Part 3 out of 3
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.