Mr. Mowbray sat in silence, amazed beyond speech.
When he rose an hour later to go to his camp he laid a hand on the beaded shoulder wet with the night dew.
“Ma’amselle,” he said, “I have seen a glimpse of God through the blind eyes of a woman. May Destiny reward you.”
Thus it came that before the dawn reddened the east the camp of the brigade broke up for the start to the south and west, and one big canoe with six men waited at the shore for one woman, who held both the hands of Mr. Mowbray in her own and thanked him without words.
As the lone craft shot forth upon the steel-blue waters the leader of the Hudson’s Bay brigade looked after the figure in the bow, glimmering whitely in the mists, and an unaccustomed tightness gripped his throat.
He had two daughters of his own, sheltered safe in London,—two maids as far from this woman of the wild as darkness from the light, soft, gentle creatures, and yet he wondered if either were half so gentle, so truly tender.
Ere the paddles dipped, the men in the canoes with one accord, touched off by some quick-blooded French adventurer, set up a chanson,—a beating rhythmic song of Love going into Battle,—and every throat took it up.
It flowed across the lightening face of the waters, circled around the lone canoe and the woman therein, and seemed to waft her forward with the God-speed of the wilderness.
She lifted her hand above her without turning her head, and it shone pale in the mist, an eerie beacon, and thus the boat passed from view in the greyness, though as the paddles dipped for the start the song still rung forth, beating along the shore.
* * * * * * * * * * *
“Men,” said Maren Le Moyne at the first stop, “this is a trail of great hazard. There is in it neither gift nor gain, only a mighty risk. Yet I have asked you forth upon it as men of the H. B. C. because the man I would save is a factor of the Great Company.”
“Ma’amselle,” said Bitte Alloybeau, a splendid black-browed fellow, “it is enough.”
“Aye,—and more.” So was bound their simple allegiance.
Northward along Nelson River went the concourse of the Nakonkirhirinons, turning westward into the chain of little lakes above Winnipeg of which Dupre had spoken, sweeping forward over portage and dalle, and after them came the lone canoe, leaping the leagues like a loup-garou, for it never rested.
Day and night it shot forward, pulled by sturdy arms, half its people sleeping curled between thwarts, the other half manning the paddles, stopping for snatched rations, reading the signs of passing. So it crept forward upon the thing it sought, untiring, eager, absurd in its daring and its hope.
Like an embodiment of that very absurdity of courage so dear to the hearts of these men, the girl sat in the prow, taking a hand in the work with the best of them, beaconing the way as she had done before her venturers of Grand Portage, firing them with her calm certainty, binding them to her more firmly with each day.