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"No, no! I'm goin', too! I'm goin', too-o-o-o--"
"Hey! John Gale!" called Poleon. "Come 'ere! Ba gosh! You better horry, too! I can't hol' dis feller long."
When they appeared on the bank above him, he continued, "Look 'ere w'at I fin' on my batteau," and held up the wriggling form of Johnny Gale.
"He's stow hisse'f away onder dem blanket. Sacre! He's bad feller, dis man--don' pay for hees ticket at all; he's reg'lar toff mug."
"I want to go 'long!" yelled the incorrigible stow-away. He had brought his gun with him, and this weapon, peeping forth from under Poleon's blanket, had betrayed him. "I want to go 'long!" shrieked the little man "I like you best of all!" At which Doret took him in his arms and hugged him fiercely.
"Wal, I guess you don' t'ink 'bout dem beeg black bear at night, eh?"
But this only awoke a keener distress in the junior Gale.
"Oh, maybe de bear will get you, Poleon! Let me go long, and I'll keep dem off. Two men is better dan one--please, Poleon!"
It took the efforts of Necia and the trader combined to tear the lad from the Frenchman, and even then the foul deed was accomplished only at the cost of such wild acclaim and evidence of undying sorrow that little Molly came hurrying from the house, her round face stained and tearful, her mouth an inverted crescent. She had gone to the lame puppy for comfort, and now strangled him absent-mindedly in her arms, clutching him to her breast so tightly that his tongue lolled out and his three legs protruded stiffly, pawing an aimless pantomime. When Johnny found that no hope remained, he quelled his demonstrations of emotion and, as befitted a stout-hearted gentleman of the woods, bore a final present to his friend. He took the little air-gun and gave it into Poleon's hands against that black night when the bears would come, and no man ever made a greater sacrifice. Doret picked him up by the elbows and kissed him again and again, then set him down gently, at which Molly scrambled forward, and without word or presentation speech gave him her heart's first treasure. She held out the three-legged puppy, for a gun and a dog should ever go together; then, being of the womankind aforesaid, she began to cry as she kissed her pet good-bye on its cold, wet nose.
"Wat's dis?" said Poleon, and his voice quavered, for these childish fingers tore at his heart-strings terribly.
"He's a very brave doggie," said the little girl. "He will scare de bears away!" And then she became dissolved in tears at the anguish her offering cost her.
Doret caressed her as he had her brother, then placed the puppy carefully upon the blankets in the canoe, where it wagged a grateful and amiable stump at him and regained its breath. It was the highest proof of Molly's affection for her Poleon that she kept her tear-dimmed eyes fixed upon the dog as long as it was visible.
The time had come for the last good-bye--that awkward moment when human hearts are full and spoken words are empty. Burrell gripped the Frenchman's hand. He was grateful, but he did not know.
"Good-luck and better hunting!" he said. "A heavy purse and a light heart for you always, Poleon. I have learned to love you."
"I want you to be good husban', M'sieu'. Dat's de bes' t'ing I can wish for you."
Gale spoke to him in patois, and all he said was:
"May you not forget, my son."
They did not look into each other's eyes; there was no need. The old man stooped, and, taking both his children by the hand, walked slowly towards the house.
"Dis tam' I'll fin' it for sure," smiled Poleon to Necia.
Her eyes were shining through the tears, and she whispered, fervently:
"I hope so, brother. G.o.d love you--always."
It was grief at losing a playmate, a dear and well-beloved companion.
He knew it well, and he was glad now that he had never said a word of love to her. It added to his pain, but it lightened hers, and that had ever been his wish. He gazed on her for a long moment, taking in that blessed image which would ever live with him--in his eyes was the light of a love as pure and clean as ever any maid had seen, and in his heart a sorrow that would never cease.
"Good-bye, li'l' gal," he said, then dropped her hand and entered his canoe. With one great stroke he drove it out and into the flood, then headed away towards the mists and colors of the distant hills, where the Oreads were calling to him. He turned for one last look, and flung his paddle high; then, fearing lest they might see the tears that came at last unhindered, he began to sing:
"Chante, rossignol, chante!
Toi qui a le coeur gai; Tu as le coeur a rire Mai j' l' ai-t-a pleurer."
He sang long and l.u.s.tily, keeping time to the dip of his flashing paddle and defying his bursting heart. After all, was he not a voyageur, and life but a song and a tear, and then a dream or two?
"I wish I might have known him better," sighed Meade Burrell, as he watched the receding form of the boatman.
"You would have loved him as we do," said Necia, "and you would have missed him as we will."
"I hope some time he will be happy."
"As happy as you, my soldier?"
"Yes; but that he can never be," said her husband; "for no man could love as I love you."
"Yours is a heart that laughter cheers, Mine is a heart that's full of tears.
Long have I loved, I love her yet; Leave her I can, but not forget--"
came the voice of the singer far down the stream. And thus Poleon of the Great Heart went away.