To the young factor’s eyes she was a sight that weakened the knees beneath him and set him quaking with a new fear. He dared not speak and bring her gaze upon him, the memory of his boastful words in the forest was too poignant.
But it needed not speech. Had he but known the wonder that had lived within her all these days he would have understood the force that presently stopped the song on her lips, as if her soul listened unconsciously for tangible knowledge of the presence it already felt near, that slowed her nimble brown fingers in the pan, that presently lifted her head and turned her face to him.
Instantly a warm flush leaped up to the dark cheeks, and McElroy felt its answer in his own.
“Ma’amselle,” he stammered, far from that glib “Maren” of the glade, “there is one at the gate who demands speech of you.”
The words were commonplace enough and the girl did not get their import for the intensity of her gaze into the eyes whose blue fire had set her first wondering and then a-thrill with these strange emotions.
“Eh, M’sieu?” she smiled, and McElroy, revived through all his being with that smile, repeated his message.
She took her hands from the yellow meal and dusted them on a hempen towel, and was ready to go forth beside him.
That short walk to the stockade gate was silent with the silence of shy new joy, and once the factor glanced sidewise at the drooped lashes above the dusky cheeks.
“Had you expected any messenger, Ma’amselle?” he asked indifferently as they neared the portal with its fringe of peeping women and saw beyond them the tall figure of the Bois-Brule, his lank hair banded back by a red kerchief.
“Nay, M’sieu,” replied the girl, and went forward to stand in the gate.
The messenger from the woods asked in good French if she were Maren Le Moyne, and being answered in the affirmative, he took from his hunting shirt a package wrapped in broad green leaves and placed it in her hands.
The leaves were wilted with the heat of the man’s body and came easily off in her fingers, disclosing a small square box cunningly made from birchbark and stained after the Indian fashion in brilliant colours. A tiny lid was fastened with a thong of braided grass.
Wonderingly she slipped the little catch and lifted the cover.
Inside upon a bed of dampened moss there lay a wee red flower, the exact counterpart of that one which Alfred de Courtenay had fastened in her hair that morning by the well.
McElroy, at her shoulder, looked down upon it, and instantly the warmth in his heart cooled.
When Maren looked up it was to find his eyes fixed on the messenger whose tall figure swung away up the river’s bank toward the north forest, and they were coolly impersonal.
She was unversed in the ways of men where a maid is concerned, this woman of the trail and portage, and she only knew vaguely that something had gone wrong with sight of the little flower.