THE CALL OF THE NORTH
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.
THE CALL OF THE NORTH
Being a Dramatized Version of
A Romance of the Free Forest
Stewart Edward White
AUTHOR OF THE WESTERNERS,
THE BLAZED TRAIL,
THE CALL OF THE NORTH
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 Abitibi. 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
Mannabosho, 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 metis, 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
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 mediaeval in its
magnificence; when he stopped at home, men came to him from the
Albany, the Kenogami, the Missinaibe, the Mattagami, the
Abitibi—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 bad 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 Factors 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 a Dieu!" cried Achille. "Eet is so. Eet is dat
He ran shouting toward the factory.
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 Abitibi, the
Mattagami, or the Missinaibie. 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
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
"Hola! hola!" 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 Missinaibie, 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 newcomer 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.
Galen Albret sat in his rough-hewn armchair 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
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
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 Abitibi 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
"I have means of making my wishes felt," warned the Factor.
"Quite so," replied the young man, deliberately, "La Longue
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
"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
"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,
Galen Albret merely raised his eyebrows.
"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.
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 white-washed 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
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
"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
"Me Achille—Achille Picard. I capitaine of dose dogs on dat
"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?"
"Ba 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
"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.
"Ba 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
"I can' do eet," smiled Picard.
"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
"I'll make it two hundred—three hundred—five hundred."
"Wat 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
"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
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
thousand 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' Ba 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.
"Wen 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. Voila, I geev you
He glanced rapidly to right and left, then slipped a small object
into the stranger's hand.
"Ba, 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
"Dat no good," objected Picard. "Wat 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. Ba,
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. _Ba, 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
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"
"Ba 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
"I'll take the chances—my friend."
"Ba oui," shrugged Achille Picard, "eet is wan chance."
He commenced to roll another cigarette.
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
"Father," said she.
"A stranger came to-day with Louis Placide of Kettle Portage."
"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
"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
"Virginia," said Galen Albret, suddenly,
"You are no longer a child, but a woman. Would you like to go to
She did not answer him at once, but pondered beneath close-knit
"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
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 Abitibi 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 door-way 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
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
"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
"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
"I do not myself use tobacco in this room," suggested the older
"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
"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
"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
"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 door-yard 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.
"This dreadful thing is necessary?" she asked.
"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
"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!"
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 Ins 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 Trade saw his opponent's eyes
narrow. For a moment he thought the Factor was about to spring on
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
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!"
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 way
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 maitresse,
Sans l'avoir merite,
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
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 derrier ches man pere,
Vole, mon coeur, vole!
Par derrier' chez mon pere
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 reveille,
Vole, mon coeur, vole!
La plus jeun' se reveille
—Ma Soeur, voila 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
"—Non, ce n'est qu'une etoile,
Vole, mon coeur, vole!
Non, ce n'est qu'une etoile
Qu' eclaire 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
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
"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 etoile,
Qu'eclaire nos amours!"
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."
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
"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 Conjurors 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
frete [froid—cold] 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 snowshoes; 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."
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
"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
"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
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.
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
"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
"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 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
"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 ay 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
"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,
"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
"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.
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
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
armchair. The building was one of the old regime, 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
"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
"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
"What do you mean?" repeated Virginia; "for God's sake speak
"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.
"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
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
"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
She bowed her head and passed through the log room into the outer
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
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 safeguard 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
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
"Hola 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."
"Sacre!" 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 mechant!
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
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
"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
"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
"You have everything you need?" asked the girl, with an assumption
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
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
"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 metis, 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, find the man never ventures again.
"If he is an ordinary metis 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
"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
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
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.
"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
"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 a 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
"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."
"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
"You are going to Quebec?" he cried. "My father wishes me to. I
have decided to do so. I shall start with the Abitibi brigade in
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
"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 promene
Le long de son jardin,
Le long de son jardin,
Sur le bord de l'ile,
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.
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—bulked 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
"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 derrier' chez-mon Pere"; "Isabeau s'y promene"; "P'tite
Jeanneton"; "Luron, Lurette"; "Chante, Rossignol, chante"; the
ever-popular "Malbrouck"; "C'est la belle Francoise"; "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 giddes 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!"
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
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
giddes lifting their pointed noses to the sky. The girl hurried
on, twinging 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
day light 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
"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
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
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
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
"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 their—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 he 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 tried. 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
"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 Mattagami. I can
hardly wait to see it, for then I am safe! And then nex; 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
"Ah, you had no right to do that!" she cried. "I gave you no
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.
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
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 giddes 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 canot. 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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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!"
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 melee.
"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.
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 bows-man, 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
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."
The young man leaned against the side at 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
But the Factor's suspicions were aroused.
"There is something in this," he decided. "I think you may stay,
"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.
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.
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 armchair
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 metis 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 bad 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 leader'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
"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!
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 outstretched 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.
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 lie 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 nipped 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
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 [camphor]
which she must smell." She looked her inquiry for permission.
"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
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 Port Rae were old Jock Wilson, the Chief Trader; Father
Bonat, the priest; Andrew Levoy, the metis 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 revenue.
The little girl he left in Sacre 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 be 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."
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.
Ned Trent had already prepared his message on the back of an
envelope, writing ft 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
"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
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
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."
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."
"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
Abitibi 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."
"You will find your packs and arms in the canoe, quite intact."
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
"All right," agreed Ned Trent, indifferently.
"My daughter you will take to Sacre 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?"
"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 Sacre 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
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
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
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 everyday 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
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.
"Derrier' ches-nous y-a-t-un 'elang,
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 mechant,
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
"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
The term was evidently descriptive, but the two smiled
significantly at each other.
"So you do take la Longue Traverse, after all!" marvelled
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.