But what of him, and of De Courtenay, if he was yet alive?
He wondered why they had been reserved.
The light came quickly and he looked eagerly around on the moving camp.
With quickness and precision the whole long village was reduced in a few minutes to rolled coverings, gathered and tied utensils, stacked packs of furs, and ranged canoes already in the water lining the shore.
He could not help a feeling of regret for this wild people, coming but few suns back with their rich peltry, their pomp, and their hopes of gain, as they prepared for the back trail, the whole tribe in deepest mourning.
Of all the tents, that one before the post gate alone stood, silent reproach to the white man’s ways.
Around it still knelt a solid pack, wailing and beating the drums.
As the grey light turned whiter, he turned his stiffened neck for a glance at the thing against his shoulder.
He looked into the smiling eyes of Alfred de Courtenay.
“Bonjour, M’sieu,” whispered that ardent venturer; “you nuzzled my arm all night. Apparently we are fellows in captivity, as we have been opposed in war,—and love.”
“Aye, M’sieu,” whispered back McElroy, not relishing the turn of the sentence but passing it by; “and a sorry man am I for this state of events. I owe you my regrets,—not for what I did, mark you,—but for the way and the time and place. Had I waited and proceeded as a gentleman, we should not be in this devilish plight, nor that fine old chief a victim to our blunder.”
“Tish!” said De Courtenay lightly; “’tis all in a day’s march. And, besides, I have,—memories,—to shorten the way.”
The pacing guard came back and the two men fell silent.
At that moment a stentorian call pealed above the dismantled camp, and there began a vast surge of the mass of Nakonkirhirinons toward the waiting canoes, a dragging of goods and chattels, a hurry of crying children, a scurrying of squaws. In the midst of it the flaps of the big lodge were opened and, amid redoubled wailing, a stark wedge of the length of a tall man came headforemost out, carried on the shoulders of six gigantic warriors; and walking beside it, bareheaded in the new day, was Edmonton Ridgar, his face pale and downcast. He paid no heed to the two men on the ground, though one was his factor and his friend.
CHAPTER XV LONG TRAIL
The women changed their wail as the procession started for the waiting canoes, and from all the long camp there drew in a horde of savages, their eagle feathers slanting in the light, bare shoulders shining under unhidden paint, skin garments and gaudy shirts alike cast to the winds.
They surged along chanting their unearthly song, and the mass of them swept by where lay the two men.
Not a glance was given them, no taunts, no jeers with which the tribes of the North-west were wont to torment their captives.