that would have been increased a thousand-fold could she have known that the quarter-breed was even then upon Snare Lake at the head of a gang of outlaws who were thawing out MacNair’s gravel and shovelling it into dumps for an early clean-up; instead of looking after his “neglected interests” upon the rivers.
But she did not know that, nor did she know of his midnight visit to Tostoff, nor of what happened at Brown’s cabin, nor of the release of MacNair.