“Bien! It is of a drollness, mes cheries,” laughed Tessa Bibye one day, stopping at the cabin by the south wall; “how Francette does but sit in the shade and nurse that half-dead wolf. Is it by chance because of the owner, or that hand which carried it here, Francette? Look for the man behind Francette’s devotion ever!”
Whereat there was a laugh and crinkling of pretty dark eyes at the little maid’s expense, but she sprang to her feet and faced her mates in anger.
“Begone, you Tessa Bibye!” she cried hotly; “’tis little you know beyond the thought of a man truly, and that because you have lacked one from the cradle!”
Tessa flushed and drew away, vanquished. Merry laughter, turned as readily upon her, wafted back on the golden wind. Francette, her eyes flaming with all too great a fire, set a pan of cool water beneath the fevered muzzle of the husky and glanced, scowling, across her shoulder toward the factory.
Five days had passed since the episode beside the stockade, and Bois DesCaut had said no word, of his property. In fact, the great dog was seemingly scarce worth a thought, much less a word. Helpless, bruised from tip to tip, one side flat under its broken ribs, he lay sullenly in the shade; of the cabin where McElroy had put him down, covered at night from the cool air by Francette’s’ own blanket of the gorgeous stripes, fed by her small loving hands bit by bit, submitting for the first time in his hard and eventful life to the touch of woman, thrilling in his savage heart to the word of tenderness.
Gently the little maid stroked the rough grey fur and scowled toward the factory.
So intent was she with her thought that she did not hear the step beside her, springing quickly up when a voice spoke, cool and amused, behind. “Well said, little maid,” it praised; “that was a neat turn.”
The tall stranger, Maren Le Moyne, stood smiling down upon her.
Francette, sharpest of tongue in all the settlement, was at sudden loss before this woman. She looked up into her face and stood silent, searching it with the gaze of a child.
It was a wondrous face, dark as her own, its cheeks as dusky red, but in it was a baffling something that held her quick tongue mute, a look as of great depth, of wondrous strength, and yet of fitful tenderness, —the one playing through the other as flame about black marble, and with the rest a smile.
More than little Francette had beheld that baffling expression and squirmed beneath its strangeness. Francette looked, and the scowl drew deeper.
She saw again this woman leaning slightly forward, her eyes a-glitter on the prostrate DesCaut, her strong hand doubled and flecked with blood, with Loup at her feet,—and quick on the heels of it she saw the look in the factor’s eyes as he had commanded her to silence with a motion.
“So?” she flamed at last, recovering her natural audacity, for the maid was spoiled to recklessness by reason of her beauty; “I meant it to be neat.”