The Lure of the North
by Harold Bindloss
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Published in England under the Title Agatha's Fortune

New York Frederick A. Stokes Company Publishers







































Dinner was nearly over at the big red hotel that stands high above the city of Quebec, and Thirlwell, sitting at one of the tables, abstractedly glanced about. The spacious room was filled with skilfully tempered light that glimmered on colored glasses and sparkled on silver; pillars and cornices were decorated with artistic taste. A murmur of careless talk rose from the groups of fashionably dressed women and prosperous men, and he heard a girl's soft laugh.

All this struck a note of refined luxury that was strange to Thirlwell, who had spent some years in the wilds, where the small, frost-bitten pines roll across the rocks and muskegs of North Ontario. One lived hard up there, enduring arctic cold, and the heat of the short summer, when bloodthirsty mosquitoes swarm; and ran daunting risks on the lonely prospecting trail. Now it looked as if chance had offered him an easier lot; he could apparently choose between the privations of the wilderness and civilized comfort, but while he grappled with a certain longing he knew this was not so. He had adopted the pioneers' Spartan code; one must stand by one's bargain, and do the thing one had undertaken.

For a few moments he was silent, lost in rather gloomy thought, with a frown on his brown face, and Mrs. Allott, his English relative, studied him across the table. On the whole, Jim Thirlwell had improved in Canada, and she thought he would be welcomed if he returned to England. She had been his mother's friend, and during the week or two they had now spent together, had decided that if he proved amenable she would help him to make a career. Indeed, it was largely on Thirlwell's account she had accompanied her husband on his American tour.

Jim had certain advantages. He was not clever, but his remarks were sometimes smarter than he knew. Then he had a quiet voice and manner that impressed one, even when one differed from him, as one often did. He was not handsome, and his face was rather thin, but his features were well-defined, and she liked his firm mouth and steady look. His figure was good and marked by a touch of athletic grace. Then she was, on the whole, satisfied with the way he chose and wore his clothes. His mother had held a leading place in the exclusive society of a quiet cathedral town, until her husband lost his small fortune. Mrs. Allott understood that something might have been saved had Tom Thirlwell been less scrupulous; but Tom had unconventional views about money, and Jim was like his father in many ways. Mrs. Allott, having done her best to enlighten him, hoped he would now see where his advantage lay.

"You are not very talkative, Jim," she said.

Thirlwell looked up with an apologetic smile, but his eyes rested on the girl by Mrs. Allott's side. Evelyn Grant was young and attractive, but there was something tame about her beauty that harmonized with her character. Thirlwell had not always recognized this; indeed, when they were younger, he had indulged a romantic tenderness for the girl. This, however, was long since, and the renewal of their friendship in Canada left him cold. Evelyn was gracious, and he sometimes thought she had not forgotten his youthful admiration, but she did not feel things much, and he suspected that she had acquiesced in Mrs. Allott's rather obvious plot because she was too indolent to object. For all that, he imagined that if he took a bold line she would not repulse him, and by comparison with his poverty Evelyn was rich. Then he banished the thought with an unconscious frown.

"Oh, well, I suppose it's our last evening together, and one feels melancholy about that," he said.

"But I thought you were coming to New York with us," Mrs. Allott objected.

Evelyn was talking animatedly to a young American, but looked round with languid carelessness.

"Are you really not coming, Jim?" she asked.

Then, without waiting for Thirlwell's answer, she resumed her talk, and Mrs. Allott wondered whether the girl had not overdone her part. After all, she must have known why she had been brought.

"I think not," said Thirlwell. "Very sorry, of course, but there's only a week of my holiday left and I have some business in South Ontario. Then I must go back to the bush."

"That's ridiculous, Jim," Mrs. Allott rejoined. "You know you needn't go back to the bush at all. Besides, we hoped you had decided to come to England." She paused and touched Evelyn. "Do you hear what he says? Can't you persuade him to be sensible?"

Evelyn turned and looked at Thirlwell with a careless smile. She was very composed, but Mrs. Allott thought she noted a trace of heightened color.

"Oh, no; it would be useless for me to try. Nobody could persuade Jim to do what he does not want."

"Aren't you taking something for granted?" asked Allott, who sat with the others, but had been silent. "Jim hasn't admitted that he doesn't want to come."

The girl gave Thirlwell a tranquil glance in which there was a hint of mockery.

"He has only a week left, and I imagine knows better than we do what will please him best," she replied, and turned to her companion.

"What have you to say to that?" Allott asked Thirlwell, with a twinkle.

"It looks as if Evelyn knew my character—I suppose I am obstinate. But I don't think she has stated the case correctly. It isn't that I don't want to come. Unfortunately, I can't."

The other guests were leaving the tables and Mrs. Allott, getting up, gave her husband a meaning glance.

"Then I must let Stephen talk to you. You may listen to his arguments; I have exhausted mine."

"You could not expect me to succeed where you have failed," Allott remarked, and touched Thirlwell as Mrs. Allott and Evelyn went away. "Shall we go upstairs for a smoke?"

A lift took them up, and Allott lighted a cigarette when they entered an unoccupied room. The evening was hot, and Thirlwell sat on the ledge of the open window and looked out upon the river across the climbing town. Church spires, the steep roofs of old houses, and the flat tops of modern blocks, rose in the moonlight through a thin gray haze of smoke. Lower down, a track of glittering silver ran across to the shadowy Levis ridge, along the crest of which were scattered twinkling lights. Presently Allott, who was well preserved and rather fat, turned to Thirlwell.

"I hope you won't be rash, Jim, and throw away the best chance you may ever get."

"You mean Sir James's offer of the post with the big engineering firm?"

"I mean that and other things," said Allott dryly. "Perhaps I have spoken plainly enough; you are not a fool!"

"Thanks! I don't claim much wisdom and I am sometimes rash. But perhaps we had better stick to Sir James's offer. Why does he make it now, after standing off when I needed help some years since?"

"We'll take the offer first," Allott agreed. "Sir James had not been knighted and pulled off the big business combine then. He hadn't as much influence, and perhaps wanted to see what you could do. I expect he was surprised when you got and kept the mining job in Canada. Anyhow, you're his namesake and nearest relative. My wife, you know, comes next."

"He left my father alone in his trouble," said Thirlwell grimly. "I wonder why they gave him his title. There were things done when the combine was made the shareholders didn't know, besides injustices to the staffs. You see, I had friends—"

"What has that to do with you? He offers you a good post, with a hint about favors to come."

"The post is good," Thirlwell agreed, with a thoughtful look. "In a way, I'd have been glad to take it; but I can't very well."

"Your engagement at the little wild-cat mine is an obstacle? After all, there are other engineers in Canada; I don't suppose your employers would suffer much inconvenience if you gave up the job."

"There's a year yet to go, besides an understanding that I'd stay until we got down to the deep vein."

"For very small pay? Much less than you're now offered, and with no prospects?"

"My employers are straight people and pay me as much as they can afford. They treat me well, though they're a small firm and the mine is not prospering. In fact, I expect they'll have some trouble to hold out until we reach good ore."

"The risk of their not holding out is rather a curious argument for your staying."

Thirlwell was silent for a few moments, and his face was hard when he resumed: "I know something about the combine's methods—Masters, who's still with one of the companies Sir James bought up, writes to me. I suppose one mustn't be too fastidious, but there are things the man who takes the post I'm offered will be expected to do; things I haven't done yet and mean to leave alone. You have often to throw your scruples overboard when you pay big dividends."

Allott chuckled. "The combine does not pay big dividends. It's a grievance of the shareholders'."

"Oh, well; Sir James was knighted, and I hear about another director building a hospital. One doesn't get honors for nothing. They're expensive."

"Jim," said Allott reproachfully, "you're talking like your father, and while airing one's views may be harmless, trying to live up to them doesn't always pay. Taking that line cost him much; I thought you wiser."

Thirlwell colored. "My father was an honest man. If I can live as he did, I shall be satisfied."

"Well, for some reason, Sir James is keen about bringing you back, and if you state the terms on which you'll come, I imagine he'll agree. This should make things easier, and I believe he'll be responsible if you pay your employers a fine to let you off."

Thirlwell was silent and looked out of the window. The hum of traffic came up from the dark gaps between the buildings and he heard a locomotive bell and the clash of freight-cars by the wharf. Then the hoot of a deep whistle rang across the town, and red and white flashes pierced the darkness down the river. A big liner, signaling her tug, was coming up stream, and presently her long hull was marked by lights that rose in tiers above the water. He watched her as she swung in to the wharf with her load of cheering immigrants.

It reminded him of his landing in Canada, and he looked back upon the disappointments and hardships he had borne in the country. He had soon found there was no easy road to wealth, and life had so far been an arduous struggle. He had known poverty, hunger, and stinging cold, and now his pay left little over when he had satisfied his frugal needs. All would be different if he went back to England, and he pondered over Allott's specious arguments. There was no reason he should not take the offered post if he could do so on his terms, and it was possible that his employers would release him. He was thirty years of age, had long practised self-denial, and would soon get old. Why should he not enjoy some prosperity before it was too late? Allott had said enough, but did not know this and had not finished yet.

"There's another matter, Jim," he resumed. "You can't think about marrying while you stay in the bush."

"I don't know that I want to marry. I couldn't support a wife."

"Why not, if you chose a wife with money?"

"Then she'd have to support me. Besides, I expect it would be hard to find a rich girl willing to marry a poor engineer."

Allott made a sign of impatience. "Let's be frank! The matter's delicate, and perhaps requires a lighter touch than mine, but I understand that Helen has given you a hint."

"She has," said Thirlwell, with some grimness. "I hoped you'd both let the thing go when she saw my attitude."

"We'll let it go after the next few minutes, if you like, but there is something to be said. Evelyn is an attractive girl, and has some money; besides which, Sir James would approve her marrying you. He has hinted that he'll give you a chance of making your mark in England if he is satisfied. Evelyn's relations know this, and it was significant that they agreed when Helen invited her to join us. As the girl consented, I might perhaps go farther—"

Thirlwell stopped him. "Why is Sir James anxious to help me?"

"We can only guess. Perhaps he feels you have a claim and he has neglected you. Then he may think you will do him credit and realize the ambitions he's getting too old to carry out. He has noted that you have inherited your father's character, and I've heard him remark that while Tom Thirlwell had extravagant notions, he certainly had brains. However, we were talking about Evelyn."

Thirlwell, exercising some self-control, lighted a cigarette and gave Allott a steady look.

"Then we'll finish the talk. Evelyn is a charming girl; amiable, pretty, tranquil, but there's no ground for believing she has contemplated marrying me."

"Suppose we admit that's possible?" said Allott, with a meaning smile. "I imagine, because I know you both, that if you were firm enough, you could, so to speak, carry her away. Since you own that she's charming, why don't you try?"

"If you are curious, you can take it that Sir James's gratuitous approval is an obstacle. I shall not marry to please him or let him plan my career. I mean to stand on my own feet and not be ruled by a greedy old man's caprices. Now you understand this, we'll say no more about the thing."

Allott shrugged. "Very well! I've done my best, and since you mean to take your own line, wish you success. Perhaps we had better go downstairs."

Evelyn was talking to the young American when they crossed the big hall and she smiled as they passed, but an hour later Thirlwell saw her alone. She beckoned him carelessly and indicated a place near her in a corner seat.

"So Allott has not persuaded you to come with us!" she remarked.

"No," said Thirlwell. "Very sorry, but there are matters I can't neglect."

"We shall miss you," she said, with a side glance. "I suppose you are not coming to England afterwards?"

"I'm afraid not," Thirlwell answered.

Then, to his surprise, she gave him a rather curious smile. "From the beginning I didn't think you would come."

"Ah!" said Thirlwell. "Still I don't see why—"

"That doesn't matter," she answered calmly. "After all, I dare say it's better in many ways that you should stay in Canada, and I wish you luck." She paused a moment and resumed: "I want you to feel that I do wish it. But Mrs. Allott is waiting for me. We shall, no doubt, see you before we start."

She left him puzzled but relieved. Next morning he stood on the platform of the Grand Trunk station, and Evelyn, leaning on the rails of a vestibule, smiled and waved her hand as the train rolled away.



After Allott's departure Thirlwell went to Montreal and spent two depressing days transacting some business for his employers. Quebec was quiet and picturesque, and a cool, refreshing breeze blew up the river from the Laurentian wilds, but Montreal, shut in by the wooded mountain, sweltered in humid heat. Then the streets were being torn up to lay electric mains, and sand and cement blew about from half-finished concrete buildings. Thirlwell did not like large cities, and after the silence of the bush, the bustle of the traffic jarred.

He had, however, better grounds for feeling depressed. His employers trusted him, and actuated by loyalty as well as professional pride, he had resolved to make their rather daring venture a success. Now this looked difficult. Money was scarce, and he found credit strangely hard to get. The mining speculators he called upon received him coldly, and although he had a warmer welcome from the manufacturers of giant-powder and rock-boring machines, they demanded prompt payment for their goods. When Thirlwell stated that this was impossible they told him to come again.

It was known that there was silver in the rocks that run back into the North-West Territories, but nobody had found ore that would pay for refining. The rich strike in Ontario had not been made yet, and the prospectors who pushed into the forests with drill and dynamite were regarded as rash enthusiasts. Bankers were cautious, and declined to accept rusty mining plant and a shaft in the wilderness as good security.

On the evening before he left Montreal, Thirlwell sat in the hall of his hotel, listening to the clanging street-cars and the rattle of the Grand Trunk trains. Poisoned flies dropped upon the tables and an electric fan made an unpleasant whirring as it churned the humid air. Had his mood been normal the heat and noise would not have disturbed Thirlwell, but now they jarred.

His visit had been a failure, and his employers must develop the mine without the help of the latest machines. He doubted if they could finance the undertaking until they struck the vein. Then it looked as if he had been rash to reject Sir James's offer. He had thrown away a chance of winning prosperity and perhaps fame in England, for he knew he had some talent and he was ambitious. Instead he had chosen exhausting labor and stern self-denial in the wilds. The life had some compensations, but they were not very obvious then. It was, however, too late for regrets; he had chosen and must be content, and putting down the newspaper he was trying to read, he went to bed.

Two days later he sat in the garden of a new summer hotel on the shore of Lake Huron. A pine forest rolled down to the water past the pretty wooden building, and the air in the shade was cool and sweet with resinous smells. The lake glittered, smooth as glass, in the hot sun, but here and there a wandering breeze traced a dark-blue line across the placid surface. Along the beach the shadows of the pines floated motionless.

Thirlwell smoked and meditated on the errand that had brought him to the hotel. The clerk had told him that Miss Strange was on the beach, but he had not seen her yet and felt some curiosity about the girl whom he had arranged to meet. They had corresponded and he had brought a photograph he thought she would like to see, but on the whole he would sooner she had not asked for the interview. She might find it painful to hear the story he had to tell, and the thing would require some tact, more perhaps than he had.

In the meantime he wondered what she was like. Her letters indicated a cultivated mind, and he knew she had a post at a Toronto school; but one could not expect much from the daughter of the broken-down prospector he had met in the North. Strange had worked spasmodically at the mine, where he was employed because labor was scarce. He was not a good workman, and when he had earned a small sum generally bought provisions and went off into the bush to re-locate a silver lode he claimed to have found when he was young. He came back ragged and disappointed, and when liquor could be got indulged freely before he resumed his work.

Nobody believed his tale; Strange's lode was something of a joke. The miners called him a crank, and Thirlwell had doubted if he was quite sane, but he persisted in his search and sometimes Black Steve Driscoll went North with him. It was suspected that Driscoll made an unlawful profit by selling the Indians liquor, which perhaps accounted for his journeys with Strange. As they returned from the last expedition their canoe capsized in a rapid near the mining camp, and although Driscoll reached land exhausted, Strange's body was never found. Thirlwell knew his daughter's address, and sent her news of the accident, which led to an exchange of letters. Now he would shortly see her, give her the particulars she wanted, and then their acquaintance would end, although he liked the hotel and might stay for a few days' fishing.

His pipe went out and he was half asleep when a girl crossed the lawn. She came nearer, as if to avoid the glistening showers the nickeled sprinklers threw upon the thirsty grass, and Thirlwell watched her drowsily, noting her light, well-balanced movements and the grace of her tall figure. She wore a big white hat and a thin summer dress that he thought was very artistically made. There was something aristocratic about her, and he imagined she belonged to a party that had landed from a fine steam yacht. Then he noted with some surprise that she was coming to him.

She stopped and Thirlwell got up, imagining that she had made a mistake. Her face, like her figure, hinted at strength tempered by proud self-control. She had brown hair with a ruddy tint that caught the light, gray eyes that met his with a calm, inquiring glance, and firm red lips. Thirlwell was not a critic of female beauty, but he saw that she had dignity and charm. In the meantime, he wondered what she wanted.

"Mr. Thirlwell, I suppose?" she said.

He bowed and she resumed: "Then I must thank you for coming here to meet me. I am Agatha Strange."

It cost Thirlwell an effort to hide his surprise; indeed, he wondered with some embarrassment whether he had succeeded, for this was not the kind of girl he had expected to meet.

"It was not much out of my way, and I wanted to see the lake," he replied, as he brought a chair.

She thanked him, and sitting down was silent for a few moments while she gazed across the lawn. Some of the guests were sitting in the shadow by the water's edge, their summer clothes making blotches of bright color among the gray rocks. Out on the lake, a young man knelt in the stern of a canoe, swinging a paddle that flashed in the sun, while a girl trailed her hand in the sparkling water. As the craft passed the landing she began to sing. No breath of wind ruffled the surface now, and the dark pine-sprays were still. A drowsy quietness brooded over the tranquil scene.

"It is very beautiful," she said slowly. "Different, one imagines, from the rugged North!"

"Very different," Thirlwell agreed, and took out a photograph. "You will see that by the picture I promised to bring."

Agatha took the photograph. It showed a broad stretch of sullen water with a strip of forest on the other side. The pines were ragged and stunted and some leaned across each other, while the gloomy sky was smeared by the smoke of a forest-fire. In the foreground, angry waves broke in foaming turmoil among half-covered rocks. No soft beauty marked the river of the North, and the land it flowed through looked forbidding and desolate.

"The Shadow River," said Thirlwell. "You can see the Grand Rapid. I have marked a cross where the canoe upset."

Agatha said nothing for a few moments, and Thirlwell was relieved. He saw she felt keenly, but she was calm. In the meantime he waited; one learns to wait in the North.

"Thank you; I would like to keep the picture," she said by and by, and gave him a level glance. "I suppose you knew my father well?"

"I knew him in a way," Thirlwell answered cautiously, because he did not want to talk about Strange's habits. Perhaps the girl knew her father's weakness, and if not, it was better that she should think well of him. Yet Thirlwell imagined she understood something of his reserve.

"Ah!" she said, "you knew him in the bush, but not when he lived at home with us. I should like to tell you his story."

"Not if it is painful."

"It is painful, but I would sooner you heard it," she replied. "For one thing, you have been kind—" She paused, and when she resumed there was a faint sparkle in her eyes. "I want you to understand my father. He was my hero."

Thirlwell made a vague gesture. He had seen Strange, half drunk, reeling along the trail to the mine, but this did not lessen his sympathy for the girl. He hoped she had taken his sign to imply that he was willing to listen.

"To begin with, do you believe in the silver lode?" she asked.

"One disbelieves in nothing up yonder," Thirlwell tactfully replied. "It's a country of surprises; you don't know what you may find. Besides, there is some silver—I'm now sinking a shaft—"

Agatha smiled and he saw she had the gift of humor. The smile softened her firm lips and lighted her eyes.

"I imagine you are cautious. In fact, you are rather like the picture I made of you after reading your letters."

Thirlwell felt embarrassed and said nothing, as was his prudent rule when his thoughts were not clear.

"My father found the ore many years since, when he was employed by the Hudson's Bay Company," she resumed. "The factory was in the Territories, three or four hundred miles north of your mine, and the agent sent him out, with a dog-train and two Indians, to collect some furs. They had to make a long journey, and were coming back, short of food, when they camped one evening beside a frozen creek. The water had worn away the face of a small cliff, and the frost had recently split off a large slab. That left the strata cleanly exposed, and my father noticed that near the foot of the rock there was a different-colored band. They were making camp in the snow then, but he went back afterwards when the moon rose and the Indians were asleep, and broke off a number of bits. The stones were unusually heavy. Doesn't that mean something?"

"Silver has a high specific gravity; so has lead. Sometimes one finds them combined."

"I have a piece here," said Agatha, taking out a small packet. "My father gave it me when I was a child, and I brought it, thinking I might, perhaps, show it to you."

Thirlwell, examining the specimen, missed something of her meaning, and did not see that her decision to show him the ore was a compliment. He looked honest, and strangers often trusted him. His friends had never known him abuse their confidence.

"Yes," he said at length. "I think it's silver. Traces of lead, and perhaps copper, too; you seldom find silver pure. But won't you go on with the tale?"

"The party's food was getting short. That meant they would starve if they did not reach the factory soon, and they set off again at dawn. There was no time to prospect and deep snow covered the ground, but my father made what he called a mental photograph of the spot. It was a little hollow among the rocks, with a willow grove by the creek, and in the middle there were two or three burned pines. If you drew a line through them it pointed nearly north, and where it touched the cliff you turned east about twenty yards."

"Aren't you rash to tell me this?" Thirlwell asked.

Agatha smiled. "On the whole, I think not; but nothing I could tell would be of much use to you. My father, although he had been there, could not find the spot again."

She paused a moment and then went on: "When they reached the factory he showed the specimens to the agent, who said they were worthless and laughed at him. But it was perhaps significant that he was not sent that way again. One understands that the Hudson's Bay directors were jealous of their game preserves."

"Furs paid better than silver," Thirlwell agreed. "They didn't want miners with dynamite and noisy machines to invade the solitudes and frighten the wild animals away."

"My father, going south on a holiday, met my mother and gave up his post when they were married. She had a little money, enough to open a small store, and for her sake he started business in a new wooden town. He did not like the towns, and I know when I got older that he often longed for the wild North, but although the place grew and the business prospered, he could not spare the time and money to look for the lode. He wanted to give my brother a good education and start him well, and after a time I was sent to a university."

"That explains something," Thirlwell remarked, and then pulling himself up, added: "If you take proper appliances, a prospecting expedition costs much. But did your father often talk about the lode?"

"No; not unless it was to me."

"But why did he tell you and not your brother?"

"George was very practical; I was romantic and my father something of a dreamer. We lived happily at home, but I felt that he needed sympathy that he did not get. I think now my mother knew he longed for the North, and was afraid the longing might grow too strong and draw him back. When he did speak of the silver she smiled. I suppose when you have known the wilderness its charm is strong?"

She stopped and her face was gravely thoughtful as she looked across the shining water towards the faint blur of a pine forest on a distant point, and Thirlwell felt as if they had been suddenly united by a bond of understanding.

"Yes," he said. "It's a stern country and one has much to bear; but it calls. One fears the hardships, cold, and danger—but one goes."

Agatha looked up quietly, but he noted the gleam in her eyes.

"You know! Well, you can imagine what it cost my father to resist the call, but he did resist for many years. He loved my mother, but I think he hated the growing town; then there was the dream of riches that might be his. He was not greedy, and my brother did not need money. George had a talent for business and his employers soon promoted him; but I was fond of science, and it was my father's ambition that I should make independent researches and not be forced to work for pay."

She hesitated, and then went on: "Perhaps I am boring you, but I wanted you to understand what his duty must have cost. You see, you only knew him in the bush, and after he went back I noted a difference in his letters. They were sometimes strange; he seemed to be hiding things. I think he felt the disappointment keenly and lost heart."

Thirlwell saw she suspected something, and replied: "Disappointment is often numbing; but your father never lost his faith in the lode."

"Nor have I lost mine," said Agatha. "But we will not talk about that yet. He brought us up and started us well; then my mother died, and nobody had any further claim on him. His duty was done, and though he was getting old, he went back to the North. Well, I have told you part of his story, and you know the rest."

"It is a moving tale," said Thirlwell, with quiet sympathy.

He thought she felt it was necessary to defend her father, and she had done so. Indeed, he admitted that one must respect the man who had, with uncomplaining patience, for years carried on his disliked task for his wife and children's sake. Longing for the woods and the silent trail, Strange must have found it irksome to count dollar bills and weigh groceries in the store; but he had done his duty, and borne hardship and failure when at last freedom came. Still the girl must not know what he had become.

Agatha asked him a number of questions and then got up. "Thank you," she said. "I will take the photograph and would like you to keep the specimen of ore."

"I will keep it; but I wonder why you wish to give it me?"

She smiled. "I believe in the lode and would like you to believe in it, too. You are a mining engineer and can find out if there is much silver in the stone."

Then she crossed the lawn to the hotel veranda and left Thirlwell thoughtful.



Next morning Thirlwell wrote to his employers, stating that he meant to take another week's holiday, and smiled as he reflected that the letter would arrive too late for them to refuse. The hotel was comfortable, he had met one or two interesting people, and was told the fishing was good; besides, he thought he would not be badly needed at the mine just then. For all that, he was not quite persuaded that these were sufficient reasons for neglecting his work, and when he went through the hall with the letter in his hand he put it into his pocket instead of the box. He would think over the matter again before the mail went out. Then as he crossed the veranda Agatha came up from the beach and gave him a smile.

"You are out early," Thirlwell remarked.

"I like the morning freshness and have been on the lake."

"It looks as if you had hurt yourself," said Thirlwell, noting a small wet handkerchief twisted round her hand.

Agatha laughed. "Not seriously; I blistered my fingers trying to paddle. I have been practising since I came, but it is difficult to keep the canoe straight when you are alone."

"That's so," Thirlwell agreed. "The back-feathering stroke is hard to learn."

"For all that, I mean to learn it before I go."

"Perhaps I could teach it you. How long have you got?"

"A fortnight," she said, moving on, and when she left him Thirlwell went to the mail-box and dropped in his letter.

Afterwards he felt annoyed that he had done so, and wondered whether he had weakly given way to a romantic impulse, but next morning he went down to the beach and found the girl launching a canoe. Making her sit near the middle, he knelt in the stern and drove the canoe across the shining water with vigorous strokes. Agatha wore a white jersey and had left her hat, and he noted the color the cool wind brought to her face and how the light sparkled on her hair.

By and by they skirted a rocky island where resinous smells drifted across the water and the reflections of tall pines wavered round the canoe, until he ran the craft on a shingle point and they changed places. Agatha took the single-bladed paddle and although her hands were sore made some progress while he instructed her. After a time she stopped and let the canoe drift in the hot sunshine.

"I think you'd soon make a good voyageur," Thirlwell remarked. "For one thing, you're determined; I saw you wince once or twice and imagine the paddle-haft hurt."

"I must learn to use the pole yet, and mean to try it in the river by and by. You must pole, I think, when you go up a fast stream?"

"That is so, when you can't use the tracking line. But I don't see why you are anxious to learn."

"I have an object," Agatha answered with a smile.

"Then why don't you practise canoeing at Toronto?"

"The trouble is that I haven't time. You see, I teach all day."

"But you have holidays and the evenings."

"My evenings are occupied by study."

"I don't know if it's wise to over-work yourself for the advantage of your pupils," Thirlwell remarked. "At one time, I was very keen about my profession, but soon found it a mistake to tire my brain for my employer's benefit. But what do you study?"

"Science; chemistry and geology, but not in order to teach the girls."

"Well, I suppose knowledge is worth getting for its own sake. Anyhow, I thought so, but you learn when you undertake rude mining that the main thing is to be able to make a practical use of what you know. In fact, that's often better than knowing much."

"Perhaps so," Agatha agreed. "Some day I hope to make a good use of what I have learned."

"About canoeing, or geology?"

"About both," said Agatha. "Now, however, I think we'll make for the landing. Breakfast will be ready soon."

Thirlwell saw no more of her during the day, but she came down to the beach in the evening and he gave her another lesson. As they paddled home he thought she looked tired, and asked: "Where have you been since morning?"

Agatha indicated a ridge of high ground with a few pines on its summit that rose indistinctly at some distance across the shadowy forest.

"I took my lunch with me and went up there."

"But it must be a two or three hours' walk. Is there a trail?"

"A loggers' trail. It's partly grown up and broke off altogether when I got near the rocks. After that I had a rough scramble, but I like the woods and try to walk as much as possible in my holidays."

"Well, no doubt, walking is good for one. But don't the girls in Toronto prefer the street cars?"

"I don't go long walks for health's sake," Agatha answered with a smile. "But I think some people I know are waiting. Can you paddle faster?"

The canoe's bows lifted out of a wisp of foam as Thirlwell swung the paddle, and in a few minutes he helped the girl to land. After this, their acquaintance ripened fast and Agatha went fishing with him on the lake and, by disused logging trails, long distances into the shadowy bush. Thirlwell imagined she knew this excited some remark, but he saw there was an imperious vein in the girl, who did what she thought fit, without heeding conventions. Besides, no touch of sentiment marked their friendship; she accepted him as a comrade who could teach her something about lake and forest, and he was satisfied with this.

Yet he was puzzled. It was strange that an attractive girl should wish to learn something of the bush-man's skill, but she obviously meant to do so. Although it often cost her an effort to follow him, she would not let him turn back when they came to an angry rapid or a belt of tangled woods. She certainly had charm besides having pluck, because when she did not go fishing young women as well as young men gathered round her on the shady lawn. It was hard to imagine why a girl like this should practise walking long distances and combine the study of canoeing with geology.

The fortnight slipped by and on the last evening Thirlwell took Agatha out upon the lake. They were later than usual and as they stole across the glassy water the pines on a western headland cut black and sharp against an orange glow. To the east a faint track of silver ran back into the blue distance under the moon. It was very quiet except for the splash of the paddle and ripple at the bows, but somewhere in the shadows a loon was calling. By and by the lights of the hotel faded and they were alone in the dusk.

Thirlwell put down the paddle and lighted a cigarette. He had drawn nearer the girl in the last week; a curious feeling of confidence and liking united them, but he was not her lover and knew that if he drifted into philandering she would be repelled. Perhaps this was unusual, but she was different from other girls. Thirlwell could not tell how she differed, but he was satisfied that she did and let the matter go.

"You start for the mine to-morrow, don't you?" she asked presently.

"Yes," he said; "it's my last evening on the lake. There's something melancholy about the end of a holiday, but I don't think I have felt it as much before."

Agatha gave him a calm glance and saw he had not meant her to read a sentimental meaning in his admission. It was unconscious flattery and she was pleased.

"I can understand. One values the days of liberty when they are gone! But do you feel daunted by the thought of the work and hardship that waits you in the North?"

"Not in a way. Now and then you shrink from the arctic winter, but in summer, in spite of the mosquitoes, the bush gets hold of you. Sometimes you hate the solitude; but when you leave it you long to return."

"Ah," said Agatha, "I have not seen the wilderness, but next summer I hope to make an exploring trip."

"But where?"

"To the Shadow River and on into the Territories," she answered quietly. Thirlwell looked hard at her, and she smiled. "Yes; if things go well with me, I mean to look for the silver ore."

"Now I begin to understand! This is why you wanted to learn to manage a canoe and train yourself to walking through the bush. But it's a ridiculous undertaking. Your father, who found it, could not locate the ore again."

"I may be luckier. Luck counts for something when you go prospecting, doesn't it?"

"Success in prospecting is often due to luck," Thirlwell admitted. "But it's a very rough country where no food can be got. You will need canoes, tools, and tents, and two or three good packers to carry the outfit across the divides. This would be expensive. Then I doubt if you are strong enough to bear the strain; I imagine very few women could do so without breaking down."

"You have seen how I have tried to harden myself, but I have made other preparations. It's some time since I resolved to go, and every month I put by a little money. By next summer I ought to have enough."

"I wonder whether you found it easy to save."

"I did not," said Agatha, smiling. "Sometimes it was very hard; I should not have taken this holiday only that I wanted to get used to the lakes and woods. I am grateful for all you have taught me."

A thought that pleased him took shape in Thirlwell's brain, but he used some restraint. He must not encourage the girl in what he imagined was folly.

"The chance of your finding the vein is very small, and there's another thing. You have told me your father's story, and I have met men like him in the woods, who had wasted their money and lost their health following an illusion. The lode, so to speak, haunted him and made him restless when he might have been content at home, and then drove him into the wilds when he was old. It's dangerous to give oneself up to a fixed idea, and you mustn't let the infatuation get hold of you. It will bring you disappointment and trouble."

"The warning's too late," said Agatha in a curious quiet voice. "The infatuation has got hold of me, but one must follow one's bent, and life is tame if one does nothing that is not prudent and safe. Besides, romantic dreams sometimes come true."

"Not often," said Thirlwell dryly. "But why do you really want to go?"

"The silver is mine; my father gave it me. It looked as if my brother would prosper without his help, and I think he loved me best. Perhaps this was because I believed in the vein."

Thirlwell shook his head. "I cannot think you greedy."

"Then," said Agatha with a flush of color, "if you must have the truth, I feel I must finish my father's work. His son and his best friends thought him the victim of his imagination and the lode a joke; but if I succeed, his dreams will be justified."

Thirlwell said nothing for a minute or two; he saw that she was resolute and was moved by her staunch loyalty. After all, Strange's story was not uncommon; Thirlwell had known men leave work and home to follow an elusive clue to mineral treasure in the barren solitudes. Some had come back broken in fortune and courage, and some had not come back at all. Then while he mused the harsh cry of the loon rang through the dark. It fired his blood, and unconsciously he fixed his eyes on the North, for in summer the birds of the lakes and rivers push on towards the Pole. He had done his duty and tried to persuade the girl, but after all she was stronger and finer than Strange. It was possible that she might succeed, and he could help.

"When you go I hope you will let me come," he said. "We have the tools and outfit one needs for prospecting at the mine, and I could get the packers and canoes."

"But you don't believe I shall find the lode. Why do you want to come?"

"I know the bush," Thirlwell answered with a smile. "So far I've been prudent and stuck to my job, but I've felt the pull of the lone trail like other men. In fact, I'd rather like to do something rash, for a change."

"Have you never done anything rash?"

"Only once, I think. It needed all my pluck; but the curious thing is that it's now turning out better than I hoped."

Agatha pondered and then looked up. "It would be an advantage to have somebody I could trust to look after the packers and canoes; but the journey must be made at my cost. I couldn't let another undertake my duty."

"Then I may come? It's a promise?"

"Yes," said Agatha quietly; "when I am ready I will let you know. Now, however, we must get back to the hotel."

Thirlwell dipped the paddle, the canoe lurched, and her bow rose at his next vigorous stroke. The ripples she threw off widened into a fan-shaped wake that trailed away and was lost in a glitter of moonlight. The black pines on the point rose higher, resinous smells came out of the dark, and presently a row of lights twinkled ahead. Thirlwell ran the canoe alongside the landing and when they reached the veranda Agatha gave him her hand.

"You start early, I think," she said. "I have much to thank you for and am glad we have met."

He let her go and afterwards leaned against the rails. She had made him a promise and when they next met it would be beside a river of the North. But this was twelve months ahead; he felt it was a long time to wait.



The day's work was over and Thirlwell and his employer sat, smoking and talking, in their shack at the Clermont mine. Scott was young and had once been fastidious, but, like Thirlwell, he wore work-stained overalls. For a time when they first came up, both had clung to a few of the refinements of civilization, but their grasp on these had slackened, and now they frankly admitted that it was too much of an effort to change their clothes when they were tired.

The shack was built of pine logs, notched where they crossed at the corners, and the seams were caulked with clay and moss. A big stove, now empty, stood at one end, its pipe running obliquely across the room before it pierced the iron roof, so as to radiate as much heat as possible. Plans, drawing instruments, and some books on mining, occupied a shelf on the wall; guns, fishing rods, and surveying tools a corner, and a plain, uncovered table the middle of the room. Besides this, there were two or three cheap folding chairs.

The door and window were open, although the mosquitoes were numerous, and the roar of the Shadow River and a smell of wood smoke came in. When he looked out, Thirlwell could see the ragged tops of the stunted pines cut against a pale-green glow. By and by Scott knocked out his pipe and stretched his legs. There was another partner, but he only visited the mine at intervals and had left it while Thirlwell was away.

"Brinsmead has gone to Nevada and probably won't come back," Scott remarked. "He has a plausible manner, but seems to have done no better in New York than you did in Montreal; it looks as if machinery agents are very shy about giving credit to the owners of half-developed mines. Anyhow, when he heard of a field for his talents in a Western town he didn't hesitate. Now he tells me that he finds the prospect of earning some money instead of spending it a refreshing change."

"It's lucky he didn't take his capital out of the Clermont," Thirlwell replied.

Scott laughed. "He couldn't take it out. Nobody would buy his share, and my fortune's represented by a shaft in danger of flooding and some cheap and antiquated boring plant. In fact, if we don't strike pay-dirt soon, the Clermont will go broke, and I imagine that's why Brinsmead skipped. After floating one or two small mines successfully, he has some reputation to lose, while I'm, of course, not an engineer or a business man." He paused and looked hard at Thirlwell. "I'd like you to stay and see me through, but wouldn't blame you if you quit."

"My reputation is not worth much and can be risked. Besides, I imagine we'll get down to the deep vein before the funds run out."

"I hope so! You're not a quitter, and we'll hold on while we can, but I think we'll talk about something else. Well, I've examined the specimen of ore you brought back. It looks like high-grade stuff and certainly carries enough metal to pay for smelting."

"What do you think about Strange's tale?"

Scott knitted his brows. "I did think the man a drunken crank and the lode an illusion that had grown on him by degrees until he really believed in the ore. When you get the tanking habit such things happen. One specimen certainly doesn't prove very much; but since Strange gave it to his daughter a long time before we knew him, I'm willing to revise my judgment."

"Miss Strange is persuaded that he did find the lode. She tells me he led a very industrious and sober life at home."

"It's rather curious you met the girl," Scott observed.

"I don't think so. When we found her address among the truck Strange had left with the foreman, it was the proper thing for me to tell her he was drowned. This led to another letter or two, and when I said I was going to Montreal she asked me to meet her."

"Is she like Strange?"

"Not at all," Thirlwell declared. "In fact, although her letters ought to have prepared me, I got something of a surprise. She was not the kind of girl I had expected to meet. I understand she teaches at a Toronto school."

"She must have some talent to get a post there," Scott remarked when he had asked the name of the school. Then he paused and vaguely indicated the North. "Well, it's a romantic story! Nobody knows yet what there is in the rocks up yonder, but we have heard of other prospectors striking pay-dirt and making nothing of their discovery. Rumors about mysterious lodes are common in a mineral belt, and while they're often imaginative, my notion is that now and then there's some fact behind the fiction. Fur-traders in Alaska heard such tales long before the Klondyke strike."

He stopped, for there were steps outside, and Thirlwell, leaning forward, saw a man come up the trail. The fellow had a dark, sullen face and wore an old gray shirt and ragged overalls. He walked with a slight limp, in consequence of getting his foot frost-bitten on a winter journey, but he was an expert trapper and had penetrated far into the wilds. When skins were scarce he worked at the mine, but generally left his employment after a drunken bout.

"I wonder whether Driscoll believes in Strange's lode," Scott resumed as the man went by. "He knew him better than anybody else. They went North together once or twice, and had been away some time when Strange was drowned coming back."

"Strange wouldn't tell Black Steve where he thought the lode was," Thirlwell objected. "I understand they only kept together until they had portaged their outfit across the divide."

"Strange would leave a trail a trapper could follow. Then I don't see why Steve stops here instead of locating on better hunting ground. It looks as if he didn't want to leave the Shadow."

"I don't see how stopping here would help him to find the lode," said Thirlwell, who went to the door.

It was getting dark and except for the turmoil of the river the bush was very still. The green behind the pines had faded, and they rose against the sky indistinctly in smears of shadowy blue. They had neither height nor beauty, but straggled back, battered and stunted by the winds, among the rocks until they faded from sight. There was not much to attract a white man in the desolation of tangled bush, but as he glanced across it, looking to the North, a hint of mystery in its silence appealed to Thirlwell. He felt that the wilderness challenged him to find a clue to the treasure it hid. Then he reflected with a smile that it was taking much for granted to admit that there was treasure there, and he went back into the shack and lighted the lamp.

A week later, he went up the river bank, one evening, with a fishing rod, and stopped at dusk at the tail of the Grand Rapid. He had gone farther than he meant and was tired after scrambling across slippery rocks and among the driftwood that lay about the bank. There was, however, a shorter way back, and lighting his pipe he sat down upon the gravel and looked about.

The sun had set some time since, but the light would not quite die out until just before the dawn, and the pines across the river rose against the green sky in a dark, broken-topped wall. Near his feet the bleached skeletons of trees, ground by floods and ice, glimmered a livid white, and beyond them the rapid frothed and roared in angry turmoil. The river had shrunk now the melted snow had flowed away, and rocks one seldom saw lifted their black tops above the racing foam. Inshore of the main rush, smooth-worn ledges ran in and out among shallow pools. A short distance ahead, the bush rolled down to the water's edge in a dark mass that threw back in confused echoes the din the river made.

By and by the mosquitoes that had followed Thirlwell got more numerous and when, in spite of the smoke, they settled upon his face and neck he reeled up his line ready to start. As he did so he thought he saw something move where the forest ran down to the river. The object was indistinct, but it looked like a man walking cautiously upon a ledge between the pools, and Thirlwell wondered what the fellow was doing there. The big gray trout had stopped rising, there were no Indians about, and the miners had not left the camp.

Thirlwell waited until the man moved out from the gloom of the trees. His figure was now distinct against the foam of the rapid, and he stooped as if he were looking down into a pool. Then he moved on, and Thirlwell, noting that he would soon pass in front of a dark rock, resolved to change his place in order to watch him better. Getting up, he went down to the water's edge, but came to a tangle of white branches that the river had thrown up. As he stopped he saw the man plainly, but when he looked up after scrambling over the driftwood there was nobody about.

This was strange and excited his curiosity. The other's figure would probably be invisible against the rock, but he must have moved rapidly to get in front of it. Then Thirlwell saw that where he stood the bush was no longer behind him. He had the inshore eddies for a background and the water reflected a faint light. There was no obvious reason why the other should be alarmed and try to steal away, but it looked as if he had done so.

Thirlwell sat down among the driftwood and waited, but saw no more of the man; and then going back quietly, turned into a trail that led to the mine. The trail was rough and narrow; in places, short brush had sprung up, and there were patches of outcropping rock. It would be difficult for anybody to follow it without making some noise, but although he stopped and listened no sound came out of the gloom.

He went on, pondering the matter with some curiosity. Since the miners were in camp, he imagined the man he had seen was Driscoll, who lived alone in a log shack near the bank. But, if this were so, what was Driscoll's object for wading among the reefs, and why had he stolen away when he thought he was watched? Thirlwell could not solve the puzzle, but he could find out if the fellow were Driscoll or not, because the trail passed his shack.

He walked faster, making as little noise as possible, and by and by reached a belt of thinner forest. He passed a fallen pine, from which he knew the shack was visible in daylight, and resolved to see if Driscoll was at home. If not, Thirlwell thought it would be safe to conclude that he had seen him among the reefs. A few moments later a light flashed among the trees, flickered once or twice, and then burned steadily. Thirlwell knew it came from the window of the shack, but it was curious that Driscoll had lighted his lamp. In summer, miners and prospectors went to bed at sunset, and Driscoll read no books or newspapers. Besides, if he wanted a light, why had he not got it before? It, however, looked as if the man had not been at the rapid and when Thirlwell passed the shack he saw his dark figure at the door.

"Who's that?" he asked, and when Thirlwell answered, added: "Watch out as you go down the gulch. There's a rampike across the trail."

When Thirlwell came to the burned pine he stopped abruptly as a thought struck him. Driscoll's voice had sounded breathless; perhaps the fellow had overdone his part. It might have been wiser for him to be silent. Driscoll often went fishing and knew the river well; now the water was low he could have saved some distance by crossing the uncovered reefs instead of scrambling along the curved bank. Besides, he had had a few minutes' start. After all, he might have been at the rapid and have hurried back in order to deceive the man who had disturbed him. Moreover, he had learned who the man was.

This, however, did not take Thirlwell far and he resumed his walk, wondering what Driscoll had been doing and why he feared to be disturbed. It was plain that he had taken some trouble to put Thirlwell off the track and might have succeeded had not the hoarseness of his voice given the latter a hint. Thirlwell felt puzzled, but could find no clue, and deciding that the matter was not important presently dismissed it. For all that, he resolved to watch Driscoll, but saw nothing to excite his suspicions for the next week or two. Then the man bought all the provisions Scott would let him have and loading his canoe started for the North.



Winter began unusually soon and a blizzard raged about the shack one evening when Scott and Thirlwell sat near the stove. The small room smelt of hot-iron and the front of the stove glowed a dull red, but the men shivered as the bitter draughts swept in. Thirlwell watched the skin curtain he had nailed across the window bulge while the snow beat savagely against the glass, and then picked up a book. Presently Scott hung a bearskin on the back of his chair.

"It's a pretty good hide although the forequarter's cut away," he said. "Still I don't know that I wanted the thing and reckon the half-breed who sold it me got its value in cartridges and food. Now transport's difficult, I hope he and his Indian friends won't bring us any more of the damaged stock they can't sell to the Hudson's Bay."

Thirlwell nodded. The rivers were frozen and canoeing was stopped, while the bush was deep in fresh, loose snow. It would be a long and strenuous business to break a trail to the south, and in winter the mine was often cut off from the settlements. Provisions sometimes ran short, but Scott found it hard to refuse the starving Indians a share of his supplies.

"You bought a fine skin," he resumed. "I haven't seen the thing since. What have you done with it?"

"I sent it away," said Thirlwell. "Old Musquash said he'd try to make the settlements and took it out for me."

"He'll probably get through, though I don't think a white man could. But I didn't know you had friends in Canada."

Thirlwell did not reply. He had bought the skin for Agatha and now wondered what she would think about his present, or whether she might feel he ought not to have sent it. Still he doubted if the skin would arrive, because the old half-breed would meet with many dangers on the way. Thirlwell pictured him hauling his sledge up thinly frozen rivers, crossing wide lakes swept by icy gales, and plunging into tangled forests smothered in snow. The thought of it emphasized the sense of isolation one often felt at the mine, but while he mused there was a knock at the door.

"I expect it's an Indian come to beg for food," Scott remarked and the door swung open.

The flame of the lamp leaped up and then nearly flickered out as a shower of snow blew in. The stove roared and the room got horribly cold, and for a moment or two a shaggy, white figure, indistinct in the semi-darkness, struggled to close the door. Then there was a sudden calm and when the light got steady an Indian in ragged furs leaned against the table, breathing hard and holding out a note.

"From Father Lucien," said Scott, who took the folded paper. "He's had a sick man on his hands for three or four days and wants one of us to relieve him. I allow I'd sooner stop here. It's pretty fierce to-night."

"Who's sick?" Thirlwell asked.

"Black Steve. I don't know that he has much claim on us, but Father Lucien's a good sort. I guess we've got to help him out."

Thirlwell nodded. Father Lucien was a French-Canadian missionary who had studied medicine, and, for the most part, lived with his wandering flock. In summer, he went North with canoe and tent, but generally returned in winter to a shack near the mine. Scott and Thirlwell had found his society pleasant when they sat round the stove on long cold nights, for the priest had been trained in Europe and knew the great world as he knew the Canadian wilds. A scholar and something of a mystic, he was marked by a wide toleration and liberality of thought.

"Who's going? Shall we draw cuts for it?" Scott resumed.

Thirlwell hesitated. He felt tired, the shack was warm, and he heard the blizzard rage among the tossing pines; but he was curious about Driscoll and something urged him to go to the priest's help.

"I'll take first turn. You can come along to-morrow if you're wanted," he said, and putting on his fur coat and cap, went out with the Indian.

When the door shut he let his companion take the lead, for his eyes were filled with water and snow. He knew the bush, but imagined that nobody but an Indian could find the trail that night, and to lose it would mean death. For some moments the icy gale stopped his breathing, and he stumbled forward, seeing nothing, until he struck a pine, which he seized and leaned against. Looking round, with his back to the wind, he noted that the shack had vanished, although he thought it was only a few yards off. There was nothing visible, but when the Indian touched him he pulled himself together and struggled on again.

It was a little warmer when they plunged into the bush, but the snow was soft and deep, and they stumbled over fallen branches and fell into thickets. Torn-off twigs rained upon their lowered heads, shadowy trunks loomed up and vanished, and Thirlwell could not tell where he was going; but the Indian plodded on, his white figure showing faintly through the snow. At length, when Thirlwell was nearly exhausted, another sound mingled with the scream of the gale, and he knew it was the turmoil of the Grand Rapid, where the furious current did not freeze. They were getting near the end of the journey, and he braced himself for an effort to reach Driscoll's shack. By and by a ray of light pierced the snow, surprisingly close, and a few moments later he reached the shelter of a wall.

A door opened, somebody seized his arm, and he stumbled into a lighted room. Throwing off his snow-clogged coat, he sat down in a rude chair and blinked stupidly as he looked about. His head swam, the warmth made him dizzy, and the tingling of his frozen skin was horribly painful. Then he began to recover and saw that the Indian had gone and Father Lucien sat by a bunk fixed to the wall. The priest wore an old buckskin jacket with a tasseled fringe, and long, soft moccasins, and looked like an Indian until one studied his thin face. His forehead was lined, as if by thought or suffering, and his skin was darkened by wind and frost, but the Indian's glance is inscrutable and his was calm and frank. One got a hint of patience and dignity.

"Thank you for coming," he said. "I would not have sent for you on such a night only that I cannot trust myself to keep awake and neglect just now might cost Driscoll's life. One sleeps soundly after watching for three nights."

Thirlwell glanced at the figure rudely outlined by the dirty blue blanket on the bunk. Driscoll's face was turned to the wall, but Thirlwell saw that his black hair was damp.

"What's the matter with Steve?" he asked.

"Pneumonia. Two of my people who passed the shack in the daytime saw a light burning. They went in and found him unconscious, an empty whisky bottle on the floor, and the stove burned out. They made a fire and then came for me."

"That's something of a compliment," Thirlwell remarked. "If it had happened before you came, they'd probably have cleaned out the shack and left Steve to freeze. I don't know that he'd have been regretted, and if the rumors about his selling the Indians liquor are true, imagine he's your worst enemy."

"He's a sick man. Besides, have you often seen my people drunk?"

"No," said Thirlwell thoughtfully; "I believe only once. But Steve didn't deny the thing when one of the boys at the mine called him a whisky runner, and I thought it curious, because there's a heavy penalty. I suppose he can't hear what we say?"

"He's unconscious, but has fits of weak delirium. Three or four o'clock may mark the turning, and if he lives until daybreak I'll feel hopeful. But do you imagine he didn't deny your workman's charge because it was true?"

"I'd have expected him to deny it whether it was true or not. That's what puzzled me. It looked as if he was willing to be suspected."

"Driscoll," said Father Lucien, "is a strange, dark man, but he needs our help and one of us must watch."

"I'm fresh and will take the first turn," Thirlwell offered, and pulled his chair to the stove when Father Lucien, wrapping himself in a blanket, lay down on the floor.

He found watching dreary and got very cold. The pines roared about the shack and the lamp flickered in the draughts, but the wind was falling and between the gusts one could hear the river. Drift-ice churned in the rapid and broke with jarring crashes upon the rocks. Once or twice Thirlwell thought the sound disturbed Driscoll, because he moved and muttered brokenly. Thirlwell, however, could not hear what he said, and getting drowsy with the dry warmth of the stove, struggled to keep awake. He was not sure that he altogether succeeded, for now and then his head fell forward and he roused himself with a jerk, but did not think he really went to sleep. For all that, some hours had passed when he moved his chair and looked at his watch. It was quieter outside and the roar of the river had got distinct. Then Thirlwell heard a blanket thrown back and glanced at the bunk.

Driscoll had turned his head and the light touched his face, which glistened with sweat. His eyes were wide open, his lips moved as if he tried to speak, and Thirlwell thought his brain was clear, but saw next moment that Driscoll was not watching him. He had a curious, strained look and gazed at the door, as if somebody had come in. The strange thing was that he looked afraid.

"I couldn't stop her with the back-stroke," he said hoarsely. "She rolled over as she swung across the stream."

Thirlwell shivered, because it was obvious that the sick man was going over what had happened the night Strange was drowned. His manner hinted that he was trying to excuse himself for something he had done. Shrinking back in the bunk, he resumed in a stronger voice: "I couldn't stop her! The stream was running fast."

Then he was silent for a time and Thirlwell heard the river rolling through its ice-bound channel and the dreary wailing of the pines. He felt disturbed; something in Driscoll's voice and look had jarred his nerves, and it cost him an effort not to waken Father Lucien. It was not time yet and the priest needed sleep. Driscoll lay quiet with his eyes shut, but presently moved and began to mutter. Thirlwell, leaning forward, caught the words: "I never had the thing; he took it with him."

The strained voice broke, Driscoll drew a hard breath, and feebly turned his face from the light. After this Thirlwell, whose curiosity was excited, had less trouble to keep awake, and at length roused Father Lucien, as he had been told. It was nearly three o'clock in the morning, the fire had sunk, and the shack was very cold. The wind had fallen and the bush was silent; one could hear the loose snow dropping from the boughs.

Father Lucien crossed the floor and after standing for a time beside the bunk came back and sat down by the stove.

"You can put in fresh wood; it won't disturb him now," he said. "He's sleeping well. I think the danger's over."

The cord wood snapped and crackled, the front of the stove got red, and sitting in a corner out of the draughts, they began to talk in low voices.

"Driscoll was delirious; he talked strangely," Thirlwell remarked. "Is a sick man's raving all such stuff as dreams?"

"Ah," said Father Lucien, "we know little yet about the working of the disordered brain, but the imagination sometimes centers on and distorts things that have happened. Did you get a hint of intelligence in what Driscoll said?"

"I did. He said he never had the thing. Somebody—Strange, perhaps—took it with him."

"Why do you think he meant Strange?"

"Because his mind was obviously dwelling on the night Strange's canoe capsized. He said it was an accident—he could not stop her swinging across the stream—as if he were answering somebody who accused him. The disturbing thing was that although delirious he looked horribly afraid."

Father Lucien was silent and Thirlwell went on: "You have been with him for three nights. Has he talked like this before?"

"Yes," said Father Lucien, quietly. "You can be trusted. I think he is afraid."

"Ah!" said Thirlwell, looking hard at him. "Then I wonder why the canoe capsized. Were they drunk, or was there a quarrel? But perhaps you know and cannot tell!"

"I do not know. Driscoll is not of my flock. He is ill and it is my business to cure his sickness, but I can go no farther. If he has other troubles, he would refuse my help."

"That is so," Thirlwell agreed. "There's a mystery about the capsize, and I'm curious. You see, I met Strange's daughter and she believes in the lode."

Father Lucien hesitated, and then went to a shelf.

"I will show you something," he said, and gave Thirlwell a small Russian leather wallet. It was well made, but worn and stained as if it had been soaked in water. "I found this when I undressed Driscoll," he went on. "It is not a thing you would expect a rude prospector to carry. But I found something else."

He held out a piece of broken stone and Thirlwell as he took it moved abruptly. He knew something about ore and saw that the stone had come from the same vein as the specimen Agatha had given him.

"I think Strange found the silver," Father Lucien said quietly.

Thirlwell knitted his brows. He had dark suspicions, but after all they had no solid foundation, and he thought it best to copy the missionary's reserve.

"We know Driscoll's character, and may have been mistaken about one thing. Is it logical to imagine that such a man would feel afraid?"

"Fear sometimes comes without remorse," said Father Lucien.

"Superstitious fear, working on a brain disordered by liquor and illness?"

"We will not argue about the proper name. It may be superstition, or something greater. I believe that retribution follows the offense."

Thirlwell looked hard at the other. "Well, I doubt if we will ever know the truth about Strange's death."

"It is possible," Father Lucien agreed. "Perhaps it is not important whether we know or not. One thing is certain: if wrong has been done, it will be made right, if not by the way we would choose, by another. I think we may leave it there."

"We must," said Thirlwell dryly. "There is nothing else to do. In the meantime, if I can't be useful, I'm going to sleep."

Day was breaking when he wakened and Father Lucien told him that Driscoll was better, but would need careful nursing for a time.

"Then Scott must come to-night," Thirlwell replied. "I've had enough of watching Steve, and don't mind admitting that your charity is greater than mine."

When he reached the shack he told Scott nothing about what he had heard, because he thought Father Lucien would sooner he did not. The latter knew when to be silent and it would do no good to talk about the matter unless something happened to throw a light upon the mystery. On the whole, he was relieved when Driscoll, who soon recovered, set off up river with a half-breed and a loaded hand-sledge.



The snow was firm and the rivers were frozen hard when Thirlwell left the mine with two Metis trappers to examine an outcropping reef that one of the half-breeds had told him about. He was not very hopeful, but agreed with Scott, who thought it might be worth while to look at the reef, since the specimens the Metis had brought showed traces of silver and lead. Then Father Lucien had gone to visit some of his people who had camped for their winter trapping far up in the bush, the shack was lonely, and the frost hindered the work at the mine.

Winter is not a good time for prospecting, but travel is often easier then, for the hand-sledges run smoothly on the snow that covers fallen trunks and underbrush and levels the hollows. The muskegs are frozen and one can make fast marches along the rivers and across the lakes. Thirlwell had no tent, but it is not a great hardship for a well-fed man, wrapped in furs, to sleep beside a big fire behind a bank of snow, and he had no misadventures as he pushed into the wilds. The ore proved to be worthless, and soon after he started back he met an Indian who said he had seen Father Lucien going south with a dog-team two days before, and had found the trail of another white man near the spot where he and his friends had camped.

The clear, cold weather broke when Thirlwell began his homeward march. The sky was low and leaden, and a biting wind blew from the south. It drove the snow-dust into the men's smarting faces and froze their breath on their furs. Their hands stiffened on the sledge-traces and their feet got numb. The cold got worse when snow began to fall and when they camped one night Thirlwell noted that they had used more food than he thought. The transport of provisions is perhaps the main difficulty of a winter journey in the bush, for men who brave the arctic cold must be generously fed. Thirlwell, however, expected to reach the mine before their stores ran out, and set off at daybreak next morning in heavy, driving snow.

At dusk he camped in a clump of dry willows by a river. The snow had stopped, but a bitter wind blew down the valley and the cold was intense. When he had eaten a meal Thirlwell sat with his back to a snow bank and a big fire in front, holding up a moccasin to the blaze. This was necessary because moccasins absorb moisture during a long day's march, and the man who puts them on while damp risks getting frozen feet.

He was lighting his pipe when the Metis he had sent out for wood came back with an armful of branches and said he had seen a light up the river. Thirlwell put on his half-dried moccasins and reluctantly left the camp. He had met nobody but an Indian on the trail and was curious to know who was camping in those solitudes. Besides, it was possible that he might be able to get some supplies.

As he pushed through the willows the savage wind pierced him to the bone. The dry branches rattled and the pines upon the ridge above wailed drearily. The sky was clear and the frozen river, running back, white and level, through the dusky forest, glittered in the light of a half moon. This was all that Thirlwell saw for a few minutes, and then a twinkling light in the distance fixed his attention. It flickered, got brighter, and faded, and he knew it was a fire.

After a time he and the Metis left the river and climbed the steep bank. The fire had vanished, but the pungent smell of burning wood came down the biting wind, and by and by trails of smoke drifted past the scattered pines. Then as they struggled through a brake of wild-fruit canes a blaze leaped up among the the rocks and he saw an indistinct figure crouching beside a fire. The figure got up awkwardly and a few moments later Father Lucien gave Thirlwell his hand. The light touched his thin frost-browned face, which was marked by lines that pain had drawn.

"It's lucky you came, but, if you don't mind, we'll sit down," he said.

"If you're alone, you had better come back to our camp," Thirlwell replied. "Where's your truck and the dogs?"

Father Lucien indicated the torn blue blanket that hung from his shoulder. "All gone except this! But it's a long story and I can't walk."

"Then you have nothing to eat?" said Thirlwell sharply.

"Half a small bannock; I ate the rest this morning. The worst was I had only melted snow to drink."

Thirlwell made a sympathetic gesture, for men who camp in the frozen woods consume large quantities of nearly boiling tea. Then he turned to the half-breed and sent him back for his companion and the sledge.

"We'll haul you down the river as soon as they come," he said. "By good luck, we camped in perhaps the only place from which we could have seen your fire."

"Ah," said Father Lucien with a quiet smile, "I do not know if it was luck alone that made you choose the spot."

They sat down in the hollow among the rocks, and the missionary shivered although the fire snapped and threw out clouds of smoke close by. Thirlwell gave him his tobacco pouch.

"In the meantime, you can eat your bannock and then take a smoke. I'm curious to learn how you lost your outfit and the dogs."

Father Lucien ate the morsel of hard cake, and afterwards looked up. "Perhaps I had better tell you before your men arrive. Well, I traveled about with my people as they moved their traps, and one night when very tired I slept in damp moccasins. The fire got low and next morning my foot was slightly frozen. We were forced to make long marches for some days, and I found the frost-bite had gone deeper than I thought. You can, no doubt, guess what happened."

Thirlwell nodded. A frozen foot sometimes galls into a sore that will not heal while the temperature is low.

"Well," said Father Lucien, "some time after we pitched camp, a man came in with a dog-team that belonged to the Hudson's Bay. He was not going farther but offered to lend me the dogs, if I would leave them with some friends of his who were trapping to the south."

"But can you drive dogs?" Thirlwell asked, knowing that skill is required to manage the snarling, fighting teams.

"Not well, but I have driven dogs, and was anxious to reach the mine before my foot got worse. I thought I might find somebody at the Indians' camp who would go on with me. For a day or two we made good progress, though I had trouble to harness the leader in the morning; he was a stubborn, bad tempered animal, and missed his master's firm control. Then, one evening, we came to a creek. The stream had kept the channel open here and there, and I thought the ice thin, but it was open, rocky country round about, and I saw a clump of pines in the distance where we could camp. It got dark as we followed the creek and clouds drifted over the moon, but I wanted to find shelter and pushed on. Once or twice the ice cracked ominously, but it held until we came to a spot where the stream got narrower between high, rocky banks.

"The leader stopped and growled, at the edge of an open crack. His instinct warned him of danger, but I knew I could not get up the rough bank with my lame foot, and drove him past. As I limped by his side with the whip, I thought I heard the current gurgle under the ice, but we went on, the dogs snuffing and treading cautiously. Then there was a soft thud and a splash, the team was jerked back and I saw that the sledge had vanished. I suppose it had broken through a snow-bridge that our weight had shaken.

"I scrambled back a yard or two and looked down into the dark gap—I could not run because of my galled foot. Part of the sledge was covered by fallen snow, but the fore end rested on something and I leaned down and seized my blanket. There was a bag of food beneath it that I tried to reach, but perhaps I shook the sledge, which began to slip down, and I saw the dogs roll among the traces as they were dragged towards the hole. The leader clawed desperately at the snow, howling as if he begged my help, and I felt that I must save him. You have heard a dog howl in fear or pain?"

"Yes," said Thirlwell, "it makes a strong appeal. But I suppose you remembered what you risked by leaving the food?"

"I cut the trace," Father Lucien went on. "Another mass of snow fell and the sledge sank out of sight. I imagine the stream swept it under the ice, for I could only see the dark water foam. All the food I had except a bannock in my pocket was lost. I forgot the team for a few moments and when I looked up they had gone."

He paused and Thirlwell made a sign of sympathy. "A nerve-shaking jar! But what became of the dogs?"

"I think they were afraid of the ice. If my camp had been made and a fire lighted, they might have come in for warmth, but I was not their master, and perhaps they took the back trail to the spot we started from. Well, as I could not follow, I limped on until I reached the pine clump, where I slept, and then dragged myself across the divide to this corner among the rocks. I knew I could go no farther and sat down to wait—"

Father Lucien's voice was calm and Thirlwell knew his courage had not failed. The man had often risked death when duty sent him out across the snowy wilds.

"Anyhow," said Thirlwell, "I'm glad I found you before it was too late. It's something I and others will long be thankful for."

Father Lucien smiled deprecatingly. "If I had starved, another would have filled my place. Men fall on the trail, but the work goes forward. Perhaps I have said too much about my danger, but I did so because of a curious thing that happened last night. I slept as well as usual for some hours, and then opened my eyes. I think, however, I was not quite awake, or else my brain was dull, because I felt no surprise although a man was in my camp. The fire had burned low and he stood back in the gloom where I could not see his face, but a dry branch broke into flame and the light fell on me. The way the man turned his head indicated that he was looking about the camp, and he must have seen that I had nothing but my blanket. But he was silent and did not come forward."

"An Indian?" Thirlwell asked.

"No," said Father Lucien. "He was white."

Thirlwell started. "A white man? It looks impossible. But why didn't you—?"

"I did not speak. You see, I had not heard him come, and imagine now that I thought I was dreaming and was afraid to wake and find my hope of help had gone. After a few moments, he stepped back very quietly into the shadow, and I called out. There was no answer and I got up. It took a little time—the blanket was round my legs and my foot hurt—and when I stumbled away from the fire he had vanished and there was no sound in the bush. Soon afterwards I fell down in the snow, and lay until the cold roused me to an effort and I crawled back to the fire. By and by I went to sleep again and did not waken until daybreak."

"Then," said Thirlwell, meaningly, "you could find no tracks."

"I could not," Father Lucien agreed. "That was not strange, because light snow was falling when I got up and the wind was fresh. Still I found this; it shows I was not dreaming."

He gave Thirlwell a wooden pipe with a nickel band round the stem.

"Ah!" said Thirlwell, who examined the frozen pipe and scraped out a little half-burned tobacco with his knife. "Fifty-cents, at a settlement store! Not the kind of things the Indians buy, and this is not the stuff they generally smoke. Besides, you would know an Indian, whether he spoke or not, by his figure and his pose."

Father Lucien said nothing, but looked at him with a quiet smile, and Thirlwell resumed: "Well, there was a man; a white man. But the thing's not to be understood. He knew you were starving and stole away! Then where did he come from? There's no white man except Driscoll between the Hudson's Bay post and the mine, and you saved Driscoll's life."

"When I last heard of him, Driscoll was trapping about Stony Creek, a long way to the east."

Thirlwell knitted his brows and lighted his pipe, which he had put near the fire to thaw, and there was silence until the Metis arrived with the sledge, when they took the missionary to their camp and gave him food. After he had eaten they lay down with their feet to the fire and Thirlwell said: "If the man had seen your fire and come to borrow something or find out who you were, he would have spoken. There's nobody I can think of who has not some grounds for wishing you well, but it looks as if the fellow thought you were asleep and meant to let you starve."

"It looks like that," Father Lucien agreed with a curious calm. "Perhaps we shall find out who he was some day, and if not, it does not matter."

Then he drew the blanket across his face and went to sleep.



Agatha looked pale and tired as she sat, rather languidly, in an easy chair in Mrs. Farnam's pretty room. There was bitter frost outside, but the new wooden house, standing among the orchards of South Ontario, was warm, and furnished with a regard for comfort and artistic taste. Mrs. Farnam was proud of her house and good-humored husband, who gave way to her except about the growing of fruit. On this subject, she had told Agatha, he was extraordinarily obstinate. She had some tact and much kindly feeling, but had been a teacher and believed she had a talent for managing other people's business. In fact, she had tried to manage Agatha's, but was forced to admit without much success. Agatha, she said, was difficult.

For all that, it had given her keen satisfaction to bring the girl there when she was threatened by a nervous breakdown in consequence of over-work. Agatha had been her confidential friend when they were at school, but since Mabel married she had sometimes felt that the confidence had been rather one-sided. She had told Agatha much, but the latter had said little about her future plans.

"I don't think you're very much better yet," Mrs. Farnam said after a pause in the talk, for she was seldom silent long.

Agatha languidly looked about the room, noting the warm color of the polished floor, on which the light of the shaded lamp lay in a glistening pool, the fine skin rugs, and thick curtains. She had not an exaggerated love of comfort and her Toronto rooms were bare, but she owned that Mabel had a pretty house. Besides, she had a husband who indulged her and was always kind.

"It's very nice to be here, and I shall soon get strong," she said. "I suppose I rather overdid things, but the examination was coming and I was anxious my girls should pass well."

"From the school managers' point of view, that was a laudable aim, but I don't know that it was worth injuring your health for. You used to agree that managers often expected too much from a teacher."

"I'm afraid I had a selfish object," said Agatha, smiling. "I wanted a better post that will soon be vacant."

"Ambition sometimes deceives one. I know the post you mean and the girl who's going. It carries duties that wore her out."

"And better pay," said Agatha.

Mrs. Farnam gave her a thoughtful look. "Well, that's plausible; but I never thought you greedy. Why do you want the extra pay?"

"I have a use for it," Agatha replied with a twinkle. "I don't suppose I shall carry out my plans, and after all, they are too ridiculous to talk about. Anyhow, you would think so. You're very practical."

"People are curious," Mrs. Farnam remarked. "I'm willing to admit I'm practical, but I married and love my husband, while you look romantic and in many ways are not. You risk your health for money, and I don't think any man ever roused a tender thought in you. There's Jake, for example—"

She stopped and Agatha was silent for a few moments, although she was moved. She was tired and felt lonely and that life was hard. Instinctive longings that she had fought against awoke. She wanted somebody to shelter her and brush her troubles away. Mabel had her husband, whom she loved; but she had chosen a rocky path that she must walk alone.

"I hope Jake is getting on well in British Columbia," she said. "I suppose you hear from him?"

"He writes to us regularly and is getting on very well. Finds his work absorbing and sees a chance of promotion, but it's obvious that he's not satisfied. I don't know if you feel flattered, but he can't forget you."

Agatha stopped her. Jake was Mrs. Farnam's cousin, and had been a teacher of science until he got a post at a mine. He had helped Agatha in her studies, and she blamed herself for imagining that common interests and ambitions accounted for their friendship. In fact, it was something of a shock when, on getting his new post, Jake had asked her to marry him.

"I'm not flattered but sorry," she replied. "I liked Jake very much—one was forced to like him—but after all that doesn't go far enough. And, you see, I didn't know—"

"I believe you really didn't know. It would be ridiculous to admit this about any other girl, but, in a way, you're not quite normal. You're too absorbed in your occupation and haven't a woman's natural feelings. You took all Jake had to give and were surprised and half indignant when he asked something from you."

Agatha wondered rather drearily whether Mrs. Farnam's reproaches were not justified; but the latter went on: "Perhaps, however, your coldness is encouraging. I don't suppose you have met anybody you liked, or felt you could like, better than Jake."

"No," said Agatha, and then hesitated. Since Mabel was capable of giving her cousin a hint, she saw that frankness was needed and remembered the fortnight she had spent with Thirlwell by the lake. She had thought about him since; indeed she had done so oftener than she knew.

"I shall never marry Jake," she said. "Just now it seems unlikely that I shall marry anybody else."

Mrs. Farnam made a sign of disappointed acquiescence. "Very well! That's done with. If there's anything more to be said about your plans for the next few months, your brother will say it. I'm glad George is coming, because he's sensible and will deal with you firmly. Now I'll go and get supper."

She left Agatha thoughtful. George, whose business occasionally brought him into the neighborhood, had written to say that he was coming and would stop the night, and Agatha wondered what he wanted to talk about. He would certainly give her good advice, but they seldom saw alike and she braced herself for a struggle, although she was fond of her brother.

Supper in the bright cedar-paneled room was a cheerful function, and as she looked about and joined in the talk Agatha was conscious of a feeling that was hardly strong enough for envy or actual discontent, but had a touch of both. Mabel looked happy and modestly proud. She was obviously satisfied and in a way enjoyed all that a woman could wish for. The house was pretty; Farnam was indulgent and showed his wife a deference that Agatha liked. He owned a large orchard and had sufficient capital to cultivate it properly. George Strange was marked by a complacent, self-confident manner that his urbanity somewhat toned down. He dealt in artificial fertilizers and farming implements, and it was said that he never lost a customer and seldom made a bad debt.

In character, George was unlike his sister, because while unimaginative he generally saw where his advantage lay. For all that, he was just and often generous. He was married, and talked to Mrs. Farnam about his wife and child when he was not eating with frank enjoyment and telling humorous stories. While the others laughed and joked Agatha mused. They had commonplace aims and duties that brought them happiness; but she had been given a harder task. Still it was a task that could not be shirked; she had accepted it and must carry it out.

Some time after supper Mrs. Farnam went away, and Farnam presently made an excuse for following his wife. When they had gone George remarked: "I must pull out to-morrow, but Florence sends a message. She wants you to stop with us for two or three months."

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