She might still have had a chance, for she was as strong as he, but that he raised his voice in a call for help.
Thus it was that, in less time than the telling, Maren Le Moyne, rescuer, leader of the long trail, was dragged, fast bound by a dozen gripping hands, into the firelit space in the great circle, a captive under the eyes of the man she had come to save.
Stumbling, jerked this way and that, one white shoulder gleaming against the brown stain of throat and face where the doeskin garment was pulled awry, she came into the central space before the great fire.
Every inch an Indian woman she looked, with the no-wak-wa berries darkening her bright cheeks, her moccasins and beaded garment belted with wampum got from the Indians by Henri, save for one thing, no Indian woman in all the wilderness wrapped her braids around her head and pinned them with whittled pegs. There alone had she blundered.
As the renegades loosed her and dropped away, leaving her alone in the appalling light, for one instant she flung her hands over her face.
The quick disaster stunned her.
There was no longer hope within her for the moment. But, with the rise of the roar of triumph, that part of her nature which joyed in the facing of odds snatched down her hands, lifted her head, and set the old fires sparkling in her eyes.
“White! White! White!” was the cry lifting on all sides. “A white woman of the Settlements! Wis-kend-jac has sent the White Doe! A sign! A sign! The Great Spirit would know the slayer of Negansahima!”
“The White Doe shall choose!”
CHAPTER XXIII THE PAINTED POST
When McElroy’s eyes fell upon the woman he loved the breath was stopped in his throat. For a moment it seemed he would suffocate with the surge of emotions that choked him. Then a great sigh filled his lungs and a cry was forced from him which pierced the uproar like an arrow.
“Maren!” he cried, in anguish; “Maren!”
It drew her eyes as the pole the faithful needle, and across the fire they stared wide-eyed at each other.
Then De Courtenay’s silver voice cut them apart.
“Again, Ma’amselle!” he cried, with the old magic of his smile. “Do you bring by any chance a red flower to the council of the Nakonkirhirinons?”
But the Indians closed in around her, pulling and plucking at her with eager fingers, and they saw her fighting among them like a man.
McElroy for the first time loosed his tongue in blasphemy and cursed like a madman, tugging at the bonds which held him.
“’Tis all in a day’s march, M’sieu,” said De Courtenay, “and the sweet spirit of Ma’amselle is like to cross the Styx with us.”
But for the first time, also, there was in his tone a note of weariness, a breath of sadness that sang under the light words with infinite pathos.