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A Countess from Canada by Bessie Marchant

Part 4 out of 6

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But the worry oppressing her just now was concerned also with Mary
Selincourt. Mary spent a great deal of time at the store, and when
she was there she made herself useful like other people. She had
even served an Indian squaw with coloured calico of an astonishing
pattern, had clicked off the proper number of yards in the most
business-like fashion, and then had demanded: "What next, if you
please?" in a manner as collected as if she had served an
apprenticeship behind a counter. A most delightful companion was
Mary, and Mrs. Burton fairly revelled in her society: but Mary had
one strange habit which puzzled her, she always avoided Jervis
Ferrars when it was possible to do so, and she had a trick of
blushing when his name was mentioned. These symptoms were proof
positive to Mrs. Burton that Mary cared for Jervis, and she was
sorely troubled about it.

Katherine, on the other hand, seemed to be absolutely heart-whole;
she went about her daily work with a zest which was refreshing to
behold. She always seemed to be happy and content, while she
treated Jervis in much the same fashion as she did Miles, and
teased him whenever the occasion seemed to demand it, which was
very often.

It was the middle of July, and the great event of the year had
taken place, that is, the first steamer had come through Hudson
Strait, and was anchored off Seal Cove. 'Duke Radford had heavy
shipments in this vessel, and for a few days Katherine left the
outside customers to their own devices, spending busy hours in
checking invoices and helping to stow away the merchandise which
Stee Jenkin and Miles brought up river in boatloads from the
steamer. These goods had been ordered in October of the year
before, but that was how things had to be done in that awkward
corner of the world, where ice blocked the ocean road for eight
months out of the twelve.

The steamer which brought groceries and dry goods for the store was
to take away sealskins, walrus-skins, narwhal ivory, whalebone, and
blubber of various sorts, which had been accumulating in the fish
shed since the fishing began. This made Jervis as busy in his way
as Katherine was in hers. Indeed, the press of work was so great
that Mary went down day after day to do the writing in the office
at Seal Cove, while Mr. Selincourt, with his shirt sleeves rolled
above his elbows, helped Jervis to pack skins and weigh blubber.

It was easy for Mary to get away, as most of her housework and a
good deal of the cooking was done for her by the portage men who
happened to be in residence at Roaring Water Portage. When Mr.
Selincourt hired men and boats at Temiskaming, he hired them for
the whole summer, and planned their work to suit his own
convenience. There were two men to each boat, and after the first
journey with luggage-laden boats the men found that they could
manage the journey each way in a little over a fortnight. So two
pairs of them were always en route, while the third pair rested and
did housework at the hut at Roaring Water Portage, taking their
departure with mails when another pair of their companions returned
from the lake.

When Mrs. Burton was troubled about anything it was sure to come
out sooner or later, and one night during that week of bustle and
hard work she spoke of the matter that was on her mind. The
sisters were brushing their hair before going to bed. Somehow
hair-brushing lends itself to confidential talk, especially when,
as in this case, awkward things have to be put into speech, because
a veil of hair will hide a good many emotions.

"Do you know, I believe that Mary cares for Mr. Ferrars," Mrs.
Burton blurted out, with considerable nervous trepidation, turning
her back on Katherine, and wielding her brush as if her life
depended on her accomplishing a given number of strokes per minute.

"What put such an idea into your head, you delightful old
matchmaker?" demanded Katherine, with a ripple of amused laughter,
while her brush went slower as she waited for the answer.

"A good many things," Mrs. Burton said, warming to her subject, and
feeling relieved already by the careless ease of Katherine's
manner. "Mary always avoids Mr. Ferrars when it is possible to do
so, and I have never once seen her touch his hand, though she
shakes hands with every other person she meets. I have even seen
her shake hands with Oily Dave, a thing I would not do myself."

"Am I to understand, then, that if one person will not shake hands
with another it is a sign of being in love?" asked Katherine in a
teasing tone. "Because, if so, what about your own refusal to
touch the hand of Oily Dave?"

Mrs. Burton laughed, and her heart felt lighter than for many days
past; for if Katherine could laugh and make jokes in this fashion,
it was plain there was no harm done. So she drew a long breath and
went on: "I wish you would try to be serious for a few minutes and
listen to me. What is only fun to you may be grim earnest to poor
Mary, and I like her so well that I do not care to think of her
missing the best thing that life can give her."

"Which is----?" queried Katherine mischievously.

"Which is the love she longs for," Mrs. Burton answered, with a
sentimental sigh.

Katherine broke into irrepressible laughter. Then, when her mirth
had subsided a little, she said: "Just fancy speaking of a girl as
'Poor Mary' whose father has an income of five or six thousand
pounds a year!"

"Still, she is poor in spite of her money if she can't get what she
wants," Mrs. Burton said, sticking to her point. "Money isn't
everything by a long way, and you can't satisfy heart-hunger with
dollars, or pounds either."

"Did Mary take you into her confidence concerning this want which
money can't satisfy?" demanded Katherine, a touch of scorn in her
tone and a chill feeling at her heart, as if someone had laid an
icy finger upon it.

"Dear me, no! Mary is not the sort of girl to go round howling
about what she wants but can't get," Mrs. Burton replied. "But I
have eyes in my head, and I think a married woman sees more, and
has a larger understanding of affairs of the heart, than a girl who
has had no experience at all."

"That is very probable," Katherine said quietly, while the chill
feeling grew and intensified, despite her efforts to make light of
the matter. "But what has all this to do with me? Do you want me
to approach Mr. Ferrars on the subject, and say to him that he had
better make haste and satisfy the heart-hunger of the rich Miss
Selincourt?"

Mrs. Burton looked absolutely shocked. "Dear Katherine, do be
serious for once if you can!" she pleaded. "If I thought that you
cared for Mr. Ferrars yourself I should never have mentioned this
to you at all; but you are so plainly fancy-free that surely it
won't hurt you to stand aside and let Mary have her chance."

"Stand aside? How?" Katherine kept her voice steady by an effort,
while her thoughts flew back to that evening when Jervis Ferrars
had taken her up to Ochre Lake, and had talked to her of the
struggles and hardships of his life. She had been so happy that
evening, and every day since had been like a festival. There had
been no need to put things into words: she had known that night
that Jervis Ferrars cared for her; she had been equally well
assured that she cared for him, and the knowledge brought with it a
rest and contentment such as she had never known before. But if
what her sister said was correct, then it might be that she was
wrong, something worse than selfish even, to take this good thing
which was offered to her; and the standing-aside idea would have to
be very carefully considered.

Mrs. Burton rolled up her abundant hair, and poked in half a dozen
hairpins to keep it in place. Then she said: "You are so much
better-looking than Mary, and you have so much more charm of
manner! It is easy to see that Mr. Ferrars is attracted by you,
because his eyes always follow you every time you move. Then you
saved his life at considerable risk, which, of course, is
tremendously in your favour, or would be, if you cared about him.
But if you don't really want to marry him it would be kind to stand
back and let Mary have a chance. Of course it would be an immense
advantage to Mr. Ferrars to marry Mr. Selincourt's daughter, for I
fancy he is very poor, although he is such a cultured gentleman;
and money does make a great deal of difference in the comfort of
one's daily life."

"Indeed it does, my wise, practical sister. Really, your argument
is not half bad, and is well worth my best consideration, which it
shall have," said Katherine; then giving her sister a good-night
kiss, she dived into bed and promptly went to sleep, or at least
pretended to do so, which was the same thing in its effect on Mrs.
Burton, who soon went to sleep herself.

In reality there was little rest for Katherine that night, for she
was faced by a problem that had never even occurred to her before.
If she followed the desire of her own heart, she stood in the way
of two people. True, she might make Jervis Ferrars happy with her
love, more especially as she was quite sure that he cared for her.
But would there ever come a time when he might be tempted to wish
for more worldly advantages, and to long for the power that money
brings? Lying there in the twilight of the northern summer night,
which was never in that month quite dark, Katherine faced the
future with a steady, single-hearted desire to do the right thing
at all costs. She felt herself doubly bound. Her own love for
Jervis made her hesitate about allowing him to bind himself to a
life of poverty, or at least a life of continuous struggle, such as
marriage with a portionless wife must bring.

But Jervis was only one consideration. There was Mary also to be
thought of. And then it flashed upon Katherine that Mary had even
more claim upon her than Jervis. Ever since 'Duke Radford had been
stricken down, robbed of memory, of understanding, and the power to
think and act for himself, Katherine had carried her father's sin
as if it were a wrongdoing of her own. He had implored her to
expiate it if she could. But how could she? Even the saving grace
of confession was denied to her, for she could not go to Mr.
Selincourt and say: "My father did you a bitter wrong many years
ago; please forgive him, and say no more about it!"

It was true that she and Phil had saved the rich man's life by
pulling him out of the muskeg, but there had been little personal
risk for herself in the matter, although it had been very hard
work, and there were scars on her hands still where the ropes had
cut into the skin. Hard work was not self-sacrifice, however, and
as Katherine understood things it was only by self-sacrifice that
she could expiate her father's sin, if indeed it ever could be
expiated.

Could she do it? Lying there in the mean little room, with the
grey twilight showing outside the open window, she told herself
'No': she could not do it, she could not stand aside and give up to
another what she wanted so badly for herself. But, as the slow
hours stole by, a different mood crept over her. She thought of
the Saviour of the world, and the sacrifices he had made for man;
then prayed for grace to tread the thorny path of self-immolation,
if such action should be required of her.

She dared not rise to kneel and pray, the little bedroom was too
crowded for privacy; and although she often yearned for a room,
however small, to have for her sole use, this was not possible.
Folding her hands on her breast, she prayed for strength to do what
was right, for guidance in the way she had to go, and wisdom to see
the true from the false. Then, because her day's work had made her
so very tired, she fell asleep, and presently began to dream that
she was at the marriage of Mary Selincourt with Jervis Ferrars, and
that it was her place to give away the bride. She was doing her
part, as she believed, faithfully and well, although the dragging
pain at her heart was almost more than she could endure, and the
part of the marriage service had been reached where the ring should
have been put on Mary's hand, when, to her amazement, she found it
was on her own finger.

"Katherine, Katherine, how soundly you sleep, dear! Wake up, we
are quite late this morning!" said Mrs. Burton, and Katherine
opened her tired, heavy eyes to find that Beth and Lotta were
enjoying a lively pillow fight on the other bed, and that their
mother was already half-dressed.

For one moment she lay weakly wishing that she had not to rise to
work, to struggle, and to endure; but the next minute found her out
of bed and thrusting her face into a basin of cold water, which is,
after all, the very best way of gathering up a little courage.

When she was dressed and out in the fresh air things did not look
so bad. Mrs. Burton might have been quite mistaken in thinking
that Mary cared for Jervis Ferrars. In the broad light of the
sunshiny morning the very idea seemed absurd. The rich man's
daughter had a wide circle to choose from; it was scarcely likely
that her choice would fall on a poor man, whose position was little
removed from that of a Hudson Bay fisherman.

Of course it was absurd! Mrs. Burton must have had a sentimental
streak on last night, and she herself was uncommonly foolish to
have been made so miserable for nothing at all.

When Katherine reached this point in her musings her laughter rang
out again, the future brightened up, and she was ready to face
anything the day might bring. Happiness is such a great factor in
one's life; and when that is secured it is easy to make light of
the ordinary ills, troubles, cares, and vexations which are sure to
crop up even in the smoothest kind of existence. But she meant to
watch very closely for some sign which might guide her in gaining
an insight into Mary's heart. She must make absolutely certain
that Mrs. Burton was wrong. It was not easy to see just how she
would be able to do this; but it must be done, of course it must be
done!

The day passed in a feverish round of incessant work. One hour
Katherine was happy as of old, the next hour she was horribly
heartsick and oppressed. But it never once occurred to her that
the reason for this was her exhausted condition from loss of rest
on the previous night.

In the evening Jervis came up from Seal Cove, sat and talked with
'Duke Radford for half an hour, then asked Katherine to come and
walk with him in the woods to see if the wild strawberries were
getting ripe. But she refused, declaring that her head ached,
which, although true, was not the real reason by any means.

"I am afraid you have been working too hard this week," he said
kindly. "I have been very much in the same plight myself, or I
would have come up to help you. Can you save things back for a few
days? As soon as the steamer has gone I shall be quite at leisure,
and will put in a day or two at helping you to get your stores
stowed away."

"It has been hard work, and of course we are to a certain extent
novices at it," Katherine answered. "But the worst is over now
until the next boat comes, when I suppose the confusion will begin
all over again, only of course by then we shall be more used to
managing things."

"You had better go to bed early and get a good night's rest, or I
shall be having you for a patient next, and I am very much afraid
you would not prove a tractable one," he said, more troubled by her
pale cheeks and weary looks than he cared to confess.

"I have never been ill in my life, so I have no idea how the role
of invalid would suit me," she answered with a mirthless laugh,
thinking how very pleasant a stroll in the woods would have been
after her long, hard day of work in the stockrooms.

"I don't think it would suit you at all," he replied. Then he
said, as he rose to go: "As you are not inclined for a walk, I will
go and have a talk with Mr. Selincourt about the plans for the
fish-curing sheds."

Standing aside was dismal work, Katherine told herself; and there
were tears on her pillow when she went to sleep that night.

CHAPTER XIX

An Awkward Fix

Mr. Selincourt was not the man to let the grass grow under his feet
when he had any sort of project in hand. He was so rich, too, that
his schemes never had to suffer delay from want of means to carry
them through. Directly he had made up his mind that he meant to
have a fish-curing establishment at Seal Cove, he had the plans
drawn for the buildings, work which fell to Jervis and Mary; then,
when these were ready, Astor M'Kree was set to work, with as many
helpers as could handle a hammer or a saw with any degree of
dexterity.

Never had there been such a summer of work at Seal Cove; everyone
who could do anything was pressed into service. Some of the
Indians, tempted by wages, were set to work, and although they were
no good at carpentry, or things of that sort, they did very well at
cod-splitting, or, as it was termed, "flaking", and spreading the
fish to dry on the flakes, as the structures were called which had
been erected on a sunny headland, after the fashion of the
fish-flakes at St. John's, Newfoundland, whence the idea was taken.

Already Mr. Selincourt was in treaty for the purchase of land on
both sides of the river. He wanted to possess the river frontage
on each bank of the water, from the bay up to the first portage;
but the drawback to this was that 'Duke Radford owned nearly three
quarters of a mile of frontage close to the store, so it was not
likely that the owner of the fishing fleet would get all the ground
into his own hands.

Mary had a fancy for geology, and when her father had no need of
her help in forwarding his schemes she spent long days in tramping
about the woods and the shore, armed with a hammer and a specimen
bag, and accompanied by one or two of the big dogs from the store.
True to her resolve, she had lost no time in making friends with
the great, fierce creatures, which roamed as they pleased in
summer, as a sort of holiday compensation for the hard work they
had to do in winter, when stores had to be transported by sledges.
She had done her work so thoroughly that the dogs became, not
merely her friends, but her abject slaves, and were ready at any
time to swim the river at her call.

The coast of the bay to the northward was flat and swampy, but
southward from Seal Cove it stretched in bold headlands and
precipitous rocks for mile on mile, until the mouth of the next
river spread acres of swamp 'twixt land and sea. Beyond the
headland on which Mr. Selincourt had erected his fish-flakes there
extended miles of broken ground, with split rocks and riven cliffs
which might have been the result of volcanic upheaval, but were
probably only the product of the intense frost of centuries. This
was Mary's happy hunting ground, a place full of scientific
surprises, and full of dangers too. For the rocks were slippery,
the heights tremendous, and a fall in many places must have meant
certain death.

Jervis Ferrars had been in his boat one morning along the coast to
a certain bay or inlet much beloved of the black-headed gulls.
These birds were valuable either for their plucked feathers, or for
their skins with the feathers left on. They frequented the inlet
in their tens of thousands, and it had occurred to him that it
might be good business to secure a couple of thousand skins, and
get them dry for packing by the time the next boat arrived,
probably in the middle of August.

He had beached his boat, and spent an hour or more wandering round
the crags, and planning the campaign against the luckless gulls,
which dozed in sleepy content on the sunny slopes of the inlet.
Then, taking to his boat again, he pulled himself back towards Seal
Cove, maturing his plans on the way. He was passing a rocky
promontory just before reaching the fish-flakes, when he heard a
yelping noise, and, looking up, saw a big dog running to and fro on
the rocks in evident distress. But there were so many big dogs
running loose in the woods and the wilds at this time of the year,
and as they were mostly in distress over something or other, he
took very little notice of the creature, and, working steadily on,
arrived in due course at the fish shed.

Jervis was tired, having pulled many miles through a choppy sea
with the wind against him, and he was thinking that it would be
really pleasant to sit writing for an hour or two somewhere out of
the roaring of the wind. Entering his office, he took off his
jacket and sat down on the rough stool before the equally rough
desk where his clerical work was principally done.

But he had not entered two items in his book of takings when Mr.
Selincourt came in hastily, with a worried look on his face.

"Have you seen Mary in your travels?" he asked.

"No; I didn't even know that Miss Selincourt was at Seal Cove this
morning," Jervis answered, looking up from his writing.

"She came down a good two hours before I did; said she wanted to go
over the rocks to test some ironstone formation which she
discovered the other day. She promised to be back here to meet me
when I arrived, but that is three hours ago, and she has not come
yet."

Jervis sat looking at him in an abstracted fashion, as if trying to
settle some clue which threatened to escape him; then, with a
start, he asked: "Had she a dog with her?"

"Most likely; she never moves very far without one or two of those
great brutes from the store to keep her company, and a good thing
too. I always feel more comfortable about her then, than if she
were alone."

Jervis jumped up and began to pull on his jacket with nervous
haste. He was remembering the dog he had seen on the rocks an hour
or two ago, and the creature's evident distress, which probably
meant that Miss Selincourt was in trouble also.

"What is the matter?" demanded Mr. Selincourt.

"Nothing, I hope. But as I came home a while ago from the inlet I
noticed a dog on the rocks, a big creature that seemed in trouble.
I didn't think much of it then, but of course it must have been the
animal that was with Miss Selincourt, so I am going to see if she
is all right," Jervis answered.

"I will come with you," said Mr. Selincourt.

"Please, no; I can go faster alone. And if she is not really in
difficulties we might both miss her, and have a long, anxious hunt
for no purpose at all. If you will walk over beyond the
fish-flakes, and come to the rocks from that direction, you will
either meet her or meet me," Jervis said, then hurried off to his
boat, which was drawn up on the shore at a little distance from the
fish shed.

It must have been two miles away, perhaps three, that he had seen
the dog, and now he blamed himself because he had not taken more
notice of its trouble. The worst of it was, he was not quite sure
as to where he had seen the creature. The sky was overcast, and
the weather looked so threatening that, unless he could find Miss
Selincourt soon, and hurry her home, she would scarcely escape a
very bad wetting.

Resting on his oars, he sent out a mighty shout, then waited with
every sense on the alert. One minute passed--two--and when five
minutes had gone he shouted again, following this up with a whistle
so piercing that it fetched a distant echo from the rocks.

But was it an echo?

The sound had scarcely died away when it was repeated again. A
moment later Jervis heard it yet again, and knew for a certainty
that it was no echo, but someone whistling back to him.

The breeze had freshened to a gale that roared in his ears like
thunder, as he drew his boat high up beyond reach of the tide that
was running in strongly; and when the boat was safe he set out to
climb the rocks. Up, and up, a dizzy height he went, finding
foothold with difficulty, for what looked like solid rock had a
trick of crumbling when stepped upon, just as if it were rotten
mortar.

But he reached the top at last, and paused to look about him,
holding fast with both hands, for the force of the wind at this
height was so great that he feared lest he should be blown away.

On one side was the bay, with great waves, foam-crested, rolling
in, to break with a thunderous roar on the beach. Spread out on
the other hand was the wild, rocky waste, full of dangers now, for
in the deep valleys between great rock boulders the incoming tide
was rising and making deep pools where a little before had been dry
ground.

It was these pools that Jervis feared. If Mary had slipped into one
of these deep places she might easily be caught by the rising
flood, and drowned before help could reach her.

The mere thought turned him sick, and he whistled shrilly as before.

The answering whistle came so promptly, and sounded so close, that
he started in surprise, then shouted: "Where are you?"

"Here," replied a voice that sounded so close, so audibly that he
looked round in mystification. Then he saw a deep gulch yawning
below him, and caught the flutter of a handkerchief on the far
side. But how could he reach there? Down he plunged with reckless
haste, having little or no regard for his own safety--and, indeed,
he who hesitated here was lost, for at every step the rock crumbled
and slid under his weight.

"It will be queer work getting back!" he said to himself, then
pressed onward to reach the side of the gulch, where now he could
see Mary Selincourt crouched on a narrow ledge or shelf against a
perpendicular cliff, while the water was rising higher and higher,
creeping nearer and nearer to where she sat.

How could he rescue her from there? One hope he had, that her
shelf might be above high-water mark, in which case patient
endurance would be all that was needed until the tide ran out
again. A glance at the wall of cliff behind Mary proved this hope
to be futile, for the mark of the water showed above her head, and
if she were not rescued speedily, he could only stand by and see
her drown.

"Are you hurt?" he called out when he had scrambled low enough to
talk to her.

"I have twisted my foot rather badly," she said in an exhausted
tone, "and I seem to have been shouting and whistling for help for
so long. I had great difficulty to make the dog leave me and go
for help, but I think it understood at last, because it went off at
such a pace."

"Well, we must get you out of this as soon as possible, for the
tide is coming up fast. Do you mind a wetting!" he asked, creeping
down to the edge of the dividing water, and wondering whether he
could wade or if he must swim.

"Mind or not mind, I shall get one, I expect," she answered, with a
nervous laugh. "Be careful, Mr. Ferrars, there is a very deep
place just below this shelf, and the water showed there before
anywhere else; it seemed to ooze up from the bottom."

"I must swim for it, then, I suppose," he said, pulling off his
jacket and his boots; then, slipping into the water, he struck out
and crossed the strip of rising tide, which lay like a river along
the bottom of the gulch.

But when he reached the shelf it was above him, and the cliff was
too steep for climbing.

"You must roll off that shelf and drop into the water," he said in
a sharp, decided tone.

"Oh, I dare not! I cannot swim, and I might be drowned!" cried
Mary, her face turning ashen white.

"You won't drown--I will catch you. But make haste, this water is
so cold that I am afraid of cramp," Jervis said, feeling his teeth
chatter. Although it was July, there was so much ice in the bay in
the shape of floating bergs that the water was of course fearfully
chill.

"I can't do it; I simply can't!" she cried, with a shudder. "Mr.
Ferrars, I would rather lie here and drown than have to roll off
into that dreadful water. All my life I have been a coward, and it
is of no use expecting me to be brave now."

"You must do as you choose, of course, as you are too high up for
me to be able to reach you," he said, keeping his voice as steady
as he could, although his teeth were chattering still; "but all the
time you stay there you keep me here, so in compassing your own
death you compass mine also."

"Go away, Mr. Ferrars, go away, and save yourself," she groaned.
"I cannot, I dare not, plunge into that dreadful water!"

"You must; there is no other way to safety. Come, be a brave girl,
and take the plunge," he urged, a note of entreaty coming into his
tone, for life was sweet to him, sweeter than it had ever been
before, and it was dreadful to think that he must throw it away
because this wilful girl refused to allow herself to be saved. But
she only covered her face with her hands, moaning and crying
because of the panic that had her in its grip.

Then Jervis felt himself lifted higher; the water was rising fast,
and now, by straining upward and reaching as far as he could, he
managed just to touch the shelf whereon Mary was crouched,

"Here I am. Now, take my hand and come," he said urgently.

She only covered her face with her hands and moaned, but would not
stir nor look up.

In that narrow gulch they were sheltered from the wind, but the
rain was beginning to pour down in torrents, and Jervis thought
grimly that she would soon be as wet as if she had taken the plunge.

He was kicking vigorously in the water, and was thankful to find
that, now he had got over the first chill, his teeth were not
chattering so miserably.

Another ten minutes, he reckoned, would put him high enough in the
water to scramble on to the ledge, and then it would have to be a
tussle of physical strength, if necessary, for he meant to save
Mary somehow, whether she would let him or not.

The minutes dragged slowly on, the rain beat down with tempestuous
violence, and in that dreary gulch it was dark, almost like night.
But the water was rising still, and putting out all his strength
Jervis dragged himself up on to the shelf of rock. Mary saw him
coming. Then she scrambled to her feet with a cry of fear, and,
before he could stretch out an arm to save her, reeled and toppled
over into the water.

CHAPTER XX

Katherine Makes a Discovery

Katherine was having a thorough turn-out of the store. Everything
was off the shelves, the cobwebs had all been swept from the
ceiling, and now, armed with a scrubbing-brush, she was cleaning
all the shelves with soap and water. To use her own expression, it
was "horridly" dirty work. But it had to be done, so the sooner it
was got through and finished the better. She had done the top
shelves all round, and, changing the water in her pail, had started
on the next lot and was scrubbing vigorously, when she heard a
long-drawn, mournful howl from the other side of the river.

"That is Hero," she said to herself in surprise; and then,
remembering that Mary Selincourt had called for the dog that
morning on her way down river, she came down the ladder, and, going
to the door, looked out.

There was Hero plainly enough, a big black-and-white dog, which,
while looking like a Newfoundland, had such a marked aversion to
water that it would never swim if it could avoid doing so.
Katherine would have turned back to her work, and left the dog to
remain where it was until someone came along with a boat, but she
remembered that Mary had wanted the dog to accompany her in a
ramble, and so it was rather disquieting to find the creature had
wandered home again.

Sitting on its haunches, the dog was flinging up its head for
another howl, but, chancing to catch sight of Katherine, it broke
into eager barking instead, pleading so plainly for a dry journey
across the river that, with a laugh at her own weak yielding, she
ran down to the bank, and, getting into the boat which was moored
there ready for anyone who might want it, rowed across to the other
side, where the dog awaited her in a perfect ecstasy of welcome.

She had no hat on, the sleeves of her cotton blouse were rolled up
over her elbow, and she wore still the big rough apron she had
donned for scrubbing. It struck her, as she crossed the river,
that the wind was very cold, and that the day was grey and
cheerless, now the clouds had hidden the sun.

Hero jumped into the boat, and, crouching at Katherine's feet,
fawned upon her with great affection and delight.

"Oh, yes, you are very glad to see me, I have no doubt, but really
you are a fearful fraud to bring me away from my work on a busy day
like this, by pretending you cannot swim, when it is plain you have
been in the water, for you are dripping with wet!" Katherine said,
seeing the water which ran from the dog's thick coat as it sat in
the boat thumping a grateful tail in thanksgiving. Then she
noticed that the dog had something tied round its neck which looked
like a silk waist-belt, and that a handkerchief was knotted to the
belt.

"Something is wrong!" she muttered to herself; then, reaching the
other side, she moored her boat and proceeded to investigate the
message wrapped About the dog's neck.

A scrap of paper with writing upon it was crumpled up in the
handkerchief, and spreading this out she read:

"Please come and help me, for I have had a tumble
down a steep rock and twisted my foot. I can't walk,
and I am on a ledge deep down a gulch near the sea,
on the rocks beyond the fish-flakes.
MARY SELINCOURT."

"Deep down in a gulch near the sea," quoth Katherine to herself
with a puzzled frown; then she jumped up with a cry. "I know where
it is; that gulch is one of the tideholes, and she will be drowned
if I don't make haste!"

Out of the boat she bounded, and rushed up the slope to the store.
Springing over the confusion of canisters and boxes, she hurried
into the house, where Mrs. Burton was sitting at work making new
frocks for the twins.

"Nellie, will you look after the store for an hour? I should lock
the door if I were you, and refuse to serve anyone who comes, for
it is confusion thrice confounded in there, and I don't think you
would be able to find things if you tried."

"What is the matter, dear?" asked Mrs. Burton, looking up and
seeing how frightened her sister seemed.

"Hero has just come home, and I have found tied to his neck a note
from Mary, saying that she has sprained her ankle and is lying in
one of the tide-holes beyond the fish-flakes. I must hurry down to
Seal Cove as hard as I can row, for the tide is coming in now, and
she may be in danger."

"Are there none of the portage men who could go with you to help
you?" asked Mrs. Burton.

"I may find one at Seal Cove, but there are none here. One went
down river early with Mary, the other rowed Mr. Selincourt down an
hour or more ago. I will be back as soon as I can, dear; or it may
be that Miles and Phil will get in first: but keep the store locked
until someone comes."

"Indeed I will; trust me for that!" said Mrs. Burton, dropping her
work and following Katherine to the door to see her start.

As Katherine turned back to say something, two steps from the
threshold, a coil of strong cord hung on the house wall caught her
attention, and after a moment's hesitation she reached up and took
it down. It was the identical coil of rope that she and Phil had
had in the boat that day when they came home from Fort Garry and
found Mr. Selincourt in the muskeg. It had slipped aside and been
forgotten until a day or two ago, when Katherine had found it,
scrubbed it clean of muskeg mire, and hung it up to dry in the
sunshine, and again forgotten it. She had flung on a coat, because
her blouse showed signs of the hard, dirty work she had been doing,
and had crammed a woollen cap on her head to hide the roughness of
her hair.

"Are you going to take the dog? He will only make you more work,"
said Mrs. Burton, as Hero leaped into the boat and took his place
as a complacent passenger, looking on at the work being done.

"Yes, I must. The old dog is very wise; he will guide us quickly
to where Mary is lying," Katherine said. Then she threw off the
mooring rope, rowed out to midstream, where she could get the full
advantage of the current, and then began to row down river as fast
as she could pull.

The sky was still overcast, the wind howled through the trees, and
it was so chill that she was glad of her coat, despite the vigorous
exercise which she was getting in rowing. Never had it taken so
long to get to Seal Cove, or so it seemed in her impatient haste;
and after the first half-mile the current did not help her, for the
tide was coming in fast and making itself felt.

Seal Cove appeared to be deserted when she got there. Neither of
the portage men was to be seen, although both the Selincourt boats
were drawn up side by side on the beach near the fish shed. The
office was locked and the key gone. Katherine looked round in
despair and shouted at the top of her voice for help. Surely
someone must be within hearing distance, although the place looked
entirely devoid of life, except for some fishing boats a mile or
two out from shore, and beating into harbour against the strong
wind, which was blowing half a gale, perhaps more.

The shouts brought Mrs. Jenkin to the door of her house, with an
ailing babe tucked under her arm and two small children clinging to
her ragged skirt.

"Dear, dear, Miss Radford, what is the matter? Why, you look just
awful!" exclaimed the good woman, jogging the wailing babe up and
down, to still its fretful complaining.

"I can't find anyone, Mrs. Jenkin, and I want help so badly. Where
are all the men? Miss Selincourt has hurt her foot out on the
rocks beyond the fish-flakes, and I am afraid she may be caught by
the tide before she can be rescued," Katherine said anxiously.

"Dear, dear, what is to be done? I don't believe there is a man
about the place, unless it is Oily Dave. Mr. Ferrars went away in
his boat at dawn, and I don't know that he is back yet. I'd go
with you myself, dear, but I can't leave the babies," Mrs. Jenkin
said, with so much concern and sympathy that Katherine gulped down
something closely related to a sob before replying.

"Will you find Oily Dave and tell him to come on after me as fast
as he can? Tell him there is money in the job, then perhaps he
will hurry. If any more men come, send them on after me. And do
have a kettle of water boiling, so that we can give Miss Selincourt
a cup of coffee or something when we get her back here," said
Katherine, then hurried away, the coil of rope flung over her arm,
the dog following close at her heels.

It was a long way over a rough track to the rocks. The easier and
shorter process would have been to go round by boat, if only there
had been quieter water and less wind; but she knew very well that
it would take more strength than her one pair of arms possessed to
row a boat through such a sea, so she was forced to take the
landward route.

When she reached the fish-flakes it was as much as she could do to
stand against the wind, and in crossing the headland her pace was
of the slowest. She had expected to find someone up here, the
portage men perhaps, or some Indians attending to the hundreds and
thousands of fish which were spread out drying in the sun and wind;
but there was no one. She did not know, of course, that Mr.
Selincourt had passed that way half an hour before, and had
summoned the portage men to help him to search for Mary among the
rocks. Looking back, she could see Oily Dave coming along at a
shuffling pace behind her, and with an imperious wave of the hand
to hurry his movements she sped onward now at a quicker pace,
because the ground was descending, and the hill behind her broke
the force of the wind. At the bottom of the hill there were two
tracks, both of which led round among the gulches or tideholes,
only by different ways and to different points, and it was here
that Katherine knew she would be at fault.

Hero still trotted contentedly just behind, as if perfectly
satisfied that she should take the lead. But a mistake now might
be disastrous and waste hours of time; so, calling the dog forward,
she began to talk to him in an eager, caressing fashion: "Good old
Hero, clever old dog, go and find Mary! Mary wants you ever so
badly; hurry up, old chappy, hurry up!"

The dog threw up its head with an eager whine, and looked round as
if to make certain where Mary was to be found,

"Mary, Mary, find her, go along!" cried Katherine; then with a
short bark Hero turned to the track leading seawards, and set off
at a trot, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left.

Katherine groaned. The tideholes nearest the sea naturally filled
first, and it could not be very far from high tide already.
Looking back, she saw Oily Dave gaining upon her, and waved to him
again to make haste. It was of no use to shout, because the wind
was blowing from him to her, and so her voice would not carry.
Then a dash of cold rain struck her from behind, and thankful she
was that it was behind, for if it had struck her in the face she
could hardly have stood against it. Right in front of her Hero was
trotting forward with head carried well in the air, and an eager
alertness in every limb. It was clear the creature felt no
uncertainty about its movements, and the feeling that she was going
right was an unspeakable comfort to Katherine, who toiled along in
the rear.

Suddenly the dog stopped dead short, flung up its head with a
weird, dismal howl, then bounded forward at a headlong pace.

What had it heard?

Katherine tried to run too, but the track was uphill now, and the
force of the wind caught her the higher she got. Panting,
breathless, her heart beating with fierce, irregular thumps, she
toiled up the rocky track, and, crossing the summit, began to
descend on the other side.

The gulch was before her now. When she had seen it last it was a
rocky valley, deep in the cliffs, and floored with boulders. Now
it was a long pool, for the tide was in, and the sea, working
through the porous, frost-riven rocks, had half-filled it with
water. Katherine, approaching the gulch from the landward side,
was coming to the place from an opposite direction to that by which
Jervis Ferrars had reached it, and her path downwards was much
easier than his had been.

She was hesitating whether it was of any use to go in, thinking the
dog must have led her wrong after all, when she caught sight of
something bobbing up and down in the water--something that looked
like a man's head, and at which Hero was barking furiously.

She ran then with flying, reckless feet, jumping from boulder to
boulder, slipping and sliding, but, as she said afterwards, going
too fast to fall. The person in the water had put up a wet hand,
crying hoarsely for help, and the leaping, suffocating bound which
her heart gave told her that it was Jervis Ferrars who needed her.

"Can you catch the rope if I throw it?" she cried, flinging the
coil on the ground so that it might unwind easily.

"Yes," he said in an exhausted tone, which showed her that she had
come only just in time.

As she threw the line she wondered with sick fear in her heart
where Mary could be, then saw, to her surprise, that Jervis was
holding something up in the water, and understood why he had been
unable to land his burden on the steep, shelving bank.

Directly he had caught the rope with his one free hand, she rushed
a few steps back up the hill to wind the other end round a tall,
upstanding boulder; then hurrying back she began to pull gently on
the rope, which Jervis had managed to twist round his arm.

She had forgotten all about Oily Dave, and was fairly startled when
his voice sounded close to her, saying: "I've got the rope; see if
you can ketch 'old of the gal quick, for he's got cramp, sure as
blazes!"

Katherine made a dash forward, entered the water nearly to her
waist, and, seizing Mary with one hand, clutched at Jervis with the
other, holding both until Oily Dave came to her aid and dragged
Mary's unconscious form out of the water, while she stood clinging
to Jervis, unable to lift him, and fearing that he would slip from
her arms back into the water.

Then Oily Dave came back, and, with much puffing and snorting,
assisted her in dragging Jervis out of the water also, while Hero
barked like a wild thing, and capered round in mad delight because
the rescue had been effected. The barking did good, too, for it
brought Mr. Selincourt and the two portage men hurrying to the
spot, where they found Katherine doing what she could for Mary, who
still lay in limp unconsciousness, while Oily Dave worked with
perspiring energy at rubbing the cramped limbs of Jervis.

"Miss Selincourt is not drowned, she has not been under water long
enough," Jervis said faintly. "I think she has just swooned from
sheer terror."

"That is what it looks like," said Mr. Selincourt, with a sudden
great relief coming into his tone. Then he stripped off his jacket
to wrap his daughter in: the other men stripped off their jackets
also, the drenching rain wetting them to the skin in about two
minutes; but Mary must be wrapped as warmly as possible, and some
kind of a litter had to be improvised in which to carry her.

She stirred slightly, put up her hand, and showed signs of
returning life, and then her father determined to wait no longer,
but to carry her off to Seal Cove as quickly as possible, sending
the men back afterwards to bring Jervis. But by this time, with
the help of Oily Dave, Ferrars had managed to struggle to his feet,
and declared that he would walk back to Seal Cove, if someone would
help him.

Katherine came round to him then, saying simply: "If you will lean
on me, the men can carry Miss Selincourt, and if you cannot get all
the way I can stay with you until the men come back for you."

"Thank you, my dear, you are a brave, good girl," said Mr.
Selincourt, and then he hurried away to help the two portage men
and Oily Dave to carry Mary across the hills to Seal Cove.

The only litter they had was formed by spreading their jackets
under her, then lifting her so and carrying her as best they
could--no easy task, for she was well grown and well nourished, and
in her present condition of collapse she lay a dead weight on their
arms.

The progress of Jervis was at first but a feeble crawl, while the
bitter wind seemed to go through him and the driving rain took his
breath away. It was the middle of summer, but when the sun hid its
face, and the wind blew from the north, it was hard to remember how
hot it had been only yesterday.

"Can you bear it?" asked Katherine anxiously, as he shivered and
shook, clinging to her because he had so little strength to stand
against the blast.

"I must bear it," he answered; "at least it is safer than sitting
still. Does the wind often come as chilly as this at midsummer?"

"There are occasional days like this, but the cold don't last long,
and then the sun shines again. Do you think you would be a little
warmer if I walked in front of you?" she asked wistfully, for his
evident suffering, and her own impotence to relieve it, hurt her
dreadfully.

"I don't think the gain of having you for a wind buffer would make
up for losing you as a crutch," he said, as he hobbled slowly along
in his stockinged feet. He had kicked off his shoes when he went
to the aid of Mary, and the rising tide had floated them away.

"I am glad that I am so useful," she said, with a nervous little
laugh. She was wet through herself, and shivering with cold and
fright, yet despite these drawbacks the occasion was like a
festival, and her heart was singing for joy.

"How did you know?" he asked, trying to understand how she chanced
to be on hand at the critical moment with a rope.

"Mary had written a note and tied it round the dog's neck, then
sent the creature for help. I found it howling on the other bank
of the river, and went over to fetch the poor thing home; then I
found the note, and came as quickly as I could," she answered.

"You came just in time for me," he said in a shaken voice. "I
don't think that I could possibly have held out five minutes
longer, because of cramp, and I could not lift Miss Selincourt out
of the water."

"I don't think I could have done it either if it had not been for
Oily Dave," Katherine answered, a quiver of mirth stirring her
tones. "Fancy Oily Dave as a rescuer of people in direful straits!
We shall have him posing as a public benefactor soon!"

"He has long been a private benefactor, or at least I have regarded
him as such," Jervis said slowly.

"What do you mean?" she asked, looking at him in surprise, and
wondering if he had forgotten the grim incident of the flood.

"I feel grateful to him, and always shall, because he left me in
the lurch that day when the water came in. I had to owe my life to
you that day; and but for you and your rope I must have perished
to-day, Katherine. I am really very much in your debt. Do you
think I shall ever be able to repay you?"

"Of course; if not me, then someone else. Such things are always
passed on," she said lightly.

"Of choice I would rather pay my debt in this case, if indeed it
can be paid, to the person to whom I owe it," he said, with a slow
emphasis which made her heart beat tumultuously. Then she
remembered that it was her duty to stand aside for Mary's sake, and
that she must not let this man love her if Mary had set her own
affections upon him, as Nellie had more than hinted.

A cold shiver shook Katherine then, for now the chill came from
within as well as without, and the dreary day wrapped her exhausted
body in its dismal discomfort.

"Don't talk," she said with a touch of authority in her tone.
"Save your strength for enduring. See, here comes a man running
down from the fish-flakes; he has come to help us, and now we shall
get on faster, you will find."

CHAPTER XXI

Matter for Heartache

Three days had passed away, and life had dropped into its
accustomed monotony again. Mrs. Burton said there never was
anything to vary the sameness of existence at Roaring Water Portage
unless someone was in danger of his or her life, and really events
had a way of proving her to be right. When Katherine had rushed
off in such a hurry that day, to help Mary Selincourt out of her
fix, Mrs. Burton had left her sewing, and, taking her sister's work
in hand, had finished cleaning the shelves, then restored to them
the various canisters and boxes according to her own ideas of
neatness, instead of with any remembrance as to how they had been
arranged previously.

On reaching home that afternoon, wet, cold, weary, and with chill
foreboding in her heart, Katherine's first sensation was one of
lively gratitude to Nellie for having dispersed the confusion she
had left behind when she departed so hurriedly. But when a
customer came in a little later for a quarter of a pound of
mustard, and it took half an hour of hard searching to find it,
Katherine began to wonder whether after all it would not have been
easier to have been left to deal singlehanded with the confusion on
the floor, for at least she had known where to find things.

Then someone wanted corn-flour, which entailed a still longer
search; but the culminating point came when Mrs. M'Kree sent down
in hot haste for carbonate of soda and dried mint, to make some
remedy for an unexpected attack of dyspepsia. It took exactly one
hour and ten minutes by the clock to find the carbonate of soda,
followed by ten minutes' active search for the mint. After this
experience Katherine decided that tidiness might be too dearly
bought, and set to work to re-arrange matters after a more
practical pattern.

But all this took time, and, with her other work added on,
effectually prevented her having time for moping, which was of
course a very good thing. She had not seen Jervis since the slow
walk from the rocks to Seal Cove; but she knew that he had spent
the next day in bed with a bad chill and some fever. Mary was at
Seal Cove for two days, but had been brought up river on the
previous evening, and was now being looked after by Mrs. Burton,
who was never quite so happy as when she had some invalid to care
for.

Miles and Phil had gone over to Fort Garry that morning. Katherine
ought to have gone, but in view of the confusion which still
existed on the shelves it hardly seemed safe to leave Miles in
charge, because he had a habit, when he could not find the right
thing, of supplying something else which looked almost like it. So
when Katherine found him tying up an ounce of caustic soda, in
place of the tartaric acid which had been ordered, it seemed high
time to interfere, and she had sent him off with Phil to do her
work, while she remained at home sorting out the contents of the
shelves.

Mrs. Burton had been over the river to look after Mary, and had
come back again, leaving Hero as a sort of deputy nurse and
caretaker, in addition to the portage man who was on duty that day.
Mr. Selincourt had been down to Seal Cove, and had returned; then
Katherine, at work on her knees in the far corner of the store,
heard someone enter, and, coming out of her corner, found that one
of the portage men had brought her a note from Mary. It ran:--

"Dear Katherine,
Can you come over and spend an hour with
me this evening when the store is closed? I feel that
I want to see you more than anyone else in the world.
Please come.
MARY."

"Miss Selincourt said that a message would do for answer," said the
man who had brought the note.

Katherine hesitated about what that answer should be. In her heart
of hearts she knew very well that she did not want to go away that
evening. Jervis had not been up the river for three days, so he
would be almost sure to come that evening, and she wanted to be at
home when he came, to see for herself that he was none the worse
for the long immersion in the water, and the painful barefooted
walk to Seal Cove.

But the hesitancy did not last long, and, setting her face in
sterner lines than usual, Katherine told the man that she would
certainly pay Miss Selincourt a visit that evening when her work
was done.

If the work dragged a little after that, and the day lost something
of the zest which had marked it before, no one guessed it but
herself. She was bright and cheerful, teasing Miles, when he came
home, about some fancied indignity which he had received at the
hands of the Indians, and rallying Mrs. Burton on the awful
confusion wrought by her reforms in the store.

Not even to herself would Katherine admit how much she dreaded the
simple friendly visit she had promised to pay that evening. She
was afraid that she would see some look or sign of what she feared
most to know. Mary Selincourt was a reserved, self-controlled
girl, but it is her sort of nature which sometimes betrays itself
most completely in moments of emotional strain, and Katherine at
this time was very much like an ostrich, being disposed to believe
that the thing she could not see did not exist.

'Duke Radford spent most of his days sitting in the sunshine. He
talked cheerfully, withal a trifle incoherently, to all of his
friends and neighbours who came to gossip with him; but he was
always at his best when Mr. Selincourt or Jervis Ferrars was there
to talk to him, for they spoke of things right away from the
ordinary course of daily life, and his mind was clearest about the
matters which in other days had concerned him least. But neither
Mr. Selincourt nor Jervis Ferrars had been near for three days, and
the invalid plainly moped, missing the companionship that cheered
him most.

"I am so glad you are going over to sit with Mary to-night, because
that will probably mean that Mr. Selincourt will come here, and he
will be sure to cheer Father up," Mrs. Burton said, when Katherine
came in for a hurried cup of tea before finishing her work in the
store.

"He does look tired and sad to-day," Katherine answered wistfully.
She could bear her father's condition better when he was cheerful
and at ease, but when, as to-day, life seemed a burden to him, then
her heart ached at the sight of his suffering.

The last half-hour in the store that evening was harder than the
whole of the day which had gone before. The heat was intense, the
flies swarmed black in every direction, and, failing other food,
appeared anxious to make a meal from Katherine's face; while the
customers who thronged the store in unusual numbers seemed all to
require the articles most awkward and uncomfortable to serve.
There was a run on pickled pork, on brawn canned in Cincinnati, on
soap, molasses, and lard; while at least four customers demanded
rock brimstone, flour of sulphur, or some other variety of that
valuable but homely remedy common to every back-country store.

They were all disposed of at last, however, and then, bidding Miles
shut the door quickly before anyone else came, Katherine went away
to change her dress and get ready for her visit to Mary. Her best
frock went on to-night. She had so few frocks, and these few had
to be chosen with so much regard to utility, that there was a
uniformity about them which might well pall upon a girl who loved
pretty things. The best frock was a severely plain garment of
dark-blue woollen stuff, but it was relieved by a shirt of soft
white muslin, and, because a pretty girl always looks charming in a
plain frock, Katherine in her dark blue was simply bewitching.

Phil rowed her over the river, bragging all the way of the manner
in which he was beginning to handle the oars. And then, at
Katherine's suggestion, he waited to see if Mr. Selincourt would go
over and visit the store for an hour or so.

Katherine found Mary lying on a couch under the open window,
looking pale and worn, with a very tired expression. Mr.
Selincourt was reading to her, but when Katherine suggested the
waiting boat, and 'Duke Radford's loneliness, she at once declared
her father ought to go over and pay the invalid a visit.

"You have been shut up with a fractious convalescent nearly the
whole day, dear Daddy, and I am sure it will be a pleasant change
to go and chat with Mr. Radford, who is always serene," she said
urgently; and so, more to please her than himself, her father said
he would go.

"Come down and see me into the boat, Miss Katherine; it won't hurt
Mary to be alone, and I want to say thank you for coming to the
rescue so promptly the other day," he said.

"I don't want to be thanked, but I will show you the way to the
boat with pleasure, if you are afraid of getting lost _en route_,"
Katherine said with a laugh, but falling into his mood, because she
saw he wished to say something to her alone.

When they were beyond earshot of the open window, he said
anxiously: "Don't you think Mary looks very badly?"

"She looks fearfully tired," Katherine answered.

"Yes, that is it. And the tiredness comes from mental strain.
Poor Mary! It seems so hard for her to be happy, yet in all her
life she has never lacked anything she wanted save one, and even
that I am in hopes she will get yet, if only she has the patience
to wait for it."

Katherine's heart gave a painful bound. What was this one thing
that Mary Selincourt wanted but could not have--yet? But she could
not answer the question with any satisfaction to herself, and she
stood silently watching while Mr. Selincourt took his place in the
boat. Then she turned and went back up the path again: but her
feet dragged in spite of herself; it was as if some instinct told
her she was going to meet a heartache.

Mary welcomed her back with a smile, and, reaching out her arm,
dragged a comfortable chair nearer the couch. "Come and sit here,
you poor, tired Katherine. What a shame that you should have had
to toil all day, until your very feet ache with tiredness, while I
have lain here and sighed because the hours crept along so slowly!"

"But that is only because you could not use your foot; you don't
find time drag when you are able to get about," Katherine remarked,
setting her head back against the cushions with a sigh of content,
for the chair was of a restful pattern, and she was tired enough to
feel the cushions a welcome luxury.

"No, indeed, I can always make sure of interest and amusement when
I have two feet available for service, but I was not cut out for
the peaceful avocation of the couch invalid, and I just loathe
inaction. I would rather have had your day," Mary said with a sigh.

"Are you sure? To begin with, you don't know what sort of a day I
have had, and to continue, you have never had to work for your
living, and don't know how it feels," Katherine rejoined, thinking
of the stuffy heat of the store, the flies, the pickled pork, and
the molasses, which had all tried her patience so sorely in the
latter part of the day.

Mary's face took on an injured expression. "Do you think it is
quite kind of you to taunt me with never having tasted the sweets
of independence?" she asked.

"But you are independent of the necessity to toil," said Katherine.

"That is not true independence. Riches might take to themselves
wings, banks might break, investments fail, then where should I be?
I am only independent because fate has given me the use of money I
have never earned. But you are different; you can carve your own
destiny, and are master of yourself."

"Am I? Don't indulge in any such mistaken ideas, I beg of you,"
broke in Katherine, with a little grimace as in fancy she smelled
again the soap and the brimstone which had offended her so much in
the store. "I set out to be a school teacher, and came home from
Montreal with my head packed full of theories concerning how
teaching ought to be done, and how I meant to do it. The first
disappointment came when I found there were no children of school
age obtainable, except Miles and Phil; for it is very hard to
theorize upon one's own kith and kin, at least I found it so.
Night school, also, is not an easy practice-ground for new methods,
which was disappointment number two; and then came Father's
illness, which has settled once and for all the question of my
teaching, and has caged me up to the business of the store, whether
I would or no. So how can I carve my own destiny, pray?"

Mary clapped her hands. "Why, can't you see that is what you are
doing all the time? In spite of adverse circumstances you have
done your very utmost, and consequently your very best. You have
been brave, patient, cheerful, and always you have spent yourself
for others until----"

"Oh, spare me any more, and let us talk about something else!"
cried Katherine impatiently; her cheeks were getting hot, and her
memory was pointing to many a time when she had been neither brave,
nor patient, nor cheerful.

"Yes, of course we will talk of something else, and now you shall
have the reverse of the picture, for I want to talk about myself,"
Mary said, with a quick flush which made the heart of the other
turn chill and cold, with dread of what might be coming next.

"Self is a sorry subject for over-much meditation, don't you think?
And introspection is very bad for invalids," Katherine said
nervously.

"I'm not an invalid, not in that sense at least; I am only
incapacitated through having twisted my ankle. But I simply must
confide in somebody, or I don't know what will happen to me. I
can't open my heart to my daddy; he has had cares enough concerning
me already; while if I tried to tell Mrs. Burton she would be so
shocked that she would refuse to come and look after me any more;
then whatever would become of me until I can get about and look
after myself again?"

Katherine laughed, although her heart was heavy as lead. It was
plain she would have to be taken into confidence whether she would
or no. It was equally plain that she would have to face the
consequences afterwards, for she was not the sort of girl who would
be untrue to herself.

"So you have no scruples about shocking me? Or is it that you
think I am not easily shocked?"

"A little of both, I think," Mary replied with a sigh of relief.
"The fact is, you are so strong and brave that you inspire
confidence."

"Is that meant for a compliment, and do I have to feel grateful?"
asked Katherine.

"That is as you please. But tell someone I must, or I think the
miserable business will wear me out, for I cannot sleep.
Katherine, I was nearly suicide and murderer too on that awful
morning in the tide-hole."

"What nonsense! What will you be saying next?" cried Katherine
with forced cheerfulness; but the colour faded from her cheeks.

"I am not talking nonsense, but unvarnished truth. I might have
been saved easily enough, and Mr. Ferrars need have suffered no
inconvenience save a wetting, but for my own fault; for he was
there long before the water reached the place where I had fallen."

"But why----?" began Katherine, then stopped short, remembering
that she did not want to ask questions, nor to seek information.

"But why wasn't I saved before, were you going to say?" said Mary.
"Because I would not let myself be. The fact is, down at the
bottom I am a coward, just that and nothing more. My life has been
so sheltered and easy, too, that there has been nothing to stir
into activity any latent bravery that I might have had. Mr.
Ferrars could not reach me, or it is probable he would have pulled
me from the ledge where I was lying by sheer force. As it was, he
waited in the water for a long lime, until the tide rose high
enough for him to reach me. It was almost high enough; I realized
that in another moment I should be dragged into the water, whether
I would or no, and I just felt that I could not bear it: so I
sprang up with a wild impulse to rush somewhere, anywhere--but I
had forgotten my twisted ankle, the pain from which was so intense
that I reeled, lost my balance, and was into the water all in a
moment."

"Anyone might have felt like that, and acted just the same under
the circumstances," said Katherine, pitifully. This confession was
so utterly different from anything she had expected to hear that
her heart grew lighter in spite of herself.

Mary laughed in a dreary, mirthless fashion. "Do you know it is a
bitter humiliation to me to owe my life to Jervis Ferrars?" she
said brusquely.

"Why?" demanded Katherine, the question dragged from her in spite
of herself.

A wave of hot colour surged over Mary's face; it was not often she
blushed, but now she was crimson. "I don't think I can tell you
that," she replied unsteadily. "In any case it is immaterial to
the story, except that he once asked me a boon I would not grant;
and for that I have been sorry ever since, which shows the
contrary-mindedness of women, don't you think?"

Katherine nodded; speak she could not. This was worse than
anything she had expected. Mrs. Burton had suggested that Mary was
in love with Jervis, but here was Mary herself plainly intimating
that Jervis had once asked for her love, but that she had refused
him, only to regret her refusal ever since.

"He is such a good fellow," went on Mary, with a yearning note in
her voice which stabbed Katherine like actual pain. "When Father
asked him about the affair in the tidehole, he never once said
anything about my fearful panic, which so nearly cost him his life;
and the very fact of his reticence has made me feel the meanest
creature on the face of the earth. I can scarcely look my father
in the face, and when he pities me for having been in such sore
straits I feel like sinking through the couch from very shame."

"Why don't you tell Mr. Selincourt then?" asked Katherine bluntly.
"He would understand how panic had unnerved you, and certainly he
would not judge you harshly."

"I can't tell him; I am not brave enough. I told you I was a
coward, and so I am, especially in matters of that sort. It is an
awful thing to me to lose anyone's good opinion. My pride, I
suppose; but really I can't help it," Mary answered with a shrug.

"Yet you have told me," said Katherine, forcing a smile. "Were you
not afraid of losing my good opinion, or was it that you did not
care?"

"I was just desperate; I had to own up to someone, and so, from
love of contrast I suppose, I turned to you, who are always brave,"
Mary said.

Katherine shook her head: "You make a great mistake; I am a
horrible coward underneath. I think all girls are; it is one of
the weaknesses of our nature which neither training nor hardship
will overcome."

"Do you expect me to believe you when you talk like that?" asked
Mary. "What about that time when you got on to the ice to get
Jervis Ferrars out of Oily Dave's flooded house? Do you think a
girl who was a coward could have done that?"

"I could not have done it if I had stayed to think about it,"
replied Katherine, a soft flush stealing into her cheeks. "But
there was no time to think about oneself, the thing had to be done
quickly, so it was easy enough. If I had set out from home that
morning, knowing what was in front of me, I could not possibly have
faced it, of that I am quite sure."

"In other words, what it really amounts to is this: we are all
cowards by nature, but it is possible, by cultivating the grace of
self-sacrifice, so to forget ourselves in our care for others that
we can rise above our natural cowardice, and become as brave or
braver than men," said Mary.

"It sounds like a sermon put that way," Katherine replied with a
laugh. "Why don't you take to writing books, if you can express
yourself so much to the point?"

"Because, before writing books successfully, one must have lived,
not merely existed, as I have done," Mary answered a little sadly.
Then she said in a different tone; "You have done me a lot of good,
and I shall sleep to-night like a top--the first real rest I have
had since that miserable morning on the rocks."

"I shall sleep too, I hope, for I have a big day's work to-morrow,"
Katherine said, rising to go.

"Give me a kiss, dear, just to show me that you don't despise me
for being a coward, or rather for remaining a coward," Mary said,
drawing Katherine's head down.

There was a wild desire in Katherine's heart to push off those
caressing hands, and rush away in all haste: but she did not yield
to it, realizing that this also was a time for self-forgetting; so,
stooping, she kissed Mary on both cheeks.

CHAPTER XXII

A Business Offer

A fortnight slipped away. August had come in, with lengthening
nights, which sometimes had a touch of Arctic cold in them. But it
was glorious summer still, and although in those uncultivated
wastes there was little harvest from the land, the harvest of the
sea went merrily on. Mary Selincourt was out and about again,
limping a little at first, and leaning on a stick, but soon gaining
strength enough to go about as usual; only now, made wise by
experience, she took good care to avoid places of danger like the
tideholes.

Since that evening of confidential talk with Katherine, Mary had
honestly striven for the grace of self-forgetfulness; but the
virtue is not learned in one lesson, nor yet in two, and she would
probably have given up striving, through disgust at her own
failures, if her pride had not been deeply stirred, and the
obstinate part of her nature brought into full play.

Pleading hard work as an excuse, Katherine avoided her after that
evening, from a secret dread of any more confidences. This was
easier than it otherwise would have been, owing to Mrs. Burton
having taken the twins over to Fort Garry to spend a week with Mrs.
M'Crawney, which left Katherine with the burden of housekeeping on
her shoulders in addition to the business of the store.

Jervis Ferrars came up sometimes in the evening to sit and talk
with the invalid on every subject under the sun, from lunar
rainbows to earthquakes, but he got little chance of speech with
Katherine, who was always feverishly busy over some task which
absorbed her whole attention.

The day after Mrs. Burton came back from Fort Garry another vessel
arrived from Liverpool to anchor off Seal Cove. Only one more boat
would be likely to get in before winter came again, and when an
occasion is so rare it is likely to be made much of. The captain
held a sort of reception on board, to which everyone in Seal Cove
was invited. The M'Krees came down from the second portage with
all their babies; Mrs. Jenkin appeared in finery which no one even
dreamed she possessed; and Oily Dave was magnificent in a
frock-coat of shiny black cloth, worn over a football sweater of
outrageous pattern.

Katherine and her father were the only stay-at-homes, but 'Duke
Radford was not fit for excursions of that sort, and if Katherine
had gone Miles must have stayed at home, which would have been
rather hard on a boy as fond of ships as he was. But although
everyone went to the reception, some of them did not stay long, and
one of the first to leave was Mr. Selincourt, who had himself rowed
up river and landed at the store to ask Katherine if she would give
him a cup of tea.

"With great pleasure. Please go in and talk to Father; I shall be
free in a few minutes, and then I will come and make tea for you
both," Katherine answered, holding open the door between house and
store, while she smiled upon the visitor, who was more welcome than
he knew. She was serving an Indian squaw, who demanded bright
calico, 'bacco, and as much of anything else as she could get, for
fourteen beaver skins partly dressed, and as soft as velvet.

Beaver, even in that district, was becoming very scarce. Indeed,
Katherine was sure that these skins must have come a long distance,
probably seventy or eighty miles, from some part of unknown
Keewatin, where no foot of white man ever trod, and where even the
red man only went at trapping time. She bought the skins, of
course, adding to the purchase price a box of chocolates with a
picture on the lid, a treasure which set the red woman in a state
of the most complacent satisfaction.

When the squaw had departed, Katherine carefully locked away the
skins before going in to make tea, for the Indians were adepts at
roguery, and if by any means the woman could have stolen them, she
would probably have returned to the store to offer them in barter
again within the next hour. Katherine had been caught like that
often enough to have become exceedingly careful. She was talking
about the exceeding beauty of the skins as she watched the kettle
beginning to boil, and Mr. Selincourt immediately said that he
should like to see them.

"Will you wait until to-morrow or the next day? Then I will show
you all that we have got. But it is rather dirty work pulling them
out and unrolling them, and I have just put on a clean frock,"
Katherine said, laughing at the idea of putting a possible customer
off in such a fashion.

"I will wait certainly, and if the day after tomorrow will suit
you, I will come then and see if you have anything which Mary might
like me to buy for her. By the way, my men are behind with the
mail this time, a week late, and I am still uncertain whether or no
we shall have to go down to Montreal for the winter," Mr.
Selincourt said, as he helped Katherine to put cups and saucers on
the table.

"If they had come in time, would you have left by this boat?"
Katherine asked. The question of winter quarters had been
constantly talked of during the last week or two, but nothing had
as yet been decided upon, owing to the delay in the coming of the
two men with the expected mail.

"No, this boat will go straight to Liverpool. The next will come
round from Quebec, and return there before going to England; and
that must be our way south, I think, unless we decide to return as
we came, by river and trail."

"We shall all miss you very much," Katherine said regretfully; for
the pleasant, kindly man whom she had feared so greatly at first
had been such a good neighbour that his absence would be keenly
felt.

"I should not like it if I were not missed; but I am not going for
long, remember. With the opening of the waters I shall be back
again, to settle for good, I hope. England is a fine country to be
born in, but Canada is the land of my choice, and I have never yet
seen a part of it that I like better than these Keewatin wilds; it
is unspoiled nature here," Mr. Selincourt said, rubbing his hands
with great enthusiasm.

"Wait until you have tried a winter here, before speaking too
positively about it; you may find the isolation too dreadful to be
borne. We who are used to it do not mind so much, but a person
accustomed to daily papers and frequent posts would seem entirely
out of the world," she said, thinking of the long, long nights,
when the wolves howled in the woods, and the silent weeks when the
falls were frozen; and she wondered how this man, who had been
brought up in cities, could bear to think of such a life.

He laughed in a cheery, unconvinced fashion. "I have thought of
all that: but I can live without daily papers, or letters either,
if need be; although, if Roaring Water Portage develops as I
believe it is going to do, without doubt we shall get a regular
postal service of a sort. If it can't be done any other way, I
will do it myself. Only I must have a bigger house, for in winter
we should be very much cramped in that little hut over the river."

Katherine nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, you would want a big room for
giving parties and entertainments. Mary would make a lovely
hostess, and the fisher folk would feel as if they were living in a
new world. Oily Dave's dreadful whisky would have no chance at all
against the attractions offered by your big house."

Mr. Selincourt frowned. "That drink-selling of his is the thorn
among my roses of content, and I don't see how to put it down just
at present. I can't, from sheer decency, send the man packing,
just after he has helped to save my daughter from a dreadful death.
Of course I know that he only helped, and that you could and would
have done it without him if he had not been there, still, he was
there, and I must remember it in his favour, although he has
charged pretty heavily for his services."

"That is my fault, I fear," Katherine said in laughing apology.
"But I know what Oily Dave is, and that the one thing to move him
is money; so when Mrs. Jenkin told me he was the only man about, I
told her to say to him he must come at once, for there was money in
the work."

"You were quite right, and if you had promised him a hundred
dollars I would cheerfully have paid it," Mr. Selincourt replied;
and then he turned to talk to 'Duke Radford, who had been sitting
all this time with his head resting on his hand, and taking no
notice at all of what the others were talking about.

But when the tea-things were cleared away, and Katherine had gone
back to the store again, Mr. Selincourt followed her and commenced
talking afresh of what he meant and hoped to make of that
particular part of the world in the course of the next two or three
years. He had a special purpose in coming up river that afternoon,
for he wanted to consult Katherine on a business point, and did not
feel very sure of his ground.

Being a straightforward man in all things, however, he stated
bluntly what he had to say. "I want to buy your land, if I can,
Miss Katherine, and I am prepared to pay you any price in reason
that you like to ask me for it. I understand that your father owns
the river frontage for about a mile on this side of the water,
which is practically from here to the swamps, and it is land that I
should very much like to possess."

"But it is not mine to sell," she said blankly, too much taken by
surprise to know whether she felt pleased or offended by the
suggestion.

"I know it is not. But your father cannot be approached on any
question of buying or selling, so I had to come to you to see how
you felt about it, and I want you to think the matter over," Mr.
Selincourt replied.

"All the thinking in the world cannot alter the position so far as
I am concerned," said Katherine, with a little gesture of
weariness. "Our father is apparently a hopeless invalid, afflicted
more in mind than in body, yet no really qualified doctor has seen
him, to certify his unfitness for managing his own affairs. We,
his children, are all under age, except Nellie. By the way, why
did you not go to her?--she is the eldest. Though, even if you
had, she could only have spoken as I have done."

"I came to you because you stand in your father's place, carrying
on business in his name," Mr. Selincourt said quietly. "And if you
felt that it would be for the good of yourself and the others to
have some easier life than this, it would be very much my pleasure
to help you in realizing your wishes."

"But how?" asked Katherine, who failed to see how her father's
property could be disposed of without consulting him, while he was
in life, and they, his children, were all under age save one.

Mr. Selincourt smiled. "Things can mostly be managed when one
wants them to be done. If you and the others believed it would be
for the good of the family to sell your father's property, we could
bring a doctor up here to certify to his unfitness for business.
Your sister would have to be made acting trustee for the rest of
you, and so the thing would be done."

Katherine shook her head in a dubious fashion, saying: "I will talk
to the others about it if you wish, but I do not think it will make
any difference; we must just go on as we are doing, and make the
best of things as they are. Of course I don't know much about
business, except what I have picked up anyhow, for my profession is
teaching; but we have done very well since the work has been dumped
into our hands, and our profits this year are in excess of any
preceding one's."

"That is very encouraging. But then you would succeed in anything
you undertook, because you put your whole heart into it, and that
is the secret of success," Mr. Selincourt said warmly. After a
momentary hesitation he went on: "Mind you, this is a business
offer that I am making you, and even though I might give you double
or treble what your land would fetch in the open market at the
present time, I should still look to get a fifty-per-cent return on
my invested capital, although I suppose it is very unbusinesslike
of me to tell you so."

"But how would you do it?" demanded Katherine.

"My dear young lady, I believe there is a fortune in every acre of
ground on either side of the river," said Mr. Selincourt excitedly.
"Mary is keen on geology, as you know, and I have studied minerals
pretty closely. We have found abundant traces of iron, of copper,
and of coal. Now, the last is more important than the other two,
for without it they would be practically useless, so far from
civilization; but with it they may be worked to immense advantage."

"Would not the working be rather costly at the first?" Katherine
asked, with a sensation as if her breath were being taken away.

"Doubtless! It has already been proved, over and over again, that
if you want to get a fortune from under the earth you must first
put a fortune in it," he replied.

"But suppose, after you had put it in, you found yourself
disappointed in your returns--discovered, perhaps, that there was
no fortune awaiting you in the ground after all? What would you do
then?--for of course you could not get back what you had spent,"
said Katherine, with an air of amusement, for to her the statement
of there being a fortune in every acre of that barren ground
sounded like fiction pure and simple.

"In that case I should probably have to take off my coat, roll up
my sleeves, and go to work to earn a living for myself and Mary;
but I am not afraid of having to do it just yet," he answered,
laughing. Then as a customer entered the store he went off to talk
to 'Duke Radford, who was sitting outside in the sun, and Katherine
did not see him again that evening.

As in duty bound, she decided to take counsel with the others,
although her own mind was fully made up with regard to Mr.
Selincourt's offer. Life in some other more civilized place would
probably be easier and pleasanter for herself. Such work as she
had to do now was labour for men, and by no means suitable for
women or girls. But it was not herself she had to think of first
in this case; Miles and Phil were the ones to be considered here,
and she determined that the light in which Miles regarded the
question should be the standpoint from which she would view it too.
By this time she was quite satisfied in her own mind of her ability
to keep the business working in a profitable manner; but if she
were to venture upon earning a living for the six who were
dependent upon her efforts in some other way, she would not be so
sure of herself, and to doubt might be to fail.

It was not easy to get time to confer all together in that busy
household, but by good fortune a chance occurred that very evening,
and Katherine took it thankfully enough, knowing that it might be
long before such an opportunity came again. Her father had gone to
bed, tired out with his day of sitting and walking in the sunshine,
and was sleeping peacefully. The twins had also been put to rest,
and were droning themselves to sleep in a drowsy sing-song duet
with which they always filled the house before subsiding into their
nightly slumber.

"Don't go to bed for a few minutes, Phil; I want to talk to you.
We have got to have a family conclave," said Katherine, as Phil,
with a mighty yawn, was turning his steps to the ladder which led
to the loft.

"What's a conclave? And it is no use going on at me about that
bucket of water I tilted over down the ladder on to Nick Jones; it
stood so handy, and wanted such a little push, that I just could
not help doing it," the boy answered in a sullen tone. He had been
in mischief on board the steamer, escaping with a warning from the
captain and a lecture from Mrs. Burton; but he was by no means
repentant yet, although perhaps a trifle apprehensive of the form
of reprisal which Nick Jones might choose to take.

Katherine laughed. She had been in mischief herself too often when
at Phil's age not to feel sympathy with him on the score of the
prank he had played that afternoon. It was this same sympathetic
understanding of their moods and actions which gave her so much
influence with the boys, enabling her to twist them round her
little finger, as Miles expressed it.

"A conclave is a talk, discussion, or argument, but it has nothing
to do with your getting into mischief, Phil. It was a great
temptation, as you say, and I expect that in your place I should
have longed to do the same. Only there is another side from which
to view the business, and that is the side of Nick Jones. No doubt
he feels a bit ruffled, and if he thrashes you for your impudence,
or ducks you in the river, why, you will just have to take it lying
down."

"He has got to catch me first," said Phil, with that disposition to
swagger in which he delighted to indulge. Then he burst out
eagerly, as he slid his arm round her waist and leaned his head
back against her arm: "It was truly lovely, Katherine, and you
would have laughed until you choked if you had been there. Nick
was just setting his foot on the bottom of the ladder, and his face
was all smuts and smudges, so that he looked as if he had not
washed for a fortnight; he had got his mouth open too, wide open,
and I guess that was the first mouthful of clean water that he has
swallowed for a good long while past."

"You are really a shocking boy, and if you get a ducking it will be
only what you deserve," said Katherine, who was laughing at this
picture of the discomfiture of Nick Jones. "But sit down here and
let us get our business settled, because we are all tired and
longing for bed."

"I'm not tired," said Miles, shutting the book he had been reading
with a sigh. It always seemed to be time to go to bed when he
wanted to sit up, just as it was always morning and time to get up
when he was in the full enjoyment of being in bed.

"But you will be tired to-morrow, and no one who is weary can do
the best that is in him," said Katherine gently.

CHAPTER XXIII

The Majority Decides

To the surprise of Katherine, Mrs. Burton was very anxious that Mr.
Selincourt's offer should be accepted, and she urged that point
very strongly.

"If you were a boy, Katherine, I would not say one word to
influence you either way. Even now it is for your sake, not mine,
that I should like to take the chance of getting away from this
place. For myself, I would rather be here than at any other place
in the wide world; but I do know that you are hopelessly buried
alive, and the work you have to do is unsuitable for any girl."

Katherine put up her hand with a pleading gesture, and there was
distress in her eyes as she said hurriedly: "That is not fair to
the boys, Nellie. I asked that you should all speak for
yourselves, not for each other; that can be done afterwards: the
main thing is to know how we each feel about the matter personally.
Now, Miles, let us know what you think?"

Miles fidgeted, looked supremely uncomfortable, and finally burst
out: "I think it is just horrid to go settling things like this
about Father, as if he were dead, while he is still alive!"

"Just what I feel myself," broke in Katherine, giving Miles an
affectionate squeeze. "Still, dear, the necessity has arisen to
discuss the business, and we must just face it as other
disagreeables have to be met and overcome. So, putting Father
entirely out of the question for the moment, tell us what you think
you would like best."

"That can be done in a very few words," he said gruffly. "I dare
say it sounds beastly selfish, but I'd rather stay here than go
anywhere else on the face of the earth. The land is our own; why
should we not keep it? We have got a good paying business
together; why should we give it up? If we could pull through last
winter and make a profit, we certainly ought to do better still
this year, for we are all wiser, older, and stronger. It is
fearfully hard on Katherine to be obliged to do the journeys, I
know, but that can stop when I am a bit older, and more of a dab at
valuing pelts."

"Now, Phil, it is your turn," said Katherine quickly; she had seen
that Mrs. Burton was about to speak, and was anxious that Phil
should have first chance.

But the boy was half-asleep, and had to be well shaken up by Miles
before they could bring him to a full understanding of what was
required of him. Then he asked drowsily: "If we went to live
anywhere else should I have to go to school in summer as well as in
winter?"

"Of course you would," retorted Mrs. Burton promptly; adding, with
a touch of quite unusual severity: "and it would be a very good
thing for you, because in that case you would have no time to play
such monkey tricks as that which you indulged in to-day."

"Then I'd rather stop here. School in winter is quite tiring
enough, but school all the year round would about wear me out.
Store work is just play compared with the fag of simple equations
and that sort of thing."

Katherine and Miles laughed merrily, while even Mrs. Burton had to
smile. Phil's attitude towards book-learning had always been one
of utter distaste, although in other things he was a good,
hard-working boy, never disposed to shirk nor to waste his time,
even if the matter in hand was not entirely to his mind.

"Now you have all said what you think and feel about it," said
Katherine, "I can have my say on the matter, and I might begin by
putting the most conclusive argument first, which is that I am
quite certain we have no legal or moral right to lay a finger on
Father's business affairs at present; I mean, in the way of
upsetting them. If things were different, and the business was not
prospering, we might have some excuse for meddling and changing; as
it is, we have none."

"Then what did you make all this bother about?" demanded Phil, who
had been roused from his sleepiness by having a wet dishcloth
tucked firmly round his neck by Miles.

"Because it is a privilege we all share equally to do our very best
for our father, and no one of us ought to decide anything momentous
concerning him without taking counsel with the others," Katherine
answered, leaning forward and catching the dishcloth, which Phil
had aimed at Miles.

"It is all very well for Mr. Selincourt to offer us a fancy price
for our land, but if there is a fortune in every acre why shouldn't
we have it? I shouldn't in the least mind being a millionaire,"
said Miles.

"Of course you would not; neither should I: but the secret of the
whole matter turns, according to Mr. Selincourt, on first of all
having a fortune to put into the ground before we can get out the
one that is there waiting for us," laughed Katherine.

"Very well, we'll stick at the store until we have made our pile,
then we can do as we like about throwing it away in order to get
another. Meanwhile we will keep the land, while Mr. Selincourt
amuses himself by digging holes and flinging away money on the
other side of the river," said Miles, getting up from his chair and
yawning widely.

"Hear, hear!" echoed Phil, clapping his hands.

"Nellie, dear, it is the majority that decides, and you have lost,"
Katherine said, as she hustled the boys off to bed, and prepared to
retire herself.

"For my own part, as I said before, I'm not sorry to lose, and I do
feel as you do, that we have no right to dispose of Father's
property," Mrs. Burton said. Then she went on, her voice shaken by
real feeling: "But, Katherine, the life you have to lead just about
breaks my heart. You are the brightest and cleverest of us all,
and should have the best chance, instead of which you just have no
chance at all. Take to-day, for instance; we have all been out
enjoying ourselves, whilst you have been grubbing at home at work."

"It had to be either Miles or me," Katherine reminded her gently;
"and think how he enjoyed it. There are so many pleasures which
come my way that would not interest him at all, and that makes me
so thankful for a chance of giving him a treat like that of to-day."

"I don't mind going out with Miles, because his manners are decent,
and he is so quiet," said Mrs. Burton, "but I did not know where
to put my head for very shame when Phil threw that pail of water on
to Nick Jones."

"It was very foolish and silly, of course, and I expect Phil will
have to pay pretty dearly for his mischief. If only Nick will pay
him back in a manly fashion, without being cruel, I shan't care.
Boys learn wisdom quicker through having to bear the consequences
of their own actions, and it does not do for them to be too much
shielded. Did you have a pleasant time?"

"Yes; it was lovely. The captain and the officers were so polite
and nice, and the tea was very prettily done. Mary was there, of
course, and Mr. Ferrars. I heard a good bit of talk about them
too," Mrs. Burton said, with a happy little wag of her head. Her
own hope and joy in life having become so much a thing of the past,
made her much more interested in the concerns of others.

"What sort of talk?" asked Katherine. Of course she knew very well
what the answer would be, and that it would make her heart ache
worse than ever; but the situation had got to be faced, so the
sooner she became hardened to the pain the better for her peace of
mind.

"Oh, the usual things! Mrs. M'Kree said she thought they would
make a lovely pair: for though Mary isn't pretty, she is very
distinguished; and Mr. Ferrars has a way of carrying himself which
makes me think he must come from a very good family indeed. I
noticed that Mary's manner was very different to him to-day, and
from the way he treated her it looked almost as if they had come to
an understanding." Mrs. Burton's air was one of beaming
satisfaction now, for she liked Jervis Ferrars quite well enough to
be glad there was a chance of his marrying a rich wife, and so
being lifted out of the fierce struggle with narrow means.

Katherine's heart felt sick and cold within her. She remembered
what Mary had said about the boon asked by Jervis, which had been
denied, and the denial regretted ever since. Probably that rescue
from the tidehole had given Jervis the courage and the right to ask
his boon again, and this time Mary would know her own heart too
well to refuse happiness, even though it came to her at the hands
of a poor man.

She was glad to turn out early next morning and go with Phil to do
the "back-ache" portage, because it took her away from any
likelihood of an encounter with Mary, who would probably be
brimming over with happiness.

"It is quite natural that she should feel like that, and I am very
glad for her," Katherine announced to herself in a defiant tone, as
she loaded packages of groceries and bundles of dry goods on to the
dogs in the morning, for them to carry over the portage to the
boathouse above the falls.

It never once occurred to her that she could have made a mistake,
or that she had jumped to wrong conclusions in the matter. She was
so used to making up her mind on all sorts of subjects without any
waste of time, that naturally she decided she was right in this
thing also. The dogs trotted up the portage path with a hearty
goodwill, for they had the sense to know that the journey was not a
long one and that their work would soon be over. There were only
three of them this morning, for Hero was at the house over the
river.

Katherine and Phil followed the dogs. They also carried burdens,
and, as the portage path was steep, they were glad not to waste
their breath in talking while they toiled up the hill. The last
dog, which walked just in front of Katherine, carried two wooden
boxes, filled with marmalade for Mrs. M'Kree, and it was funny to
see how careful the creature was to keep right in the middle of the
path, so that its burden did not bump against the rocks which
projected on either side of the narrow trail.

"Good dog! You shall have a smear of marmalade on your biscuit for
supper to-night, if I don't forget it," Katherine said, when the
boathouse was reached without any danger to the consignment of
marmalade.

"Pity to waste good stuff like that on a creature which can't
appreciate it. Now, I am very gone on marmalade," remarked Phil,
as he put the two boxes into the boat.

"You shall have some for supper too; but you must not begrudge the
poor dog just a little taste," Katherine said, as with a brief word
of command she sent two of the dogs hurrying back to the store for
some bundles of meal and flannel that had been left behind for a
second journey.

While the dogs were gone, she and Phil stowed into the boat all the
goods which had been brought over, then they sat down to wait for
the remainder of the load, and Phil's tongue began to be busy on
the events of yesterday.

"I'm downright glad we've got to do the backache portage to-day,
because, as we can't be in two places at once, I shan't be found at
the store if anyone comes to see me special," he said, winking up
at a bluebird which sat on a bough above his head. The bird gave a

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