“Fool woman!” he said in his heart; “sweet, brave, loving fool with the woman’s heart and the man’s simple courage!”
Long Ridgar lay in the darkness listening to the hushed sounds that came from lodge and dying fire—vague, awed sounds, that presently died into silence as night took toll of humanity and sleep settled among the savages.
Here and there low gutturals droned into the stillness, and at the west there was oath and whispered comment where the Bois-Brules camped together. Not wholly under the spell of mystery were these half-breeds, but restless and suspicious under the conflicting promptings of their mixed blood. Slower than the Indians were they to obey the mandate of silence and peace that the Spirits of Dreams might descend upon the forest, but at last they were quiet, the tires burned down to red heaps of coals, then to white ashes, the great fire in the centre flamed and died and flamed again like some vindictive spirit striving for vengeance in the grip of death, and the utter stillness of the solitude fell thick as a garment on all the wilderness. It seemed to Ridgar that only himself in all the earth was awake and watching, save perhaps the two guards pacing without a sound the lodge of the captives, and those two within, so oddly brought near.
As for McElroy, his friend of friends, an aching fear tugged in his heart that he had waited too long for the chance to help, that the patient strength was sapped at last, that the end had come. He had seen the flight of the maul, the sagging of the sturdy figure.
Who had thrown it, if not that brute DesCaut? Who save DesCaut was so keen on the trail of the factor and the girl? True, De Courtenay was his latest master, and his spoiling of Maren’s aim might as easily send the blade into the black as the red, but in either case he would cause her to decide the death she was trying so bravely to postpone.
The stars wheeled in their endless march, the well-known ones of the forenight giving place to strangers of the after hours, and Ridgar had begun to move with the caution of the hunted, inch by inch, out from the shelter of the lodge, when he felt a hand steal from the darkness and touch him with infinite care. He lay still and presently a voice whispered,
“Aye?” breathed Ridgar.
“’Tis I,—Marc Dupre from De Seviere.”
“Voila! Another! Are there more of you?”
“I would know first, M’sieu,—where is your heart, with savage or Hudson’s Bay?”
“Fair question, truly. I but now am started for yonder lodge on quest of their deliverance, though without hope. Your appearance lends me that.”
“Sacre! ’Tis done already. Listen, M’sieu, with all your ears. Just beyond earshot, up the river to the south there lies a big canoe, with at its nose for instant action two men of Mowbray’s brigade, while a hundred yards inland another waits, armed and ready to cover a hurried flight. There needs but loosing of those yonder, M’sieu, and here are we. Two Indians pace the lodge.... You one, me one. What easier?