When McElroy took his last look backward at the blue lake from the northern end, Maren and Dupre were making their last camp before the Big Bend on the eastern shore.
“How soon, think you, M’sieu?” she asked that night, standing beside the little fire; “how soon will they come,—the H. B. C.’s from York?”
“To-morrow, most like, or in a few days at most.”
This evening luck had deserted his fishing, so the trapper took a rifle and went into the woods after a fool-hen. Thoughts kept him company; thoughts of love and its strangeness, of the odd decrees of Fate and the helplessness of man. How all the world had changed with its coming, this love which hail been born in an hour what time he had listened to a woman’s voice beside the stockade wall, and how the very soul within him had changed also.
Where had been lightness and the recklessness of youth there was now a wistful tenderness so vast that it covered his life as the pearly mist covered the world at dawn.
Where he had taken all of joy that post and settlement, friend and foe could give, lived for naught but his sparkling pleasures, he was now possessed of a great yearning to give to this woman, this goddess of the black braids; to give, only to give to her; to give of his strength, of his overwhelming love; aye, of even his heart’s blood itself as he had told her in the beginning.
He was long in finding a fat grouse this evening, and when he returned night was thick on forest and shore.
Light of tread in his moccasins, Dupre came quietly out not far from the blaze of the small fire, and stopped among the shoulder-high brush that fringed the forest.
In the glow of the fire Maren knelt before a green stake set upright in the earth, from a fork of which there hung a black iron crucifix, its ivory Christ gleaming in the light. On either side of this pitiful altar there flamed, in lieu of candles, a fagot taken from the pine.
On her knees, her hanging hands clasped and her face, raised to the Symbol, she spoke, and the deep voice was sweet with its sliding minors.
“Jesu mia,” she said softly, “forgive Thou our sins—Ours. Teach me Thy lesson,—me with pain that will not cease. For him,—Oh, Thou Lord of Heaven, comfort him living,—shrive him Thyself in dying! Let not the unspeakable happen! Send, send Thou that help without which I am helpless, and failing that, send me the strength of him who wrestled with the Angel, the wisdom of Solomon! Not for my love, O Christ, but for him, grant that I may find help to save him from death! And more, —deliver also that venturer who, but for my thoughtless words of the red flower, would be now safe on the Saskatchewan. These I implore, in mercy. And for this last I beg in humbleness of spirit complete,—Grant Thou peace to the friend whose eyes eat into my heart with pity! Peace, peace, Jesu of the Seven Scars, have mercy on him, for he is good to his foundations! I beg for him peace and forgetting of unhappy me! Reward him in some better fate, this youth of the tender heart, of the great regard! Save us, Thou Lamb Jesus—”