Cool blue dawn, hushed and wide-reaching, still with that stillness which precedes the sunrise, lay over the river, when the lone canoe rounded the lower bend and Anders McElroy, factor of Fort de Seviere, came back to his own again.
In the prow there knelt a weary figure in a soiled and sun-bleached garment of doeskin, its glittering plastron of bright beads broken here and there, the ragged ends of sinews hanging as they were left by briar and branch, and the haggard eyes went with eager swiftness to the stockade standing in its grim invincibility facing the east.
The row of wonted canoes lay upturned upon the shelving shore at the landing, the half-moon at the right still glowered with its puny cannon which had spoken no word to save their master on that fateful day, and all things looked as if but a day had passed between.
The great gate with its studded breast was closed, the bastions at the corners were empty of watchers, for peace folded its wings above the past.
Without sound the boat cut up to the landing, Brilliers leaped out and steadied it to place, and Maren stepped once more upon the familiar slope.
They lifted McElroy, swinging in his blanket, and the tread of the moccasined feet was hollow on the planks.
Thus there passed up to the gate of De Seviere a triumphal procession of victory, whose heart was heavy within it, and whose leader in her tattered dress was the saddest sight of all.
She raised her hand and beat upon the gate, and a voice cried, “Who comes?”
“Open, my brother,” she called, for the voice was that of Henri Baptiste, whose turn at the gate it was.
There was an ejaculation, a swift rattle of chains, and the heavy portal swung back, while the blanched face of young Henri stared into the dawn. Maren motioned to the men and they stepped in with their burden.
“Holy Mary! Maren! Maren! Maren!” cried Henri Baptiste, and took both her arms in a gripping clasp. He looked into her face with fear and wonder, as if the girl had returned from the dead, while joy unspeakable began to lighten his features.
“Sister! Holy Mary!”
And then, when the touch of her in the flesh had dispelled his first horror, when the sight of the factor swinging grotesquely in the blanket had taken on the sense of reality, he raised his voice in a stentorian call.
From every door it brought the populace running, half-dressed and startled, and in scant space a ring of faces stared upon the strangers in stupid awe.
“Ma’amselle Le Moyne!” they whispered, fearfully.
“Mother of Heaven! The factor!”
“Our factor! Out of the hands of Death!”
“Mon Dieu! One of them! And the maid!”
And in the midst of the awed and hushed excitement that was growing with each passing moment, there cut the voice of McElroy, babbling from the blanket.