The swish of the moccasined feet was as the sound of many waters.
“No time for play,” thought McElroy; “that will come later,—when we have reached the Pays d’en Haut.”
For he knew now that he and De Courtenay were to be taken along.
The body of Negansahima was placed in the first canoe, covered with a priceless robe of six silver foxskins laced together; the six big warriors, their halfnaked bodies painted black, manned the paddles, and at the prow there stood the sad figure of Edmonton Ridgar.
At one side had drawn out old Quamenoka and his Assiniboines, their way lying to the west. They raised a chant as the first canoe circled out and headed down the stream. Behind it fell in five canoe-loads of Bois-Brules, their attachment a mystery, and the river became alive with the great flotilla.
Not until the death-boat had passed the far bend did the pacing Indian give way to a dozen naked giants, who lifted the captives with ceremony and carried them down the slope.
As he swung between his captors McElroy looked back at the closed gates of De Seviere and a sharp pain struck at his heart, a childish hurt that the post he had loved should watch his exit from the light of life with unmoved front. It seemed almost that the bastioned wall was sensate, as if the small portholes here and there were living eyes, cold and hard with indifference, nay, even a-glitter with selfishness.
But quick on the sense of hurt came the knowledge which is part of every man in the wilderness; and he knew well that every face in the little fort was drawn with the tragedy, that from those blank portholes looked human eyes, sick with the thing they could not avert, that whoever had taken charge within was only working for the safety of the greatest number, and with the thought his weakness passed.
Only one more pang assailed him.
He gave one swift thought to Maren Le Moyne. Where in Fort de Seviere was she, and what was in her heart?
Then he was swung, still bound, into the bottom of a canoe, saw De Courtenay tossed into another, felt the careless feet of Nakonkirhirinons as the paddlemen stepped in, and existence became a thing of gliding motion, the lapping of water on birchbark, and the passing of a long strip of cloud-flecked sky, pink and blue and gold with the new day.
Lulled by the rocking of the fragile craft that shot forward like a thing of life beneath the paddles dipping in perfect unison, McElroy lay its a sort of apathy for hours, watching the sliding strip of sky and the bending bodies of the Indians. He knew that the end awaited him somewhere ahead, but it was far ahead, very far, even many leagues beyond York factory, and his mind, again dropping into the dulness of his early awakening, refused to concern itself with aught save the blue sky and the sound of water lapping on birchbark. That sound was sweet to his befuddled brain, suggesting something vaguely pleasant.