“My brothers are late this year at the trading,” said the factor. “For a fortnight has the ox waited in the pen, the bread of the feast been set. So do we love our brothers of the forest. What is the word of the west? What tribes come in to the factory with peltry? We would hear Quamenoka speak.”
He fell silent, sat down in his chair, and waited.
In the hush of that moment a shadow falling in the open door of the factory caught his eye and he looked up to see the form of Maren Le Moyne leaning against the lintel, her face filled with eagerness, her eyes, clear as a child’s and as far-seeing, fixed on the Indians. He glanced swiftly to that tight braid just above the temple, where he had last seen a small red flower nodding impishly, and was conscious of a feeling of relief to find it gone.
It was irregular, the intrusion of an outsider in the ceremony of the opening of the trade; but for his life the young factor of De Seviere could not have said so to this girl who went fearlessly where she listed and whose eyes held such mystery of strength and wistfulness.
Moreover, Quamenoka was speaking and the council harkened.
He was an old man, this chief of the Assiniboines, and his face was wrinkled like the dried bed of a stream` where the last little ripples have cast up the sand in a thousand ridges. His black eyes were mild, for these Indians were a peaceful people, relying on the trapping and the hunting and the friendship of the white men at the posts which they had held for three generations.
Fear of their more warlike kin had kept them near the factories and driven them into the ways of civilisation.
Now he sat with quiet glance upon the floor looking back into the past year, his feathered head-dress quivering a bit and the blue smoke rising from the pipe.
“The wind in the woods aisles is full of words, my brothers,” he said, in his own tongue, “and tales flit down the lakes like the leaves in autumn. From the Saskatchewan come the French, who tell the Assiniboines that at their posts will be given four axes for one beaver, eight pounds of shot and four of powder. Yet thy brothers come down from their lodges to Fort de Seviere because of the love they bear to you, and for the fairness in trade that never varies. Many beavers are in the packs, much marten and fox and ermine. We will do good trade. Guns that are light and neat shaped to the hand, with good locks. Also much tobacco and sweet fruits. Of these things we are sure,—also are we sure of the next year and the next. Therefore do we come down the rivers to the Assiniboine.
“The tales that flit in the forest, my brothers, tell of a new fort of the French far, far to the northwest on the shores of the Slave Lake, whose factor is of the name Living Stone. Also there are whispers that fly like the wintering birds of new people, fair-skinned and red in the cheeks, who come into the upper country from the west where lies the Big Water. These are strange people, like none that trade with the Indians, who are neither friends to the English, nor yet the French, but strive for barter with those tribes that come up from the Blackfeet Hills and down from the frozen regions of the North with bearskins, the one, and seal and sea-otter, the other.