Of unfailing spirits was Alfred de Courteray.
“’Od’s blood, M’sieu,” he would laugh, oddly mixing his dialect, “but this is seeing the wilderness with a vengeance! Though there is no lack of variety to speed the days, yet I would I were back in my post of Brisac on the Saskatchewan, with a keg of good-liquor on the table and my hearty voyaguers shouting their chansons outside, my clerks and traders making merry within. Eh, M’sieu, is it not a better picture?”
“For you, no doubt. For me, I had rather contemplate a prayer-book and recall my mother’s teaching in these days,” answered McElroy simply.
“What it is to have sins upon one’s conscience!” sighed the venturer. “Verily, it must preclude all pleasant thoughts.” And he fell to humming a gay French air.
Presently the foaming river, growing swifter as it neared the great lake, leaped and plunged into the wide surface of Winnipeg, shooting its burdens out upon the glassy breast of the lake like a spreading fan.
Here the blue sky was mirrored faithfully below with its lazy clouds, the green shores rimmed away to right and left, and the swarming canoes, with their gleaming paddles, made a picture well worth looking at.
The Nakonkirhirinons were going back to the Pays d’en Haut by another way than that by which they had come.
Hugging the western shore, the flotilla strung out into the formation of a wedge, with the canoe of the dead chief at the apex, and went on, day after day, in comparative silence.
With the passing of the sleeping green shores, the ceaseless slide of the quiet waters, a tender peace began to come into McElroy’s soul.
With the gliding days he could think of Maren without the poignant pain which had been unbearable at the beginning, could linger in thought over each .detail of her wondrous beauty, the clear dark eyes, sane and earnest and full of the hope of the dreamer, the full red mouth with its sweetness of curled corners, the black hair banded above the smooth brow, the rounded figure under the faded garment, the shoulders swinging with the free walk after the fashion of a man.
Verily, the wilderness held healing as well as hurt.
So followed each other the dawns and the summer noons and the marvellous twilights, with pageantry of light and colour and soft winds attuned to the songs of birds, and the two men neared the mystery of Fate.
CHAPTER XVII THE COMPELLING POWER
Back in De Seviere the gloom of the forest in bleak winter sat heavily on every cabin.
Women went about with misty eyes and men were oddly silent.
Not one of all his people who did not love the whole-hearted factor with his ready laugh, his sympathy in all the little life of the post, his unfailing justice; not one who did not strive to keep away the haunting visions of leaping flames above fagots, and all the ugly scenes that imagination, abetted by grim reality, could conjure up.