The sudden striking up of the tom-toms answered him.
This was to be the end of his eager advance in the Company’s favour, the end of that good glass of life whose red draught he had drunk with wholesome joy, the end of love that had but dawned for him to sink into aching darkness.
He sighed wearily. So poignant was his sense of loss and the pain of it that the end was a weariness rather than a new pain.
The thing that hurt was the fact that he himself had juggled the cards of fate to this sorry dealing.
The sudden rage concerning De Courtenay had spent itself. There remained only the deep anger of the man who has lost in the game of love. And yet, what right had he to cherish even this wholesome anger against his rival when the maid had chosen of her own free will? As well hold grudge to the great Power whose wisdom had given the man such marvellous beauty. As he lay in the darkness listening to the unearthly noises he worked it all out with justice.
He alone was to blame for the sorry state of things.
De Courtenay was but a man, and what man, looking upon Maren Le Moyne, could fail to love her?
Therefore, he freed his rival of all blame.
And Maren,—oh, blameless as the winds of heaven was Maren!
What had she given him that he could construe as love?
Only a look, a blush to her cheek, the touch of a warm hand.
In his folly he had hailed himself king of her affections when perchance it was but the kindliness of her womanly heart.
And what maid could be blind to De Courtenay’s sparkling grace,— compared to which he was himself a blundering yokel?
Thus in bound darkness he reasoned it all out and strove to wash away the anger from his heart.
And presently there came dawn. First a cold air blowing out of the forest, and then a deeper darkness that presently gave way to faint, shadowy light.
Here and there tall figures came looming, ghostly-fashion, out of chaos, to take slow shape and form, to resolve themselves into tapering lodges, into hunched and huddled groups.
And with light came action.
McElroy saw that around the central lodge before the gate there was a solid pack of prostrate Indians covering the ground like a cloth, and from this centre came the tom-toms and the wailing.
It was the lodge of the chief and within lay the stark body of the murdered Negansahima.
As the faint light grew, one by one the warriors rose out of the mass like smoke spirals, drawing away to disappear among the tepees. Soon there came the sound of falling poles and McElroy knew that they were striking the camp.
Why, surely, for one thing.
A chief must go to the great Hunting Ground from his own country; in his own country must his bones seek rest.
They would journey back up the long and difficult trail down which they had just come to that vague region from which they hailed.