Putney came to the door himself, as he was apt to do at night, when he was in the house, and she saw him control his surprise at sight of her. "Can I see—see—see you a moment," she stammered out, "about some—some law business?"
"Certainly," said Putney, with grave politeness. "Will you come in?" He led the way into the parlor, where he was reading when she rang, and placed a chair for her, and then shut the parlor door, and waited for her to offer him the papers that rattled in her nervous clutch.
"It's this one that I want to show you first," she said, and she gave him the writ of attachment. "A man left it this noon, and we don't know what it means."
"It means," said Putney, "that your father's creditors have brought suit against his estate, and have attached his property so that you cannot sell it, or put it out of your hands in any way. If the court declares him insolvent, then everything belonging to him must go to pay his debts."
"But what can we do? We can't buy anything to feed the stock, and they will suffer," cried Adeline.
"I don't think long," said Putney. "Some one will be put in charge of the place, and then the stock will be taken care of by the creditors."
"And will they turn us out? Can they take our house? It is our house—mine and my sister's; here are the deeds that my father gave me long ago; and he said they were recorded." Her voice grew shrill.
Putney took the deeds, and glanced at the recorder's endorsement before he read them. He seemed to Adeline a long time; and she had many fears till he handed them back to her. "The land, and the houses, and all the buildings are yours and your sister's, Miss Northwick, and your father's creditors can't touch them."
The tears started from Adeline's eyes; she fell weakly back in her chair and let them run silently down her worn face. After a while Putney said, gently, "Was this all you wanted to ask me?"
"That is all," Adeline answered, and she began blindly to put her papers together. He helped her. "How much is there to pay?" she asked, with an anxiety she could not keep out of her voice.
"Nothing. I haven't done you any legal service. Almost any man you showed those papers to could have told you as much as I have." She tried to gasp out some acknowledgments and protests as he opened the doors for her. At the outer threshold he said, "Why, you're alone!"
"Yes. I'm not at all afraid—"
"I will go home with you." Putney caught his hat from the rack, and plunged into a shabby overcoat that dangled under it.
Adeline tried to refuse, but she could not. She was trembling so that it seemed as if she could not have set one foot before the other without help. She took his arm, and stumbled along beside him through the quiet, early spring night.
After a while he said, "Miss Northwick, there's a little piece of advice I should like to give you."
"Well?" she quavered, meekly.
"Don't let anybody lead you into the expense of trying to fight this case with the creditors. It wouldn't be any use. Your father was deeply involved—"
"He had been unfortunate, but he didn't do anything wrong," Adeline hastened to put in, nervously.
"It isn't a question of that," said Putney, with a smile which he could safely indulge in the dark. "But he owed a great deal of money, and his creditors will certainly be able to establish their right to everything but the real estate."
"My sister never wished to have anything to do with the trial. We intended just to let it go."
"That's the best way," Putney said.
"But I wanted to know whether they could take the house and the place from us."
"That was right, and I assure you they can't touch either. If you get anxious, come to me again—as often as you like."
"I will, indeed, Mr. Putney," said the old maid, submissively. She let him walk home with her, and up the avenue till they came in sight of the house. Then she plucked her hand away from his arm, and thanked him, with a pathetic little titter. "I don't know what Suzette would say if she knew I had been to consult you," she suggested.
"It's for you to tell her," said Putney, seriously. "But you'd better act together. You will need all your joint resources in that way."
"Oh, I shall tell her," said Adeline. "I'm not sorry for it, and I think just as you do, Mr. Putney."
"Well, I'm glad you do," said Putney, as if it were a favor.
When he reached home, his wife asked, "Where in the world have you been, Ralph?"
"Oh, just philandering round in the dark a little with Adeline Northwick."
"Ralph, what do you mean?"
He told her, and they were moved and amused together at the strange phase their relation to the Northwicks had taken. "To think of her coming to you, of all people in the world, for advice in her trouble!"
"Yes," said Putney. "But I was always a great friend of her father's, you know, Ellen."
"Oh. I may have spent my whole natural life in denouncing him as demoralization incarnate, and a curse to the community, but I always liked him, Ellen. Yes, I loved J. Milton, and I was merely waiting for him to prove himself a first-class scoundrel, to find out just how much I loved him. I've no doubt but if we could have him among us again, in the attractive garb of the State's-prison inmates, I should be hand and glove with brother Northwick."
Adeline's reasons for going to Putney in their trouble had to avail with Suzette against the prejudice they had always felt towards him. In the tangible and immediate pressure that now came upon them they were glad to be guided by his counsel; they both believed it was dictated by a knowledge of law and a respect for justice, and by no regard for them. They had a comfort in it for this reason, and they freely relied upon it, as in some sort the advice of an honest and faithful enemy. They remembered that the last evening he was with them, their father had spoken leniently of Putney's infirmity, and admiringly of his wasted ability. Now each step they took was at his suggestion. They left the great house before the creditors were put in possession of the personal property, and went to live in the porter's lodge at the gate of the avenue, which they furnished with the few things they could claim for their own out of their former belongings, and from the ready money Suzette had remaining in her name at the bank. They abandoned everything of value in the house they had left, even to their richer dresses and their jewels: they preferred to do this, and Putney approved; he saw that it saved them more than it cost them in their helpless pride.
The Newtons continued in their quarters unmolested; the furniture was theirs and the building belonged to the Northwick girls, as the Newtons called them. Mrs. Newton went every day to help them to get going in their new place, and Elbridge and she lived there for a few weeks with them, till they said they should not be afraid to stay alone. He stood guard over their rights, as far as he could ascertain them in the spoliation that had to come. He locked the avenue gate against the approach of those who came to the assignee's sale, and made them enter and take away their purchases by the farm road; and in all lawful ways he rendered himself obstructive and inconvenient.
His deference to the law was paid entirely through Putney, whose smartness inspired Elbridge with a respect he felt for no other virtue in man. Putney arranged with him to take the Northwick place and manage it on shares for the Northwick girls; he got for him two of the old horses which Elbridge wanted for his work, and one of the cheaper cows. The rest of the stock was sold to gentleman farmers round about, who had fancies for costly cattle: the horses, good, bad and indifferent, were sent to a sale-stable in Boston. The greenhouses were stripped of all that was valuable in them, and nothing was left upon the place, of its former equipment, except the few farm implements, a cart or two, and an ancient carryall that Putney bid off for Newton's use.
Then, when all was finished, he advertised the house to let for a term of years, and failing a permanent tenant before the season opened, he rented it to an adventurous landlady, who proposed to fill it with summer boarders, and who engaged to pay a rental for it monthly, in advance, that would enable the Northwick girls to live on, in the porter's lodge, without fear of want. For the future, Putney imagined a scheme for selling off some of the land next the villas of South Hatboro', in lots to suit purchasers. That summer sojourn had languished several years in uncertainty of its own fortunes; but now, by a caprice of the fashion which is sending people more and more to the country for the spring and fall months, it was looking up decidedly. Property had so rapidly appreciated there, that Putney thought of asking so much a foot for the Northwick lands, instead of offering it by the acre.
In proposing to become a land operator, in behalf of his clients, he had to reconcile his practice with theories he had held concerning unearned land-values; and he justified himself to his crony, Dr. Morrell, on the ground that these might be justly taken from such rich and idle people as wanted to spend the spring and fall at South Hatboro'. The more land at a high price you could get into the hands of the class South Hatboro' was now attracting, and make them pay the bulk of the town tax, the better for the land that working men wanted to get a living on. In helping the Northwick girls to keep all they could out of the clutches of their father's creditors, he held that he was only defending their rights; and any fight against a corporation was a kind of holy war. He professed to be getting on very comfortably with his conscience, and he promised that he would not let it worry other people. To Mr. Gerrish he made excuses for taking charge of the affairs of two friendless women, when he ought to have joined Gerrish in punishing them for their father's sins, as any respectable man would. He asked Gerrish to consider the sort of fellow he had always been, drinking up his own substance, while Gerrish was thriftily devouring other people's houses, and begged him to make allowance for him.
The anomalous relation he held to the Northwicks afforded him so much excitement and enjoyment, that he passed his devil's dividend, as he called his quarterly spree. He kept straight longer than his fellow citizens had known him to do for many years. But Putney was one of those men who could not be credited by people generally with the highest motives. He too often made a mock of what people generally regarded as the highest motives; he puzzled and affronted them; and as none of his most intimate friends could claim that he was respectable in the ordinary sense of the word, people generally attributed interested motives, or at least cynical motives, to him. Adeline Northwick profited by a call she made upon Dr. Morrell for advice about her dyspepsia, to sound him in regard to Putney's management of her affairs; and if the doctor's powders had not so distinctly done her good, she might not have been able to rely upon the assurance he gave her, that Putney was acting wisely and most disinterestedly toward her and her sister.
"He has such a strange way of talking, sometimes," she said.
But she clung to Putney, and relied upon him in everything, not so much because she implicitly trusted him, as because she knew no one else to trust. The kindness that Mr. Hilary had shown for them in the first of their trouble, had, of course, become impossible to both the sisters. He had, in fact, necessarily ceased to offer it directly, and Sue had steadily rejected all the overtures Louise made her since they last met. Louise wanted to come again to see her; but Sue evaded her proposals; at last she would not answer her letters; and their friendship outwardly ceased. Louise did not blame her; she accounted for her, and pitied and forgave her; she said it was what she herself would do in Sue's place, but probably if she had continued herself, she would not have done what Sue did, even in Sue's place. She remembered Sue with a tender constancy when she could no longer openly approach her without hurting more than she helped; and before the day of the assignee's sale came, she thought out a scheme which Wade carried into effect with Putney's help. Those things of their own that the sisters had meant to sacrifice, were bidden off, and restored to them in such a way that it was not possible for them to refuse to take back the dresses, the jewels, the particular pieces of furniture which Louise associated with them.
Each of the sisters dealt with the event in her sort; Adeline simply exulted in getting her things again; Sue gave all hers into Adeline's keeping, and bade her never let her see them.
Northwick kept up the mental juggle he had used in getting himself away from Hatboro', and as far as Ponkwasset Junction he made believe that he was going to leave the main line, and take the branch road to the mills. He had a thousand-mile ticket, and he had no baggage check to define his destination; he could step off and get on where he pleased. At first he let the conductor take up the mileage on his ticket as far as Ponkwasset Junction; but when he got there he kept on with the train, northward, in the pretence that he was going on as far as Willoughby Junction, to look after some business of his quarries. He verified his pretence by speaking of it to the conductor who knew him; he was not a person to take conductors into his confidence, but he felt obliged to account to the man for his apparent change of mind. He was at some trouble to make it seem casual and insignificant, and he wondered if the conductor meant to insinuate anything by saying in return that it was a pretty brisk day to be knocking round much in a stone quarry. Northwick smiled in saying, "It was, rather;" he watched the conductor to see if he should betray any particular interest in the matter when he left him. But the conductor went on punching the passengers' tickets, and seemed to forget Northwick as soon as he left him. At the next station, Northwick followed him out on the platform to find if he sent any telegram off. When he had once given way to this anxiety, which he knew to be perfectly stupid and futile, he had to yield to it at every station. He took his bag with him each time he left the car, and he meant not to go back if he saw the conductor telegraphing. It was intensely cold, and in spite of the fierce heat of the stove at the end of the car, the frost gathered thickly on the windows. The train creaked, when it stopped and started, as if it were crunching along on a bed of dry snow; the noises of the wheels seemed at times to lose their rhythmical cadence, and then Northwick held his breath for fear one of them might be broken. He had a dread of accident such as he had never felt before; his life had never seemed so valuable to him as now; he reflected that it was so because it was to be devoted now to retrieving the past in a new field under new conditions. His life, in this view, was not his own; it was a precious trust which he held for others, first for his children, and then for those whom he was finally to save from loss by the miscarriage of his enterprises. He justified himself anew in what he was intending; it presented itself as a piece of self-sacrifice, a sacred duty which he was bound to fulfil. All the time he knew that he was a defaulter who had used the money in his charge, and tampered with the record so as to cover up the fact, and that he was now absconding, and was carrying off a large sum of money that was not morally his. At one of the stations where he got out to see whether the conductor was telegraphing, he noticed the conductor eyeing his bag curiously; and he knew that he believed there was money in it. Northwick felt a thrill of gratified cunning in realizing how mistaken the conductor was; but he was willing the fellow should think he was carrying up money to pay off his quarry hands.
He was impatient to reach the Junction, where this conductor would leave the train, and it would continue northward in the charge of another man; he seldom went beyond Willoughby on that road, and the new conductor would hardly know him. He meant to go on to Blackbrook Junction, and take the New England Central there for Montreal; but he saw the conductor go to the telegraph office at Willoughby Junction, and it suddenly occurred to him that he must not go to Montreal by a route so direct that any absconding defaulter would be expected to take it. He had not the least proof that the conductor's dispatch had anything to do with him; but he could not help acting as if it had. He said good-day to the conductor as he passed him, and he went out of the station, with his bag, as if he were going up into the town. He watched till he saw the conductor go off in another direction, and then he came back, and got aboard the train just as it was drawing out of the station. He knew that he was not shadowed in any way, but his consciousness of stealth was such that he felt as if he were followed, and that he must act so as to baffle and mislead pursuit.
At Blackbrook, where the train stopped for dinner, he was aware that no one knew him, and he ate hungrily; he felt strengthened and encouraged, and he began to react against the terror that had possessed him. He perceived that it was senseless and ridiculous; that the conductor could not possibly have been telegraphing about him from Willoughby, and there was as yet no suspicion abroad concerning him; he might go freely anywhere, by any road.
But he had now let the New England Central train leave without him, and it only remained for him to push on to Wellwater, where he hoped to connect with the Boston train for Montreal, on the Union and Dominion road. He remembered that this train divided at Wellwater, and certain cars ran direct to Quebec, up through Sherbrooke and Lennoxville. He meant to go from Montreal to Quebec, but now he questioned whether he had better not go straight on from Wellwater; when he recalled the long, all-night ride without a sleeper, which he had once made on that route many summers before, he said to himself that in his shaken condition, he must not run the risk of such a hardship. If he were to get sick from it, or die, it would be as bad as a railroad accident. The word now made him think of what Hilary had said; Hilary who had called him a thief. He would show Hilary whether he was a thief or not, give him time; he would make him eat his words, and he figured Hilary retracting and apologizing in the presence of the whole Board; Hilary apologized handsomely, and Northwick forgave him, while it was also passing through his mind that he must reduce the risks of railroad accident to a minimum, by shortening the time. They reduced the risk of ocean travel in that way, by reducing the time, and logically the fastest ship was the safest. If he could get to Montreal from Wellwater in four or five hours, when it would take him twelve hours to get to Quebec, it was certainly his duty to go to Montreal. First of all, he must put himself out of danger of every kind. He must not even fatigue himself too much; and he decided to telegraph on to Wellwater, and secure a seat in the Pullman car to Montreal. He had been travelling all day in the ordinary car, and he had found it very rough.
It suddenly occurred to him that he must now assume a false name; and he reflected that he must take one that sounded like his own, or else he would not answer promptly and naturally to it. He chose Warwick, and he kept saying it over to himself while he wrote his dispatch to the station-master at Wellwater, asking him to secure a chair in the Pullman. He was pleased with the choice he had made; it seemed like his own name when spoken, and yet very unlike when written. But while he congratulated himself on his quickness and sagacity, he was aware of something detached, almost alien, in the operation of his mind. It did not seem to be working normally; he could govern it, but it was like something trying to get away from him, like a headstrong, restive horse. The notion suggested the colt that had fallen lame; he wondered if Elbridge would look carefully after it; and then he thought of all the other horses. A torment of heartbreaking homesickness seized him; his love for his place, his house, his children, seemed to turn against him, and to tear him and leave him bleeding, like the evil spirit in the demoniac among the tombs. He was in such misery with his longing for his children, that he thought it must show in his face; and he made a feint of having to rise and arrange his overcoat so that he could catch sight of himself in the mirror at the end of the car. His face betrayed nothing; it looked, as it always did, like the face of a kindly, respectable man, a financially reliable face, the face of a leading citizen. He gathered courage and strength from it to put away the remorse that was devouring him. If that was the way he looked that was the way he must be; and he could only be leaving those so dear to him for some good purpose. He recalled that his purpose was to clear the name they bore from the cloud that must fall upon it; to rehabilitate himself; to secure his creditors from final loss. This was a good purpose, the best purpose that a man in his place could have; he recollected that he was to be careful of his life and health, because he had dedicated himself to this purpose.
He determined to keep this purpose steadily in mind, not to lose thought of it for an instant; it was his only refuge. Then a new anguish seized him; a doubt that swiftly became certainty; and he knew that he had signed that dispatch Northwick and not Warwick; he saw just how his signature looked on the yellow manilla paper of the telegraph blank. Now he saw what a fool he had been to think of sending any dispatch. He cursed himself under his breath, and in the same breath he humbly prayed to God for some way of escape. His terror made it certain to him that he would be arrested as soon as he reached Wellwater. That would be the next stop, the conductor told him, when he halted him with the question on his way through the cars. The conductor said they were behind time, and Northwick knew by the frantic pull of the train that they were running to make up the loss. It would simply be death to jump from the car; and he must not die, he must run the risk. In his prayer he bargained with God that if He would let him escape, he would give every thought, every breath to making up the loss of his creditors; he half promised to return the money he was carrying away, and trust to his own powers, his business talent in a new field, to retrieve himself. He resolved to hide himself as soon as he reached Wellwater; it would be dark, and he hoped that by this understanding with Providence he could elude the officer in getting out of the car. But if there were two, one at each end of the car?
There was none, and Northwick walked away from the station with the other passengers, who were going to the hotel near the station for supper. In the dim light of the failing day and the village lamps, he saw with a kind of surprise, the deep snow, and felt the strong, still cold of the winterland he had been journeying into. The white drifts were everywhere; the vague level of the frozen lake stretched away from the hotel like a sea of snow; on its edge lay the excursion steamer in which Northwick had one summer made the tour of the lake with his family, long ago.
He was only a few miles from the Canadian frontier; with a rebound from his anxiety, he now exulted in the safety he had already experienced. He remained tranquilly eating after the departure of the Montreal train was cried; and when he was left almost alone, the head-waiter came to him and said, "Your train's just going, sir."
"Thank you," he answered, "I'm going out on the Quebec line." He wanted to laugh, in thinking how he had baffled fate. Now, if any inquiry were made for him it would be at the Montreal train before it started, or at the next station, which was still within the American border, on that line. But on the train for Quebec, which would reach Stanstead in half an hour, he would be safe from conjecture, even, thanks to that dispatch asking for a chair on the Montreal Pullman. The Quebec train was slow in starting; but he did not care; he walked up and down the platform, and waited patiently. He no longer thought with anxiety of the long all-night ride before him. If he did not choose to keep straight on to Quebec, he could stop at Lenoxville or Sherbrooke, and take up his journey again the next day. At Stanstead he ceased altogether to deal with the past in his thoughts. He was now safe from it beyond any possible peradventure, and he began to plan for the future. He had prepared himself for the all-night ride, if he should decide to take it, with a cup of strong coffee at Wellwater, and he was alert in every faculty. His mind worked nimbly and docilely now, with none of that perversity which had troubled him during the day with the fear that he was going wrong in it. His thought was clear and quick, and it obeyed his will like a part of it; that sense of duality in himself no longer agonized him. He took a calm and prudent survey of the work before him; and he saw how essential it was that he should make no false step, but should act at every moment with the sense that he was merely the agent of others in the effort to retrieve his losses.
At Stanstead a party of three gentlemen came into the car; and their talk presently found its way through Northwick's revery, at first as an interruption, an annoyance, and afterwards as a matter of intensifying personal interest to him. They were in very good spirits, and they made themselves at home in the car; there were only a few other passengers. They were going to Montreal, as he easily gathered, and some friends were to join them at the next junction, and go on with them. They talked freely of an enterprise which they wished to promote in Montreal; and they were very confident of it if they could get the capital. One of them said, It was a thing that would have been done long ago, if the Yankees had been in it. "Well, we may strike a rich defaulter, in Montreal," another said, and they all laughed. Their laughter shocked Northwick; it seemed immoral; he remembered that though he might seem a defaulter, he was a man with a sacred trust, and a high purpose. But he listened eagerly; if their enterprise were one that approved itself to his judgment, the chance of their discussing it before him might be a leading of Providence which he would be culpable to refuse. Providence had answered his prayer in permitting him to pass the American frontier safely, and Northwick must not be derelict in fulfilling his part of the agreement. The Canadians borrowed the brakeman's lantern, and began to study a map which they spread out on their knees. The one who seemed first among them put his finger on a place in the map, and said that was the spot. It was in the region just back of Chicoutimi. Gold had always been found there, but not in paying quantity. It cost more to mine it than it was worth; but with the application of his new process of working up the tailings, there was no doubt of the result. It was simply wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.
Northwick had heard that song before; and he fell back in his seat, with a smile which was perhaps too cynical for a partner of Providence, but which was natural in a man of his experience. He knew something about processes to utilize the tailings of gold mines which would not otherwise pay for working; he had paid enough for his knowledge: so much that if he still had the purchase-money he need not be going into exile now, and beginning life under a false name, in a strange land.
By and by he found himself listening again, and he heard the Canadian saying, "And there's timber enough on the tract to pay twice over what it will cost, even if the mine wasn't worth a penny."
"Well, we might go down and see the timber, any way," said one of the party who had not yet spoken much. "And then we could take a look at Markham's soap-mine, too. Unless," he added, "you had to tunnel under a hundred feet of snow to get at it. A good deal like diggin' the north pole up by the roots, wouldn't it be?"
"Oh, no! Oh, no!" said he who seemed to be Markham, with the optimism of an enthusiast. "There's no trouble about it. We've got some shanties that we put up about the mouth of the hole in the ground we made in the autumn, and you can see the hole without digging at all. Or at least you could in the early part of January, when I was down there."
"The hole hadn't run away?"
"No. It was just where we left it."
"Well, that's encouragin'. But I say, Markham, how do you get down there in the winter?"
"Oh! very easily. Simplest thing in the world. Lots of fellows in the lumber trade do it all winter long. Do it by sleigh from St. Anne's, about twenty miles below Quebec—from Quebec you have your choice of train or sleigh. But I prefer to make a clean thing of it, and do it all by sleigh. I take it by easy stages, and so I take the long route: there is a short cut, but the stops are far between. You make your twenty miles to St. Anne from Quebec one day; eighteen to St. Joachim, the next; thirty-nine to Baie St. Paul, the next; twenty to Malbaie, the next; then forty to Tadoussac; then eighteen to Riviere Marguerite. You can do something every day at that rate, even in the new snow; but on the ice of the Saguenay, to Haha Bay, there's a pull of sixty miles; you're at Chicoutimi, eleven miles farther, before you know it. Good feed, and good beds, all along. You wrap up, and you don't mind. Of course," Markham concluded, "it isn't the climate of Stanstead," as if the climate of Stanstead were something like that of St. Augustine.
"Well, it sounds a mere bagatelle," said the more talkative of the other two, "but it takes a week of steady travel."
"What is a week on the way to Golconda, if Golconda's yours when you get there?" said Markham. "Why, Watkins, the young spruce and poplar alone on that tract are worth twice the price I ask for the whole. A pulp-mill, which you could knock together for a few shillings, on one of those magnificent water-powers, would make you all millionnaires, in a single summer."
"And what would it do in the winter when your magnificent water-power was restin'?"
"Work harder than ever, my dear boy, and set an example of industry to all the lazy habitans in the country. You could get your fuel for the cost of cutting, and you could feed your spruce and poplar in under your furnace, and have it come out paper pulp at the other end of the mill."
Watkins and the other listener laughed with loud haw-haws at Markham's drolling, and Watkins said, "I say, Markham, weren't you born on the other side of the line?"
"No. But my father was; and I wish he'd stayed there till I came. Then I'd be going round with all the capitalists of Wall Street fighting for a chance to put their money into my mine, instead of wearing out the knees of my trousers before you Canucks, begging you not to slap your everlasting fortune in the face."
They now all roared together again, and at Sherbrooke they changed cars.
Northwick had to change too, but he did not try to get into the same car with them. He wanted to think, to elaborate in his own mind the suggestion for his immediate and remoter future which he had got from their talk; and he dreaded the confusion, and possibly he dreaded the misgiving, that might come from hearing more of their talk. He thought he knew, now, just what he wanted to do, and he did not wish to be swerved from it.
He felt eager to get on, but he was not impatient. He bore very well the long waits that he had to make both at Sherbrooke and Richmond; but when the train left the Junction for Quebec at last, he settled himself in his seat with a solider content than he had felt before, and gave himself up to the pleasure of shaping the future, that was so obediently plastic in his fancy. The brakeman plied the fierce stove at the end of the car with fuel, and Northwick did not suffer from the cold that strengthened and deepened with the passing night outside, though he was not overcoated and booted for any such temperature as his fellow-travellers seemed prepared for. They were all Canadians, and they talked now and then in their broad-vowelled French, but their voices were low, and they came and went quietly at the country stations. The car was old and worn, and badly hung; but in spite of all, Northwick drowsed in the fervor of the glowing stove, and towards morning he fell into a long and dreamless sleep.
He woke from it with a vigor and freshness that surprised him, and found the train pulling into the station at Pointe Levis. The sun burned like a soft lamp through the thick frost on the car-window; when he emerged, he found it a cloudless splendor on a world of snow. The vast landscape, which he had seen in summer all green from the edge of the mighty rivers to the hilltops losing themselves in the blue distance, showed rounded and diminished in the immeasurable drifts that filled it, and that hid the streams in depths almost as great above their ice as those of the currents below. The villages of the habitans sparkled from tinned roof and spire, and the city before him rose from shore and cliff with a thousand plumes of silvery smoke. In and out among the frozen shipping swarmed an active life that turned the rivers into highroads, and speckled the expanse of glistening white with single figures and groups of men and horses.
It was all gay and bizarre, and it gave Northwick a thrill of boyish delight. He wondered for a moment why he had never come to Quebec in winter before, and brought his children. He beckoned to the walnut-faced driver of one of the carrioles which waited outside the station to take the passengers across the river, and tossed his bag into the bottom of the little sledge. He gave the name of a hotel in the Upper Town, and the driver whipped his tough, long-fetlocked pony over the space of ice which was kept clear of snow by diligent sweeping with fir-tree tops, and then up the steep incline of Mountain Hill. The streets were roadways from house-front to house-front, smooth, elastic levels of thickly-bedded, triply-frozen snow; and the foot passengers, muffled to the eyes against the morning cold, came and went among the vehicles in the middle of the street, or crept along close to the house-walls, to keep out of the light avalanches of an overnight snow that slipped here and there from the steep tin roofs.
Northwick's unreasoned gladness grew with each impression of the beauty and novelty. It quickened associations of his earliest days, and of the winter among his native hills. He felt that life could be very pleasant in this latitude; he relinquished the notion he had cherished at times of going to South America with his family in case he should finally fail to arrange with the company for his safe return home; he forecast a future in Quebec where he could build a new home for his children, among scenes that need not be all so alien. This did not move him from his fixed intention to retrieve himself, though it gave him the courage of indefinitely expanded possibilities. He was bent upon the scheme he had in mind, and as soon as he finished his breakfast he went out to prepare for it.
The inn he had chosen was one which he remembered, from former visits to Quebec, as having seemed a resort of old world folk of humble fortunes. He got a room, and went to it long enough to count the money he had with him, and find it safe. Then he took one of the notes from the others, and went to a broker's to get it changed.
The amount seemed to give the broker pause; but he concerned himself only with the genuineness of the greenback, and after a keen glance at Northwick's unimpeachable face, he paid over the thousand dollars in Canadian bills. "We used to make your countrymen give us something over," he said with a smile in recognition of Northwick's nationality.
"Yes; that's all changed, now," returned Northwick. "Do I look so very American?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't know that," said the broker, with an airy English inflection. "I suppose it's your hard hat, as much as anything. We all wear fur caps in such weather."
"Ah, that's a good idea," said Northwick. He spoke easily, but with a nether torment of longing to look at the newspaper lying open on the counter. He could see that it was the morning paper; there might be something about him in it. The thought turned him faint; but he knew that if the paper happened to have anything about him in it, any rumor of his offence, any conjecture of his flight, he could not bear it. He could bear to keep himself deaf and blind to the self he had put behind him, but he could not bear anything less. The papers seemed to thrust themselves upon him; newsboys followed him up in the street with them; he saw them in all the shops, where he went for the fur cap and fur overcoat he bought, for the underclothing and changes of garments that he had to provide; for the belt he got to put his money in. This great sum, which he dared not bank, must be carried about with him; it must not leave him night or day; it must be buckled into the chamois belt and worn round his waist, sleeping and waking. The belt was really for gold, but the forty-two thousand-dollar notes, which were not a great bulk, would easily go into it.
He returned to his hotel and changed them to it, and put the belt on. Then he felt easier, and he looked up the landlord to ask about the route he wished to take. He found, as he expected, that it was one very commonly travelled by lumber merchants going down into the woods to look after their logging camps. Some took a sleigh from Quebec; but the landlord said it was just as well to go by train to St. Anne, and save that much sleighing; you would get enough of it then. Northwick thought so too, and after the early dinner they gave him he took the cars for St. Anne.
He was not tired; he was curiously buoyant and strong. He thought he might get a nap on the way; but he remained vividly awake; and even that night he did not sleep much. He felt again that pulling of his mind, as if it were something separate from him, and were struggling to get beyond the control of his will. The hotel in the little native village was very good in its way; he had an excellent supper and an easy bed; but he slept brokenly, and he was awake long before the early breakfast which he had ordered for his start next day. The landlord wished to persuade him that there was no need of such great haste; it was only eighteen miles to St. Joachim, where he was to make his first stop, and the road was so good that he would get there in a few hours. He had better stop and visit the church, and see the sick people's offerings, which they left there every year, in gratitude to the saint for healing them of their maladies. The landlord said it was a pity he could not come some time at the season of the pilgrimage; his countrymen often came then. Northwick perceived that in spite of his fur cap and overcoat, and his great Canadian boots, he was easily recognizable for an American to this man, though he could not definitely decide whether his landlord was French or Irish, and could not tell whether it was in earnest or in irony that he invited him to try St. Anne for any trouble he happened to be suffering from. But he winced at the suggestion, while his heart leaped at the fantastic thought of hanging that money-belt at her altar, and so easing himself of all his pains. He grotesquely imagined the American defaulters in Canada making a pilgrimage to St. Anne, and devoting emblems of their moral disease to her: forged notes, bewitched accounts, false statements. At the same time, with that part of him which seemed obedient, he asked the landlord if he knew of the gold discoveries on the Chicoutimi River, and tried to account for himself as an American speculator going to look into the matter in his own way and at his own time.
In spite of his uncertainty about the landlord in some ways, Northwick found him a kindly young fellow. He treated Northwick with a young fellow's comfortable deference for an elderly man, and helped him forget the hurts to his respectability which rankled so when he remembered them. He explained the difference between the two routes from Malbaie on, and advised him to take the longer, which lay through a more settled district, where he would be safer in case of any mischance. But if he liked to take the shorter, he told him there were good campes, or log-house stations, every ten or fifteen miles, where he would find excellent meals and beds, and be well cared for by people who kept them in the winter for travellers. Ladies sometimes made the journey on that route, which the government had lately opened, and the mails were carried that way; he could take passage with the mail-carriers.
This fact determined Northwick. He shrank from trusting himself in government keeping, though he knew he would be safe in it. He said he would go by Tadoussac; and the landlord found a carriole driver, with a tough little Canadian horse, who agreed to go the whole way to Chicoutimi with him.
After an early lunch the man came, with the low-bodied sledge, set on runners of solid wood, and deeply bedded with bearskins for the lap and back. The day was still and sunny, like the day before, and the air which drove keenly against his face, with the rush of the carriole, sparkled with particles of frost that sometimes filled it like a light shower of snow. The drive was so short that he reached St. Joachim at noon, and he decided to push on part of the way to Baie St. Paul after dinner. His host at St. Joachim approved of that. "You goin' have snow to-night and big drift to-morrow," he said, and he gave his driver the name of an habitant whom they could stop the night with. The driver was silent, and he looked sinister; Northwick thought how easily the man might murder him on that lonely road and make off with the money in his belt; how probably he would do it if he dreamed such wealth was within his grasp. But the man did not notice him after their journey began, except once to turn round and say, "Look out you' nose. You' goin' freeze him." For the rest he talked to his horse, which was lazy, and which he kept urging forward with "Marche donc! Marche donc!" finally shortened to "'Ch' donc! 'Ch' donc!" and repeated and repeated at regular intervals like the tolling of a bell. It made Northwick think of a bell-buoy off a ledge of rocks, which he had spent a summer near. He wished to ask the man to stop, but he reflected that the waves would not let him stop; he had to keep tolling.
Northwick started. He must be going out of his mind, or else he was drowsing. Perhaps he was freezing, and this was the beginning of the death drowse. But he felt himself warm under his furs, where he touched himself, and he knew he had merely been dreaming. He let himself go again, and arrived at his own door in Hatboro'. He saw the electric lights through the long piazza windows, and he was going to warn Elbridge again about that colt's shoes. Then he heard a sharp fox-like barking, and found that his carriole had stopped at the cabin of the habitant who was to keep him over night. The open doorway was filled with children; the wild-looking dogs leaping at his horse's nose were in a frenzy of curiosity and suspicion.
Northwick rose from his nap refreshed physically, but with a desolate and sinking heart. The vision of his home had taken all his strength away with it; but from his surface consciousness he returned the greeting of the man with a pipe in his mouth and what looked like a blue stocking on his head, who welcomed him. It was a poor place within, but it had a comfort and kindliness of its own, and it was well warmed from the great oblong stove of cast-iron set in the partition of the two rooms. The meal that the housewife got him was good and savory, but he had no relish for it, and he went early to bed. He did not understand much French, and he could not talk with the people, but he heard them speak of him as an old man, with a sort of surprise and pity at his being there. He felt this surprise and pity, too; it seemed such a wild and wicked thing that he should be driven away from his home and children at his age. He tried to realize what had done it.
The habitant had given Northwick his best bed, in his large room; he went with his wife into the other, and they took two or three of the younger children; the rest all scattered up into the loft; each bade the guest a well-mannered good-night. Before Northwick slept he heard his host get up and open the outer door. Some Indians came in and lay down before the fire with the carriole driver.
In the morning, Northwick did not want to rise; but he forced himself; and that day he made the rest of the stage to Baie St. Paul. It snowed, but he got through without much interruption. The following day, however, the drifts had blocked the roads so that he did not make the twenty miles to Malbaie till after dark. He found himself bearing the journey better than he expected. He was never so tired again as that first day after St. Anne. He did not eat much or sleep much, but he felt well. The worst was that the breach between his will and his mind seemed to grow continually wider: he had a sense of the rift being like a chasm stretching farther and farther, the one side from the other. At first his mind worked clearly but disobediently; then he began to be aware of a dimness in its record of purposes and motives. At times he could not tell where he was going, or why. He reverted with difficulty to the fact that he had wished to get as far as possible, not only beyond pursuit, but beyond the temptation to return voluntarily and give himself up. He knew, in those days before the treaty, that he was safe from extradition; but he feared that if a detective approached he would yield to him, and go back, especially as he could not always keep before himself the reasons for not going back. When from time to time these reasons escaped him, it seemed as if nothing could be done to him in case he went home and restored to the company the money he had brought away. It needed a voluntary operation of logic to prove that this partial restitution would not avail; that he would be arrested, and convicted. He would not be allowed to go on living with his children in his own house. He would be taken from them, and put in prison.
He made an early start for Tadoussac, after a wakeful night. His driver wished to break the forty mile journey midway, but Northwick would not consent. The road was not so badly drifted as before, and they got through a little after nightfall. Northwick remembered the place because it was here that the Saguenay steamer lay so long before starting up the river. He recognized in the vague night-light the contour of the cove, and the hills above it, with the villages scattered over them. It was twenty years since he had made that trip with his wife, who had been nearly as long dead, but he recalled the place distinctly, and its summer effect; it did not seem much lonelier now than it seemed in the summer. The lamps shone from the windows where he had seen them then, when he walked about a little just after supper; the village store had a group of habitans and half-breeds about its stove, and there was as much show of life in the streets as there used to be at the same hour and season in the little White Mountain village where his boyhood was passed. It did not seem so bad; if Chicoutimi was no worse he could live there well enough till he could rehabilitate himself. He imagined bringing his family there after his mills had got successfully going; then probably other people from the outside world would be living there.
He ate a hearty supper, but again he did not sleep well, and in the night he was feverish. He thought how horrible it would be if he were to fall sick there; he might die before he could get word to his children and they reach him. He thought of going back to Quebec, and sailing for Europe, and having his children join him there. They could sell the place at Hatboro', and with what it brought, and with what he had, they could live comfortably in some cheap country which had no extradition treaty with the United States. He remembered reading of a defaulter who went to a little republic called San Marino, somewhere in Italy, and was safe there; he found the President treading his own grape vats; and it cost nothing to live there, though it was dull, and the exile became so homesick that he returned and gave himself up. He wondered that he had not thought of that place before; then he reflected that no ships could make their way from Quebec to the sea before May, at the earliest. He would be arrested if he left any American port, or arrested as soon as he reached England. He remembered the advertisement of a line of steamships between Quebec and Brazil; he must wait for the St. Lawrence to open, and go to Brazil, and in the morning must go back to Quebec.
But in the morning he felt so much better that he decided to keep on to Chicoutimi. He could not bear the thought of being found out by detectives at Quebec, and by reporters who would fill the press with paragraphs about him. He must die to the world, to his family, before he could hope to revisit either.
The morning was brilliant with sunlight, and the glare of the snow hurt his eyes. He went to the store to get some glasses to protect them, and he bought some laudanum to make him sleep that night, if he should be wakeful again. It was sixty miles to Haha Bay, but the road on the frozen river was good, and he could do a long stretch of it. From Riviere Marguerite, he should travel on the ice of the Saguenay, and the going would be smooth and easy.
All the landscape seemed dwarfed since he saw it in that far-off summer. The tops of the interminable solitudes that walled the river in on both sides appeared lower, as if the snow upon them weighed them down, but doubtless they had grown beyond their real height in his memory. They had lost the mystery of the summer aspect when they were dimmed with rain or swathed in mist; all their outlines were in plain sight, and the forests that clothed them from the shore to their summits were not that unbroken gloom which they had seemed. The snow shone through their stems, and the inky river at their feet lay a motionless extent of white. As his carriole slipped lightly over it, Northwick had a fantastic sense of his own minuteness and remoteness. He thought of the photograph of a lunar landscape that he had once seen greatly magnified, and of a fly that happened to traverse the expanse of plaster-like white between the ranges of extinct volcanoes.
At times the cliffs rose from the river too sheer for the snow to lodge on; then their rocky faces shone harsh and stern; and sometimes the springs that gushed from them in summer were frozen in long streams of ice, like the tears bursting from the source of some Titanic grief. These monstrous icicles, blearing the visage of the rock, which he figured as nothing but icicles, affected Northwick with an awe that he nowhere felt except when his driver slowed his carriole in front of the great Capes Trinity and Eternity, and silently pointed at them with his whip. He had no need to name them, the fugitive would have known them in another planet. It was growing late; the lonely day was waning to the lonely night. While they halted, the scream of a catamount broke from the woods skirting the bay between the capes, and repeated itself in the echo that wandered from depth to depth of the frozen wilderness, and seemed to die wailing away at the point where it first tore the silence.
Here and there, at long intervals, they passed a point or a recess where a saw-mill stood, with a few log houses about it, and with signs of human life in the smoke that rose weakly on the thin, dry air from their chimneys, or in the figures that appeared at the doorways as the carriole passed. At the next of these beyond the capes, the driver proposed to stop and pass the night, and Northwick consented. He felt worn out by his day's journey; his nerves were spent as if by a lateral pressure of the lifeless desert he had been travelling through, and by the stress of his thoughts, the intensity of his reveries. His mind ran back against his will, and dwelt with his children. By this time, long before this time, they must be wild with anxiety about him; by this time their shame must have come to poison their grief. He realized it all, and he realized that he could not, must not help them. He must not go back to them if ever he was to live for them again. But at last he asked why he should live, why he should not die. There was laudanum enough in that bottle to kill him.
As he walked up from the carriole at the river's edge to the door of the saw-miller's cabin, he drew the cork of the vial, and poured out the poison; it followed him a few steps, a black dribble of murder on the snow, that the miller's dog smelt at and turned from in offence. That night he could not sleep again; toward morning, when all the house was snoring, he gave way to the sobs that were bursting his heart. He heard the sleepers, men and dogs, start a little in their dreams; then they were still, and he fell into a deep sleep.
They let him sleep late; and he had a dream of himself, which must have been caused by the nascent consciousness of the going and coming around him. People were talking of him, and one said how old he was; and another looked at his long, white beard which flowed down over the blanket as far as his waist. He told them that he wore it so that they should not know him when he got home; and he showed them how he could take it off and put it on at pleasure. He started awake, and found his carriole driver standing over him.
"You got you' sleep hout, no?"
"What time is it?" said Northwick, stupidly, scanning the man to make sure that it was he, and waiting for a full sense of the situation to reach him.
"Nine o'clock," said the man, and he turned away.
Northwick got up, and found the place empty of the men and dogs. A woman, who looked like a half-breed, brought him his breakfast of fried venison and bean-coffee; her little one held by her skirt, and stared at him. He thought of Elbridge's baby that he had seen die. It seemed ages ago. He offered the child a shilling; it shyly turned its face into its mother's dress. The driver said, "'E do'n' know what money is, yet," but the mother seemed to know; she showed her teeth, and took it for the child. Northwick sat a moment thinking what a strange thing it was not to know what money was; it had never occurred to him before; he asked himself a queer question, What was money? The idea of it seemed to go to pieces, as a printed word does when you look steadily at it, and to have no meaning. It affected him as droll, fantastic, like a piece of childish make-believe, when the woman took some more money from him for his meals and lodging. But that was the way the world was worked. You could get anything done for money; it was the question of demand and supply; nothing more. He tried to think where money came in when he went out to see Elbridge's sick boy; when Elbridge left the dead child to drive him to the station. It was something else that came in there; but that thing and money were the same, after all: he had proved his love for his children by making money for them; if he had not loved them so much he would not have tried to get so much money, and he would not have been where he was.
His mind fought away from his control, as the sledge slipped along over the frozen river again. It was very cold, but the full sun on his head afflicted him like heat. It was the blaze of light that beat up from the snow, too. His head felt imponderable; and yet he could not hold it up. It was always sinking forward; and he woke from naps without being sure that he had been asleep.
He intended to push through that day to Chicoutimi; but his start was so late that it seemed to him as if they would never get to Haha Bay. When they arrived, late in the afternoon, all sense of progress thither faded away; it was as if the starting and stopping were one, or contained in the same impulse. It might be so if he kept on eleven miles further to Chicoutimi, but he would not be able to feel it so at the beginning; the wish could involve its accomplishment only at the end. He said to himself that this was unreasonable; it was a poor rule that would not work both ways.
This ran through his mind in the presence of the old man who bustled out of the door of the cabin where his carriole had stopped. It was larger than most of the other cabins of the place, which Northwick remembered curiously well, some with their logs bare, and some sheathed in birch-bark. He remembered this man, too, when his white moustache, which branched into either ear, was a glistening brown, and the droop of his left eyelid was more like a voluntary wink. But the gayety of his face was the same, and his welcome was so cordial, that a fear of recognition went through Northwick. He knew the man for the talkative Canadian who had taken him and his wife a drive over the hills around the bay, in the morning, when their boat arrived, and afterwards stopped with them at this cabin, and had them in to drink a glass of milk. Northwick's wife liked the man, and said she would like to live in such a house in such a place, and should not be afraid of the winter that he told her was so terrible. It was almost as if her spirit were there; but Northwick said to himself that he must not let the man know that he had ever seen him before. The resolution cost him something, for he felt so broken and weak that he would have liked to claim his kindness as an old acquaintance. He would have liked to ask if he still caught wild animals for showmen, and how his trade prospered; if he had always lived at Haha Bay since they met. But he was the more decided to ignore their former meeting because the man addressed him in English at once, and apparently knew him for an American. Perhaps other defaulters had been there before; perhaps the mines had brought Americans there prospecting.
"Good morning, sir!" cried the Canadian. "I am glad to see you! Let me 'elp you hout, sir. Well, it is a pleasure to speak a little English with some one! The English close hup with the river in the autumn, but it open early this year. I 'ope you are a sign of many Americans. They are the life of our country. Without the Americans we could not live. No, sir. Not a day. Come in, come in. You will find you' room ready for you, sir."
Northwick hung back suspiciously. "Were you expecting me?" he asked.
"No one!" cried the man, with a shrug and opening of the hands. "But hall the travellers they stop with Bird, and where there are honly two rooms, 'eat with one stove between the walls, their room is always ready. Do me the pleasure!" He set the door open, and bowed Northwick in. "Baptiste!" he called to the driver over his shoulder, "take you' 'orse to the stable." He added a long queue of unintelligible French to his English, and the driver responded, "Hall right."
"I am the only person at Haha Bay who speaks English," he said, in the same terms he had used twenty years before, when he presented himself to Northwick and his wife on their steamboat, and asked them if they would like to drive before breakfast. "But you must know me? Bird—Oiseau? You have been here before?"
"No," said Northwick, with one lie for all. The man, with his cheer and gayety, was even terribly familiar; and Northwick could have believed that the room and the furniture in it were absolutely unchanged. There was the little window that he knew opened on the poor vegetable garden, with its spindling corn, and its beans for soup and coffee. There was the chair his wife had sat in to look out on the things; but for the frost on the pane he could doubtless see them growing now.
He sank into the chair, and said to himself that he should die there, and it would be as well, it would be easy. He felt very old and weak; and he did not try to take off the wraps which he had worn in the sledge. He wished that he might fall so into his grave, and be done with it.
Bird walked up and down the room, talking; he seemed overjoyed with the chance, and as if he could not forego it for a moment. "Well, sir, I wish that I could say as much! But I have been here forty years, hoff and on. I am born at Quebec"—in his tremulous inattention, Northwick was aware that the man had said the same thing to him all those years before, with the same sidelong glance for the effect of the fact upon him—"and I came here when I was twenty. Now I am sixty. Hall the Americans know me. I used to go into the bush with them for bear. Lots of bear in the bush when I first came; now they get pretty scarce. I have the best moose-dog. But I don't care much for the hunting now; I am too hold. That's a fact. I am sixty; and forty winters I 'ave pass at Haha Bay. You know why it is call Haha Bay? It is the hecho. Well, I don't hear much ha-ha nowadays round this bay. But it is pretty here in the summer; yes, very pretty. Prettier than Chicoutimi; and more gold in the 'ills."
He let his bold, gay eye rest confidently on Northwick, as if to say he knew what had brought him there, and he might as well own the fact at once; and Northwick tried to get his mind to grapple with his real motive. But his mind kept pulling away from him, like that unruly horse, and he could not manage it. He knew, in that self which seemed apart from his mind, that it would be a very good thing to let the man suppose he was there to look into the question of the mines; but there was something else that seemed to go with that intention; something like a wish to get away from the past so remotely and so completely that no rumor of it should reach him till he was willing to let it; to be absent from all who had known him so long that no one of them would know him if he saw him. He was there not only to start a pulp-mill, but to grow a beard that should effectually disguise him. He recalled how he had looked with that long beard in his dream; he put his hand to his chin and felt the eight days' stubble there, and he wondered how much time it would take to grow such a beard.
Bird went on talking. "I know that Chicoutimi Company. I told Markham about the gold when he was here for bear. He is smart; but he don't know heverything. You think he can make it pay with that invention? I doubt, me. There is one place in those 'ills," and Bird came closer to Northwick, and dropped his voice, "where you don't 'ave to begin with the tailings. I know the place. But what's the good? All the same, you want capital."
He went to the shelf in the wall above the stove, and took a pipe, which he filled with tobacco, and then he drew some coals out on the stove hearth. But before he dropped one of them on his pipe with his horny thumb and finger, he asked politely, "You hobject to the smoking?"
Northwick said he did not, and Bird said, "It is one of three things you can do here in the winter; smoke the pipe, cut the wood, court the ladies." Northwick remembered his saying that before, too, and how it had made his wife laugh. "I used to do all three. Now I smoke the pipe. Well, while you are young, it is all right, and it is fun in the woods. But I was always 'omesick for Quebec, more or less. You know what it is to be 'omesick."
The word pierced Northwick through the vagary which clothed his consciousness like a sort of fog, and made his heart bleed with self-pity.
"Well, I been 'omesick forty years, and I don't know what for, any more. I been back to Quebec; it is not the same. You know 'ow they pull down those city gate? What they want to do that for? The gate did not keep the stranger hout; it let them in! And there were too many people dead! Now I think I am 'omesick just to get away from here. If I had some capital—ten, fifteen thousand dollars—I would hopen that mine, and take out my hundred, two hundred thousand dollar, and then, Good-by, Haha Bay! I would make it hecho like it never hecho before. I don't want nothing to work up the tailings of my mine, me! There is gold enough there to pay, and I can hire those habitans cheap, like dirt. What is their time worth? The bush is cut away: they got nothing to do. It is the time of a setting 'en, as you Americans say, their time."
Bird smoked away for a little while in silence, and then he seemed aware, for the first time, that Northwick had not taken off his wraps, and he said, hospitably, "I 'ope you will spend the night with me here?"
Northwick said, "Thank you, I don't know. Is it far to Chicoutimi?" He knew, but he asked, hoping the man would exaggerate the distance, and then he would not have to go.
"It is eleven mile, but the road is bad. Drifted."
"I will wait till to-morrow," said Northwick, and he began to unswathe and unbutton, but so feebly that Bird noticed.
"Allow me!" he said, putting down his pipe, and coming to his aid. He was very gentle and light-handed, like a woman; but Northwick felt one touch on the pouch of his belt, and refused further help.
He let his host carry his two bags into the next room for him; the bag that he had brought with the few things from home, when he pretended that he was coming away for a day or two, and the bag that he had got in Quebec to hold the things he had to buy there. When Bird set them down beside his bed he could not bear to see the bag from home, and he pushed it under out of sight. Then he tumbled himself on the bed, and pulled the bearskin robe that he found on it up over him, and fell into a thin sleep, that was not so different from his dim waking that he was sure it had been sleep when Bird came back with a lamp.
"Been 'aving a little nap?" he asked, looking gayly down on Northwick's bewildered face. "Well, that is all right! We have supper, now, pretty soon. You hungry? Well, in a 'alf-hour."
He went out again, and Northwick, after some efforts, made out to rise. His skull felt sore, and his arms as if they had been beaten with hard blows. But after he had bathed his face and hands in the warm water Bird had brought with the lamp, he found himself better, though he was still wrapped in that cloudy uncertainty of himself and of his sleeping or waking. He saw some pictures about on the coarse, white walls: the Seven Stations of the Cross, in colored prints; a lithograph of Indians burning a Jesuit priest. Over the bed's head hung a chromo of Our Lady, with seven swords piercing her heart; beside the bed was a Parian crucifix, with the figure of Christ writhing on it.
These things made Northwick feel very far and strange. His simple and unimaginative nature could in nowise relate itself to this alien faith, this alien language. He heard soft voices of women in the next room, the first that he had heard since he last heard his daughters'. A girl's voice singing was severed by a door that closed and then opened to let it be heard a few notes more, and again closed.
But he found Bird still alone in the next room when he returned to it. "Well, now, we go to supper as soon as Father Etienne comes. He is our curate—our minister—here. And he eats with me when he heat anywhere. I tell 'im 'e hought to have my appetite, if he wants to keep up his spiritual strength. The body is the foundation of the soul, no? Well, you let that foundation tumble hin, and then where you got you' soul, heigh? But Father Etienne speaks very good English. Heducate at Rome. I am the only other educated man at Haha Bay. You don't 'appen to have some papers in you' bag? French? English? It is the same!"
"Papers? No!" said Northwick, with horror and suspicion. "What is in the papers?"
"That is what I like to find hout," said Bird, spreading his hands with a shrug.
The outer door opened, and a young man in a priest's long robe came in. Bird introduced his guest, and Northwick shook hands with the priest, who had a smooth, regular face, with beautiful, innocent eyes, like a girl's. He might have been twenty-eight or twenty-nine; he had the spare figure of a man under thirty who leads an active life; his features were refined by study and the thought of others. When he smiled the innocence of his face was more than girlish, it was childlike. Points of light danced in his large, soft, dark eyes; an effect of trusting, alluring kindness came from his whole radiant visage.
Northwick felt its charm with a kind of fear. He shrank away from the priest, and at the table he left the talk to him and his host. They supped in a room opening into a sort of wing; beyond it was a small kitchen, from which an elderly woman brought the dishes, and where that girl whom he heard singing kept trilling away as if she were excited, like a canary, by the sound of the frying meat.
Bird said, by way of introduction, that the woman was his niece; but he did not waste time on her. He began to talk up his conjecture as to Northwick's business with the priest, as if it were an ascertained fact. Northwick fancied his advantage in leaving him to it. They discussed the question of gold in the hills, which the young father treated as an old story of faded interest, and Bird entered into with the fervor of fresh excitement. The priest spoke of the poor return from the mines at Chaudiere, but Bird claimed that it was different here. Northwick did not say anything: he listened and watched them, as if they were a pair of confidence-men trying to work him. The priest seemed to be anxious to get the question off the personal ground into the region of the abstract, and Northwick believed that this was part of his game, a ruse to throw him from his guard, and commit him to something. He made up his mind to get away as early as he could in the morning; he did not think it was a safe place.
"Very well!" the priest cried, at one point. "Suppose you had the capital you wish. And suppose you had taken out all the gold you say is there, and you were rich. What would you do?"
"What I do?" Bird struck the table with his fist. "Leave Haha Bay to-morrow morning!"
"And where would you go?"
"Go? To Quebec, to London, to Paris, to Rome, to the devil! Keep going!"
The young father laughed a laugh as innocent as his looks, and turned with a sudden appeal to Northwick. "Tell me a little about the rich men in your land of millionnaires! How do they find their happiness? In what? What is the secret of joy that they have bought with their money?"
"I don't know what you mean," said Northwick, with a recoil deeper into himself after the first flush of alarm at being addressed.
"Where do they live?"
Northwick hesitated, and the priest laid his hand on Bird's shoulder, as if to restrain a burst of information from him.
"I suppose most of them live in New York."
"All the time?"
"No. They generally have a house at the seaside, at Newport or Bar Harbor, for the summer, and one at Lenox or Tuxedo for the fall; and they go to Florida for the winter, or Nice. Then they have their yachts."
"The land is not large enough for their restlessness; they roam the sea. My son," said the young priest to the old hunter, "you can have all the advantage of riches at the expense of a gypsies' van!" He laughed again in friendly delight at Bird's supposed discomfiture; and touched him lightly, delicately, as before. "It is the same in Europe; I have seen it there, too." Bird was going to speak, but the priest stayed him a moment. "But how did your rich people get their millions? Not like those rich people in Europe, by inheritance?"
"Very few," said Northwick, sensible of a remnant of the pride he used to feel in the fact, hidden about somewhere in his consciousness. "They made it."
"How? Excuse me!"
"By manufacturing, by speculating in railroad stocks, by mining, by the rise in land-values."
"What causes the land to rise in value?"
"The demand for it. The necessity."
"Oh! The need of others. And when a man gains in stocks, some other man loses. No? Do the manufacturers pay the operatives all they earn? Are the miners very well paid and comfortable? I have read that they are miserable. Is it so?"
Northwick was aware that there were good and valid answers to all these questions which the priest seemed to be asking rather for the confusion of Bird than as an expression of his own opinions; but in his dazed intelligence he could not find the answers.
Bird roared out, "Haw! Do not regard him! He is a man of the other world—an angel—a mere imbecile—about business!" The priest threw himself back in his chair and laughed tolerantly, showing his beautiful teeth. "All those rich men they give work to the poor. If I had a few thousand dollars to hopen up that place in the 'ill, I would furnish work to every man in Haha Bay—to hundreds. Are the miners more miserable than those habitans, eh?"
"The good God seems to think so," returned the priest, seriously. "At least, he has put the gold in the rocks so that you cannot get it out. What would you give the devil to help you?" he asked, with a smile.
"When I want to make a bargain with the devil, I don't come to you, Pere Etienne; I go to a notary. You ever hear, sir," said Bird, turning to Northwick, "about that notary at Montreal—"
"I think I will go to bed," said Northwick, abruptly. "I am not feeling very well—I am very tired, that is." He had suddenly lost account of what and where he was. It seemed to him that he was both there and at Hatboro'; that there were really two Northwicks, and that there was a third self somewhere in space, conscious of them both.
It was this third Northwick whom Bird and the priest would have helped to bed if he had suffered them, but who repulsed their offers. He made shift to undress himself, while he heard them talking in French with lowered voices in the next room. Their debate seemed at an end. After a little while he heard the door shut, as if the priest had gone away. Afterwards he appeared to have come back.
The talk went on all night in Northwick's head between those two Frenchmen, who pretended to be of contrary opinions, but were really leagued to get the better of him, and lure him on to put his money into that mine. In the morning his fever was gone; but he was weak, and he could not command his mind, could not make it stay by him long enough to decide whether any harm would come from remaining over a day before he pushed on to Chicoutimi. He tried to put in order or sequence the reasons he had for coming so deep into the winter and the wilderness; but when he passed from one to the next, the former escaped him.
Bird looked in with his blue woollen bonnet on his head, and his pipe in his mouth, and he removed each to ask how Northwick was, and whether he would like to have some breakfast; perhaps he would like a cup of tea and some toast.
Northwick caught eagerly at the suggestion, and in a few minutes the tea was brought him by a young girl, whom Bird called Virginie; he said she was his grand-niece, and he hoped that her singing had not disturbed the gentleman: she always sang; one could hardly stop her; but she meant no harm. He stayed to serve Northwick himself, and Northwick tried to put away the suspicion Bird's kindness roused in him. He was in such need of kindness that he did not wish to suspect it. Nevertheless, he watched Bird narrowly, as he put the milk and sugar in his tea, and he listened warily when he began to talk of the priest and to praise him. It was a pleasure, Bird said, for one educated man to converse with another; and Father Etienne and he often maintained opposite sides of a question merely for the sake of the discussion; it was like a game of cards where there were no stakes; you exercised your mind.
Northwick understood this too little to believe it; when he talked, he talked business; even the jokes among the men he was used to meant business.
"Then you haven't really found any gold in the hills?" he asked, slyly.
"My faith, yes!" said Bird. "But," he added sadly, "perhaps it would not pay to mine it. I will show you when you get up. Better not go to Chicoutimi to-day! It is snowing."
"Snowing?" Northwick repeated. "Then I can't go!"
"Stop in bed till dinner. That is the best," Bird suggested. "Try to get some sleep. Sleep is youth. When we wake we are old again, but some of the youth stick to our fingers. No?" He smiled gayly, and went out, closing the door softly after him, and Northwick drowsed. In a dream Bird came back to him with some specimens from his gold mine. Northwick could see that the yellow metal speckling the quartz was nothing but copper pyrites, but he thought it best to pretend that he believed it gold; for Bird, while he stood over him with a lamp in one hand, was feeling with the other for the buckle of Northwick's belt, as he sat up in bed. He woke in fright, and the fear did not afterwards leave him in the fever which now began. He had his lucid intervals, when he was aware that he was wisely treated and tenderly cared for, and that his host and all his household were his devoted watchers and nurses; when he knew the doctor and the young priest, in their visits. But all this he perceived cloudily, and as with a thickness of some sort of stuff between him and the fact, while the illusion of his delirium, always the same, was always poignantly real. Then the morning came when he woke from it, when the delirium was past, and he knew what and where he was. The truth did not dawn gradually upon him, but possessed him at once. His first motion was to feel for his belt; and he found it gone. He gave a deep groan.
The blue woollen bonnet of the old hunter appeared through the open doorway, with the pipe under the branching gray moustache. The eyes of the men met.
"Well," said Bird, "you are in you' senses at last!" Northwick did not speak, but his look conveyed a question which the other could not misinterpret. He smiled. "You want you' belt?" He disappeared, and then reappeared, this time full length, and brought the belt to Northwick. "You think you are among some Yankee defalcator?" he asked, for sole resentment of the suspicion which Northwick's anguished look must have imparted. "Count it. I think you find it hall right." But as the sick man lay still, and made no motion to take up the belt where it lay across his breast, Bird asked, "You want me to count it for you?"
Northwick faintly nodded, and Bird stood over him, and told the thousand-dollar bills over, one by one, and then put them back in the pouch of the belt.
"Now, I think you are going to get well. The doctor 'e say to let you see you' money the first thing. Shall I put it hon you?"
Northwick looked at the belt; it seemed to him that the bunch the bills made would hurt him, and he said, weakly, "You keep it for me."
"Hall right," said Bird, and he took it away. He went out with a proud air, as if he felt honored by the trust Northwick had explicitly confirmed, and sat down in the next room, so as to be within call.
Northwick made the slow recovery of an elderly man; and by the time he could go out of doors without fear of relapse, there were signs in the air and in the earth of the spring, which when it comes to that northern land possesses it like a passion. The grass showed green on the low bare hills as the snow uncovered them; the leaves seemed to break like an illumination from the trees; the south wind blew back the birds with its first breath. The jays screamed in the woods; the Canadian nightingales sang in the evening and the early morning when he woke and thought of his place at Hatboro', where the robins' broods must be half-grown by that time. It was then the time of the apple-blossoms there; with his homesick inward vision he saw the billowed tops of his orchard, all pink-white. He thought how the apples smelt when they first began to drop in August on the clean straw that bedded the orchard aisles. It seemed to him that if he could only be there again for a moment he would be willing to spend the rest of his life in prison. As it was, he was in prison; it did not matter how wide the bounds were that kept him from his home. He hated the vastness of the half world where he could come and go unmolested, this bondage that masked itself as such ample freedom. To be shut out was the same as to be shut in.
In the first days of his convalescence, while he was yet too weak to leave his room, he planned and executed many returns to his home. He went back by stealth, and disguised by the beard which had grown in his sickness, and tried to see what change had come upon it; but he could never see it different from what it was that clear winter night when he escaped from it. This baffled and distressed him, and strengthened the longing at the bottom of his heart actually to return. He thought that if he could once look on the misery he had brought upon his children he could bear it better; he complexly flattered himself that it would not be so bad in reality as it was in fancy. Sometimes when this wish harassed him, he said to himself, to still it, that as soon as the first boat came up the river from Quebec, he would go down with it, and arrange to surrender himself to the authorities, and abandon the struggle.
But as he regained his health, he began to feel that this was a rash and foolish promise: he thought he saw a better way out of his unhappiness. It appeared a misfortune once more, and not so much a fault of his. He was restored to this feeling in part by the respect, the distinction which he enjoyed in the little village, and which pleasantly recalled his consequence among the mill-people at Ponkwasset. When he was declared out of danger he began to receive visits of polite sympathy from the heads of families, who smoked round him in the evening, and predicted a renewal of his youth by the fever he had come through safely. Their prophecies were interpreted by Bird and Pere Etienne, as with one or other of these he went to repay their visits. Everywhere, the inmates of the simple, clean little houses, had begun early to furbish them up for the use of their summer boarders, while they got ready the shanties behind them for their own occupancy; but everywhere Northwick was received with that pathetic deference which the poor render to those capable of bettering their condition. The secret of the treasure he had brought with him remained safe with the doctor and the priest, and with Bird who had discovered it with them; but Bird was not the man to conceal from his neighbors the fact that his guest was a great American capitalist, who had come to develop the mineral, agricultural, and manufacturing interests of Haha Bay on the American scale; and to enrich the whole region, buying land of those who wished to sell, and employing all those who desired to work. If he was impatient for the verification of these promises by Northwick, he was too polite to urge it; and did nothing worse than brag to him as he bragged about him. He probably had his own opinion of Northwick's reasons for the silence he maintained concerning himself in all respects; he knew from the tag fastened to the bag Northwick had bought in Quebec that his name was Warwick, and he knew from Northwick himself that he was from Chicago; beyond this, if he conjectured that he was the victim of financial errors, he smoothly kept his guesses to himself and would not mar the chances of good that Northwick might do with his money by hinting any question of its origin. The American defaulter was a sort of hero in Bird's fancy; he had heard much of that character; he would have experienced no shock at realizing him in Northwick; he would have accounted for Northwick, and excused him to himself, if need be. The doctor observed a professional reticence; his affair was with Northwick's body, which he had treated skilfully. He left his soul to Pere Etienne, who may have had his diffidence, his delicacy, in dealing with it, as the soul of a Protestant and a foreigner.
It took the young priest somewhat longer than it would have taken a man of Northwick's own language and nation to perceive that his gentlemanly decorum and grave repose of manner masked a complete ignorance of the things that interest cultivated people, and that he was merely and purely a business man, a figment of commercial civilization, with only the crudest tastes and ambitions outside of the narrow circle of money-making. He found that he had a pleasure in horses and cattle, and from hints which Northwick let fall, regarding his life at home, that he was fond of having a farm and a conservatory with rare plants. But the flowers were possessions, not passions; he did not speak of them as if they afforded him any artistic or scientific delight. The young priest learned that he had put a good deal of money in pictures; but then the pictures seemed to have become investments, and of the nature of stocks and bonds. He found that this curious American did not care to read the English books which Bird offered to lend him out of the little store of gifts and accidents accumulated in the course of years from bountiful or forgetful tourists; the books in French Pere Etienne proposed to him, Northwick said he did not know how to read. He showed no liking for music, except a little for the singing of Bird's niece, Virginie, but when the priest thought he might care to understand that she sang the ballads which the first voyagers had brought from France into the wilderness, or which had sprung out of the joy and sorrow of its hard life, he saw that the fact said nothing to Northwick, and that it rather embarrassed him. The American could not take part in any of those discussions of abstract questions which the priest and the old woodsman delighted in, and which they sometimes tried to make him share. He apparently did not know what they meant. It was only when Pere Etienne gave him up as the creature of a civilization too ugly and arid to be borne, that he began to love him as a brother; when he could make nothing of Northwick's mind, he conceived the hope of saving his soul.
Pere Etienne felt sure that Northwick had a soul, and he had his misgivings that it was a troubled one. He, too, had heard of the American defaulter, who has a celebrity of his own in Canada penetrating to different men with different suggestion, and touching here and there a pure and unworldly heart, such as Pere Etienne bore in his breast, with commiseration. The young priest did not conceive very clearly of the make and manner of the crime he suspected the elusive and mysterious stranger of committing; but he imagined that the great sum of money he knew him possessed of, was spoil of some sort; and he believed that Northwick's hesitation to employ it in any way was proof of an uneasy conscience in its possession. Why had he come to that lonely place in midwinter with a treasure such as that; and why did he keep the money by him, instead of putting it in a bank? Pere Etienne talked these questions over with Bird and the doctor, and he could find only one answer to them. He wondered if he ought not to speak to Northwick, and delicately offer him the chance to unburden his mind to such a friend as only a priest could be to such a sinner. But he could not think of any approach sufficiently delicate. Northwick was not a Catholic, and the church had no hold upon him. Besides, he had a certain plausibility and reserve of demeanor that forbade suspicion, as well as the intimacy necessary to the good which Pere Etienne wished to do the lonely and silent man. Northwick was in those days much occupied with a piece of writing, which he always locked carefully into his bag when he left his room, and which he copied in part or in whole again and again, burning the rejected drafts in the hearth-fire that had now superseded the stove, and stirring the carbonized paper into ashes, so that no word was left distinguishable on it.