“Many things, my young hot-blood. Yet it is our only way. Here are death-mauls,—two. Take you,—they make no sound, provided a practised hand is behind. Strike near and ease the fall, there are those who sleep lightly here. Even the earth has ears to-night.”
“Think you Ma’amselle is bound?” whispered Dupre next; “I could not see for the swinging of the factor’s body.”
“No,” replied the trader; “both she and the Nor’wester walked free. But how, for love of Heaven, comes she here?” he added.
Dupre sighed softly in the darkness.
“For love,” he said; “for love of a man.”
“I had guessed as much,—how how did she pass the many miles of lake and stream and forest? And how overtake us?”
“I brought her. By day and night also, without camp, have we come, aided by canoe-men from Mr. Mowbray’s brigade, which we met on the eastern shore of Winnipeg coming down from York, bound for the Assiniboine and Cumberland House.”
“But for which man? She is unreadable, that woman, though love lives naked in her face.”
But a sudden ache had gripped the throat of the young trapper and he did not answer.
“Let us be off, M’sieu,” he whispered; “now is the time.”
Slowly, inch by inch, lifting their bodies that they might not rustle the loose earth and trampled leaves of the camp, Ridgar and Dupre drew forth into the shadows.
Meantime, within the skin tepee, where all three had been summarily placed, Maren Le Moyne sat with her head upon her arms and her arms crossed on her drawn-up knees. Across the opening, just inside the flap, the body of McElroy lay inert, though she knew that a low breath rose and fell within him, for she had laid a hand upon his breast. Beside her, close in the darkness, De Courtenay sat upright and alert, as if no forty hours of torture had hail their will of him. She could hear his quick breathing.
Anguish rode her soul like a thousand imps and the slow tears were falling, bitter as aloes, the symbol of defeat. Every fibre of her being trembled with love of the man stretched beyond; she longed with all the passion of her nature to gather the tawny head in her arms, to kiss the silent lips, the closed eyes. Through the dim cloud that seemed to envelop him since that night at the factory steps, holding her from him like bars of iron, she heard again the ringing sweetness of his voice:
“From this day forth you are mine! Mine only and against the whole world! I have taken you and you are mine!”
False as Lucifer, but, O bon Dieu! sweet as salvation to the lost
A hundred feelings tore at her heart,—bitterness and unbearable scorn of her own blundering, and wild protest against failure, but chief of all was the love that drew her to this man like running water to the sea.
Now that death was near, so near that even now it might be calling his earnest spirit out of the darkness, she would do more—a thousandfold! —to give him life. Only life, the gentle, strong soul of him safe in the sturdy body!