“To-morrow we will overtake the Nakonkirhirinons,” she said simply, as if that meant no more than speaking a brother brigade of Hudson’s Bays, “and then will come the time of action. At night-camp we will make our effort of deliverance. You, Alloybeau, and you, McDonald, will keep within my call whatever happens, while Frith and Brilliers and Wilson will stay with the canoe, ready for instant flight. M’sieu,” she laid a hand on Dupre’s arm and her voice deepened softly, “is scout and captain and he goes at my side. More I cannot say until we know the lie of land to-morrow.”
So they again took boat, this little band of venturers than whom there were no more daring threaders of the wilderness in all the vast unknown country; and Maren sat in the prow, her hands idle in her lap, for she had paddled since four by the sun.
Beside her, huddled half under the feet of Wilson on the foremost thwart, Dupre watched the stars as they came out in a turquoise sky, for the sleep that was due him would not come. He thought of the morrow and what it would bring, and the sadness in his heart grew with the deepening shades.
The fringed garment of white doeskin lay under his elbow and a fold of it brushed his cheek, and, boy that he was, its touch brought the quick tears to his eyes.
“Ma’amselle,” he said presently, when the turquoise had faded to purple and the purple to velvet black, with the stars like a dowager’s diamonds thickset upon it, “Ma’amselle, what think you is behind the stars?”
Maren turned her face to him like a sweet young moon, pale in the night.
“Behind the stars? Why, Heaven, M’sieu, where all is glory; Heaven assuredly.”
“Aye. Where all is glory. Yes, for those who keep the holy mandates, whose hearts are pure as that heaven itself. For such as you. Oh, Holy Mother!—” his voice fell to a whisper; “there is no heaven, Ma’amselle, so pure as the white heart of you! But for him whose days have gone like the butterfly’s flight from one prodigal joy to the next, whose heart has known neither love of God nor love of a good woman, save for a little space, whose tongue has boasted and blasphemed, and whose life has been worth no jot of good,—what, think you, a waits so lost a man as this?”
The light “whoosh,—sst—whoosh” of the dipping paddles, the occasional rattle of a handle on a gunwale, formed a blending background against which his low words were distinguishable only to the girl beside him.
She looked long into his upturned face. The wistfulness sat heavy upon it. The youthfulness of this dashing trapper of the posts and settlements came out plain in the starlight. She saw again the pliant strength beneath the slender grace, caught the suggestion of contradicting forces that she had felt one day in Marie’s doorway when young Dupre swung up the main way of Fort de Seviere, and beneath it all she saw that which had caused her to say on that first morning of the long trail when he faced her in the hidden cove, “Would it had been given me to love you, M’sieu!”