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Title: Conjuror's House - A Romance of the Free Forest
Author: White, Stewart Edward, 1873-1946
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           CONJUROR'S HOUSE


            _Beyond the butternut, beyond the maple,
            beyond the white pine and the red, beyond
            the oak, the cedar, and the beech, beyond
            even the white and yellow birches lies a
            Land, and in that Land the shadows fall
            crimson across the snow._



[Illustration: PAUL GILMORE, in "THE CALL OF THE NORTH"--The dramatic
     version of "CONJUROR'S HOUSE."]



                           CONJUROR'S HOUSE

                    _A Romance of the Free Forest_



                                  BY

                         Stewart Edward White

                      AUTHOR OF THE WESTERNERS,
                        THE BLAZED TRAIL, ETC.



                           GROSSET & DUNLAP

                         PUBLISHERS: NEW YORK



COPYRIGHT, 1903, BY

STEWART EDWARD WHITE

COPYRIGHT, 1902, BY CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY

Published, March, 1903. R.



CONJUROR'S HOUSE

_Chapter One_


The girl stood on a bank above a river flowing north. At her back
crouched a dozen clean whitewashed buildings. Before her in
interminable journey, day after day, league on league into remoteness,
stretched the stern Northern wilderness, untrodden save by the
trappers, the Indians, and the beasts. Close about the little
settlement crept the balsams and spruce, the birch and poplar, behind
which lurked vast dreary muskegs, a chaos of bowlder-splits, the
forest. The girl had known nothing different for many years. Once a
summer the sailing ship from England felt its frozen way through the
Hudson Straits, down the Hudson Bay, to drop anchor in the mighty
River of the Moose. Once a summer a six-fathom canoe manned by a dozen
paddles struggled down the waters of the broken Abítibi. Once a year a
little band of red-sashed _voyageurs_ forced their exhausted
sledge-dogs across the ice from some unseen wilderness trail. That was
all.

Before her eyes the seasons changed, all grim, but one by the very
pathos of brevity sad. In the brief luxuriant summer came the Indians
to trade their pelts, came the keepers of the winter posts to rest,
came the ship from England bringing the articles of use or ornament
she had ordered a full year before. Within a short time all were gone,
into the wilderness, into the great unknown world. The snow fell; the
river and the bay froze. Strange men from the North glided silently
to the Factor's door, bearing the meat and pelts of the seal. Bitter
iron cold shackled the northland, the abode of desolation. Armies of
caribou drifted by, ghostly under the aurora, moose, lordly and
scornful, stalked majestically along the shore; wolves howled
invisible, or trotted dog-like in organized packs along the river
banks. Day and night the ice artillery thundered. Night and day the
fireplaces roared defiance to a frost they could not subdue, while the
people of desolation crouched beneath the tyranny of winter.

Then the upheaval of spring with the ice-jams and terrors, the Moose
roaring by untamable, the torrents rising, rising foot by foot to the
very dooryard of her father's house. Strange spirits were abroad at
night, howling, shrieking, cracking and groaning in voices of ice and
flood. Her Indian nurse told her of them all--of Maunabosho, the good;
of Nenaubosho the evil--in her lisping Ojibway dialect that sounded
like the softer voices of the forest.

At last the sudden subsidence of the waters; the splendid eager
blossoming of the land into new leaves, lush grasses, an abandon of
sweetbrier and hepatica. The air blew soft, a thousand singing birds
sprang from the soil, the wild goose cried in triumph. Overhead shone
the hot sun of the Northern summer.

From the wilderness came the _brigades_ bearing their pelts, the hardy
traders of the winter posts, striking hot the imagination through the
mysterious and lonely allurement of their callings. For a brief
season, transient as the flash of a loon's wing on the shadow of a
lake, the post was bright with the thronging of many people. The
Indians pitched their wigwams on the broad meadows below the bend; the
half-breeds sauntered about, flashing bright teeth and wicked dark
eyes at whom it might concern; the traders gazed stolidily over their
little black pipes, and uttered brief sentences through their thick
black beards. Everywhere was gay sound--the fiddle, the laugh, the
song; everywhere was gay color--the red sashes of the _voyageurs_, the
beaded moccasins and leggings of the _mètis_, the capotes of the
_brigade_, the variegated costumes of the Crees and Ojibways. Like the
wild roses around the edge of the muskegs, this brief flowering of the
year passed. Again the nights were long, again the frost crept down
from the eternal snow, again the wolves howled across barren wastes.

Just now the girl stood ankle-deep in green grasses, a bath of
sunlight falling about her, a tingle of salt wind humming up the river
from the bay's offing. She was clad in gray wool, and wore no hat. Her
soft hair, the color of ripe wheat, blew about her temples, shadowing
eyes of fathomless black. The wind had brought to the light and
delicate brown of her complexion a trace of color to match her lips,
whose scarlet did not fade after the ordinary and imperceptible manner
into the tinge of her skin, but continued vivid to the very edge; her
eyes were wide and unseeing. One hand rested idly on the breech of an
ornamented bronze field-gun.

McDonald, the chief trader, passed from the house to the store where
his bartering with the Indians was daily carried on; the other
Scotchman in the Post, Galen Albret, her father, and the head Factor
of all this region, paced back and forth across the veranda of the
factory, caressing his white beard; up by the stockade, young Achille
Picard tuned his whistle to the note of the curlew; across the meadow
from the church wandered Crane, the little Church of England
missionary, peering from short-sighted pale blue eyes; beyond the
coulee, Sarnier and his Indians _chock-chock-chocked_ away at the
seams of the long coast-trading bateau. The girl saw nothing, heard
nothing. She was dreaming, she was trying to remember.

In the lines of her slight figure, in its pose there by the old gun
over the old, old river, was the grace of gentle blood, the pride of
caste. Of all this region her father was the absolute lord, feared,
loved, obeyed by all its human creatures. When he went abroad, he
travelled in a state almost mediæval in its magnificence; when he
stopped at home, men came to him from the Albany, the Kenógami, the
Missináibe, the Mattágami, the Abítibi--from all the rivers of the
North--to receive his commands. Way was made for him, his lightest
word was attended. In his house dwelt ceremony, and of his house she
was the princess. Unconsciously she had taken the gracious habit of
command. She had come to value her smile, her word, to value herself.
The lady of a realm greater than the countries of Europe, she moved
serene, pure, lofty amid dependants.

And as the lady of this realm she did honor to her father's
guests--sitting stately behind the beautiful silver service, below the
portrait of the Company's greatest explorer, Sir George Simpson,
dispensing crude fare in gracious manner, listening silently to the
conversation, finally withdrawing at the last with a sweeping courtesy
to play soft, melancholy, and world-forgotten airs on the old piano,
brought over years before by the _Lady Head_, while the guests made
merry with the mellow port and ripe Manila cigars which the Company
supplied its servants. Then coffee, still with her natural Old World
charm of the _grande dame_. Such guests were not many, nor came often.
There was McTavish of Rupert's House, a three days' journey to the
northeast; Rand of Fort Albany, a week's travel to the northwest;
Mault of Fort George, ten days beyond either, all grizzled in the
Company's service. With them came their clerks, mostly English and
Scotch younger sons, with a vast respect for the Company, and a
vaster for their Factor's daughter. Once in two or three years
appeared the inspectors from Winnipeg, true lords of the North, with
their six-fathom canoes, their luxurious furs, their red banners
trailing like gonfalons in the water. Then this post of Conjuror's
House feasted and danced, undertook gay excursions, discussed in
public or private conclave weighty matters, grave and reverend
advices, cautions, and commands. They went. Desolation again crept in.

The girl dreamed. She was trying to remember. Far-off, half-forgotten
visions of brave, courtly men, of gracious, beautiful women, peopled
the clouds of her imaginings. She heard them again, as voices beneath
the roar of rapids, like far-away bells tinkling faintly through a
wind, pitying her, exclaiming over her; she saw them dim and
changing, as wraiths of a fog, as shadow pictures in a mist beneath
the moon, leaning to her with bright, shining eyes full of compassion
for the little girl who was to go so far away into an unknown land;
she felt them, as the touch of a breeze when the night is still,
fondling her, clasping her, tossing her aloft in farewell. One she
felt plainly--a gallant youth who held her up for all to see. One she
saw clearly--a dewy-eyed, lovely woman who murmured loving, broken
words. One she heard distinctly--a gentle voice that said, "God's love
be with you, little one, for you have far to go, and many days to pass
before you see Quebec again." And the girl's eyes suddenly swam
bright, for the northland was very dreary. She threw her palms out in
a gesture of weariness.

Then her arms dropped, her eyes widened, her head bent forward in the
attitude of listening.

"Achille!" she called, "Achille! Come here!"

The young fellow approached respectfully.

"Mademoiselle?" he asked.

"Don't you hear?" she said.

Faint, between intermittent silences, came the singing of men's voices
from the south.

"_Grace à Dieu_!" cried Achille. "Eet is so. Eet is dat _brigade_!"

He ran shouting toward the factory.



_Chapter Two_


Men, women, dogs, children sprang into sight from nowhere, and ran
pell-mell to the two cannon. Galen Albret, reappearing from the
factory, began to issue orders. Two men set about hoisting on the tall
flag-staff the blood-red banner of the Company. Speculation, excited
and earnest, arose among the men as to which of the branches of the
Moose this _brigade_ had hunted--the Abítibi, the Mattágami, or the
Missináibie. The half-breed women shaded their eyes. Mrs. Cockburn,
the doctor's wife, and the only other white woman in the settlement,
came and stood by Virginia Albret's side. Wishkobun, the Ojibway
woman from the south country, and Virginia's devoted familiar, took
her half-jealous stand on the other.

"It is the same every year. We always like to see them come," said
Mrs. Cockburn, in her monotonous low voice of resignation.

"Yes," replied Virginia, moving a little impatiently, for she
anticipated eagerly the picturesque coming of these men of the Silent
Places, and wished to savor the pleasure undistracted.

"Mi-di-mo-yay ka'-win-ni-shi-shin," said Wishkobun, quietly.

"Ae," replied Virginia, with a little laugh, patting the woman's brown
hand.

A shout arose. Around the bend shot a canoe. At once every paddle in
it was raised to a perpendicular salute, then all together dashed
into the water with the full strength of the _voyageurs_ wielding
them. The canoe fairly leaped through the cloud of spray. Another
rounded the bend, another double row of paddles flashed in the
sunlight, another crew, broke into a tumult of rapid exertion as they
raced the last quarter mile of the long journey. A third burst into
view, a fourth, a fifth. The silent river was alive with motion,
glittering with color. The canoes swept onward, like race-horses
straining against the rider. Now the spectators could make out plainly
the boatmen. It could be seen that they had decked themselves out for
the occasion. Their heads were bound with bright-colored fillets,
their necks with gay scarves. The paddles were adorned with gaudy
woollen streamers. New leggings, of holiday pattern, were
intermittently visible on the bowsmen and steersmen as they half rose
to give added force to their efforts.

At first the men sang their canoe songs, but as the swift rush of the
birch-barks brought them almost to their journey's end, they burst
into wild shrieks and whoops of delight.

All at once they were close to hand. The steersman rose to throw his
entire weight on the paddle. The canoe swung abruptly for the shore.
Those in it did not relax their exertions, but continued their
vigorous strokes until within a few yards of apparent destruction.

"Holá! holá!" they cried, thrusting their paddles straight down into
the water with a strong backward twist. The stout wood bent and
cracked. The canoe stopped short and the _voyageurs_ leaped ashore to
be swallowed up in the crowd that swarmed down upon them.

The races were about equally divided, and each acted after its
instincts--the Indian greeting his people quietly, and stalking away
to the privacy of his wigwam; the more volatile white catching his
wife or his sweetheart or his child to his arms. A swarm of Indian
women and half-grown children set about unloading the canoes.

Virginia's eyes ran over the crews of the various craft. She
recognized them all, of course, to the last Indian packer, for in so
small a community the personality and doings of even the humblest
members are well known to everyone. Long since she had identified the
_brigade_. It was of the Missináibie, the great river whose
head-waters rise a scant hundred feet from those that flow as many
miles south into Lake Superior. It drains a wild and rugged country
whose forests cling to bowlder hills, whose streams issue from
deep-riven gorges, where for many years the big gray wolves had
gathered in unusual abundance. She knew by heart the winter posts,
although she had never seen them. She could imagine the isolation of
such a place, and the intense loneliness of the solitary man condemned
to live through the dark Northern winters, seeing no one but the rare
Indians who might come in to trade with him for their pelts. She could
appreciate the wild joy of a return for a brief season to the company
of fellow-men.

When her glance fell upon the last of the canoes, it rested with a
flash of surprise. The craft was still floating idly, its bow barely
caught against the bank. The crew had deserted, but amidships, among
the packages of pelts and duffel, sat a stranger. The canoe was that
of the post at Kettle Portage.

She saw the stranger to be a young man with a clean-cut face, a trim
athletic figure dressed in the complete costume of the _voyageurs_,
and thin brown and muscular hands. When the canoe touched the bank he
had taken no part in the scramble to shore, and so had sat forgotten
and unnoticed save by the girl, his figure erect with something of the
Indian's stoical indifference. Then when, for a moment, he imagined
himself free from observation, his expression abruptly changed. His
hands clenched tense between his buckskin knees, his eyes glanced here
and there restlessly, and an indefinable shadow of something which
Virginia felt herself obtuse in labelling desperation, and yet to
which she discovered it impossible to fit a name, descended on his
features, darkening them. Twice he glanced away to the south. Twice he
ran his eye over the vociferating crowd on the narrow beach.

Absorbed in the silent drama of a man's unguarded expression, Virginia
leaned forward eagerly. In some vague manner it was borne in on her
that once before she had experienced the same emotion, had come into
contact with someone, something, that had affected her emotionally
just as this man did now. But she could not place it. Over and over
again she forced her mind to the very point of recollection, but
always it slipped back again from the verge of attainment. Then a
little movement, some thrust forward of the head, some nervous, rapid
shifting of the hands or feet, some unconscious poise of the
shoulders, brought the scene flashing before her--the white snow, the
still forest, the little square pen-trap, the wolverine, desperate but
cool, thrusting its blunt nose quickly here and there in baffled hope
of an orifice of escape. Somehow the man reminded her of the animal,
the fierce little woods marauder, trapped and hopeless, but scorning
to cower as would the gentler creatures of the forest.

Abruptly his expression changed again. His figure stiffened, the
muscles of his face turned iron. Virginia saw that someone on the
beach had pointed toward him. His mask was on.

The first burst of greeting was over. Here and there one or another of
the _brigade_ members jerked their heads in the stranger's direction,
explaining low-voiced to their companions. Soon all eyes turned
curiously toward the canoe. A hum of low-voiced comment took the
place of louder delight.

The stranger, finding himself generally observed, rose slowly to his
feet, picked his way with a certain exaggerated deliberation of
movement over the duffel lying in the bottom of the canoe, until he
reached the bow, where he paused, one foot lifted to the gunwale just
above the emblem of the painted star. Immediately a dead silence fell.
Groups shifted, drew apart, and together again, like the slow
agglomeration of sawdust on the surface of water, until at last they
formed in a semicircle of staring, whose centre was the bow of the
canoe and the stranger from Kettle Portage. The men scowled, the women
regarded him with a half-fearful curiosity.

Virginia Albret shivered in the shock of this sudden electric
polarity. The man seemed alone against a sullen, unexplained
hostility. The desperation she had thought to read but a moment before
had vanished utterly, leaving in its place a scornful indifference and
perhaps more than a trace of recklessness. He was ripe for an
outbreak. She did not in the least understand, but she knew it from
the depths of her woman's instinct, and unconsciously her sympathies
flowed out to this man, alone without a greeting where all others came
to their own.

For perhaps a full sixty seconds the new-comer stood uncertain what he
should do, or perhaps waiting for some word or act to tip the balance
of his decision. One after another those on shore felt the insolence
of his stare, and shifted uneasily. Then his deliberate scrutiny rose
to the group by the cannon. Virginia caught her breath sharply. In
spite of herself she could not turn away. The stranger's eye crossed
her own. She saw the hard look fade into pleased surprise. Instantly
his hat swept the gunwale of the canoe. He stepped magnificently
ashore. The crisis was over. Not a word had been spoken.



_Chapter Three_


Galen Albret sat in his rough-hewn arm-chair at the head of the table,
receiving the reports of his captains. The long, narrow room opened
before him, heavy raftered, massive, white, with a cavernous fireplace
at either end. Above him frowned Sir George's portrait, at his right
hand and his left stretched the row of home-made heavy chairs,
finished smooth and dull by two centuries of use.

His arms were laid along the arms of his seat; his shaggy head was
sunk forward until his beard swept the curve of his big chest; the
heavy tufts of hair above his eyes were drawn steadily together in a
frown of attention. One after another the men arose and spoke. He made
no movement, gave no sign, his short, powerful form blotted against
the lighter silhouette of his chair, only his eyes and the white of
his beard gleaming out of the dusk.

Kern of Old Brunswick House, Achard of New; Ki-wa-nee, the Indian of
Flying Post--these and others told briefly of many things, each in his
own language. To all Galen Albret listened in silence. Finally Louis
Placide from the post at Kettle Portage got to his feet. He too
reported of the trade,--so many "beaver" of tobacco, of powder, of
lead, of pork, of flour, of tea, given in exchange; so many mink,
otter, beaver, ermine, marten, and fisher pelts taken in return. Then
he paused and went on at greater length in regard to the stranger,
speaking evenly but with emphasis. When he had finished, Galen Albret
struck a bell at his elbow. Me-en-gan, the bowsman of the Factor's
canoe, entered, followed closely by the young man who had that
afternoon arrived.

He was dressed still in his costume of the _voyageur_--the loose
blouse shirt, the buckskin leggings and moccasins, the long tasselled
red sash. His head was as high and his glance as free, but now the
steel blue of his eye had become steady and wary, and two faint lines
had traced themselves between his brows. At his entrance a hush of
expectation fell. Galen Albret did not stir, but the others hitched
nearer the long, narrow table, and two or three leaned both elbows on
it the better to catch what should ensue.

Me-en-gan stopped by the door, but the stranger walked steadily the
length of the room until he faced the Factor. Then he paused and
waited collectedly for the other to speak.

This the Factor did not at once begin to do, but sat
impassive--apparently without thought--while the heavy breathing of
the men in the room marked off the seconds of time. Finally abruptly
Galen Albret's cavernous voice boomed forth. Something there was
strangely mysterious, cryptic, in the virile tones issuing from a bulk
so massive and inert. Galen Albret did not move, did not even raise
the heavy-lidded, dull stare of his eyes to the young man who stood
before him; hardly did his broad arched chest seem to rise and fall
with the respiration of speech; and yet each separate word leaped
forth alive, instinct with authority.

"Once at Leftfoot Lake, two Indians caught you asleep," he
pronounced. "They took your pelts and arms, and escorted you to
Sudbury. They were my Indians. Once on the upper Abítibi you were
stopped by a man named Herbert, who warned you from the country, after
relieving you of your entire outfit. He told you on parting what you
might expect if you should repeat the attempt--severe measures, the
severest. Herbert was my man. Now Louis Placide surprises you in a
rapids near Kettle Portage and brings you here."

During the slow delivering of these accurately spaced words, the
attitude of the men about the long, narrow table gradually changed.
Their curiosity had been great before, but now their intellectual
interest was awakened, for these were facts of which Louis Placide's
statement had given no inkling. Before them, for the dealing, was a
problem of the sort whose solution had earned for Galen Albret a
reputation in the north country. They glanced at one another to obtain
the sympathy of attention, then back toward their chief in anxious
expectation of his next words. The stranger, however, remained
unmoved. A faint smile had sketched the outline of his lips when first
the Factor began to speak. This smile he maintained to the end. As the
older man paused, he shrugged his shoulders.

"All of that is quite true," he admitted.

Even the unimaginative men of the Silent Places started at these
simple words, and vouchsafed to their speaker a more sympathetic
attention. For the tones in which they were delivered possessed that
deep, rich throat timbre which so often means power--personal
magnetism--deep, from the chest, with vibrant throat tones suggesting
a volume of sound which may in fact be only hinted by the loudness the
man at the moment sees fit to employ. Such a voice is a responsive
instrument on which emotion and mood play wonderfully seductive
strains.

"All of that is quite true," he repeated after a second's pause; "but
what has it to do with me? Why am I stopped and sent out from the free
forest? I am really curious to know your excuse."

"This," replied Galen Albret, weightily, "is my domain. I tolerate no
rivalry here."

"Your right?" demanded the young man, briefly.

"I have made the trade, and I intend to keep it."

"In other words, the strength of your good right arm," supplemented
the stranger, with the faintest hint of a sneer.

"That is neither here nor there," rejoined Galen Albret, "the point is
that I intend to keep it. I've had you sent out, but you have been too
stupid or too obstinate to take the hint. Now I have to warn you in
person. I shall send you out once more, but this time you must promise
me not to meddle with the trade again."

He paused for a response. The young man's smile merely became
accentuated.

"I have means of making my wishes felt," warned the Factor.

"Quite so," replied the young man, deliberately, "_La Longue
Traverse_."

At this unexpected pronouncement of that dread name two of the men
swore violently; the others thrust back their chairs and sat, their
arms rigidly braced against the table's edge, staring wide-eyed and
open-mouthed at the speaker. Only Galen Albret remained unmoved.

"What do you mean by that?" he asked, calmly.

"It amuses you to be ignorant," replied the stranger, with some
contempt. "Don't you think this farce is about played out? I do. If
you think you're deceiving me any with this show of formality, you're
mightily mistaken. Don't you suppose I knew what I was about when I
came into this country? Don't you suppose I had weighed the risks and
had made up my mind to take my medicine if I should be caught? Your
methods are not quite so secret as you imagine. I know perfectly well
what happens to Free Traders in Rupert's Land."

"You seem very certain of your information."

"Your men seem equally so," pointed out the stranger.

Galen Albret, at the beginning of the young man's longer speech, had
sunk almost immediately into his passive calm--the calm of great
elemental bodies, the calm of a force so vast as to rest motionless by
the very static power of its mass. When he spoke again, it was in the
tentative manner of his earlier interrogatory, committing himself not
at all, seeking to plumb his opponent's knowledge.

"Why, if you have realized the gravity of your situation have you
persisted after having been twice warned?" he inquired.

"Because you're not the boss of creation," replied the young man,
bluntly.

Galen Albret merely raised his eyebrows.

[Illustration: THE ARRIVAL OF THE FREE-TRADER. Scene from the play.]

"I've got as much business in this country as you have," continued
the young man, his tone becoming more incisive. "You don't seem to
realize that your charter of monopoly has expired. If the government
was worth a damn it would see to you fellows. You have no more right
to order me out of here than I would have to order you out. Suppose
some old Husky up on Whale River should send you word that you weren't
to trap in the Whale River district next winter. I'll bet you'd be
there. You Hudson Bay men tried the same game out west. It didn't
work. You ask your western men if they ever heard of Ned Trent."

"Your success does not seem to have followed you here," suggested the
Factor, ironically.

The young man smiled.

"This _Longue Traverse_," went on Albret, "what is your idea there? I
have heard something of it. What is your information?"

Ned Trent laughed outright. "You don't imagine there is any secret
about that!" he marvelled. "Why, every child north of the Line knows
that. You will send me away without arms, and with but a handful of
provisions. If the wilderness and starvation fail, your runners will
not. I shall never reach the Temiscamingues alive."

"The same old legend," commented Galen Albret in apparent amusement,
"I heard it when I first came to this country. You'll find a dozen
such in every Indian camp."

"Jo Bagneau, Morris Proctor, John May, William Jarvis," checked off
the young man on his fingers.

"Personal enmity," replied the Factor.

He glanced up to meet the young man's steady, sceptical smile.

"You do not believe me?"

"Oh, if it amuses you," conceded the stranger.

"The thing is not even worth discussion."

"Remarkable sensation among our friends here for so idle a tale."

Galen Albret considered.

"You will remember that throughout you have forced this interview," he
pointed out. "Now I must ask your definite promise to get out of this
country and to stay out."

"No," replied Ned Trent.

"Then a means shall be found to make you!" threatened the Factor, his
anger blazing at last.

"Ah," said the stranger softly.

Galen Albret raised his hand and let it fall. The bronzed and gaudily
bedecked men filed out.



_Chapter Four_


In the open air the men separated in quest of their various families
or friends. The stranger lingered undecided for a moment on the top
step of the veranda, and then wandered down the little street, if
street it could be called where horses there were none. On the left
ranged the square whitewashed houses with their dooryards, the old
church, the workshop. To the right was a broad grass-plot, and then
the Moose, slipping by to the distant offing. Over a little bridge the
stranger idled, looking curiously about him. The great trading-house
attracted his attention, with its narrow picket lane leading to the
door; the storehouse surrounded by a protective log fence; the fort
itself, a medley of heavy-timbered stockades and square block-houses.
After a moment he resumed his strolling. Everywhere he went the people
looked at him, ceasing their varied occupations. No one spoke to him,
no one hindered him. To all intents and purposes he was as free as the
air. But all about the island flowed the barrier of the Moose, and
beyond frowned the wilderness--strong as iron bars to an unarmed man.

Brooding on his imprisonment the Free Trader forgot his surroundings.
The post, the river, the forest, the distant bay faded from his sight,
and he fell into deep reflection. There remained nothing of physical
consciousness but a sense of the grateful spring warmth from the
declining sun. At length he became vaguely aware of something else.
He glanced up. Right by him he saw a handsome French half-breed
sprawled out in the sun against a building, looking him straight in
the face and flashing up at him a friendly smile.

"Hullo," said Achille Picard, "you mus' been 'sleep. I call you two
t'ree tam."

The prisoner seemed to find something grateful in the greeting even
from the enemy's camp. Perhaps it merely happened upon the
psychological moment for a response.

"Hullo," he returned, and seated himself by the man's side, lazily
stretching himself in enjoyment of the reflected heat.

"You is come off Kettle Portage, eh," said Achille, "I t'ink so. You
is come trade dose fur? Eet is bad beez-ness, dis Conjur' House. Ole'
man he no lak' dat you trade dose fur. He's very hard, dat ole man."

"Yes," replied the stranger, "he has got to be, I suppose. This is the
country of _la Longue Traverse_."

"I beleef you," responded Achille, cheerfully; "w'at you call heem
your nam'?"

"Ned Trent."

"Me Achille--Achille Picard. I capitaine of dose dogs on dat winter
_brigade_."

"It is a hard post. The winter travel is pretty tough."

"I beleef you."

"Better to take _la Longue Traverse_ in summer, eh?"

"_La Longue Traverse_--hees not mattaire w'en yo tak' heem."

"Right you are. Have there been men sent out since you came here?"

"_Bâ oui_. Wan, two, t'ree. I don' remember. I t'ink Jo Bagneau.
Nobodee he don' know, but dat ole man an' hees _coureurs du bois_. He
ees wan ver' great man. Nobodee is know w'at he will do."

"I'm due to hit that trail myself, I suppose," said Ned Trent.

"I have t'ink so," acknowledged Achille, still with a tone of most
engaging cheerfulness.

"Shall I be sent out at once, do you think?"

"I don' know. Sometam' dat ole man ver' queek. Sometam' he ver' slow.
One day Injun mak' heem ver' mad; he let heem go, and shot dat Injun
right off. Noder tam he get mad on one _voyageur_, but he don' keel
heem queek; he bring heem here, mak' heem stay in dose warm room, feed
heem dose plaintee grub. Purty soon dose _voyageur_ is get fat, is go
sof; he no good for dose trail. Ole man he mak' heem go ver' far off,
mos' to Whale Reever. Eet is plaintee cole. Dat _voyageur_, he freeze
to hees inside. Dey tell me he feex heem like dat."

"Achille, you haven't anything against me--do you want me to die?"

The half-breed flashed his white teeth.

"_Bâ non_," he replied, carelessly. "For w'at I want dat you die? I
t'ink you bus' up bad; _vous avez la mauvaise fortune_."

"Listen. I have nothing with me; but out at the front I am very rich.
I will give you a hundred dollars, if you will help me to get away."

"I can' do eet," smiled Picard.

"Why not?"

"Ole man he fin' dat out. He is wan devil, dat ole man. I lak
firs'-rate help you; I lak' dat hundred dollar. On Ojibway countree
dey make hees nam' _Wagosh_--dat mean fox. He know everyt'ing."

"I'll make it two hundred--three hundred--five hundred."

"W'at you wan' me do?" hesitated Achille Picard at the last figure.

"Get me a rifle and some cartridges."

The half-breed rolled a cigarette, lighted it, and inhaled a deep
breath.

"I can' do eet," he declared. "I can' do eet for t'ousand dollar--ten
t'ousand. I don't t'ink you fin' anywan on dis settlement w'at can
dare do eet. He is wan devil. He's count all de carabine on dis pos',
an' w'en he is mees wan, he fin' out purty queek who is tak' heem."

"Steal one from someone else," suggested Trent.

"He fin' out jess sam'," objected the half-breed, obstinately. "You
don' know heem. He mak' you geev yourself away, when he lak' do dat."
The smile had left the man's face. This was evidently too serious a
matter to be taken lightly.

"Well, come with me, then," urged Ned Trent, with some impatience. "A
thousand dollars I'll give you. With that you can be rich somewhere
else."

But the man was becoming more and more uneasy, glancing furtively from
left to right and back again, in an evident panic lest the
conversation be overheard, although the nearest dwelling-house was a
score of yards distant.

"Hush," he whispered. "You mustn't talk lak' dat. Dose ole man fin'
you out. You can' hide away from heem. Ole tam long ago, Pierre
Cadotte is stole feefteen skin of de otter--de sea-otter--and he is
sol' dem on Winnipeg. He is get 'bout t'ousand beaver--five hunder'
dollar. Den he is mak' dose longue voyage wes'--ver' far wes'--_on
dit_ Peace Reever. He is mak' heem dose cabane, w'ere he is leev long
tam wid wan man of Mackenzie. He is call it hees nam' Dick Henderson.
I is meet Dick Henderson on Winnipeg las' year, w'en I mak' paddle on
dem Factor Brigade, an' dose High Commissionaire. He is tol' me wan
night pret' late he wake up all de queeck he can w'en he is hear wan
noise in dose cabane, an' he is see wan Injun, lak' phantome 'gainst
de moon to de door. Dick Henderson he is 'sleep, he don' know w'at he
mus' do. Does Injun is step ver' sof' an' go on bunk of Pierre
Cadotte. Pierre Cadotte is mak' de beeg cry. Dick Henderson say he no
see dose Injun no more, an' he fin' de door shut. _Bâ_ Pierre Cadotte,
she's go dead. He is mak' wan beeg hole in hees ches'."

"Some enemy, some robber frightened away because the Henderson man
woke up, probably," suggested Ned Trent.

The half-breed laid his hand impressively on the other's arm and
leaned forward until his bright black eyes were within a foot of the
other's face.

"W'en dose Injun is stan' heem in de moonlight, Dick Henderson is see
hees face. Dick Henderson is know all dose Injun. He is tole me dat
Injun is not Peace Reever Injun. Dick Henderson is say dose Injun is
Ojibway Injun--Ojibway Injun two t'ousand mile wes'--on Peace Reever!
Dat's curi's!"

"I was tell you nodder story--" went on Achille, after a moment.

"Never mind," interrupted the Trader. "I believe you."

"Maybee," said Achille cheerfully, "you stan' some show--not
moche--eef he sen' you out pret' queeck. Does small _perdrix_ is
yonge, an' dose duck. Maybee you is catch dem, maybee you is keel dem
wit' bow an' arrow. Dat's not beeg chance. You mus' geev dose
_coureurs de bois_ de sleep w'en you arrive. _Voilà_, I geev you my
knife!"

He glanced rapidly to right and left, then slipped a small object into
the stranger's hand.

"_Bâ_, I t'ink does ole man is know dat. I t'ink he kip you here till
tam w'en dose _perdrix_ and duck is all grow up beeg' nuff so he can
fly."

"I'm not watched," said the young man in eager tones; "I'll slip away
to-night."

"Dat no good," objected Picard. "W'at you do? S'pose you do dat, dose
_coureurs_ keel you _toute suite_. Dey is have good excuse, an' you is
have nothing to mak' de fight. You sleep away, and dose ole man is
sen' out plaintee Injun. Dey is fine you sure. _Bâ_, eef he _sen'_ you
out, den he sen' onlee two Injun. Maybee you fight dem; I don' know.
_Non, mon ami_, eef you is wan' get away w'en dose ole man he don'
know eet, you mus' have dose carabine. Den you is have wan leetle
chance. _Bâ_, eef you is not have heem dose carabine, you mus' need
dose leetle grub he geev you, and not plaintee Injun follow you, onlee
two."

"And I cannot get the rifle."

"An' dose ole man is don' sen' you out till eet is too late for mak'
de grub on de fores'. Dat's w'at I t'ink. Dat ees not fonny for you."

Ned Trent's eyes were almost black with thought. Suddenly he threw his
head up.

"I'll make him send me out now," he asserted confidently.

"How you mak' eet him?"

"I'll talk turkey to him till he's so mad he can't see straight. Then
maybe he'll send me out right away."

"How you mak' eet him so mad?" inquired Picard, with mild curiosity.

"Never you mind--I'll do it."

"_Bâ oui_," ruminated Picard, "He is get mad pret' queeck. I t'ink
p'raps dat plan he go all right. You was get heem mad plaintee easy.
Den maybee he is sen' you out _toute suite_--maybee he is shoot you."

"I'll take the chances--my friend."

"_Bâ oui_," shrugged Achille Picard, "eet is wan chance."

He commenced to roll another cigarette.



_Chapter Five_


Having sat buried in thought for a full five minutes after the traders
of the winter posts had left him, Galen Albret thrust back his chair
and walked into a room, long, low, and heavily raftered, strikingly
unlike the Council Room. Its floor was overlaid with dark rugs; a
piano of ancient model filled one corner; pictures and books broke the
wall; the lamps and the windows were shaded; a woman's work-basket and
a tea-set occupied a large table. Only a certain barbaric profusion of
furs, the huge fireplace, and the rough rafters of the ceiling
differentiated the place from the drawing-room of a well-to-do family
anywhere.

Galen Albret sank heavily into a chair and struck a bell. A tall,
slightly stooped English servant, with correct side whiskers and
incompetent, watery blue eyes, answered. To him said the Factor:

"I wish to see Miss Albret."

A moment later Virginia entered the room.

"Let us have some tea, O-mi-mi," requested her father.

The girl moved gently about, preparing and lighting the lamp,
measuring the tea, her fair head bowed gracefully over her task, her
dark eyes pensive and but half following what she did. Finally with a
certain air of decision she seated herself on the arm of a chair.

"Father," said she.

"Yes."

"A stranger came to-day with Louis Placide of Kettle Portage."

"Well?"

"He was treated strangely by our people, and he treated them strangely
in return. Why is that?"

"Who can tell?"

"What is his station? Is he a common trader? He does not look it."

"He is a man of intelligence and daring."

"Then why is he not our guest?"

Galen Albret did not answer. After a moment's pause he asked again for
his tea. The girl turned away impatiently. Here was a puzzle, neither
the _voyageurs_, nor Wishkobun her nurse, nor her father would explain
to her. The first had grinned stupidly; the second had drawn her shawl
across her face, the third asked for tea!

She handed her father the cup, hesitated, then ventured to inquire
whether she was forbidden to greet the stranger should the occasion
arise.

"He is a gentleman," replied her father.

She sipped her tea thoughtfully, her imagination stirring. Again her
recollection lingered over the clear bronze lines of the stranger's
face. Something vaguely familiar seemed to touch her consciousness
with ghostly fingers. She closed her eyes and tried to clutch them. At
once they were withdrawn. And then again, when her attention wandered,
they stole back, plucking appealingly at the hem of her recollections.

The room was heavy-curtained, deep embrasured, for the house, beneath
its clap-boards, was of logs. Although out of doors the clear spring
sunshine still flooded the valley of the Moose; within, the shadows
had begun with velvet fingers to extinguish the brighter lights.
Virginia threw herself back on a chair in the corner.

"Virginia," said Galen Albret, suddenly.

"Yes, father."

"You are no longer a child, but a woman. Would you like to go to
Quebec?"

She did not answer him at once, but pondered beneath close-knit brows.

"Do you wish me to go, father?" she asked at length.

"You are eighteen. It is time you saw the world, time you learned the
ways of other people. But the journey is hard. I may not see you again
for some years. You go among strangers."

He fell silent again. Motionless he had been, except for the mumbling
of his lips beneath his beard.

"It shall be just as you wish," he added a moment later.

At once a conflict arose in the girl's mind between her restless
dreams and her affections. But beneath all the glitter of the question
there was really nothing to take her out. Here was her father, here
were the things she loved; yonder was novelty--and loneliness.

Her existence at Conjuror's House was perhaps a little complex, but it
was familiar. She knew the people, and she took a daily and unwearying
delight in the kindness and simplicity of their bearing toward
herself. Each detail of life came to her in the round of habit,
wearing the garment of accustomed use. But of the world she knew
nothing except what she had been able to body forth from her reading,
and that had merely given her imagination something tangible with
which to feed her self-distrust.

"Must I decide at once?" she asked.

"If you go this year, it must be with the Abítibi _brigade_. You have
until then."

"Thank you, father," said the girl, sweetly.

The shadows stole their surroundings one by one, until only the bright
silver of the tea-service, and the glitter of polished wood, and the
square of the open door remained. Galen Albret became an inert dark
mass. Virginia's gray was lost in that of the twilight.

Time passed. The clock ticked on. Faintly sounds penetrated from the
kitchen, and still more faintly from out of doors. Then the rectangle
of the doorway was darkened by a man peering uncertainly. The man wore
his hat, from which slanted a slender heron's plume; his shoulders
were square; his thighs slim and graceful. Against the light, one
caught the outline of the sash's tassel and the fringe of his
leggings.

"Are you there, Galen Albret?" he challenged.

The spell of twilight mystery broke. It seemed as if suddenly the air
had become surcharged with the vitality of opposition.

"What then?" countered the Factor's heavy, deliberate tones.

"True, I see you now," rejoined the visitor carelessly, as he flung
himself across the arm of a chair and swung one foot. "I do not doubt
you are convinced by this time of my intention."

"My recollection does not tell me what messenger I sent to ask this
interview."

[Illustration: "WHAT YOU WANT DOESN'T CONCERN ME IN THE LEAST." Scene
from the play.]

"Correct," laughed the young man a little hardly. "You _didn't_ ask
it. I attended to that myself. What _you_ want doesn't concern me in
the least. What do you suppose I care what, or what not, any of this
crew wants? I'm master of my own ideas, anyway, thank God. If you
don't like what I do, you can always stop me." In the tone of his
voice was a distinct challenge. Galen Albret, it seemed, chose to
pass it by.

"True," he replied sombrely, after a barely perceptible pause to mark
his tacit displeasure. "It is your hour. Say on."

"I should like to know the date at which I take _la Longue Traverse_".

"You persist in that nonsense?"

"Call my departure whatever you want to--I have the name for it. When
do I leave?"

"I have not decided."

"And in the meantime?"

"Do as you please."

"Ah, thanks for this generosity," cried the young man, in a tone of
declamatory sarcasm so artificial as fairly to scent the elocutionary.
"To do as I please--here--now there's a blessed privilege! I may walk
around where I want to, talk to such as have a good word for me,
punish those who have not! But do I err in concluding that the state
of your game law is such that it would be useless to reclaim my rifle
from the engaging Placide?"

"You have a fine instinct," approved the Factor.

"It is one of my valued possessions," rejoined the young man,
insolently. He struck a match, and by its light selected a cigarette.

"I do not myself use tobacco in this room," suggested the older
speaker.

"I am curious to learn the limits of your forbearance," replied the
younger, proceeding to smoke.

He threw back his head and regarded his opponent with an open
challenge, daring him to become angry. The match went out.

Virginia, who had listened in growing anger and astonishment, unable
longer to refrain from defending the dignity of her usually autocratic
father, although he seemed little disposed to defend himself, now
intervened from her dark corner on the divan.

"Is the journey then so long, sir," she asked composedly, "that it at
once inspires such anticipations--and such bitterness?"

In an instant the man was on his feet, hat in hand, and the cigarette
had described a fiery curve into the empty hearth.

"I beg your pardon, sincerely," he cried, "I did not know you were
here!"

"You might better apologize to my father," replied Virginia.

The young man stepped forward and, without asking permission, lighted
one of the tall lamps.

"The lady of the guns!" he marvelled softly to himself.

He moved across the room, looking down on her inscrutably, while she
looked up at him in composed expectation of an apology--and Galen
Albret sat motionless, in the shadow of his great arm-chair. But after
a moment her calm attention broke down. Something there was about this
man that stirred her emotions--whether of curiosity, pity,
indignation, or a slight defensive fear she was not introspective
enough to care to inquire. And yet the sensation was not altogether
unpleasant, and, as at the guns that afternoon, a certain portion of
her consciousness remained in sympathy with whatever it was of
mysterious attraction he represented to her. In him she felt the
dominant, as a wild creature of the woods instinctively senses the
master and drops its eyes. Resentment did not leave her, but over it
spread a film of confusion that robbed it of its potency. In him, in
his mood, in his words, in his manner, was something that called out
in direct appeal the more primitive instincts hitherto dormant beneath
her sense of maidenhood, so that even at this vexed moment of
conscious opposition, her heart was ranging itself on his side.
Overpoweringly the feeling swept her that she was not acting in
accordance with her sense of fitness. She knew she should strike, but
was unable to give due force to the blow. In the confusion of such a
discovery, her eyelids fluttered and fell. And he saw, and,
understanding his power, dropped swiftly beside her on the broad
divan.

"You must pardon me, mademoiselle," he begun, his voice sinking to a
depth of rich music singularly caressing. "To you I may seem to have
small excuses, but when a man is vouchsafed a glimpse of heaven only
to be cast out the next instant into hell, he is not always particular
in the choice of words."

All the time his eyes sought hers, which avoided the challenge, and
the strong masculine charm of magnetism which he possessed in such
vital abundance overwhelmed her unaccustomed consciousness. Galen
Albret shifted uneasily, and shot a glance in their direction. The
stranger, perceiving this, lowered his voice in register and tone, and
went on with almost exaggerated earnestness.

"Surely you can forgive me, a desperate man, almost anything?"

"I do not understand," said Virginia, with a palpable effort.

Ned Trent leaned forward until his eager face was almost at her
shoulder.

"Perhaps not," he urged; "I cannot ask you to try. But suppose,
mademoiselle, you were in my case. Suppose your eyes--like mine--have
rested on nothing but a howling wilderness for dear heaven knows how
long; you come at last in sight of real houses, real grass, real
dooryard gardens just ready to blossom in the spring, real food, real
beds, real books, real men with whom to exchange the sensible word,
and something more, mademoiselle--a woman such as one dreams of in the
long forest nights under the stars. And you know that while others,
the lucky ones, may stay to enjoy it all, you, the unfortunate, are
condemned to leave it at any moment for _la Longue Traverse_. Would
not you, too, be bitter, mademoiselle? Would not you too mock and
sneer? Think, mademoiselle, I have not even the little satisfaction of
rousing men's anger. I can insult them as I will, but they turn aside
in pity, saying one to another: 'Let us pleasure him in this, poor
fellow, for he is about to take _la Longue Traverse_.' That is why
your father accepts calmly from me what he would not from another."

Virginia sat bolt upright on the divan, her hands clasped in her lap,
her wonderful black eyes looking straight out before her, trying to
avoid her companion's insistent gaze. His attention was fixed on her
mobile and changing countenance, but he marked with evident
satisfaction Galen Albret's growing uneasiness. This was evidenced
only by a shifting of the feet, a tapping of the fingers, a turning
of the shaggy head--in such a man slight tokens are significant. The
silence deepened with the shadows drawing about the single lamp, while
Virginia attempted to maintain a breathing advantage above the flood
of strange emotions which the personality of this man had swept down
upon her.

"It does not seem--" objected the girl in bewilderment, "I do not
know--men are often out in this country for years at a time. Long
journeys are not unknown among us. We are used to undertaking them."

"But not _la Longue Traverse_," insisted the young man, sombrely.

"_La Longue Traverse_," she repeated in sweet perplexity.

"Sometimes called the Journey of Death," he explained.

She turned to look him in the eyes, a vague expression of puzzled fear
on her face.

"She has never heard of it," said Ned Trent to himself, and aloud:
"Men who undertake it leave comfort behind. They embrace hunger and
weariness, cold and disease. At the last they embrace death, and are
glad of his coming."

Something in his tone compelled belief; something in his face told her
that he was a man by whom the inevitable hardships of winter and
summer travel, fearful as they are, would be lightly endured. She
shuddered.

"This dreadful thing is necessary?" she asked.

"Alas, yes."

"I do not understand--"

"In the North few of us understand," agreed the young man with a hint
of bitterness seeping through his voice. "The mighty order, and so we
obey. But that is beside the point. I have not told you these things
to harrow you; I have tried to excuse myself for my actions. Does it
touch you a little? Am I forgiven?"

"I do not understand how such things can be," she objected in some
confusion, "why such journeys must exist. My mind cannot comprehend
your explanations."

The stranger leaned forward abruptly, his eyes blazing with the
magnetic personality of the man.

"But your heart?" he breathed.

It was the moment. "My heart--" she repeated, as though bewildered by
the intensity of his eyes, "my heart--ah--yes!"

Immediately the blood rushed over her face and throat in a torrent.
She snatched her eyes away, and cowered back in the corner, going red
and white by turns, now angry, now frightened, now bewildered, until
his gaze, half masterful, half pleading, again conquered hers. Galen
Albret had ceased tapping his chair. In the dim light he sat, staring
straight before him, massive, inert, grim.

"I believe you--" she murmured hurriedly at last. "I pity you!"

She rose. Quick as light he barred her passage.

"Don't! don't!" she pleaded. "I must go--you have shaken me--I--I do
not understand myself--"

"I must see you again," he whispered eagerly. "To-night--by the guns."

"No, no!"

"To-night," he insisted.

She raised her eyes to his, this time naked of defence, so that the
man saw down through their depths into her very soul.

"Oh," she begged, quivering, "let me pass. Don't you see--I'm going to
cry!"



_Chapter Six_


For a moment Ned Trent stared through the darkness into which Virginia
had disappeared. Then he turned a troubled face to the task he had set
himself, for the unexpectedly pathetic results of his fantastic
attempt had shaken him. Twice he half turned as though to follow her.
Then shaking his shoulders he bent his attention to the old man in the
shadow of the chair.

He was given no opportunity for further speech, however, for at the
sound of the closing door Galen Albret's impassivity had fallen from
him. He sprang to his feet. The whole aspect of the man suddenly
became electric, terrible. His eyes blazed; his heavy brows drew
spasmodically toward each other; his jaws worked, twisting his beard
into strange contortions; his massive frame straightened formidably;
and his voice rumbled from the arch of his deep chest in a torrent of
passionate sound.

"By God, young man!" he thundered, "you go too far! Take heed! I will
not stand this! Do not you presume to make love to my daughter before
my eyes!"

And Ned Trent, just within the dusky circle of lamplight, where the
bold, sneering lines of his face stood out in relief against the
twilight of the room, threw back his head and laughed. It was a clear
laugh, but low, and in it were all the devils of triumph, and of
insolence. Where the studied insult of words had failed, this single
cachinnation succeeded. The Trader saw his opponent's eyes narrow. For
a moment he thought the Factor was about to spring on him.

Then, with an effort that blackened his face with blood, Galen Albret
controlled himself, and fell to striking the call-bell violently and
repeatedly with the palm of his hand. After a moment Matthews, the
English servant, came running in. To him the Factor was at first
physically unable to utter a syllable. Then finally he managed to
ejaculate the name of his bowsman with such violence of gesture that
the frightened servant comprehended by sheer force of terror and ran
out again in search of Me-en-gan.

This supreme effort seemed to clear the way for speech. Galen Albret
began to address his opponent hoarsely in quick, disjointed
sentences, a gasp for breath between each.

"You revived an old legend--_la Longue Traverse_--the myth. It shall
be real--to--you--I will make it so. By God, you shall not defy
me--"

Ned Trent smiled. "You do not deceive me," he rejoined, coolly.

"Silence!" cried the Factor. "Silence!--You shall speak no more!--You
have said enough--"

Me-en-gan glided into the room. Galen Albret at once addressed him in
the Ojibway language, gaining control of himself as he went on.

"Listen to me well," he commanded. "You shall make a count of all
rifles in this place--at once. Let no one furnish this man with food
or arms. You know the story of _la Longue Traverse_. This man shall
take it. So inform my people. I, the Factor, decree it so. Prepare all
things at once--understand, _at once_!"

Ned Trent waited to hear no more, but sauntered from the room
whistling gayly a boatman's song. His point was gained.

Outside, the long Northern twilight with its beautiful shadows of
crimson was descending from the upper regions of the east. A light
wind breathed up-river from the bay. The Free Trader drew his lungs
full of the evening air.

"Just the same, I think she will come," said he to himself. "_La
Longue Traverse_, even at once, is a pretty slim chance. But this
second string to my bow is better. I believe I'll get the rifle--if
she comes!"



_Chapter Seven_


Virginia ran quickly up the narrow stairs to her own room, where she
threw herself on the bed and buried her face in the pillows.

As she had said, she was very much shaken. And, too, she was afraid.

She could not understand. Heretofore she had moved among the men
around her, pure, lofty, serene. Now at one blow all this crumbled.
The stranger had outraged her finer feelings. He had insulted her
father in her very presence;--for this she was angry. He had insulted
herself;--for this she was afraid. He had demanded that she meet him
again; but this--at least in the manner he had suggested--should not
happen. And yet she confessed to herself a delicious wonder as to what
he would do next, and a vague desire to see him again in order to find
out. That she could not successfully combat this feeling made her
angry at herself. And so in mingled fear, pride, anger, and longing
she remained until Wishkobun, the Indian woman, glided in to dress her
for the dinner whose formality she and her father consistently
maintained. She fell to talking the soft Ojibway dialect, and in the
conversation forgot some of her emotion and regained some of her calm.

Her surface thoughts, at least, were compelled for the moment to
occupy themselves with other things. The Indian woman had to tell her
of the silver fox brought in by Mu-hi-ken, an Indian of her own tribe;
of the retort Achille Picard had made when MacLane had taunted him;
of the forest fire that had declared itself far to the east, and of
the theories to account for it where no campers had been. Yet
underneath the rambling chatter Virginia was aware of something new in
her consciousness, something delicious but as yet vague. In the gayest
moment of her half-jesting, half-affectionate gossip with the Indian
woman, she felt its uplift catching her breath from beneath, so that
for the tiniest instant she would pause as though in readiness for
some message which nevertheless delayed. A fresh delight in the
present moment held her, a fresh anticipation of the immediate future,
though both delight and anticipation were based on something without
her knowledge. That would come later.

The sound of rapid footsteps echoed across the lower hall, a whistle
ran into an air, sung gayly, with spirit:

    _"J'ai perdu ma maîtresse,
    Sans l'avoir merité,
    Pour un bouquet de roses
    Que je lui refusai.
    Li ya longtemps que je t'aime,
    Jamais je ne t'oublierai!"_

She fell abruptly silent, and spoke no more until she descended to the
council-room where the table was now spread for dinner.

Two silver candlesticks lit the place. The men were waiting for her
when she entered, and at once took their seats in the worn, rude
chairs. White linen and glittering silver adorned the service, Galen
Albret occupied one end of the table, Virginia the other. On either
side were Doctor and Mrs. Cockburn; McDonald, the Chief Trader;
Richardson, the clerk, and Crane, the missionary of the Church of
England. Matthews served with rigid precision in the order of
importance, first the Factor, then Virginia, then the doctor, his
wife, McDonald, the clerk, and Crane in due order. On entering a room
the same precedence would have held good. Thus these people, six
hundred miles as the crow flies from the nearest settlement,
maintained their shadowy hold on civilization.

The glass was fine, the silver massive, the linen dainty, Matthews
waited faultlessly: but overhead hung the rough timbers of the
wilderness post, across the river faintly could be heard the howling
of wolves. The fare was rice, curry, salt pork, potatoes, and beans;
for at this season the game was poor, and the fish hardly yet running
with regularity.

Throughout the meal Virginia sat in a singular abstraction. No
conscious thoughts took shape in her mind, but nevertheless she
seemed to herself to be occupied in considering weighty matters. When
directly addressed, she answered sweetly. Much of the time she studied
her father's face. She found it old. Those lines were already evident
which, when first noted, bring a stab of surprised pain to the breast
of a child--the droop of the mouth, the wrinkling of the temples, the
patient weariness of the eyes. Virginia's own eyes filled with tears.
The subjective passive state into which a newly born but not yet
recognized love had cast her, inclined her to gentleness. She accepted
facts as they came to her. For the moment she forgot the mere
happenings of the day, and lived only in the resulting mood of them
all. The new-comer inspired her no longer with anger nor sorrow,
attraction nor fear. Her active emotions in abeyance, she floated
dreamily on the clouds of a new estate.

This very aloofness of spirit disinclined her for the company of the
others after the meal was finished. The Factor closeted himself with
Richardson. The doctor, lighting a cheroot, took his way across to his
infirmary. McDonald, Crane, and Mrs. Cockburn entered the drawing-room
and seated themselves near the piano. Virginia hesitated, then threw a
shawl over her head and stepped out on the broad veranda.

At once the vast, splendid beauty of the Northern night broke over her
soul. Straight before her gleamed and flashed and ebbed and palpitated
the aurora. One moment its long arms shot beyond the zenith; the next
it had broken and rippled back like a brook of light to its arch over
the Great Bear. Never for an instant was it still. Its restlessness
stole away the quiet of the evening; but left it magnificent.

In comparison with this coruscating dome of the infinite the earth had
shrunken to a narrow black band of velvet, in which was nothing
distinguishable until suddenly the sky-line broke in calm silhouettes
of spruce and firs. And always the mighty River of the Moose,
gleaming, jewelled, barbaric in its reflections, slipped by to the
sea.

So rapid and bewildering was the motion of these two great powers--the
river and the sky--that the imagination could not believe in silence.
It was as though the earth were full of shoutings and of tumults. And
yet in reality the night was as still as a tropical evening. The
wolves and the sledge-dogs answered each other undisturbed; the
beautiful songs of the white-throats stole from the forest as
divinely instinct as ever with the spirit of peace.

Virginia leaned against the railing and looked upon it all. Her heart
was big with emotions, many of which she could not name; her eyes were
full of tears. Something had changed in her since yesterday, but she
did not know what it was. The faint wise stars, the pale moon just
sinking, the gentle south breeze could have told her, for they are
old, old in the world's affairs. Occasionally a flash more than
ordinarily brilliant would glint one of the bronze guns beneath the
flag-staff. Then Virginia's heart would glint too. She imagined the
reflection startled her.

She stretched her arms out to the night, embracing its glories,
sighing in sympathy with its meaning, which she did not know. She
felt the desire of restlessness; yet she could not bear to go. But no
thought of the stranger touched her, for you see as yet she did not
understand.

Then, quite naturally, she heard his voice in the darkness close to
her knee. It seemed inevitable that he should be there; part of the
restless, glorious night, part of her mood. She gave no start of
surprise, but half closed her eyes and leaned her fair head against a
pillar of the veranda. He sang in a sweet undertone an old _chanson_
of voyage.

    _"Par derrièr' chez mon père,
    Vole, mon coeur, vole!
    Par derrièr' chez mon père
    Li-ya-t-un pommier doux."_

"Ah lady, lady mine," broke in the voice softly, "the night too is
sweet, soft as thine eyes. Will you not greet me?"

The girl made no sign. After a moment the song went on.

    _"Trois filles d'un prince,
    Vole, mon coeur, vole!
    Trois filles d'un prince
    Sont endormies dessous."_

"Will not the princess leave her sisters of dreams?" whispered the
voice, fantastically. "Will she not come?"

Virginia shivered, and half-opened her eyes, but did not stir. It
seemed that the darkness sighed, then became musical again.

    _"La plus jeun' se réveille,
    Vole, mon coeur, vole!
    La plus jeun' se réveille
    --Ma Soeur, voilà le jour!"_

The song broke this time without a word of pleading. The girl opened
her eyes wide and stared breathlessly straight before her at the
singer.

    _"--Non, ce n'est qu'une étoile,
    Vole, mon coeur, vole!
    Non, ce n'est qu'une étoile
    Qu'éclaire nos amours!"_

The last word rolled out through its passionate throat tones and died
into silence.

"Come!" repeated the man again, this time almost in the accents of
command.

She turned slowly and went to him, her eyes childlike and frightened,
her lips wide, her face pale. When she stood face to face with him she
swayed and almost fell.

"What do you want with me?" she faltered, with a little sob.

The man looked at her keenly, laughed, and exclaimed in an every-day,
matter-of-fact voice:

"Why, I really believe my song frightened you. It is only a boating
song. Come, let us go and sit on the gun-carriages and talk."

"Oh!" she gasped, a trifle hysterically. "Don't do that again! Please
don't. I do not understand it! You must not!"

He laughed again, but with a note of tenderness in his voice, and took
her hand to lead her away, humming in an undertone the last couplet of
his song:

    _"Non, ce n'est qu'une étoile,
    Qu'éclaire nos amours!"_



_Chapter Eight_


Virginia went with this man passively--to an appointment which, but an
hour ago, she had promised herself she would not keep. Her inmost soul
was stirred, just as before. Then it had been few words, now it was a
little common song. But the strange power of the man held her close,
so she realized that for the moment at least she would do as he
desired. In the amazement and consternation of this thought she found
time to offer up a little prayer: "Dear God, make him kind to me."

[Illustration: THE HALF-BREED SEEKS TO AVENGE HER FATHER. Scene from
the play.]

They leaned against the old bronze guns, facing the river. He pulled
her shawl about her, masterfully yet with gentleness, and then, as
though it was the most natural thing in the world, he drew her to him
until she rested against his shoulder. And she remained there,
trembling, in suspense, glancing at him quickly, in birdlike, pleading
glances, as though praying him to be kind. He took no notice after
that, so the act seemed less like a caress than a matter of course. He
began to talk, half-humorously, and little by little, as he went on,
she forgot her fears, even her feeling of strangeness, and fell
completely under the spell of his power.

"My name is Ned Trent," he told her, "and I am from Quebec. I am a
woods runner. I have journeyed far. I have been to the uttermost ends
of the North, even up beyond the Hills of Silence."

And then, in his gay, half-mocking, yet musical voice he touched
lightly on vast and distant things. He talked of the great
Saskatchewan, of Peace River, and the delta of the Mackenzie, of the
winter journeys beyond Great Bear Lake into the Land of the Little
Sticks, and the half-mythical lake of Yamba Tooh. He spoke of life
with the Dog Ribs and Yellow Knives, where the snow falls in
midsummer. Before her eyes slowly spread, like a panorama, the whole
extent of the great North, with its fierce, hardy men, its dreadful
journeys by canoe and sledge, its frozen barrens, its mighty forests,
its solemn charm. All at once this post of Conjuror's House, a month
in the wilderness as it was, seemed very small and tame and civilized
for the simple reason that Death did not always compass it about.

"It was very cold then," said Ned Trent, "and very hard. _Le grand
frête_[A] of winter had come. At night we had no other shelter than
our blankets, and we could not keep a fire because the spruce burned
too fast and threw too many coals. For a long time we shivered, curled
up on our snow-shoes; then fell heavily asleep, so that even the dogs
fighting over us did not awaken us. Two or three times in the night we
boiled tea. We had to thaw our moccasins each morning by thrusting
them inside our shirts. Even the Indians were shivering and saying,
'Ed-sa, yazzi ed-sa'--'it is cold, very cold.' And when we came to Rae
it was not much better. A roaring fire in the fireplace could not
prevent the ink from freezing on the pen. This went on for five
months."

[Footnote A: _Froid_--cold.]

Thus he spoke, as one who says common things. He said little of
himself, but as he went on in short, curt sentences the picture grew
more distinct, and to Virginia the man became more and more prominent
in it. She saw the dying and exhausted dogs, the frost-rimed, weary
men; she heard the quick _crunch, crunch, crunch_ of the snow-shoes
hurrying ahead to break the trail; she felt the cruel torture of the
_mal de raquette_, the shrivelling bite of the frost, the pain of snow
blindness, the hunger that yet could not stomach the frozen fish nor
the hairy, black caribou meat. One thing she could not conceive--the
indomitable spirit of the men. She glanced timidly up at her
companion's face.

"The Company is a cruel master," she sighed at last, standing upright,
then leaning against the carriage of the gun. He let her go without
protest, almost without thought, it seemed.

"But not mine," said he.

She exclaimed, in astonishment, "Are you not of the Company?"

"I am no man's man but my own," he answered, simply.

"Then why do you stay in this dreadful North?" she asked.

"Because I love it. It is my life. I want to go where no man has set
foot before me; I want to stand alone under the sky; I want to show
myself that nothing is too big for me--no difficulty, no
hardship--nothing!"

"Why did you come here, then? Here at least are forests so that you
can keep warm. This is not so dreadful as the Coppermine, and the
country of the Yellow Knives. Did you come here to try _la Longue
Traverse_ of which you spoke to-day?"

He fell suddenly sombre, biting in reflection at his lip.

"No--yes--why not?" he said, at length.

"I know you will come out of it safely," said she; "I feel it. You are
brave and used to travel. Won't you tell me about it?"

He did not reply. After a moment she looked up in surprise. His brows
were knit in reflection. He turned to her again, his eyes glowing into
hers. Once more the fascination of the man grew big, overwhelmed her.
She felt her heart flutter, her consciousness swim, her old terror
returning.

"Listen," said he. "I may come to you to-morrow and ask you to choose
between your divine pity and what you might think to be your duty.
Then I will tell you all there is to know of _la Longue Traverse_.
Now it is a secret of the Company. You are a Factor's daughter; you
know what that means." He dropped his head. "Ah, I am tired--tired
with it all!" he cried, in a voice strangely unhappy. "But yesterday I
played the game with all my old spirit; to-day the zest is gone! I no
longer care." He felt the pressure of her hand. "Are you just a little
sorry for me?" he asked. "Sorry for a weakness you do not understand?
You must think me a fool."

"I know you are unhappy," replied Virginia, gently. "I am truly sorry
for that."

"Are you? Are you, indeed?" he cried. "Unhappiness is worth such pity
as yours." He brooded for a moment, then threw his hands out with what
might have been a gesture of desperate indifference. Suddenly his mood
changed in the whimsical, bewildering fashion of the man. "Ah, a star
shoots!" he exclaimed, gayly. "That means a kiss!"

Still laughing, he attempted to draw her to him. Angry, mortified,
outraged, she fought herself free and leaped to her feet.

"Oh!" she cried, in insulted anger.

"Oh!" she cried, in a red shame.

"_Oh!_" she cried, in sorrow.

Her calm broke. She burst into the violent sobbing of a child, and
turned and ran hurriedly to the factory.

Ned Trent stared after her a minute from beneath scowling brows. He
stamped his moccasined foot impatiently.

"Like a rat in a trap!" he jeered at himself. "Like a rat in a trap,
Ned Trent! The fates are drawing around you close. You need just one
little thing, and you cannot get it. Bribery is useless! Force is
useless! Craft is useless! This afternoon I thought I saw another
way. What I could get no other way I might get from this little girl.
She is only a child. I believe I could touch her pity--ah, Ned Trent,
Ned Trent, can you ever forget her frightened, white face begging you
to be kind?" He paced back and forth between the two bronze guns with
long, straight strides, like a panther in a cage. "Her aid is mine for
the asking--but she makes it impossible to ask! I could not do it.
Better try _la Longue Traverse_ than take advantage of her pity--she'd
surely get into trouble. What wonderful eyes she has. She thinks I am
a brute--how she sobbed, as though her little heart had broken. Well,
it was the only way to destroy her interest in me. I had to do it. Now
she will despise me and forget me. It is better that she should think
me a brute than that I should be always haunted by those pleading
eyes." The door of the distant church house opened and closed. He
smiled bitterly. "To be sure, I haven't tried that," he acknowledged.
"Their teachings are singularly apropos to my case--mercy, justice,
humanity--yes, and love of man. I'll try it. I'll call for help on the
love of man, since I cannot on the love of woman. The love of
woman--ah--yes."

He set his feet reflectively toward the chapel.



_Chapter Nine_


After a moment he pushed open the door without ceremony, and entered.
He bent his brows, studying the Reverend Archibald Crane, while the
latter, looking up startled, turned pink.

He was a pink little man, anyway, the Reverend Archibald Crane, and
why, in the inscrutability of its wisdom, the Church had sent him out
to influence strong, grim men, the Church in its inscrutable wisdom
only knows. He wore at the moment a cambric English boating-hat to
protect his bald head from the draught, a full clerical costume as far
as the trousers, which were of lavender, and a pair of beaded
moccasins faced with red. His weak little face was pink, and two tufts
of side-whiskers were nearly so. A heavy gold-headed cane stood at his
hand. When he heard the door open he exclaimed, before raising his
head, "My, these first flies of the season do bother me so!" and then
looked startled.

"Good-evening," greeted Ned Trent, stopping squarely in the centre of
the room.

The clergyman spread his arms along the desk's edge in embarrassment.

"Good-evening," he returned, reluctantly. "Is there anything I can do
for you?" The visitor puzzled him, but was dressed as a _voyageur_.
The Reverend Archibald immediately resolved to treat him as such.

"I wish to introduce myself as Ned Trent," went on the Free Trader
with composure, "and I have broken in on your privacy this evening
only because I need your ministrations cruelly."

"I am rejoiced that in your difficulties you turn to the consolations
of the Church," replied the other in the cordial tones of the man who
is always ready. "Pray be seated. He whose soul thirsteth need offer
no apology to the keeper of the spiritual fountains."

"Quite so," replied the stranger dryly, seating himself as suggested,
"only in this case my wants are temporal rather than spiritual. They,
however, seem to me fully within the province of the Church."

"The Church attempts within limits to aid those who are materially in
want," assured Crane, with official dignity. "Our resources are small,
but to the truly deserving we are always ready to give in the spirit
of true giving."

"I am rejoiced to hear it," returned the young man, grimly; "you will
then have no difficulty in getting me so small a matter as a rifle and
about forty or fifty rounds of ammunition."

A pause of astonishment ensued.

"Why, really," ejaculated Crane, "I fail to see how that falls within
my jurisdiction in the slightest. You should see our Trader, Mr.
McDonald, in regard to all such things. Your request addressed to me
becomes extraordinary."

"Not so much so when you know who I am. I told you my name is Ned
Trent, but I neglected to inform you further that I am a captured Free
Trader, condemned to _la Longue Traverse_, and that I have in vain
tried to procure elsewhere the means of escape."

Then the clergyman understood. The full significance of the
intruder's presence flashed over his little pink face in a trouble of
uneasiness. The probable consequences of such a bit of charity as his
visitor proposed almost turned him sick with excitement.

"You expect to have them of me!" he cried, getting his voice at last.

"Certainly," assured his interlocutor, crossing his legs comfortably.
"Don't you see the logic of events forces me to think so? What other
course is open to you? I am in this country entirely within my legal
rights as a citizen of the Canadian Commonwealth. Unjustly, I am
seized by a stronger power and condemned unjustly to death. Surely you
admit the injustice?"

"Well, of course you know--the customs of the country--it is hardly an
abstract question--" stammered Crane, still without grasp on the logic
of his argument.

"But as an abstract question the injustice is plain," resumed the Free
Trader, imperturbably. "And against plain injustice it strikes me
there is but one course open to an acknowledged institution of
abstract--and concrete--morality. The Church must set itself against
immorality, and you, as the Church's representative, must get me a
rifle."

"You forget one thing," rejoined Crane.

"What is that?"

"Such an aid would be a direct act of rebellion against authority on
my part, which would be severely punished. Of course," he asserted,
with conscious righteousness, "I should not consider that for a moment
as far as my own personal safety is concerned. But my cause would
suffer. You forget, sir, that we are doing here a great and good work.
We have in our weekly congregational singing over forty regular
attendants from the aborigines; next year I hope to build a church at
Whale River, thus reaching the benighted inhabitants of that distant
region. All of this is a vital matter in the service of our Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ. You suggest that I endanger all this in order to
right a single instance of injustice. Of course we are told to love
one another, but--" he paused.

"You have to compromise," finished the stranger for him.

"Exactly," said the Reverend Crane. "Thank you; it is exactly that. In
order to accomplish what little good the Lord vouchsafes to our poor
efforts, we are obliged to overlook many things. Otherwise we should
not be allowed to stay here at all."

"That is most interesting," agreed Ned Trent, with a rather biting
calm. "But is it not a little calculating? My slight familiarity with
religious history and literature has always led me to believe that you
are taught to embrace the right at any cost whatsoever--that, if you
give yourself unreservedly to justice, the Lord will sustain you
through all trials. I think at a pinch I could even quote a text to
that effect."

"My dear fellow," objected the Reverend Archibald in gentle protest,
"you evidently do not understand the situation at all. I feel I should
be most untrue to my trust if I were to endanger in any way the
life-long labor of my predecessor. You must be able to see that for
yourself. It would destroy utterly my usefulness here. They'd send me
away. I couldn't go on with the work. I have to think what is for the
best."

"There is some justice in what you say," admitted the stranger, "if
you persist in looking on this thing as a business proposition. But
it seems to my confessedly untrained mind that you missed the point.
'Trust in the Lord,' saith the prophet. In fact, certain rivals in
your own field hold the doctrine you expound, and you consider them
wrong. 'To do evil that good may come' I seem to recognize as a tenet
of the Church of the Jesuits."

"I protest. I really do protest," objected the clergyman, scandalized.

"All right," agreed Ned Trent, with good-natured contempt. "That is
not the point. Do you refuse?"

"Can't you see?" begged the other. "I'm sure you are reasonable enough
to take the case on its broader side."

"You refuse?" insisted Ned Trent.

"It is not always easy to walk straightly before the Lord, and my way
is not always clear before me, but--"

"You refuse!" cried Ned Trent, rising impatiently.

The Reverend Archibald Crane looked at his catechiser with a trace of
alarm.

"I'm sorry; I'm afraid I must," he apologized.

The stranger advanced until he touched the desk on the other side of
which the Reverend Archibald was sitting, where he stood for some
moments looking down on his opponent with an almost amused expression
of contempt.

"You are an interesting little beast," he drawled, "and I've seen a
lot of your kind in my time. Here you preach every Sunday, to whomever
will listen to you, certain cut-and-dried doctrines you don't believe
practically in the least. Here for the first time you have had a
chance to apply them literally, and you hide behind a lot of words.
And while you're about it you may as well hear what I have to say
about your kind. I've had a pretty wide experience in the North, and I
know what I'm talking about. Your work here among the Indians is rot,
and every sensible man knows it. You coop them up in your log-built
houses, you force on them clothes to which they are unaccustomed until
they die of consumption. Under your little tin-steepled imitation of
civilization, for which they are not fitted, they learn to beg, to
steal, to lie. I have travelled far, but I have yet to discover what
your kind are allowed on earth for. You are narrow-minded, bigoted,
intolerant, and without a scrap of real humanity to ornament your mock
religion. When you find you can't meddle with other people's affairs
enough at home you get sent where you can get right in the
business--and earn salvation for doing it. I don't know just why I
should say this to you, but it sort of does me good to tell it. Once I
heard one of your kind tell a sorrowing mother that her little child
had gone to hell because it had died before he--the smug
hypocrite--had sprinkled its little body with a handful of water.
There's humanity for you! It may interest you to know that I thrashed
that man then and there. You are all alike; I know the breed. When
there is found a real man among you--and there are such--he is so
different in everything, including his religion, as to be really of
another race. I came here without the slightest expectation of getting
what I asked for. As I said before, I know your breed, and I know just
how well your two-thousand-year-old doctrines apply to practical
cases. There is another way, but I hated to use it. You'd take it
quick enough, I dare say. Here is where I should receive aid. I may
have to get it where I should not. You a man of God! Why, you poor
little insect, I can't even get angry at you!"

He stood for a moment looking at the confused and troubled clergyman.
Then he went out.



_Chapter Ten_


Almost immediately the door opened again.

"You, Miss Albret!" cried Crane.

"What does this mean?" demanded Virginia, imperiously. "Who is that
man? In what danger does he stand? What does he want a rifle for? I
insist on knowing."

She stood straight and tall in the low room, her eyes flashing, her
head thrown back in the assured power of command.

The Reverend Crane tried to temporize, hesitating over his words. She
cut him short.

"That is nonsense. Everybody seems to know but myself. I am no child.
I came to consult you--my spiritual adviser--in regard to this very
case. Accidentally I overheard enough to justify me in knowing more."

The clergyman murmured something about the Company's secrets. Again
she cut him short.

"Company's secrets! Since when has the Company confided in Andrew
Laviolette, in Wishkobun, in _you_!"

"Possibly you would better ask your father," said Crane, with some
return of dignity.

"It does not suit me to do so," replied she. "I insist that you answer
my questions. Who is this man?"

"Ned Trent, he says."

"I will not be put off in this way. _Who_ is he? _What_ is he?"

"He is a Free Trader," replied the Reverend Crane with the air of a
man who throws down a bomb and is afraid of the consequences. To his
astonishment the bomb did not explode.

"What is that?" she asked, simply.

The man's jaw dropped and his eyes opened in astonishment. Here was a
density of ignorance in regard to the ordinary affairs of the Post
which could by no stretch of the imagination be ascribed to chance. If
Virginia Albret did not know the meaning of the term, and all the
tragic consequences it entailed, there could be but one conclusion:
Galen Albret had not intended that she should know. She had purposely
been left in ignorance, and a politic man would hesitate long before
daring to enlighten her. The Reverend Crane, in sheer terror, became
sullen.

"A Free Trader is a man who trades in opposition to the Company," said
he, cautiously.

"What great danger is he in?" the girl persisted with her catechism.

"None that I am aware of," replied Crane, suavely. "He is a very
ill-balanced and excitable young man."

Virginia's quick instincts recognized again the same barrier which,
with the people, with Wishkobun, with her father, had shut her so
effectively from the truth. Her power of femininity and position had
to give way before the man's fear for himself and of Galen Albret's
unexpressed wish. She asked a few more questions, received a few more
evasive replies, and left the little clergyman to recover as best he
might from a very trying evening.

Out in the night the girl hesitated in two minds as to what to do
next. She was excited, and resolved to finish the affair, but she
could not bring her courage to the point of questioning her father.
That the stranger was in antagonism to the Company, that he believed
himself to be in danger on that account, that he wanted succor, she
saw clearly enough. But the whole affair was vague, disquieting. She
wanted to see it plainly, know its reasons. And beneath her excitement
she recognized, with a catch of the breath, that she was afraid for
him. She had not time now to ask herself what it might mean; she only
realized the presence of the fact.

She turned instinctively in the direction of Doctor Cockburn's house.
Mrs. Cockburn was a plain little middle-aged woman with parted gray
hair and sweet, faded eyes. In the life of the place she was a
nonentity, and her tastes were homely and commonplace, but Virginia
liked her.

She proved to be at home, the Doctor still at his dispensary, which
was well. Virginia entered a small log room, passed through it
immediately to a larger papered room, and sat down in a musty red
arm-chair. The building was one of the old régime, which meant that
its floor was of wide and rather uneven painted boards, its ceiling
low, its windows small, and its general lines of an irregular and
sagging rule-of-thumb tendency. The white wall-paper evidently
concealed squared logs. The present inhabitants, being possessed at
once of rather homely tastes and limited facilities, had
over-furnished the place with an infinitude of little things--little
rugs, little tables, little knit doilies, little racks of photographs,
little china ornaments, little spidery what-nots, and shelves for
books.

Virginia seated herself, and went directly to the topic.

"Mrs. Cockburn," she said, "you have always been very good to me,
always, ever since I came here as a little girl. I have not always
appreciated it, I am afraid, but I am in great trouble, and I want
your help."

"What is it, dearie," asked the older woman, softly. "Of course I will
do anything I can."

"I want you to tell me what all this mystery is--about the man who
to-day arrived from Kettle Portage, I mean. I have asked everybody: I
have tried by all means in my power to get somebody somewhere to tell
me. It is maddening--and I have a special reason for wanting to know."

The older woman was already gazing at her through troubled eyes.

"It is a shame and a mistake to keep you so in ignorance!" she broke
out, "and I have said so always. There are many things you have the
right to know, although some of them would make you very unhappy--as
they do all of us poor women who have to live in this land of dread.
But in this I cannot, dearie."

Virginia felt again the impalpable shadow of truth escaping her.
Baffled, confused, she began to lose her self-control. A dozen times
to-day she had reached after this thing, and always her fingers had
closed on empty air. She felt that she could not stand the suspense of
bewilderment a single instant longer. The tears overflowed and rolled
down her cheeks unheeded.

"Oh, Mrs. Cockburn!" she cried. "Please! You do not know how dreadful
this thing has come to be to me just because it is made so
mysterious. Why has it been kept from me alone? It must have something
to do with me, and I can't stand this mystery, this double-dealing,
another minute. If you won't tell me, nobody will, and I shall go on
imagining--Oh, please have pity on me! I feel the shadow of a tragedy.
It comes out in everything, in everybody to whom I turn. I see it in
Wishkobun's avoidance of me, in my father's silence, in Mr. Crane's
confusion, in your reluctance--yes, in the very reckless insolence of
Mr. Trent himself!"--her voice broke slightly. "If you will not tell
me, I shall go direct to my father," she ended, with more firmness.

Mrs. Cockburn examined the girl's flushed face through kindly but
shrewd and experienced eyes. Then, with a caressing little murmur of
pity, she arose and seated herself on the arm of the red chair, taking
the girl's hand in hers.

"I believe you mean it," she said, "and I am going to tell you myself.
There is much sorrow in it for you; but if you go to your father it
will only make it worse. I am doing what I should not. It is shameful
that such things happen in this nineteenth century, but happen they
do. The long and short of it is that the Factors of this Post tolerate
no competition in the country, and when a man enters it for the
purpose of trading with the Indians, he is stopped and sent out."

"There is nothing very bad about that," said Virginia, relieved.

"No, my dear, not in that. But they say his arms and supplies are taken
from him, and he is given a bare handful of provisions. He has to make a
quick journey, and to starve at that. Once when I was visiting out at
the front, not many years ago, I saw one of those men--they called him
Jo Bagneau--and his condition was pitiable--pitiable!"

"But hardships can be endured. A man can escape."

"Yes," almost whispered Mrs. Cockburn, looking about her
apprehensively, "but the story goes that there are some cases--when
the man is an old offender, or especially determined, or so prominent
as to be able to interest the law--no one breathes of these cases
here--but--_he never gets out_!"

"What do you mean?" cried Virginia, harshly.

"One dares not mean such things; but they are so. The hardships of the
wilderness are many, the dangers terrible--what more natural than
that a man should die of them in the forest? It is no one's fault."

"What do you mean?" repeated Virginia; "for God's sake speak plainly!"

"I dare not speak plainer than I know; and no one ever really _knows_
anything about it--excepting the Indian who fires the shot, or who
watches the man until he dies of starvation," whispered Mrs. Cockburn.

"But--but!" cried the girl, grasping her companion's arm. "My father!
Does _he_ give such orders? _He?_"

"No orders are given. The thing is understood. Certain runners, whose
turn it is, shadow the Free Trader. Your father is not responsible; no
one is responsible. It is the policy."

"And this man--"

"It has gone about that he is to take _la Longue Traverse_. He knows
it himself."

"It is barbaric, horrible; it is murder."

"My dear, it is all that; but this is the country of dread. You have
known the soft, bright side always--the picturesque men, the laugh,
the song. If you had seen as much of the harshness of wilderness life
as a doctor's wife must you would know that when the storms of their
great passions rage it is well to sit quiet at your prayers."

The girl's eyes were wide-fixed, staring at this first reality of
life. A thousand new thoughts jostled for recognition. Suddenly her
world had been swept from beneath her. The ancient patriarchal, kindly
rule had passed away, and in its place she was forced to see a grim
iron bond of death laid over her domain. And her father--no longer the
grave, kindly old man--had become the ruthless tyrant. All these
bright, laughing _voyageurs_, playmates of her childhood, were in
reality executioners of a savage blood-law. She could not adjust
herself to it.

She got to her feet with an effort.

"Thank you, Mrs. Cockburn," she said, in a low voice. "I--I do not
quite understand. But I must go now. I must--I must see that my
father's room is ready for him," she finished, with the proud
defensive instinct of the woman who has been deeply touched. "You know
I always do that myself."

"Good-night, dearie," replied the older woman, understanding well the
girl's desire to shelter behind the commonplace. She leaned forward
and kissed her. "God keep and guide you. I hope I have done right."

"Yes," cried Virginia, with unexpected fire. "Yes, you did just right!
I ought to have been told long ago! They've kept me a perfect child to
whom everything has been bright and care-free and simple. I--I feel
that until this moment I have lacked my real womanhood!"

She bowed her head and passed through the log room into the outer air.

Her father, _her_ father, had willed this man's death, and so he was
to die! That explained many things--the young fellow's insolence, his
care-free recklessness, his passionate denunciation of the Reverend
Crane and the Reverend Crane's religion. He wanted one little
thing--the gift of a rifle wherewith to assure his subsistence should
he escape into the forest--and of all those at Conjuror's House to
whom he might turn for help, some were too hard to give it to him, and
some too afraid! He should have it! She, the daughter of her father,
would see to it that in this one instance her father's sin should
fail! Suddenly, in the white heat of her emotion, she realized why
these matters stirred her so profoundly, and she stopped short and
gasped with the shock of it. It did not matter that she thwarted her
father's will; it would not matter if she should be discovered and
punished as only these harsh characters could punish. For the brave
bearing, the brave jest, the jaunty facing of death, the tender, low
voice, the gay song, the aurora-lit moment of his summons--all these
had at last their triumph. She knew that she loved him; and that if he
were to die, she would surely die too.

And, oh, it must be that he loved her! Had she not heard it in the
music of his voice from the first?--the passion of his tones? the
dreamy, lyrical swing of his talk by the old bronze guns?

Then she staggered sharply, and choked back a cry. For out of her
recollections leaped two sentences of his--the first careless,
imprudent, unforgivable; the second pregnant with meaning. "_Ah, a
star shoots!_" he had said. "_That means a kiss!_" and again, to the
clergyman, "_I came here without the slightest expectation of getting
what I asked for. There is another way, but I hate to use it._"

She was the other way! She saw it plainly. He did not love her, but he
saw that he could fascinate her, and he hoped to use her as an aid to
his escape. She threw her head up proudly.

Then a man swung into view across the Northern Lights. Virginia
pressed back against the palings among the bushes until he should
have passed. It was Ned Trent, returning from a walk to the end of the
island. He was alone and unfollowed, and the girl realized with a
sudden grip at the heart that the wilderness itself was sufficient
safe-guard against a man unarmed and unequipped. It was not considered
worth while even to watch him. Should he escape, unarmed as he was,
sure death by starvation awaited him in the land of dread.

As he entered the settlement he struck up an air.

    _"Le fils du roi s'en va chassant,
    En roulant ma boule,
    Avec son grand fusil d'argent,
    Rouli roulant, ma boule roulant."_

Almost immediately a window slid back, and an exasperated voice cried
out:

"_Hólà_ dere, w'at one time dam fool you for mak' de sing so late!"

The voice went on imperturbably:

    "_Avec son grand fusil d'argent,
    En roulant ma boule,
    Visa le noir, tua le blanc,
    Rouli roulant, ma boule roulant_."

"_Sacrè!_" shrieked the habitant.

"Hello, Johnny Frenchman!" called Ned Trent, in his acid tones. "That
you? Be more polite, or I'll stand here and sing you the whole of it."

The window slammed shut.

Ned Trent took up his walk again toward some designated sleeping-place
of his own, his song dying into the distance.

    _"Visa le noir, tua le blanc,
    En roulant ma boule,
    O fils du roi, tu es mêchant!
    Rouli roulant, ma boule roulant."_

"And he can _sing_!" cried the girl bitterly to herself. "At such a
time! Oh, my dear God, help me, help me! I am the unhappiest girl
alive!"



_Chapter Eleven_


Virginia did not sleep at all that night. She was reaching toward her
new self. Heretofore she had ruled those about her proudly, secure in
her power and influence. Now she saw that all along her influence had
in not one jot exceeded that of the winsome girl. She had no real
power at all. They went mercilessly on in the grim way of their
fathers, dealing justice even-handed according to their own crude
conceptions of it, without thought of God or man. She turned hot all
over as she saw herself in this new light--as she saw those about her
indulgently smiling at her airs of the mistress of it. It angered
her--though the smile might be good-humored, even affectionate.

And she shrank into herself with utter loathing when she remembered
Ned Trent. There indeed her woman's pride was hard stricken. She
recalled with burning cheeks how his intense voice had stirred her;
how his wishes had compelled her; she shivered pitifully as she
remembered the warmth of his shoulder touching carelessly her own. If
he had come to her honestly and asked her aid, she would have given
it; but this underhand pretence at love! It was unworthy of him; and
it was certainly most unworthy of her. What must he think of her? How
he must be laughing at her--and hoping that his spell was working, so
that he could get the coveted rifle and the forty cartridges.

"I hate him!" she cried to herself, the backs of her long, slender
hands pressed against her eyes. She meant that she loved him, but for
the purposes in hand one would do as well as the other.

At earliest daylight she was up. Bathing her face and throat in cold
water, and hastily catching her beautiful light hair under a cap, she
slipped down stairs and out past the stockade to the point. There she
seated herself, a heavy shawl about her, and gave herself up to
reflection. She had approached silently, her moccasins giving no
sound. Presently she became aware that someone was there before her.
Looking toward the river she saw on the next level below her a man,
seated on a bowlder, and gazing to the south.

His very soul was in his eyes. Virginia gasped at the change in him
since last she had seen him. The gay, mocking demeanor which had
seemed an essential part of his very flesh and blood had fallen away
from him, leaving a sad and lofty dignity that ennobled his
countenance. The lines of his face were stern, of his mouth pathetic;
his eyes yearned. He stared toward the south with an almost mesmeric
intensity, as though he hoped by sheer longing to materialize a
vision. Tears sprang to the girl's eyes at the subtle pathos of his
attitude.

He stretched his arms wearily over his head, and sighed deeply and
looked up. His eyes rested on the girl without surprise; the
expression of his features did not change.

"Pardon me," he said, simply. "To-day is my last of plenty. I am up
enjoying it."

Virginia had anticipated the usual instantaneous transformation of his
manner when he should catch sight of her. Her resentment was
dispelled. In face of the vaster tragedies little considerations gave
way.

"Do you leave--to-day?" she asked, in a low voice.

"To-morrow morning, early," he corrected. "To-day I found my
provisions packed and laid at my door. It is a hint I know how to
take."

"You have everything you need?" asked the girl, with an assumption of
indifference.

He looked her in the eyes for a moment.

"Everything," he lied, calmly.

Virginia perceived that he lied, and her heart stood still with a
sudden hope that perhaps, at this eleventh hour, he might have
repented of his unworthy intentions toward herself. She leaned to him
over the edge of the little rise.

"Have you a rifle--for _la Longue Traverse_?" she inquired, with
meaning.

He stared at her a little the harder.

"Why--why, surely," he replied, in a tone less confident. "Nobody
travels without a rifle in the North."

She dropped swiftly down the slope and stood face to face with him.

"Listen," she began, in her superb manner. "I know all there is to
know. You are a Free Trader, and you are to be sent to your death. It
is murder, and it is done by my father." She held her head proudly,
but the notes of her voice were straining. "I knew nothing of this
yesterday. I was a foolish girl who thought all men were good and
just, and that all those whom I knew were noble. My eyes are open now.
I see injustice being done by my own household, and"--tears were
trembling near her lashes, but she blinked them back--"and I am no
longer a foolish girl! You need not try to deceive me. You must tell
me what I can do, for I cannot permit so great a wrong to be done by
my father without attempting to set it right." This was not what she
had intended to say, but suddenly the course was clear to her. The
influence of the man had again swept over her, drowning her will,
filling her with the old fear, which was now for the moment turned to
pride by the character of the situation.

But to her surprise the man was thinking of something else.

"Who told you?" he demanded, harshly. Then, without waiting for a
reply, "It was that little preacher; I'll have an interview with him!"

"No, no!" protested the girl. "It was not he. It was a friend. I had
the right to know."

"You had no right!" he cried, vehemently. "You and life should have
nothing to do with each other. There is a look in your eyes that was
not in them yesterday, and the one who put it there is not your
friend." He stood staring at her intently, as one who ponders what is
best to do. Then very quietly he took her hands and drew her to a
place beside him on the bowlder.

"I am going to tell you something, little girl," said he, "and you
must listen quietly to the end. Perhaps at the last you may see more
clearly than you do now.

"This old Company of yours has been established for a great many
years. Back in old days, over two centuries ago, it pushed up into
this wilderness to trade for its furs. That you know. And then it
explored ever farther to the west and the north, until its servants
stood on the shores of the Pacific and the stretches of the Arctic
Ocean. And its servants loved it. Enduring immense hardships, cut off
from their kind, outlining dimly with the eye of faith the structure
of a mighty power, they loved it always. Thousands of men were in its
employ, and so loyal were they that its secrets were safe and its
prestige was defended, often to a lonely death. I have known the
Company and its servants for a long time, and if I had leisure I could
instance a hundred examples of devotion and sacrifice beside which
mere patriotism would seem a little thing. Men who had no country
cleaved to her desolate posts, her lakes and rivers and forests; men
who had no home ties felt the tug of her wild life at their hearts;
men who had no God bowed in awe before her power and grandeur. The
Company was a living thing.

"Rivals attempted her supremacy, and were defeated by the
steadfastness of the men who received her meagre wages and looked to
her as their one ideal. Her explorers were the bravest, her traders
the most enterprising and single-minded, her factors and partners the
most capable and potent in all the world. No country, no leader, no
State ever received half the worship her sons gave her. The fierce
Nor'westers, the traders of Montreal, the Company of the X Y, Astor
himself, had to give way. For, although they were bold or reckless or
crafty or able, they had not the ideal which raises such qualities to
invincibility.

"And, little girl, nothing is wrong to men who have such an ideal
before them. They see but one thing, and all means are good that help
them to assure that one thing. They front the dangers, they overcome
the hardships, they crush the rivals. Bloody wars have taken place in
these forests, ruthless deeds have been done, but the men who
accomplished them held the deeds good. So for two hundred years, aided
by the charter from the king, they have made good their undisputed
right.

"Then the railroad entered the west. The charter of monopoly ran out.
Through the Nipissing, the Athabasca, the Edmonton, came the Free
Traders--men who traded independently. These the Company could not
control, so it competed--and to its credit its competition has held
its own. Even far into the Northwest, where the trails are long, the
Free Traders have established their chains of supplies, entering into
rivalry with the Company for a barter it has always considered its
right. The medicine has been bitter, but the servants of the Company
have adjusted themselves to the new conditions, and are holding their
own.

"But one region still remains cut off from the outside world by a
broad band of unexplored waste. The life here at Hudson's
Bay--although you may not know it--is exactly the same to-day that it
was two hundred years ago. And here the Company makes its stand for a
monopoly.

"At first it worked openly. But in the case of Guillaume Sayer, a
daring and pugnacious _mètis_, it got into trouble with the law. Since
that time it has wrapped itself in secrecy and mystery, carrying on
its affairs behind the screen of five hundred miles of forest. Here it
has still the power; no man can establish himself here, can even
travel here, without its consent, for it controls the food and the
Indians. The Free Trader enters, but he does not stay for long. The
Company's servants are mindful of their old fanatical ideal. Nothing
is ever known, no orders are ever given, but something happens, and
the man never ventures again.

"If he is an ordinary _mètis_ or Canadian, he emerges from the forest
starved, frightened, thankful. If his story is likely to be believed
in high places, he never emerges at all. The dangers of wilderness
travel are many: he succumbs to them. That is the whole story. Nothing
definite is known; no instances can be proved; your father denies the
legend and calls it a myth. The Company claims to be ignorant of it,
perhaps its greater officers really are, but the legend holds so good
that the journey has its name--_la Longue Traverse_.

"But remember this, no man is to blame--unless it is he who of
knowledge takes the chances. It is a policy, a growth of centuries, an
idea unchangeable to which the long services of many fierce and loyal
men have given substance. A Factor cannot change it. If he did, the
thing would be outside of nature, something not to be understood.

"I am here. I am to take _la Longue Traverse_. But no man is to blame.
If the scheme of the thing is wrong, it has been so from the very
beginning, from the time when King Charles set his signature to the
charter of unlimited authority. The history of a thousand men gives
the tradition power, gives it insistence. It is bigger than any one
individual. It is as inevitable as that water should flow down hill."

He had spoken quietly, but very earnestly, still holding her two
hands, and she had sat looking at him unblinking from eyes behind
which passed many thoughts. When he had finished, a short pause
followed, at the end of which she asked unexpectedly,

"Last evening you told me that you might come to me and ask me to
choose between my pity and what I might think to be my duty. What are
you going to ask of me?"

"Nothing. I spoke idle words."

"Last evening I overheard you demand something of Mr. Crane," she
pursued, without commenting on his answer. "When he refused you I
heard you say these words, 'Here is where I should have received aid;
I may have to get it where I should not.' What was the aid you asked
of him? and where else did you expect to get it?"

"The aid was something impossible to accord, and I did not expect to
get it elsewhere. I said that in order to induce him to help me."

A wonderful light sprang to the girl's eyes, but still she maintained
her level voice.

"You asked him for a rifle with which to escape. You expected to get
it of me. Deny it if you can."

Ned Trent looked at her keenly a moment, then dropped his eyes.

"It is true," said he.

"And the pity was to give you this weapon; and the duty was my duty to
my father's house."

"It is true," he repeated, dejectedly.

"And you lied to me when you said you had a rifle with which to
journey _la Longue Traverse_."

"That too is true," he acknowledged.

When next she spoke her voice was not quite so well controlled.

"Why did you not ask me, as you intended? Why did you tell me these
lies?"

The young man hesitated, looked her in the face, turned away, and
murmured,

"I could not."

"Why?" persisted the girl. "Why? You must tell me."

"Because," said Ned Trent--"because it could not be done. Every rifle
in the place is known. Because you would be found out in this, and I
do not know what your punishment might not be."

"You knew this before?" insisted Virginia, stonily.

"Yes."

"Then why did you change your mind?"

"When first I saw you by the gun," began Ned Trent, in a low voice, "I
was a desperate man, clutching at the slightest chance. The thought
crossed my mind then that I might use you. Then later I saw that I had
some influence over you, and I made my plan. But last night--"

"Yes, last night?" urged Virginia, softly.

"Last night I paced the island, and I found out many things. One of
them was that I could not."

"Even though this dreadful journey--"

"I would rather take my chances."

Again there was silence between them.

"It was a good lie," then said Virginia, gently--"a noble lie. And
what you have told me to comfort me about my father has been nobly
said. And I believe you, for I have known the truth about your fate."
He shut his lips grimly. "Why--why did you come?" she cried,
passionately. "Is the trade so good, are your needs then so great,
that you must run these perils?"

"My needs," he replied. "No; I have enough."

"Then why?" she insisted.

"Because that old charter has long since expired, and now this country
is as free for me as for the Company," he explained. "We are in a
civilized century, and no man has a right to tell me where I shall or
shall not go. Does the Company own the Indians and the creatures of
the woods?" Something in the tone of his voice brought her eyes
steadily to his for a moment.

"Is that all?" she asked at length.

He hesitated, looked away, looked back again.

"No, it is not," he confessed, in a low voice. "It is a thing I do not
speak of. My father was a servant of this Company, a good, true
servant. No man was more honest, more zealous, more loyal."

"I am sure of it," said Virginia, softly.

"But in some way that he never knew himself he made enemies in high
places. The cowards did not meet him man to man, and so he never knew
who they were. If he had, he would have killed them. But they worked
against him always. He was given hard posts, inadequate supplies, scant
help, and then he was held to account for what he could not do. Finally
he left the company in disgrace--undeserved disgrace. He became a Free
Trader in the days when to become a Free Trader was worse than attacking
a grizzly with cubs. In three years he was killed. But when I grew to be
a man"--he clenched his teeth--"by God! how I have _prayed_ to know who
did it." He brooded for a moment, then went on. "Still, I have
accomplished something. I have traded in spite of your factors in many
districts. One summer I pushed to the Coppermine in the teeth of them,
and traded with the Yellow Knives for the robes of the musk-ox. And they
knew me and feared my rivalry, these traders of the Company. No district
of the far North but has felt the influence of my bartering. The traders
of all districts--Fort au Liard, Lapierre's House, Fort Rae, Ile à la
Crosse, Portage la Loche, Lac la Biche, Jasper's House, the House of the
Touchwood Hills--all these, and many more, have heard of Ned Trent."

"Your father--you knew him well?"

"No, but I remember him--a tall, dark man, with a smile always in his
eyes and a laugh on his lips. I was brought up at a school in Winnipeg
under a priest. Two or three times in the year my father used to
appear for a few days. I remember well the last time I saw him. I was
about thirteen years old. 'You are growing to be a man,' said he;
'next year we will go out on the trail.' I never saw him again."

"What happened?"

"Oh, he was just killed," replied Ned Trent, bitterly.

The girl laid her hand on his arm with an appealing little gesture.

"I am so sorry," said she.

"I have no portrait of him," continued the Free Trader, after an
instant. "No gift from his hands; nothing at all of his but this."

He showed her an ordinary little silver match-safe such as men use in
the North country.

"They brought that to me at the last--the Indians who came to tell my
priest the news; and the priest, who was a good man, gave it to me. I
have carried it ever since."

Virginia took it reverently. To her it had all the largeness that
envelops the symbol of a great passion. After a moment she looked up
in surprise.

"Why!" she exclaimed, "this has a name carved on it!"

"Yes," he replied.

"But the name is Graehme Stewart."

"Of course I could not bear my father's name in a country where it was
well known," he explained.

"Of course," she agreed. Impulsively she raised her face to his, her
eyes shining. "To me all this is very fine," said she.

He smiled a little sadly. "At least you know why I came."

"Yes," she repeated, "I know why you came. But you are in trouble."

"The chances of war."

"And they have defeated you after all."

"I shall start on _la Longue Traverse_ singing 'Rouli roulant.' It's a
small defeat, that."

"Listen," said she, rapidly. "When I was quite a small girl Mr.
McTavish, of Rupert's House, gave me a little rifle. I have never used
it, because I do not care to shoot. That rifle has never been
counted, and my father has long since forgotten all about it. You must
take that, and escape to-night. I will let you have it on one
condition--that you give me your solemn promise never to venture into
this country again."

"Yes," he agreed, without enthusiasm nor surprise.

She smiled happily at his gloomy face and listless attitude.

"But I do not want to give up the little rifle entirely," she went on,
with dainty preciosity, watching him closely. "As I said, it was a
present, given to me when I was quite a small girl. You must return it
to me at Quebec, in August. Will you promise to do that?"

He wheeled on her swift as light, the eagerness flashing back into his
face.

"You are going to Quebec?" he cried.

"My father wishes me to. I have decided to do so. I shall start with
the Abítibi _brigade_ in July."

He leaped to his feet.

"I promise!" he exulted, "I promise! To-night, then! Bring the rifle
and the cartridges, and some matches, and a little salt. You must take
me across the river in a canoe, for I want them to guess at where I
strike the woods. I shall cover my trail. And with ten hours' start,
let them catch Ned Trent who can!"

She laughed happily.

"To-night, then. At the south of the island there is a trail, and at
the end of the trail a beach--"

"I know!" he cried.

"Meet me there as soon after dark as you can do so without danger."

He threw his hat into the air and caught it, his face boyishly
upturned. Again that something, so vaguely familiar, plucked at her
with its ghostly, appealing fingers. She turned swiftly, and seized
them, and so found herself in possession of a memory out of her
far-off childhood.

"I know you!" she cried. "I have seen you before this!"

He bent his puzzled gaze upon her.

"I was a very little girl," she explained, "and you but a lad. It was
at a party, I think, a great and brilliant party, for I remember many
beautiful women and fine men. You held me up in your arms for people
to see, because I was going on a long journey."

"I remember, of course I do!" he exclaimed.

A bell clanged, turning over and over, calling the Company's men to
their day.

"Farewell," she said, hurriedly. "To-night."

"To-night," he repeated.

She glided rapidly through the grass, noiseless in her moccasined
feet. And as she went she heard his voice humming soft and low,

    "_Isabeau s'y promène
    Le long de son jardin,
    Le long de son jardin,
    Sur le bord de l'île,
    Le long de son jardin_."

"How could he _help_ singing," murmured Virginia, fondly. "Ah, dear
Heaven, but I am the happiest girl alive!"

Such a difference can one night bring about.



_Chapter Twelve_


The day rose and flooded the land with its fuller life. All through
the settlement the Post Indians and half-breeds set about their tasks.
Some aided Sarnier with his calking of the bateaux; some worked in the
fields; some mended or constructed in the different shops. At eight
o'clock the bell rang again, and they ate breakfast. Then a group of
seven, armed with muzzle-loading "trade-guns" bound in brass, set out
for the marshes in hopes of geese. For the flight was arriving, and
the Hudson Bay man knows very well the flavor of goose-flesh, smoked,
salted, and barrelled.

Now the _voyageurs_ began to stroll into the sun. They were men of
leisure. Picturesque, handsome, careless, debonair, they wandered back
and forth, smoking their cigarettes, exhibiting their finery. Indian
women, wrinkled and careworn, plodded patiently about on various
businesses. Indian girls, full of fun and mischief, drifted here and
there in arm-locked groups of a dozen, smiling, whispering among
themselves, ready to collapse toward a common centre of giggles if
addressed by one of the numerous woods-dandies, Indian men stalked
singly, indifferent, stolid. Indian children of all sizes and degrees
of nakedness darted back and forth, playing strange games. The sound
of many voices rose across the air.

Once the voices moderated, when McDonald, the Chief Trader, walked
rapidly from the barracks building to the trading store; once they
died entirely into a hush of respect, when Galen Albret himself
appeared on the broad veranda of the factory. He stood for a
moment--hulked broad and black against the whitewash--his hands
clasped behind him, gazing abstractedly toward the distant bay. Then
he turned into the house to some mysterious and weighty business of
his own. The hubbub at once broke out again.

Now about the mouth of the long picketed lane leading to the massive
trading store gathered a silent group, bearing packs. These were
Indians from the more immediate vicinity, desirous of trading their
skins. After a moment McDonald appeared in the doorway, a hundred feet
away, and raised his hand. Two of the savages, and two only, trotted
down the narrow picket lane, their packs on their shoulders.

McDonald ushered them into a big square room, where the bales were
undone and spread abroad. Deftly, silently the Trader sorted the furs,
placing to one side or the other the "primes," "seconds," and "thirds"
of each species. For a moment he calculated. Then he stepped to a post
whereon hung long strings of pierced wooden counters, worn smooth by
use. Swiftly he told the strings over. To one of the Indians he gave
one with these words:

"Mu-hi-kun, my brother, here be pelts to the value of two hundred
'beaver.' Behold a string, then, of two hundred 'castors,' and in
addition I give my brother one fathom of tobacco."

The Indian calculated rapidly, his eye abstracted. He had known
exactly the value of his catch, and what he would receive for it in
"castors," but had hoped for a larger "present," by which the premium
on the standard price is measured.

"Ah hah," he exclaimed, finally, and stepped to one side.

"Sak-we-su, my brother," went on McDonald, "here be pelts to the value
of three hundred 'beaver.' Behold a string, then, of three hundred
'castors,' and because you have brought so fine a skin of the otter,
behold also a fathom of tobacco and a half sack of flour."

"Good!" ejaculated the Indian.

The Trader then led them to stairs, up which they clambered to where
Davis, the Assistant Trader, kept store. There, barred by a heavy
wooden grill from the airy loft filled with bright calicoes, sashes,
pails, guns, blankets, clothes, and other ornamental and useful
things, Sak-we-su and Mu-hi-kun made their choice, trading in the worn
wooden "castors" on the string. So much flour, so much tea, so much
sugar and powder and lead, so much in clothing. Thus were their simple
needs supplied for the year to come. Then the remainder they
squandered on all sorts of useless things--beads, silks, sashes,
bright handkerchiefs, mirrors. And when the last wooden "castor" was
in they went down stairs and out the picket lane, carrying their
lighter purchases, but leaving the larger as "debt," to be called for
when needed. Two of their companions mounted the stairs as they
descended; and two more passed them in the narrow picket lane. So the
trade went on.

At once Sak-we-su and Mu-hi-kun were surrounded. In detail they told
what they had done. Then in greater detail their friends told what
_they_ would have done, until after five minutes of bewildering advice
the disconsolate pair would have been only too glad to have exchanged
everything--if that had been allowed.

Now the bell rang again. It was "smoke time." Everyone quit work for a
half-hour. The sun climbed higher in the heavens. The laughing crews
of idlers sprawled in the warmth, gambling, telling stories, singing.
Then one might have heard all the picturesque songs of the Far
North--"A la claire Fontaine"; "Ma Boule Roulant"; "Par derrièr'
chez-mon Père"; "Isabeau s'y promène"; "P'tite Jeanneton"; "Luron,
Lurette"; "Chante, Rossignol, chante"; the ever-popular "Malbrouck";
"C'est la belle Françoise"; "Alouette"; or the beautiful and tender
"La Violette Dandine." They had good voices, these _voyageurs_, with
the French artistic instinct, and it was fine to hear them.

At noon the squaws set out to gather canoe gum on the mainland. They
sat huddled in the bottom of their old and leaky canoe, reaching far
over the sides to dip their paddles, irregularly placed, silent,
mysterious. They did not paddle with the unison of the men, but each
jabbed a little short stroke as the time suited her, so that always
some paddles were rising and some falling. Into the distance thus they
flapped like wounded birds; then rounded a bend, and were gone.

The sun swung over and down the slope. Dinner time had passed; "smoke
time" had come again. Squaws brought the first white-fish of the
season to the kitchen door of the factory, and Matthews raised the
hand of horror at the price they asked. Finally he bought six of about
three pounds each, giving in exchange tea to the approximate value of
twelve cents. The Indian women went away, secretly pleased over their
bargain.

Down by the Indian camp suddenly broke the roar of a dog-fight. Two of
the sledge _giddés_ had come to teeth, and the friends of both were
assisting the cause. The idlers went to see, laughing, shouting,
running impromptu races. They sat on their haunches and cheered
ironically, and made small bets, and encouraged the frantic old squaw
hags who, at imminent risk, were trying to disintegrate the snarling,
rolling mass. Over in the high log stockade wherein the Company's
sledge animals were confined, other wolf-dogs howled mournfully,
desolated at missing the fun.

And always the sun swung lower and lower toward the west, until
finally the long northern twilight fell, and the girl in the little
white bedroom at the factory bathed her face and whispered for the
hundredth time to her beating heart:

"Night has come!"



_Chapter Thirteen_


That evening at dinner Virginia studied her father's face again. She
saw the square settled line of the jaw under the beard, the unwavering
frown of the heavy eyebrows, the unblinking purpose of the cavernous,
mysterious eyes. Never had she felt herself very close to this silent,
inscrutable man, even in his moments of more affectionate expansion.
Now a gulf divided them.

And yet, strangely enough, she experienced no revulsion, no horror, no
recoil even. He had merely become more aloof, more incomprehensible;
his purposes vaster, less susceptible to the grasp of such as she.
There may have been some basis for this feeling, or it may have been
merely the reflex glow of a joy that made all other things seem
insignificant.

As soon as might be after the meal Virginia slipped away, carrying the
rifle, the cartridges, the matches, and the salt. She was cruelly
frightened.

The night was providentially dark. No aurora threw its splendor across
the dome, and only a few rare stars peeped between the light cirrus
clouds. Virginia left behind her the buildings of the Post, she passed
in safety the tin-steepled chapel and the church house; there remained
only the Indian camp between her and the woods trail. At once the dogs
began to bark and howl, the fierce _giddés_ lifting their pointed
noses to the sky. The girl hurried on, swinging far to the right
through the grass. To her relief the camp did not respond to the
summons. An old crone or so appeared in the flap of a teepee, eyes
dazzled, to throw uselessly a billet of wood or a volley of Cree abuse
at the animals nearest. In a moment Virginia entered the trail.

Here was no light at all. She had to proceed warily, feeling with her
moccasins for the beaten pathway, to which she returned with infinite
caution whenever she trod on grass or leaves. Though her sight was
dulled, her hearing was not. A thousand scurrying noises swirled about
her; a multitude of squeaks, whistles, snorts, and whines attested
that she disturbed the forest creatures at their varied businesses;
and underneath spoke an apparent dozen of terrifying voices which were
in reality only the winds and the trees. Virginia knew that these
things were not dangerous--that daylight would show them to be only
deer-mice, hares, weasels, bats, and owls--nevertheless, they had
their effect. For about her was cloying velvet blackness--not the
closed-in blackness of a room, where one feels the embrace of the four
walls, but the blackness of infinite space through which sweep
mysterious currents of air. After a long time she turned sharp to the
left. After a long time more she perceived a faint, opalescent glimmer
in the distance ahead. This she knew to be the river.

She felt her way onward, still cautiously; then she choked back a
scream and dropped her burden with a clatter to the ground. A dark
figure seemed to have risen mysteriously at her side.

"I didn't mean to frighten you," said Ned Trent, in guarded tones. "I
heard you coming. I thought you could hear me."

He picked up the fallen articles, running his hands over them rapidly.

"Good," he whispered. "I got some moccasins to-day--traded a few
things I had in my pockets for them. I'm fixed."

"Have you a canoe?" she asked.

"Yes--here on the beach."

He preceded her down the few remaining yards of the trail. She
followed, already desolated at the thought of parting, for the
wilderness was very big. The bulk of the man partly blotted out the
lucent spot where the river was--now his arm, now his head, now the
breadth of his shoulders. This silhouette of him was dear to her, the
sound of his movements, the faint stir of his breathing borne to her
on the light breeze. Virginia's tender heart almost overflowed with
longing and fear for him.

They emerged on a little slope and at once pushed the canoe into the
current.

She accepted the aid of his hand for a moment, and sank to her place,
facing him. He spurned lightly the shore, and so they were adrift.

In a moment they seemed to be floating on a vast vapor of night,
infinitely remote from anywhere, surrounded by the silence that might
have been before the world's beginning. A faint splash could have been
a muskrat near at hand or a caribou far away. The paddle rose and
dipped with a faint _swish, swish_, and the steersman's twist of it
was taken up by the man's strong wrist so it did not click against the
gunwale; the bow of the craft divided the waters with a murmuring so
faint as to seem but the echo of a silence. Neither spoke. Virginia
watched him, her heart too full for words; watched the full swing of
his strong shoulders, the balance of his body at the hips, the poise
of his head against the dull sky. In a moment more the parting would
have to come. She dreaded it, and yet she looked forward to it with a
hungry joy. Then he would say what she had seen in his eyes; then he
would speak; then she would hear the words that should comfort her in
the days of waiting. For a woman lives much for the present, and the
moment's word is an important thing.

The man swung his paddle steadily, throwing into the strokes a wanton
exuberance that showed how high his spirits ran. After a time, when
they were well out from the shore, he took a deep breath of delight.

"Ah, you don't know how happy I am," he exulted, "you don't know! To
be free, to play the game, to match my wits against theirs--ah, that
is life!"

"I am sorry to see you go," she murmured, "very sorry. The days will
be full of terror until I know you are safe."

"Oh, yes," he answered; "but I'll get there, and I shall tell it all
to you at Quebec--at Quebec in August. It will be a brave tale! You
will be there--surely?"

"Yes," said the girl, softly; "I will be there--surely."

"Good! Feel the wind on your cheek? It is from the Southland, where I
am going. I have ventured--and I have not lost! It is something not to
lose, when one has ventured against many. They have my goods--but
I--"

"You?" repeated Virginia, as he hesitated.

"Ah, I don't go back empty-handed!" he cried. Her heart stood still,
then leaped in anticipation of what he would say. Her soul hungered
for the words, the words that should not only comfort her, but should
be to her the excuse for many things. She saw him--shadowy, graceful
against the dim gray of the river and sky--lean ever so slightly
toward her. But then he straightened again to his paddle, and
contented himself with repeating merely: "Quebec--in August, then."

The canoe grated. Ned Trent with an exclamation drove his paddle into
the clay.

"Lucky the bottom is soft here," said he; "I did not realize we were
so close ashore."

He drew the canoe up on the shelving beach, helped Virginia out, took
his rifle, and so stood ready to depart.

"Leave the canoe just where we got in," he advised; "it is around the
point, you see, and that may fool them a little."

"You are going," she said, dully. Then she came close to him and
looked up at him with her wonderful eyes. "Good-by."

"Good-by," said he.

Was this to be all? Had he nothing more to tell her? Was the word to
lack, the word she needed so much? She had given herself unreservedly
into this man's hands, and at parting he had no more to say to her
than "Good-by." Virginia's eyes were tearful, but she would not let
him know that. She felt that her heart would break.

"Well, good-by," he said again after a moment, which he had spent
inspecting the heavens. "Ah, you don't _know_ what it is to be free!
By to-morrow morning I shall be half-way to the Mattágami. I can
hardly wait to see it, for then I am safe! And then next day--why,
next day they won't know which of a dozen ways I've gone!" He was
full of the future, man-fashion.

He took her hands, leaned over, and lightly kissed her on the mouth.
Instantly Virginia became wildly and unreasonably angry. She could not
have told herself why, but it was the lack of the word she had wanted
so much, the pain of feeling that he could go like that, the thwarted
bitterness of a longing that had grown stronger than she had even yet
realized.

Instinctively she leaped into the canoe, sending it spinning from the
bank.

"Ah, you had no _right_ to do that!" she cried. "I gave you no
_right_!"

Then, heedless of what he was saying, she began to paddle straight
from the shore, weeping bitterly, her face upraised, her hair in her
eyes, and the tears coursing unheeded down her cheeks.



_Chapter Fourteen_


Slower and slower her paddle dipped, lower and lower hung her head,
faster and faster flowed her tears. The instinctive recoil, the
passionate resentment had gone. In the bitterness of her spirit she
knew not what she thought except that she would give her soul to see
him again, to feel the touch of his lips once more. For she could not
make herself believe that this would ever come to pass. He had gone
like a phantom, like a dream, and the mists of life had closed about
him, showing no sign. He had vanished, and at once she seemed to know
that the episode was finished.

The canoe whispered against the soft clay bottom. She had arrived,
though how the crossing had been made she could not have told. Slowly
and sorrowfully she disembarked. Languidly she drew the light craft
beyond the stream's eager fingers. Then, her forces at an end, she
huddled down on the ground and gave herself up to sorrow.

The life of the forest went on as though she were not there. A big owl
far off said hurriedly his _whoo-whoo-whoo_, as though he had the
message to deliver and wanted to finish the task. A smaller owl near
at hand cried _ko-ko-ko-oh_ with the intonation of a tin horn. Across
the river a lynx screamed, and was answered at once by the ululations
of wolves. On the island the _giddés_ howled defiance. Then from
above, clear, spiritual, floated the whistle of shore birds arriving
from the south. Close by sounded a rustle of leaves, a sharp squeak;
a tragedy had been consummated, and the fierce little mink stared
malevolently across the body of his victim at the motionless figure on
the beach.

Virginia, drowned in grief, knew of none of these things. She was
seeing again the clear brown face of the stranger, his curly brown
hair, his steel eyes, and the swing of his graceful figure. Now he
fronted the wondering _voyageurs_, one foot raised against the bow of
the _brigade_ canoe; now he stood straight and tall against the light
of the sitting-room door; now he emptied the vials of his wrath and
contempt on Archibald Crane's reverend head; now he passed in the
darkness, singing gayly the _chanson de canôt_. But more fondly she
saw him as he swept his hat to the ground on discovering her by the
guns, as he bent his impassioned eyes on her in the dim lamplight of
their first interview, as he tossed his hat aloft in the air when he
had understood that she would be in Quebec. She hugged the visions to
her, and wept over them softly, for she was now sure she would never
see him again.

And she heard his voice, now laughing, now scornful, now mocking, now
indignant, now rich and solemn with feeling. He flouted the people, he
turned the shafts of his irony on her father, he scathed the minister,
he laughed at Louis Placide awakened from his sleep, he sang, he told
her of the land of desolation, he pleaded. She could hear him calling
her name--although he had never spoken it--in low, tender tones,
"Virginia! Virginia!" over and over again softly, as though his soul
were crying through his lips.

Then somehow, in a manner not to be comprehended, it was borne in on
her consciousness that he was indeed near her, and that he was indeed
calling her name. And at once she made him out, standing dripping on
the beach. A moment later she was in his arms.

"Ah!" he cried, in gladness; "you are here!"

He crushed her hungrily to him, unmindful of his wet clothes, kissing
her eyes, her cheeks, her lips, her chin, even the fragrant corner of
her throat exposed by the collar of her gown. She did not struggle.

"Oh!" she murmured, "my dear, my dear! Why did you come back? Why did
you come?"

"Why did I come?" he repeated, passionately. "Why did I come? Can you
ask that? How could I help but come? You must have known I would come.
Surely you must have known! Didn't you hear me calling you when you
paddled away? I came to get the right. I came to get your promise,
your kisses, to hear you say the word, to get you! I thought you
understood. It was all so clear to me. I thought you knew. That was
why I was so glad to go, so eager to get away that I could not even
realize I was parting from you--so I could the sooner reach
Quebec--reach you! Don't you see how I felt? All this present was
merely something to get over, to pass by, to put behind us until I got
to Quebec in August--and you. I looked forward so eagerly to that, I
was so anxious to get away, I was desirous of hastening on to the time
when things could be _sure_! Don't you understand?"

"Yes, I think I do," replied the girl, softly.

"And I thought of course you knew. I should not have kissed you
otherwise."

"How could I know?" she sighed. "You said nothing, and, oh! I _wanted_
so to hear!"

And singularly enough he said nothing now, but they stood facing each
other hand in hand, while the great vibrant life they were now
touching so closely filled their hearts and eyes, and left them faint.
So they stood for hours or for seconds, they could not tell,
spirit-hushed, ecstatic. The girl realized that they must part.

"You must go," she whispered brokenly, at last. "I do not want you to,
but you must."

She smiled up at him with trembling lips that whispered to her soul
that she must be brave.

"Now go," she nerved herself to say, releasing her hands.

"Tell me," he commanded.

"What?" she asked.

"What I most want to hear."

"I can tell you many things," said she, soberly, "but I do not know
which of them you want to hear. Ah, Ned, I can tell you that you have
come into a girl's life to make her very happy and very much afraid.
And that is a solemn thing; is it not?"

"Yes," said he.

"And I can tell you that this can never be undone. That is a solemn
thing, too, is it not?"

"Yes," said he.

"And that, according as you treat her, this girl will believe or not
believe in the goodness of all men or the badness of all men. Ah, Ned,
a woman's heart is fragile, and mine is in your keeping."

Her face was raised bravely and steadily to his. In the starlight it
shone white and pathetic. And her eyes were two liquid wells of
darkness in the shadow, and her half-parted lips were wistful and
childlike.

The man caught both her hands, again looking down on her. Then he
answered her, solemnly and humbly.

"Virginia," said he, "I am setting out on a perilous journey. As I
deal with you, may God deal with me."

"Ah, that is as I like you," she breathed.

"Good-by," said he.

She raised her lips of her own accord, and he kissed them reverently.

"Good-by," she murmured.

He turned away with an effort and ran down the beach to the canoe.

"Good-by, good-by," she murmured, under her breath. "Ah, good-by! I
love you! Oh, I do love you!"

[Illustration: "GO HOME BEFORE THEY SEARCH THE WOODS." Scene from the
play.]

Then suddenly from the bushes leaped dark figures. The still night was
broken by the sound of a violent scuffle--blows--a fall. She heard Ned
Trent's voice calling to her from the _mêlée_.

"Go back at once!" he commanded, clearly and steadily. "You can do no
good. I order you to go home before they search the woods."

But she crouched in dazed terror, her pupils wide to the dim light.
She saw them bind him, and stand waiting; she saw a canoe glide out
of the darkness; she saw the occupants of the canoe disembark; she saw
them exhibit her little rifle, and heard them explain in Cree, that
they had followed the man swimming. Then she knew that the cause was
lost, and fled as swiftly as she could through the forest.



_Chapter Fifteen_


Galen Albret had chosen to interrogate his recaptured prisoner alone.
He sat again in the arm-chair of the Council Room. The place was
flooded with sun. It touched the high-lights of the time-darkened,
rough furniture, it picked out the brasses, it glorified the
whitewashed walls. In its uncompromising illumination Me-en-gan, the
bowsman, standing straight and tall and silent by the door, studied
his master's face and knew him to be deeply angered.

For Galen Albret was at this moment called upon to deal with a problem
more subtle than any with which his policy had been puzzled in thirty
years. It was bad enough that, in repeated defiance of his authority,
this stranger should persist in his attempt to break the Company's
monopoly; it was bad enough that he had, when captured, borne himself
with so impudent an air of assurance; it was bad enough that he should
have made open love to the Factor's daughter, should have laughed
scornfully in the Factor's very face. But now the case had become
grave. In some mysterious manner he had succeeded in corrupting one of
the Company's servants. Treachery was therefore to be dealt with.

Some facts Galen Albret had well in hand. Others eluded him
persistently. He had, of course, known promptly enough of the
disappearance of a canoe, and had thereupon dispatched his Indians to
the recapture. The Reverend Archibald Crane had reported that two
figures had been seen in the act of leaving camp, one by the river, the
other by the Woods Trail. But here the Factor's investigations
encountered a check. The rifle brought in by his Indians, to his
bewilderment, he recognized not at all. His repeated cross-questionings,
when they touched on the question of Ned Trent's companion, got no
farther than the Cree wooden stolidity. No, they had seen no one,
neither presence, sign, nor trail. But Galen Albret, versed in the
psychology of his savage allies, knew they lied. He suspected them of
clan loyalty to one of their own number; and yet they had never failed
him before. Now, his heavy revolver at his right hand, he interviewed
Ned Trent, alone, except for the Indian by the portal.

As with the Indians, his cross-examination had borne scant results.
The best of his questions but involved him in a maze of baffling
surmises. Gradually his anger had mounted, until now the Indian at the
door knew by the wax-like appearance of the more prominent places on
his deeply carved countenance that he had nearly reached the point of
outbreak.

Swiftly, like the play of rapiers, the questions and answers broke
across the still room.

"You had aid," the Factor asserted, positively.

"You think so?"

"My Indians say you were alone. But where did you get this rifle?"

"I stole it."

"You were alone?"

Ned Trent paused for a barely appreciable instant. It was not possible
that the Indians had failed to establish the girl's presence, and he
feared a trap. Then he caught the expressive eye of Me-en-gan at the
door. Evidently Virginia had friends.

"I was alone," he repeated, confidently.

"That is a lie. For though my Indians were deceived, two people were
observed by my clergyman to leave the Post immediately before I sent
out to your capture. One rounded the island in a canoe; the other took
the Woods Trail."

"Bully for the Church," replied Trent, imperturbably. "Better promote
him to your scouts."

"Who was that second person?"

"Do you think I will tell you?"

"I think I'll find means to make you tell me!" burst out the Factor.

Ned Trent was silent.

"If you'll tell me the name of that man I'll let you go free. I'll
give you a permit to trade in the country. It touches my
authority--my discipline. The affair becomes a precedent. It is
vital."

Ned Trent fixed his eyes on the bay and hummed a little air, half
turning his shoulder to the older man.

The latter's face blazed with suppressed fury. Twice his hand rested
almost convulsively on the butt of his heavy revolver.

"Ned Trent," he cried, harshly, at last, "pay attention to me. I've
had enough of this. I swear if you do not tell me what I want to know
within five minutes, I'll hang you to-day!"

The young man spun on his heel.

"Hanging!" he cried. "You cannot mean that?"

The Free Trader measured him up and down, saw that his purpose was
sincere, and turned slowly pale under the bronze of his out-of-door
tan. Hanging is always a dreadful death, but in the Far North it
carries an extra stigma of ignominy with it, inasmuch as it is
resorted to only with the basest malefactors. Shooting is the usual
form of execution for all but the most despicable crimes. He turned
away with a little gesture.

"Well!" cried Albret.

Ned Trent locked his lips in a purposeful straight line of silence. To
such an outrage there could be nothing to say. The Factor jerked his
watch to the table.

"I said five minutes," he repeated. "I mean it."

[Illustration: "GO TO THE DEVIL!" Scene from the play.]

The young man leaned against the side of the window, his arms folded,
his back to the room. Outside, the varied life of the Post went
forward under his eyes. He even noted with a surface interest the fact
that out across the river a loon was floating, and remarked that
never before had he seen one of those birds so far north. Galen Albret
struck the table with the flat of his hand.

"Done!" he cried, "This is the last chance I shall give you. Speak at
this instant or accept the consequences!"

Ned Trent turned sharply, as though breaking a thread that bound him
to the distant prospect beyond the window. For an instant he stared
enigmatically at his opponent. Then in the sweetest tones,

"Oh, go to the devil!" said he, and began to walk deliberately toward
the older man.

There lay between the window and the head of the table perhaps a dozen
ordinary steps, for the room was large. The young man took them
slowly, his eyes fixed with burning intensity on the seated figure,
the muscles of his locomotion contracting and relaxing with the
smooth, stealthy continuity of a cat. Galen Albret again laid hand on
his revolver.

"Come no nearer," he commanded.

Me-en-gan left the door and glided along the wall. But the table
intervened between him and the Free Trader.

The latter paid no attention to the Factor's command. Galen Albret
suddenly raised his weapon from the table.

"Stop, or I'll fire!" he cried, sharply.

"I mean just that," said Ned Trent between his clenched teeth.

But ten feet separated the two men. Galen Albret levelled the
revolver. Ned Trent, watchful, prepared to spring. Me-en-gan, near the
foot of the table, gathered himself for attack.

Then suddenly the Free Trader relaxed his muscles, straightened his
back, and returned deliberately to the window. Facing about in
astonishment to discover the reason for this sudden change of
decision, the other two men looked into the face of Virginia Albret,
standing in the doorway of the other room.

"Father!" she cried.

"You must go back," said Ned Trent, speaking clearly and collectedly,
in the hope of imposing his will on her obvious excitement. "This is
not an affair in which you should interfere. Galen Albret, send her
away."

The Factor had turned squarely in his heavy arm-chair to regard the
girl, a frown on his brows.

"Virginia," he commanded, in deliberate, stern tones of authority,
"leave the room. You have nothing to do with this case, and I do not
desire your interference."

Virginia stepped bravely beyond the portals, and stopped. Her fingers
were nervously interlocked, her lip trembled, in her cheeks the color
came and went, but her eyes met her father's, unfaltering.

"I have more to do with it than you think," she replied.

Instantly Ned Trent was at the table. "I really think this has gone
far enough," he interposed. "We have had our interview, and come to a
decision. Miss Albret must not be permitted to exaggerate a slight
sentiment of pity into an interest in my affairs. If she knew that
such a demonstration only made it worse for me I am sure she would say
no more." He looked at her appealingly across the Factor's shoulder.

Me-en-gan was already holding open the door. "You come," he smiled,
beseechingly.

But the Factor's suspicions were aroused.

[Illustration: "I HAVE MORE TO DO WITH IT THAN YOU THINK!" Scene from
the play.]

"There is something in this," he decided. "I think you may stay,
Virginia."

"You are right," broke in the young man, desperately. "There is
something in it. Miss Albret knows who gave me the rifle, and she was
about to inform you of his identity. There is no need in subjecting
her to that distasteful ordeal. I am now ready to confess to you. I
beg you will ask her to leave the room."

Galen Albret, in the midst of these warring intentions, had sunk into
his customary impassive calm. The light had died from his eyes, the
expression from his face, the energy from his body. He sat, an inert
mass, void of initiative, his intelligence open to what might be
brought to his notice.

"Virginia, this is true?" his heavy, dead voice rumbled through his
beard. "You know who aided this man?"

Ned Trent mutely appealed to her; her glance answered his.

"Yes, father," she replied.

"Who?"

"I did."

A dead silence fell on the room. Galen Albret's expression and
attitude did not change. Through dull, lifeless eyes, from behind the
heavy mask of his waxen face and white beard, he looked steadily out
upon nothing. Along either arm of the chair stretched his own arms
limp and heavy with inertia. In suspense the other three inmates of
the place watched him, waiting for some change. It did not come.
Finally his lips moved.

"You?" he muttered, questioningly.

"I," she repeated.

Another silence fell.

"Why?" he asked at last.

"Because it was an unjust thing. Because we could not think of taking
a life in that way, without some reason for it."

"Why?" he persisted, taking no account of her reply.

Virginia let her gaze slowly rest on the Free Trader, and her eyes
filled with a world of tenderness and trust.

"Because I love him," said she, softly.



_Chapter Sixteen_


After an instant Galen Albret turned slowly his massive head and
looked at her. He made no other movement, yet she staggered back as
though she had received a violent blow on the chest.

"Father!" she gasped.

Still slowly, gropingly, he arose to his feet, holding tight to the
edge of the table. Behind him unheeded the rough-built arm-chair
crashed to the floor. He stood there upright and motionless, looking
straight before him, his face formidable. At first his speech was
disjointed. The words came in widely punctuated gasps. Then, as the
wave of his emotion rolled back from the poise into which the first
shock of anger had thrown it, it escaped through his lips in a
constantly increasing stream of bitter words.

"You--you love him," he cried. "You--my daughter! You have been--a
traitor--to me! You have dared--dared--deny that which my whole life
has affirmed! My own flesh and blood--when I thought the nearest
_mètis_ of them all more loyal! You love this man--this man who has
insulted me, mocked me! You have taken his part against me! You have
deliberately placed yourself in the class of those I would hang for
such an offence! If you were not my daughter I would hang you. Hang my
own child!" Suddenly his rage flared. "You little fool! Do you dare
set your judgment against mine? Do you dare interfere where I think
well? Do you dare deny my will? By the eternal, I'll show you, old as
you are, that you have still a father! Get to your room! Out of my
sight!" He took two steps forward, and so his eye fell on Ned Trent.
He uttered a scream of rage, and reached for the pistol. Fortunately
the abruptness of his movement when he arose had knocked it to the
floor, so now in the blindness of a red anger he could not see it. He
shrieked out an epithet and jumped forward, his arm drawn to strike.
Ned Trent leaped back into an attitude of defence.

All three of those present had many times seen Galen Albret possessed
by his noted fits of anger, so striking in contrast to his ordinary
contained passivity. But always, though evidently in a white heat of
rage and given to violent action and decision, he had retained the
clearest command of his faculties, issuing coherent and dreaded
orders to those about him. Now he had become a raging wild beast. And
for the spectators the sight had all the horror of the unprecedented.

But the younger man, too, had gradually heated to the point where his
ordinary careless indifference could give off sparks. The interview
had been baffling, the threats real and unjust, the turn of affairs
when Virginia Albret entered the room most exasperating on the side of
the undesirable and unforeseen. In foiled escape, in thwarted
expedient, his emotions had been many times excited, and then eddied
back on themselves. The potentialities of as blind an anger as that of
Galen Albret were in him. It only needed a touch to loose the flood.
The physical threat of a blow supplied that touch. As the two men
faced each other both were ripe for the extreme of recklessness.

But while Galen Albret looked to nothing less than murder, the
Free-Trader's individual genius turned to dead defiance and resistance
of will. While Galen Albret's countenance reflected the height of
passion, Trent was as smiling and cool and debonair as though he had
at that moment received from the older man an extraordinary and
particular favor. Only his eyes shot a baleful blue flame, and his
words, calmly enough delivered, showed the extent to which his passion
had cast policy to the winds.

"Don't go too far! I warn you!" said he.

As though the words had projected him bodily forward, Galen Albret
sprang to deliver his blow. The Free Trader ducked rapidly, threw his
shoulder across the middle of the older man's body, and by the very
superiority of his position forced his antagonist to give ground. That
the struggle would have then continued body to body there can be no
doubt, had it not been for the fact that the Factor's retrogressive
movement brought his knees sharply against the edge of a chair
standing near the side of the table. Albret lost his balance, wavered,
and finally sat down violently. Ned Trent promptly pinned him by the
shoulder into powerless immobility. Me-en-gan had possessed himself of
the fallen pistol, but beyond keeping a generally wary eye out for
dangerous developments, did not offer to interfere. Your Indian is in
such a crisis a disciplinarian, and he had received no orders.

"Now," said Ned Trent, acidly, "I think this will stop right here. You
do not cut a very good figure, my dear sir," he laughed a little.
"You haven't cut a very good figure from the beginning, you know. You
forbade me to do various things, and I have done them all. I traded
with your Indians. I came and went in your country. Do you think I
have not been here often before I was caught? And you forbade me to
see your daughter again. I saw her that very evening, and the next
morning and the next evening."

He stood, still holding Galen Albret immovably in the chair, looking
steadily and angrily into the Factor's eyes, driving each word home
with the weight of his contained passion. The girl touched his arm.

"Hush! oh, hush!" she cried in a panic. "Do not anger him further!"

"When you forbade me to make love to her," he continued, unheeding, "I
laughed at you." With a sudden, swift motion of his left arm he drew
her to him and touched her forehead with his lips. "Look! Your
commands have been rather ridiculous, sir. I seem to have had the
upper hand of you from first to last. Incidentally you have my life.
Oh, welcome! That is small pay and little satisfaction."

He threw himself from the Factor and stepped back.

Galen Albret sat still without attempting to renew the struggle. The
enforced few moments of inaction had restored to him his self-control.
He was still deeply angered, but the insanity of rage had left him.
Outwardly he was himself again. Only a rapid heaving of his chest
answered Ned Trent's quick breathing, as the two men glared defiantly
at each other in the pause that followed.

"Very well, sir," said the Factor, curtly, at last. "Your time is
over. I find it unnecessary to hang you. You will start on your
_Longue Traverse_ to-day."

"Oh!" cried Virginia, in a low voice of agony, and fluttered to her
lover's side.

"Hush! hush!" he soothed her. "There is a chance."

"You think so?" broke in Galen Albret, harshly. And looking at his set
face and blazing eyes, they saw that there was no chance. The Free
Trader shrugged his shoulders.

"You are going to do this thing, father," appealed Virginia, "after
what I have told you?"

"My mind is made up."

"I shall not survive him, father!" she threatened, in a low voice.
Then, as the Factor did not respond, "Do not misunderstand me. I do
not intend to survive him."

"Silence! silence! silence!" cried Galen Albret, in a crescendo
outburst. "Silence! I will not be gainsaid! You have made your choice!
You are no longer a daughter of mine!"

"Father!" cried Virginia, faintly, her lips going pale.

"Don't speak to me! Don't look at me! Get out of here! Get out of the
place! I won't have you here another day--another hour! By--"

The girl hesitated for a moment, then ran to him, sinking on her
knees, and clasping his hand.

"Father," she pleaded, "you are not yourself. This has been very
trying to you. To-morrow you will be sorry. But then it will be too
late. Think, while there is yet time. He has not committed a crime.
You yourself told me he was a man of intelligence and daring--a
gentleman; and surely, though he has been hasty, he has acted with a
brave spirit through it all. See, he will promise you to go away
quietly, to say nothing of all this, never to come into this country
again without your permission. He will do this if I ask him, for he
loves me. Look at me, father. Are you going to treat your little girl
so--your Virginia? You have never refused me anything before. And this
is the greatest thing in all my life." She held his hand to her cheek
and stroked it, murmuring little feminine, caressing phrases, secure
in her power of witchery, which had never failed her before. The sound
of her own voice reassured her, the quietude of the man she pleaded
with. A lifetime of petting, of indulgence, threw its soothing
influence over her perturbation, convincing her that somehow all this
storm and stress must be phantasmagoric--a dream from which she was
even now awakening into a clearer day of happiness. "For you love me,
father," she concluded, and looked up daintily, with a pathetic,
coquettish tilt of her fair head, to peer into his face.

Galen Albret snarled like a wild beast, throwing aside the girl, as he
did the chair in which he had been sitting. Ned Trent caught her,
reeling, in his arms.

For, as is often the case with passionate but strong temperaments,
though the Factor had attained a certain calm of control, the turmoil
of his deeper anger had not been in the least stilled. Over it a crust
of determination had formed--the determination to make an end by the
directest means in his autocratic power of this galling opposition.
The girl's pleading, instead of appealing to him, had in reality but
stirred his fury the more profoundly. It had added a new fuel element
to the fire. Heretofore his consciousness had felt merely the
thwarting of his pride, his authority, his right to loyalty. Now his
daughter's entreaty brought home to him the bitter realization that he
had been attained on another side--that of his family affection. This
man had also killed for him his only child. For the child had
renounced him, had thrust him outside herself into the lonely and
ruined temple of his pride. At the first thought his face twisted with
emotion, then hardened to cold malice.

"Love you!" he cried. "Love you! An unnatural child! An ingrate! One
who turns from me so lightly!" He laughed bitterly, eyeing her with
chilling scrutiny. "You dare recall my love for you!" Suddenly he
stood upright, levelling a heavy, trembling arm at her. "You think an
appeal to my love will save him! Fool!"

Virginia's breath caught in her throat. She straightened, clutched the
neckband of her gown. Then her head fell slowly forward. She had
fainted in her lover's arms.

They stood exactly so for an appreciable interval, bewildered by the
suddenness of this outcome; Galen Albret's hand out-stretched in
denunciation; the girl like a broken lily, supported in the young
man's arms; he searching her face passionately for a sign of life;
Me-en-gan, straight and sorrowful, again at the door.

Then the old man's arm dropped slowly. His gaze wavered. The lines of
his face relaxed. Twice he made an effort to turn away. All at once
his stubborn spirit broke; he uttered a cry, and sprang forward to
snatch the unconscious form hungrily into his bear clasp, searching
the girl's face, muttering incoherent things.

"Quick!" he cried, aloud, the guttural sounds jostling one another in
his throat. "Get Wishkobun, quick!"

Ned Trent looked at him with steady scorn, his arms folded.

"Ah!" he dropped distinctly in deliberate monosyllables across the
surcharged atmosphere of the scene. "So it seems you have found your
heart, my friend!"

Galen Albret glared wildly at him over the girl's fair head.

"She is my daughter," he mumbled.



_Chapter Seventeen_


They carried the unconscious girl into the dim-lighted apartment of
the curtained windows, and laid her on the divan. Wishkobun, hastily
summoned, unfastened the girl's dress at the throat.

"It is a faint," she announced in her own tongue. "She will recover in
a few minutes; I will get some water."

Ned Trent wiped the moisture from his forehead with his handkerchief.
The danger he had undergone coolly, but this overcame his iron
self-control. Galen Albret, like an anxious bear, weaved back and
forth the length of the couch. In him the rumble of the storm was but
just echoing into distance.

"Go into the next room," he growled at the Free Trader, when finally
he noticed the latter's presence.

Ned Trent hesitated.

"Go, I say!" snarled the Factor. "You can do nothing here." He
followed the young man to the door, which he closed with his own hand,
and then turned back to the couch on which his daughter lay. In the
middle of the floor his foot clicked on some small object.
Mechanically he picked it up.

It proved to be a little silver match-safe of the sort universally
used in the Far North. Evidently the Free Trader had flipped it from
his pocket with his handkerchief. The Factor was about to thrust it
into his own pocket, when his eye caught lettering roughly carved
across one side. Still mechanically, he examined it more closely. The
lettering was that of a man's name. The man's name was Graehme
Stewart.

Without thinking of what he did, he dropped the object on the small
table, and returned anxiously to the girl's side, cursing the
tardiness of the Indian woman. But in a moment Wishkobun returned.

"Will she recover?" asked the Factor, distracted at the woman's
deliberate examination.

The latter smiled her indulgent, slow smile. "But surely," she assured
him in her own tongue, "it is no more than if she cut her finger. In a
few breaths she will recover. Now I will go to the house of the
Cockburn for a morsel of the sweet wood[A] which she must smell." She
looked her inquiry for permission.

[Footnote A: Camphor.]

"Sagaamig--go," assented Albret.

Relieved in mind, he dropped into a chair. His eye caught the little
silver match-safe. He picked it up and fell to staring at the rudely
carved letters.

He found that he was alone with his daughter--and the thoughts aroused
by the dozen letters of a man's name.

All his life long he had been a hard man. His commands had been
autocratic; his anger formidable; his punishments severe, and
sometimes cruel. The quality of mercy was with him tenuous and weak.
He knew this, and if he did not exactly glory in it, he was at least
indifferent to its effect on his reputation with others. But always he
had been just. The victims of his displeasure might complain that his
retributive measures were harsh, that his forgiveness could not be
evoked by even the most extenuating of circumstances, but not that
his anger had ever been baseless or the punishment undeserved. Thus he
had held always his own self-respect, and from his self-respect had
proceeded his iron and effective rule.

So in the case of the young man with whom now his thoughts were
occupied. Twice he had warned him from the country without the
punishment which the third attempt rendered imperative. The events
succeeding his arrival at Conjuror's House warmed the Factor's anger
to the heat of almost preposterous retribution perhaps--for after all
a man's life is worth something, even in the wilds--but it was
actually retribution, and not merely a ruthless proof of power. It
might be justice as only the Factor saw it, but it was still
essentially justice--in the broader sense that to each act had
followed a definite consequence. Although another might have
condemned his conduct as unnecessarily harsh, Galen Albret's
conscience was satisfied and at rest.

Nor had his resolution been permanently affected by either the girl's
threat to make away with herself or by his momentary softening when
she had fainted. The affair was thereby complicated, but that was all.
In the sincerity of the threat he recognized his own iron nature, and
was perhaps a little pleased at its manifestation. He knew she
intended to fulfil her promise not to survive her lover, but at the
moment this did not reach his fears; it only aroused further his
dogged opposition.

The Free Trader's speech as he left the room, however, had touched the
one flaw in Galen Albret's confidence of righteousness. Wearied with
the struggles and the passions he had undergone, his brain numbed,
his will for the moment in abeyance, he seated himself and
contemplated the images those two words had called up.

Graehme Stewart! That man he had first met at Fort Rae over twenty
years ago. It was but just after he had married Virginia's mother. At
once his imagination, with the keen pictorial power of those who have
dwelt long in the Silent Places, brought forward the other scene--that
of his wooing. He had driven his dogs into Fort la Cloche after a hard
day's run in seventy-five degrees of frost. Weary, hungry,
half-frozen, he had staggered into the fire-lit room. Against the
blaze he had caught for a moment a young girl's profile, lost as she
turned her face toward him in startled question of his entrance. Men
had cared for his dogs. The girl had brought him hot tea. In the
corner of the fire they two had whispered one to the other--the
already grizzled traveller of the silent land, the fresh, brave
north-maiden. At midnight, their parkas drawn close about their faces
in the fearful cold, they had met outside the inclosure of the Post.
An hour later they were away under the aurora for Qu'Apelle. Galen
Albret's nostrils expanded as he heard the _crack, crack, crack_ of
the remorseless dog-whip whose sting drew him away from the vain
pursuit. After the marriage at Qu'Apelle they had gone a weary journey
to Rae, and there he had first seen Graehme Stewart.

Fort Rae is on the northwestward arm of the Great Slave Lake in the
country of the Dog Ribs, only four degrees under the Arctic Circle. It
is a dreary spot, for the Barren Grounds are near. Men see only the
great lake, the great sky, the great gray country. They become moody,
fanciful. In the face of the silence they have little to say. At Fort
Rae were old Jock Wilson, the Chief Trader; Father Bonat, the priest;
Andrew Levoy, the _mètis_ clerk; four Dog Rib teepees; Galen Albret
and his bride; and Graehme Stewart.

Jock Wilson was sixty-five; Father Bonat had no age; Andrew Levoy
possessed the years of dour silence. Only Graehme Stewart and Elodie,
bride of Albret, were young. In the great gray country their lives
were like spots of color on a mist. Galen Albret finally became
jealous.

At first there was nothing to be done; but finally Levoy brought to
the older man proof of the younger's guilt. The harsh traveller bowed
his head and wept. But since he loved Elodie more than himself which
was perhaps the only redeeming feature of this sorry business--he said
nothing, nor did more than to journey south to Edmonton, leaving the
younger man alone in Fort Rae to the White Silence. But his soul was
stirred.

In the course of nature and of time Galen Albret had a daughter, but
lost a wife. It was no longer necessary for him to leave his wrong
unavenged. Then began a series of baffling hindrances which resulted
finally in his stooping to means repugnant to his open sense of what
was due himself. At the first he could not travel to his enemy because
of the child in his care; when finally he had succeeded in placing the
little girl where he would be satisfied to leave her, he himself was
suddenly and peremptorily called east to take a post in Rupert's Land.
He could not disobey and remain in the Company, and the Company was
more to him than life or revenge. The little girl he left in Sacré
Coeur of Quebec; he himself took up his residence in the Hudson Bay
country. After a few years, becoming lonely for his own flesh and
blood, he sent for his daughter. There, as Factor, he gained a vast
power; and this power he turned into the channels of his hatred.
Graehme Stewart felt always against him the hand of influence. His
posts in the Company's service became intolerable. At length, in
indignation against continued injustice, oppression, and insult, he
resigned, broken in fortune and in prospects. He became one of the
earliest Free Traders on the Saskatchewan, devoting his energies to
enraged opposition of the Company which had wronged him. In the space
of three short years he had met a violent and striking death; for the
early days of the Free Trader were adventurous. Galen Albret's
revenge had struck home.

Then in after years the Factor had again met with Andrew Levoy. The
man staggered into Conjuror's House late at night. He had started from
Winnipeg to descend the Albany River, but had met with mishap and
starvation. One by one his dogs had died. In some blind fashion he
pushed on for days after his strength and sanity had left him.
Mu-hi-kun had brought him in. His toes and fingers had frozen and
dropped off; his face was a mask of black frost-bitten flesh, in which
deep fissures opened to the raw. He had gone snow-blind. Scarcely was
he recognizable as a human being.

From such a man in extremity could come nothing but the truth, so
Galen Albret believed him. Before Andrew Levoy died that night he told
of his deceit. The Factor left the room with the weight of a crime on
his conscience. For Graehme Stewart had been innocent of any wrong
toward him or his bride.

Such was the story Galen Albret saw in the little silver match-box.
That was the one flaw in his consciousness of righteousness; the one
instance in a long career when his ruthless acts of punishment or
reprisal had not rested on rigid justice, and by the irony of fate the
one instance had touched him very near. Now here before him was his
enemy's son--he wondered that he had not discovered the resemblance
before--and he was about to visit on him the severest punishment in
his power. Was not this an opportunity vouchsafed him to repair his
ancient fault, to cleanse his conscience of the one sin of the kind it
would acknowledge?

But then over him swept the same blur of jealousy that had resulted in
Graehme Stewart's undoing. This youth wooed his daughter; he had won
her affections away. Strangely enough Galen Albret confused the new
and the old; again youth cleaved to youth, leaving age apart. Age felt
fiercely the desire to maintain its own. The Factor crushed the silver
match-box between his great palms and looked up. His daughter lay
before him, still, lifeless. Deliberately he rested his chin on his
hands and contemplated her.

The room, as always, was full of contrast; shafts of light,
dust-moted, bewildering, crossed from the embrasured windows, throwing
high-lights into prominence and shadows into impenetrable darkness.
They rendered the gray-clad figure of the girl vague and ethereal,
like a mist above a stream; they darkened the dull-hued couch on which
she rested into a liquid, impalpable black; they hazed the draped
background of the corner into a far-reaching distance; so that finally
to Galen Albret, staring with hypnotic intensity, it came to seem that
he looked upon a pure and disembodied spirit sleeping sweetly--cradled
on illimitable space. The ordinary and familiar surroundings all
disappeared. His consciousness accepted nothing but the cameo profile
of marble white, the nimbus of golden haze about the head, the
mist-like suggestion of a body, and again the clear marble spot of the
hands. All else was a background of modulated depths.

So gradually the old man's spirit, wearied by the stress of the last
hour, turned in on itself and began to create. The cameo profile, the
mist-like body, the marble hands remained; but now Galen Albret saw
other things as well. A dim, rare perfume was wafted from some unseen
space; indistinct flashes of light spotted the darknesses; faint
swells of music lifted the silence intermittently. These things were
small and still, and under the external consciousness--like the voices
one may hear beneath the roar of a tumbling rapid--but gradually they
defined themselves. The perfume came to Galen Albret's nostrils on the
wings of incensed smoke; the flashes of light steadied to the ovals of
candle flames; the faint swells of music blended into grand-breathed
organ chords. He felt about him the dim awe of the church, he saw the
tapers burning at head and foot, the clear, calm face of the dead,
smiling faintly that at last it should be no more disturbed. So had he
looked all one night and all one day in the long time ago. The Factor
stretched his arms out to the figure on the couch, but he called upon
his wife, gone these twenty years.

"Elodie! Elodie!" he murmured, softly.

She had never known it, thank God, but he had wronged her too. In all
sorrow and sweet heavenly pity he had believed that her youth had
turned to the youth of the other man. It had not been so. Did he not
owe her, too, some reparation?

As though in answer to his appeal, or perhaps that merely the sound of
a human voice had broken the last shreds of her swoon, the girl moved
slightly. Galen Albret did not stir. Slowly Virginia turned her head,
until finally her wandering eyes met his, fixed on her with passionate
intensity. For a moment she stared at him, then comprehension came to
her along with memory. She cried out, and sat upright in one violent
motion.

"He! He!" she cried. "Is he gone?"

Instantly Galen Albret had her in his arms.

"It is all right," he soothed, drawing her close to his great breast.
"All right. You are my own little girl."



_Chapter Eighteen_


For perhaps ten minutes Ned Trent lingered near the door of the
Council Room until he had assured himself that Virginia was in no
serious danger. Then he began to pace the room, examining minutely the
various objects that ornamented it. He paused longest at the
full-length portrait of Sir George Simpson, the Company's great
traveller, with his mild blue eyes, his kindly face, denying the
potency of his official frown, his snowy hair and whiskers. The
painted man and the real man looked at each other inquiringly. The
latter shook his head.

"You travelled the wild country far," said he, thoughtfully. "You
knew many men of many lands. And wherever you went they tell me you
made friends. And yet, as you embodied this Company to all these
people, and so made for the fanatical loyalty that is destroying me, I
suppose you and I are enemies!" He shrugged his shoulders whimsically
and turned away.

Thence he cast a fleeting glance out the window at the long reach of
the Moose and the blue bay gleaming in the distance. He tried the
outside door. It was locked. Taken with a new idea he proceeded at
once to the third door of the apartment. It opened.

He found himself in a small and much-littered room containing a desk,
two chairs, a vast quantity of papers, a stuffed bird or so, and a row
of account-books. Evidently the Factor's private office.

Ned Trent returned to the main room and listened intently for several
minutes. After that he ran back to the office and began hastily to
open and rummage, one after another, the drawers of the desk. He
discovered and concealed several bits of string, a desk-knife, and a
box of matches. Then he uttered a guarded exclamation of delight. He
had found a small revolver, and with it part of a box of cartridges.

"A chance!" he exulted: "a chance!"

The game would be desperate. He would be forced first of all to seek
out and kill the men detailed to shadow him--a toy revolver against
rifles; white man against trained savages. And after that he would
have, with the cartridges remaining, to assure his subsistence. Still
it was a chance.

He closed the drawers and the door, and resumed his seat in the
arm-chair by the council table.

For over an hour thereafter he awaited the next move in the game. He
was already swinging up the pendulum arc. The case did not appear
utterly hopeless. He resolved, through Me-en-gan, whom he divined as a
friend of the girl's, to smuggle a message to Virginia bidding her
hope. Already his imagination had conducted him to Quebec, when in
August he would search her out and make her his own.

Soon one of the Indian servants entered the room for the purpose of
conducting him to a smaller apartment, where he was left alone for
some time longer. Food was brought him. He ate heartily, for he
considered that wise. Then at last the summons for which he had been
so long in readiness. Me-en-gan himself entered the room, and motioned
him to follow.

[Illustration: "DO SO NOW!" Scene from the play.]

Ned Trent had already prepared his message on the back of an
envelope, writing it with the lead of a cartridge. He now pressed the
bit of paper into the Indian's palm.

"For O-mi-mi," he explained.

Me-en-gan bored him through with his bead-like eyes of the surface
lights.

"Nin nissitotam," he agreed after a moment.

He led the way. Ned Trent followed through the narrow, uncarpeted hall
with the faded photograph of Westminster, down the crooked steep
stairs with the creaking degrees, and finally into the Council Room
once more, with its heavy rafters, its two fireplaces, its long table,
and its narrow windows.

"Beka--wait!" commanded Me-en-gan, and left him.

Ned Trent had supposed he was being conducted to the canoe which
should bear him on the first stage of his long journey, but now he
seemed condemned again to take up the wearing uncertainty of inaction.
The interval was not long, however. Almost immediately the other door
opened and the Factor entered.

His movements were abrupt and impatient, for with whatever grace such
a man yields to his better instincts the actual carrying out of their
conditions is a severe trial. For one thing it is a species of
emotional nakedness, invariably repugnant to the self-contained. Ned
Trent, observing this and misinterpreting its cause, hugged the little
revolver to his side with grim satisfaction. The interview was likely
to be stormy. If worst came to worst, he was at least assured of
reprisal before his own end.

The Factor walked directly to the head of the table and his customary
arm-chair, in which he disposed himself.

"Sit down," he commanded the younger man, indicating a chair at his
elbow.

The latter warily obeyed.

Galen Albret hesitated appreciably. Then, as one would make a plunge
into cold water, quickly, in one motion, he laid on the table
something over which he held his hand.

"You are wondering why I am interviewing you again," said he. "It is
because I have become aware of certain things. When you left me a few
hours ago you dropped this." He moved his hand to one side. The silver
match-safe lay on the table.

"Yes, it is mine," agreed Ned Trent.

"On one side is carved a name."

"Yes."

"Whose?"

The Free Trader hesitated. "My father's," he said, at last.

"I thought that must be so. You will understand when I tell you that
at one time I knew him very well."

"You knew my father?" cried Ned Trent, excitedly.

"Yes. At Fort Rae, and elsewhere. But I do not remember you."

"I was brought up at Winnipeg," the other explained.

"Once," pursued Galen Albret, "I did your father a wrong,
unintentionally, but nevertheless a great wrong. For that reason and
others I am going to give you your life."

"What wrong?" demanded Ned Trent, with dawning excitement.

"I forced him from the Company."

"You!"

"Yes, I. Proof was brought me that he had won from me my young wife.
It could not be doubted. I could not kill him. Afterward the man who
deceived me confessed. He is now dead."

Ned Trent, gasping, rose slowly to his feet. One hand stole inside his
jacket and clutched the butt of the little pistol.

"You did that," he cried, hoarsely. "You tell me of it yourself? Do
you wish to know the real reason for my coming into this country, why
I have traded in defiance of the Company throughout the whole Far
North? I have thought my father was persecuted by a body of men, and
though I could not do much, still I have accomplished what I could to
avenge him. Had I known that a single man had done this--and you are
that man!"

He came a step nearer. Galen Albret regarded him steadily.

"If I had known this before, I should never have rested until I had
hunted you down, until I had killed you, even in the midst of your own
people!" cried the Free Trader at last.

Galen Albret drew his heavy revolver and laid it on the table.

"Do so now," he said, quietly.

A pause fell on them, pregnant with possibility. The Free Trader
dropped his head.

"No," he groaned. "No, I cannot. She stands in the way!"

"So that, after all," concluded the Factor, in a gentler tone than he
had yet employed, "we two shall part peaceably. I have wronged you
greatly, though without intention. Perhaps one balances the other. We
will let it pass."

"Yes," agreed Ned Trent with an effort, "we will let it pass."

They mused in silence, while the Factor drummed on the table with the
stubby fingers of his right hand.

"I am dispatching to-day," he announced curtly at length, "the Abítibi
_brigade_. Matters of importance brought by runner from Rupert's House
force me to do so a month earlier than I had expected. I shall send
you out with that _brigade_."

"Very well."

"You will find your packs and arms in the canoe, quite intact."

"Thank you."

The Factor examined the young man's face with some deliberation.

"You love my daughter truly?" he asked, quietly.

"Yes," replied Ned Trent, also quietly.

"That is well, for she loves you. And," went on the old man, throwing
his massive head back proudly, "my people love well! I won her mother
in a day, and nothing could stay us. God be thanked, you are a man and
brave and clean. Enough of that! I place the _brigade_ under your
command! You must be responsible for it, for I am sending no other
white--the crew are Indians and _mètis_."

"All right," agreed Ned Trent, indifferently.

"My daughter you will take to Sacré Coeur at Quebec."

"Virginia!" cried the young man.

"I am sending her to Quebec. I had not intended doing so until July,
but the matters from Rupert's House make it imperative now."

"Virginia goes with me?"

"Yes."

"You consent? You--"

"Young man," said Galen Albret, not unkindly, "I give my daughter in
your charge; that is all. You must take her to Sacré Coeur. And you
must be patient. Next year I shall resign, for I am getting old, and
then we shall see. That is all I can tell you now."

He arose abruptly.

"Come," said he, "they are waiting."

They threw wide the door and stepped out into the open. A breeze from
the north brought a draught of air like cold water in its refreshment.
The waters of the North sparkled and tossed in the silvery sun. Ned
Trent threw his arms wide in the physical delight of a new freedom.

But his companion was already descending the steps. He followed across
the square grass plot to the two bronze guns. A noise of peoples came
down the breeze. In a moment he saw them--the varied multitude of the
Post--gathered to speed the _brigade_ on its distant journey.

The little beach was crowded with the Company's people and with
Indians, talking eagerly, moving hither and yon in a shifting
kaleidoscope of brilliant color. Beyond the shore floated the long
canoe, with its curving ends and its emblazonment of the five-pointed
stars. Already its baggage was aboard, its crew in place, ten men in
whose caps slanted long, graceful feathers, which proved them boatmen
of a factor. The women sat amidships.

When Galen Albret reached the edge of the plateau he stopped, and laid
his hand on the young man's arm. As yet they were unperceived. Then a
single man caught sight of them. He spoke to another; the two
informed still others. In an instant the bright colors were dotted
with upturned faces.

"Listen," said Galen Albret, in his resonant chest-tones of authority.
"This is my son, and he must be obeyed. I give to him the command of
this _brigade_. See to it."

Without troubling himself further as to the crowd below, Galen Albret
turned to his companion.

"I will say good-by," said he, formally.

"Good-by," replied Ned Trent.

"All is at peace between us?"

The Free Trader looked long into the man's sad eyes. The hard, proud
spirit, bowed in knightly expiation of its one fault, for the first
time in a long life of command looked out in petition.

"All is at peace," repeated Ned Trent.

They clasped hands. And Virginia, perceiving them so, threw them a
wonderful smile.



_Chapter Nineteen_


Instantly the spell of inaction broke. The crowd recommenced its babel
of jests, advices, and farewells. Ned Trent swung down the bank to the
shore. The boatmen fixed the canoe on the very edge of floating free.
Two of them lifted the young man aboard to a place on the furs by
Virginia Albret's side. At once the crowd pressed forward, filling up
the empty spaces.

Now Achille Picard bent his shoulders to lift into free water the stem
of the canoe from its touch on the bank. It floated, caught gently by
the back wash of the stronger off-shore current.

"Good-by, dear," called Mrs. Cockburn. "Remember us!"

She pressed the Doctor's arm closer to her side. The Doctor waved his
hand, not trusting his masculine self-control to speak. McDonald, too,
stood glum and dour, clasping his wrist behind his back. Richardson
was openly affected. For in Virginia's person they saw sailing away
from their bleak Northern lives the figure of youth, and they knew
that henceforth life must be even drearier.

"Som' tam' yo' com' back sing heem de res' of dat song!" shouted Louis
Placide to his late captive. "I lak' hear heem!"

But Galen Albret said nothing, made no sign. Silently and steadily,
run up by some invisible hand, the blood-red banner of the Company
fluttered to the mast-head. Before it, alone, bulked huge against the
sky, dominating the people in the symbolism of his position there as
he did in the realities of every-day life, the Factor stood, his hands
behind his back. Virginia rose to her feet and stretched her arms out
to the solitary figure.

"Good-by! good-by!" she cried.

A renewed tempest of cheers and shouts of adieu broke from those
ashore. The paddles dipped once, twice, thrice, and paused. With one
accord those on shore and those in the canoe raised their caps and
said, "Que Dieu vous benisse." A moment's silence followed, during
which the current of the mighty river bore the light craft a few yards
down stream. Then from the ten _voyageurs_ arose a great shout.

"Abítibi! Abítibi!"

Their paddles struck in unison. The water swirled in white, circular
eddies. Instantly the canoe caught its momentum and began to slip
along against the sluggish current. Achille Picard raised a high tenor
voice, fixing the air,

    "_En roulant ma boule roulante,
    En roulant ma boule_."

And the _voyageurs_ swung into the quaint ballad of the fairy ducks
and the naughty prince with his magic gun.

    _"Derrièr' chez-nous y-a-t-un 'ètang,
    En roulant ma boule."_

The girl sank back, dabbing uncertainly at her eyes. "I shall never
see them again," she explained, wistfully.

The canoe had now caught its speed. Conjuror's House was dropping
astern. The rhythm of the song quickened as the singers told of how
the king's son had aimed at the black duck but killed the white.

    _"Ah fils du roi, tu es mèchant,
    En roulant ma boule,
    Toutes les plumes s'en vont au vent,
    Rouli roulant, ma boule roulant."_

"Way wik! way wik!" commanded Me-en-gan, sharply, from the bow.

The men quickened their stroke and shot diagonally across the current
of an eddy.

"Ni-shi-shin," said Me-en-gan.

They fell back to the old stroke, rolling out their full-throated
measure.

    _"Toutes les plumes s'en vont au vent,
    En roulant ma boule,
    Trois dames s'en vont les ramassant,
    Rouli roulant, ma boule roulant."_

The canoe was now in the smooth rush of the first stretch of swifter
water. The men bent to their work with stiffened elbows. Achille
Picard flashed his white teeth back at the passengers,

"Ah, mademoiselle, eet is wan long way," he panted. "C'est une longue
traverse!"

The term was evidently descriptive, but the two smiled significantly
at each other.

"So you do take _la Longue Traverse_, after all!" marvelled Virginia.

Ned Trent clasped her hand.

"We take it together," he replied.

Into the distance faded the Post. The canoe rounded a bend. It was
gone. Ahead of them lay their long journey.


THE END



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[Transcriber's note:

The following spelling inconsistencies and possible typographical errors
were left uncorrected:

stolidily
Missináibe/Missináibie
queek/queeck
mêchant/mèchant
bouyant
Comma at end of paragraph: Picard flashed his white teeth back at the
passengers,]





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search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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