“Thank you, Jean,” said McElroy; “I will prepare for the meeting.”
The trapper touched his cap and passed.
“Ah,” smiled the factor to himself, “I like this bustle of passage. It is good after the winter’s housing, and who knows? There may be those among the strangers who bring word from Hudson Bay.”
He turned briskly back and gave word to Jack de Lancy and his wife Rette to cook a great meal, also to see that the store-room was cleared sufficiently by the more orderly packing back of the goods to allow of five canoe-loads of men sleeping upon the floor. Then he passed down the main way, out of the gate in the warm sun and took his place at the landing to look eagerly down stream for the first coming of the strangers. Not far from the enthusiasm of boyhood was this young factor of Fort de Seviere.
And within the hour, as Jean had said, they came, rounding the distant bend in an even distanced string, long narrow craft, each bearing the regular complement of five men, a bowman, a steersman, and three middlemen whose paddles shone like crystal as they sank and lifted evenly. Strangers they were in very truth, as McElroy saw at the first glance.
Never had they been bred in the wilderness, these men, unless it were the two guides in the first and fourth canoe, picked out readily by their swarthy skins, their crimson caps, and their rugged litheness. Fairer, all, were the rest, paler of skin, more loose of muscle, shown by the very way they bent to their work. Their garments, too, as they drew nearer brought a smile to the watcher’s lips, a smile of memory. Those coats, brave in their gilt braid, had assuredly come across seas. Thus might one behold them on the Strand.
Ah! These were, without doubt, part of the fall ship’s load of adventurers come to the new continent filled with the fire of achievement and excitement that brought so many youths over seas. They had, most like, come down from the great bay by way of God’s Lake and the house there, traversed the length of Winnipeg, come along the river at the southern end, and at last turned westward into the Assiniboine. A long rest they would no doubt take at Fort de Seviere, and there would be news of the outside world.
McElroy was at the water’s very edge as the first canoe of the string curved gracefully in and cut slimly up to the landing.
“Welcome, M’sieurs,” called the factor of Fort de Seviere, using unconsciously the speech of the region, which had become his own in five years, “in to the right a bit,—so! Well done!”
The word was not so sincere as he would have made it, for the bowman, jumping out into the knee-deep water to keep the boat from touching bottom, had floundered like an ox, thereby proving his newness at the business. On the face of the swarthy Canuck guide who sat in the stern there was a weary contempt.
“Friends, M’sieurs?” called McElroy tardily, scarcely deeming such precaution necessary, yet giving the hail from force of habit.