Aye, verily, this was the unknown.
She was looking down the lake with the sun on her uncovered head, on the soft whiteness of the doeskin garment, and to young Dupre she had never seemed so near the divine, so far and unattainable.
“Ma’amselle,” he said presently, “if these newcomers speak us, heed you not what I may say. There are times in the open ways when a man must lie for the good of himself—or others.”
The girl turned her eyes from the canoes, some twenty of them, to his face. It was grave and quiet.
“Assuredly,” she said after a moment’s scrutiny. “Had I best hide in the bushes, M’sieu?”
“No, they have seen us.”
Sweeping forward, the brigade of the Nor’westers, for such it proved to be, headed near in a circle and the head canoe turned in to shore.
“Friend?” called a man in the prow; whom Dupre knew for a wintering partner by the name of McIntosh of none too savoury report.
“Hudson’s Bay trapper, M’sieu,” he said politely, going a step nearer the water. “I wait, with Madame my wife, the coming of our brigade from York, now one day overdue.”
“Ah,—my mistake. I had thought the H. B. C.’s this fortnight gone down. As ever, they are a trifle behind.”
While he addressed Dupre his bold eyes were fastened on Maren, where she hung a dressed fish on a split prong.
“Not behind, M’sieu,” said the young man gently. “They but take the time of certainty. A Saulteur passing this way at daylight reported them as at McMillan’s Landing.”
“Then your waiting is short. I am glad,—for Madame. So lone a camp must be hard for a woman.”
With the words the Nor’wester scanned the girl’s face with a glance that pierced her consciousness, though her eyes were fixed on her task. Not a tinge of deeper colour came to her cheeks. There was no betrayal of the part Dupre had assigned her, and with a word of parting the canoe swung out to its place, though McIntosh’s eyes clung boldly to her beauty so long as he could see her.
“Ah-h,—a close shave!” thought the trapper as he picked up a splinter and once more fell to upon the boat.
Twenty-four hours later there came out of the north the thrice blessed brigade of the H. B. C., bound down the lake to Grand Rapids, where the canoes would separate into two parties, one going up the Saskatchewan to Cumberland House, the other down to the country of the Assiniboine.
Eager as a hound for the quarry Maren stood forth beside Dupre to hail them.
Head of the brigade was Mr. Thomas Mowbray, a gentleman of fine presence and of gentle manners.
In answer to the hail from shore he came to, and presently he stood in the prow of his boat listening to an appeal that lightened his grave eyes.
“Men we must have, M’sieu,” Maren was saying passionately; “men of the Hudson’s Bay. Against all odds we go of a truth, but strategy and wit accomplish much, and the Nakonkirhirinons have no thought of rescue. Besides, the farther north they get the less keen will be their vigilance. With men, M’sieu, we may retake, by strategy alone of course, the factor of Fort de Seviere. Therefore have we come across your way, In the Name of Mary, M’sieu, I beg that you refuse me not!”