“But those without? What is that roaring of many throats? Little Jean Bleaureau but now ran past crying that the Nakonkirhirinons were killing the factor”
“No!” Marie jumped at the word like one shot, so wild and sudden it was. “No! No! Not yet!”
Even in the stress of the moment Marie stared open-mouthed at her sister.
“Holy Mother! It is love,—that cry! You love the factor!”
“Hush!” whispered Maren, dry-lipped.
The roar from the river bank had sharpened itself into one point of utterance which pierced the calm heavens in a mingling of native speech, French and broken English from Nakonkirhirinon and halfbreed, and, worse than both, dissolute “white Indian,” and its burden was,
“A skin for a skin!”
After that tense moment of hush following the shot, McElroy had no distinct recollection of what occurred. He was conscious of a sickening knowledge of Negansahima with his banded brown arms stretching into the evening light, of the tepees, of the river beyond, of the face of Edmonton Ridgar, and of all these etched distinctly in that effect of sun and shade which picks out each smallest detail sometimes of a rare evening in early summer. Then the whole scene went out in a smother as an avalanche of bodies descended upon him. He could smell the heavy odour of flesh half-naked, the scent of the hidden paint, he felt arms that fought to grip him and fingers that clutched like talons. Under it all he went down in the grass of the slope, fighting with all his strength, but powerless as a gnat in a pond. Above the turmoil of cries and guttural yells, even while he felt himself crushed at the bottom of that boiling mass, he heard the light voice of De Courtenay ringing clear in his whimsical farewell to Maren Le Moyne. Then he was wrenched up through the mass, something struck him on the head with a sharp blow, a shower of stars fell like a cataract, and the sickening scents in his nostrils faded away.
When he again opened his eyes it was to behold real stars shining down from a velvet sky, to hear the river lapping gently at the landing, and the night birds calling in the forest. From the prairie beyond the fringe of woods to the east there came the yapping of the coyotes, and far to the north a wolf howled.
At first a sense of bewilderment held him. Then in a rush came back the memory of what had happened. He listened intently. Back and forth, back and forth somewhere near went a soft footstep, the swish and glide of a moccasin. He strained his eyes, which smarted terribly, into the darkness, and presently descried a tall form pacing slowly up against the skyline of his vision and back again into the shadows. A single feather slanted against the stars. A guard pacing the place of captives.
With a slight movement McElroy tried to lift a hand.