“And now, M’sieu, lead on to those delights of rest and converse which your hospitality hath so graciously promised.”
Leaving his company to beach and store for the night the canoes with their loads of merchandise, under the direction of his aide or lieutenant whom he introduced to the factor as John Ivrey, a young man of fine presence, Alfred de Courtenay walked beside McElroy up the gentle slope of the river bank, entered the great eastern gate of the post, not without an appreciative glance at its massive strength and at the well-nigh impregnable thickness of the stockade, the well-placed surveillance of the towering bastions, and thus up the way between the cabins to the door of the factory, open and inviting.
“Mother of God, M’sieu!” he said with a copious sigh; “what it is to meet with white faces! For weeks I have beheld along the shores peering brown countenances that lifted my gorge, and I have well-nigh been tempted to turn back.”
“It has been a long journey, then, to you?”
McElroy smiled, thinking of the first impressions and effect of the wilderness on such a man fresh from the ways of civilisation.
“Long? Though it is my initial journey, yet am I veteran frontiersman.”
He turned upon the factor the brilliance of his smile, a combination of dazzling teeth and eyes that fairly danced with spirit, like bubbling wine, blue and swift in their changes from laughter to an exaggerated dolorousness, as when he spoke of these terrible hardships.
And if they were quick after this fashion they were no less so in roaming keenly over every corner of the enclosed space within the stockade.
Before they had reached the factory the stranger knew that there were three rows of cabins in the post, that the factory was a mighty fortress in its low solidity, and that the small log structure to the right of it with the barred window was the pot au beurre.
As they neared the factory the figure of a tall woman, young by the straightness of the back, the gracious yet taut beauty of line and curve, came from behind the cabin of the Savilles, and on her shoulder was perched a three-year-old child which laughed and gurgled with delight, holding tight to her widespread hands. The woman’s face was hidden by the child’s body, but her voice, deep-throated and rich with sliding minor tones, mingled with the high shrillness of the little one’s shrieks.
“Hold fast, ma cherie,” came its laughing caution, smothered by the flying folds of the baby’s little cotton shift.” See! The ship dips so, in the ocean,—and so,—and so!”
The strong arms, bare and brown and muscular, swayed backward, throwing up the milky whiteness of the little throat, the tiny feet flew heavenward and the baby’s wee heart choked it, as witness the screams of irrepressible joy. As the child swayed back there came into view the face of Maren Le Moyne, flushed all over its rare darkness, glowing with tenderness, its great beauty transfigured divinely. The black braids, wrapped smoothly round her head, shone in the evening sun, and the faded garment, plain and uncompromising, but served to heighten the effect of her physical perfection.