Katherine stood appalled. Was it possible that Oily Dave had not told this poor woman of the trouble which had come to her? In that case she would have to break the heavy news herself, and at the thought she turned coward, and would gladly have slipped away again by the way she had come.
Mrs. Jenkin reached the end of the verse, and shrill, childish voices took up the chorus:
"In red, in red, he's all in red, My love is a soldier dressed in red".
Katherine stood listening while the chorus ended. Then Mrs. Jenkin started on afresh: "My love is a sailor clothed in blue".
But this was too much, and Katherine, pushing the door hurriedly open, forgetting the small ceremony of knocking, crossed the threshold and stood, a dripping figure, just inside the door.
"My dear Miss Radford, what is the matter?" cried the little woman, jumping up in such a hurry that she upset the baby on to the floor, where he lay and yelled, more from consternation than because he was hurt.
Katherine hesitated. Where could she begin? But then, to her surprise, Mrs. Jenkin burst out excitedly: "You surely haven't been putting any belief in that story that Oily Dave has been going round with this morning?"
"Isn't it true?" faltered Katherine; then, feeling suddenly weak, she dropped into the nearest seat, and tried to keep her lips from quivering.
"Did you ever know him speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" demanded Mrs. Jenkin scornfully, as she picked up the yelling infant and cuddled him into quiet again.
"But the others were with him, Jean Doulais, and Mickey White, and they found the boat of the Mary," faltered Katherine,
"What of that?" cried Mrs. Jenkin. "The Mary had two boats, and one might easily have got adrift through accident. I laughed in his face when he told about the water jar and the bag of biscuit. Nick Jones and Stee always keep water and biscuit in the little boats when they are hoping for a whale, for sometimes it is a long chase, and then the men get just about worn out."
"The fleet boats have been very safe so far," remarked Katherine, trying to find comfort from the little woman's cheery front, yet rather failing.
"Yes, the safest boats that go fishing in the bay, my man says, and he reckons it is because they are so small and well built," Mrs. Jenkin went on, plainly delighted to have a visitor, and evidently not much concerned about her husband's safety. "But slip that wet coat off, dear, and come closer to the stove; this damp makes us chilly, and reminds us that winter will soon be sneaking up at the back of the wind. You surely are not out delivering goods on a morning like this?"
"No, I came because I was so sorry for you," Katherine answered simply.
"Now, that is the real sort of friendship, and I thank you with all my heart," said Mrs. Jenkin, patting Katherine on the shoulder with a hand that was not too clean. Then she issued a command to her eldest daughter: "Take Percival, Gwendoline, and do you and Valerie go and play on my bed; you can have a lovely time rolling round in the blankets."
Shrieks of delight greeted this suggestion, and the three grandly named but very dirty babies promptly retired to the next room, leaving their mother and the visitor in peace, if not in quiet. The walls of the little house were very thin, and rolling round in the blankets appeared to be a very noisy pastime.
"If I believed that the Mary had gone down, it is a very miserable woman I should be to-day," said Mrs. Jenkin, who was swaying gently in a rocking-chair, "for Stee is a good husband, though perhaps he hasn't always been as straight as he ought to have been. But that was when Oily Dave was in power here. It is like master, like man, you know, and Stee is desperate easy led, either wrong or right."
"If only we knew that the Mary was safe!" moaned poor Katherine.
"I should know if it wasn't," Mrs. Jenkin answered confidently. Then she hesitated, turned very red in the face, and burst into impetuous speech: "I knew Stee was in danger that night last winter when he and Oily Dave went through the snow to steal goods from your cache, and the wolves set upon them. I perspired in sheer horror that night, though I knew nothing about what was afoot, and I knelt praying on the floor till Stee came home with his clothes all torn, and told me what he had been through. Ah! that was a dark and dreadful night; may I never see such another."
"I do not think you will," said Katherine softly. She spoke with conviction, too, for certainly Stee Jenkin had been a very different individual since that time.
Mrs. Jenkin wiped her eyes with a pinafore of Valerie's, which happened to lie handy. "I don't believe in that saying about love being blind," she remarked, with considerable energy. "I know that I have been able to see Stee's faults plain enough, and yet he is all the world to me. Yes, dear, you had better be wed to a faulty man that you really love, than be tied up to an angel that you don't love."
Katherine rose and began to struggle into her long wet mackintosh. "I would have stayed if you had really needed me," she said; "but all the while you can hope you are not to be pitied."
"Thank you, thank you, Miss Radford, good of you to come," said the little woman. Stee isn't dead yet, or I must have known it. believe he has been in danger even."
"If only I could feel like that!" murmured Katherine to herself, as she went out into the driving rain once more.
Six days went by. The weather had cleared as if by magic, a brilliant sun shone every day in a cloudless sky, and summer had returned again to cheer the northern land. But never a word had come from across the waste of grey, heaving waters, to let the anxious watchers at Seal Cove know whether the Mary still lived, or whether her crew had really gone to the bottom from the little boat which Oily Dave and his mates had found floating keel upwards.
Mrs. Jenkin still preserved her attitude of determined cheerfulness, and persisted in her belief that no harm had come to the vessel or the men. But she was the only one who still hoped. Mrs. Jones, the wife of Nick Jones, a woman shunned by her neighbours, and of a disposition the reverse of friendly, had already put on black. Her mourning garments were of ancient make, for up-to-date mourning apparel was not regarded as one of the necessaries of life, and so it was not stocked by the store at Roaring Water Portage.
Mr. Selincourt said little, but it was easy to see how much he feared, while Mary went about wearing such a look of bereavement that the folk at Seal Cove were confirmed in their belief that some sort of engagement really had existed between her and the young man who managed the business of the fishing fleet.
Katherine, shielding herself behind this mistaken belief on the part of other people, carried her sore heart bravely through those days of hoping against hope and sick apprehension. The only two people who even suspected her suffering were her brother Miles and Mr. Selincourt; but neither gave any sign of understanding that there might be any personal sorrow hidden under her sympathy for Mrs. Jenkin and the unpleasant Mrs. Jones.
On the sixth day it became necessary for Katherine to do the long portage with supplies for the Indian encampment, which had about doubled in population during the last two or three weeks. There was the usual bustle of getting off—the scampering of dogs back along the portage path for fresh burdens, the shouting of Phil, and all the cheerful accompaniments of busy toil and work willingly done. But Katherine did her part with a mechanical precision, forcing herself to this task and to that, yet feeling no zest or pleasure in anything.
Although the days were so warm and sunny, the nights and early mornings showed already a touch of frostiness, a chilly reminder of the winter that was coming; and Katherine was glad to wear a coat even while she was rowing, until the second portage had been reached. Astor M'Kree met her himself this morning, his first question being the one she most dreaded to hear.
"Any news of the Mary yet, Miss Radford?"
"No," she answered sadly. "Mr. Selincourt's little flag was hanging at half-mast when we started this morning."
"If she has gone down, it is the first boat I've built that has cost a human life, that I know of," he said, "and it makes me feel as if I should never have the courage to build another. I've got one on the stocks, but I haven't touched her since this news came up river."
"But disasters at sea will come, do what you will, and the best boat ever built would go to pieces on those Akimiski rocks," Katherine said, trying to cheer him because he seemed so sad.
"It isn't clear to me why they were on Akimiski at all, when it was the Twins they were making for," he replied, in a gloomy tone. "Mr. Selincourt told me the other day that he believed it would be better if I did my boatbuilding down below the portages; but I said no. There is no difficulty in taking the boats down when the river is in flood, though of course it would not be possible now; and I've got the feeling that I like to take the first risk in them myself. It is a queer sensation, I can tell you, to feel a boat coming to life under your feet, and when I took the Mary over the falls it was just as if she jumped forward in sheer glee, when she felt the swing and the rush of the water swirling round her sides."
Katherine nodded, but did not speak. There was a rugged eloquence about the boatbuilder which always appealed to her, but this morning it was almost more than she could bear.
"Perhaps I will come in and see Mrs. M'Kree as I come back, but I must hurry now, for I am anxious to get my business done and turn my face homeward as soon as I can," she said, after a little pause. "Father did not seem quite so well yesterday, and Nellie thinks it is the gloom of other people which has upset him."
"Very likely: poor man, he'd be bound to be sensitive in unexpected places; afflicted people mostly are. I will tell my wife you may be in later; and look here, could you spare Phil to go to Ochre Lake swan-shooting this evening? My two lads and I are going, and it is always fun for a boy. I've got an old duck rifle he can use, and we'll send him down river in time to make himself useful to-morrow morning."
One glance at Phil's face was sufficient to make Katherine decide she could do quite well without him when she got back over the second portage, and so it was arranged.
The journey that day was got through sooner than usual, owing chiefly to Phil's tendency to "hustle" in order to be back in good time for the swan-shooting. He helped Katherine over the second portage, and tumbled bundles of pelts and packages of dried fish into the boat. Then, uttering a wild whoop of delight, he turned head over heels in the dried grass on the bank, and started back along the portage path to the boatbuilder's house at a run.
Being in good time, Katherine did not trouble to row herself down river, but, pushing the boat out in midstream, let it drift on the current. It was a great luxury to be alone—to let her face take on the saddest expression it could assume, to let her hands drop idly on her lap, while for a brief space she let her grief have sway. She was thinking of the day when Jervis had come over the portage to meet her, and she had been so late that he was obliged to go back before she came. What had he come to say to her that day?
This was the question which had ceaselessly tortured Katherine through the days and nights since Oily Dave had brought the bad news about the Mary. Her heart whispered that he might have come that day to ask her to marry him, but she was not sure. If she could have been certain of this, then it seemed to her the worst of her suffering would have been removed, because then she would have had some shadow of a right to mourn for him.
But there was the portage looming in sight, and she could hear the water rushing round the bend in the river and over the falls. Then she turned round in the boat, and, taking up the oars, prepared to row in to the boathouse.
A figure, partly hidden by the cottonwood and the alders, stepped forward at this moment and prepared to moor the boat for her.
Was it instinct that made her turn her head then, or was she merely looking to see how much farther she had to row in? A frightened cry escaped her at what she saw, and the colour ebbed from her face, leaving it ghastly white.
"Katherine, did you take me for a ghost?" asked the voice of Jervis Ferrars.
"I think so," she said faintly, then sent the boat with a jerk against the mooring post, where he tied it up for her.
"Did you really think we had gone down, or had you the cheerful faith of Mrs. Jenkin?"
"I—I am afraid that I had no faith at all," she said with an effort, and never guessed how complete was her self-betrayal.
He looked at her keenly, was apparently satisfied with what he saw, then said cheerfully: "Will you row me up to Astor M'Kree's, or, rather, permit me to row you? I want to go and assure him that the Mary is quite safe, and the soundest boat that ever sailed the Bay. Shall we leave this luggage here, or row it up river for the sake of having a load?"
"Rowing is quite sufficient exercise without having an unnecessary load," replied Katherine, with a shake of her head, as she handed him the bundles to place on the bank. She was trembling so that she could hardly trust herself to speak, and was horribly afraid of breaking down like a schoolgirl, and crying from sheer joyfulness.
When the bundles were all out, Jervis got in, took the oars, and sent the boat's head round for up river again, then pulled steadily for a few minutes without speaking.
A boat is an awkward place for a person afflicted with self-consciousness. Katherine would have been thankful for some shelter in which to hide her face just then, but, having none, she rushed into nervous speech instead.
"Were you in danger? Was the Mary wrecked?" she asked, miserably conscious of the unsteadiness of her voice, yet feeling altogether too nervous to remain silent.
"No," he said. "We have had a very easy and prosperous time, though, unfortunately, we lost one of our boats on the way out—the boat picked up by Oily Dave, which has made all the trouble. We fell in with a lot of white porpoises; so the take has been a valuable one, and the men came home very well pleased with the venture: though Nick Jones felt his spirits rather dashed by meeting his wife tricked out in mourning attire, and flying a pennon of widowhood from the back of her bonnet."
Katherine laughed: she could imagine the tragic figure Mrs. Jones must have looked, and the effect the sight would have on the susceptible nerves of a Bay fisherman. Then she said hurriedly: "I shall have great faith in Mrs. Jenkin's judgment after this, although I have wondered how she could be so persistently hopeful in the face of such evidence as we had."
"And you yourself—how did you feel about it? Would it have made any difference to you if I had gone under, dear?" he asked, with a caressing note in his tone that she had never heard there before.
For answer she jerked her head round, staring at the tops of the pine trees, with the blue sky behind them, but seeing nothing and heeding nothing save the world of happiness which had suddenly opened before her astonished eyes.
It seemed a long time before any sound broke the silence save the regular splash of the oars, then Jervis said quietly: "Are you quite sure that you are not afraid to marry a poor man, Katherine?"
She looked at him with only a glance, then asked, a trifle unsteadily: "What do you mean?"
"Well, you might have looked higher, of course. I have told you how miserably poor my people and I have been. Thanks to Mr. Selincourt, things are easier with me now; but there is a streak of modesty in me somewhere, and I have been afraid to ask for what I wanted," he said, with a certain wistfulness of intonation which brought Katherine's glance round again.
"You need not have been afraid," she said softly.
"Because why?" he asked, in the tone of one who meant to be answered.
Katherine looked at the tops of the pine trees again, but, finding no help there, let her gaze drop to the dancing water, and finally faltered in a very low voice: "Because love is better than money, or that sort of thing."
He bent forward until he could look into her downcast face, then said earnestly: "You mean, then, it makes no difference to you what my worldly position may chance to be?"
"Of course not; why should it?" she asked, her glance meeting his now in surprise at his earnestness.
Their progress up river was rather slow after that, and it was something over an hour later before they reached the second portage. Astor M'Kree had started for the swan-shooting by that time, and there was only his delighted wife to scream with joyful relief at the news, that the Mary was riding safely at anchor in the river.
"Poor Astor! He has been that down he could scarcely take his food," said Mrs. M'Kree, wiping away the tears which sheer happiness had brought into her eyes.
"Get an extra big supper ready for him, then, for I expect you will find his appetite has come back with a bounce," said Jervis, laughing. "You can tell him from me to get on with that new boat as fast as he can, and we will name it the Katherine."
"Are you joking?" asked Mrs. M'Kree, who had suddenly become very serious, as she looked from Jervis to Katherine, whose face was a study in blushes.
"No, I am quite in earnest," he answered. "But we must go now, for we dumped a lot of fish out on the portage path, and I should not be surprised if half the dogs in the neighbourhood are there, sampling it, when we get back."
"I hope not, or my trouble in bringing it over the long portage will all have been thrown away," said Katherine, who could not help smiling at the bewilderment on the face of Mrs. M'Kree.
There was no need to row going down the river; they just sat side by side and let the boat drift on the current, while they talked of the present and the future. Katherine remembered her other journey down, earlier in the afternoon, and the bitter, black misery which had kept her company then.
"What a difference things make in one's outlook!" she exclaimed.
"What things?" he demanded.
"I was thinking of when I let the boat drift down this afternoon," she said. "The pine trees looked so gloomy then, and those great, black spruces yonder on the bank made me think of the decorations on funeral hearses years and years ago, the sort of thing one sees only in pictures; but now——"
"What do they let you think of now?" he asked, holding her hand in a tighter clasp, as the boat swept slowly past the funereal spruces.
"Oh! they make me think of the ornamental grounds in Montreal, or of the Swiss mountains which I see in visions when I dream I am 'doing Europe', as the Yankees say," and she laughed happily at her wild flights of fancy.
"Would you like to do Europe—after we are married?" he asked, a gravity coming into his tone that she could not understand.
"Why worry about the impossible?" she said gently. "Books are cheap, if travel is not, and we will do our European travel sitting by a winter fire."
"It might be possible some day; one never knows quite how things may turn out," he said gravely. Then he asked: "Did anyone tell you that I came up river to see you that afternoon before we sailed for the Twins?"
"Yes," she answered, flushing as she remembered how much his visit and its purpose had been in her mind during those days of keen anxiety.
"I came then to ask you the question I asked just now," he said slowly. "It has been in my heart to ask it ever since that day you helped me across the ice, saving my life at the risk of your own. But I had my mother to support then, in part, and the burden on me was too heavy for me to dare to put my personal happiness first. There was a letter for me in Mr. Selincourt's belated mail, however, that changed my outlook pretty considerably, and left me free to do as I liked; so I came to you directly."
"Do you mean——?" began Katherine, then stopped in some confusion.
"Do I mean that I have only myself to keep now, were you going to ask?" he said, laughing as he shifted his seat and took up the oars to bring the boat in to the mooring post under the boathouse; "because that is just what I do mean. I have only myself to keep until I have the privilege of keeping you; and there will be no more portage work for you then, I promise you."
Katherine sprang ashore, whistled for the dogs, then turned to him with a saucy air. "Don't be too positive about the portage work; fishermen do not exactly come under the heading of the leisured classes, and I may be glad to earn an honest dollar where I can."
Never had there been such excitement in Seal Cove and at Roaring Water Portage as when, following close on the safe return of the Mary, the tidings leaked out that Jervis Ferrars was going to marry Katherine Radford. With a very few exceptions everyone was disappointed, for common consent had given him to Mary Selincourt, and Dame Rumour does not care to make mistakes. Some there were who insisted that Mary Selincourt took the news badly, and looked pale for days afterwards; but these were the very wise ones, who always knew everything without any telling, whom nothing surprised, and who were never taken unawares.
Mr. Selincourt had himself rowed across the river directly the tidings reached him; for he was anxious to offer his congratulations, and to inform Katherine that he had expected it ever since he had been at Roaring Water Portage. Katherine's eyes grew suspiciously dim when he had gone: she was thinking of the day when he had taken her into his confidence about Mary's love affair with Archie Raymond, and she guessed that he had told her on purpose to prevent her putting any belief in the rumours flying about concerning Jervis and Mary.
The person who was most surprised was Mrs. Burton. So keenly remorseful was she, too, because of all the advice she had given her sister about standing aside, that Katherine had to turn comforter, and assure the poor little woman that the well-meant counsel had done no serious harm. But she shivered at the remembrance of how she had suffered; for the pain is always most wearing that has to be crushed down out of sight of other people's eyes.
It was the last week in September when the Selincourts sailed from Seal Cove. Mary wanted to go south by river and trail, as they had come; but the weather was so stormy that it seemed better to get to Montreal with dry feet, if they could manage to do so. They were coming back next summer to settle permanently; but before then a bigger house would have to be built, and many changes were to take place on both sides of the river from Seal Cove to Roaring Water Portage.
Jervis had begged Katherine to marry him before the winter began, so that he might take the heaviest of her burdens on his own shoulders. He was to live in Mr. Selincourt's house during the winter, and it seemed to him an ideal arrangement, if only Katherine had been willing to live there too. But she could not selfishly take her own happiness while the others needed her so much, and she steadily refused to even think of marriage until the spring came again. By that time Miles would be old enough to assume the government of affairs, and her father would not miss her presence from the house so much when the bright, long days came round again.
Finding that he could not alter her resolution, and secretly admiring her all the more because of it, Jervis set himself to pass the months of waiting as best he could. This winter it was he who taught the night school, thus relieving Katherine of what had been a heavy and sometimes very embarrassing burden. There were more scholars this year; for the river was crowded with boats, so many fishermen who had formerly wintered at Marble Island preferring to come south in order to begin work earlier in the spring.
The snow came early, shutting them in a full two weeks sooner than usual. But "early come early go" was the legend at Seal Cove, and, since the winter had to come, the sooner it was over and done with the better.
Idleness for the fishermen had been the rule in previous winters, and, as idleness is usually only another word for mischief and dissipation, the morals of the men had suffered seriously. But next summer had to be prepared for, and as there was money in plenty to pay for the work which had to be done, it seemed probable that Mr. Selincourt's plans would be pushed forward as fast as he desired.
Astor M'Kree had set up a team of dogs and a sledge painted a brilliant blue, and in this equipage, or on snowshoes, he was up and down between his house and the bay several times in most days. Some of the fishermen were fairly expert carpenters, and these found the winter brought them as much work as the summer had done, with less risk and better pay.
To Katherine the weeks of winter passed like a dream. Sometimes she contrasted them with the dark, anxious weeks of the previous winter, when the nightmare trouble about her father had first descended upon her. She was a keener business woman now than then, readier at buying and selling, quicker to see what was the right thing to do under the circumstances of the moment; but her chief aim this winter was to stand back and push Miles forward so that other people might understand who was to be business chief of the establishment in the future. Whenever Jervis could spare time to come over the river and help Phil in the store, Katherine had Miles for companion on the long journeys which were still necessary here and there.
It was pure comedy now when they went to the Indian encampment. The Indians of the bay shore could not be brought to believe that a person could have any sound, reliable judgment on any subject whatever until he had done growing; so, when Katherine appealed to Miles regarding every skin offered in barter, the red men first mocked. Then, however, they grew doubtful, and finally they veered round to a respectful attitude towards the young tradesman which Miles found very soothing.
Mr. Selincourt had arranged for an intermittent postal service between Maxohama and Seal Cove, to be carried on by Indians, during the winter. Two mails had safely reached the post office at Roaring Water Portage in this way; then three months passed with never a word from the outside world reaching the little isolated colony on the bay shore, and the people thus cut off could not understand the reason why no tidings reached them. Then one day when Katherine and Miles had gone up to Ochre Lake, where a company of Indians had made themselves winter quarters, they came upon a clue to the mystery of the missing mails.
Ochre Lake was, as usual, frozen solid, except at one end, where an enormous quantity of fish was to be found. It was nearly the end of March, but as yet there was not the slightest prospect of the frost breaking up. The nights were getting shorter, and the days were brilliant with sunshine, but it was only a cold brilliance as yet.
The Indians had remained there all the winter, so they said, because there was such an abundance of fish for food. Their winter quarters consisted of holes, about four feet deep, dug in the earth, roofed over with spruce branches heaped with snow. Fires were kindled in these lairs, and the people rarely came out save when driven to it by the necessity to catch fish for food.
The day Katherine and Miles went to the encampment it was gloriously fine, and for the first time that year the sun had real warmth in it. This had induced some of the miserable creatures to crawl out to the daylight, who perhaps had not been outside the holes for weeks. There was quite a crowd of children visible, and Katherine, whose heart always warmed to the pitiable little objects, with their mournful black eyes, produced a packet of sweets, which speedily brought a swarm of youngsters round her,
Doling the sweets out with strict impartiality, she noticed that one child had a fragment of paper in its skinny hand. This was puzzling, for the Indians were not given to education or culture in any shape or form, and the paper looked like a fragment from a letter, for she could plainly see writing upon it.
With a sign to Miles to keep the elders busy, Katherine proceeded to bribe the child to give up his dirty fragment of paper in exchange for the bag, which still had some sweets in it.
When this was done, she told Miles to cut the business short, and then they started for home. She had thrust the fragment of paper in her glove, and did not venture to look at it until they were miles away from the lake, because she did not wish the Indians to know that her curiosity had been aroused. But when the dogs had dropped into a walk, and were coming slowly up the hill at some distance behind, she pulled off her glove and proceeded to examine the dirty fragment.
It was part of a letter, and directly she saw it she recognized the handwriting as that of Mrs. Ferrars, the mother of Jervis. He had shown her some of his mother's letters, and there was no mistaking the regular, delicate handwriting. The paper was only written on on one side, and only two lines of the writing were legible:
"—is very ill; you may be sent for now at any time."
Katherine pondered over the dirty fragment with a very puzzled expression. There were three ways of explaining the presence of that bit of paper at the encampment on Ochre Lake: it might have been stolen from Jervis by the Indians, when they came down to the Cove; or the Indians coming up from Maxohama might have been robbed of the mails they were bringing by other Indians; or they might have perished in one of the winter storms, and the bags might have been found afterwards, and appropriated as justifiable treasure trove.
Katherine said nothing of all this to Miles; she wanted to speak to Jervis about it first, for, of course, it might be only part of an old letter that he had lost, and of no importance at all to anyone else. If this were proved to be the case she would be greatly relieved. A whole host of misgivings had arisen in her heart on reading the words: "You may be sent for now at any time". If Jervis were to go away, what a blank it would make in her life! Of course he would come back again, but the dreary months of his absence would be very hard to live through.
She did not see Jervis that day until evening. He came in as usual when night school was over. Then all the family were gathered in the one sitting-room the house contained, which left little chance for private conversation of any kind; the boys went away to bed after a time, taking their father with them, and then Mrs. Burton went to put her little girls to bed, and the lovers were alone for the brief half-hour which was all the time they could get for uninterrupted talk on most days. Then Katherine produced the fragment, stated how she had discovered it, and asked a little shyly if it were part of an old letter, or a bit of one he had never received.
"I have never had it, of that I am quite certain," he said, with a very grave look on his face.
"Then who is ill? Is it one of your brothers?" she asked, with a painful throb at her heart; for something in his looks and his expression made her certain that if the summons came he would have to go.
"No, George and Fred are hard as nails; nothing is likely to ail them, nor would their illness necessitate my going home. I expect it is Cousin Samuel who is ill," Jervis answered, with a curious hesitancy of manner and a sort of constraint which made Katherine's heart heavy as lead, although she held her head high and looked prouder than ever.
"What will you do?" she asked, and her tone was breathless, despite her efforts to make her voice have merely a casual sound.
"If Cousin Samuel dies I shall have to go to England, I suppose. He is the well-to-do member of our family, and his death would mean business affairs to look after," Jervis answered, as he surveyed the scrap of paper, turning it over and over, as if to see if there were anything on it that might have been missed.
"Is he your cousin or your father's?" she asked. "Neither; he is my grandfather's first cousin, a hard, cruel old man, with not an ounce of charity, nor even ordinary kind-heartedness, in his whole composition," Jervis answered in a hard tone. "I asked his help for my mother when she was left a widow, but he turned a deaf ear to the plea, and left her to struggle on, to sink or swim as best she could."
"I see," said Katherine, and now it was her voice which was constrained. Then she asked timidly: "If you go to England, when will you have to start?"
"That will depend upon you; for of course I am not going to England to leave you behind, that goes without saying," he answered, in a masterful tone that set her heart throbbing wildly, only now it was joy, and not sorrow, that caused the emotion. "I must see what I can do about getting a minister up here to marry us," he went on; "then we should be ready to start directly the waters are open, if need should arise."
"Wouldn't it be wiser to put off our wedding until you come back? It will cost you such a fearful lot to take me too," she said, feeling that she must take a common-sense, prudent view of the situation, although the prospect of going with him set her nerves tingling with delight.
"No, no, sweetheart, I am not going to leave you behind," he said, holding her hand in a pressure that hurt her. "If I go to England I will take my wife along with me; if that can't be managed I will stay where I am."
Katherine laughed. "It is all very well to be so positive, but I don't see how it is to be managed. It is one thing for me to marry and just go over the river to live, because then I can always come to help when I am wanted," she said, the mirth dying out of her face, and leaving it with a troubled look; "but it is quite another matter to marry and go straight away to England."
"Nevertheless, it may have to be done," he said; adding, with a smile: "Don't be so conceited as to think the world can't turn round without your help in pushing it. Here comes Mrs. Burton; let us ask her opinion."
"Upon what?" said Nellie, who came out from the bedroom at that moment.
"Upon our getting married at the very earliest opportunity and going to England afterwards on a honeymoon trip, if we feel so inclined," replied Jervis promptly.
Mrs. Burton looked considerably surprised, but she said quickly: "The trip would do Katherine a lot of good, if you can afford the time and the expense, and we could spare her somehow."
"Just my own opinion," he answered, with a laugh.
The weeks slid past at a faster rate when the snow began to melt and the water came over the rapids with a roar, and a rush that threatened to sweep everything before it. Jervis went up to Ochre Lake a day or two after Katherine brought him that dirty fragment of paper, and offered to buy any more of the same kind of thing which the Indians might happen to possess, and pay for it liberally with tobacco. But no one appeared to know anything about the scrap, and no one had any more fragments to offer in barter, so he had to go away with the mystery unsolved. Then a week later, when Katherine and Miles went to the encampment with a sledgeload of provisions it was to find that the whole lot had vanished, leaving the dug-outs, in which they had existed so long, deserted. There was no chance of tracing them, for the very next day it began to snow again, and after two days of uninterrupted snowfall it began to rain, and everyone realized that spring was coming.
There had been no trouble on the score of 'Duke Radford's health in this second winter. His mind was placid, though clouded still. He was gentle and affectionate, and easily pleased, and he played with the two little girls as if he had been one of themselves.
Katherine, watching him with anxious, loving eyes, noticed that now he clung to Nellie more than he did to her. At first this raised an acute jealousy in her heart, for she was very human, and in his days of health and mental vigour her father had always clung most to her; but a very little reflection brought her to see that this change was really a matter for thankfulness, as he would not miss her so much during her absence. It was good for Mrs. Burton, too; for the more there were to love and depend upon her the easier did she find it to rise to the occasion, and be ready to meet all the demands upon her.
The great difficulty in arranging for an early marriage lay in securing a minister to perform the ceremony. Directly the waters were open, Jervis sent men with mails to Maxohama, with instructions to bring back a clergyman with them—the bishop if they could get him; but if he were not available, that is, if his spring visitation had not begun, then some other clergyman must be secured. He also sent a letter to Mr. Selincourt, urging that gentleman's speedy return, stating as his reason the necessity there might be for his own absence when the fishing commenced.
When the men had gone there were other preparations to be set afoot, and, although five weeks might possibly elapse before the men returned with the clergyman, arrangements for the ceremony had to be set about without delay, because there was so much to be done.
A wedding in that out-of-the-way place was such an extraordinary occasion that everyone at Seal Cove and Roaring Water Portage would expect an invitation, so preparations must be made to welcome and entertain the entire population. Katherine would have much preferred to be quietly married in their sitting-room, with no one but her own people to look at her; but Mrs. Burton protested loudly at this, and even Jervis took sides with her, saying that everyone would surely be disappointed if shut out.
"But you don't mean to ask everyone?" exclaimed Katherine.
"I expect everyone will want to come," Jervis replied, with a shrug of his broad shoulders.
"Do you mean to ask Oily Dave, Bobby Poole, and all that lot?" she cried in dismay.
"If they will come I shall be delighted to see them," he answered gravely.
"But Oily Dave——" she began, then stopped as if she had no words adequate to the expression of her feelings.
"Tried to kill me once, were you going to say? I know he did. But perhaps if he had not fastened me in, to drown like a rat in a hole, you would not have come to rescue me; and as that fact so much out-balances the other, why, I feel rather in Oily Dave's debt than otherwise."
It was the Sunday after the men had started with the mail for Maxohama, and Jervis was walking with Katherine in the woods above the first portage, while the laughing chuckle of the ptarmigan sounded on all sides.
Katherine began to smile at the figure her wedding guests might be expected to cut, then cried out in alarm: "Oh dear, whatever shall we do if the bishop comes, as you have asked? What will he think of such a mixed medley of folks?"
"I have no doubt that he will think it a fine opportunity for preaching a sermon, and, as he is really a very eloquent man, he is sure to be worth listening to," Jervis said quietly.
"There is one thing Nellie and I can't agree about, and I want you to settle it for me," she said, facing round upon him with a sudden gravity which surprised him, because she had been laughing only a moment before.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Nellie wants to take French leave and borrow Mr. Selincourt's new house for the wedding; but I should hate it!" she exclaimed vehemently.
"There is no need—besides, Mr. Selincourt will probably be here. Why not use the store? Your stocks of goods are nearly at their lowest, and the people that could not get inside could stay outside," he said.
Katherine drew a long breath of relief; then she said softly: "Thank you; I thought you would not disappoint me. You never have; I do not think you ever will. But Nellie said—"
"Yes, what did she say?" he asked, his voice very gentle now, as if he understood something of the trouble and diffidence which lay behind.
"Nellie said that you would not care to be married in a country store, with cheese and bacon and all that sort of thing about. She and Ted Burton were married so, but that was different," Katherine answered jerkily.
"The store seems to me an ideal place for the ceremony, seeing that we have no church. How do you feel about it yourself?" he asked abruptly.
"I should prefer it there. Only, I wanted to be sure you would not mind," she said, flinging her head up with a proud gesture, although the laughing light had come back to her eyes.
"I think, my dear, that the man who marries you will be so supremely fortunate that it will matter nothing whether the ceremony is performed in a cathedral or an Indian dug-out," he said, with a gravity that showed the words to be no empty compliment, but the sincere expression of what he felt.
Katherine's lips quivered, but it was a day for smiles, not tears; so she laughed in the nervous fashion with which she was apt to cloak all deep emotion, and said: "I suppose the store may be regarded as the middle way between the cathedral and the dug-out; anyhow, it will be cleaner than the latter by a good long way. I shall tell Nellie to-night that you are quite satisfied to be married in the store, and then perhaps her scruples will vanish."
"We will hope so, at all events," he answered. "The easiest way to issue invitations will be to chalk a notice on the board outside the store, inviting anyone who wishes to be present at the wedding of Miss Katherine Radford with Jervis Ferrars, date to be fixed later on. That had better be attended to to-morrow, so that the intending guests may have time to get their finery all in readiness."
"Oh, what finery it will be!" exclaimed Katherine, with a ripple of amused laughter. "There will be the oddest assortment of garments that anyone can imagine. I believe Oily Dave possesses a 'top' hat, and that will be certain to appear."
"Never mind; we shall survive, I dare say, and so will the bishop if he comes," Jervis answered; and then the talk of the two wandered on to the golden future which they were to spend together, while the glad sunshine filtered down upon them through the pine boughs, and the world was a joyous place because of the love which made everything beautiful.
Jervis chalked the general invitation to the wedding on the board outside the store next day, and great was the satisfaction which the announcement produced. If everyone was invited, then no one felt left out in the cold; and immediately there ensued a great bustle of preparation for the function, which certainly would be the event of the year to the dwellers on the bay shore.
Katherine and Mrs. Burton were busier than anyone, for they had the store to spring-clean, and that was a task calling for hard work and careful management. There was also the question of wedding garments; but these, in consideration of the limited stock of materials at their disposal, could not amount to much. For a bridal dress, Katherine had decided on a white embroidered muslin which had been her one extravagance when she was in Montreal, and which was made with a high neck and long sleeves. Sometimes she wondered if embroidered muslin were quite the right material for the wedding dress of a fisherman's wife; but as she had no other frock which would serve, it had to be that or nothing.
The days slipped away one by one, and at last they were watching hourly for the return of the men who had been sent to Maxohama for the clergyman. It was a glorious day early in June when Katherine, who had been over to Fort Garry with Phil, was rowing up the back creek, and came suddenly upon quite a procession of small boats which was passing up river.
"Hurrah! It is Mr. Selincourt!" yelled Phil, pulling off his cap and waving it like mad.
"And Mary!" exclaimed Katherine, who suddenly went rosy red, for in the last boat of all was an elderly man, with a kind face and a clerical air, whom she instantly recognized as the bishop from the description Jervis had given her of him.
"Katherine, Katherine, how bonny you look!" cried Mary, and then the boats came nearer together, and greetings became general.
Katherine was introduced to the bishop, who bowed and smiled in a kindly fashion, although introductions at fifteen or twenty yards apart are rather awkward affairs. Then Mary insisted on being transferred to Katherine's boat, and as unceremoniously ordered Phil to occupy the place she was leaving.
"Oh, my dear, I am glad to be back again!" she cried, as she settled herself on the seat from which she had just turned Phil.
"We are very glad to see you back," Katherine answered soberly. The sight of the bishop had set her pulses fluttering wildly, and she was hardly mistress of herself again, as yet.
"The journey has been delightful," Mary rattled on, understanding the cause of Katherine's fluctuating colour, and anxious to give her time to recover from her confusion. "We are such a large party, too, that it has been like a perpetual picnic, with only two drawbacks which really mattered."
"What were they?" asked Katherine, supposing the drawbacks to be some item of portage discomfort, or rainstorms which came at the wrong time.
"The first was a horrid little man, a Mr. Clay, who has come all the way from England to see Mr. Ferrars, and begged to be allowed to attach himself to our party. A perfect little kill-joy he is, so prim, so proper and precise, that one is tempted to believe he must have been born a grown-up, and so has had no childhood at all."
"Where is he now? I did not notice that there was another stranger beside the bishop," said Katherine, turning her head to look at the other boats, which were leading.
"We left him behind at the fish sheds with Mr. Ferrars," said Mary. "He has his own boat and his own men. He turns his aristocratic little nose up at everything Canadian, and loudly pities anyone who is fated to live two or three hundred miles from a railway depot. But he apparently has the most utter admiration for Mr. Ferrars, and the fright he was in the day we found the bones was, I am quite sure, entirely due to a fear he had lest it was Mr. Ferrars who had come to grief."
"What bones, and where did you find them?" asked Katherine, with a start.
Mary shrugged her shoulders and answered: "Two days ago we did a portage on the Albany, and came, at camping time, upon the gruesome spectacle of two skeletons lying side by side under a little shelter formed of snowshoes and spruce boughs. We supposed that they must have been the Indians dispatched from Maxohama months ago with mails, only there were no mail bags, and no food bags either; so, of course, they might have been only ordinary Indians on a journey. Our portage men insisted that the remains were those of Indians, to the intense relief of Mr. Clay. The poor man was plainly in a great state of worry about the remains, and kept questioning Father as to whether there would be any likelihood of Mr. Ferrars trying to work his way down to the railroad in midwinter."
"I should think those Indians must have been the men who were bringing the mail, and probably they were caught in a snowstorm and died in their sleep," said Katherine.
"In that case what had become of the mail bags and the food sacks?" asked Mary.
"Stolen, doubtless, by other Indians," replied Katherine, who then told Mary of the discovery she had made of the fragment of a letter in the hands of a child at the Ochre Lake encampment.
"So you never had that mail? Oh, you poor things, what a long time you have been without any news of the outside world!" cried Mary.
"But we have survived it, you see," Katherine answered with a laugh. Then she asked Mary if she would not like to be rowed to the store first, before going to inspect the new house.
"Yes, please; I want to see your father and Mrs. Burton, to say nothing of the twins and Miles," Mary answered eagerly. Then she said, with a wistful note in her voice: "You will let me be bridesmaid tomorrow?"
"To-morrow?" repeated Katherine in surprise. Then, blushing vividly, she answered: "But I am not sure that it will be to-morrow."
"I am," replied Mary calmly, "for the simple reason that the bishop starts the day after for Marble Island, which he hopes to reach before the whalers are all broken out of the ice. Father is going to send him up the bay in the best available boat. You will let me be bridesmaid, won't you?"
"If you wish, certainly," said Katherine; then the boat bumped against the mooring post and was made fast, after which the two girls walked up to the store together.
'Duke Radford was sitting in the sunshine, looking dreamily out over the river, which at this time of the year was at its widest and highest. He rose with a pleased exclamation when Mary came into view, and took off his hat with a courtly air.
"I remember you quite well, and your coming always used to make me happy, but I have forgotten your name," he said, apologetically.
"Call me Mary; it is easy to remember," she answered in a gentle tone. Then she stayed in the sunshine talking to him, until Mrs. Burton and the twins rushed out to carry her off by force.
It was Miles who rowed Mary over the river, for a fit of shyness came upon Katherine, and she was not visible to many people except her own family for the remainder of that day. Jervis came over in the evening, and there was a troubled look on his face which Katherine noticed at once.
"Is something wrong?" she asked, a chill of fear creeping into her heart lest even at this eleventh hour something was coming to stand between her and her happiness.
"I have only had a few more cares and responsibilities dumped upon me than I had bargained for," he answered. "Do you feel equal to helping me to bear them?"
"Of course," she answered brightly.
"Did they tell you about Mr. Clay's arrival?" he asked, holding her hands, and looking down into her face with an expression she could by no means fathom.
"Yes; Mary told me about him. She said he was a horrid little man. Is it true?" Katherine asked, smiling at the remembrance of Mary's energetic utterances.
"I think he means to be very kind," Jervis answered; "but the journey has got on his nerves rather. However, I helped him to a hot bath, and now he has gone to bed in a happier frame of mind; and he wants to be best man to-morrow, so I have squared matters with Miles. Do you mind?"
"Of course not," she answered brightly, thrusting back the feeling of not wanting any more strangers to intrude themselves into that holy of holies which was to take place to-morrow.
"Mr. Clay is the——I mean, he is a friend of the family, and he has been good to my mother," Jervis went on, a curious air of constraint showing itself in him, which might have been due to nervousness, although he was not wont to be troubled in that fashion. "Cousin Samuel died in February, and affairs have been at sixes and sevens since, wanting my presence in England."
"You will have to go, then?" she asked quickly.
"We must start next week, I think," he answered, with an emphasis on the pronoun that set her heart at rest. "Mr. Clay is going on to Marble Island with the bishop to-morrow. He wants to see if there is any boat there which will serve to take us round to Halifax when the Strait is open. If not, we shall have to go by river and trail to Maxohama; but I want to spare you that fatigue if I can, for you have done quite enough portage work already."
"I would just as soon face the portages as the sea-sickness which will inevitably be my portion going through the Strait," she answered, with a laugh. "But where do the troubles come in, Jervis? Did your cousin die poor?"
"Time enough to hear about the troubles when to-morrow comes. I am not going to worry you with them to-night."
The day was as gloriously fine as the most exacting of brides could have wished for, and by noon the company were beginning to assemble.
Some of the fishing boats were away, which was disappointing for the crews, although it is a little difficult to imagine how one extra person could have been squeezed into the congregation which later on crowded the store.
Jervis came over the river very early in the morning, and, with the help of Miles and Phil, got the store ready to serve as a church for the occasion. Pails of lard with boards laid across served for seats in the centre of the floor; barrels of pork, of beans, and of flour made a sort of dais or high seat all round the walls, on which the boys and the younger men might be accommodated. Rather a precarious kind of seat this was, as barrel heads were apt to give way, and then the luckless individual would be smothered with flour or bespattered with brine.
Mary also came across early, to help to dress the bride, and her mood was so wildly hilarious that Mrs. Burton felt it necessary to gently reprove her.
"Of course it is right to be happy and cheerful at a wedding, but there is always a strain of sadness somewhere to keep our spirits even. And we can't forget that Katherine is to go to England next week."
"But she will be glad to go, and glad to come back; no one wants to stay in one place all her life, in these gadabout days," Mary answered. Then she produced a box and bade Katherine admire what she had brought her.
"I felt when I bought it that it was shockingly unsuitable," Mary said, laughing, as from the folds of soft white paper she lifted out a square of exquisite lace for a bridal veil, and flung it over Katherine's hair. "But plainly I have the eye of a seer, and I imagined you standing up to be married in a sailor hat, or something equally unsuitable, and it was not to be endured."
"How lovely!" sighed Mrs. Burton, in an ecstasy of admiration. But Katherine said nothing at all; her heart was too full for speech, and she was thinking of last summer, when it had seemed right that she should stand aside to let Mary have the happiness she wanted for herself. Things had changed so much since then that it seemed scarcely possible that she could have had to bear so many heartaches.
At this moment one of the twins burst into the room with the information that the bishop had arrived, and Katherine, walking like one in a dream, went out from her chamber and crossed the homely kitchen to the store.
A murmur went round the crowded place as she entered. Heretofore she had been to them a good, hard-working girl, with pleasant manners and a pretty face. They had seen her staggering along the portage paths laden with heavy burdens; they had seen her struggling to row a boat up river against a strong current; they had met her dripping with wet, or covered with frost, like an Esquimaux: but this stately girl with the beautiful face, clad in her white bridal robe, and with Mary's veil over her shining hair, was a revelation to them, and it was Oily Dave who voiced the opinion of the assembly when he exclaimed in a very audible tone: "My word, but ain't she a stunner!"
He was sitting in the very front row, as if he were the most intimate and faithful friend the family possessed. He held his treasured "top" hat carefully in front of him, as if it were a collecting bag, and he were about to take the offertory. For the rest, his costume was something of a mixture: a football sweater with broad stripes, a Norfolk jacket, dungaree trousers, and a fisherman's long boots made him a striking figure even in that company of mixed costumes. He was as self-satisfied and complacent as if he had never planned evil deeds and tried to carry them out, while the benevolence with which he smiled upon the wedding party might have led one to suppose they had no more tried or trusted friend than he.
Katherine was conscious of the critical, appraising glances of the trim little gentleman who stood by the side of Jervis, and they made her vaguely uncomfortable, coming between her and the mellow utterances of the bishop in his opening address. But she forgot Mr. Clay and his searching looks after a time, and was sensible only of the love which wrapped her round when Miles, at a sign from the bishop, took Katherine's hand, and, placing it in that of his father, whispered to him to give it to Jervis.
'Duke Radford, standing erect, his fine figure head and shoulders taller than those around him, except the bridegroom, smiled round on the assembly, stood holding Katherine's ungloved hand, softly stroking and patting it, until Jervis reached forward to take it, when he relinquished it with a smile and a nod, quite satisfied to have it so.
The register was signed in the kitchen, and it was there that the revelation took place which came as a thunderclap of surprise to everyone concerned, except Jervis and Mr. Clay, the latter of whom, when the bishop's part of the ceremony was done, took the remainder upon himself, and proceeded to make his explanations in a voice which Mary declared made her think of musty parchments and red tape.
He addressed himself to Katherine, bowing so profoundly that it was wonderful he was able to return to a perpendicular position without catching hold of something with which to pull himself up. "I have to congratulate you on becoming the Countess of Compton, and I am quite certain the title was never worn by one more worthy to adorn it."
Katherine shrank a step nearer to her husband, and there was a look of positive fear in her eyes, for privately she thought Mr. Clay must be mad. "I do not understand you," she said gently, and the silence in the kitchen was so profound, as they waited for Mr. Clay's reply, that the buzz of talk which had broken out in the crowded store seemed tremendously loud by contrast.
Mr. Clay cleared his throat with a dry little cough, intended to emphasize the importance of the remarks which he had to make, then he said: "Lord Compton insisted last night that no word should be spoken concerning his accession to the title until after the ceremony of to-day; but now it must be known, and I have to inform you that your husband has been seventh Earl of Compton since the 18th of February last, only it seems he did not know of his cousin's death until yesterday, when I arrived with papers for him to sign."
Katherine became very pale, and turned with a quick movement to Jervis, who stood looking down upon her with a smile. "Even now I do not understand; please tell me," she said, with a bewildered expression.
"My cousin Samuel was the sixth earl," said Jervis, taking his wife's hand and talking to her in the same quietly confidential tone that he might have used had they two been alone, instead of the centre figures of a crowded room. "My father was the son of the younger son, with three lives between him and the title. As I have told you, Samuel, old Lord Compton, was very cruel to my mother in her widowhood, and I hotly determined never to have anything to do with him. Then his son and his grandson died within a few weeks of each other, and Mr. Clay, who is the family lawyer, wrote to me telling me that I was the next heir, and Cousin Samuel wanted me to go home and take up the duties of my new position. That letter came last summer, but I would not go, and I would not accept an allowance for myself; but I asked for one for my mother, and education for my brothers. I have not deceived you, my dearest. I have only withheld from you facts which did not matter until now."
Katherine flushed and then grew pale; she knew that all eyes were upon her, but there was one thing she must know, and her voice had an anxious ring as she asked: "Did you—did you know this, I mean that you were the next heir, when you asked me to marry you?"
"Yes, I knew," he answered cheerfully, and now his voice had got back its old confident ring, for the shadow of constraint which Katherine had noticed in him last night had been owing to this knowledge which he was holding back, and which had troubled him more than he cared to confess. "But even then there was no great certainty of my succeeding. Cousin Samuel might have married again, and left another son to come after him. I was just a working man, and I looked to support my wife by the labour of my hands. You must forgive me that I did not tell you I was going to make a great lady of you, because, you see, I did not know until yesterday, though the scrap of paper you discovered at Ochre Lake warned me that the title might not be far off; so I was not greatly surprised when Mr. Clay introduced himself to me yesterday."
"Mr. Clay is evidently a lawyer by nature as well as by profession, since he was able to keep a secret of such magnitude through so many miles of travel," interposed the bishop, anxious to break the strain for Katherine, whose colour was still coming and going, and whose eyes had the frightened look of a trapped wild creature.
"I was sure there must be some story of greatness behind, when it became necessary for a family lawyer to take such a journey as this," Mary Selincourt said, with an easy laugh, doing her best to second the bishop's efforts to draw off attention from Katherine for a time. "And now, don't you think we might as well start feeding the multitude, Nellie? or they will not be in a proper frame of mind to appreciate the bishop's sermon presently."
The diversion was effectual; everyone poured outside to where tables were spread under the trees by the river. Tea, coffee, cakes, and lemonade became the concern of the moment. And in the kitchen the two who had been made husband and wife were left alone.
"Am I forgiven, your ladyship?" Jervis asked; but there was a note of anxiety in his bantering tone, for Katherine's head was averted, and held at an angle which made him apprehensive.
"Jervis, why did you not tell me while there was time to draw back? For I—I am not fit to be a great lady!" she burst out passionately.
"I did not tell you because I was so horribly afraid you would want to draw back," he admitted candidly, "and I wanted you so badly that I could not afford to take the risk. You are quite as fit to be a great lady as I am to be a great gentleman; that goes without saying."
"But think of the work I have had to do?" she faltered, shrinking and shivering at the prospect before her.
"Work is no degradation," he answered hastily, "or my days in the Nantucket whaler might easily rise up in judgment against me; for I am certain there can be no more filthy or disgusting work on the face of the earth than I did then. Perhaps it is better for us that we have had to toil so hard; we shall be better able to sympathize with other workers, and to help them."
"I shall not know how to manage a houseful of servants," she said, with such a comical air of distress that he had to laugh again.
"You need not have more servants than you like, and if you can't manage them, why, we must pay someone to manage them for us," he said gaily. Then his voice grew graver as he asked: "When are you going to tell me that I am forgiven, Katherine?"
Something in the look on his face reminded her of the day when she had risked her life to save him from the flood, and the memory broke down the rampart of offended pride which had sprung up in her heart when Mr. Clay made his astounding revelation.
"I don't suppose it really matters what our position is as long as we love each other," she said unsteadily. "And so—and so you are forgiven; but don't do it again."
"My dear, there are no more titles in our family that I know of," he answered, as he lifted her veil to kiss her; "so there is not the remotest chance that you will ever have higher rank than a countess's."
"I don't want to have higher rank than a countess's," she answered soberly. "But I mean, don't keep things back in future, Jervis, or I shall always be in fear. I want to know the bad as well as the good!"
"Do you call it bad to find yourself a countess?" he asked, with an air of mock horror.
"I find it difficult to get used to the idea," she said, with a rather watery smile; for the greatness thrust upon her was by no means to her mind.
Later on, when she came out with her husband to drink a cup of coffee with the group under the trees, although she was the same Katherine, quick to smile, and with a pleasant word for everyone, there was already a difference, and she carried herself with an added stateliness which caused Mrs. Jenkin to remark with a sentimental air that greatness had eaten into her soul.
But it was Oily Dave who took the chief credit for the whole business, and, having succeeded in cornering the bishop and Mr. Clay, he proceeded to inform them of the manner in which he had helped the match along. "If it hadn't been for me there wouldn't have been no interesting occasion such as this here to-day," he said, standing before them, the fishing boots planted wide apart, the "top" hat carefully held in his left hand: for of course he could not have his head covered in presence of a bishop; moreover, the hat, being too big for him, had a trick of coming down over his face like an extinguisher.
"Pray, what was it that you did to help the business forward?" asked the bishop, with a twinkle in his eye, whilst Mr. Clay's stiff black hair nearly curled with horror at the thought of a low-class person like Oily Dave having anything to do with making the marriage of his client, the Earl of Compton.
"I gave the girl, I mean her ladyship, the chance to save the young man's life, and that, I take it, was the starting-point of the whole affair."
"Without doubt it helped the process," replied the bishop with a laugh; and then Mr. Selincourt intervened by saying it was time for the bishop's service to begin, so Oily Dave was promptly hustled to his proper place in the background.
The bishop was more than ordinarily eloquent that evening; but the bride, in her white robe, sitting beside her husband, heard only the words of the text: "He shall choose our inheritance for us".