CHAPTER I THE VENTURERS
“Mercy!” shrieked little Francette, her red-rose face aghast, “he will begin before I can bring the help!”
Like a flash of flame the maid in her crimson skirt shot up the main way of Fort de Seviere to where the factory lay asleep in the warm spring sun.
On its log step, pipe in mouth, young Anders McElroy leaned against the jamb and looked smilingly out upon his settlement. Peace lay softly upon it, from the waters of the small stream to the east where nine canoes lay bottom up upon the pebbly shore, to the great dark wall of the forest shouldering near on three sides. To him ran little Francette, light on her moccasined feet as the wind in the tender pine-tops, her eloquent small hands outstretched and clutching at his sleeve audaciously.
None other in all the post would have dared as much, for this smiling young man with the blue eyes was the Law at Fort de Seviere, factor of the Company and governor of the handful of humanity lost in the vast region of the Assiniboine. But to Francette he was Power and Help, and she thought of naught else, as it is not likely she would have done even at another time.
“Oh, M’sieu!” she cried, gasping from her run, “come at once beyond the great gate! Bois DesCaut,—Oh, brute of the world!—whips that great grey husky leader of his team, because it did but snap at his heel beneath an idle prod! Hasten, M’sieu! He drags it, glaring, along the shore to where lie those clubs brought for the kettles!”
In the dark eyes upraised to him there swam a mist of tears and the heart of the little maid tore at her breast in anguish.
The smile slipped swiftly from the factor’s face, leaving it grave.
“Where, little one?” he asked.
“Beyond the palisade. But hurry, M’sieu,—for the love of God!”
At the great gate in the eastern wall he paused and looked either way. To the southward all was peaceful. An aged Indian of the Assiniboines squatted at the water’s edge mending the broken bottom of a skin canoe, and two voyageurs, gay in the matter of sash and crimson cap, lay lazily beneath a drowsing tree.
To the northward there flashed into McElroy’s vision one of those pictures a man sees but few times and never forgets, a picture startling in its clear-cut strength.
Against the mellow background of the weather-beaten stockade that surrounded the post there stood two figures, a man and a woman, and between the two there crouched with snarling lips and flaming eyes a huge grey dog.
Tall he was, that man, tall and broad of shoulder, but the head of the woman, shining like blue-black satin in the morning sun, was level with his brows.
She leaned a trifle forward and her eyes held fast to his passion-flooded face. It was evident that she had but just reached the spot from the fact that the club, arrested in its upward swing, still was poised in the air.