Unlike most women, she did not hold it up to her, pointing a foot beneath its pretty edge, gathering it into her waist, trying its effect. She was content to run a hand along its length, to feel the caress of its softness.
Yet even as she touched it she thought of the pretty creature which had worn it first, the slim-legged doe bounding in the forest depth, and a little sigh lifted her breast.
But this had been the quick and merciful death of the bullet, the legitimate death. That she could understand.
More quick and merciful than that which would come in the natural life of the forest. Therefore this pelt held no such repugnance as those stacked on the river bank.
Suddenly, as she bent above the bed, she felt the presence of another, the peculiar power of eyes, upon her, and, turning quickly, she saw a black head, black as her own and running with curls, that dipped from the window.
There was no little head in all the post like that save one, and it belonged to little Francette, the pretty maid who had run by the factor’s side that day of the meeting of Bois DesCaut by the river. With the drop of that head from the sill there passed over Maren a strange feeling, a prescience of evil, a thrill of fear in a heart that had never known fear.
She left the tiny room with the gift of the factor still outspread, and joined Marie in the outer space, where yawned a wide fireplace with its dogs on the hearth, its swinging crane made from a rod of iron, its bed and its hand-made table.
Here had come Anon Bordoux and Mora Le-Clede, drawn by the sight of the factor at the Baptistes’ door, their tongues flying in eager question.
“—of such gorgeousness,” Marie was saying, “such softness of white doeskin, such wealth of the beading—”
“Marie,” said Maren sharply, “is there naught to do save gossip?”
Anon and Mora fell into confused silence, the habit of the trail where this girl’s word had been the law falling upon them, but Marie, saucy and not to be daunted, was not so easily hushed.
“Is it not true,” she cried, “that the factor brought it but now to the door in plain sight of all?”
Whereon Maren passed, out the open door and the tongues began again, more carefully.
In the distance there flashed a crimson skirt at whose beaded edge there hung a great grey dog, his heavy head waist-high to the little maid who wore it.
CHAPTER VIII FIRST DAWN
Throughout the week that followed Fort de Seviere was gay with the bustle of trading. Packs of furs went up the main way and loads of merchandise went down, carried on the backs of the braves, guns and blankets and many a foot of Spencer’s Twist at one beaver a foot, powder and balls in buckskin bags, and all the things of heart’s desire that had brought the Assiniboines from the forks of the Saskatchewan.