A lump rose in his throat as he caught the outline of the braided head bowed lower than he had ever seen it, saw the whole attitude of the strong figure, every line relaxed as if in a great weariness.
“Maren,” he said, with the wonder of love in his voice, “Maren—my maid!”
And he strode forward swiftly, stooped, and laid his hand on her shoulder.
With a jerk the drooped head came up. She drew from his touch as if it burned her.
“If you please, M’sieu,” she said coldly, “go away.”
McElroy sprang back.
“What? Go away! You wish that,—Ma’amselle?”
The tone more than the words drove out of him all daring of her sweet name, took away in a flash all the personal.
“Of a surety,—go away.”
The factor stood a moment in amazed silence. Did the red flower mean so much to her, then? Had she accepted its message? And yet he knew in his heart that the look in her eyes, the smile on her lips had told their own tale of awakening to his touch. What but the red flower in its birchbark case had wrought the change?
He thought swiftly of De Courtenay’s beauty, of his sparkling grace, his braided blue coat, his wide hat, and the long golden curls sweeping his shoulder. Truly a figure to turn a woman’s head. But within him there rose a tide of rage, blind vent of the hurt of love, that boded ill for the dashing Nor’wester on the Saskatchewan.
Sick to the very bottom of his heart, he bowed ever so slightly to the tense figure on the step and strode away in the shadows.
So! Thus ended his one love.
For this he had kept himself from the common lot of the factors in their lonely posts; for this he had never looked with aught save friendly compassion upon the maids of the settlements, the half breed girls of the wilderness, the wild daughters of the forest.
Waiting for this one princess in his small kingdom, he had thrown himself on the out-bearing tide of love only to be stranded on some barren beach, to see her taken from him by some reckless courtier not fit to touch a woman’s hand!
Thus they turned apart, these two meant for each other from the beginning, and in each love worked its will of pain.
Maren on the step stared dry-eyed into the night, uncomprehending, unrebelling, and McElroy strode ahead, blind with sudden anguish, scarce knowing which way his steps tended.
And, like a ghoul behind a stone, a small dark face peeped keenly from a corner.
Francette was watching her leaven work.