At this there was commotion among the Indians. A hurried consultation took place, with indrawing of canoes under the flambeaux, waving arms, and angry gestures.
“Then, M’sieu,—we come,—make way!” It was DesCaut, important and ugly.
“No, ye don’t, me lad. Shwing back The Little Devil, bhoys!”
The leader’s canoe shifted sidewise and another craft, heavy, lumbersome, and vastly bigger than the light boats of the rest poked its nose into its place,—and that nose was brass and round with a gaping maw,—a small cannon, scarcely big enough for the name, but a roaring braggart for all that.
“Belch, me darlin’, if ye have th’ belly-ache!” cried this tall man, and, without more warning, there was a tremendous flash and detonation, a mighty flying of the clear waters just under the bows of the foremost canoes of the Indians.
There was hiss and sputter of the torches, an upward leap of canoe and savage, capsize and panic and fear, and the night screamed with many voices.
“Formation again, lads!” called the sturdy voice of the leader. “We do be wastin’ time wid these haythen!”
The canoe rounded, passed up between the others, which closed in behind, and the cannon-boat lumbered into place in the rear.
As he passed the strangers in their midst the tall man looked hard at Maren, the five men, and leaned out a bit to see what lay in the bottom.
“A close shave!” he said; “kape close in the middle an’ shpake me at camp in the marnin’.”
The mass of dark objects, drawing out of the light, moved forward and, with a rush of intuition, the girl knew that all danger was past and that safety hovered over them like the luminous wings of an angel.
“Holy Master!” she cried within, “Thou didst answer my prayer,—but at what cost! Oh, Lord of Heaven, what cost!”
Then she dropped her blade and, under cover of the darkness, sat back upon her heels, covered her face with her hands, and wept.
In the silence that had fallen deep again, save for the lessening tumult behind, her weeping sounded to the outermost canoe low and awful, hard and terrible as the weeping of a man.
She did not even feel if the breath was still in McElroy.
Friendship was taking its toll of love.
CHAPTER XXVI SANCTUARY
“’Twas yer leader I meant, lassie, should rayport to me. Is it he I saw yez rollin’ out like a bag o’ beans?”
“Nay, M’sieu,” said Maren Le Moyne, standing before the tall man in the flush of dawn at the morning camp, her eyes red-rimmed and the curling corners of her mouth drooped and sad; “what poor leader there is among us has been myself.”
All along the river bank were little fires, their blue smoke curling up to the blue sky above, the bustle and fuss of preparation for the morning meal. At one place in the centre of camp two women, their appearance that of great fatigue, were languidly directing the work of a couple of Indians. An abundance of truck was everywhere—utensils for cooking, clothing, and blankets out of all reason to one used to the trail.