These things had not escaped Maren as she came through them in search of the leader. They all set his status in her mind, told her much of the history of her rescuers.
“Eh?” he said in surprise again; “you the leader? An’ whatlike was the evil hap that placed ye in among that rabble o’ painted beauties, may I ask? An’ how comes a slip of a lass”—he looked her over from head to heel with his sharp grey eyes; “—well, not so much a slip, still a colleen—like you wid th’ command o’ men in this part o’ th’ world?”
“Of a surety you may ask, M’sieu, and it will be my happiness to tell you, since but for you and your quick help, given without knowledge, we should be now in sorry plight.
“The man you saw taken from the canoe is Monsieur Anders McElroy, Factor of Fort de Seviere on the Assiniboine, and of the Hudson’s Bay Company.”
“Faith of me fathers! Say ye so! A man of our own men!”
“Aye. Then you are also of the Company? Good! Surely have we fallen on the lap of fortune.... Those Indians, Nakonkirhirinons from the far north and strangers in this country, came to De Seviere to trade. For two—three dais, maybe more,—I have lost track of time, M’sieu,—they passed up and down at the trading,—camped on the shoreand all seemed well, though they were wild and shy as partridges. One man among them seemed to wear the cloak of civilisation,—Negansahima the chief.
“Then one day at dusk,—it was a soft day, gold and sweet, M’sieu, and soft, with all the post at the great gate watching the Indians,—there were many,—four or five hundred warriors and as many women and children,—this day there was,—a tragedy. Something happened,—a trifle.”
The girl stopped a moment and a sigh caught her breath.
“Just a trifle—but two men fought at the gate, the factor and another —a Nor’wester from the Saskatchewan,—a long-haired venturer,—a man from Montreal, but a brave man, M’sieu, oh, a very brave man! They fought and there was the discharge of a pistol,—and—the shot went wild. It slew the good chief, M’sieu. There was uproar,—they swarmed upon the two and bound them.”
Maren’s eyes were growing large with the remembered excitement of that moment.
The tall Irishman was watching her keenly.
“They bound them and struck away to the north, taking them along, and the burden of their cry was, ‘A skin for a skin!’
“They brought them so far,—they would have reached their own country but for a band of Bois-Brules, who joined them some suns back with that red liquor whose touch is hell to an Indian. They had gone wild, M’sieu; wild!”
She was very weary and she shuddered a bit at the word.
“And,—so,—that is all,—save that we had done that much toward escaping when you found us.”
She ceased and looked gravely into his face.
“Howly Moses! I see,—I see! But ye have left a wide rent in th’ tale. Wherefore are yez here yerself, lassie?”