“Hold you aught against me for the stand I took that day—the duty I saw first?”
“Against you, Prix?—the truest, bravest friend I own? Nay, man,—you are my staff, my hope, my courage. Would I had had your strength these heavy days.”
“Would to the good God you had! It shall not fail you again.”
Maren held out her hand and Laroux grasped it in a clasp of faith.
“See!” cried Tessa Bibye, peeping eagerly from among the women, “she holds hands with that blackhaired man of her people who spurs the rest. One man or another,—as Francette says,—little cat!—all are fish who come to Ma’amselle’s net! The factor, or the cavalier, or a common voyageur.
“Can they not see, these fool men, that the woman is a venturess, playing with all?”
“You lie, Tessa Bibye!”
Micene Bordoux had passed unnoticed. Now she turned her accusing glance on the loose-tongued girl.
“Because you are so small of soul yourself, are your eyes blinded to the greater heights? Ma’amselle is lost in the clouds above you.”
She went on, and Maren at the factory door turned to enter.
“Give the word,—and make all haste. Fix all things as you think best.”
The great trading-room, lined with its shelves and circled with counters, was empty, save for a clerk, Gifford, who cast accounts in the big book on the factor’s desk, and Maren’s footsteps rang heavy to her ears as she passed through it to the little room behind, where she could see Rette passing back and forth at her tasks of mercy.
She stopped at the open door and looked within that little room. Here were the things of McElroy’s life,—the plain chairs, the table, the shelf with its books, the chest against the western wall, and on the bed, pulled out to get the breeze, lay the man himself prone in his splendid strength.
The light from the setting sun was on his head with its fair hair and flushed face, rolling restlessly from side to side. There was no reason in the earnest blue eyes, and Maren felt a mighty anguish swell and grip her throat as she stood looking on the pathetic scene.
“Come in, Ma’amselle,” whispered Rette from her motherly heart, drawn by sight of her haggard face, but Maren’s eyes had fallen on a little figure huddled on the far side of the bed with its face buried against McElroy’s left hand.
She knew the small head running over with black curls.
“Nay, Rette,” she said quietly, “I would speak a moment with you.”
The woman came out and closed the door.
“Poor little fool!” she whispered, “she is worn to a shadow with these weeks of weeping, and, now that he is back, will not give over hanging to his hand like one drowning.”
“Heed not. Is it in your heart, Rette, to do a deed of kindness for me, to keep a word of faith?”
“With all my heart, Ma’amselle!”