“How goes it, little one, with Loup?”
The factor stopped a moment in the sunshine before the cabin of old France Moline.
Clad in a red skirt, brilliant in its adornment of stained quills of the porcupine got from the Indians, Francette paced daintily here and there in the clean-swept yard, now snapping her small fingers, now coaxing with soft noises in her round throat, her sparkling eyes fixed on the gaunt grey skeleton that stood on its four feet braced wide apart, wavering dizzily.
For a time she did not answer, as if he who spoke was no more than any youth of the settlement, so exaggeratedly absorbed was she.
Then, pushing back the curls from her face, a pretty motion that always wakened a look of admiration in masculine eyes beholding,—
“If he would only try, M’sieu,” she said, frowning, “but he does nothing save stand and look at me like that. The strength is gone from his legs.”
It seemed even as the little maid protested. Massive, silent, contemptuous, his small eyes under the wolfish skull cold and alight with a look that sent shuddering from him the timid,—thus he had been in his hard-fought and hard-won supremacy, a great, mysterious beast brought full-grown from the snowbound wilderness of the forest one famine-time by old Aquamis and sold to Bois DesCaut for a tie of tobacco.
Now he stood, a pitiable shadow, and begged mutely of the only tender hand he had known for understanding of this strange weakness that took his limbs and sent the heavens whirling.
McElroy looked long upon him.
“’Tis a shame,” he said, his straight brows drawing together, “the dog is a better brute than Bois.”
“Aye,” flashed Francette, talking as though it were no uncommon thing for the factor to stop at the cabin of the Molines, “and no more shall the one brute serve the other. You have said, M’sieu.”
“Yes,” laughed the factor, “I have said and it shall be so. I will buy the dog from Bois if he speaks of the matter. Take good care of him, little one,” and McElroy turned down toward the gate. As he moved away, free of step and straight as an Indian, he filliped away a small budding twig of the saskatoon which one of the youths had brought in to show how the woods were answering the call of the warm sun, and which he had dandled in his fingers as he walked. It fell at the edge of the beaded skirt and quick as thought the hand of Francette shot out and covered it. A hot flush mounted under the silken black curls and she dropped her eyes, peering under their lashes to see if any observed. She drew the faded sprig toward her and hid it in her breast.
Before the cabin of the Baptistes, Jean Saville touched his cap and stopped.
“Yes?” said the factor; “what is it, Jean?”
“Assuredly, M’sieu, has the tide of the spring set in. Pierre but now reports the coming of a band of strangers down the river. They come in canoes, five of them, well manned and armed as if the country of the Assiniboine were bristling with dangers instead of being the abode of God’s chosen. Within the hour they will arrive at the landing.”