With a gesture pathetically dramatic the little maid threw her hands across her heaving breast and gazed at McElroy with big eyes, starry in the dusk.
Her emotion was genuine he could not help but see, even through his astonishment, and he stared at her with awaking sympathy.
“Is there some one who is so much to you, little one?” he asked. “I thought there wasn’t a youth in the post—no, nor in any other this side the Red River-who did not pay homage to France Moline’s little daughter. Who is of such poor taste? Tell me, and what I can do I will do to remedy the evil.”
He was smiling at the little maid’s pretty daring in coming straight to the very head of De Seviere with her trouble, and he reached out a hand to draw her down on the step beside him. There was never a woman in distress who did not pull at the strings of his heart, and he longed to soothe her, even while he smiled to himself at her childishness.
But Francette was not so childish, and he was one day to marvel at her artless skill.
At the touch of his hand she came down, not upon the step beside him as he meant, but upon her knees before him, with her two little hands upon his knees and her face of elfin beauty upheld to him in the starlight.
“Oh, M’sieu, there is one who is so much,—oui, even more than all the world, more than life itself,—more than heaven or hell, for whose sake I would die a thousand deaths! One at whose feet I worship, scorning all those youths of the settlement and the posts. See, M’sieu,” she leaned forward so close that the fragrance of her curls blew into the man’s nostrils and he could see that the little face was pale with a passion that caused him wonder; “see! Today came one from the forest bringing love’s message to that tall woman of Grand Portage,—the little red flower in the birchbark case. It spoke its tale and she knew,”—subtle Francette!—“she knew its meaning by the eye of love itself. So would I, who have no words and am a woman, send my message by a flower.”
The hands on the factor’s knees were trembling with a rigour that shook the whole small form before him.
“See, M’sieu!” she cried, with the sudden sound of tears in the low voice; “read the heart of the little Francette!”
She took from her bosom a fragile object and laid it in his palm, then clasped her hands over her face and bowed until the little head with its running curls was low to the log step.
McElroy strained his eyes to see what he held.
It was a dried spray of the blossoms of the saskatoon.
For a moment he sat in stupid wonder. Then swiftly, more by intuition and that strange sense which recalls a previous happening by a touch, or a smell, than by actual memory, he saw that golden morning when he had stopped by the Molines’ cabin and watched the great husky balance on his shaky legs. He had twirled in his fingers the first little spray of the saskatoon, brought in by Henri Corlier to show how the woods were answering the call of the spring.