She stood with one small hand over her beating heart and her cheeks white in the firelight.
“Ah! little one!” he said gently. “Why did you come through such a night? ’Tis wild as—as—Sit in the big chair,” he added kindly.
But Francette, in whose face was an unbearable anguish, came swiftly and fell on her knees beside the bed, raising her eyes to his.
“M’sieu!” she cried, with great labouring breaths. “Oh! M’sieu, I have come to confess! If there is in your good heart pity for one who has sinned beyond pardon, give it me, I pray, for love of the good God!” McElroy stared down at her in wonder.
“Confess? Sinned?” he said. “Why, little one, what can a child like you know of sin? ’Tis only some blunderer like myself who should speak its damnable name.”
“Nay, nay! Oh, no! No! No! Not on you is there one lightest touch, M’sieu, but on me,—me—me—does rest the weight of all!”
Her eyes were wide and full of tears, and McElroy laid a weak hand on her head.
“Hush, child!” he said, with some of his old sternness, when condemning wrong; “there is a fever at your brain. You have come too long to this dull room—”
“No! No! Take away your hand! Touch me not, M’sieu, for I am as dust beneath your feet! I alone am at bottom of all that has happened in Fort de Seviere this year past! Through me alone have come death and sorrow and misunderstanding! I caused it all, M’sieu, because I—loved you! For love of you and hope to gain your heart I set you apart from that woman of Grand Portage!”
She buried her face on the covering of the bed and her voice came muffled and choking.
“That night at the factory steps,—you recall, M’sieu,—she came to you,—I saw her in the dusk as she turned at the corner, a rod away, saw her and knew with some touch of deviltry the sudden way of keeping you from her, your arms from about her, your lips from hers! Oh, that I could not bear, M’sieu! Not though I died for it! So I threw my own arms about your throat—you remember, M’sieu—and whispered that for one kiss I would go and forget. In the gentleness of your heart you kissed me—and—she saw that kiss. Saw me lying in your arms as if you held me there from love,—saw and turned away. She made no sound in the soft dust, and when I loosed your face from my clasp she was gone! So I broke your faith, M’sieu,—so I dragged forth one by one all the sorry happenings that have followed that evil night.”
The muffled voice fell silent, save for the sobs that would no longer be withheld, and there was an awful stillness in the room, broken by a stick falling on the hearth and the added roar in the chimney.
When Francette raised her weeping eyes she saw McElroy’s face above her like a mask.
Its lips were open as if breath had suddenly been denied them, its wasted cheeks were blue, and its eyes stared down upon her in horror: