“Diantre, but I tell you it is to be the greatest sale of dogs that has ever happened at Lac Bain!” said Delesse. “To this Wakao they are coming from all the four directions. There will be a hundred dogs, huskies, and malamutes, and Mackenzie hounds, and mongrels from the south, and I should not wonder if some of the little Eskimo devils were brought from the north to be sold as breeders. Surely you will not miss it, my friend?”
“I am going by way of Post Lac Bain,” replied Reese Beaudin equivocally.
But his mind was not on the sale of dogs. From his pipe he puffed out thick clouds of smoke, and his eyes narrowed until they seemed like coals peering out of cracks; and he said, in his quiet, soft voice:
“Do you know of a man named Jacques Dupont, m’sieu?”
Joe Delesse tried to peer through the cloud of smoke at Reese Beaudin’s face.
“Yes, I know him. Does he happen to be a friend of yours?”
Reese laughed softly.
“I have heard of him. They say that he is a devil. To the west I was told that he can whip any man between Hudson’s Bay and the Great Bear, that he is a beast in man-shape, and that he will surely be at the big sale at Lac Bain.”
On his knees the huge hands of Joe Delesse clenched slowly, gripping in their imaginary clutch a hated thing.
“Oui, I know him,” he said. “I know also—Elise—his wife. See!”
He thrust suddenly his two huge knotted hands through the smoke that drifted between him and the stranger who had sought the shelter of his cabin that night.
“See—I am a man full-grown, m’sieu—a man—and yet I am afraid of him! That is how much of a devil and a beast in man-shape he is.”
Again Reese Beaudin laughed in his low, soft voice.
“And his wife, mon ami? Is she afraid of him?”
He had stopped smoking. Joe Delesse saw his face. The stranger’s eyes made him look twice and think twice.
“You have known her—sometime?”
“Yes, a long time ago. “We were children together. And I have heard all has not gone well with her. Is it so?”
“Does it go well when a dove is mated to a vulture, m’sieu?”
“I have also heard that she grew up to be very beautiful,” said Reese Beaudin, “and that Jacques Dupont killed a man for her. If that is so—”
“It is not so,” interrupted Delesse. “He drove another man away—no, not a man, but a yellow-livered coward who had no more fight in him than a porcupine without quills! And yet she says he was not a coward. She has always said, even to Dupont, that it was the way le Bon Dieu made him, and that because he was made that way he was greater than all other men in the North Country. How do I know? Because, m’sieu, I am Elise Dupont’s cousin.”
Delesse wondered why Reese Beaudin’s eyes were glowing like living coals.
“And yet—again, it is only rumor I have heard—they say this man, whoever he was, did actually run away, like a dog that had been whipped and was afraid to return to its kennel.”