"Thank you, I should be glad! The current will carry me down while I smoke my pipe. Then I shall be rested enough to cook supper when I get there," he answered. Then, bidding her good night, he went out of the store, meeting Miles in the doorway, who went back to help him to run the boat down into the water.
"Miles, I hope you didn't tell that old fraud that Mr. Ferrars was staying here?" said Katherine, when the boy came in and locked the door for the night.
"Of course I didn't. I never said a word good, bad, nor indifferent to the old fellow. I haven't got over this morning," Miles said, in a tone which sounded sullen, but which was only a cloak for feelings deeply stirred.
"Very well then, for this one night at least he will have the satisfaction of believing that he was successful in drowning Mr. Ferrars," Katherine replied.
"Don't worry yourself, Mrs. Jenkin will tell him," said Miles. "Or some of the men will chaff him, because he has been outwitted by a girl."
"It wasn't a girl this time; it was Mrs. Jenkin," objected Katherine, letting a box go down with a bang, for she did not want the listener in the other room to hear what Miles was saying.
"Mrs. Jenkin might have called out that there was someone in Oily Dave's house that wanted saving, but I guess the poor man would have had time to drown twice over if it hadn't been for you getting on the ice and going to fetch him out," Miles said, sticking to his own opinion with the obstinacy he was rather fond of displaying.
Katherine took refuge in silence, going out of the store as soon as she could, and hurrying away to bed, because of the needs of the next day. Neither she nor Mrs. Burton slept very well, however. To both of them it was a grief beyond the power of words to describe to leave their father to the care of a stranger, and they were both thankful when morning came and the day's routine had to begin again.
There was no change in the stricken man's condition, but Katherine, who stayed with him while the others had breakfast, thought that he looked more comfortable than on the previous evening. When Miles came in to take her place, she went back to the kitchen, to hear Mrs. Burton and Jervis Ferrars talking of the Selincourts.
"I suppose Mr. Selincourt is very rich," said Mrs. Burton with a little wistful sigh, as if she thought that riches might detract from his niceness.
"Yes, I expect he is very rich, but he is so thoroughly pleasant, and so free from side, that one is apt to forget all about his riches," Jervis said, then rose to set a chair for Katherine, and bring her bowl of porridge from the stove, where it was keeping warm for her.
"Is Miss Selincourt nice too, and is she pretty?" asked Mrs. Burton, who to Katherine's secret disquiet was always asking questions concerning the expected arrivals.
Jervis laughed. "I have never stopped to consider whether she is pretty, but she is certainly very charming in her manners," he said, with so much earnestness that Katherine instantly made up her mind that Miss Selincourt was the kind of person she did not care for and did not want to know.
Phil came in from the store at this moment, with a pucker of amusement on his face.
"Stee Jenkin has brought our boat back," he said. "Oily Dave paid him half a dollar to come, because he didn't feel like showing his face up here just yet."
"Why not?" demanded Jervis Ferrars.
"Stee said the ice at the river mouth didn't give way until after midnight, when it burst with a roar like cannon. When Oily Dave got to Seal Cove last night, the water reached to the shingles of his house; so the old fellow rowed across to Stee's hut and asked to be taken in for the night, because he was flooded out and the Englishman was drowned."
"But didn't Stee tell him that Mr. Ferrars was safe here with us?" asked Mrs. Burton.
"Not a bit of it," replied Phil. "That would have spoiled sport, don't you see? because Oily Dave was what Stee called most uncommon resigned, and talked such a lot about going to find the body in the morning, that they just made up their minds to let him go. He was up by daybreak and went over to look; but when he saw the door broken down he guessed there had been a rescue, and he was just mad because no one had told him anything about it."
"It was rather too bad to leave him in suspense all night, poor man," said Mrs. Burton gently.
The First of the Fishing
For a whole week the thaw went merrily on. One by one the fishing boats left their winter anchorage in the river, and sailed out into the stormy waters of the bay. By the end of the week Jervis Ferrars had so far recovered the comfortable use of his feet that he could wear boots again and go about like other men. Directly he was able to do this he went down to Seal Cove every day, where he inspected every boat that was ready to put to sea, overhauled the store shed, and quietly took command, setting Oily Dave on one side with as little ceremony as if that worthy had never been master of the fleet.
Oily Dave took the change in government with very bad grace indeed, and it is probable that the life of Jervis Ferrars would have been in very grave danger many times during the next few weeks if it had not been for the fact that the Englishman had made a host of friends among the fishers, who would protect him at all risks in an open attack, while Jervis wisely so far avoided Oily Dave as to give no chance for the secret, cowardly thrusts in which the deposed man delighted.
Astor M'Kree personally conducted the new boats, one by one, over the rapids, bringing them down when the river was in flood and anchoring them in front of the store until their crews were ready; and when they had cleared for the bay the fishing was in full swing.
Eight hundred miles away, in the north of the great inland sea, the whalers and sealers were still fast bound in ice and snow, longing for freedom, yet forced to wait while the tardy spring crept northward. But down in the more sheltered waters of James Bay there was abundance of work for everyone. Hundreds of seals gambolled on the ice floes and on the shores of the little uncharted islands which make those waters such a serious menace to the mariner. Sometimes the boats were away for a week. Sometimes two days found them headed back for Seal Cove, laden with seals, walrus, and narwhal. Many of them succeeded in getting a good catch of white whales, for which those waters are so noted; but these were caught at the mouths of the tidal rivers, for the whales go up the rivers every day with the tide, and it was when the tide was ebbing that the whales were most easily caught. It was only the biggest and strongest boats that ventured so far as the tidal rivers, however, and with these Jervis Ferrars never went. Indeed, but from choice he need never have gone to sea at all, for his work lay more particularly on land, where he had to keep toll of the catch and take care that the various products of the sea harvest were properly secured and stored, until the opening of Hudson Strait enabled vessels to get through.
Astor M'Kree had made a queer addition to the side of Stee Jenkin's house by building against one end of it part of an old fishing boat which had been wrecked in the floodtime, and stranded on the bluff upon which the little house was perched. In this peculiar abode Jervis took his residence, while Mrs. Jenkin looked after his comfort and kept his room clean with a slavish industry which she had certainly never bestowed on her own house.
On most days when he was ashore Jervis contrived to get up to Roaring Water Portage, his ostensible errand being to see 'Duke Radford, who was slowly creeping back to physical convalescence. That is, the bodily part of him was resuming its functions, only the mental part was at a standstill; and although the sick man seemed to know and love them all, he had no more understanding for the serious things of life than an average child of six or seven might have possessed. It was well for the family that their father's illness in the previous winter had in a measure prepared them for doing without him, or they must have felt even more keenly the heavy work and heavier responsibilities which had fallen upon them. As it was, they faced their difficulties with a quiet courage which left no one with a chance to pity them, although there were plenty to admire "the pluck of 'Duke Radford's young 'uns".
It was Katherine who took the lead, the boy Miles being a good second, and proving the more valuable aid because of his habit of unquestioning obedience. Mrs. Burton was willing for any drudgery, and toiled at housework and nursing with a devotion as beautiful as it was uncomplaining. But she had no talent for leadership and no faculty for organization, and, what is more, she was perfectly aware of the lack.
Night school was of course at an end. Indeed, no one had any time for thinking about education or books. Katherine made valorous attempts to carry on the studies of Miles and Phil, but had to give them up as useless, lacking strength and opportunity for the endeavour. But the long winter would make up for the neglect of the short summer, and she left off worrying over their lapse into ignorance, contenting herself with reading to them on Sundays, and, what was more important still, making them read to her.
It was delightful to be abroad in those days of early spring, and Katherine especially enjoyed the journeys to Fort Garry, when she rowed across the corner of the bay and felt the sweep of the breeze coming in from the wider waters beyond. Phil was her companion always now, because when she was absent Miles must be at home to look after the store. There were other journeys to be taken also, which, but for the portages, might have been regarded as pleasure trips pure and simple. But the portage work was hard, and by the time Katherine and Phil had tramped three times over a mile and a half of portage, laden with sugar, bacon, and flour, returning the fourth time for the birchbark, they were mostly too tired to regard the journey as anything but very hard work indeed.
Yet in spite of this it was lovely to be out in the fresh air and the sunshine. When Katherine heard the long, laughing chuckle of the ptarmigan, or saw the trailing flights of geese headed northward, she could have shouted and sung from sheer lighthearted joy at the coming of spring. But, however high her spirits rose as the weather grew better and finer, there was always the cold dread in her heart because of what the summer must bring. Of course, if her father remained in his present condition he would feel and understand nothing of the embarrassment which must fall alone upon her in meeting Mr. Selincourt. It was the dread and shrinking at the thought of this meeting which robbed the spring days of their keenest joy, and although she would be happy sometimes, the happiness was certain to be followed by fits of black depression, especially after the doing of a long portage.
There was a long, low shed at Seal Cove, where all the fish oil, whalebone, blubber, ivory, skins, and other produce of the sea harvest were stored pending ocean shipment. Jervis Ferrars had a small office railed off from one end of this unsavoury shed, and he was sitting in it writing, one afternoon in early May, when he saw Katherine's boat coming across from Fort Garry. He had been looking for it any time within the last hour, and had begun to wonder that it was so long delayed. But it was coming at last, and putting on his cap he locked his office and went out to hail the boat. This was no birchbark journey broken by weary toiling to and fro on a portage trail, but Katherine and Phil were seated in one of the good, solid boats turned out by Astor M'Kree, and both of them looked even brighter than usual.
"Are you coming home with us?" Katherine asked, as she came within speaking distance and saw that Jervis had his birchbark by a towrope.
"That is my desire, if you will have me," he said.
"With pleasure. You shall be company, and sit in the place of honour," Katherine said with a laugh, feeling that the occasion had somehow become festive, even though two miles of rowing against the current lay in front of her. "Phil, move that bundle from the seat and let Mr. Ferrars sit there; he will be more comfortable."
"Thank you, I don't want to sit there, and if I can't do as I like I shall get into the birchbark and paddle you up river on a towrope, which will jerk you horribly, and probably capsize me," said Jervis, with an obstinate air.
"What do you wish to do?" she asked demurely.
"I wish to sit where you are sitting now," he answered. "Then I will row you up river and give you a necessary lesson in steering; for don't you remember how nearly you upset us into the bank the last time but one that I rowed you up?"
Katherine flushed, but there was a laughing light in her eyes as she replied: "Oh yes! I remember perfectly well, but that was quite as much your fault as mine, for you were telling us of your experiences in that Nantucket whaler, and they were quite thrilling enough to make anyone forget to steer."
"There shall be no such temptation to forgetfulness to-day; that I can safely promise you," he answered, holding the boat steady while Katherine moved to the other seat. Then, tying his birchbark on behind, he stepped into the vacant place and commenced to pull up stream with long, steady strokes.
"You were a long time at the Fort to-day," he remarked presently.
"Yes, Mrs. M'Crawney is ill, and it was only common humanity to do what I could for her," Katherine answered gravely, for poor Mrs. M'Crawney had made her heart ache that day, because of the terrible discomfort in which the poor woman was lying, and the homesickness for old Ireland which seemed to oppress her.
"I thought she looked ill the other day when I was over there, but she would not admit it. I wanted to tell her that less hot pastry and more fresh air would work a cure perhaps; but it does not do to thrust one's opinion unasked upon people, especially when one is only a doctor in intention and not in reality," Jervis said, with a tug at the oars which expressed a good many things.
"It is a good thing for us that you are not really a doctor, or else you would not be looking after Mr. Selincourt's fishing interests, and then you would not have been here to take care of Father," Phil said.
Katherine laughed as she remarked: "For pure, unadulterated selfishness that would surely beat the record, Phil. I expect Mr. Ferrars hates Seal Cove nearly as much as he did the Nantucket whaler."
"No, he does not," Jervis broke in. "Sometimes of course Seal Cove smells rather strongly of fish oil, warm blubber, and putrid seal meat; but, taken as a whole, there are many worse places to live in. I found a bank gorgeous with anemones in blue and red yesterday, and that within ten minutes' walk of the fish shed."
"I know it," said Katherine. "That bank is always a beautiful sight; but wait until you have seen the rhododendrons on the long portage."
"Where is that—at Astor M'Kree's?" asked the young man, whose time was too much occupied to admit of much exploration of the neighbourhood.
"No, four miles farther up the river, and the portage is a mile and a half long. Phil and I call it the backache portage," replied Katherine.
"Why, do you deliver goods so far out? With no competition to be afraid of, I should have thought you might have made your customers come to buy from you," he said, frowning, for he knew very well what kind of work was involved in a portage, and it did not seem to him a fit and proper employment for a girl.
"But there is competition," laughed Katherine. "There is Peter M'Crawney, with all the great Hudson's Bay Company behind him. That is our most formidable rival, while up on Marble Island there has been started a sort of United States General Stores and Canned Food Depot. Of course, that is eight hundred miles away, and should not be dangerous, but it makes more difference than anyone might suppose."
"Well, it isn't round the corner of the next block at any rate," Jervis replied, laughing to think that trade could suffer from a rival establishment so far away.
"Yes it is, only the block is a big one, you see," she answered, and they all laughed merrily. When one is young, and the sun is shining, it is so easy to be gay, even though grim care stalks in the background.
"I thought that you and M'Crawney were rather in the position of business partners than trade rivals," Jervis said, as, passing the last bend of the river, he swung the boat along the stretch of straight water to the store.
"In a sense we are partners; that is, we agree to work together, and to supply each other's shortages in stores so far as we can. But the rivalry is there all the same. Peter M'Crawney knows he would sell three times the stuff that he does now if it were not for us; while of course our hands would be freer but for him, only we are tied to him, because half of our customers are able to pay us only in skins, and then Peter M'Crawney is our Bank of Exchange."
Katherine could not forbear a grimace as she spoke, for peltry can be a very odorous currency, and she had to examine every skin closely before deciding what it was worth in flour, bacon, or tobacco, because the red man is a past master in the art of outwitting the white man, when it comes to a question of trade.
"The plan of bartering skins for stores is not a good one, and the man who buys the skins ought not to be the one who sells the sugar and tea," Jervis remarked in a dictatorial tone; but Katherine only laughed at him, and said that he knew nothing whatever about the red man of the Keewatin wilds, or he would never suggest cash dealings.
"Still it will come, and the red man will be educated to a proper appreciation of his privileges," Jervis maintained, with the quiet obstinacy that Katherine had sometimes noticed in him before.
"I hope I shall be out of the trade before that time comes," she said, as she guided the boat in to the landing place. "As soon as Miles is able to take control of the store I shall return to my proper avocation of school teaching—that is, always providing there are children to be taught."
'Duke Radford sat in a cushioned chair at a sun-shiny window of the kitchen. He looked up with a smile when his daughter entered the room, and when she bent over him to kiss him he murmured: "Pretty Katherine", and stroked her face caressingly; then he turned with the pleased eagerness of a child to greet Jervis, whom he regarded as a very good friend indeed.
Katherine sighed as she went back to help with the unlading of the boat. It was a great comfort to feel that her father suffered nothing either in body or mind, but sometimes she would have been very thankful if she could have gone to him with her business worries, and got his advice on things which perplexed her so much. However, it was something to be thankful for that his burden of apprehension was lifted so completely, and the thought of this banished her tendency to sighing, bringing the smiles back instead. Life might be hard, but while there was hope in it, it could not be unbearable.
"Are you ready, Mary?"
"In one minute, Father. Let me see: three bags, a valise, a hold-all, a portmanteau, two hatboxes, a camping sack, a case of books, and a handbag. Oh dear, what a collection of things to look after! How I wish we were like the dogs, dear creatures, which grow their own clothes and have only their tails to hold up, or to wag in sign of amity!"
The speaker was a girl of perhaps twenty, although she had one of those quiet reserved faces which render difficult a correct guessing of the age. She was standing in the porch of the Bellevue Hotel, Temiskaming, and was garbed as if for rough travel, in coat and skirt of heather-brown cloth, faced with brown leather, with a brown hat on her head, and brown boots on her feet which reached well above the ankle. Indeed her attire was so trim, and so exceedingly suitable for rough work, that everyone at the first glance decided she must be English.
"I fancy you would not care to wear the same coat always, nor yet to wag the same tail," laughed her father, a genial-looking man of fifty, who was dressed with equal fitness for rough travel, and was just now intent on hurrying his daughter to the lake boat, which was getting up steam at a little distance.
"Like it or not, I expect it is what I shall be reduced to by the end of the summer," laughed Mary Selincourt, as she watched the various bags and bundles being piled on to a barrow by the hotel porter.
"Well, look your last on civilization and come along, for that boat won't wait much longer," said Mr. Selincourt, adding with a laugh: "unless indeed you are beginning to repent, in which case it is not too late to change your mind and go back to Miss Griffith."
"Thank you! I never change my mind unless it is about the weather, and I wouldn't turn back on this journey on any account whatever."
"Not if I turned back myself?" he enquired, as they went on board the boat.
"No; unless, of course, you were ill, in which case, I suppose, my sense of duty would oblige me to stop, even while my inclination was dragging me, with both hands, as near to the North Pole as a woman may hope to get," she said, with a nervous catching of her breath which showed some agitation behind.
"But James Bay isn't the North Pole," objected Mr. Selincourt.
"It is nearer though than this, I suppose. And this is better than Montreal," she answered, then turned to talk to a gentleman who had come on board before them, and was bound for a fishing camp higher up the lake.
Lake Temiskaming is thirty miles long, and they reached its end in the evening. But, as Mr. Selincourt had made arrangements to keep the boat for use as a floating hotel until the next morning, their first night in the wilds was a very comfortable one.
At dawn next morning everyone was astir. Three river boats were landed; these were made light enough for portage work, and strong enough for weight carrying. With them were landed some men engaged at a point farther down the lake, who had undertaken to work the boats up the Abbitibbi River to Hannah Bay. The men, although there were plenty of them, looked askance at the luggage which had to be unladen from the steamer and packed into the boats. They were thinking of the portages, and the numberless times those bags, bales, bundles, and boxes would have to be carried over miles of portages on their shoulders. But the pay was good, quite twice what they could have earned in any other direction, and as they were too wise to quarrel with their daily bread, which in this case was only biscuit, they accepted the burdens in silence.
Mr. Selincourt and Mary travelled always in the second boat with the personal luggage which had surrounded Mary in the hotel porch, while the boat which went in front and the one which came after were laden with the heavier luggage. For many days after this their journey went on. Sometimes they would make not more than seven or eight miles in a day when the portages were bad, and on one record day the total distance covered was only four miles. The weather was well-behaved as a whole, although occasionally the rain came down at a pour. Being so early in the summer, the rivers were very full, so there was never any danger of running aground, although they had to face many risks in going down the rapids, when they had crossed the height of land on a ten-mile portage, and began to descend the Mattagami River. The longest journey must come to an end at last, however, and one hot afternoon late on in June the three boats skirted the last headland of James Bay, and caught sight of the flag flying from the staff above the fish shed.
"Father, look, there is my flag!" cried Mary, in great excitement. "Don't you remember I made an especial flag for the fleet, and sent it up by Mr. Ferrars? Why, how nice it looks, and somehow I feel Just as if I were coming home."
"That is how I feel," responded Mr. Selincourt. "It is pretty country too, but it makes me feel downright bad to think of all these square miles of territory going to waste, so to speak, with no one but a few Indians for population, and then to remember the land hunger in England and——"
But Mary had put her hands over her ears, and cried: "Oh, if you love me, spare me hearing any more about that land hunger just now! I am very sorry for all the poor people who want to own three acres and a cow, but can't afford the luxury; only just for a little while I want to forget them, and to enjoy all this beauty without any drawbacks if I can."
"I am afraid you will find the drawbacks, though, in spite of your eagerness to escape them," said Mr. Selincourt, who had been quietly examining Seal Cove through a glass. Then he handed the glass to Mary, and said in a tone too low for the boatmen to hear: "If I mistake not, the first drawback is there on the shore, mending a net."
Mary took the glass and looked through it for a couple of minutes without speaking; then she gave it back, saying, with a shudder: "What a horrid-looking man!"
"Rather a low type by the look of him. But you must not judge all the population by your first glimpse of it. Because one man is a rogue does not prevent all the rest being honest," Mr. Selincourt said, putting the glass to his eye to get another look at the place they were approaching.
"Will our hut be down here on the shore?" asked Mary, who was straining her eyes for a first glimpse of the house they were to live in.
"No; Graham, who was one of the directors of the old company, you know, told me I should be wise to have it built farther up the river, at Roaring Water Portage, as it is so much more sheltered there than down here on the coast."
"Ah! that was real wisdom, for if we make up our minds to stay the winter, a sheltered position may make a great difference in our comfort," she said quickly, then stretched out her hand for the glass to have another look.
"You still think you want to spend next winter so far north?" said her father, in a questioning tone.
"Why not?" she replied, with a weary note coming into her voice. "One place is as good as another, only this would be better than some, if only there is work of some sort to do."
"We shall see how we like it," he answered, then was silent, gazing at the scene before him, which was looking its fairest on this June afternoon.
The man mending nets on the shore, who was no other than Oily Dave, had by this time become aware of the approaching boats, and was rushing to and fro in a great state of bustle and excitement. They could hear him calling to someone out of sight, and the sound of his raucous voice only served to deepen the unpleasant impression given by his appearance.
"Father, don't say much to that man, I don't like him," Mary said in a low tone; and Mr. Selincourt nodded in reply, as the boats drew in to the landing by the fish shed, and Oily Dave came hurrying forward to greet them.
"Where is Mr. Ferrars?" asked Mr. Selincourt, and for all that he was a genial, kindly man, thinking evil of none, he could not keep a hard note out of his voice as he gazed at the mean, shifty face of Oily Dave.
"He's away somewhere, over to Fort Garry, or perhaps he's crossed to Akimiski Island. The fleet have been mostly round that way this week past. Shall I show you round a bit, sir? I'm the acting manager, formerly sole manager." Oily Dave contrived to throw a withering emphasis on the latter adjective, and roiled up his eyes in a manner meant to imply injured innocence, which, however, only expressed low-down meanness and cunning.
"Ah, yes, I remember Mr. Graham spoke of you!" replied the new owner, in a strictly non-committal tone. "But why did you say you are acting manager? I only appointed Mr. Ferrars."
Oily Dave contracted his features into an unpleasant grin. "It takes them as knows these waters to understand the fishing of them, sir, and your grand drawing-room, bandbox manager would have been pretty hard put to it many a time to know what to do for the best, if it hadn't been for Oily Dave, which is me."
"I see," remarked Mr. Selincourt in a calm and casual tone, then continued with quiet authority: "Please tell Mr. Ferrars when he comes back that I have arrived, and ask him if he will come up to Roaring Water Portage as soon as it is convenient for him to do so."
"Wouldn't you like me to come and guide you up the river?" demanded Oily Dave, his jaw dropping in a crestfallen manner, for he had thought what a fine chance he would have of getting ahead of Jervis Ferrars.
"No, thank you, we have travelled too many strange waters these last few days to need guidance up the last two miles of our Journey. It is two miles, is it not?"
"Nearer three, sir, but we mostly call it two, because it sounds better," said Oily Dave. Then he took his greasy old hat off with a flourish to Mary, and the boats started on again up the main channel of the river.
There was plenty to interest the travellers now on the left bank of the river; the fish shed showed a weather-beaten front to the broad waters of the bay, while beyond it, perched on a high bluff, was a fanny brown house, with a strange-looking wing built out at the side.
"Feather, look at that house, and the queer building at the side; what is it?" cried Mary, who was flushed and eager; for to her this entrance to Roaring Water River was like coming into her kingdom, although it was not land her father owned in these parts, but water, or at least the privilege to fish in the water, and the right to cut the timber needed for the making of his boats.
"It looks uncommonly like part of an old boat. Well, if it is Astor M'Kree's work, it would seem as if I have got a man who will make the best use of the materials at hand," Mr. Selincourt replied, in a tone of satisfaction.
"Here comes a woman; oh, please, we must stop and speak to her!" said Mary, as a slatternly figure emerged from the house on the bluff, and came running down the steep path to the water's edge, gesticulating and shouting.
"Welcome, sir, and welcome, Miss, to Seal Cove!" cried Mrs. Jenkin in a breathless tone. "We are all most dreadfully delighted to have you here, and you will be sure to come and have tea with me on your first spare afternoon," she panted, in hospitable haste, the sun shining down on her dusty, unkempt hair, and revealing the rags in her dress.
Mr. Selincourt looked at his daughter in quiet amusement; but Mary rose to the occasion in a manner worthy of the country in which she was living, and answered with sweet graciousness:
"Oh! I will be sure to come; thank you so much for asking me: but I have got to get my house straight, you know, and that may take me a few days, so perhaps I will drop down the river some morning while it is cool, and let you know how I am getting on. Then you must promise to come and see me."
"Oh, I'll come! I shall be just delighted! You won't mind if I bring the babies, will you? There are only three of them, and the oldest isn't five yet; so when I go out I'm forced to take them with me, don't you see," Mrs. Jenkin said, smiling at the young lady from England, and serenely oblivious of the defects in her own toilet.
"I shall be charmed to entertain the babies, and I will be sure to come and see you very soon," called Mary, as the boat moved on, leaving Mrs. Jenkin smiling and waving from the bank.
"What a nice little woman, and how friendly and kind in her manner!" exclaimed Mary, whereat Mr. Selincourt laughed.
"Has Canada bewitched you already? What is to become of class distinctions if you are just going to hobnob with anyone who may happen along?" he asked, his eyes twinkling with fun, for he was quoting from her own past utterances.
Mary reddened, but she laughed too, then said apologetically: "It sounds the most fearful snobbery to even mention class distinctions in these wilds, where the only aristocracy that counts is nobility of endeavour. But I could not reckon myself that woman's superior, Father, because under the same circumstances I might have been even more untidy and down-at-heel than she is."
"It is hard to realize that you could be untidy under any conditions, but perhaps you might be if you had all the work of a house and the care of three babies on your hands," Mr. Selincourt replied with a shake of his head. Then he applied himself to a careful study of the river banks, which were mostly solitary, although at intervals rough loghouses showed among the trees.
"Listen to that noise; we are getting near to some rapids," Mary said, putting up her hand.
"Near to the end of our journey as well, for we stop below the portage," Mr. Selincourt said, and then the boat swept round the bend, and they saw before them a long, straight stretch of river, with houses visible at the far end where the milky hue of the water showed the river boiling over the rocks.
"So that is Roaring Water Portage! Well, the place is as pretty as the name is musical. I am very glad," Mary said with a deep sigh of content, and then she sat in silence while the boats swept up the last stretch of river, and the long, long journey was done.
The boatmen drew to the left bank, leaving the store and its outbuildings on the right. Oily Dave had told them that their house stood to the left of the falls, and although they did not see it at the first moment of landing, the well-trodden path up from the water's edge showed that it must be near at hand.
"There it is. But it does not look a bit new. Oh, I am glad!" exclaimed Mary, as a long, low hut came in sight, with glass windows and an unpainted front door, which just now stood wide open, while two small girls occupied the doorstep, and were making dolls' bonnets from leaves and plaited grass.
"I'm afraid that is not our house; someone is living there," said Mr. Selincourt: and the two small girls, becoming at this moment aware of the approach of strangers, sprang to their feet and fled into the house, casting the millinery away as they went.
"I'm afraid so too; but at least we can go and enquire where our house is to be found," Mary answered.
Then they walked up to the door and knocked, and immediately a slight, girlish figure came into view, with a small girl clinging to either hand.
"Can you tell us where Mr. Selincourt's house is to be found?" asked Mary, wondering why the girl had such sad eyes, and what relation she could be to the two little ones.
"This is Mr. Selincourt's house. I came over this afternoon to see that everything was in right order, that is all," the sad-eyed girl—or was she a woman?—explained, drawing back for Mary to enter.
Miss Selincourt entered, put her bag on the table, and gazed round with a deep sigh of satisfaction.
"What a charming room! I think I should have been ready to weep if this had not been our house. Are you Mrs. M'Kree?" she asked doubtfully, for, although the girl looked so young, she had just heard one of the children whisper, "Mummy."
"No, I am Mrs. Burton, and I come from the store across the river. Mrs. M'Kree lives farther up the river, above the second portage, so it is not easy for her to come down every day, and I have kept the house open for her."
"It is very kind of you!" exclaimed Mary gratefully, realizing that here was a very different specimen of womanhood, from the good-natured slattern who had greeted her at Seal Cove.
"We have to be kind to each other in these wilds, or we should be badly off sometimes," Mrs. Burton rejoined. Then she said timidly: "We are very glad to welcome you, and we all feel that you have conferred a great favour on us by coming to stay here this summer."
Something like an awkward lump got into Mary's throat then. She had come the long, toilsome journey solely for her own pleasure, and to be near her father, yet here was one thanking her for the privilege her coming conferred on these lone dwellers in the solitudes. She was rarely a creature of impulse, and always prided herself on the way she kept her head; but the sweet friendliness of the sad-eyed little woman touched her mightily, and stooping forward she kissed Mrs. Burton warmly, then promptly apologized, being properly ashamed of her forwardness.
"Oh, please forgive me! I really could not help it, and you—you looked so kind!" she said ruefully.
Mrs. Burton laughed, although she looked rather embarrassed, then she said gently: "I am afraid you must be very tired. If you will sit down I will quickly get you some tea."
"Please don't trouble. Father and I are quite used to doing things for ourselves, and I can make a kettle boil over my spirit lamp while the men are bringing the luggage up from the boats," Mary said hastily, feeling that she simply could not have this gentle, refined woman waiting upon her,
But for all her gentleness Mrs. Burton could be firm when she chose, and she replied quietly: "I should not think of going away until I had seen you with a meal ready prepared. The fire is all ready for lighting in the stove, and that will save your spirit lamp, and you are in the wilderness now, remember, where spirit is difficult to obtain."
The two little girls trotted after their mother. Mary tried to make friends with them, but they were not used to strangers, so showed her only averted faces and pouting red lips, which made her understand that their friendship must be left to time.
When the luggage had been brought up from the boat, Mrs. Burton had the kettle boiling, and then she sent one of the men across with a boat to the store, giving him a message for Miles, which resulted in a basket of fresh fish coming over at once. These, delicately broiled over a fire of spruce chips, and served piping hot, made, as Mr. Selincourt observed, a supper fit for a king.
Mrs. Burton stayed with her small daughters to share the meal, and if she thought ruefully of the family over the river, who would have to cook their own supper, and also go without the fish which had been intended for them, she said nothing about it, One must always suffer something in the give-and-take of life, and there were plenty of canned goods at the store which might serve at a pinch.
"Now I must go," she said, when the supper dishes had been washed. "It is time that Beth and Lotta went to bed, while my father will be wearying for me if I am too long away."
"Your father?" broke from Mary in surprise, then she stopped abruptly, realizing that her acquaintance with Mrs. Burton was too short for over-much curiosity.
"I am a widow," the little woman answered, with the simple dignity which became her so well. "I live with my father, or did; but now, strictly speaking, it is he, poor man, who lives with us, and Katherine earns the living for us all."
"Katherine is your sister?" asked Mary, and now there was tender sympathy in her tone, and she was understanding why Mrs. Burton's eyes were so sad.
"Katherine is my younger sister, and she is just wonderful," the little woman said, with love and admiration thrilling her tones. "She has done a man's work all the winter, and she is keeping the business together as well as poor Father could have done."
Would They Be Friends?
When Mrs. Burton had gone, Mary set to work to inspect the little loghouse, and make things comfortable for the night. But there was not very much that needed doing, and their weeks of river travel had shorn away so many habits which are the outcome of too much civilization, that they had come down to a primitive simplicity of living. The hut contained two small bedrooms, scarcely bigger than cabins on board ship, one sitting-room, and a lean-to kitchen in the rear. There was not an atom of paint about the place; it was all bare, brown wood, restful to the eyes, and in perfect harmony with the surrounding wilderness.
The boatmen had pitched their tent at the down-river side of the house, and were sitting round a fire on the ground smoking their pipes in great comfort and content. Mary had finished her survey of the inside of her new home, and now wandered outside the house to see what manner of country lay in the immediate neighbourhood of Roaring Water Portage. Her father was sitting on a bench by the hut door, drowsily comfortable with a cigar, and busy with numberless plans for the future. He was not in a mood for talking just then, and Mary was glad to be alone for a while.
It was broad daylight still, although the evening was getting on; but the trees grew so thickly all about the hut that she could see little beyond trunks and foliage, so, finding a little path which led upward, she commenced to climb. Great boulders strewed the ground here between the trees, and although by the sound she knew herself to be near the river, she could not see it until after a stiff climb of twenty minutes or so she emerged on an open space above the falls. Here indeed was beauty enough to satisfy even her desire for it. The undulating ground all about and below her was mostly forest-clad, the larches showed in their vivid green against the sombre hue of the pines, while giant cedars stood out black against the evening sky. On one side, right away in the distance, the waters of the bay reached to the horizon, but for to-night Mary turned her back on the sea; it was the land that charmed her most.
Presently, just where the glory of the sunset reflected itself in the river, she saw a boat coming skimming down the current. It was just the touch of life that was necessary to lift the weird solemnity from those silent forest reaches. From where she stood, leaning against the trunk of a tree on the hilltop, Mary could see without being seen; for she still wore the travelling dress which so nearly matched the tree stem in colour, and a brown veil was over her face, a necessary precaution against the mosquitoes which swarmed everywhere.
There was a girl in the boat, with soft, wavy hair, pretty and feminine in appearance, but with strength and decision in every movement, which made Mary whisper to herself: "That must be Katherine; and how graceful she is! I had quite expected her to be a great, clumping creature, because Mrs. Burton said she did a man's work."
There was a boy in the boat as well, but it was the girl who claimed Mary's attention now. The boat drew in at a point above the falls where a little shed served as boathouse, and then the boy and the girl rapidly unloaded various packages and bundles, which were dumped in a heap on the bank, while the boat was drawn in and secured under the shed.
"Phil, we shall have to make two journeys—we can never do it in one," the girl said, and her voice had a tired ring which made the unseen listener on the hilltop pity her exceedingly.
"Just you sit down for five minutes while I whistle for the dogs," said the boy. "They will hear if Miles doesn't, and there will be such a clamour that everyone will know we are close home."
As he spoke he hooked two fingers between his lips, and the resultant whistles were so piercing and shrill that Mary would have been glad to thrust her fingers in her ears, only now she would not move through fear of drawing attention to herself.
The whistles had scarcely ceased to vibrate through the quiet air when in the distance there arose a mighty clamour of barking. Mary caught her breath and waited now to see what was coming, and in less than five minutes two huge dogs came bounding down the portage path to the shed where the girl and boy were waiting.
"I must make friends with those dogs before I am many hours older, or I shall be afraid to stir away from the house," Mary said to herself, with a little shiver, as she watched the big brutes careering round.
But they were wanted for work, not play, so their gambols came to a speedy end. The boy loaded each one with packages, and, picking up a couple of bundles himself, started up the portage path, closely followed by the dogs, which perfectly understood the work that was required of them.
Then the girl rose to her feet, and stood for a moment gazing at the golden glories of the setting sun. She stretched her arms out with a quick, eager movement, as if asking for something she yearned to possess, then dropped them to her side again, and turning, proceeded to load the remainder of the packages and bundles on to her own shoulders.
If only the river had not flowed between, Mary might have gone to her assistance. As it was, she stood watching the bowed figure go slowly up the portage path to disappear among the bushes, then she also turned to retrace her steps to the hut. But the tired girl was very much in Mary's thoughts that evening. Why had she stretched out her arms to the glowing west with such a gesture of entreaty? Of course it might have been just girlish dissatisfaction with a toilsome, colourless life, or it might be that there were ambitions and desires which had to be sternly repressed.
"I wonder if we shall be friends?" she said presently, speaking aloud because she had entirely forgotten that she was not alone.
"Friends with whom?" asked her father sleepily. He was still sitting on the bench by the hut door, and Mary was leaning against the doorpost. She had been standing so ever since she came down the hill, and her thoughts were still busy with the girl who had looked so tired and carried such heavy burdens.
"I have seen a girl this evening, such a pretty girl, and so graceful in her movements, but she was doing a portage as if she were a man, and I felt that I should like to know her," Mary answered, her voice and manner more dreamy than usual. Indeed, it seemed as if the place had laid a spell upon her already.
"Probably you will have what you want, and then you will find yourself disappointed. You must not expect to find much refinement and culture in a wild place like this," Mr. Selincourt said.
"I do not look for it. But however rough or illiterate this girl may be, I think she has a soul, a longing for something she does not possess," went on Mary, who was weaving fancies and theories together in quite a remarkable fashion for her.
"Most women long for what they don't possess, and some men do the same," replied Mr. Selincourt, laughing a little. Then he rose and stretched himself, saying: "I believe I will go to bed, for I am so tired that I can hardly keep my eyes open. It is so late that Jervis Ferrars will hardly come to-night now, although I should have been glad to see him, for I am really anxious to know how the fishing is going."
"Well, you won't have to wait long, for here he comes, I fancy—although it seems funny that I should remember his step after so many months," said Mary, as a firm tread sounded on the path coming up through the bushes from the water's edge.
"Is that you, Ferrars?" asked Mr. Selincourt eagerly, his sleepiness vanishing as if by magic.
"Yes, sir," responded a voice, and the next moment Jervis Ferrars appeared in sight.
"I'm sorry that I was not on hand to welcome you when you arrived," he said.
"No matter, no matter at all!" exclaimed Mr. Selincourt, shaking hands with him; but Mary only vouchsafed a nod in response to the young man's courteous salutation.
"My welcome is only a little belated, but it could not be more sincere. You have come just at the right time, I think," Jervis went on; and at the suggestion of Mr. Selincourt the two sat down on the bench side by side, while Mary remained leaning against the doorpost as before.
"How is the fishing?" asked Mr. Selincourt.
"It is going very well indeed, and you will get a very good return for your money this year, and a much better one next season. I have been away on Akimiski all day, and I have been simply amazed at the amount of fish which could be caught, cured, and marketed if only we had the necessary plant."
"What sort of fish? Everyone is saying that Hudson Bay is played out for seal and walrus, while whales are getting scarcer every year," said Mr. Selincourt, who had bought out the old company cheaply because of this growing scarcity.
"That may be," replied Jervis, "although, being a stranger to these waters, I'm not in a position to give a reliable opinion. But of lesser fish, such as cod, halibut, lobster, salmon, and that sort of thing, there is enough going to waste to feed a nation."
"I tell you what we will do!" exclaimed Mr. Selincourt. "We will order the necessary plant, and we will start a curing factory. Of course we are out of the world for nine months in every year, but that won't make much difference in the end; and we got our fishing rights cheaply enough to enable us to make a very good thing indeed out of our venture before we have done."
"Don't you think it is rather grasping of you to want to make more money, Daddy, when you have got so much already?" broke in Mary, in a playful tone, yet with some underlying seriousness of purpose.
"Not a bit of it, my dear. Because I have got some money should be no barrier to my getting more, if I get it honestly," her father answered with soothing toleration; for Mary had ideas, and was apt to air them in rather unmeasured language when she was roused.
"It seems so ignoble to spend all one's time and energy in making money when there are so many wrongs which need righting, and so many people who need helping," she said, with a note of pathos in her tone.
"The most effectual way of helping people is to assist them in helping themselves," broke in Jervis. "If Mr. Selincourt develops this fishing as it is capable of being developed, he will do more real good than if he spent hundreds of pounds in charity."
"If you were really a Canadian you would have said dollars, not pounds," she interrupted, with mock gravity, just as if she were making fun of him to his face.
"I am an Englishman," he said quietly, too much in earnest just then to resent her levity, "so it is most natural to me to speak of pounds. But that makes no difference to the question at issue. When your father gets his factory going he will employ twenty men where he now employs one. They in turn will be able to support wives and families, which will mean employment for storekeepers, school teachers——"
"Oh, spare me any more, I beg!" she implored penitently, "and I promise never, never to object to money-making schemes again. I know you were going to add that the twenty men's wives would want twenty new hats, and so there would be an opening for a first-class millinery establishment at Roaring Water Portage."
"I had not thought of that, but of course it is quite true," he said, adding with a laugh: "and there would be an opening for a dressmaker also, don't you see?"
"I don't want to see. I don't want to hear anything more about it at all. It is all too much in the future, too practical and commonplace altogether to fit such a twilight as this," she said, with a touch of petulance. "I want to know about the people here. What sort of a man is Oily Dave? He looks a veritable old rascal."
"And for once appearances are not deceptive," replied Jervis. "Since I have been here he has tried to quietly do for me about once a week upon an average. He so nearly succeeded the first time that it has encouraged him to persevere,"
"How truly horrid!" she cried with a shiver. "But there are nicer people to compensate for him, I hope. Who is that delightfully hospitable woman who lives in the house on the bluff, with a boatlike projection at one end?"
"That is Mrs. Jenkin, my landlady, and the boat-like projection is my abode. It is very comfortable, too," he answered.
"Then who is the very pretty girl who moves with as much grace as if she had been brought up in drawing-rooms all her life, yet has to carry heavy burdens over a portage like a man?" asked Mary eagerly, her other questions having been intended only to lead up to this.
Jervis Ferrars stood up with a quick movement, and a feeling that the questioning had become suddenly intolerable; but his voice was quiet and steady as he answered: "That would be Miss Radford, whose father has the store over the river. But he has been ill for a long time, poor man, and with little hope of recovery, so his daughter has a very hard life. I am going over to see him now, if you will excuse me. There is no doctor here, of course, so I have done what I could for him."
"It was another daughter, a dear, delightful little person named Mrs. Burton, who was here when we came," said Mary. "I am glad to find there are such nice people here, and I hope we shall be friends."
Jervis flung up his head with a haughty movement, almost as if he resented the kindly overture, but he replied civilly enough; only the thought in his mind as he went down to the river was that poor Katherine, with her hard, drudging life for the good of others, was so much more noble than this girl, who lived only to please herself, that it would be a condescension on Katherine's part to be friendly with her. When he reached the store it was to find no one about but Mrs. Burton and the invalid.
"Ah, I am late to-night!" he said apologetically, and with a feeling of sharp disappointment. "But Mr. Selincourt has come, and I had to go over to report progress to him."
"What very nice people they are!" exclaimed Mrs. Burton with enthusiasm. "I was charmed with Miss Selincourt. She will be a great acquisition here this summer."
"Yes," Jervis remarked in an abstracted fashion, but not paying much heed to what was being said, for he was in perplexity as to why Katherine was not visible; and seeing no prospect of finding out without a direct question, he made the plunge and asked: "Where is your sister? Isn't she well?"
"Katherine has gone to bed, because she is so tired to-night. She and Phil have done the backache portage, as they call it, and it always wears her so much, poor girl," Mrs. Burton answered with a sigh. Then she said, with an involuntary lowering of her voice as she glanced at her father: "Katherine does not like the idea of our telling Father that Mr. Selincourt has come. She says it may excite him, and be very harmful. What do you think about it?"
Jervis glanced at the invalid, who sat in a chair by the open door, gazing out at the evening sky, where the twilight still lingered. 'Duke Radford was sitting with his head stooped a little forward, and smiling placidly as if his thoughts pleased him.
"I don't think it would hurt him; he takes so little notice," the young man answered slowly. Then he added: "But Miss Radford would know better about that than I do, and if she is afraid of the effect upon him, it would be well to be careful."
"I don't think Katherine knows more about Father than I do, because you see she is not much with him, and I don't think he understands the difference between one person and another," said Mrs. Burton. "He seems to find as much pleasure in talking to Oily Dave as to Astor M'Kree, and that is certainly different from what he used to be. But it will be very hard if we have to shut nice people like the Selincourts out of the house just because it may upset Father, who probably won't even realize that they are strangers at all."
"Well, we can but try him. Let us see if the name brings any worry to him," said Jervis, and going across to the door he began to talk to the invalid. "Mr. Selincourt and his daughter have come to spend the summer here; they live in the hut across the river that Astor M'Kree has done up so nicely. Would you like them to come and see you?"
'Duke Radford looked at him curiously, as if not understanding what he was talking about; then he said slowly: "Oh yes, I like to see people, nice people; where do they come from?"
"England," replied the young man.
The invalid shivered, then said more haltingly than before: "I don't like to think of England, it makes me sad; but Selincourt is a pretty name—a very pretty name indeed!"
Mr. Selincourt is Indiscreet
When Katherine reached home that night after doing the "backache portage" it seemed to be the last straw to her burden of endurance to be told that Mr. Selincourt had arrived. The loss of the supper fish did not trouble her, for she and Phil had brought home a fine salmon, which they had taken from an Indian woman in exchange for a couple of small packets of hairpins, which in England might have fetched perhaps a halfpenny each, but in that remote district were priced at a quarter of a dollar. It was the news of the arrival which upset her so badly. She suffered tortures while she listened to Mrs. Burton's eager talk about the Selincourts, of Mr. Selincourt's kindly manner, and Miss Selincourt's graceful charm.
"Hush, hush!" she kept saying. "You will excite and worry Father with all this talk of new people."
"I don't think so," Mrs. Burton replied. "See how peaceful he is, and how little notice he takes of anything outside. He will not remark any difference between Mr. Selincourt and Stee Jenkin, except that he may find the former more interesting to talk to."
But Katherine shook her head, stealing many a glance at her father while she ate her supper, and worrying lest the name of the man he had wronged should stir some dim memory in his clouded mind, and bring up some ghost from the hidden past, to turn his peaceful days into a nightmare of unrest once more. The salmon might have been sawdust for all the taste it had for her that night, and when supper was done she hurried through the work which could not be left, then, pleading weariness, went off to bed quite an hour before her usual time.
Although she went to bed she could not sleep. She heard Jervis come in and stay talking to Mrs. Burton. She also heard him say that he was going to take Mr. and Miss Selincourt across to Akimiski on the following day. Then Jervis left, her father went with slow, faltering steps to his bed, and Nellie came in, but, thinking her sister asleep, moved softly and did not speak, for which Katherine was mutely grateful.
It was very early on the following morning when she saw the boat with Mr. Selincourt and Mary slipping down the river, rowed by some of the men who had brought them up from the lakes. So it would be a day of respite, for the Selincourts would not be back until evening, too late to go visiting among their neighbours, and Katherine's spirits rose immediately, because there was one more day to be happy in.
She had to go to Fort Garry that day, and started an hour before noon, taking Phil with her as usual, and having her boat piled high with skins taken in barter, bags of feathers, and other marketable products. There was a short outlet to the bay from the river, a weedy channel leading through flat meadows of vivid green; only, to use an Irishism, they were not meadows at all, but stretches of swamp, in Canadian parlance a muskeg: and the unwary creature, human or animal, that set foot thereon was speedily engulfed. Very beautiful these stretches of rich green looked on a bright summer's day, and Katherine exclaimed in delight as she forced the boat through the weedy channel, which became every week more difficult to pass.
"Oh, Phil, isn't it lovely!" she cried.
"Can't say I admire it," the boy answered grumpily. "The air down here always seems to choke me, and it is twice as much trouble to drive the boat through this narrow, weedy channel as it is to go the longer way round."
"I know we shall have to cease coming this way soon, but it is pretty, and I like it," Katherine answered, and would not admit even to herself that her chief reason in choosing those weedy byways, was the desire to avoid all danger of an encounter with the Selincourts.
The voyage to Fort Garry was without incident, and the interview with the M'Crawneys was of the usual type. Mrs. M'Crawney was low-spirited and homesick, yearning for Ireland, for the smell of the peat reek and the society of her neighbours.
"I shall die if I stay here much longer. It is stagnation, not life at all; indeed, I'd sooner be dead," moaned the poor discontented woman.
"But you have books," said Katherine, pointing to a well-filled shelf in one corner of the room. "And if you are so lonely, why not take some girl from an orphanage for a companion? It would be good for the child and good for you too."
"Books are not satisfying, and I think it a great waste of time to be always reading," Mrs. M'Crawney replied with a touch of asperity. Her husband's love of books and willingness to spend money upon them was always a sore point with her, only Katherine did not know that, "And I wouldn't have a strange girl about the house, not whatever. I never could abide having to do with other people's children."
"Then I am afraid you will have to go lonely," Katherine answered, feeling that it was quite beyond her powers to make any more useful suggestion to the poor unhappy woman, whose ailment consisted more in a discontented mind than a diseased body.
The M'Crawneys were such an ill-matched pair that it always gave her a feeling of irritation to go there, while Peter M'Crawney himself was too much addicted to fulsome compliments to make her willing to face him oftener than need be. There was a cool. breeze creeping over the water as they turned back towards home, and this tempered the heat, making rowing a pure pleasure.
"Let us go the longer way," pleaded Phil, who did not care for the solemn stretches of green swamp on either side of the backwater.
But Katherine had been resting on her oars and looking round, catching sight as she did so of a fishing boat, with its brown sails set, making for the river mouth. With a fluttering of her pulses she told herself that this was most likely the fleet boat which had taken the new owner out to Akimiski, and was now bringing him back. If this were the case, her little row boat and the fisher would enter the river channel by the fish sheds side by side. She would be hot and untidy with the vigorous exercise of rowing, while Miss Selincourt, cool and calm, would gaze at her with lofty disdain, regarding her merely as a rough working girl. This was not to be endured for a moment, and, setting her hands with a tighter grip on the oars, Katherine said decidedly: "We will go through the swamps to-day. I want to get home as quickly as I can, for there are so many things to see to, and a lot of booking to do."
Phil resigned himself to the inevitable with a rather dour face, and there was silence between them for quite ten minutes, as Katherine, forced by the narrowness of the way, ceased rowing, and, shipping her oars, picked up a paddle which formed part of the boat's equipment, and commenced to paddle her way through the short cut.
"What's that?" asked Phil sharply, jerking up his head to listen again for a sound which would not have caught his ear at all if he had not been so silent just then.
"I heard nothing," said Katherine, pausing in her work, but holding the boat steady by planting her paddle in a group of rushes and holding it fast. "What kind of sound was it, Phil?"
"Something like a fox makes when it is caught in a trap," replied Phil. Then he cried eagerly: "There it is, and I believe it is a man! Ahoy there! where are you, and what is wrong?"
"Help, help!" cried a voice from somewhere, only the trouble was to know where to locate it.
"Yes, we will help you, only we can't think where you are; can't you let us know?" called Katherine, sending her voice in a reassuring shout over the reaches of treacherous green.
"I am here, holding on to some rushes," the voice said, and Katherine fairly gasped with amazement to find the submerged one so close at hand; for the patch of rushes to which she was holding the boat was the only one anywhere near, and a little ridge of solid ground connected it with the river bank, which was perhaps forty yards away.
"Be careful to keep calling out now," she said, preparing to force the boat out of its channel and into the liquid mud of the fatal green meadow.
"Here, here, here!" said the voice, sounding now so thick and hoarse that Katherine at once decided it must be one of the fishermen who had risked his life on the treacherous green of the swamp, although she wondered that anyone could have lived at Seal Cove for a week and not known of the danger that lay in the swamps.
"Phil, where can he be?" she cried, her voice sharp now with the terror of having a man in peril of his life at her side, and yet being unable to help him.
"There he is; I saw the rushes move," yelled Phil. "No, not that clump—you are looking wrong; it is the one that has got a lupin blooming in it. Ah, I saw it move again! Keep your spirits up, old fellow, and we will have you out in no time!"
"But how?" groaned Katherine under her breath, for no effort of hers would move the boat a foot farther through that awful slime, and if she got wedged she would be forced to stay there until someone came in search. Then, remembering the horrible danger of the man, she called out: "Please don't struggle at all, only just keep still, and I think we can save you, for we have got rope with us."
"So we have! My word, how fortunate!" exclaimed Phil, tugging a big bundle of stout hempen cord from under the other things of their miscellaneous lading.
"Get the other bundle too; I must have both," said Katherine, and, taking the first, she made a slip knot and a loop which would tighten to a certain extent.
"What are you going to do? You can't throw it over him from here," said the boy.
"Phil, can you be very brave, darling, and walk across on the oars?" Katherine asked, a sob catching in her throat. "I will slip this other rope round you; then, if you slip in, I can drag you out."
"I'll go," said Phil, alert and ready. Then he kicked off his boots, which were stout—and every ounce mattered when one took to walking on muskegs; but as his clothing consisted of only a flannel shirt and serge knickerbockers there were no clothes for him to shed.
Katherine slipped one loop of rope over his shoulders, put the other looped rope into his hand, then laid an oar on the mud. "Now, go; the rushes will hold you when you get there," she said sharply.
With light, cautious movements Phil stepped out on to the oar, balancing himself like a tightrope dancer, and because he was so small and light he passed in safety where a heavier person would have been quickly submerged.
Katherine stood up in the boat paying out both coils of rope. Her face was ghastly white, and her heart was beating to suffocation. She had not felt like this that day when she ventured her life on the ice to save Jervis Ferrars in the flood. But that had been her own danger, this was her brother's, and therein lay the difference.
"Landed!" cried Phil, in a quavering tone of triumph, as he planted his bare feet firmly in the rushes, which, happily, were so matted together that they would not let him through. Then he stooped, and Katherine heard him talking to the poor wretch caught in the mud beyond. "Now, let me slip this over your arm. That's right; we've got you safe enough, and they are English ropes, strong enough to pull a carthorse out of a bear pit. You mustn't struggle, though, however much you feel like it."
"Phil, can you reach the oar?" Katherine cried, her voice hoarse, for she could hardly endure the strain of the waiting.
"Yes," said the boy, stooping now and touching the perilous bridge which had carried him to the comparative safety of the clump of rushes.
"Then lay it across the clump, and well under the man's hands; keep it as firm as you can for him, while I haul on the rope. Now then——!"
With all her strength Katherine hauled at the rope. She was sitting now with her feet braced against the thwarts, and with every muscle tense she strained and strained until the perspiration streamed down her face, and the hot air of the swamp as it rose up seemed to choke her.
"Hooray, he's coming!" yelled Phil, and Katherine, who had been almost fainting, gathered her courage for yet another effort.
Phil was helping now, but, best of all, the poor victim of the muskeg was doing his share also, and at the end of a quarter of an hour of pulling, tugging, and straining he was on his knees in the clump of rushes beside Phil, and Katherine was able to rest her bleeding hands and plan the next stage of that perilous journey. But a few moments of rest that poor mud-coated wretch must have before taking any more risks, so she said cheerfully: "Now, stay as you are for five or ten minutes, just to get your strength back a little, and I will shift my cargo to accommodate you, for you will need a reserved seat, I fancy. Phil, take your handkerchief and wipe the poor man's face. I'm afraid it is rather a dirty one. Your handkerchiefs are never fit to be seen, but it is better than nothing."
Phil took a grimy blue-and-yellow cotton rag from the pocket of his serge nether garments, and proceeded to wipe the rescued man's face with as much force and energy as if he had been polishing tin pans with a view to making them shine.
"Softly, softly! How would you like to have your own face rubbed in that fashion?" admonished Katherine; and then, finishing her preparations, she stood up in the boat in readiness to help the poor man through his last stage to safety. "Please throw me that oar," she said.
Phil took up the oar, and pitched it with great dexterity, so that it fell close to the boat.
Katherine picked it up, making a little grimace of disgust at its filthiness; then, wiping the worst of the mud off on the nearest clump of rushes, she proceeded to lash both oars together with the other end of the rope that was tied to Phil.
"Are you ready?" she asked sharply, for the man still knelt gasping and panting, and seemed to have no power to help himself.
Aided by Phil he rose slowly to his feet, then said in a hoarse voice: "I don't think I can walk that bridge."
"You will have to do it, or stay where you are until we can row round to Seal Cove to bring assistance for you. Even then it may be hours before help can reach you, for the fishermen are all out to-day, and Mr. Ferrars is away also, as he has had to go to Akimiski to-day with Mr. Selincourt and his daughter."
There was contempt in Katherine's tone now, and she meant it to be so. If the man had a scrap of courage in him, she must fan it into active life, but if he were a poltroon, pure and simple, then she must do the best she could and leave the result.
To her delight, however, he lifted his head with an angry jerk. "I will come, of course, but I shall sink in and you will have to pull me out again," he said.
"Oh, you won't sink very far, and I have you well roped!" she said cheerfully. "But if you are able to spare him, let Phil dance across first, then he will be here to help me to pull if need be."
"Go along, boy, I will follow," said the man, and Katherine saw him breathing deep and hard as Phil bounded lightly across, reaching the boat without any mishap.
"Now is your turn; be quick!" she cried authoritatively, but her heart seemed to fairly stop beating as the poor man took his first step forward and reeled on the sinking oars. "Quick!" she screamed, giving a sharp tug at the cord, which seemed to rouse him, for then he came on sharply enough.
Katherine, standing up in the boat, put out her hands to steady him when he came within reaching distance, and tried not to show how she shrank from his exceeding filthiness.
"There," she said soothingly, as he sank in a limp heap in the seat she had cleared for him, "you are safe now, and you will soon get over the fright."
"Thank you!" he murmured, but seemed incapable of further speech, and sat silent while they dragged up the bridge of oars, which had sunk out of sight.
"It was lucky you tied them together," said Phil, when the oars were dragged up and the handles cleansed on the rushes.
"Yes, if I had not thought of doing that we might have whistled for our oars," said Katherine, with a laugh that had a nervous ring. The man sitting in the boat was, so far as she could see, a stranger, although he was so liberally coated with mud that it was exceedingly difficult to make any guesses about his identity, so there was nothing to account for the trembling which seized upon her as she looked at him. It was a hard struggle getting the boat back into the channel, and her hands were so sore with hauling on the rope that it was positive torture to use the paddle. The sun was pouring down with scorching brilliancy, and the flies gathered in black swarms about her face and head as she worked her way into the main channel again. Arriving there, she leaned forward and spoke to the man, who sat silent and apparently dazed in the stern of the boat.
"Are you staying at Seal Cove, and at whose house?" she asked gently, feeling exceedingly pitiful for the poor fellow, who must have lost his life if she had not chosen to bring her boat through the weedy back channel that afternoon.
"No, I have a house at Roaring Water Portage; my name is Selincourt," he answered.
The paddle which Katherine was stowing in the boat dropped from her hands with a clatter, and there was positive terror in her eyes as she gasped: "You are Mr. Selincourt, the Mr. Selincourt?"
"I suppose so; I certainly don't know any other," he said, smiling a little, which had a grotesque effect, for the mud with which his face was so liberally smeared had dried stiff in the sunshine, and the smiling made it crack like a painted mask which has been doubled up.
"But I thought you had gone to Akimiski?" Katherine said, her astonishment still so great that she would hardly have believed even now that the stranger was telling the truth, had it not been for the trembling which was upon her now that she found herself face to face with the man whom her father had so seriously wronged away back in the past.
"I should have been much wiser if I had gone," said Mr. Selincourt. "But at the last moment I decided to stay and survey the land on both sides of the river. I am sending back some of the boatmen with mails to-morrow, and it seemed essential that I should be able to write definitely to my agent in Montreal about land which I might wish to purchase. Then I got Stee Jenkin to put me across the river, and I wandered along the shore, then back along the river bank until I reached these beautiful green meadows, as I thought them. But when I started to walk across I began to sink, so slowly at first that I hardly realized what was wrong."
"That is because the mud is firmer near the bank," said Katherine. "Right out in the centre it will not bear a duck."
"I should have been under long before, only when I saw what was coming I sat down, so sank more slowly. But it was horrible, horrible!" he exclaimed, with a violent shudder.
"Don't think about it more than you can help, and we shall not be long in getting you home," she said; then bent to her oars and tried to forget how sorely her blistered hands were hurting her.
"We Must be Friends!"
When her father decided not to go to Akimiski, Mary spent a long morning in roaming about Seal Cove, visiting the various little houses dotted near the fish shed, and making herself thoroughly acquainted with the neighbourhood. But when her father got into Stee Jenkin's boat, and was rowed across the river to survey the land on the farther side, Mary had herself rowed up the river, with the intention of spending the afternoon in arranging the little brown house to suit her own fancy. The afternoon proved so warm that she decided on leaving the arranging to the next day, and sat down to write letters instead. Even this proved a task beyond her powers, for she was more exhausted than she realized by the long journey over river and trail, and the hot day was making the fatigue felt.
One letter, short and scrappy, got itself written, and then weariness had its way. Mary went into her little bedroom, and, lying down, went fast asleep. It was three hours later when she awoke, and, feeling fearfully ashamed of her laziness, she went out to the little kitchen to light a fire for getting a cup of tea ready for her father.
No matter how well-to-do in money and gear people may be, if they leave the beaten tracks of civilization and immure themselves in the wilderness they will have to learn to help themselves or else suffer hardship. So Mary Selincourt, whose father's yearly income was a good way advanced in a four-figured total, found herself compelled to the necessity of lighting her own fire, or going without the tea. There was plenty of kindling wood close to her hand, so the task presented no especial difficulty, but she laughed softly to herself as she watched the leaping flames, and thought how astonished some of her aristocratic friends would be if they could see her doing domestic work amid such humble surroundings.
When the kettle began to sing she went into the little sitting-room to set the table for tea, and was enjoying the work as if it were play and she a child again, when a sound of voices and footsteps brought her in haste to the open door. Two of the boatmen were coming up the path from the river leading a mud-coated figure whom at first Mary did not recognise. But a second glance showed her that it was really her father. With a cry of alarm she met him at the door, full of concern for his uncomfortable plight, yet not for a moment realizing how terrible his danger had been.
"Dear Father, where have you been?" she cried.
"Within a hand-grip of death," he answered, with a quaver of breakdown in his voice, for it had shaken him fearfully, that long, slow torture of being sucked into the green ooze of the muskeg.
"Don't talk about it!" she said hastily. "I will put your clean things ready. There is happily a kettle on the boil; the men will help you to bath, and when you are in bed I will bring you tea."
"Yes," he answered languidly, while she flew to get things ready, and called one of the men to assist her in putting water into the big tin pan which was the only bath the house afforded.
She was going to put the pan in the bedroom, when the man who was helping stopped her with a suggestion. "You had better leave the pan here in front of the fire, Miss; the poor gentleman is so exhausted, you see, and the fire will be a comfort to him."
"I had not thought of that, but I am quite sure you are right," she said; then got the water to a comfortable temperature, and left the men to do their best.
They were prompt and speedy. In half an hour Mr. Selincourt was lying in bed, spent and faint it is true, but as clean as soap and water could make him. Mary hovered about him with a world of tenderness in face and manner, but she would not let him talk, would not even let him tell her how or where he had come so near to finding his death on that sunny June afternoon. It was not until he was asleep that she ventured to go back to the kitchen. The men had removed all traces of their work by cleaning the splashed floor, and were busy now in the open space behind the house washing the mud-caked clothes which they had stripped from Mr. Selincourt, for those men who go on portage work must have at least an elementary knowledge of washing, or be content to go without clean shirts most of their time.
Mary beckoned for one of them to come to her.
"What happened to my father?" she asked. "I would not let him tell me, he is too thoroughly upset."
"We don't know, Miss," replied the man who had made the timely suggestion about the bath. "We were down on the bank, getting the boat ready that is to start for the south to-morrow, when a boat rowed by a girl came up the river. She was dripping with perspiration, and looked as if she had been rowing for a wager. Mr. Selincourt was sitting in the stern, and there was a small boy covered with mud too. The girl bade us take Mr. Selincourt and get him to bed, and said that she would send down river for Mr. Ferrars."
"How truly good of her!" cried Mary, with a mist of tears coming into her eyes. "It must have been Miss Radford from the store over the river. I was going to ask one of you to go to Seal Cove for Mr. Ferrars, but if he has been already sent for he may soon be here. So will you please go over to the store instead, give my love to Miss Radford, and ask her to tell you what was wrong?"
The man dried his soapy hands by the simple process of rubbing them on his trousers, and started on his errand, while Mary entered the house again and peeped in at the open door of her father's room, to make sure that he was still sleeping.
There was a good fire in the kitchen, and the kettle was boiling again. Mary had not had her cup of tea yet, although she had made one for her father. But she had forgotten all about that —forgotten, indeed, that she had taken no food, except two hard biscuits, since her early breakfast. It seemed such a long time before the man came back. His comrade was still busy out at the rear of the house, rubbing, pounding, and punching at the mud-stained clothes to get them clean, and as he worked he whistled softly over and over again two or three bars of "The Maple Leaf for Ever". For years afterwards Mary never heard the song without recalling that afternoon, with its keen anxiety, the glorious sunshine, and the steamy, soapy atmosphere of the little kitchen.
From front door to back door she paced, always treading softly through fear of disturbing the sleeper in the room beyond; then paced from back door to front door again, and paused to wait for the messenger whose coming was so delayed. Presently she heard the sound of oars, then a boat grounded, and a moment later the man came up the path, carefully carrying something in a basket which he presented to Mary.
"It is a bottle of ginger posset which Mrs. Burton has sent over for Mr. Selincourt. She says you must give him a teacupful as soon as he wakes, and you ought to make him swallow it even if he objects, as there is quinine in it, which may ward off swamp fever," the man said, with the air of one repeating a lesson.
"Mrs. Burton is very kind," said Mary, as she took basket and bottle. "But did you see Miss Radford, and why should there be danger of swamp fever for my father?"
"Miss Radford had got a party of Indians in the store that were taking all her time to manage," replied the man. "Indeed, I had to chip in and help her a bit myself, for while she showed one lot scarlet flannel and coloured calicoes, the other lot were trying to help themselves to beans, tobacco, and that sort of thing. But by the time I had punched the heads of three men, and slapped two squaws in the face, they seemed to sort of understand that good manners paid best, and acted according; then matters began to move quicker."
Mary clasped her hands in an agony of impatience. Would the man ever tell her, or would she be compelled to shake the information out of him?
"Did Miss Radford tell you what had happened?" she asked, with an emphatic stamp of her foot on the floor.
"Yes, Miss. Mr. Selincourt, not knowing, ventured out on a muskeg, and was being slowly sucked in, when she and her brother came along the back creek in their boat. It was a touch-and-go business then, for she had no planks or hurdles, though luckily she had ropes; but by sending her little brother, who weighs next to nothing at all, to slip a noose of rope under Mr. Selincourt's shoulders, she was able to haul on the rope, and so drag him out by sheer force of arm. She sent her love to you, and hopes he will soon be better," the man said, with a little flourish of his hands. In point of fact Katherine had done nothing of the kind, but it sounded better so, he thought, and gave a consolatory touch to the whole.
Mary turned abruptly away. Her father's misadventure was so much worse than she had expected that the horror of it broke down her self-control completely; the solid ground seemed to crumble under her feet, and if she had not sunk into the nearest chair she must have fallen. Sitting crouched in a corner, with her hands pressed tightly against her face, striving for the mastery over those unruly emotions of hers, she failed to hear sounds of another arrival, and did not even look up when Jervis Ferrars entered, without any ceremony of knocking.
A moment he stood in silence before her, not liking to disturb her, nor even to be a witness of her breakdown, for he knew how proud she was, and the humiliation it would be to her to be watched under such conditions. Then, seeing the door of the bedroom half-open, he passed silently and softly into the room, closing the door behind him, and Mary was alone again. It might have been ten minutes later before he reappeared, and then the anxious look had left his face; he still looked concerned, but that was chiefly on Mary's account.
"Miss Selincourt, I am fearfully disappointed in you," he announced gravely, and Mary's head came up with a jerk.
"I—I did not know that you had come," she faltered.
"All the more reason why you should have been brave and courageous, until there was someone on whom to shift the responsibility," he said quietly.
Mary reddened, and her tears disappeared as if by magic. "Is it possible that you do not know the terrible danger my father has been in?" she asked frigidly.
"Yes, I know. But in a wild country like this one must always be expected to face a certain amount of risk; and it is never worth while to weep over the might-have-beens, or how could one be happy at all?" he said lightly.
"I know it was foolish, but the horror of it broke me down; and then I was wondering whatever I should do if Father were to be ill, so far away from doctors, nurses, and comforts of any sort," she replied, with a shiver.
"I don't think he will be ill. He is sleeping as peacefully as an infant, his pulse is steady, and his heart quiet. He may be a little languid when he wakes, in which case we will keep him in bed for a day or two. Remember, I am three parts a doctor, and you can be wholly a nurse."
"I have had no experience," she faltered.
"That is only gained by practice," he answered. Then, looking at the partly-set meal on the table, he asked: "What have you had to eat to-day?"
"Not much," she answered in a dreary tone. "There were cold fish and coffee for breakfast. I had two biscuits for luncheon, but that was all."
"You are within seeing distance of starving, I should say, and that is why your courage has turned to water," he said; and, going out to the kitchen, he roused the fire again, refilled the kettle, which had boiled itself dry, and when it boiled again made her a good cup of tea, at the same time insisting on her making a solid meal.
"Oh, I feel pounds better now!" she exclaimed, when he came back from another visit to Mr. Selincourt, who still lay peacefully sleeping.
"Let it be a warning to you in future not to neglect yourself at critical moments," he replied; then asked: "What would you like me to do for you? Shall I stay with Mr. Selincourt to-night? I do not think he needs watching in the least, but if this will be a comfort to you, I will remain with pleasure."
"It is very kind of you, and I accept thankfully," she said, with such bounding relief at her heart that the whole of her outlook changed at once. It was the responsibility she dreaded so much, and when that was lifted from her shoulders she could be happy again. "Can you remain now, or must you go back to Seal Cove first?" she asked.
"I will stay now if you like, only I must trouble you to let me send one of your boatmen down to Seal Cove, with a letter of instruction for any of the boats which may arrive in with a cargo before I can be there to have the shed opened," he said.
"One of the men shall go, certainly. But while you are writing your letter may I take the boat and go over to the store to say 'Thank you' to Miss Radford and her brother for their goodness to my father? I would not have left him if you had not been here, but now I can go easily enough, and I do want them to know how really grateful I am."
"Go, by all means. I will take care of Mr. Selincourt and write my letter at the same time," Jervis answered, taking a fountain pen and a notebook from his pocket, and beginning to write forthwith.
Mary walked out of the house and down to the river just as she was, for the sun had gone down sufficiently to render a hat unnecessary. The two men were busy with their boat still, but one of them left his work and put Mary across the river in one of the other boats which lay drawn up on the bank.
The Indians, who had been crowding the store half an hour before, were encamped on the bank now, a little lower down, and were busy cooking fish for their supper. There were no other customers visible either inside the store or out. Now that the fishing was in full swing the fishermen had little time for lounging about the store; so, although the work of delivering goods was greater, there were compensating circumstances in not having the store always crowded up with men and lads, who had come more for the sake of talking than buying.
Mary walked up the steep bank and across the open space to the store door with a sense of the strangest unreality all about her. It was herself who walked and moved, yet all the time she seemed to stand aside and let another self think and feel and act. A composite odour of groceries, bacon, tobacco, and cheap clothes met her as she entered the rough, homely shed, which was a typical emporium of the backwoods; but she had no time to analyse the odours, being at once attracted by Katherine, who stood at a tall desk by the window, entering items in a ledger. At the same time Katherine glanced up and saw the visitor entering the door. She flushed at the sight, and became suddenly nervous, acutely conscious, too, of her poor, shabby clothes, old-fashioned and ill cut, as contrasted with the picturesque house gown in which Mary was garbed, a soft grey woollen, which, though simple enough to have been worn upon any occasion, yet suggested London or Paris in every line.
"You are Miss Radford, I think," said Mary in that quiet, cultured voice which somehow matched, or at least harmonized, with her gown, "and I have come to say 'Thank you' for your goodness to my dear father."
"Oh, but really it was not I who saved him, but Phil! I should have been too heavy to walk three steps across that muskeg without sticking fast," Katherine answered, with a low, nervous laugh.
But Mary was not to be put off in this fashion, and she went on, her voice fluttering a little because of the emotion she was keeping down with a resolute hand: "I know it was your brother who went out on the swamp and put the rope round my father, but I also know that it was really you who planned the rescue and pulled my father out. I cannot speak of it all as I would wish, and words are too faint and poor to express all I feel; but from my heart I am grateful, and all my life I shall be in your debt."
A sob came up in Katherine's throat, and her heart fluttered wildly, for she was thinking of that dark secret from the past which her father had told her about, and she was wondering if the work of to-day would in any sense help to wipe off that old score of wrongdoing which stood to her father's account.