She stood, holding the box in her hand, among the women craning their necks for a glimpse of the contents, and looked in open perplexity at McElroy until a light laugh from the fringe behind her broke the silence.
“A gift!” cried the little Francette, her childish voice full of a concealed delight; “a gift from the forest; and where do such trinkets come from save the lower branch of the Saskatchewan! It savours of our pretty man of the long gold curls! Mon Dieu! The cavalier has made good time!”
Whereat there was a stirring at the gate, and the peeping fringe drew back while the factor turned on his heel and strode away toward the factory, leaving the tall girl alone at the portal, holding her gift.
There was a devilish light in the dancing eyes of Francette as she flirted away.
But Maren Le Moyne walked slowly back to the cabin, wondering.
It was at dusk of that same day that McElroy, as near sullen anger as one of his temperament could be, sat alone on the log step of the factory, his pipe unlighted in his lips and his moody eyes on the beaten ground worn hard by the passing feet of moccasined Indians from the four winds.
Edmonton Ridgar, with that keenness which gave him such tact, had shut himself in the living-room, and the two clerks were off among the maids at the cabins.
Once again McElroy had made himself ridiculous by that abrupt turning away because of a small red flower sent a maid by a man he now knew to be his foe and rival in all things of a man’s life.
Down by the southern wall an old fiddle squeaked dolefully, and from beyond the stockade came the drowsy call of a bird deep in the forest depths.
On the river bank young Marc Dupre sang as he fumbled at a canoe awaiting the morn when he was to set off up-stream for any word that he might pick up of the coming of the Nakonkirhirinons. There was no moon and the twilight had deepened softly, covering the post with a soft mantle of dreams, when there was a step on the hard earth and the factor turned sharply to behold a little figure in a red kirtle, its curly head hanging a bit as if in shame, and at its side the shadowy form of the great dog Loup.
“M’sieu,” said Francette timidly, and the tone was new to that audacious slip of impudence; “M’sieu.”
“What is it, little one?” said McElroy gently, his own disgust of his morning’s quickness softening his voice that he might not again play the hasty fool, and Francette crept nearer until she stood close to the log step.
The small hands were twisting nervously and the little breast lifting swiftly with an agitation entirely new to her.
Presently she seemed to find the voice that eluded her.
“Oh, M’sieu!” she cried at last, breaking out as if the words were thick crowded in her throat; “a heavy burden has fallen upon me! Is it right, M’sieu, for a maid to die for love of a man, waiting, waiting, waiting for the look, the word that shall crown her bondage? Love lives all round in the post save in the heart that is all the world to Francette! Why should there be happiness everywhere but here?”