Fort de Seviere closed its gates and settled into the night with a feeling of something gone awry.
By morning all was early astir, those within to witness the departure of the strangers, and, those without for that same departure.
The canoes were floated, the men embarked, and all in readiness with the first flame of the sun above the eastern forest when Alfred de Courtenay presented himself at the gate and called for McElroy.
Gladly the factor responded, hoping somewhat to soften the awkwardness of the situation by a godspeed, to be met by the Frenchman high-headed and most carefully polite. A servant beside him held a wickered jug.
“With your leave, M’sieu,” said De Courtenay, “I wish to leave some earnest of my gratefulness for what we have received at your hands. Therefore accept with my compliments this small gift, which, as you say you have no cantine salope, must come most happily. Once more, farewell.”
The man set down the jug at McElroy’s feet and strode toward the landing. The master was turning more leisurely away with his uncovered curls shining in the first level beams of morning, when he stopped and looked past the portal within the stockade.
With a small brass kettle in her hand, Maren Le Moyne was coming down the open way toward the well.
With a colossal coolness he forgot the presence of the factor and the ready light began to sparkle in his blue eyes with every step of the approaching girl. Swiftly he glanced to right and left, as if in search of something, and meeting only the green slope of the shore, a growing excitement flushed his face.
Suddenly he snatched from a crevice of the stockade a tiny crimson flower which nodded, frail and fragrant, from its precarious foothold, and sprang forward as she set her vessel on the well’s stone wall.
Unsurpassed was the bow he swept her, this daring soldier of fortune, to whose delicate nostrils the taking of chances was the breath of life, and his smile was brilliant as the spring morning itself.
“A chance is a chance, Ma’amselle,” he said winningly, “and who would not risk its turning? For me,—I looked upon your face but now, and behold! I must give you something, and this was all the moment offered.”
With hand on heart he held forth the little flower.
“In memory of a passing stranger far from all beauty, wear it, I pray you, this day in the dusk of that braid, just there above the temple. Have I permission ?”
He stepped near and lifted the crimson star, smiling down into the astonished eyes of Maren Le Moyne, to whom no man in all her life had ever spoken thus.
For a moment she stared at him, and her face was a field of fleeting sensations. And then, slowly, the sparkle in his eyes lit her own, the smile on his lips curled up the corners of her full red mouth, and the charm of the moment, fresh and sweet as the new day, swept over her.