True, the autumn was near at hand. Winter would come with its myriad foes before they could hope to be ready for it, and Maren, looking far ahead, saw it and its dangers, and her heart sickened a bit with the thought of her people; but the thing within was stronger than all else.
She must leave De Seviere at once. Therefore, she raised her head with her face to the west.
It was early dawn again. It seemed that it had ever been dawn when fateful things had happened in this post, every log and stone of which was suddenly dear to her.
She stood in the opened gate and looked back upon it, on the cabins, the well where De Courtenay had placed his first red flower in her hair, the storehouses, and the factory.
With sight of it once more the wave of anguish swept over her. She saw the small plain room at the back, the figure of a man prone in his helplessness, a fair head with blue eyes, pleading in their honest clearness, and her lips trembled.
“Ready?” she said, and the deep voice slipped unsteadily.
“Aye,” answered Prix Laroux, and picked up the last pack of chattels.
At that moment there was a flurry among the pressing men around, a sound above the many voices wishing them luck, and little Francette broke through.
“Ma’amselle!” she cried, looking up into Maren’s eyes with conflicting expressions on her small face, misery and solemn joy and hatred that strove to soften itself beneath a better emotion; “Ma’amselle,—I would thank you! Oh, bon Dieu! I am not all bad! Here”
She seized Loup by the ears and dragged him forward, snarling. “Take him, Ma’amselle! I love him! Do you take him,—and—and-understand!”
All her red-rose beauty had gone from the little maid along with her dancing lightness.
These long weeks had turned her into a woman with a woman’s heart.
They drew back and looked on with wonder, and then smiles of amusement, but Maren, gazing into the tragic little face, saw deeper.
“Why,—little one,” she said gently, unconsciously falling into McElroy’s words after a trick she had, “I—I understand. You need not give up the dog,—I know what you would say.”
“No!” cried Francette fiercely. “No! Take him! Take him! I will make you take him! I will!”
She was whimpering, and Maren, stooping, laid a hand on the husky’s collar.
Without more words she turned and followed her people down to the landing, half-dragging the brute, who hung back and turned his giant head to the little maid, standing with her hands over her face.
He snarled and bit at Maren’s wrist, but she picked him up and flung him, half-dragging on the ground, for he was a mighty beast, into the first canoe.
“Push off,” she said; and, taking her place in the prow, she raised her face to the cool blue sky, and turned once more to that West whose voice had called from her cradle, but, with some strange perversity of fate, her heart drew back to the squat stockade slowly fading into the distance.