The new attraction drew the crowd, and the old ones were left in solitude, while the Nakonkirhirinons surged and scrambled for a look at the white woman fallen from a clear sky, leagues from where they had seen her. Half-breeds, dissolute renegades, and Indians, they pushed and peered and in many a face was already burning the excitement of her beauty, especially those of the savage Bois-Brules.
McElroy prayed aloud to God for the heavens to fall, for some great disaster.
But soon it became apparent that something of importance was to take place. A hundred headmen gathered in knots and there was dissension and brawling and once near a riot, while the girl stood in a circle of malodorous, leering humans with her back against a tree, warding off hands with man-like blows.
There was no order in the tribe. Negansahima, whose iron hand had ruled with power and justice above the average, was dead. The new chief had not yet come into power with fitting ceremony, and thus the old men of the tribe were for the moment authority, and, as too many cooks spoil the broth, so too many rulers breed dissension.
But finally a conclusion was reached.
A hundred hands scurried into preparation and the shouts were filled with anticipation.
In the open space a post was set up, tall as a man’s head and some two feet thick, adzed flat on one side and painted in two sections, perpendicularly, one half in red, the other in black. A medicine man, hideous in adornments of buffalo horns and bearskin, approached De Courtenay and with a feather painted on his bare breast a circle of black with little red flames within.
McElroy was decorated in like manner, save that his circle was red and it enclosed a death-maul, a dozen little arrows, and two knives.
Thus was foreshadowed the manner of their death.
Then arose a babble of voices.
“The White Doe! The White Doe that runs in the forest! Now shall She who Follows decide!”
And into the midst of the vast circle once more Maren Le Moyne was brought. She stood panting as they drew back and left her, and McElroy looked upon her as he had never looked upon living being in all his days.
There was the same high head, shining in the light, the same tall form sweet in its rounded womanhood, the same strong shoulders, and from them hung the white garment that he had carried to her door that day, in spring. He had wondered then if he would ever see it cling to the swelling breast, set up the round throat from its foamy fringe. And thus he saw it again as he had dreamed, though, Holy Mother! in what sad plight!
She had told him she would wear it. She had relied upon it to help her get to De Courtenay! Of what depth and glory must be the love that sent her after the savages! Even in the stress of the moment the old pain came back an hundredfold. But events went forward and he had soon no time to think.