With a laughing gasp Nepeese rose to her feet. The water gurgled in her moccasins as she walked out into the open. She paid no attention to Baree—and he followed her. Across the open in the treetops the last of the storm clouds were drifting away. A star shone—then another; and the Willow stood watching them as they appeared until there were so many she could not count. It was no longer black. A wonderful starlight flooded the open after the inky gloom of the storm.
Nepeese looked down and saw Baree. He was standing quietly and unleashed, with freedom on all sides of him. Yet he did not run. He was waiting, wet as a water rat, with his eyes fixed on her expectantly. Nepeese made a movement toward him, and hesitated.
“No, you will not run away, Baree. I will leave you free. And now we must have a fire!”
A fire! Anyone but Pierrot might have said that she was crazy. Not a stem or twig in the forest that was not dripping! They could hear the trickle of running water all about them.
“A fire,” she said again. “Let us hunt for the wuskisi, Baree.”
With her wet clothes clinging to her lightly, she was like a slim shadow as she crossed the soggy clearing and lost herself among the forest trees. Baree still followed. She went straight to a birch tree that she had located that day and began tearing off the loose bark. An armful of this bark she carried close to the wigwam, and on it she heaped load after load of wet wood until she had a great pile. From a bottle in the wigwam she secured a dry match, and at the first touch of its tiny flame the birch bark flared up like paper soaked in oil. Half an hour later the Willow’s fire—if there had been no forest walls to hide it—could have been seen at the cabin a mile away. Not until it was blazing a dozen feet into the air did she cease piling wood on it. Then she drove sticks into the soft ground and over these sticks she stretched the blanket out to dry.
So their first night passed—storm, the cool, deep pool, the big fire; and later, when the Willow’s clothes and the blanket had dried, a few hours’ sleep. At dawn they returned to the cabin. It was a cautious approach. There was no smoke coming from the chimney. The door was closed. Pierrot and Bush McTaggart were gone.
It was the beginning of August—the Flying-up Moon—when Pierrot returned from Lac Bain, and in three days more it would be the Willow’s seventeenth birthday. He brought back with him many things for Nepeese—ribbons for her hair, real shoes, which she wore at times like the two Englishwomen at Nelson House, and chief glory of all, some wonderful red cloth for a dress. In the three winters she had spent at the mission these women had made much of Nepeese. They had taught her to sew as well as to spell and read and pray, and at times there came to the Willow a compelling desire to do as they did.