Alfred de Courtenay stopped in his tracks, the smile fixed on his face, and drank in the pretty scene like one starved.
So long he looked that McElroy turned toward him and only then did he shift his glance, remembering himself, while a blush suffused his rather delicate features.
“Pardon!” he murmured; “truly do I forget myself, M’sieu; but not for a twelvemonth have I seen aught to match this moment. I pray you, of what station of life is the glorious young Madonna before you;—wife or widow or maid? By Saint Agnes, never have I beheld such beauty!”
“Maid,” replied McElroy; “by name Maren Le Moyne, one of a party of venturers who came but a short while back from Rainy River, and who have cast in their lot with us for the matter of a year.”
The woman and the child passed on their way, disappearing again behind the next cabin, unconscious of observation, still lost in their play of the tossing ship at sea, and the two men entered the great trading-room of Fort de Seviere, where Edmonton Ridgar, chief trader and accountant, came forward to meet the stranger.
The young factor went in search of Jack de Lancy and word of the meal he had ordered, and for some reason there was within him a vague vexation which had to do with the look he had seen in the merry eyes of Alfred de Courtenay,
He found the great kettles boiling over the fires and a ten-gallon pot of coffee Venting the evening air.
As he gave word for the feast to be spread on strips of cloth laid on the hard-beaten ground before the factory that many might sit round at once and partake, there came from the direction of the gate the voices of De Courtenay’s men. The stranger and himself, with young Ivrey and Ridgar should be served in the little room off to the west where were the small table, the chairs, and the row of books.
Not often did Fort de Seviere have so illustrious a guest as must be this young adventurer.
“Merci, my friend, what extravagance is this! The savour of that pot does fairly turn my head!”
Alfred de Courtenay settled himself gracefully in one of McElroy’s chairs and smiled across at his host with a twinkle in his laughing eyes.
A dozen candles, lit in his honour, where three were wont to suffice, shone mellowly in the little room, and Rette de Lancy, still comely despite her forty years and a certain lavishness in the matter of avoirdupois, set down in the midst of the table a steaming dish with a cover. There were a white cloth of bleached linen and cups of blue ware that had come with her and Jack from across seas, also a silver coffee-urn that had been her great-grandmother’s. When the factor gave word for a meal to these two he knew well that all dignity would be observed. As for himself, his living of every day was scant and plain as regarded the manner of its serving.