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A Countess from Canada by Bessie Marchant

Part 2 out of 6

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Miles nodded. This was just his own opinion, and he would have
suffered tortures if the wits of Seal Cove had been able to taunt
him about his clever sister having bought her own fish. Then he
said slowly, as if he had been giving the matter profound
consideration; "There isn't a scrap of doubt in my mind that if
Oily Dave took the fish he took the lard as well."

"Then I wish Waywassimo would steal that too!" said Katherine with
a laugh.

CHAPTER VII

Another Clue

It was fully a fortnight after this before Katherine and Miles
found any opportunity for going fishing. Then there came a day
when they had to take a load of stores up beyond the second
portage, to the house of Astor M'Kree, and they decided to bring a
load of fish back with them if possible, as the store which
Katherine had bought from Waywassimo was beginning to run low.
Their father seemed better that day, and was able to look after the
store with the help of Phil.

Katherine too was bright and lively this morning, as if there were
no dark shadow of trouble in her life. Sometimes she was fearfully
sick at heart with the remembrance of her father's confidence, and
a dread of what the summer might bring; but at other times, on days
like this, she took comfort in the ice, the snow, and the searching
cold. Winter was not nearly over yet, a hundred things might
happen before the summer came, and so her high spirits pushed the
dark shadow to one side and for a brief space forgot all about it.
She was especially blithe of heart to-day, and so had donned a
skirt of scarlet blanket cloth, which matched in hue the woollen
cloud she wrapped about her head. On other days, when her mood was
more sombre, she wore a dark-blue skirt, like the thick, fur-lined
coat which was put on every time she left the house.

"How gay you look, Katherine!" exclaimed Mrs. Burton, as her
sister came dancing into the kitchen, where she was making bread.
"But what a pity to put on that scarlet skirt if you are going to
bring fish home!"

"I shan't spoil it, or if I do I will wear it spoiled until it
drops into rags," replied Katherine. "I call it my happiness
skirt, and I wear it only when I feel happy. To-day the winter has
somehow got into my bones or up in my head, and I feel as
light-hearted and reckless as if I had been having oxygen pumped
into me by a special contrivance; so plainly this is the proper
time for my scarlet skirt."

"It is so funny that scarlet suits you so well, for you are
certainly not a brunette," Mrs. Burton said, looking at Katherine
in warm sisterly admiration. "But indeed you would look charming
in anything."

Katherine swept her a curtsy. "Now that is a compliment most
flatteringly paid. Really, Nellie, I don't see how you can expect
me to be properly humble-minded if you say things of that sort, for
you are such a dear, sincere little person that every word you
speak carries conviction with it. But Miles is waiting and I must
be off. Don't worry if we are rather late back, for we must bring
as much fish as we can."

Mrs. Burton left the bread to take care of itself for a while, and,
throwing a thick shawl round her shoulders, came out to see the
start. There was only one sledge to-day, but that was piled high
with stores of various descriptions, from a barrel of flour to a
roll of scarlet flannel, and from canned pineapple to a tin of
kerosene. This last was the light _de luxe_ in that part of the
world, fish oil serving for all ordinary purposes of illumination.
Miles looked after the dogs, while Katherine sped on in front, an
ice saw and two fish spears carried across her shoulder. It was
just the sort of morning when work was absolute joy, and toil
became nothing but the zest of endeavour. Fresh snow had fallen
during the night, but the sun was so bright and warm that the cold
had no chance against it. The winter was advancing, as was
evidenced by longer hours of daylight and hotter sunshine; but when
night came the frost was more severe than ever, as if loath to
loose its grip on the lakes and streams of that wide white land.

Roaring Water Portage had lost all claim to its name for the
present. The river which rushed in summer with a roar over the
rocks in rapids was absolutely silent now, and the rocks were
merely snow-covered hummocks. The river above was frozen, there
was no water to run down, and all the resonant echoes were dumb.
The silence and the brightness suited Katherine's mood. She
hurried on in front, so that even the shouts of Miles to the dogs
became faint in the distance. Then her pace decreased as she swung
along with a gentle swaying motion, the big frame of her snowshoe
never quite lifted from the ground. When the boatbuilder's house
came in sight she hesitated, wondering if it would not be
pleasanter to remain outside in the pure fresh air until Miles
came, instead of sitting in the hot, stuffy kitchen talking to Mrs.
M'Kree. Then, remembering how solitary was the life of the poor
little woman, shut up from month's end to month's end with her
babies, Katherine decided to get on as quickly as she could and
give Mrs. M'Kree the benefit of her society.

Mrs. M'Kree received her literally with open arms, and gave her a
hug which nearly took her breath away. "Oh, I am glad you've come
yourself! If the weather had been bad I should have been quite
sure of seeing you; but as it was so fine I was desperately afraid
you'd send the boys. But where is the sledge?"

"Miles is coming on with the dogs, but I came forward at a
tremendous pace just because the morning was so beautiful, and I
wanted to be alone," Katherine answered, subsiding into a
rocking-chair and picking up the M'Kree baby which happened to be
nearest.

"Wanted to be alone? My dear, that doesn't sound natural in a
young girl. Oh, I hope you are not getting melancholy from all the
trouble you've had this winter!"

"How can you even think of melancholy and me in the same
connection!" protested Katherine with a merry laugh. "Why, I am a
most cheerful person always, and Nellie complains that I live in a
perfect whirlwind of high spirits."

"So you may. But if you want to go mooning off alone, it is a sure
sign that something is wrong, unless indeed you are in love," and
Mrs. M'Kree nodded her head in delight at her own shrewdness.

But Katherine only laughed as she asked: "Pray, whom do you think I
should be likely to fall in love with? There are so few eligible
men in this part of the world."

"How was I to know but what you left your heart in Montreal last
winter? At least there are men enough there," Mrs. M'Kree said.
Then she asked anxiously: "My dear, what is the matter? You look
quite ill."

Katherine had started to her feet with a look of profound amazement
on her face, for at that moment the door of the next room had
opened, and another small M'Kree appeared, dragging after him a tin
bucket, on which he was raining a shower of resounding blows.

"Where did you get that thing?" she asked with a gasp, instantly
recognizing the bucket as identical with the two filled with lard
which had been stolen.

Mrs. M'Kree appeared slightly confused, and tried to hide her
embarrassment by scolding her offspring.

"Jamie, Jamie, why will you make such a fearful riot? Miss Radford
will run away and never come back if you are not quiet."

"I don't care if she does," replied the juvenile. He had not yet
reached the age when pretty girls become interesting, and the noise
he was producing filled him with tremendous satisfaction, so he
banged away with renewed ardour.

Katherine crossed the room with a quick step, and, seizing Jamie,
swung him up to the window. "See, here comes Miles," she said,
"and he has some toffee in the sledge. Run out and ask him to give
you some."

One look of beaming satisfaction Jamie flung her, then, wriggling
from her grasp, he tore away to the door and was seen no more for
some time. Then Katherine turned to Mrs. M'Kree and said
imploringly: "Please tell me where you got that bucket from, and
how long you have had it?"

"I'll tell you, of course, seeing that you make such a point of it,
but I'm not specially proud of the business, I can assure you,"
Mrs. M'Kree said, with a touch of irritability very unusual with
her. "Oily Dave was up here about a week ago, and he said that he
had some buckets of rough fat that would do for greasing sledge
runners, or to mix with caulking pitch. He told us he bought the
stuff from one of the American whalers that were fishing in the bay
last summer, and he offered to sell us a bucket at such a
ridiculously low price that Astor bought one off-hand."

"What happened then?" demanded Katherine, her lips twitching with
amusement; for she knew quite enough of Oily Dave and his methods
to be sure that Astor M'Kree had been rather badly duped.

"The stuff was more than half sawdust, but it had been worked in so
carefully that you could not tell that until you came to rub the
grease on to runners and that sort of thing; then of course it
gritted up directly. But the worst of it was that Astor had mixed
some of it with a lot of caulking pitch, which of course is quite
spoiled, and he was about the maddest man in Keewatin on the day
that he found it out."

Katherine was laughing; she really could not help it. But Mrs.
M'Kree, not understanding where the joke came in, said in a
reproachful tone: "My dear, it was not a laughing matter to me,
either then or now; for when one is married what affects one's
husband affects one's self also, and that sometimes in a very
disagreeable fashion."

"Please forgive me for laughing!" cried Katherine. "But Oily Dave
is such a slippery old rogue, and sometimes he overreaches even
himself." Then she told Mrs. M'Kree about the disappearance of the
lard, and how she had recognized the bucket upon which Jamie had
been drumming so vigorously.

"What will you do?" asked Mrs. M'Kree.

"I don't see what we can do, except keep a sharper lookout in
future. There is not enough evidence to go and boldly accuse him
of having walked off with two buckets of lard for which he had not
paid. There may be a hundred buckets like that in the district,
every one of which has contained grease of some description, from
best dairy butter down to train oil mixed with sawdust," Katherine
replied with a laugh, in which the other now joined.

"It is a good thing you can laugh about it; but I am afraid that I
shouldn't have felt like laughing if I had been in your case," said
Mrs. M'Kree. Then she cried out in protest: "Must you go so soon,
really? Why, you have been here no time at all, and there are
heaps of things I wanted to say to you."

"Yes, we must go. We are going to Ochre Lake for fish. Miles says
there are heaps there to be had for the catching, and the dogs are
getting short of food. We have worked them very hard this winter,
so they have needed more to eat, I suppose," Katherine replied.
Then she went out to help her brother to bring the stores in, and
Mrs. M'Kree came to assist also.

"Ochre Lake is a good long way off, so I mustn't keep you if you
are going there. A good six miles from here it must be, if you
follow the river," said Mrs. M'Kree; then made a grab at the packet
of toffee in Jamie's chubby hand, for he was evidently intent on
eating it all himself, and so leaving none for the others.

"We shall not follow the river, but take the short cut through the
woods; and we shall go fast too, for the dogs will travel light,
you see," Katherine said. Then picking up the fish spears and the
ice saw she glided on ahead, while Miles and the dogs went racing
after her.

At first, when they left the boatbuilder's house behind, it was
wilderness without a sign of life, but after they had gone two or
three miles, footprints of various sizes appeared on the snow.
There were marks of wolf, of wolverine, of fox, with smaller prints
which could only have been made by little creatures like the mink,
ermine, and such tiny fry, that, clad in fur white like the snow,
scurried hither and thither through the silent wastes hunting for
food, yet finding in many cases swift death through the skill of
the trapper. At length the lake was reached. In summer it was a
sheet of muddy yellow water abounding in fish, and many acres in
extent. Now it was a wide snowfield, except at one end, where for
some unexplained reason it was open water still. This was the part
at which they arrived, and Katherine halted on the bank with an
exclamation of surprise. "Why, we shan't need the saw at all; it is
open water!"

"The ice at the edge is too thin to stand upon, and we mustn't take
risks here, for Father says there is a whirlpool at this end, and
it is the constant motion of the water that keeps it from
freezing," Miles answered; and taking the saw from Katherine he
commenced making a hole in the ice a few yards from the open water.

The dog's were lying panting on the bank as if quite exhausted, but
their ears were perked up, and their eyes were very wide open, for
they quite understood what was going on, and the prospect of fish
freshly caught was very welcome after their months of living on the
dried article. When a hole had been cut in the ice, Katherine went
to stand by it and spear the fish which immediately crowded to the
surface as if anxious to be caught. Miles went to a little
distance, where he cut another hole for himself, and for the next
hour the two worked as hard as they could at spearing fish, then
throwing them on the snow, where they quickly froze stiff. The
water seemed entirely alive with fish, which could only be
accounted for by the fact that the main part of the lake, which was
shallow, was frozen solid, so that all the fish had been forced to
the end where the moving water did not freeze.

[Illustration: Katherine and Miles spearing for fish.]

"I guess we have got a load now, so we might as well stop," said
Katherine, whose arms were beginning to ache, having already had
more than enough of slaughter for that day at least.

"You load while I jab at a few more of these big fellows, for they
seem as if they are just yearning to be caught," Miles cried
excitedly. "I never had such fishing as this; it is prime!"

"It isn't fishing at all; it is nothing but killing. Horrid work,
I call it," Katherine cried with a shudder, as, gathering up the
frozen fish, she proceeded to stack them on the sledge in much the
same fashion as she might have stacked billets of firewood.

The dogs had eaten a good meal, and were in fine feather for work;
so, although the load was heavy, they made very good pace, and
Katherine, gliding along now by the side of Miles, told him of how
she had found Jamie M'Kree banging away on one of their stolen lard
buckets. Miles was furiously angry, and wanted to go straight off
to Seal Cove, denouncing Oily Dave as a thief; but Katherine would
not hear of it.

"By precipitating matters we may do a great deal more harm than
good," she said. "We have had to buy our wisdom in rather an
expensive school, but it ought to make us wiser in future. So far
we have only suspicions to go upon, not facts, and it is very
likely that if we accused Oily Dave of stealing our stuff he would
be clever enough to turn the tables on us, and have us prosecuted
for libel, or something of that sort, which would not be
pleasant--nor profitable."

"I can't sit meekly down under things of that sort," retorted the
boy, with the sullen look dropping over his face which Katherine
hated to see there.

"It isn't easy, I know, but very often it pays best in the long
run," she answered earnestly. "Whatever we do, or don't do, we
must take especial care that Father isn't worried just now. He
must be our chief thought for the present, and if our business
pride gets wounded, we must just take the hurt lying down for his
sake."

"Katherine, are you afraid that Father is going to die?" Miles
asked, turning his head quickly to look at her; and there was the
same terrified expression on his face which had been there when he
asked the same question a few weeks before.

"I think his recovery will depend very largely on whether we can
keep him from anxiety for the next two or three months," she
answered; and there was a stab of pain at her heart as she thought
of the gnawing apprehension and worry which were secretly sapping
his strength.

"Then Oily Dave mustn't be meddled with just now, I suppose," Miles
said, with a sigh of renunciation; "but sooner or later he has got
to pay for it, or I will know the reason why."

CHAPTER VIII

The First Rain

The weary weeks of winter passed slowly away. April came in with
long bright days and abundant sunshine, but still the frost-king
held sway, and all the earth was snowbound, the rivers were mute,
and the waterfalls existed only in name. The men in the store were
saying one night that some Indians had got through from Thunder Bay
by way of the Albany River with mails; but as this meant about four
hundred miles on snowshoes, Katherine regarded it only as a piece
of winter fiction, and thought no more about it. There were fifty
miles of hill and valley between Roaring Water Portage and the
Albany River at its nearest point; but this was undoubtedly the
nearest trail to civilization and the railway, and when the waters
were open it was easier than any other route.

Two days later Katherine was in the cellar overhauling the stores,
which were getting so shrunken that she was wondering how they
could possibly be made to hold out, when she heard Phil calling,
and, going up the ladder, found a tired-looking Indian standing
there, who had a bag of mails strapped on to his back.

"Have you really come from Thunder Bay?" she asked in a surprised
tone.

"Yah," he responded promptly, and, dislodging the burden from his
back, showed her the name Maxokama on the official seals of the bag.

Her father being too unwell to leave his bed that day, Katherine
received the mail as his deputy, and, giving the Indian a receipt
for it, proceeded to open the bag and sort the letters it
contained. There were only a few, and as they were mostly directed
to those in authority in the fishing fleet, and to Astor M'Kree,
Katherine was quick in coming to the conclusion that it was Mr.
Selincourt who had arranged with the post office for the forwarding
of this particular mail. A shiver of fear shook her as she thought
of him. As a rule she preferred to keep him out of her remembrance
as much as possible; but there were times when the fact of his
coming was forced upon her. The broad glare of sunlight streaming
in through the open door of the store was another reminder that
spring was coming with giant strides, and from spring to summer in
that land of fervid sunshine was a period so brief as to be almost
breathless.

The Indian made some purchases of food and tobacco, but as his
conversational powers did not seem to go beyond a sepulchral "Yah",
which he used indifferently for yes and no, neither Katherine nor
Phil could get much information out of him. When he had gone,
Miles came back from wood-cutting on the slopes above the portage,
and was immediately started off to deliver the letters at Seal Cove.

A mail that arrives only once in five months or so is bound to be
treated as a thing of moment, even when, as in this case, it was
limited to half a dozen letters and three or four newspapers. To
Katherine's great delight one of the papers was addressed to The
Postmaster, Roaring Water Portage, and she carried it in to her
father in the dreary little room which was walled off from the
store.

"What have you got: a letter?" he asked, turning towards her, his
face looking even more thin and drawn than usual.

"No, there were no letters for any of us; ours usually come by way
of Montreal and Lake Temiskaming, you know; but this is a sort of
special mail, which has been brought by Indians from Maxokama. But
there is a newspaper for you, which shows it is a good thing to be
postmaster even of a place so remote as this," she said with a
laugh.

"A newspaper will be a treat indeed. I think I will get up,
Katherine, and sit by the stove in the store; one can't read a
newspaper comfortably in bed. Besides, you will be wanting to go
out delivering the mail."

"Miles has taken the Seal Cove letters, but there is one for Astor
M'Kree that Phil and I will take up this afternoon; the dogs will
be glad of a run," she answered, bringing his garments and
arranging them near the bed so that he could slip into them easily.

"Fancy a team of four dogs, a sledge, and two people to carry one
letter!" he exclaimed.

"Not quite that," she responded with a laugh, glad to see that his
mood was so cheerful. "There is a newspaper to go too, and we
shall take up a small barrel of flour, with some bacon and sugar."

"That sounds better at any rate, and I shall be delighted for you
to have a run in the sunshine," 'Duke Radford said, with that
thoughtful consideration for others which made his children love
him with such an ardent affection.

Katherine had not gone many yards from the door that afternoon
before she noticed a difference in the temperature; it was a soft,
clinging warmth, which made her glad to unfasten her scarlet cloud,
while the glare of the sunshine was becoming paler, as if a mist
were rising.

"Phil, the rain is coming; I can smell it, and the dogs can smell
it too. We are in for weather of sorts, I fancy, but Astor M'Kree
must get his letter first, even if we have to race for it!" she
cried.

"Let's race, then; the dog's are willing, and so am I," replied
Phil, who was seated in the sledge among the packages, while
Katherine travelled ahead on snowshoes,

And race they did; but already the snow was getting wet and soft on
the surface, so that the going was heavy, the sledge cut in deeply,
and it was a very tired team of dogs which dropped to the ground in
front of the boatbuilder's house. Phil set to work hauling out the
stores, but Katherine as usual went in to chat with Mrs. M'Kree,
who looked upon her visits with the utmost pleasure.

"I expect it is the last time we shall come up by sledge this
season," said Katherine. "But in case the ice is troublesome, and
we can't get a canoe through for a week or two, we have brought you
double stores."

"That is a good thing, for we are all blessed with healthy
appetites up here, and it isn't pleasant to even think of going on
short commons," replied Mrs. M'Kree. "But do wait until I've read
this letter, for there may be news in it, and there is so little of
that sort of thing here that we ought to share any tidings from
outside that may happen to get through."

"Perhaps Mr. M'Kree would rather read his letter first himself,"
suggested Katherine, who would have preferred not to hear about
anything that letter might contain. She guessed it was from Mr.
Selincourt, and for that reason shunned anything to do with it.

"Astor has gone across to Fort Garry to-day; he started at dawn,
and a pretty stiff journey he'll have before he gets back: but I
warned him not to go, for I smelled the rain coming when I put my
head outside this morning; my nose is worth two of his, for he
can't smell weather, and never could," Mrs. M'Kree answered,
pulling a hairpin from her head and preparing to slit open the
envelope in her hand.

"Still, he might rather that his letter waited for him unopened,"
murmured Katherine; but Mrs. M'Kree was already deep in her
husband's correspondence, and paid no heed at all.

"Oh! oh! what do you think!" she cried a moment later, giving an
excited jump, which so startled Katherine that she jumped too.

"How should I know what to think?" she said; then was angry to find
that she was trembling violently.

"Mr. Selincourt hopes to arrive in June, and he is going to bring
his daughter with him," announced Mrs. M'Kree with a shout, waving
the letter in a jubilant fashion.

"Impossible!" remarked Katherine scornfully, the colour dying out
of her face. "The first steamers can't get through Hudson Strait
until the first week in July."

"They are not coming that way, but straight from Montreal by way of
Lake Temiskaming. My word! the young lady will have a chance of
roughing it, for the portages on that route are a caution, so Astor
says," Mrs. M'Kree answered, then fairly danced round the room.
"Just fancy how gay we shall be this summer with a young lady fresh
out from England among us! And her father must be just the right
sort of moneyed gentleman, for he wants Astor to get a little hut
ready for him by the middle of June."

"A what?" Katherine had risen to go, and was buttoning her coat,
but faced round upon the little woman with blank surprise in her
face, as if she failed to understand what the other was saying.

"A hut. They will want some sort of a place to live in. There is
no hotel here, you see, and they are going to stay all summer.
What a pity it is you haven't got room to board them at the store!"

"We don't want them," retorted Katherine quickly. "We have quite
enough to do without having to wait on a lot of idle boarders."

"Oh! I don't fancy they will be very idle, for Mr. Selincourt says
that he and his daughter intend being out a great deal among the
fishers," said Mrs. M'Kree, who still kept dipping into the
letter, and besought her visitor to stay until she had read it all.

But Katherine would not wait; she was in a hurry to start on the
return journey, for every hour now would make the snow surface more
wet and rotten to travel over. She was sick at heart, too, and
suffering from the keenest disappointment. Six months ago how she
would have rejoiced at the prospect of having Miss Selincourt at
Roaring Water Portage for the weeks of the short, busy summer. An
educated girl to talk to would make all the difference in the
isolation in which they were forced to live. Katherine felt
herself thrill and flutter with delight, even while she trembled
with dread at the thought of her father having to meet Mr.
Selincourt face to face. She wondered if the rich man who was
coming would remember her father, and if he knew of the wrong that
the latter had done in keeping silent, so that he might prosper by
the other's downfall.

Bitter tears smarted in her eyes as she toiled through the melting
snow; then a dash of wet struck her in the face, and she realized
that the rain had begun, and the long winter was coming to an end
at last. The last mile was very hard to traverse, and when at
length they went down the hill between the high rocks of the
portage trail, Katherine heard a faint rippling sound which warned
her that the waters were beginning to flow. The store was crowded
with men, as was often the case in the late afternoon, and
Katherine's hope of being able to tell her father the news quietly
was doomed to disappointment. Her first glance at him told her
that he knew all there was to be known, and the look of suffering
on his face hurt her all the more because she knew there was no
balm for his pain. Miles was doing what was necessary in the store
under his father's direction, and, because there seemed no need for
her assistance just then, Katherine went on indoors to get a little
rest before it was time for evening school.

"Oh, Katherine, have you heard the news?" cried Mrs. Burton, who
was knitting stockings and reciting "Old Mother Hubbard" between
whiles to the twins.

"Yes; at least, I have heard about Mr. Selincourt coming, if that
is what you mean," Katherine answered, as she unfastened her outer
garments.

"That is not the best part of the news by any means," returned Mrs.
Burton, giving Lotta a little shake to silence the demand for more
of "Mother Hubbard". "What delights me so much is to think that
Miss Selincourt is coming too. Just imagine what it will be to
have cultured society here at Roaring Water Portage!"

"She will despise us, most likely, and consider us about on a level
with Peter M'Crawney's wife, or that poor little Mrs. Jenkin," said
Katherine.

"Nonsense!" Mrs. Burton's tone was energetic; her manner one of
mild surprise. "No one would despise you. They might look down
upon me a little, but you are quite a different matter."

"Perhaps I am," replied Katherine. "But somehow I have got the
feeling in my bones that Miss Selincourt and I shall not fall in
love with each other."

"I expect that what you have really got in your bones is a touch of
rheumatism from wading through wet snow," Mrs. Burton said
anxiously. "Dear, you must take care of yourself, for what would
become of us all if you were to fall ill?"

Katherine laughed, only there was not much mirth in the sound.
"There is nothing the matter with me, nor likely to be, for I am
tough as shoe leather; only sometimes my temper gets knobby,
because all the children I can find to teach are grown-up babies of
thirty and forty, who prefer flirting to arithmetic, and have to be
continually snubbed in order to keep them in their places. The
stupid creatures make me so angry!"

"Poor Katherine! It is hard on you, for you are certainly much too
good-looking to teach a night school; but, on the other hand, what
a good thing it has been for the men to have the school to occupy
their evenings," said Mrs. Burton. "Mrs. Jenkin was saying only
yesterday that there has not been half so much drinking and
gambling at Seal Cove this winter as there was last year, because
the men would rather come here and listen to your lectures on
history and geography."

"They are willing enough to listen, and will sit looking as stupid
as a school of white whales, caught in a stake trap," replied
Katherine. "But see what dunces some of them are when I try to
knock a little arithmetic into their thick heads."

"Yes, I will admit they are rather dense; and you are very much
more patient with them than I should be, I'm afraid," Mrs. Burton
said with a sigh. The night school had privately been a very great
trial to her, for since 'Duke Radford's indifferent health had
caused him to lie in bed so much, it had been impossible to use the
room off the store as schoolroom, and so for two hours every
evening the family living-room had been invaded by a swarm of more
or less unwashed men, whose habits were not always of the most
refined description.

"The need for patience will soon be over now," Katherine said,
understanding the cause of the sigh, although Mrs. Burton had
uttered no spoken complaint. "Miles says the men were beginning to
break the boats out yesterday, and it is raining now, which will
help matters on a great deal, unless, indeed, it rains too long,
and then we may have floods."

"Oh dear, I hope not!" replied Mrs. Burton with a shiver, for
spring floods were no joke in that part of the world. "By the way,
has Miles told you that he saw the Englishman to-day?"

"What Englishman?" demanded Katherine, with dismay in her tone, for
her thoughts immediately flew to Mr. Selincourt; only, of course,
it was not possible that he could arrive before June.

"Didn't you hear that an Englishman came through from Maxokama with
the Indians who brought up the mail?" said Mrs. Burton in surprise.

"Not a word. But certainly he must be a plucky sort of person to
have ventured a journey of four hundred miles on snowshoes. Do you
know who he is?" Katherine asked with quickened interest.

"Someone to do with the fishing, I think; a sort of master of the
fleet very likely," replied Mrs. Burton, who had dropped her
knitting and gathered both the little girls on to her lap, as the
surest means of keeping them quiet while she talked to her sister.

"How will Oily Dave like that, I wonder?" Katherine said in a
musing tone, and then her thoughts went wandering off to the pails
of stolen lard. She had kept up an unremitting watchfulness ever
since the time when the theft occurred, and had missed nothing more
of importance; but her mistrust of Oily Dave was as great as ever.

"I don't suppose he will like it at all," Mrs. Burton answered.
"But it is quite time that a more responsible man was put in
charge."

CHAPTER IX

The Flood

Twenty-four hours of a hard, continuous downpour, accompanied by a
warm south wind, worked a mighty difference in the aspect of things
at Roaring Water Portage. By night on the day following the
arrival of the mail from Maxokama, the water was coming down the
rapids with a roar, bringing great lumps of ice with it, which
crashed to fragments on the rocks, or were washed down with the
current to be a menace to the shipping anchored in the river below.
All day long, heedless of the pouring rain, the men had worked at
getting the boats free from their winter coating of ice and snow.
So when night came, everyone was too thoroughly wet and tired to
think of night school, which gave Katherine a welcome holiday from
teaching.

She spent the time in sewing, and in making herself so generally
entertaining that even her father was more than once beguiled into
laughter. He was better and more hopeful than for a long time
past. He was even led into thinking and talking of the future, and
the work which would have to be done directly the fast-melting snow
made it possible to get about once more. Before daylight faded he
had helped Miles to get the big boat out, and carefully inspected
the seams to make sure that no caulking was required. They used
birchbark canoes a great deal at Roaring Water Portage in the
summer-time, but there was too much ice about for birchbarks to be
safe yet.

"We will knock up a little shed for the boat above the portage this
summer, then when next winter comes we can lay her up there,
instead of having to bring her down here," he said to Miles, as the
two discussed the probability of being able to get the boat up the
portage within a week.

"Oh, don't talk of next winter, Father; we have not got rid of this
one yet!" exclaimed Mrs. Burton, who was entirely happy and
contented to-night, because of the omission of night school.

"It is going very fast anyhow, and I guess we shall see bare ground
in places to-morrow," Miles put in, talking in a sleepy tone; for
he too had been breaking out ice that day, and was desperately
tired.

"Yes, it is going, and I'm glad of it, for it has been the hardest
winter to live through that I can remember, and I'm thankful to see
the last of it," 'Duke Radford answered; and something in his look
and tone made Katherine ask quickly:

"Don't you feel well to-night, Father?"

"Yes, I feel better than I have done for many a week past," he
replied promptly; adding, in a tone too low for any but her to
hear, "and happier too."

"I believe you will feel better now, and get strong quickly," said
Mrs. Burton hopefully. "The winter had thoroughly gripped your
system, and that was why you could not get better before."

All night long the roar of the water seemed to grow louder and
louder, while the ice crashed, and the wild wind howled through the
leafless trees. But the morning broke fine, and the sun came out
to warm up a wet world. Such a very wet world it was, with the
river swollen to twice its ordinary width! But as Miles had
predicted, there was bare ground visible, and to eyes which had
looked on snow-covered earth for six long months the sight was
welcome indeed.

When breakfast was over, Katherine and Miles ran the boat down to
the water's edge, and floated it, getting in and paddling up and
down to see that there was no leakage, and to enjoy the novel
sensation after the long abstention from boating. But there was
work to be done, and they could not afford to spend even a part of
the day in rowing for their own amusement. Stores had to be taken
down to Seal Cove, and there was some bargaining to be done for
some tusks of narwhal ivory which 'Duke Radford had been
commissioned to obtain if possible. Narwhal ivory was getting
scarcer every year, and the storekeeper at Roaring Water Portage
was prepared to pay a very good price indeed for all that he could
obtain.

The journey down to Seal Cove was performed with ease and
swiftness, the only trouble necessary being the steering, which
called for the utmost care in that racing current.

"It will be stiff work coming back," commented Miles, thinking how
hard they would have to pull to make any sort of headway.

"Yes, I think we had better come home round by the off-creek; the
water won't run so fast down there," replied Katherine: and Miles,
being of the same opinion, assented with a nod.

At Seal Cove a curious state of things existed. The barrier of ice
at the mouth of the river had not yet given way, and the racing
current, penned in by the barrier, was mounting higher and higher,
and threatened to flood the whole neighbourhood.

Katherine and Miles delivered as many of their stores as they
could. But it was not possible to go bargaining for narwhal ivory,
as the flood made their destination inaccessible, so they turned
back instead, and started to row up a little backwater called the
off-creek, which in summer was too tiny to admit of the passage of
even a small boat, but was swollen now to the size of a river.
This waterway led straight past the unwholesome habitation of Oily
Dave, which faced the main river, while the creek ran at the back
door, or where the back door would have been had the tumbledown
house possessed one. The water was all round the house now, and
must have been creeping in under the edge of the door, only from
the back of the house they could not see this.

The two rested on their oars watching the scene, wondering whether
the house would be swept away, and where Oily Dave would build
himself a new residence, when they heard shouts, and from the
distant bank of the river saw a woman standing waving her arms in a
frantic manner.

"It is Mrs. Jenkin. But what can she want, for certainly her house
won't be in any danger yet awhile?" said Miles, looking across the
wide waste of waters to where a little brown hut was pitched high
up on the bank.

"Hush! What is she saying?" cried Katherine, and put her hand to
her ear to show that she was listening.

Mrs. Jenkin saw the motion, and lifted her voice afresh. "There
is a man--danger--house--Oily Dave!"

That was all they could hear, for the wind carried the words away,
and a great block of ice crashed against the front of Oily Dave's
abode, making the wooden hut shiver with the force of the blow.

"Oily Dave is shut up in his house, and Mrs. Jenkin wants us to
save him," said Katherine, waving her arms to show the woman on the
bank that she heard and understood.

"The old baggage isn't worth saving, but I suppose we shall have to
try what we can do," Miles answered, then shouted to Katherine to
look out.

The warning came only just in time, for at that moment the huge
block of ice which had struck the house before came swirling round
in their direction, and they had to dodge it as best they could.

"We must get round to the front, if we can," said Katherine, when
they had got the boat safely away from the danger of collision with
the ice.

"Not possible; look there!" shouted Miles excitedly, as a great
sheet of ice came gaily floating on the swift current, caught
against the corner of the house, and stuck there, banging,
grinding, and jarring with the movements of the swirling water, and
threatening to beat the house down like a battering ram. At the
same moment they heard a cry for help from inside the house, and
the woman on the far bank shouted and gesticulated more wildly than
before, while the whole structure groaned and shivered like a
creature in pain.

Katherine turned pale, but seized the oars resolutely. "There is
only one thing to do, Miles, and I am going to do it. Can you hold
the boat at the edge of the ice for five or ten minutes?"

"You are not going to get on to the ice?" he protested, his voice
sharp with dismay, as he looked at the bowing, bobbing fragment
many square yards in extent, which was grinding against the side of
the house, but which might split into fragments at any moment.

"Yes, I am. Then I shall creep round to the front, so that Oily
Dave can see me, and then, perhaps, his courage will be equal to
coming outside," she said, standing up and throwing off her thick
coat, for it would not do to be encumbered with much clothing when
any moment might plunge her into the water.

"Katherine, don't go. It is an awful risk, and the old man isn't
worth it!" pleaded Miles, and, despite the fact of his being a boy,
there were actual tears in his eyes as he urged her not to go.

But she would not listen, calling out sharply: "Bump her against
the ice and then I'll spring."

Putting out his strength, Miles brought the boat with a bang
against the floating ice island, and at the same moment Katherine
sprang lightly from the boat. But, despite her care, she landed on
all-fours, and, as the ice was awash, got rather wet in the
process. Rising to an erect position after a few preliminary
staggers, she walked cautiously out towards the middle of the ice
island, which would bring her within sight of the prisoner in the
hut, and would, she hoped, inspire him with sufficient courage to
help him in the task of getting him into the boat.

By this time the woman on the bank understood what she was doing,
and ceased shouting. It was Katherine's turn to make a noise now,
and she did it with all her might. "Oily Dave, come out! We've
got a boat at the back, and we will save you if you will be quick."

She was making so much noise herself, and picking her way with such
extreme care over the rotten ice, that she failed to hear the first
response to her calling, and the next pulled her up with a jerk.

"Oily Dave isn't here, but if you will take me I shall be very
thankful."

The voice was a strange one, and had an unmistakable ring of
refinement and culture. Katherine faced round with such a start of
surprise as to nearly send her sprawling again, for the ice was
full of pitfalls. A young man was leaning out through the small
square opening which did duty for a window, and her first
impression of him was of someone extremely tired, and that gave her
the clue to his identity. He must be the Englishman who had come
from Maxokama with the Indians who had brought the mail.

"Open the door and come out that way," she said in a tone of sharp
authority. "You will never be able to squeeze through that small
window unless your shoulders are very narrow indeed."

"Which they are not," he replied, and disappeared from view.

She heard him banging and tugging at the door, but never a jot did
it stir, and after about five minutes of this futile work he
appeared again at the window. The water was nearly on a level with
the opening now, and rising moment by moment, while there were
ominous ripping and rending sounds in Katherine's ice island, which
warned her that the rescue must take place in the next few minutes
if it was to be effected at all.

"The door is jammed. What am I to do?" the unknown asked in a calm
tone, with no flurry or fuss. Indeed, Katherine wondered if he
realized how great was his peril and her own.

"Break it down, smash it, anything; only be quick, please," she
said sharply, marvelling a little at his unconcern in the face of
such grave danger.

Again he disappeared, and Katherine heard a rain of heavy blows
beginning to fall upon the door; then with a cracking, splitting
noise the panel gave way, the man inside wrenched off the broken
part, and stood revealed up to his waist in water. But there was a
space of fully three yards between himself and Katherine's island
of ice, and, as the ground dropped away sharply in front of the
house, she knew he must not venture to attempt wading.

"Get a plank or Oily Dave's long table," she said, her manner more
dictatorial than before, for the unknown was so terribly slow in
his movements, and the water was still rising.

Mrs. Jenkin had commenced shouting again, but Katherine paid no
heed to her, for the unknown had appeared with a long, narrow
trestle table, which, resting one set of legs on the doorstep,
reached to the ice. But it was a perilous bridge, and Katherine
knew it; only there was no other way, so the peril had to be faced.

"Now run, only be ready to spring," she cried, trying to encourage
him.

"Easier said than done," he answered. "I can scarcely walk, much
less run."

"Then you must crawl; only please make haste. The ice is so rotten
that every minute I am fearing it will give way," she said. Then
dropping on her knees on the ice, regardless of the water which
washed over its surface, she tried to hold the edge of the table
steady for him to cross.

On he came, crawling slowly and painfully. He was so near to her
now that Katherine could hear his panting breath and see the look
of grim endurance on his drawn face. Mrs. Jenkin was shrieking in
a frantic manner, and then Katherine heard a shrill cry from Miles,
who was out of sight round the corner of the house. But the noise
conveyed no meaning to her. She had just stretched out her hand to
grasp that of the unknown, when there came a tremendous crash which
shot her off the ice and into the water. The shock which sent her
into the water, however, steadied the rickety bridge over which the
stranger was crawling by jamming the ice closer under it, and the
man, catching her as she took her plunge, held her fast, then
dragged her up beside him by sheer strength of arm.

[Illustration: The rescue of Jarvis Ferrars.]

"I am afraid you are rather wet," the stranger said in a tone of
rueful apology, keeping his clutch on Katherine as she struggled to
a kneeling posture.

Dashing the wet hair from her eyes, Katherine looked anxiously
round, fearing that their one way of escape had been cut off. A
huge fragment of ice had cannoned into her island and split off a
great portion. Plainly that was why Mrs. Jenkin had screamed so
shrilly, for she had seen what was coming and had tried to warn
her. There were other ice fragments about; huge blocks like
miniature bergs were bobbing and bowing to the racing current,
while they flashed back the rays of the sun with dazzling
brilliancy. But there was still time to get round the corner of
the house to the boat, if only they made haste; and, scrambling
from her knees to her feet, Katherine cried urgently: "Come, come,
we have just time; there is a boat round the corner of the house.
If we can get there before the next crash comes we are safe, if not
we may drown!"

"Save yourself. It is no use, I can't hurry; every step is
torture," the unknown said, with a groan, as she fairly dragged him
on to his feet, which were swathed in towels.

But she would not leave him. "Lean on me as heavily as you please.
I am tremendously strong, and I would try carrying you if you were
not so big," she said, with bustling cheerfulness, as, slipping her
arm round him, she hurried him forward.

What a walk it was over that cracking, splitting ice! Mrs. Jenkin
had begun screaming again; and although Katherine was wet through
with ice-cold water, she could feel the perspiration start as she
faced their chances of escape. An oncoming fragment at that moment
fouled with a similar piece swirling round from another direction,
and the moment thus gained proved their salvation. With quiet
obstinacy the stranger made Katherine enter the boat first; then,
as he stumbled in himself, the two fragments dashed into the
island, which smashed into a thousand pieces.

CHAPTER X

The Stranger Proves a Friend in Need

"Just in time!" exclaimed Miles with a sob of relief. He would
have been most horribly ashamed of tears at any other time, but
Katherine's danger had been so imminent that even his natural
desire for manliness was forgotten for the moment.

Katherine drew a long breath and set her teeth firmly. She was
trembling violently now the strain was over, and it was all she
could do to keep from bursting into noisy crying. But the stranger
was shivering too, and in her care for him she forgot her own
foolish desire for tears.

"You are as wet as I am, and as cold. Can you row?" she asked,
remembering the strength of arm he had displayed in dragging her
out of the water.

"Yes, and shall be glad to do it. You will be safer rowing too,"
he answered, then motioned to Miles to give place.

"I'll steer; then we can go ahead," said the boy jerkily. He had
not got over his fright yet, and was trembling almost as badly as
the others.

Slipping into their places, Katherine and the stranger took the
oars. Miles edged them out of the crowding ice dangers, and,
keeping well to the bank, they began their progress up river.

"Mrs. Jenkin is beckoning. Will you go across?" asked Miles.

"No," Katherine answered with prompt decision. "The force of the
current is fearful, and we have faced enough risks for one day.
Besides, it is of no use; we want dry garments. Mrs. Jenkin has
barely enough clothes for herself, so I am certain she could not
supply my needs; and no garments of Stee's would be big enough for
this--this gentleman."

"My name is Jervis Ferrars," put in the stranger, seeing her
embarrassment and hastening to relieve it.

"Thank you!" murmured Katherine, a flush coming into her cheeks
which made her charming despite her bedraggled condition. Then she
went on: "I think it will be better for you to come with us right
up to Roaring Water Portage, because then we can lend you some of
Father's clothes: he is tall, and they will about fit you, I should
think; and it is so very difficult to get what one wants at Seal
Cove."

"That I have already proved. But it was very kind of you to come
and rescue me. I owe my life to you," the stranger said, with a
sudden thrill of feeling in his voice.

Katherine flushed more brightly than before. "We thought it was
Oily Dave whom we were trying to save," she said, with a faint
ripple of laughter. "And Miles said he wasn't worth it, only of
course we had to do the best we could. Are you the Englishman who
came through from Maxokama two days ago?"

"Yes," he answered. "And it was the four hundred miles on
snowshoes that made my feet so bad, though I am rather proud of
having done it."

"I am sure you have a right to be proud of such a feat," Katherine
answered; and then they did not say much more, for the work was
getting harder every minute, and she wondered what would have
happened if there had been only Miles and herself to manage the
boat, for certainly the arms of Jervis Ferrars had a strength which
Miles did not possess, yet in spite of this it was as much as they
could do to make headway against the streaming current.

The danger came when they had to creep past the fishing boats, some
of which were anchored so close in to the banks that they had to
get out in the open river to pass them. Katherine had left off
shivering, but she was trembling still from excitement and
exhaustion; moreover, she was miserably self-conscious, because of
the stranger who was sitting behind. It was horrible to be wet,
dirty, and thoroughly bedraggled, but it was still more horrible to
be compelled to sit in such a condition right under the eyes of a
strange man, whose every tone and gesture proclaimed him a
gentleman. But they were very nearly at the end of the journey.
The roar of the rapids was in their ears, and Katherine was
thinking with a sigh of relief that she would soon be able to rest
her aching arms.

Suddenly Miles leant forward and spoke. "I'm afraid there is
something wrong at home. Phil has just dashed out of the store
door, looking as white as chalk. He beckoned to us to hurry, and
now he has rushed back again."

"Father! Perhaps he is not so well," exclaimed Katherine, with a
quick terror gripping at her heart. Then she thought with a swift
compunction of the stranger they were bringing home, and wondered
if her father would resent the intrusion.

But Phil had run out again just as the boat grounded against the
bank, and now he began shouting: "Oh, do come quick; Father is
dreadfully ill, and Nellie does not know what to do with him."

"You go first; the boy will help me," said Jervis Ferrars, hurrying
Katherine out of the boat.

She landed with a bound and tried to run, but her water-logged
garments clung so closely about her that she could only walk, and
the few steps to the door seemed like a mile.

"Nellie says it is a stroke, and she is afraid Father is dying,"
sobbed Phil, who was running to and fro in a distracted fashion.

A faint cry broke from Katherine, and she caught at the doorpost to
save herself. Yet even in that moment she realized that this was
only what she had been expecting every time that she had returned
from an absence all the winter through. But to-day found her so
shaken and unfit for strain that it was not wonderful she broke
down, feeling that this last disaster was too great to be borne. A
moment she clung there sick and faint, while the ground under her
feet seemed to rise up like the waves of the sea; then the
frightened wailing of Beth and Lotta reached her ears, and steadied
her nerves to meet the demands upon her.

"Poor mites, how frightened they must be!" she murmured to herself,
then stumbled forward again, crossing the store and entering the
kitchen.

'Duke Radford lay on the floor. Doubtless he had fallen so, and
Mrs. Burton had been unable to lift him; but there was a pillow
under his head and a rug laid over him. He was breathing still,
otherwise Katherine would have believed him already dead.

"Oh, Nellie, this is dreadful! Whatever shall we do?" she cried,
her voice sharp with pain.

"If only we could get a doctor I wouldn't mind so much," sobbed
Mrs. Burton. "But that is an impossibility."

"I am afraid it is," Katherine answered, lightly touching her
father's face with her finger, and wondering if he were as
unconscious as he looked.

Then she felt herself gently thrust to one side, and the voice of
Jervis Ferrars said quietly: "Go and get into dry clothes as
quickly as you can, Miss Radford. You can do your Father no
immediate good, but you may easily catch pneumonia if you stop in
this condition long. I am not really a doctor, but I have had a
medical training, and I can do all that can be done in this case."

"Oh, how thankful we are to have you here!" said Mrs. Burton, who
felt as if the wet unknown, who was shedding pools of dirty water
on to her clean floor, was an angel sent straight from heaven to
help her in her time of need.

But Katherine said nothing at all; she only stumbled to her feet in
blind haste and hurried away, knowing that collapse into
undignified babyish crying was inevitable, and anxious to get away
to some place where she might be hidden from the eyes of the
others. In that crowded little house there was not much chance of
privacy, however, and when Katherine entered the bedroom, to change
her wet garments and cry in peace, she was immediately set upon by
the twins, who had been shut in there by their mother to be out of
the way. The poor mites were so frightened and unhappy that
Katherine had to put aside her own miseries in order to comfort
them. Then by the time she was clad in dry garments she felt
better and braver, so she went back to the other room with the
tears unshed.

'Duke Radford still lay on the floor in blank unconsciousness,
while Mrs. Burton was busy mopping up the dirty water which had run
from the wet garments of the others.

"Mr. Ferrars has gone to get into dry clothes, and then he will see
about putting poor Father to bed," Mrs. Burton explained. Then she
burst into agitated thanksgiving: "Oh, Katherine, how fortunate
that you brought him home with you, and how wonderful it is that
there is always someone to help when most it is heeded! Whatever
should we have done to-day if we had had no one but the fisher
people to help us?"

Katherine was silent, and before the eyes of her mind there arose
the picture of that moment before the two big fragments of ice
collided, the moment which enabled Jervis Ferrars and herself to
get into the boat. But for that pause in the destruction of the
ice island it was more than probable that neither she nor the
stranger would have been there at all. Of this she said nothing.
Nellie had quite enough to bear without being frightened by
tragedies which had not happened.

"I am afraid we brought you in a fearful lot of water," Katherine
said.

"It will soon be wiped up, and the floor none the worse. That poor
Mr. Ferrars had no boots or stockings on; his feet were merely
swathed in towels. I have sent Miles with warm water to help him
put them comfortable; and now there is someone in the store. Dear,
can you go? I don't know where Phil is."

"I will go. But what about Father?" Katherine asked, lingering.

"You can do nothing for him, and he is as comfortable as it is
possible to make him at present," Mrs. Burton replied. Then
Katherine hurried away, for business must be attended to whatever
disasters menaced the family peace and happiness.

The customer was a man from one of the fishing boats, which was
preparing to leave the river directly the barrier of ice at the
mouth gave way. He wanted more stores than could be immediately
supplied, and promised to come back for them later.

"I saw you'd got the Englishman in your boat when you came up
river; I thought he looked pretty sick," remarked the fisher, who
was a Yankee from Long Island Sound.

"His feet are bad, which is not wonderful when one remembers his
journey from Maxokama," Katherine answered, wishing that the man
would go, so that she might go back to her father.

But this he seemed in no hurry to do, and with a cautious look
round to make sure no one was within earshot, he leaned over the
counter and asked in a confidential tone: "Can you keep a secret,
Miss?"

"I think so, but I am not very fond of them," she answered, drawing
back with a repressive air, for the man's manner was more familiar
than she cared for.

"Well, it's this then; the Englishman is likely to go on getting
sicker still if he keeps lodging at Oily Dave's hotel. Do you twig
my meaning?"

"No, certainly not," Katherine answered; then a shiver crept over
her, because of the sinister interpretation which might be put to
the words.

"I don't want to be hauled up in a libel case," said the Yankee.
"Are there any witnesses within hearing?"

"No, not if you keep your voice down," she answered, dropping her
own, and feeling that here was something she ought to know, however
unpleasant or burdensome the knowledge might prove.

"Well, they are saying that the new fleet-owner, Mr. Selincourt,
ain't satisfied with things going on as they used to do, and so he
has sent this young man up to spy round a bit, report the catch,
keep expenses down, and that sort of thing. Oily Dave has always
reckoned to make a good picking out of the fishing, you know, and
it ain't likely he'd approve of being spied upon."

"Why have you told me this?" demanded Katherine. Her eyes were
dilated with fear, and there was a sickening apprehension in her
heart. In that wild place, so far from law and order, a dozen
dreadful things might happen, and the world would be none the wiser.

The Yankee laughed and stuffed a plug of tobacco into his left
cheek. Then he replied: "They all say on the river that you are a
powerful smart girl, and can do most things you set your mind to.
Possession is nine points of the law, you know. You have got the
Englishman here; keep him somehow--unless you want him to leave
Oily Dave's hotel feet foremost, that is."

Katherine gasped, and the words she would have uttered stuck fast
in her throat. A man's life had been thrust into her keeping, and
she must guard it as best she might.

"I wish you would tell----" she began falteringly, then a door
creaked at the far end of the store, and the Yankee straightened
himself with great promptitude, ready for instant departure.

"Well, good morning, Miss! Beautiful thaw, ain't it now? I should
think the mouth of the river must go bust before to-morrow;" and
with a flourish of his very seedy old hat the citizen of the United
States walked out of the store. He did not often lift his hat to
anyone; for, believing that all men were equal, such observance
struck him as servile. But Katherine had a way with her that
compelled respect; moreover, she was a downright gritty girl, as he
expressed it: so the hat-flourish was really a tribute to her
strength of character.

As he went out of the door, Jervis Ferrars came hobbling out from
the bedroom leaning on Miles. Dressed in 'Duke Radford's working
clothes, he looked like an ordinary working man, except for that
indefinable air of culture which clung to him.

"I am going to see to your father now, Miss Radford. Miles and I
have got the bed ready, and the sooner we get the poor man
undressed and comfortable, the better it will be for him."

"Thank you!" said Katherine, then shivered again as she recalled
the Yankee's words about keeping the stranger from the power of
Oily Dave.

Jervis Ferrars looked at her keenly, noting the shiver and the
trouble in her eyes; then he said abruptly: "What is the matter?
Do you feel ill, or is it something fresh?"

For a moment Katherine hesitated, but he would have to be told, she
knew, so she said hastily: "It is something that--that you must
know. I will tell you presently when I get a chance."

"Very well," he replied briefly, then hobbled on into the kitchen,
and for the next hour was occupied in doing his utmost for the sick
man.

Katherine was left a moment alone with Mrs. Burton, after 'Duke
Radford had been carried to his bed, and she said hastily: "Nellie,
would you mind if Mr. Ferrars stayed here for a few days until his
feet are better? We are crowded, I know; but either he or the boys
could sleep in the loft now it is warmer, and Oily Dave's house is
impossible until the flood is down."

"I should say it is impossible at any time," replied Mrs. Burton,
"and I shall be only too thankful if he will stay for a while
because of poor father. Oh, Katherine, I am afraid this long
terrible winter has killed him'" she said, with a quiver of
breakdown in her voice.

"It is not the winter. Why, he has scarcely been out at all, so he
cannot have suffered from that," Katherine answered sadly. She
knew only too well why her father had broken down again, only the
worst of it was she could not tell anyone, but must hide the
knowledge within her own heart, because it involved her father's
honour.

"I have seen him failing for so long, only yesterday and to-day he
seemed better," Mrs. Burton went on; "and he was sitting quite
comfortably by the stove, not talking very much, but looking
thoroughly contented, when he suddenly pitched out of his chair and
lay like a log on the floor."

"Will you ask Mr. Ferrars to stay with us, or shall I?" said
Katherine.

"I will if you like. I will put it so that he shall think he is
doing us a favour, then he will be more comfortable about
accepting; and really, as things are, I don't see where else there
is for him to go."

"Nor I," replied Katherine, and was thankful to leave the matter in
her sister's hands for the present.

CHAPTER XI

A Woman of Business

"What is the trouble, Miss Radford?"

Katherine started. She had been so busy in packing baking powder,
tobacco, currants, and things of that description into a box for
the fisher from Long Island Sound that she had not heard the
approach of Jervis Ferrars, who wore list slippers, and so made but
little noise in walking. The long hard day which had held so many
momentous happenings was wearing to a close, and so far she had
found no chance at all to speak to the stranger about what he had
to fear. Mrs. Burton had begged him with tears in her eyes to stay
a few days to help them in looking after their father, and Jervis
Ferrars had accepted with such evident pleasure at the prospect
that Katherine had troubled no further then, and had devoted
herself to the many things which called for her attention.

Her father still lay in the condition of absolute unconsciousness
into which he had fallen at first, and Mr. Ferrars did not think
there would be much change for a few days. He also did not
apprehend any immediate danger, and they all took courage from
this. Sickness and incapacity did not daunt them; but it was death
the separator of whom they were all so much afraid.

"I did not hear you come," Katherine said.

"No, my footgear is not noisy, as befits a sickroom; but then my
steps are not sprightly either, so you might have heard me
slouching across the floor if you had not been so absorbed in the
matter in hand. What is it you want to tell me?" he asked, with a
quick change of tone.

"You had better not go back to the house of Oily Dave again," she
began in a rather breathless style.

"Very much better not, I should say," he answered. "But why?"

"You have come to watch the fishing in the interest of Mr.
Selincourt, have you not?" she asked.

"Yes, the old company complained of considerable leakage in
profits, you see; indeed it was on this account that they decided
the fleet was an unworkable scheme for a company, and were willing
to sell to Mr. Selincourt."

Katherine nodded, then said in a low tone: "But your position will
make you enemies, and I have been warned to-day that it is
positively dangerous for you to remain in the house with that man."

"Did this warning reach you before you came to rescue me this
morning, or since?" he asked quickly.

"Since. We did not even know that you were there."

"Well, it is a comfort to know that, although I have enemies, I
have friends too; for such a warning could have come only from a
friend," Jervis Ferrars remarked, frowning heavily.

"It was certainly meant in a friendly spirit, and, now you know,
you will be careful," she said, and there was more entreaty in her
tone than she guessed at, for she was remembering how indifferent
to danger he had seemed when she was trying to rescue him from the
flood that morning.

"Yes, I shall be careful. And, since to be forewarned is to be
forearmed, thank you for telling me. I suppose this accounts for
the old rascal going off this morning with the key of the hotel in
his pocket."

"Did he do that?" she asked in a startled tone.

"Yes, I had been awake all night with the pain in my feet and in my
limbs, and I was disposed to lie and sleep when morning came,"
Jervis Ferrars replied. "I heard him getting up very early, and
asked him what was amiss, for I could hear a great row outside with
the ice. He said there was nothing to be afraid of, for his house
stood too high ever to be caught in a flood; but he had left a boat
in an awkward place and must go and look after it. Then he went
out. I heard him lock the door when he was outside. After that I
went to sleep, and did not wake again until I heard you shouting,
and found the water was nearly on a level with my bed."

Katherine shuddered. "It is too horrible even to think of! We
should not have known that anyone was in the house who needed
saving, if it had not been for Mrs. Jenkin screaming so loudly from
the other bank."

"Then that is another friend; so apparently I have more friends
than enemies after all, in which case I am not to be pitied," he
said lightly; then asked: "Is that all the trouble--I mean so far
as it concerns me?"

"It is all that I know, but I beg you to be careful, for Oily Dave
is such a cowardly foe, who only strikes in the dark," she said
earnestly.

"In which case I shall be safest when I keep in the light," the
Englishman answered with a laugh. "By the way, how did the old
fellow earn his title? Was it given to him because he practically
lives on lard?"

"I think it was given to him because he was known to help himself
so largely to the fish oils which should have been the property of
the fleet," she replied. "I did not even know that he was fond of
lard, although I have suspected him nearly all winter of having
stolen two pails of it from the store one night, when Miles had his
back turned for a minute."

"That accounts for the bill of fare at his hotel then," Mr. Ferrars
said with a laugh. "I have had nothing but lard and bread, sour
heavy bread too, or lard and biscuit, or biscuit without the lard,
since I arrived at Seal Cove. But I think he need not have charged
such high prices for the stuff if he stole it!"

"No indeed!" exclaimed Katherine, with a thrill of indignation in
her tone. "But why did you go to such a place? You would surely
have been better off on one of the boats, or Mrs. Jenkin would have
made room for you somehow, although her house is very small and
fearfully crowded."

"It was part of the programme, don't you see? I came to be on the
spot to stop the leakage, and, having given a pretty good guess as
to where the leaky spot was, Mr. Selincourt told me to lodge, if
possible, in the abode of Oily Dave."

"But you will not go back? Mr. Selincourt would not expect it of
you," she said, a swift terror leaping into her eyes.

"No, I shall not reside under the roof of Oily Dave any longer," he
answered. "But I shall remind him of that locked door, and various
other things, some day when it suits me."

"What are you doing? Are you going to put it down in a book?"
Katherine asked in surprise, as he drew out a pocket-book and began
to write.

"Certainly! You are a woman of business, and must know that it is
best to have facts down in black and white," he answered. Then,
having finished with Oily Dave, he turned to the other side of the
same book, and began questioning her about her father's condition
before his seizure, and entering the answers in the same way.

"You think that Father will really rally again?" she asked, with a
fear lest his former hopefulness about his patient was merely
assumed to cheer Mrs. Burton, who had been plunged in dreadful
grief all day.

"I am inclined to believe that he may recover to a certain extent,
but I should have a much better idea of his chances if I knew more
of his condition beforehand, especially his state of mind. Your
sister says that he had no particular worries, nor anything to
induce apprehension or acute anxiety. Is that your opinion also?"

The question found Katherine unprepared; she winced, then
hesitated, not knowing what to say. He saw the trouble in her
eyes, and paused with the pencil held between two fingers. "I am
not asking from any desire to know the nature of the worry, if
there was one; that would be quite immaterial in its effect on the
issues. The thing that counts is to know if he were suffering from
acute mental torture. If this be so, then it probably accounts for
the seizure, and leaves him with a fair hope of recovery to a
limited extent. If, on the other hand, his mind was perfectly
placid and peaceful, then I am afraid you must expect the end in a
few days, or a week at the furthest, for that would mean that
nature is completely worn out, instead of just broken down by
worry."

Katherine was white to the lips, and her voice sank to a whisper as
she faltered: "Yes, he had acute anxiety, and a worry which wore
him all the more because he hid it so carefully; but none of the
others knew about it, only myself."

"Thank you! that sets matters on a more satisfactory basis," he
said, "and I feel sure we shall see improvement in a few days."

"Will you please not mind telling the others what you have told me
about the causes of his condition?" Katherine asked hurriedly.
"Miles and Phil are so young, while Mrs. Burton has had too many
troubles of her own. That was why Father talked more freely to me."

"There is no need to speak of it any more," he answered, with
reassuring kindness. "Now I want to know what arrangements we can
make about the sickroom. Do you think the boys can sleep in the
loft? Or, if that is too cold, shall we give them a shakedown here
in the store?"

"I don't think the loft will be cold now the frost has gone,"
Katherine answered. "But Mrs. Burton meant that for you, because
it is really the only quiet place we have."

"I am going to sit up with your father for the next few nights, but
I can get a nap in the loft during the day. When my feet are
better I shall have to be away in the boats a great deal, but until
then I can be nurse in chief, and so free Mrs. Burton's hands for
her other work," he said, gripping the needs of the situation as
plainly as if he had known them all for months instead of hours.

"I had meant to stay with Father to-night," said Katherine,
flushing a little, and not feeling quite certain whether she
entirely approved of having matters taken out of her hands in this
fashion.

"That would not do at all. You will have to be business head of
the establishment now for a permanency, and the sooner you get your
shoulders fitted to the burden the better," he said decidedly.

"But I have practically been the business head all the winter, so
the burden is familiar already," she protested, with a wan smile
and a sinking at her heart, for she did not like business, and
always shrank from the bother of bargaining, which afforded such
keen zest to some people's buying and selling.

"That was quite different from what lies before you now," he
replied. "You may have had the work to do, but you had always your
father's judgment to rely upon. In future you will have to stand
alone and judge for yourself."

Katherine bowed her head in token that she understood, then turned
away too crushed to utter a word. Jervis Ferrars went back to the
sickroom, wincing at the pain he had been compelled to inflict as
if the blow had fallen on himself. There were no tears in
Katherine's eyes, only the terrible black misery in her heart. She
had filled in all the blanks in what, the Englishman had said, and
she understood perfectly well that henceforth her father would be
only as a child who needed guarding and shielding, instead of a man
whose judgment could be relied upon. She had no deception in her
mind concerning what would be required of her; the family living
must depend on her in the future, and it would rest upon her skill
and industry whether the living she earned were merely subsistence,
or the decent comfort in which they had all been reared.

"God helping me, they shall want for nothing--nothing!" she
exclaimed vehemently, and the very energy with which she spoke
seemed to give her back her courage.

It had been a momentous day in her life, a day calling for rare
courage and endurance, and the demands on her strength had left her
so tired that the other hard days looming in the near distance
seemed all the more terrible because of the present exhaustion of
body and mind. It was nearly time for shutting up the store, but
it was twilight still, for in those northern latitudes the
afterglow on clear nights lasts for hours. Katherine was busy at
her father's desk in the corner doing the necessary writing which
comes to every storekeeper at the close of the day, and she was
just wondering when Miles was coming to lock the door and fold the
shutter over the one small window, when she heard a slouching step
outside, and, glancing up, saw Oily Dave entering at the door. He
looked more shifty and slippery than usual, but his manner was
bland, even deferential, when he spoke.

"Good evening, Miss Radford! Nice thaw, ain't it? but a bit rapid.
How's 'Dook?"

Katherine winced. Of course every man at Roaring Water Portage and
Seal Cove called every other man by his Christian name, and she had
always been used to hearing "'Duke", but nevertheless it grated
horribly, so her manner was a trifle more haughty than usual when
she announced that her father was not so well, although she did not
choose to inform this man that he was very ill.

"Well, well, poor chap, he don't seem to get on fast, no, that he
don't. It's downright lucky for him that he's got sech a bright
gal as you to look after things. He is a smart sight better off
than I should have been under the circumstances;" and Oily Dave
struck an attitude of respectful admiration, leering at Katherine
from his half-closed eyes.

"What do you wish, for to-night?" she asked coldly.

"A good many things, my supper most of all, for I've had nothing
but a mouthful of biscuit all day. But I shall have to wait for
that till I get back to Seal Cove, and then I shall have to cook it
myself, for that swell lodger of mine ain't no good about a house,"
said Oily Dave, with a shake of his head.

Katherine put her hand to her throat with a quick movement, to
check a hysterical desire for laughter. She and Mrs. Burton had
both marvelled that day at the exceeding handiness displayed by
Jervis Ferrars. He had made the bed for the stricken head of the
house as deftly as a woman might have done, and had helped in the
kitchen at supper time as if he had been getting meals regularly
for the last two or three years; but of this she was not disposed
to speak, and waited in silence for Oily Dave to state his
requirements.

"I want some canned tomatoes. Have you got any?"

"We have plenty of two-pound tins, but we are sold out of the
smaller ones," she answered, then made a mental note that in future
she would buy all small tins, because they sold so much more easily.

"That's a nuisance, but I suppose I'll have to put up with it," he
said, with a sigh and another shake of his head. "Fact is, I want
to take home a relish for supper. My lodger don't take to simple
food such as we are used to in these parts. It is a downright
swell tuck-in he looks to get, same as you might expect to have in
one of the Montreal hotels."

Again Katherine wanted to laugh, but checked the impulse
resolutely, and asked: "Is the flood at Seal Cove as bad as ever,
or has the barrier given way at the mouth of the river?"

"I didn't know there was a flood!" announced Oily Dave, with an air
of innocence which sat awkwardly upon him, it was so palpably put
on for the occasion. "Fact is, I've been off all day on the cliffs
along the bay shore, looking for signs of walrus and seal on the
ice floes. Then when it got near sunset I just struck inland, so
as to call here on my way home. Who told you there was a flood?"

"I saw it," she answered quietly.

"I hope my lodger is all right," said the old hypocrite, with an
air of concern. "That house of mine ain't well situated for
floods, as most folks know. If I'd got the time and the money I'd
move it up beside Stee Jenkin's hut, which is really in a bootiful
situation."

"I wonder you have not done it before," said Katherine, as she went
up the steps and fetched the tin of tomatoes from the top shelf.

"Ah, there are a good many things that get left undone for want of
time and money!" remarked Oily Dave. "But I'm afraid Mr.
Selincourt has made a big mistake in sending that languid swell of
a Mr. Ferrars here to boss the fishing. A reg'lar drawing-room
party he is and no mistake. Gives himself as many airs as a
turkey-cock in springtime, and seems to think all the rest of the
world was created on purpose to black his boots."

"We don't sell much boot blacking here. Most of the people grease
their boots with fish oil," Katherine said, laughing in spite of
herself, only now her amusement was because she knew Jervis Ferrars
to be in her father's room, where he could hear every word which
was spoken in the store.

"Best thing, too. There is nothing like grease for making leather
wear well. Well, I must be going, though I'm that tired. However
I'll manage the walk is more than I can say;" and Oily Dave heaved
a sigh which this time was not lacking in sincerity.

"Would you like to have one of our boats? Miles will help you to
run it down," Katherine said. It was such a usual thing to lend a
customer a boat that one or two were always handy, and the customer
always understood that the loan was to be returned at his earliest
convenience.

"Thank you, I should be glad! The current will carry me down while
I smoke my pipe. Then I shall be rested enough to cook supper when
I get there," he answered. Then, bidding her good night, he went
out of the store, meeting Miles in the doorway, who went back to
help him to run the boat down into the water.

"Miles, I hope you didn't tell that old fraud that Mr. Ferrars was
staying here?" said Katherine, when the boy came in and locked the
door for the night.

"Of course I didn't. I never said a word good, bad, nor
indifferent to the old fellow. I haven't got over this morning,"
Miles said, in a tone which sounded sullen, but which was only a
cloak for feelings deeply stirred.

"Very well then, for this one night at least he will have the
satisfaction of believing that he was successful in drowning Mr.
Ferrars," Katherine replied.

"Don't worry yourself, Mrs. Jenkin will tell him," said Miles. "Or
some of the men will chaff him, because he has been outwitted by a
girl."

"It wasn't a girl this time; it was Mrs. Jenkin," objected
Katherine, letting a box go down with a bang, for she did not want
the listener in the other room to hear what Miles was saying.

"Mrs. Jenkin might have called out that there was someone in Oily
Dave's house that wanted saving, but I guess the poor man would
have had time to drown twice over if it hadn't been for you getting
on the ice and going to fetch him out," Miles said, sticking to his
own opinion with the obstinacy he was rather fond of displaying.

Katherine took refuge in silence, going out of the store as soon as
she could, and hurrying away to bed, because of the needs of the
next day. Neither she nor Mrs. Burton slept very well, however.
To both of them it was a grief beyond the power of words to
describe to leave their father to the care of a stranger, and they
were both thankful when morning came and the day's routine had to
begin again.

There was no change in the stricken man's condition, but Katherine,
who stayed with him while the others had breakfast, thought that he
looked more comfortable than on the previous evening. When Miles
came in to take her place, she went back to the kitchen, to hear
Mrs. Burton and Jervis Ferrars talking of the Selincourts.

"I suppose Mr. Selincourt is very rich," said Mrs. Burton with a
little wistful sigh, as if she thought that riches might detract
from his niceness.

"Yes, I expect he is very rich, but he is so thoroughly pleasant,
and so free from side, that one is apt to forget all about his
riches," Jervis said, then rose to set a chair for Katherine, and
bring her bowl of porridge from the stove, where it was keeping
warm for her.

"Is Miss Selincourt nice too, and is she pretty?" asked Mrs.
Burton, who to Katherine's secret disquiet was always asking
questions concerning the expected arrivals.

Jervis laughed. "I have never stopped to consider whether she is
pretty, but she is certainly very charming in her manners," he
said, with so much earnestness that Katherine instantly made up her
mind that Miss Selincourt was the kind of person she did not care
for and did not want to know.

Phil came in from the store at this moment, with a pucker of
amusement on his face.

"Stee Jenkin has brought our boat back," he said. "Oily Dave paid
him half a dollar to come, because he didn't feel like showing his
face up here just yet."

"Why not?" demanded Jervis Ferrars.

"Stee said the ice at the river mouth didn't give way until after
midnight, when it burst with a roar like cannon. When Oily Dave
got to Seal Cove last night, the water reached to the shingles of
his house; so the old fellow rowed across to Stee's hut and asked
to be taken in for the night, because he was flooded out and the
Englishman was drowned."

"But didn't Stee tell him that Mr. Ferrars was safe here with us?"
asked Mrs. Burton.

"Not a bit of it," replied Phil. "That would have spoiled sport,
don't you see? because Oily Dave was what Stee called most uncommon
resigned, and talked such a lot about going to find the body in the
morning, that they just made up their minds to let him go. He was
up by daybreak and went over to look; but when he saw the door
broken down he guessed there had been a rescue, and he was just mad
because no one had told him anything about it."

"It was rather too bad to leave him in suspense all night, poor
man," said Mrs. Burton gently.

CHAPTER XII

The First of the Fishing

For a whole week the thaw went merrily on. One by one the fishing
boats left their winter anchorage in the river, and sailed out into
the stormy waters of the bay. By the end of the week Jervis
Ferrars had so far recovered the comfortable use of his feet that
he could wear boots again and go about like other men. Directly he
was able to do this he went down to Seal Cove every day, where he
inspected every boat that was ready to put to sea, overhauled the
store shed, and quietly took command, setting Oily Dave on one side
with as little ceremony as if that worthy had never been master of
the fleet.

Oily Dave took the change in government with very bad grace indeed,
and it is probable that the life of Jervis Ferrars would have been
in very grave danger many times during the next few weeks if it had
not been for the fact that the Englishman had made a host of
friends among the fishers, who would protect him at all risks in an
open attack, while Jervis wisely so far avoided Oily Dave as to
give no chance for the secret, cowardly thrusts in which the
deposed man delighted.

Astor M'Kree personally conducted the new boats, one by one, over
the rapids, bringing them down when the river was in flood and
anchoring them in front of the store until their crews were ready;
and when they had cleared for the bay the fishing was in full swing.

Eight hundred miles away, in the north of the great inland sea, the
whalers and sealers were still fast bound in ice and snow, longing
for freedom, yet forced to wait while the tardy spring crept
northward. But down in the more sheltered waters of James Bay
there was abundance of work for everyone. Hundreds of seals
gambolled on the ice floes and on the shores of the little
uncharted islands which make those waters such a serious menace to
the mariner. Sometimes the boats were away for a week. Sometimes
two days found them headed back for Seal Cove, laden with seals,
walrus, and narwhal. Many of them succeeded in getting a good
catch of white whales, for which those waters are so noted; but
these were caught at the mouths of the tidal rivers, for the whales
go up the rivers every day with the tide, and it was when the tide
was ebbing that the whales were most easily caught. It was only
the biggest and strongest boats that ventured so far as the tidal
rivers, however, and with these Jervis Ferrars never went. Indeed,
but from choice he need never have gone to sea at all, for his work
lay more particularly on land, where he had to keep toll of the
catch and take care that the various products of the sea harvest
were properly secured and stored, until the opening of Hudson
Strait enabled vessels to get through.

Astor M'Kree had made a queer addition to the side of Stee Jenkin's
house by building against one end of it part of an old fishing boat
which had been wrecked in the floodtime, and stranded on the bluff
upon which the little house was perched. In this peculiar abode
Jervis took his residence, while Mrs. Jenkin looked after his
comfort and kept his room clean with a slavish industry which she
had certainly never bestowed on her own house.

On most days when he was ashore Jervis contrived to get up to
Roaring Water Portage, his ostensible errand being to see 'Duke
Radford, who was slowly creeping back to physical convalescence.
That is, the bodily part of him was resuming its functions, only
the mental part was at a standstill; and although the sick man
seemed to know and love them all, he had no more understanding for
the serious things of life than an average child of six or seven
might have possessed. It was well for the family that their
father's illness in the previous winter had in a measure prepared
them for doing without him, or they must have felt even more keenly
the heavy work and heavier responsibilities which had fallen upon
them. As it was, they faced their difficulties with a quiet
courage which left no one with a chance to pity them, although
there were plenty to admire "the pluck of 'Duke Radford's young
'uns".

It was Katherine who took the lead, the boy Miles being a good
second, and proving the more valuable aid because of his habit of
unquestioning obedience. Mrs. Burton was willing for any drudgery,
and toiled at housework and nursing with a devotion as beautiful as
it was uncomplaining. But she had no talent for leadership and no
faculty for organization, and, what is more, she was perfectly
aware of the lack.

Night school was of course at an end. Indeed, no one had any time
for thinking about education or books. Katherine made valorous
attempts to carry on the studies of Miles and Phil, but had to give
them up as useless, lacking strength and opportunity for the
endeavour. But the long winter would make up for the neglect of
the short summer, and she left off worrying over their lapse into
ignorance, contenting herself with reading to them on Sundays, and,
what was more important still, making them read to her.

It was delightful to be abroad in those days of early spring, and
Katherine especially enjoyed the journeys to Fort Garry, when she
rowed across the corner of the bay and felt the sweep of the breeze
coming in from the wider waters beyond. Phil was her companion
always now, because when she was absent Miles must be at home to
look after the store. There were other journeys to be taken also,
which, but for the portages, might have been regarded as pleasure
trips pure and simple. But the portage work was hard, and by the
time Katherine and Phil had tramped three times over a mile and a
half of portage, laden with sugar, bacon, and flour, returning the
fourth time for the birchbark, they were mostly too tired to regard
the journey as anything but very hard work indeed.

Yet in spite of this it was lovely to be out in the fresh air and
the sunshine. When Katherine heard the long, laughing chuckle of
the ptarmigan, or saw the trailing flights of geese headed
northward, she could have shouted and sung from sheer lighthearted
joy at the coming of spring. But, however high her spirits rose as
the weather grew better and finer, there was always the cold dread
in her heart because of what the summer must bring. Of course, if
her father remained in his present condition he would feel and
understand nothing of the embarrassment which must fall alone upon
her in meeting Mr. Selincourt. It was the dread and shrinking at
the thought of this meeting which robbed the spring days of their
keenest joy, and although she would be happy sometimes, the
happiness was certain to be followed by fits of black depression,
especially after the doing of a long portage.

There was a long, low shed at Seal Cove, where all the fish oil,
whalebone, blubber, ivory, skins, and other produce of the sea
harvest were stored pending ocean shipment. Jervis Ferrars had a
small office railed off from one end of this unsavoury shed, and he
was sitting in it writing, one afternoon in early May, when he saw
Katherine's boat coming across from Fort Garry. He had been
looking for it any time within the last hour, and had begun to
wonder that it was so long delayed. But it was coming at last, and
putting on his cap he locked his office and went out to hail the
boat. This was no birchbark journey broken by weary toiling to and
fro on a portage trail, but Katherine and Phil were seated in one
of the good, solid boats turned out by Astor M'Kree, and both of
them looked even brighter than usual.

"Are you coming home with us?" Katherine asked, as she came within
speaking distance and saw that Jervis had his birchbark by a
towrope.

"That is my desire, if you will have me," he said.

"With pleasure. You shall be company, and sit in the place of
honour," Katherine said with a laugh, feeling that the occasion had
somehow become festive, even though two miles of rowing against the
current lay in front of her. "Phil, move that bundle from the seat
and let Mr. Ferrars sit there; he will be more comfortable."

"Thank you, I don't want to sit there, and if I can't do as I like
I shall get into the birchbark and paddle you up river on a
towrope, which will jerk you horribly, and probably capsize me,"
said Jervis, with an obstinate air.

"What do you wish to do?" she asked demurely.

"I wish to sit where you are sitting now," he answered. "Then I
will row you up river and give you a necessary lesson in steering;
for don't you remember how nearly you upset us into the bank the
last time but one that I rowed you up?"

Katherine flushed, but there was a laughing light in her eyes as
she replied: "Oh yes! I remember perfectly well, but that was quite
as much your fault as mine, for you were telling us of your
experiences in that Nantucket whaler, and they were quite thrilling
enough to make anyone forget to steer."

"There shall be no such temptation to forgetfulness to-day; that I
can safely promise you," he answered, holding the boat steady while
Katherine moved to the other seat. Then, tying his birchbark on
behind, he stepped into the vacant place and commenced to pull up
stream with long, steady strokes.

"You were a long time at the Fort to-day," he remarked presently.

"Yes, Mrs. M'Crawney is ill, and it was only common humanity to do
what I could for her," Katherine answered gravely, for poor Mrs.
M'Crawney had made her heart ache that day, because of the terrible
discomfort in which the poor woman was lying, and the homesickness
for old Ireland which seemed to oppress her.

"I thought she looked ill the other day when I was over there, but
she would not admit it. I wanted to tell her that less hot pastry
and more fresh air would work a cure perhaps; but it does not do to
thrust one's opinion unasked upon people, especially when one is
only a doctor in intention and not in reality," Jervis said, with a
tug at the oars which expressed a good many things.

"It is a good thing for us that you are not really a doctor, or
else you would not be looking after Mr. Selincourt's fishing
interests, and then you would not have been here to take care of
Father," Phil said.

Katherine laughed as she remarked: "For pure, unadulterated
selfishness that would surely beat the record, Phil. I expect Mr.
Ferrars hates Seal Cove nearly as much as he did the Nantucket
whaler."

"No, he does not," Jervis broke in. "Sometimes of course Seal Cove
smells rather strongly of fish oil, warm blubber, and putrid seal
meat; but, taken as a whole, there are many worse places to live
in. I found a bank gorgeous with anemones in blue and red
yesterday, and that within ten minutes' walk of the fish shed."

"I know it," said Katherine. "That bank is always a beautiful
sight; but wait until you have seen the rhododendrons on the long
portage."

"Where is that--at Astor M'Kree's?" asked the young man, whose time
was too much occupied to admit of much exploration of the
neighbourhood.

"No, four miles farther up the river, and the portage is a mile and
a half long. Phil and I call it the backache portage," replied
Katherine.

"Why, do you deliver goods so far out? With no competition to be
afraid of, I should have thought you might have made your customers
come to buy from you," he said, frowning, for he knew very well
what kind of work was involved in a portage, and it did not seem to
him a fit and proper employment for a girl.

"But there is competition," laughed Katherine. "There is Peter
M'Crawney, with all the great Hudson's Bay Company behind him.
That is our most formidable rival, while up on Marble Island there
has been started a sort of United States General Stores and Canned
Food Depot. Of course, that is eight hundred miles away, and
should not be dangerous, but it makes more difference than anyone
might suppose."

"Well, it isn't round the corner of the next block at any rate,"
Jervis replied, laughing to think that trade could suffer from a
rival establishment so far away.

"Yes it is, only the block is a big one, you see," she answered,
and they all laughed merrily. When one is young, and the sun is
shining, it is so easy to be gay, even though grim care stalks in
the background.

"I thought that you and M'Crawney were rather in the position of
business partners than trade rivals," Jervis said, as, passing the
last bend of the river, he swung the boat along the stretch of
straight water to the store.

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