Chapter Nineteen
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Abitibi! Abitibi!"

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' chez-nous y-a-t-un 'etang,
    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 measure.

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

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

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

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

"So you do take la Longue Traverse, after all!" marvelled Virginia.

Ned Trent clasped her hand.

"We take it together," he replied.

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