“Don’t ye worry, dear, he’ll not die. ‘Twouldn’t be accordin’ to th’ rights av life,—not afther all ye’ve done f’r him. He’ll opin his blessid eyes some day an’ know ye, an’ Heaven itself will not be like thim f’r glory.”
But Maren only looked tragically down upon him.
What would they say, those eyes that she had thought so earnest, so all-deserving in their eager honesty, if they should open to her alone?
Would they lie as they had done before, with the thought of Francette behind their blue clearness?
Ah, well,—it was all in the day’s march.
This day at noon camp she came upon, close to a fallen tree, a wee red flower nodding on its slender stalk. She sighed and broke it.
“In memory of a brave man,” she said sadly. “Oh, a very brave man!”
CHAPTER XXVII RETURN
Eastward through the little lakes, across the portages where McElroy was carried by means of pole and blanket swung from sturdy shoulders, they went at hurried pace, and never a man of Maren’s small command but watched the sadness of her face, that seemed to grow with the days and to feel an aching counterpart of it within his own heart.
“Take my coat for your head, Ma’amselle,” when she rested among the thwarts,—“Let me, Ma’amselle,” when she would do some little task. Thus they served her from the old desire that sight of her face had ever stirred in the breasts of men, she who had never played at the game of love, nor knew its simplest trick.
Southward, presently, up the rivers hurrying to the great bay at the north, and at last out upon the broad waters of Winnipeg, and never for an hour had McElroy’s wandering soul come back to his suffering body. Day by day Maren tended him, feeding him as one feeds a helpless babe, shielding him from the sun by her own shadow when the branches gathered at morn withered ere noon, wetting the fair head with its waving sunburnt hair with water dipped from overside, and praying constantly for his life.
As they neared the southern end, where Winnipeg narrows like the neck of a bottle, his tongue loosened from its silence and he began to babble and talk in broken sentences, and it was all about De Courtenay and a remorse that ate the troubled soul.
“I owe you apologies, M’sieu,—’tis a sorry plight and I alone am to blame. And yet I have a score,—gladly would I take my will of you for that one fault,—another time,—another place. Still have I no right, save as one man who,—But I have a plan,—one may escape,—listen—when I grapple with this guard, do you make for the river—with all speed— My God! My God! M’sieu! Why did you not run?” And so he muttered and sighed, and Maren bent above with wide eyes.
Something there was between these two, some enmity that followed even into the land of shadows and yet held them gentlemen through it all, offering and rejecting some chance of escape. A weary, weary tangle.