“Much as another day. There has been plenty to see and enjoy, even from under the feet of our hasty friends of the paddles.”
“Enjoy! Holy Mother! Have you not been thinking over your sins, M’sieu?”
“Sins? I have none. Who thinks of sins while the red blood runs? Rather have I dreamed dreams of,—memories. Ah, no, M’sieu, it has not been a weary day to me, but one of swift emotions, of riots of colour in a strip of racing sky when the sun turned his palette for a gorgeous spread. The sunset was stupendous at its beginning. Now the darker greys come with so much forest.”
McElroy fell silent, biting his lip.
Sorry as he felt for the plight of his rival, the old anger was close to his heart, and it seemed that the rascal knew it and probed for a weak spot with his smiling allusions to his memories. Memories of what but of the red lips of a girl?
The young factor, too, had memories of those red lips, though they gave him only a pain so bitter as not to be borne.
Almost it forced from his heart the gentle justice he had striven so hard to keep in sight.
As he sat thinking and staring at the twilight river rippling below, a man came from the forest at the back of the camp and passed near on his way to the fires.
It was Bois DesCaut, and he did not lift his evil eyes.
The white lack on his temple gleamed with a sinister distinctness amid his black hair.
“Double foe,” thought McElroy; “I am to pay for my own words and Maren’s blow.”
As the trapper passed he sidled swiftly near the Nor’wester and something dropped from a legstrap. It was a small knife, and it tumbled with seeming carelessness close to De Courtenay’s knee.
“So,” thought McElroy again; “by all rights that should have been for me.”
DesCaut went on into the heart of the camp among the women, and De Courtenay began moving ever so cautiously toward the priceless bit of steel.
With that hidden in one’s garments what not of hope might rise within a daring heart?
What not, indeed! Life and liberty and escape and a home-coming to a rival’s very hearthstone, and more,—soft lips and arms of a woman.
The cavalier was smiling still as he edged inch by inch along the little way, his back against the maple.
“See you, M’sieu,” he whispered; “how loyal are the servants of the North-west Company?”
McElroy did not answer. Bitterness was rife within him. Even his one friend in the wilderness, Edmonton Ridgar, on whose sound heart he would have risked his soul, had passed him by without a look.
Verily, life had suddenly been stripped, as the hapless birch, of all its possessions.
He was thinking grimly of these things when a young squaw came lightly up from somewhere and stopped for a second beside De Courtenay. She looked keenly at him, and stooping, picked up the knife.