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- The Maid of the Whispering Hills - 1/45 -
The Maid of the Whispering Hills By Vingie E. Roe
Published January, 1912
To My Mother Who Has Been My Constant Help
My Father Who Was Proud Of Me
And My Little Brother, These Two Long Asleep On The Hill At Carney--
This Book Is Lovingly Inscribed V. E. R.
I The Venturers II The Spring III New Homes IV The Stranger From Civilisation V Nor'westers VI Spring Trade VII Forest News VIII First Dawn IX Gold Fire X The Saskatoon XI Leaven At Work XII The Nakonkirhirinons XIII "A Skin For A Skin" XIV Fellow Captives XV Long Trail XVI Travel XVII The Compelling Power XVIII "I Am A Stone To Your Foot, Ma'amselle" XIX The Hudson's Bay Brigade XX The Wolf And The Caribou XXI Tightened Screws XXII "Choose, White Woman!" XXIII The Painted Post XXIV The Stone To The Foot Of Love XXV Answered Prayers XXVI Sanctuary XXVII Return XXVIII The Old Dream Once More XXIX Bitter Aloes XXX The Land Of The Whispering Hills
CHAPTER I THE VENTURERS
"Mercy!" shrieked little Francette, her red-rose face aghast, "he will begin before I can bring the help!"
Like a flash of flame the maid in her crimson skirt shot up the main way of Fort de Seviere to where the factory lay asleep in the warm spring sun.
On its log step, pipe in mouth, young Anders McElroy leaned against the jamb and looked smilingly out upon his settlement. Peace lay softly upon it, from the waters of the small stream to the east where nine canoes lay bottom up upon the pebbly shore, to the great dark wall of the forest shouldering near on three sides. To him ran little Francette, light on her moccasined feet as the wind in the tender pine- tops, her eloquent small hands outstretched and clutching at his sleeve audaciously.
None other in all the post would have dared as much, for this smiling young man with the blue eyes was the Law at Fort de Seviere, factor of the Company and governor of the handful of humanity lost in the vast region of the Assiniboine. But to Francette he was Power and Help, and she thought of naught else, as it is not likely she would have done even at another time.
"Oh, M'sieu!" she cried, gasping from her run, "come at once beyond the great gate! Bois DesCaut,--Oh, brute of the world!--whips that great grey husky leader of his team, because it did but snap at his heel beneath an idle prod! Hasten, M'sieu! He drags it, glaring, along the shore to where lie those clubs brought for the kettles!"
In the dark eyes upraised to him there swam a mist of tears and the heart of the little maid tore at her breast in anguish.
The smile slipped swiftly from the factor's face, leaving it grave.
"Where, little one?" he asked.
"Beyond the palisade. But hurry, M'sieu,--for the love of God!"
At the great gate in the eastern wall he paused and looked either way. To the southward all was peaceful. An aged Indian of the Assiniboines squatted at the water's edge mending the broken bottom of a skin canoe, and two voyageurs, gay in the matter of sash and crimson cap, lay lazily beneath a drowsing tree.
To the northward there flashed into McElroy's vision one of those pictures a man sees but few times and never forgets, a picture startling in its clear-cut strength.
Against the mellow background of the weather-beaten stockade that surrounded the post there stood two figures, a man and a woman, and between the two there crouched with snarling lips and flaming eyes a huge grey dog.
Tall he was, that man, tall and broad of shoulder, but the head of the woman, shining like blue-black satin in the morning sun, was level with his brows.
She leaned a trifle forward and her eyes held fast to his passion- flooded face. It was evident that she had but just reached the spot from the fact that the club, arrested in its upward swing, still was poised in the air.
They faced each other and the factor stopped in his tracks.
"Quick, M'sieu!" begged Francette at his side, but he put out a commanding hand and ceased to breathe.
"Hold!" said the tall young woman at last, and her voice cut cold and clear in the sun-filled morning. "No more! You have whipped the dog enough."
The red face of the trapper flamed into purple and his lips opened for an oath. Quick as the heat lightning that flutters on the waters of Winipigoos in the hot summers the cruel club came down. McElroy heard its dull impact, and the husky crumpled like a broken reed.
With stern face the factor started forward, while the little maid covered her pretty eyes and whimpered.
But quicker than his stride retribution leaped to meet DesCaut.
He saw the woman's arm shoot out and her strong hand, smooth and tawny as finest tanned buckskin, double itself hard and leap in where the jaw turns downward into the curve of the throat.
The stroke of a man it was, clean and sharp and well delivered, and DesCaut, catching his heel on a buried stone's sharp jut, went backward with his head in the young grass of the sloping shore.
For a moment she stood as it had left her, leaning forward, and there was a shine of satisfaction in her eyes.
Then as the man essayed to rise there was a mighty laughter from the two youths on the river bank and the spell was broken.
McElroy went forward.
"DesCaut," he said sharply, and his words cut like the lash of the long dog-whips, "you deserves death but you have been beaten by a woman. Go, and boast of your strength. It is sufficient."
DesCaut stood a moment swaying drunkenly with the force of passion within him, his lips snarling back from his teeth and his eyes measuring the factor unsteadily then he snatched off the little cap he wore and hurled it at him.
Turning on his heel he swung down toward the gate and the two voyageurs now standing and still laughing merrily.
One look at his bloodshot eyes sobered their mirth, and Pierre Garcon reached involuntarily for the knife in his sash.
But Bois DesCaut, savage to silence, swung past them into the fort.
McElroy watched him until he disappeared, fearing he knew not what.
Then he faced the little scene again.
Down on her knees little Francette had lifted the heavy head with its dull eyes and pitiful hanging tongue, lifted it to her breast, weeping and smoothing the short ears deaf to her soft words, and sat rocking to and fro in an ecstasy of grief. Beyond SHE stood, that tall woman, stood silent and frowning, looking down upon the two, and the factor saw with a strange thrill that the hand, yet doubled, was flecked with blood.
"Ma'amselle," he said, "is of the new people who arrived last night from Portage la Prairie?"
Then they were lifted for the first time to his face, those dark eyes smouldering like banked fires, and he saw their marvellous beauty.
"Of a surety," she said slowly, and there was a subtle tone in her deep-throated voice that made the blood stir vaguely within the factor's veins, "does M'sieu have so many strangers passing through his gates that he is at loss to place each one?"
And with that word she turned deliberately away, walked down toward the gate, and entered the stockade.
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