On that fateful morning when the rising sun saw the slim canoes of the Nakonkirhirinons trailing around the lower bend, Maren Le Moyne stood by the little window in the small room to the east of the Baptiste cabin and covered her face with her hands.
Great breaths lifted her breast, breaths that fluttered her open lips and could not fill the gasping lungs beneath, that sounded in the little room like tearless tearing sobs.
“Heavenly Mother!” she gasped between them; “Thou who art woman...Mary...”
But the prayer hung aborted between the shuddering sighs.... Who shall say that it is not such a cry, torn from the depths of the spirit by instinct groping for its god, which reaches swiftest the Eternal Infinite?
Until the last sound had faded into the morning, until the last little ripple had widened to the shores and died among the willows, until the screaming birds, startled from the edges of the river, had settled into quiet, she stood so, fainting in her Gethsemane. She alone of all the post had remained away from the great gate where was gathered the populace at the nearest vantage point.
Silence of the young day hung in the palisade, a silence that cut the soul with its tragic portent.
Even little Francette Moline, weeping openly, pressed close in the mass and jerked with unconscious savagery of spirit the short ears of the husky at her heels,—that Loup whom no man dared to touch save only the master his fierce spirit must needs acknowledge. It had been DesCaut by brutality. Now it was the little maid by love.
Strange cat of the woods, Francette could be as riotous in her tenderness as in her enmity.
In the bastions Dupre and Garcon and Gifford watched the scene with the grim quiet of men born in the wilderness, while at the portholes trapper and voyageur and the venturers from Grand Portage handled their guns and waited.
None knew what might happen, for these Indians were not to be judged by any standard they knew.
Henri Baptiste held the trembling Marie in his arm, while Mora and Anon and Ninette clung together in a white-faced group. A little way aside Micene Bordoux comforted a frightened woman and held a child by the hand.
Big Bard McLellan stood by a porthole, his eyes always pensive with his own sadness, gazing with grave sorrow to where McElroy swung down the slope between his captors.
Thus they watched his going, and he had been spared that sick pain had he known.
When it was over, Prix Laroux turned back to the deserted factory and stood hesitating on its step.
This was one of the crises which so commonly confronted the fur industry in the North-west.
What had he a right to do?
The simple man considered carefully. What right but the right of humanity to do the best for the many could send a servant into the seat of power?
And yet who among them all was fitted?