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A Countess from Canada by Bessie Marchant

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little chirp, whisked its tail, and then stayed motionless, as if
much interested in the talk.

"Who would be likely to make a special visit to you to-day?" asked
Katherine, momentarily forgetting Phil's prank of yesterday.

"Nick Jones, of course. I guess if I had been minding store
to-day, and had seen him coming in at the door, my heart would have
about gone down into my boots," admitted Phil, with great candour.

"But he may come to-morrow, you know," suggested Katherine.

"No, he won't, for a lot of them start the next morning in the
_Mary_ for a week's fishing off the Twins; and Mr. Ferrars is going
too, I know, because I heard him say so," replied Phil.

"The Twins are those two islands east of Akimiski, are they not?"
asked Katherine.

"I suppose so; they are out in the Bay somewhere, I know, and they
are very dangerous, because there are such strong currents all
round them and no end of hidden rocks," Phil said in a cheerful
tone, as if he were rather pleased than otherwise that his enemy
had to face so much danger in the near future.

"That must be the place where a boat was wrecked two years ago and
all the people were drowned. I wonder they are taking the _Mary_,"
said Katherine, for that was the biggest and best of the new boats,
built by Astor M'Kree in the previous winter.

"They are taking her because she is such a good boat; no use having
a leaky old tub for such work. Here come the dogs!" and Phil
jumped up in such a hurry that the bluebird flew away in alarm.

The dogs were unloaded, the things they had brought being packed
into the boat; then Katherine and Phil took their up-river way, and
the dogs went back to the store to spend the morning as they
thought fit.

Phil's news, had puzzled Katherine a great deal. It seemed so
strange to her that Jervis Ferrars should go off to the rough,
dangerous work of fishing off the shores of the inhospitable Twins
if he were really engaged to Mary. His absence from Seal Cove
would mean that someone would have to do his work there, as the
boats coming in had to have their cargoes totalled and entered,
while the drying, sorting, and packing needed constant supervision.
Perhaps some little ghost of a hope crept into her heart that
morning; at any rate, the pull up river seemed easier, and it was
not such hard work as usual doing the second portage, even though
she had to carry the wooden boxes, with the jars of marmalade for
Mrs. M'Kree, swung across her own shoulders, a heavy, uncomfortable
burden to be carried through the hot sunshine.

Backwards and forwards they went along the portage path, but they
did not have to carry the boat, fortunately, as a birchbark
belonging to Astor M'Kree was always available for their use on the
long portage--a great convenience this, as Katherine and Phil would
hardly have managed the burden of the boat between them. Mrs.
M'Kree as usual received Katherine literally with open arms, and
pressed her to remain on her way back for tea. This invitation
Katherine would have promptly refused, but for an appealing look
from Phil, whose courage regarding a meeting with his enemy was
fast evaporating.

"You are very kind. We ought to be back about four o'clock, then
perhaps we can stay for an hour," Katherine said, accepting on
Phil's behalf, although her own desires were solely and entirely
for getting home as fast as she could.

"A regular brick you are, Katherine!" exclaimed Phil, as they
settled themselves in the birchbark for the journey up to the long
portage. "I just wish to be as late home as possible this evening,
and then most likely I shall be tired enough to want to go to bed
directly I get there."

"It strikes me that it is not your strength which is likely to give
out, but your nerve," Katherine answered with a laugh; then went on
in a graver tone: "I don't scold you when you play monkey tricks,
as you did yesterday, but it is hard work not to despise you when I
see you trying to escape the consequences of what you have done by
sneaking off to bed, pretending you are tired, when in reality you
are only afraid."

Phil reddened, looked dreadfully ashamed of himself for about two
minutes, then said in a cheerful tone: "It is rather nice of me to
be willing to play round with those sticky M'Kree babies, as if I
were a kid myself."

"I suppose it is; yet down underneath I dare say you rather like
the playing round, as you call it," laughed Katherine, and then she
worked on in silence up the solitary reaches of the river, with the
glaring sunshine on her unsheltered back, and swarms of flies
tormenting her unprotected face and neck. These last became such
an intolerable nuisance after a time, that she was forced to swathe
herself in a hot and cumbering veil.

The "back-ache" portage was worthy of its name that day, and it was
considerably past noon before they arrived at the Indian village to
which they were bound. At first they could not find anyone at
home, the whole community being away in the forest peeling bark
from the birch trees for the making of canoes. But the same kind
of thing had happened before, so Katherine was not at a loss.
Picking up a tin pan, she commenced beating a military tattoo upon
it with a thick stick; while Phil, with a trumpet improvised from a
roll of birchbark, produced an ear-splitting din which must have
carried far through the quiet woods. It was not long before their
customers arrived on the scene, and then the business of barter
began. A very long business it proved to-day, for, the weather
being warm and comfortable, the red men and women seemed to
thoroughly enjoy sitting round at their ease and taking time to
consider whether they wished to be purchasers or not.

[Illustration: Bartering with the Indians]

But Katherine was patient and tactful too. After all, the training
of a teacher is not lost in the buying and selling of a backwoods
store. The same gifts of persuasion are needful in both cases, and
the same gentle firmness is useful in settling the bargain which
has come to completion. It was four o'clock before Katherine was
able to turn her back on the Indian village, but by then she had
sold every article which had been brought up river, and was laden
with a currency of valuable furs and some specimens of narwhal
ivory, very beautiful, but apparently of great age. The same kind
of thing had happened before, and she could never quite make out
where it had come from, for the narwhal was so rarely met with in
the Hudson Bay waters now, and was a creature so fierce, that it
was puzzling to know how people in birchbark canoes, armed only
with spears, could ever manage to secure it. A theory held by her
father in his days of health was, that in places along those
little-known shores the tusks of narwhals dead centuries before
might be found by the Indians buried in the sands, and it was finds
of this sort which they dug up and offered for sale.

Their stay at Mrs. M'Kree's house was very short after all, though
Katherine was thankful indeed for the cup of tea awaiting her
there, and much too grateful for the kindness to be fastidious
about its overdrawn condition. As a matter of fact, the tea had
been gently on the boil for more than two hours, but this was a
minor detail in the comfort of people who had an outdoor life and
worked hard from dawn to dark.

It was pleasant to slip down on the swift current of the river when
the cool of the evening came on. Katherine was almost sorry when
the home portage was reached, for it was like taking up the burden
of life again, and she was tired enough to feel that rest was a
luxury indeed. The dogs were soon over at the boathouse to help
with the parcels, and then Katherine and Phil, both heavily laden,
passed up the portage path, and night came down.

There were lights twinkling in and about the store when they
reached it, and Katherine laughed to see how Phil crept past the
door of the store, making for the entrance to the house instead.

But she did not call him back, being quite willing to shield his
retreat so far as she could possibly do so, for a ducking at that
time in the evening would not be pleasant; moreover, Mrs. Burton
would have his clothes to dry, which was another consideration of
importance just then.

Nick Jones was not in the store when she entered, and she noticed
at once that the crowd of evening loungers was less than usual.
They were busily talking, too, and although they all bade her a
civil good evening, went on with their talk where they had dropped
it.

"Mr. Ferrars came up to see you this evening," Miles whispered,
when she went to help him with some boxes which were beyond his
reach.

"To see me?" Katherine asked in surprise.

"Yes, he even went over the portage to see if you were coming, but
he could not wait, because the Mary sailed with the evening tide,"
answered Miles.

CHAPTER XXIV

Mr. Selincourt is Confidential

The hot colour flamed in Katherine's cheeks; but no one saw it, for
her back was to the group of men talking by the store door, and
Miles had turned round to put on the counter the box which she had
reached down for him.

"Why did Mr. Ferrars wish to see me?" she asked, striving
successfully to make her voice steady. Of course it might have
been that Jervis wanted to see her on some matter of business
connected with the store; but in any case, and whatever his errand,
it was pleasant to think that he had come up the river on purpose
to see her.

"I don't know, he didn't say; but he carried himself with as much
swaggering importance as if it were he, and not Mr. Selincourt, who
intended buying up as much of Roaring Water Portage as he could lay
hands upon," Miles answered, in a grumpy tone. The group of men at
the door had moved outside, where it was cooler, so brother and
sister were for the moment alone.

"I don't think Mr. Ferrars ever put on much side," protested
Katherine, taking up the cudgels in defence of the absent one,
although there was an increased heaviness in her heart as she
reflected that perhaps, after all, he was betrothed to Mary
Selincourt, and hence the inward elation resulting in the outward
swagger.

"Oh, he could, sometimes!" went on Miles, who appeared to be in
rather a bad temper just then. "I suppose he is going to marry
Miss Selincourt, and that is why he puts on such a fearful lot of
cheek. Downright horrid money-grubbing, I call it, for before she
came he was always----"

"Always what?" demanded Katherine sharply. Her voice sounded a
trifle muffled, because for some reason or other she had stuffed
her head and shoulders in a bean bin, and was measuring beans in a
desperate hurry, which seemed a rather unnecessary task, as she had
no orders to fill.

But Miles, who had stumbled perilously near to an indiscretion,
plainly thought better of it, and ventured on no more speech
concerning the matter, calling instead to one of the men standing
outside the door to ask some question about goods which had been
ordered for the next day, and had to be sent down to Seal Cove.

Katherine went to bed in a very mixed frame of mind that night. At
one moment she was sorry that she had not been at home when Mr.
Ferrars came to see her; then, with a quick revulsion of feeling,
she was heartily glad that she had been away, and shrank with very
real reluctance from the thought of the next time she would have to
see him. But that would not be for another week; a good many
things might happen before then, though she did not even guess how
many were going to happen.

In the morning Mary came over to the store very early indeed, and
her face was in a pucker of dissatisfaction and discontent.

"It is so truly horrid of things to fall out like this," she began
vehemently, bursting into the store, where Katherine and Miles were
busy weighing and packing goods which had to be delivered that day.

"How have they fallen out?" asked Katherine with a smile. She was
used to Mary's excitable outbursts, which were usually about
trifles too small for notice; but this was a bigger matter.

"The men came up with the mail yesterday; the delay was owing to a
breakdown on one of the portages, and they had to camp for a whole
week whilst they were repairing their boat. It is very vexing,
coming as it does just now, because we should have known our fate
so much earlier. We have to go back to Montreal for the winter,
and it is so tiresome!" sighed Mary.

"I'm afraid you won't get much pity for your hard fate," laughed
Katherine, with a lightening of heart which made her secretly
ashamed of herself. "I found Montreal very pleasant for winter
quarters, and I only wish it were possible for us to spare Miles to
go for this next winter."

"I don't want to go!" interposed Miles hastily.

"Neither do I, Miles," said Mary; "so we are both in the same boat.
Only the worst of it is I have got to go, whether I like it or not,
because my father will not leave me here without him. Such
nonsense! As if I were not old enough to take care of myself!"

"Which you are not. Remember the tidehole," Katherine remarked, in
a tone of mock solemnity.

"Once bitten, twice shy! No more tideholes for me," Mary answered,
with a shake of her head. Then she went on: "I have brought over
some newspapers for Mr. Radford, but there was no public mail
matter in this lot except some English letters for Mr. Ferrars
which had come directed to our agent in Montreal; so we sent them
straight down to Seal Cove yesterday afternoon without troubling
the post office at all."

"That was very kind of you. If they had been sent here I should
have had to deliver them last night after I got back from the long
portage," Katherine answered, as she took the bundle of papers
which Mary put into her hand.

"Which would have been a great shame, for I am sure that you must
have been tired out. Besides, you would have been too late, for
Mr. Ferrars sailed for the Twins last night with the evening tide;
and I have got to be clerk and overseer whilst he is away, so I
must be off. Don't you wish me joy of my work?"

"I certainly hope that you will enjoy it," Katherine replied, and
Mary went off in a bustle, calling for Hero, who was her constant
companion morning, noon, and night, a sort of hairy shadow, and
devotion itself.

When she had gone, Katherine sighed a little, then said to Miles,
who still looked a trifle sullen: "I do wish it had been possible
for you to go to the city this autumn. I know Father wished it so
much, and here would have been a good opportunity for your journey,
because you could have gone with the Selincourts, then you would
not have felt so lonely. I know that I nearly broke my heart when
I went, because of feeling so solitary."

"I am very glad that I can't be spared, because I simply don't want
to go, and should not value the chance if I had it," Miles
answered. "I will settle to work at books again directly winter
comes, and will put as much time in as I can spare at them,
especially at book-keeping. Education is not much good to people
who don't want it; and I would rather work with my hands any day
than work with my head. But of course there are some things I must
know to be a good man of business, and these I can learn at home, I
am thankful to say."

Katherine dropped the sugar scoop with which she had been
shovelling out brown sugar, and, crossing over to where Miles was
standing, gave him a hearty hug and a resounding kiss.

"What is that for?" he asked, with a wriggle of pretended disgust,
although there was a lifting of the sullen look in his face.

"Because you are such a thoroughly good sort," she answered. "You
have been such a comfort, Miles, ever since Father was taken ill;
it was just as if you went to bed a boy and woke up a man."

When the boys had been started off to Seal Cove with a boatload of
goods, and Katherine had tidied away the litter in the store, she
went into the stockroom at the back to spread out the furs in
readiness for the coming of Mr. Selincourt. In an ordinary way she
would have taken them over to Fort Garry to-day, but with the
prospect of a customer they could wait for a more convenient time.

She was still busy spreading out and arranging pelts of black fox,
white fox, silver fox, beaver, skunk, and racoon (there were
wolfskins in plenty, too, but these she did not produce, as they
were commoner, and so would doubtless not appeal to the rich man's
fancy); then she heard a noise of knocking in the store, and,
running out, found that Mr. Selincourt and an Indian had arrived
together.

Neither of them was in the slightest hurry. But Katherine attended
to the red man first, being desirous of getting rid of him, then
watched him down the bank and waited until he had embarked in his
frail canoe before attending to her other and more important
customer.

"Please pardon me for keeping you waiting," she said, turning with
smiling apology to Mr. Selincourt; "but that is Wise Eye from Ochre
Lake, and he is the wiliest thief on the river. Ah, I thought so!
He is coming back again. Quick! stand back in that corner behind
the stove, and you will see some fun."

Mr. Selincourt promptly flattened himself into a small space
between a bag of meal and a barrel of molasses, while Katherine
dived into a recess by the bean bin, and then they waited, holding
their breath as children do when playing hide-and-seek.

It was a good long wait, for Wise Eye was a shrewd rogue. Then Mr.
Selincourt from his corner saw a figure on all-fours coming over
the doorstep. At first he thought it was a dog, because of the
peculiar sniffing sound it made, but a second glance showed it to
be Wise Eye in search of plunder. Gradually, gradually he edged
himself inside, creeping so silently that there was no sound at
all, and a thievish hand had just shot out to annex a bag of rice
that stood within reaching distance, when Katherine emerged into
view and said quietly: "You can't have that rice unless you pay for
it, Wise Eye; we don't give things away."

The red man erected himself with a shocked look, as if insulted by
the bare mention of stealing, and, opening a dirty hand, showed
half a dollar tucked away in his palm.

"Wise Eye not want the rice, nor anything, but what he pay for," he
answered loftily; "but he drop his money here and come look for it,
just to find it lying close to rice bag, and now he find it he say
good morning and go."

Katherine laughed, for, angry as Wise Eye's depredations made her,
it was amusing to find him bowled out once in a while.

"Had the fellow really lost his money?" asked Mr. Selincourt,
coming out from his hiding-place very sticky on one side and very
floury on the other.

"He has none to lose except that one bad coin, which is his
greatest treasure, and which he has tendered in payment so often
that I am quite sick of the sight of the thing," Katherine replied.
"But he keeps the coin ready as an excuse, do you see? I guessed
he would try coming back, because you said that you had come to see
the furs, and he knows we do not keep those out here in the store."

"Well, he is a wily rogue! What are you going to do now?" asked
Mr. Selincourt, as she moved across to the door.

"Turn the key on him; it is the only thing to do. These Indians
are really a great trial; we have to keep such a sharp lookout
always. It is because of them that we never dare leave things
outside unless there is someone to watch."

"Your father is sitting out there in the sun," said Mr. Selincourt,
who could never seem to realize the extent of 'Duke Radford's
limitations.

"I know, but he would not understand, poor dear; he never notices
things like that," Katherine answered, with a mournful drop in her
voice, as she turned the key and led the way to the stockroom.

Mr. Selincourt followed silently, and when Katherine first began to
show him the furs he looked at them with an abstracted gaze, which
showed his thoughts to be far away. But his interest grew in the
beautiful things after a time, and he selected with a judgment and
discretion which showed that he knew very well what he was about.
When he had bought all that he required he turned away from them,
and began to talk of the matter which was uppermost in his mind.

"Well, have you come to any decision about disposing of your land?"
he asked.

"Yes," answered Katherine, who was busy rearranging the pelts which
Mr. Selincourt had rejected. "We had a family consultation, and
the majority settled the question, and decided that we did not want
to sell, and that we had not sufficient reason for selling even if
we had wanted it very much indeed. Our business is paying very
well, and there is no need to upset existing arrangements."

Mr. Selincourt nodded his head thoughtfully, then he answered: "I
must say I think you have done wisely; although, of course, it is
against my own interest to admit it, because I wanted to buy. But
it is a very hard life for a girl."

"It will be easier in a few years, when Miles grows up; and he gets
bigger and more capable every day. Oh, I shall have a very easy
time, I can assure you, when my brother is a man!" she said, with a
laugh.

"I trust you will, and a good time too, for I am sure that no girl
ever deserved it more than you do," he replied warmly. Then he
went on: "I had a very hard time myself when I was a young man, an
experience so cruelly hard and wearing that sometimes I wonder that
I did not lose faith and hope entirely."

"But don't you think that faith and hope are given to us in
proportion to our need of them?" asked Katherine, a little
unsteadily. Her heart was beating with painful throbs, for she
guessed only too well to what period of his life Mr. Selincourt was
referring.

"Perhaps so. Yes, indeed I think it must be so, otherwise I don't
see how I could have pulled through. I have recalled a good deal
about that time since I have been here at Roaring Water Portage,
and have seen how you have had to work, and to sacrifice yourself
for the good of others; and I have often thought that I should like
to tell you the story of my struggle. Would you care to hear it?"

"Yes, very much," Katherine answered faintly, although, much as she
wished to know all about it, she dreaded hearing the story of her
father's wrong-doing told by other lips than his own.

"When I was a very young man I was clerk in a Bristol business
house, taking a good salary, and, as I believed, with an
unblemished character. My father was dependent on me, and two
young sisters, and I was rather proud of being, as it were, the
keystone of the home. Then one day an old friend of my father's
came to see me, and paid me fifty pounds, which he said he had owed
to my father for twenty years--a gambling debt. He begged and
implored me to say no word about it to anyone, especially to my
father."

"Why not, if it was your father's debt?" asked Katherine, who was
keenly interested.

"Because my father would not have taken it, although twenty years
before he had paid the fifty pounds out of his own pocket, to save
this friend of his from exposure and ruin. At first I was disposed
not to take it either; but, as the man represented to me, I had
others dependent on me, and for their sakes I was in duty bound to
take it, and to do the best I could for them with it."

"I think so too," murmured Katherine; but Mr. Selincourt continued
almost as if he had not heard her speak.

"I took the money and banked it with my other savings, feeling
rather proud of having such a nest-egg, and making up my mind that
when the summer came I would give the girls and the old man such a
holiday as they had never even dreamed of before. Then the blow
fell. I was called into the room of the chief one morning, and
asked if I were a gambler. Of course I said no, and that with a
very clear conscience, for I had never been addicted to betting nor
card playing in my life. Then I was asked to explain the lump sum
of fifty pounds which I had added to my banking account in the
previous week."

"But I thought that banking accounts were very private and
confidential things," said Katherine.

"So they are supposed to be; but the private affairs of a fellow in
my position would be sure to get closely overhauled, and a shrewd
bank manager might deem it only his duty to enquire how anyone with
my salary and responsibilities could afford to pay in big sums like
that," Mr. Selincourt replied. "Of course I could not explain how I
had come by the money, and to my amazement I was curtly dismissed,
and without a character."

"How horribly cruel!" panted Katherine, whose hands were pressed
against her breast, and whose face was deathly white. No one knew
how terribly she suffered then, as she stood there bearing, as it
were, the punishment for her father's guilty silence, while she
listened to the story of what his victim had had to endure.

"It did seem cruel, as you say, horribly cruel!" Mr. Selincourt
said, a grey hardness spreading over his kindly face, as if the
memory of the bitter past was more than he could bear. "The two
years that followed were crammed with poverty and privation; there
was almost constant sickness in the home, and I could get no work
except occasional jobs of manual labour, at which any drayman or
navvy could have beaten me easily, by reason of superior strength.
I left Bristol and went to Cardiff, hoping that I might lose my
want of a character in the crowd. But it was of no use. 'Give a
dog a bad name and hang him', is one of the truest proverbs we've
got. What is the matter, child?" he asked, as an involuntary sob
broke from poor Katherine.

"Nothing, nothing; only I am so sorry for you!" she cried, breaking
down a little, in spite of her efforts after self-control.

"You need not be, as you will hear in a moment; and, at any rate, I
don't look much like an object of pity," he said, with a laugh. "I
was on the docks one winter evening, wet, dark, and late, when I
saw a man robbed of his purse. I chased the thief, collared the
purse, and took it back to its owner, who proved to be one of the
richest merchants of the town. He wanted to give me money. I told
him that I wanted work. I told him, too, about my damaged
reputation, and my inability to clear myself."

"Did he believe you?" she asked eagerly.

"He did; or if he didn't then, he did afterwards. Years later he
admitted that for the first twelve months of my time with him he
paid to have me watched; but that was really to my advantage, as I
came scatheless through the ordeal."

"It was really good of him to take so much interest in you," said
Katherine.

"So I have always felt," Mr. Selincourt answered. "Christopher Ray
stood to me for employer and friend. In course of time he became
still more, for he gave me his daughter, Mary's mother, and when he
died he left me his wealth."

"It was not all a misfortune for you, then, that for a time you had
to live under a cloud," said Katherine eagerly.

"Rightly speaking it was not misfortune, but good fortune that came
to me when I lost position and character at one blow. I have often
thought that perhaps I owed my downfall to someone who either said
about me what was not true, or kept silent when a word might have
put me straight; but, if so, that person was my very good friend,
and it is to him, or to her, that I owe the first step to the
success which came after."

Poor Katherine! One desperate effort she made after self-control,
but it was of no use, and, covering her face with her hands, she
burst into tears.

CHAPTER XXV

The Rift in the Clouds

"My dear child, I can never forgive myself for having made you cry
like this!" exclaimed Mr. Selincourt; for Katherine was sobbing as
vigorously as she did most other things, and he was genuinely
distressed.

"Oh, I am glad to cry! I mean, I am so happy, because it came out
all right. And oh, please do forgive me for having been so
foolish! I wonder whatever you must think of me!" and, heaving a
deep sigh of relief, Katherine sat up and wiped her eyes.

"I think you are a very charming and tender-hearted young lady.
But I shall have to be very careful how I tell you sad things, if
this is the way you are going to receive my confidences," he said,
with a rather rueful air; for she was by no means the sort of girl
he would have expected to indulge in the weakness of tears.

Katherine laughed. She was desperately ashamed of having been so
foolish; but those words of gratitude, spoken by Mr. Selincourt
about the person who had wronged him were like balm to her sore
heart. It was as if her father had confessed his fault, and had
been forgiven on earth as well as in heaven.

"You must pay the penalty of your eloquence by seeing your audience
drowned in tears," she said lightly. Then, rolling up the
remainder of the furs, she left the stockroom and returned to the
store, whither Mr. Selincourt followed her; and as there were no
customers he sat on a box and talked on, as if it were a real
pleasure to have found a sympathetic listener.

"Those two years of struggle, of disappointment and bitter poverty,
have had their uses," he said, in a meditative fashion, as he sat
looking out through the door, which Katherine had unlocked again.
His gaze was on the river, which sparkled and gleamed in the
sunshine, but his thoughts were far away.

Katherine answered only by a splitting, rending noise, as she tore
a piece of calico. But that did not matter, because he was too
much absorbed in his own thoughts to need other speech just then.

"Perhaps if I had not been poor myself I should not have had
sympathy with other men who were in the slough and couldn't get
out," he said, speaking as much to himself as to Katherine.

"It is fine to be able to help other people," she replied, cutting
the next piece of calico to avoid making so much noise.

"Yes, but I think no one realizes the full blessing of it who has
not known in his own person what it is to be in trouble and to be
helped himself," he said, his tone still dreamy, and his gaze on
the hurrying water.

"Have you helped a great many?" she asked softly.

"A few," he answered. "Some have been disappointments, of course,
and once or twice I have been robbed for my pains; but I have had
my compensations, especially in Archie Raymond and Jervis Ferrars."

"Who is Archie Raymond?" demanded Katherine, who was measuring
calico as rapidly, and with as much dexterity, as if she had served
an apprenticeship behind a drapery counter, instead of having been
trained for teaching.

Mr. Selincourt brought his gaze from the river, jerking his head
round to get a good view of Katherine; then he asked, in a
surprised tone: "Hasn't Mary told you about him? I thought girls
always talked to each other about such things."

"What things?" asked Katherine.

"Why, sweethearts, and all that sort of stuff," he answered vaguely.

Katherine flushed, caught her breath in a little gasp, and,
clenching the hand which held the calico, said rather unsteadily:
"Mary and I have certainly not discussed sweethearts and that sort
of stuff, as you call it."

Mr. Selincourt laughed in great amusement, then said more gravely:
"Mary has been very much spoiled, and in all her life she has never
been denied anything save one, as I told you before, and I am
hoping very much that it will all come right for her yet, when she
has learned her lesson of patient waiting."

Katherine dropped her calico, and, nerving herself for a great
effort of endurance, said: "Won't you tell me what you mean? I
never could understand hints and vague suggestions about things."

"It is like this," began Mr. Selincourt, who was only too pleased
to get a listener as sympathetic as Katherine: "a year ago last
winter Mary fell in love with Archie Raymond, or else he fell in
love with her; anyhow they became engaged, although I demurred a
little, on account of his inability to support a wife. But I gave
way in time, for he was a thoroughly good fellow, and one of the
sort who was bound to rise when he got a chance. Mary was
exacting, however--I told you she had been spoiled--and Archie
wasn't the sort to be led about on a string like a lapdog; so
naturally they quarrelled."

"Poor Mary!" exclaimed Katherine softly.

"And poor Archie too, I guess," returned Mr. Selincourt. "It was
his misfortune that he cared so much for her. I believe she would
have treated him better if he had not been so much her slave; but
even slaves can't endure too much, so he revolted after a time.
Jervis Ferrars, who was Archie's friend, came to Mary and begged
that she would see Archie, if only for ten minutes, because there
was something to be said between them which could not be put into a
letter. But my girl is made of obstinate stuff that crops up in
awkward places sometimes; so she sent word by Jervis that if Archie
liked to send her a letter of apology she would read it, but she
would not see him until that had been done."

"Did he do it?" asked Katherine eagerly. A white light of
illumination had suddenly flashed into her mind concerning the
nature of the boon which Jervis Ferrars had begged at the hands of
Mary, and been denied.

Mr. Selincourt laughed. "I told you that he was a man and not a
lapdog. That sort don't go crawling round asking pardon for wrongs
they have not committed. The next we heard of Archie Raymond was
that he had joined Max Bohrnsen's Arctic Expedition in place of a
man who had fallen out through sickness, and that he had sailed for
the Polar Seas on a two years' absence."

"Poor Mary!" sighed Katherine again, then immediately felt ashamed
of her own secret light-heartedness.

"Yes, it was poor Mary then," replied Mr. Selincourt, a shade
coming over his pleasant face. "The worst of it was that she had
only herself to thank for all the trouble that had come upon her,
and as it was not a thing to be talked about, it had to be borne
without any outside sympathy to make it easier."

"Has she never heard from him since?" asked Katherine softly, and
now there were tears in her eyes, and a whole world of pity in her
heart for this girl who had deliberately flung away the love she
wanted, from pure obstinacy and self-will.

"Only once. Directly she knew that he had gone beyond recall she
began to repent in good earnest, and sent him a cable to the only
port where his vessel would be likely to stop, something to this
effect; 'It is I who apologize; will you forgive?' And after weeks
and weeks of waiting this answer came back: 'Yes, in two years'
time'."

Katherine drew a long breath, and her eyes were still misty. "How
long the waiting time must seem to Mary, and the months can bring
her no tidings of what she most wants to know."

"That is true; but I am quite sure it is good for her," Mr.
Selincourt answered. "Never before has there been anything in her
life which called for waiting or patience, and it is the lessons
which are hardest to learn which do us most good."

"Won't Mary be displeased because you have told me all this?" asked
Katherine.

"It will make no difference to her if she does not know, and you
are not the sort of girl to go about bragging of the things you
have been told. But it seemed to me that it might help you to an
understanding of Mary's character if you knew," Mr. Selincourt
replied rather awkwardly.

Katherine flushed a sudden, uncomfortable red, and began measuring
calico in a great hurry; only, as she had turned her work round,
and was doing it all over again, it was rather wasted labour. A
thought had flashed into her mind that perhaps this good, kindly
man had heard some of the talk which was coupling the names of Miss
Selincourt and Jervis Ferrars, and so had told her this about Mary
of set purpose.

"Thank you for telling me," she said; then went on hurriedly: "I am
so glad to know. It explains why sometimes Mary does not look
happy. I had thought it just boredom and discontent."

"Most people would think so, but that is just because they don't
understand her. She is made of fine, good stuff at the bottom,
only sometimes it is rather hard to get at. This week she will be
perfectly happy and charming to live with, because she will have to
be at the fish sheds all the time, checking the incoming boats; and
next week she will be down in the dumps, because she has nothing in
the world to do."

"That at least is a complaint that I am in no danger of suffering
from," laughed Katherine, as, realizing that she had been working
twice on the calico, she folded it up and started on another length.

"And I have been wasting your time in a fearful fashion; but
perhaps you will forgive me, because I like talking to you so
much," he said, rising from his seat and laughing, as he looked at
his watch, to think how the morning had flown. "Now I will go and
talk to your good father for a little while, and then I will
whistle for Pierre to come over and row me down to Seal Cove for
lunch with Mary, to round off the morning."

Katherine rushed about the store with great vigour and much
bustling energy after the visitor had betaken himself outside. Of
course he had wasted her morning to a serious extent, but what
mattered arrears of work compared with the peace of mind the talk
had brought her? Never once since the day on which her father had
confided to her the secret trouble which was weighing him down had
Katherine been so light-hearted. Now, at least so far as she was
concerned, that trouble, even the remembrance of it, might be put
away for ever. Mr. Selincourt had said that he owed a debt of
gratitude to the person who had wronged him; so plainly there was
no question of making up to him for any loss that he had suffered.
True, the wrong was there, and nothing could undo the sin which had
been committed; but it was the sinner who had suffered, not the
sinned against. Katherine looked out through the open door of the
store and saw her father walking up and down beside the man he had
wronged, and a sharp pang of pity for the invalid smote her heart.
His punishment was very heavy; but even she, his daughter, who
loved him so well, could not deny that it was just that he who did
the wrong should pay the penalty thereof.

"Poor darling Father!" she murmured. "But no one need ever know.
Nothing could be gained by dragging the old, bad past to light, and
so it shall be buried for ever." Then, covering her face with her
hands, she prayed that the forgiveness of Heaven might rest upon
the poor sinner, whose punishment had come to him on earth.

The hours of that day flew as if every one of them were holiday
time, instead of being crammed to the full with even harder work
than usual. The other matter of which Mr. Selincourt had spoken,
Mary's engagement to the unknown Archie Raymond, Katherine buried
deep in her heart, a thing to be gloated over in secret, a cause
for happiness which she did not care to be frank over, even to
herself. So the long, busy day went on to evening, and, in spite
of all the work there had been to get through, Katherine found
herself with half an hour of leisure before bedtime.

She was standing outside, fighting the mosquitoes, and wondering if
she had sufficient energy left to go up the portage path to the
high ground, to see the moon rise, when she saw the Selincourt boat
shoot out from under the alder trees on the other side of the
river, and make across for the store.

"It is Mary!" she whispered to herself; and Mary it was, with a
weary, white face, and a fleecy white shawl wrapped about her head
and shoulders.

"Will you come up the hill, Katherine, and see the moon rise?" she
asked, in a tired tone.

"I was just thinking of doing so, only it seemed hardly worth the
effort to go up alone; now you have come it will be pleasant,"
Katherine answered, and, although she knew it not, there was more
friendliness in her tone than Mary had ever found there before.

"Do you know, I tried going up the hill on my side, a better hill
than yours, and with a better view, but it was so lonely! Isn't it
funny what a difference companionship makes?"

"Sometimes, and in some moods. But there are other times and other
moods in which companionship is a nuisance, and solitude the only
thing to be desired. At least, that is how I have felt," said
Katherine. Then she added hastily: "To-night I felt as if I wanted
someone to see the moon rise with me, so I am very glad you came."

They walked up the hill in silence, despite the desire for company
which both had felt, and stood together at the top, watching the
silver glory of the moon coming up over the black pine trees, with
no speech at all until Mary asked with a ring of envy in her tone:
"What has come to you to-night?"

Katherine flushed, answering in quick apology: "Please forgive me.
It is fearfully rude of me to be so silent and abstracted."

"It wasn't that. Speech is only one way of expressing one's
thoughts, and very often not the most eloquent way either. But you
look so light-hearted to-night; it shines from your eyes,
and--and--well, it is awkward to express what I mean, but it is
visible in every gesture. To put it briefly, you look like a
person to be envied."

"I believe I am to be envied," Katherine answered, flushing again
under the amused scrutiny in Mary's glance. "Everyone who has
health and vigour, with an infinite capacity for enjoyment, should
surely be envied by those not equally blessed, don't you think?"

Mary sighed. "I have health and vigour too. I am not so sure
about the infinite capacity for enjoyment; but I like work, and
plenty of it. Do you know, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at Seal
Cove to-day. I went out on the landing wharf to help the men to
count the take, then I entered it, wrote out the tokens, and worked
as hard as if I were doing it for a weekly wage."

"Well?" There was gentle questioning in Katherine's tone, but no
curiosity; happily there was need for none. She could understand
something of Mary's moods without explanation now, and could give
the sympathy, which was also better expressed without words.

"It isn't well; that is the trouble of it," Mary said wistfully.
"The work is all very well while it lasts, but when it is done, one
is tired, and there is nothing left but weariness and moods
again--just these and nothing more."

"Oh yes, there is! You are leaving out the most important thing;
there is rest. And when one is rested, really rested, the world is
all new again for a time," Katherine answered brightly. She was
speaking now from her own experience, for that was how she had felt
when her trouble was at its blackest.

"I had forgotten rest; but then it won't always come, sometimes
sleep is impossible." Mary sighed again, for to-night her mood
verged on the morbid.

"Sometimes, but not often, when people are as healthy as we are,"
Katherine replied with a laugh; then, slipping her hand through
Mary's arm, with a persuasive touch she drew her homeward. "Come!
People who have to get up and work in the morning must go to bed at
night, or suffer next day. I am fearfully sleepy, and to-morrow I
have to go over to Fort Garry with all those furs which your father
did not buy."

"I too must be at work in good time, for I want to be at Seal Cove
before ten o'clock, and that does not leave much space for one's
housekeeping duties," Mary said, in a brighter tone, as the two
came down the hill together.

"Let Mr. Selincourt keep house while you are so busy, or, better
still, get Nellie to do what you want; she will be delighted,"
urged Katherine, who was disposed to the belief that Mary's morbid
mood was largely the result of fatigue.

"Oh, Mrs. Burton is more than kind in making bread for me, and all
that sort of thing; while, as everyone knows, my father spoils me
all the time! But I like work, and just now I feel as if I could
hardly have too much of it; so I don't mind how long Mr. Ferrars
stays away at the fishing at the Twins," Mary said. Then, bidding
Katherine good night at the foot of the hill, she got into her boat
and was rowed across the river.

Katherine shook her head a little doubtfully as she went indoors;
for in her heart she did not echo the other's last words.

CHAPTER XXVI

Fighting the Storm

The summer had been one of such almost unvarying fine weather that
the next morning's outlook came as a disagreeable surprise to
Katherine. The sun shone with a pale, watery gleam, grey clouds
were piled along the horizon, and a moaning wind crept through the
pine trees, made the birch leaves quiver, and thinned the foliage
of the alders at the foot of the rapids.

"Phil, we shall have to be quick this morning, or we shall have to
come crawling home round the shore instead of rowing straight
across the bay," Katherine said, as she piled bundles of pelts into
the boat, and tied over them a canvas sheet, for security from any
chance wave.

"Oh, we can hustle, and very likely the storm won't break before
night!" Phil said easily.

"More likely that it will break before noon," retorted Miles, who
was helping to bring out the pelts from the stockroom. "Don't go
to-day, Katherine; it is fearful work crossing from Fort Garry when
there is a strong north-east wind. I came across with Father once,
when we thought we must have been swamped every minute."

"Do not worry yourself, my dear boy," laughed Katherine, "I shall
not attempt to cross if the weather is very rough; I shall skirt
the shore all the way. It is miles farther, of course, but it is
safe, and that is the main thing."

"I wish you were not going, or that I could come with you," Miles
said in a worried tone. "Look here; couldn't Phil manage the store
for one day with Nellie's help, then we would take an extra pair of
oars, and I would help to row?"

Katherine shook her head. "It is not to be thought of, dear. I
expect some of those Indians from Nackowasset Creek will be over
the portage to-day; then Wise Eye is in the neighbourhood, I know,
and if he as much as caught a glimpse of both of us going down
river in a boat he would fairly haunt the store until we came back,
and Phil would have a tottering time of it."

"That Nackowasset lot are a horrible set of thieves," said Miles.

"Yes, and neither Phil nor Nellie would be up to all their tricks;
so, you see, you will be quite indispensable. I shall get on very
well; don't worry about me in any case, for if the storm should
prove terrifically bad we could even stay at Fort Garry all night,"
Katherine replied.

The last pelt was tucked away under the canvas sheet, Phil
scrambled aboard and crouched down in the most convenient place he
could find, and Katherine nodded a bright farewell to Miles, who
lingered on the bank with a very dissatisfied look on his face;
then the boat moved out into the current and began to slip quickly
down river. At present they felt little or nothing of the wind,
but when the hut of Oily Dave was in line with them they began to
feel the influence of the freshening puffs of wind on their
progress, and Katherine decided to take a middle course across the
open water to the fort; that is, she would not venture so far out
as usual, nor would she hug the shore entirely.

But although the wind came sighing and moaning over the water, it
was nothing more at present than a fairly stiff breeze, and,
finding it so much better than she had expected, Katherine took
heart again, and was glad that she had persevered in her
undertaking; for she was anxious to get the furs off her hands.
Every place at the store was so crowded now, from the shipments
which had recently come in, that it was really a relief to get
these bundles of pelts cleared out of the way.

"Oily Dave's hotel is closed, so I suppose the proprietor has
cleared off out to the fishing," Phil said, as the little brown hut
on the left shore slid by, and they began to rock on the open water
of the river's mouth.

"I expect he has," replied Katherine, who was pulling with long,
steady strokes, the exercise and the wind between them bringing a
bright glow into her face. "Do you know, I am sure he has worked
harder and more honestly this summer than for many a year past; I
believe he is beginning to be a reformed character."

"How long will it take to reform him?" asked Phil, laughing; but
Katherine could only shake her head and say she did not know.

The gulls were riding on the crests of the waves, or skimming so
closely down on the water that it was hard to know whether they
were swimming or flying; and long strings of geese overhead all
headed southward showed plainly that summer was on the wane. All
these things Katherine took note of as she pulled across the choppy
water to Fort Garry, only now they did not sadden her as two days
ago they would have done. Hope had shone into her life again, a
heavy burden had been lifted, and it seemed to her that she could
never again feel quite so sorrowful and worn down as she had done
sometimes during the last few months.

"Hurrah! Safely arrived!" she exclaimed, as the boat grounded on
the pebbly beach in front of the old blockhouse, which looked even
grimmer and uglier on this grey day than when the sun shone down
upon it.

"Good morning, Miss Radford! Now, I wonder who told you how badly
I needed a woman of some sort to happen along this morning?" said
Peter M'Crawney, coming out from the stockade on which the house
was built, and advancing to meet Katherine, who was coming up from
the shore with a great bundle of pelts on each shoulder, while
Phil, laden in similar fashion, walked behind.

"Does that mean that Mrs. M'Crawney is ill again?" Katherine asked.

Peter shrugged his shoulders. "She is desperate uneasy in her
mind, poor lass, and as hard to live with as a houseful of
mosquitoes, which it is lucky I haven't got, or I should be forced
to drown myself to keep from going out of my mind."

"Not so bad as that, I hope," Katherine said with a laugh, and
instantly resolved that it would be her duty to stay an hour with
the poor woman, who pined so much because of the solitude in which
her life was cast.

"It is pretty bad anyhow," he growled, a frown coming over his
face. He was a fairly patient man, all things considered, but his
domestic tribulations were greater than anyone knew or even guessed
at.

Katherine turned an anxious eye towards the sky before going in at
the house door. If she could start back in anything under a
quarter of an hour she might hope to go as she had come, with not
much extra labour nor fatigue; but an hour or perhaps an hour and a
half hence it would be very different. The storm was coming
slowly, but when rough weather came like that it had a trick of
lasting sometimes for several days. However, if the worst came to
the worst, she could always skirt the shore, and, consoling herself
with this thought, she entered the house, leaving M'Crawney and
Phil to unload the pelts and bring them up from the boat.

The miserable, neglected look of the house struck Katherine first.
Peter was not great at housework, while the half-breed, Simon, who
lived with them, helped with the trapping in winter, and did a
little of all sorts of work, was rather less clean and tidy in his
ways than even Peter. The sight of the dusty, ill-kept room
irritated Katherine. Last night's supper dishes still littered the
table, and had probably served for breakfast dishes as well. What
was the use of wasting her time in trying to console a woman who so
neglected her home, and the privileges of home-making that came
with it? For a few minutes she felt disposed to turn back with
only a five minutes' civil talk. But there was one's duty to one's
neighbour--and that is a more important duty in isolated places
than in more crowded centres.

Then an idea flashed into her mind. If by any means she could
contrive to make Mrs. M'Crawney ashamed of herself, it might be
more useful than medicine, might even work a cure, in fact; and
that would be something worth doing, even though it entailed
skirting the shore all the way home. To think was to act.
Whisking off her coat and hat, she rolled up her sleeves, and for
want of an apron pinned a big towel round her; a very dirty towel
it was too, but something she must have to protect her frock, and
it had to be the towel or nothing.

First, with plenty of noise and clatter, she piled the dirty
crockery ready for washing, and, filling the stove with wood, set a
kettle of water on to get hot. This done, she flung door and
window wide, and proceeded to sweep the room. By the amount of dust
she raised she judged that it must have been at least a week,
perhaps a fortnight, since it was swept last.

Of all the work in the world she hated sweeping most, declaring to
herself that doing a portage in blazing sunshine, with a load of
furs on one's back, was play to sweeping. The dust got on her
face, it walked up her nostrils and down her throat, making her
feel as if she must in self-defence throw down her broom and fly
outside, where the clean, strong wind was blowing. But it was not
like her to give up, when once she had set her hand to anything; so
she finished the sweeping, then fled outside to let the dust blow
away from her face and hair while the thick atmosphere in the room
she had left cleared enough to admit of the next set of operations.

Peter M'Crawney was talking to Phil on the other side of the fence,
and from several inarticulate growls which reached her ears she
judged that Simon must be there too. Then she heard Phil start on
a description of what had taken place at the captain's reception on
the ocean-going steamer, and judged herself safe for another ten
minutes, for well she knew that he would not spare them full
details, especially of the monkey trick he had played on Nick Jones.

In ten minutes one could do a great deal if one tried; so back
again she hurried, and set to work dusting the furniture with an
old cotton jacket of Peter's, because she could find no duster.
The buttons got in the way sometimes, but that was a minor detail,
and it did not do to be over-particular about trifles when one was
in a hurry. The dusting was done, and she had started work on the
dirty dishes, when the door of the inner room came open with a
jerk, and Mrs. M'Crawney, very much in undress, poked her head out.

"Miss Radford, is it you?" she cried in profound astonishment. "I
couldn't think what the noise was out here. If it had been night I
should have settled it in my own mind that Peter and Simon had been
having too much to drink, though no two men could be more sober
than they are."

"A good thing they are, for there must be terrible temptations for
men living in such discomfort to drown their troubles in strong
drink," Katherine answered severely. Then she asked in a more
kindly tone: "Do you feel better this morning?"

"Oh, I am well enough, thank you! It isn't my body; bodies don't
matter unless they ache, which mine doesn't, the saints be
praised!" Mrs. M'Crawney exclaimed with pious fervour, as she
emerged from her bedroom and seated herself in all her squalid
untidiness on the nearest chair.

"If it is not your body, what is it, then? Do you think you are
going out of your mind?" demanded Katherine sharply; and turning
from her dish-washing, she treated the woman to a calm appraising
stare, which took in every detail, from the unbrushed hair
straggling over the ragged nightdress to the unwashed, naked feet.

"Going out of my mind?" screamed Mrs. M'Crawney in furious
indignation. "Indeed no! I've got my wits as well as you've got
your own, Miss Katherine Radford; more so, I should say, for I have
a deal too much sense to go slaving myself to death doing work that
no one is likely to say 'thank you' for."

Katherine laughed merrily: "Don't be too sure of that. I expect
that you will be saying 'thank you' presently, when you are washed
and dressed; it makes such a difference when one's hair is tidy!
If you will go into your room again I will bring you some hot water
in a minute. But I can hear my brother Phil coming, and he is such
a dreadful mimic that he will be taking you off for the benefit of
Seal Cove to-morrow, in spite of all that I can do to stop him."

Mrs. M'Crawney vanished with all speed, the hint about being made
fun of being more powerful to move her than anything else would
have been.

Katherine carried in the hot water and tried not to see how badly
the bedroom needed sweeping also. She had no more time for heavy
housework that day, nor did she deem it a duty to waste her
strength on labour which the Irishwoman was equally well able to
perform. Peter had come in when she returned to the outer room,
and was looking about him as if scarcely able to believe the
evidence of his own eyes.

"Well, if it don't beat everything!" he exclaimed, then strode over
to the shelf and examined the books, which Katherine had been
careful to dust. "You've taken the dust off the books too! I
expect you found it rather thick on 'em, didn't you? I don't think
it has been rubbed off 'em these six months past."

"Just what I thought!" she retorted, scrubbing the table with great
energy. "But I hope you don't expect me to pity you for that. A
man who can read books ought to know how to dust them."

"I hadn't thought of doing it myself, that's a fact; but they look
real nice now," he said admiringly. And he was wheeling round to
pay Katherine a compliment from another direction, when the bedroom
door opened again, and a surprised: "Hullo! what's up?" burst from
him.

Even Katherine looked amazed, the transformation had been so rapid.
Ten minutes ago a tousled, unclean creature, in a ragged night
garment had disappeared, and now a clean-faced woman in a tidy
frock, and with tidy hair, came from the inner room.

"It is like your impudence to be asking such personal questions as
that," Mrs. M'Crawney retorted lightly, with a smile which showed
her good-looking when she was not peevish. "But it is better I'm
feeling in myself, which is sure to come to the outside sooner or
later. Now, Miss Radford, dear, there's no call for you to go
blacking that stove; I'll do it myself after you are gone. I'm
just dreadful obliged to you for what you've done, especially for
sweeping the floor. I've a soul above sweeping, I have, and I
can't be always lowering myself to dirty work of that sort; it is
damaging to the morals, I find."

Katherine laughed until the tears came into her eyes, then gasped
out in jerky tones: "It would be very bad for my morals to live
with floors unswept, and I think that is how most people feel."

"Perhaps they do, but I was never the ordinary kind of woman; my
mother always said I was sort of one by meself, and she was right.
When Mrs. Burton was staying here, with them two blessed babies, I
used to marvel how she could laugh and carry on as she did, while
the hungry sea as drowned her husband rocked at the very door of
the house. Now, if it had been me, and my husband lay somewhere
out there under the grey, heaving water, I could not have sung and
danced and played hop-scotch, blindman's buff, and things of that
sort, the same as she did."

Katherine's lips took on a scornful curl, and there was an
indignant light in her eyes as she retorted: "No, I expect if Mr.
M'Crawney died you would wear crape a yard deep all round your
frocks, and talk morning, noon, and night of how much you loved
him. But I am quite sure that he would love you a great deal more
if you took the trouble to give him tidy rooms and well-cooked
meals. If I were a man I should just hate a woman who treated me
as badly as you treat Mr. M'Crawney."

"Hooray, you've got it now, and no mistake, old woman!" interjected
Peter, rubbing his hands in huge enjoyment of the scene. Katherine
had forgotten all about him, or it is possible she would not have
spoken so plainly; as it was, at the sound of his laugh, she turned
with a swift apology to Mrs. M'Crawney.

"Please forgive me, I have no right to meddle in your concerns; but
it just makes me feel wrathful to see you throwing away the
happiness you might have, and existing in such dirt and discomfort,
when everything about you might be clean, sweet, and wholesome."

Mrs. M'Crawney dropped into a rocking-chair and laughed in great
amusement. "Sure, it is as good as going to a theaytre to see you
a-carrying on and lecturing me with the stormlight in your eyes.
You are a very pretty girl anyhow, but when you are angry it is
downright lovely that you are. I'd forgive ye for a deal more than
telling the truth, if you'd only come a bit oftener and row me."

"I say, Katherine, are you nearly ready to start?" asked Phil,
putting his head in at the door. He had been with Simon to inspect
some tame wolf cubs; but, seeing that the weather was growing more
threatening, had decided that the sooner they got away from Fort
Garry the better.

"Yes, I will be ready in two minutes," Katherine answered; and,
receiving payment for the pelts in a written order upon the
Company, which she tied in a bag round her neck for safety, she
drew on her coat, tied her hat securely on her head, and declared
herself ready to start.

A fine rain was beginning to blur the sea like a fog, and she
realized that the journey before her might be a great deal worse
than she had expected.

"Good-bye, my dear; a safe journey to you, and the best of luck
always!" exclaimed Mrs. M'Crawney, following her to the door.
Then, seizing her in a bearlike embrace, the Irishwoman whispered:
"It is downright ashamed of myself you've made me; and if I don't
do better in future, then my name is not Juliana Kathleen
M'Crawney, and never has been!"

"Good-bye! We shall get home all right; don't worry about us,"
Katherine answered bravely.

"There is one comfort: we shan't need to wash our faces any more
to-day, though we may need a little drying," remarked Phil, as they
rounded an angle of the coast and caught the full force of the wind.

"It might be worse, for we are being blown along," Katherine
replied, as she tugged at her oars and faced the driving rain.

For three hours they toiled on, working their way from point to
point, skirting the swamps, and keeping in close under the alders.

There was never real actual danger close inshore for anyone who
understood the management of a boat, but the work was fearful, and
Katherine was so near to exhaustion when she at last pulled round
past the shut-up house of Oily Dave, that she was thankful to let
Phil take the oars and pull up the quieter waters of the river to
Roaring Water Portage.

"I wonder how Oily Dave likes being at the fishing to-day?" said
Phil, swaying himself to and fro and jerking the boat fearfully
with his short, uneven strokes.

But Katherine, sitting in a huddled, wet heap on the opposite seat,
did not answer. She was thinking of someone else who was at the
fishing, and praying that he might be kept in safety and brought
back unharmed.

CHAPTER XXVII

A Bearer of Evil Tidings

In was a very tired Katherine who awoke to face the work of the
next day. It was storming still, with a driving rain, so journeys
of any kind were out of the question; and, yielding to the wisdom
of Mrs. Burton, she remained in bed until nearly noon. Her arms
ached so badly that she could scarcely move them, her body was
weary in every part, and the long night had been hideous for her by
reason of the nightmare dreams which broke her rest. Always it
seemed when she fell asleep that she was tormented with visions of
Jervis Ferrars struggling for his life in deep waters, falling from
beetling cliffs on to rugged rocks below, or being pursued by
enraged and vindictive walruses across slippery places, where no
one on two feet could hope to stand without falling.

Even when she awoke the dreams haunted her still, and it was not
until the new day came, and the rest of the household had gone to
their usual avocations, that any real sleep came to her. The twins
were singing when she awoke at noon; indeed, they almost always
were singing: but this morning it was a lilting baby song about
"The sun is always shining, somewhere, somewhere", and Katherine
took heart as she listened, then rose and dressed in great haste,
for it was years since she had remained in bed so late in the day,
and she was wondering what the others were doing without her to
help them.

Miles was standing at the store door looking out across the river
when she entered by the other door from the living-room, and he was
so absorbed that he did not hear her come up behind him, and only
started when she put her hand on his arm to shake him into
attention.

"What are you staring at?" she asked lightly.

"Someone in oilskins has just rowed up and stopped over the river
at Mr. Selincourt's. It looked like Oily Dave, but Phil said last
night that he was away at the fishing," Miles answered, as he
turned back into the store.

"So he was," said Katherine. "There was the usual legend in his
dirty windows that all drinks must wait until he came back, which
is a fearful temptation to temperance people to wish that he would
never come back at all."

"His sort is sure to turn up safe and sound, no matter how great
the danger; it is the best and worthiest that never come back,"
Miles said, so gloomily that Katherine took instant alarm.

"What do you mean? Has any bad news come?" she asked, gripping at
the rough deal counter for support, and wondering how she would be
able to bear it if he said yes.

"Mr. Selincourt went down to Seal Cove this morning and looked in
here on his way back," said Miles. "He wanted to see you, but we
told him that he could not; then he said that there was a good bit
of worry about the boats. One was blown clean into the swamps last
night, and will have to stick there until the weather is fine
enough for her to be towed off, and another came ashore, badly
damaged, at the fish sheds; and he is afraid that some of the other
boats may have been driven on to the rocks."

"The boats right out in the bay would be safe, wouldn't they?"
Katherine asked, with fear in her eyes.

"You never can say what will be safe in weather such as we had last
night," Miles answered; then he moved restlessly towards the door
of the store again, and stood looking out, eager to catch the man
whose boat was moored under the alders on the opposite bank of the
river, and to learn from him if there was news from the sea.

Katherine sat down suddenly. It was as if someone had already been
in to say that a boat was wrecked. Disasters which were expected
always came, so she told herself, and sat leaning her head against
a box of soap, the smell of which ever after suggested shipwreck to
her.

Ten minutes went past, then twenty minutes, and nearly half an hour
had gone before Miles cried out excitedly: "Here he comes down the
path; Mr. Selincourt is there too, without any hat, and it is
raining hard! Yes, it is Oily Dave, and there goes his hand up to
his mouth, just as if he were drinking!"

Katherine was at work by this time, packing stores into boxes,
bags, and bundles, which would have to be carried over the long
portage next day; but she left her task now and came round to the
door, where she stood behind Miles and looked over his shoulder.

"If Mr. Selincourt were not there I would go down and call to the
fellow to come over," said Miles impatiently.

"No need," rejoined Katherine quietly, "he is coming without any
calling; don't you see that he is turning his boat across the
river?"

Neither spoke after that until the boat grounded, and Oily Dave
stepped out on to the bank.

"Miles, you must serve him with what he wants: don't call me; I--I
am going to be busy," Katherine said hastily, then beat a rapid
retreat from the door. But she only went to the corner where a lot
of gay-coloured rugs were hanging, and stood there waiting to hear
what Oily Dave might have to tell.

How slowly he walked up from the bank! She could hear his heavy
seaboots squelching through the mud, then the deep, grunting noise
which always accompanied any of his movements.

"Good morning!" said Miles curtly, as the squelching boots crossed
the threshold.

"I don't call it a good morning," snarled Oily Dave.

Katherine drew yet closer into the shadow of the rugs, and clenched
her hands tightly to keep from screaming; something bad had got to
be told, she was sure, and she doubted her ability to bear it.

"What is wrong?" asked Miles.

"A good deal more than will ever be put right in this world, or the
next either, perhaps," replied Oily Dave. "We are afraid the
_Mary_ has gone down."

"Ah!" The involuntary moan escaped the listener who was out of
sight, but Oily Dave did not hear, or at any rate he did not heed,
and, after a brief pause, he went on:

"We was off Akimiski yesterday after walrus, but when it came on to
blow we turned home, for there is no anchorage to run to there in
dirty weather, but plenty of rocks to fall foul of, which are not
quite so pleasant. But we couldn't get home for a while, being
blown along the east coast of the island, with a lively chance of
being wrecked at any minute. We were beating along under the lee
of the island when we saw a boat drifting bottom up, and when we
hooked her we found she was the Mary's boat."

"It sounds bad, but it does not spell disaster quite, because,
don't you see? they might have lost their boat on the way out,"
retorted Miles, in a defiant tone, which meant that he did not
intend to believe bad news until it was proved beyond a doubt.

"There was a water jar and a bag of biscuits tied to the thwarts,"
replied Oily Dave. "It's true there wasn't nothing of the jar but
the handle, and the biscuits was pap, as was to be expected, but
the signs wasn't wanting of what had been taking place, don't you
see? If we'd found the boat with nothing in it we could have hoped
that it had just been washed adrift, and, though we should have
been anxious, there would have been room left for hope, which in
common sense and reason there ain't now."

"There is always room for hope until we know," objected Miles.
"Besides, Akimiski isn't the Twins by any means; why, they must be
fifty miles away, if not more."

"Nearer seventy. But who is to say that they ever got so far as
the Twins? If they'd run into any sign of walrus on Akimiski on
the way out, they would stop there for certain, a bird in hand
being worth two in a bush any day in the week, and though all is
fish that comes to our net, it is walrus we're keenest on, as
everyone knows. I've been to Mr. Selincourt with the news, and it
has about corked him up, poor gentleman! But the young lady was
worse still; she turned on me as spiteful as if I'd gone and
drowned the _Mary's_ crew myself."

There was a deeply injured note in Oily Dave's tone now. He
evidently resented keenly the fact that his bad tidings had not
received a more sympathetic hearing.

"Who was on the _Mary_?" asked Miles.

"The usual lot: Nick Jones, master, Stee Jenkin, Bobby Poole, and
Mr. Ferrars. A perfect Jonah that man is, and disaster follows
wherever he goes," said Oily Dave, with a melancholy shake of his
head.

"What do you mean?" demanded Miles, with a stare of surprise.

"What I say," retorted Oily Dave. "Mr. Selincourt sent him to me as
a lodger; the river came down in flood and tried to drown him, and
spoiled my house something fearful. Then he gets caught in a
tidehole, when out walking with his sweetheart, which Miss
Selincourt is, I suppose, though it passes me why a young lady with
dollars same as she has got don't look higher than a fisherman.
But the thing that strikes me is that the man must have done
something pretty bad, somewhere back behind, for the waters to be
following him round like this."

"Look here! don't you think it is a pretty low-down thing to be
taking a man's character away, directly there's a rumour going
round that he is dead?" asked Miles stormily.

"I ain't taking away his character. I'm only saying that if he was
fated to drown it is a great pity that he wasn't left to drown in
the first place, seeing that it would have saved a lot of bother,
and other precious lives also," replied Oily Dave, with the look
and pose of a man who is bitterly misunderstood.

"Why, you must be stark, staring mad to talk like this!" exclaimed
Miles, in doubt whether to heave the nearest article on which he
could lay hands at the head of Oily Dave, or to pity him as a
lunatic.

"I'm no more mad than you are, young 'un; but there's a deal of
what scholars call practical economy in me, and I can't bear waste
of no sort or kind, I can't. Why, when customers come to my hotel
and leaves any liquor in their mugs, which is but seldom, I always
goes and drains 'em down my own neck, to stop waste. And so I says
that if Mr. Ferrars hadn't been saved that first time, we should
have been spared trouble since."

"What trouble have you ever taken in the matter?" demanded Miles.

"Didn't I risk my life, and wet myself to the skin, pulling him and
Miss Selincourt out of the tidehole?" asked Oily Dave. "If you
misdoubt my word, ask your sister, who was there and helped as well
as a gal could, which isn't much anyhow. Well, there was three
lives in danger that time, him, and me, and Miss Selincourt, and I
dare say your sister got dampish at the feet. Now, this third and
last time, matters is a deal more serious still. Nick Jones leaves
a widow, though she don't much count. Stee Jenkin leaves a widow,
nice little woman too. Then there's the children, poor things,
orphans afore they are big enough to earn a penny for themselves.
Bobby Poole hadn't a wife certainly, but he would have had by and
by, most likely. It is a bad business altogether. And now I want
some tobacco."

Oily Dave jerked out this last statement with a swift change of
tone from mournful regret to cheerful business complacency, and
Miles served him in silence, too saddened by the heavy tidings from
the sea to break into resentful angry speech with this man, who
appeared devoid of either heart or feeling. Then the heavy boots
squelched out again, going towards the river bank, where the
waiting boat was tied to the mooring post. A moment of waiting to
make sure he did not return, and then Katherine, pale now as a
ghost, glided out from the shadow of the rugs.

"Miles, dear, can you do without me for the rest of the day if need
be? I am going down river to poor Mrs. Jenkin," she said, her
voice steady though strained.

"I can manage; but look at the rain!" he exclaimed, swinging his
hand towards the open door.

"All the more reason why I should go to her, poor little woman,"
Katherine answered, then passed with a quick step into the house,
in search of garments to keep out the weather.

Mrs. Burton was preparing the early dinner, and Katherine told her
of the news Oily Dave had brought, speaking in quiet, mournful
tones which yet lacked any note of personal loss. Not even to
herself would she admit the sorrow at this time, or it would have
broken her down completely. Her instinct of going to comfort
someone else was the outcome of the strife she was having not to
collapse in a miserable, selfish breakdown.

Mrs. Burton turned white and shivered. Just so had her heavy news
come to her, and in her sympathy for Mrs. Jenkin her own wounds
bled afresh. But Katherine could not stay to comfort her, the
other poor woman needed it so much more.

"Nellie, I am going down to Seal Cove, and if Mrs. Jenkin needs me
I shall stay until the morning," she said hurriedly.

"That is good of you, dear," sobbed the elder sister, and would
have said something more, only Katherine went out of the room so
hastily that there was no chance.

Poor Katherine had fled so precipitately through fear that Nellie
should say some word about Jervis, with possibly some commiseration
for Mary, and that just now would be a thing too hard to bear.
Wrapping herself from neck to heels in a mackintosh coat, with a
cap of the same, Katherine got into her boat and pulled down river
through the driving rain. She rowed as fast as she could, not so
much from haste to be at the end of her journey as from a desire to
have no time to think.

Tying her boat up at the foot of the path leading to Mrs. Jenkin's
house, she climbed to the house door, slipping at every step. A
moment she paused before knocking, expecting to hear sobs and
wailing from the inside; but instead there came a burst of childish
laughter and a great stamping of little feet, and then she heard
Mrs. Jenkin singing in a cheerful, if not very musical, voice: "My
love is a soldier dressed in red".

Katherine stood appalled. Was it possible that Oily Dave had not
told this poor woman of the trouble which had come to her? In that
case she would have to break the heavy news herself, and at the
thought she turned coward, and would gladly have slipped away again
by the way she had come.

Mrs. Jenkin reached the end of the verse, and shrill, childish
voices took up the chorus:

"In red, in red, he's all in red,
My love is a soldier dressed in red".

Katherine stood listening while the chorus ended. Then Mrs. Jenkin
started on afresh: "My love is a sailor clothed in blue".

But this was too much, and Katherine, pushing the door hurriedly
open, forgetting the small ceremony of knocking, crossed the
threshold and stood, a dripping figure, just inside the door.

"My dear Miss Radford, what is the matter?" cried the little woman,
jumping up in such a hurry that she upset the baby on to the floor,
where he lay and yelled, more from consternation than because he
was hurt.

Katherine hesitated. Where could she begin? But then, to her
surprise, Mrs. Jenkin burst out excitedly: "You surely haven't been
putting any belief in that story that Oily Dave has been going
round with this morning?"

"Isn't it true?" faltered Katherine; then, feeling suddenly weak,
she dropped into the nearest seat, and tried to keep her lips from
quivering.

"Did you ever know him speak the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth?" demanded Mrs. Jenkin scornfully, as she
picked up the yelling infant and cuddled him into quiet again.

"But the others were with him, Jean Doulais, and Mickey White, and
they found the boat of the _Mary_," faltered Katherine,

"What of that?" cried Mrs. Jenkin. "The _Mary_ had two boats, and
one might easily have got adrift through accident. I laughed in
his face when he told about the water jar and the bag of biscuit.
Nick Jones and Stee always keep water and biscuit in the little
boats when they are hoping for a whale, for sometimes it is a long
chase, and then the men get just about worn out."

"The fleet boats have been very safe so far," remarked Katherine,
trying to find comfort from the little woman's cheery front, yet
rather failing.

"Yes, the safest boats that go fishing in the bay, my man says, and
he reckons it is because they are so small and well built," Mrs.
Jenkin went on, plainly delighted to have a visitor, and evidently
not much concerned about her husband's safety. "But slip that wet
coat off, dear, and come closer to the stove; this damp makes us
chilly, and reminds us that winter will soon be sneaking up at the
back of the wind. You surely are not out delivering goods on a
morning like this?"

"No, I came because I was so sorry for you," Katherine answered
simply.

"Now, that is the real sort of friendship, and I thank you with all
my heart," said Mrs. Jenkin, patting Katherine on the shoulder with
a hand that was not too clean. Then she issued a command to her
eldest daughter: "Take Percival, Gwendoline, and do you and Valerie
go and play on my bed; you can have a lovely time rolling round in
the blankets."

Shrieks of delight greeted this suggestion, and the three grandly
named but very dirty babies promptly retired to the next room,
leaving their mother and the visitor in peace, if not in quiet.
The walls of the little house were very thin, and rolling round in
the blankets appeared to be a very noisy pastime.

"If I believed that the _Mary_ had gone down, it is a very
miserable woman I should be to-day," said Mrs. Jenkin, who was
swaying gently in a rocking-chair, "for Stee is a good husband,
though perhaps he hasn't always been as straight as he ought to
have been. But that was when Oily Dave was in power here. It is
like master, like man, you know, and Stee is desperate easy led,
either wrong or right."

"If only we knew that the _Mary_ was safe!" moaned poor Katherine.

"I should know if it wasn't," Mrs. Jenkin answered confidently.
Then she hesitated, turned very red in the face, and burst into
impetuous speech: "I knew Stee was in danger that night last winter
when he and Oily Dave went through the snow to steal goods from
your cache, and the wolves set upon them. I perspired in sheer
horror that night, though I knew nothing about what was afoot, and
I knelt praying on the floor till Stee came home with his clothes
all torn, and told me what he had been through. Ah! that was a
dark and dreadful night; may I never see such another."

"I do not think you will," said Katherine softly. She spoke with
conviction, too, for certainly Stee Jenkin had been a very
different individual since that time.

Mrs. Jenkin wiped her eyes with a pinafore of Valerie's, which
happened to lie handy. "I don't believe in that saying about love
being blind," she remarked, with considerable energy. "I know that
I have been able to see Stee's faults plain enough, and yet he is
all the world to me. Yes, dear, you had better be wed to a faulty
man that you really love, than be tied up to an angel that you
don't love."

Katherine rose and began to struggle into her long wet mackintosh.
"I would have stayed if you had really needed me," she said; "but
all the while you can hope you are not to be pitied."

"Thank you, thank you, Miss Radford, good of you to come," said the
little woman. Stee isn't dead yet, or I must have known it.
believe he has been in danger even."

"If only I could feel like that!" murmured Katherine to herself, as
she went out into the driving rain once more.

CHAPTER XXVIII

The Gladness

Six days went by. The weather had cleared as if by magic, a
brilliant sun shone every day in a cloudless sky, and summer had
returned again to cheer the northern land. But never a word had
come from across the waste of grey, heaving waters, to let the
anxious watchers at Seal Cove know whether the _Mary_ still lived,
or whether her crew had really gone to the bottom from the little
boat which Oily Dave and his mates had found floating keel upwards.

Mrs. Jenkin still preserved her attitude of determined
cheerfulness, and persisted in her belief that no harm had come to
the vessel or the men. But she was the only one who still hoped.
Mrs. Jones, the wife of Nick Jones, a woman shunned by her
neighbours, and of a disposition the reverse of friendly, had
already put on black. Her mourning garments were of ancient make,
for up-to-date mourning apparel was not regarded as one of the
necessaries of life, and so it was not stocked by the store at
Roaring Water Portage.

Mr. Selincourt said little, but it was easy to see how much he
feared, while Mary went about wearing such a look of bereavement
that the folk at Seal Cove were confirmed in their belief that some
sort of engagement really had existed between her and the young man
who managed the business of the fishing fleet.

Katherine, shielding herself behind this mistaken belief on the
part of other people, carried her sore heart bravely through those
days of hoping against hope and sick apprehension. The only two
people who even suspected her suffering were her brother Miles and
Mr. Selincourt; but neither gave any sign of understanding that
there might be any personal sorrow hidden under her sympathy for
Mrs. Jenkin and the unpleasant Mrs. Jones.

On the sixth day it became necessary for Katherine to do the long
portage with supplies for the Indian encampment, which had about
doubled in population during the last two or three weeks. There
was the usual bustle of getting off--the scampering of dogs back
along the portage path for fresh burdens, the shouting of Phil, and
all the cheerful accompaniments of busy toil and work willingly
done. But Katherine did her part with a mechanical precision,
forcing herself to this task and to that, yet feeling no zest or
pleasure in anything.

Although the days were so warm and sunny, the nights and early
mornings showed already a touch of frostiness, a chilly reminder of
the winter that was coming; and Katherine was glad to wear a coat
even while she was rowing, until the second portage had been
reached. Astor M'Kree met her himself this morning, his first
question being the one she most dreaded to hear.

"Any news of the _Mary_ yet, Miss Radford?"

"No," she answered sadly. "Mr. Selincourt's little flag was
hanging at half-mast when we started this morning."

"If she has gone down, it is the first boat I've built that has
cost a human life, that I know of," he said, "and it makes me feel
as if I should never have the courage to build another. I've got
one on the stocks, but I haven't touched her since this news came
up river."

"But disasters at sea will come, do what you will, and the best
boat ever built would go to pieces on those Akimiski rocks,"
Katherine said, trying to cheer him because he seemed so sad.

"It isn't clear to me why they were on Akimiski at all, when it was
the Twins they were making for," he replied, in a gloomy tone.
"Mr. Selincourt told me the other day that he believed it would be
better if I did my boatbuilding down below the portages; but I said
no. There is no difficulty in taking the boats down when the river
is in flood, though of course it would not be possible now; and
I've got the feeling that I like to take the first risk in them
myself. It is a queer sensation, I can tell you, to feel a boat
coming to life under your feet, and when I took the _Mary_ over the
falls it was just as if she jumped forward in sheer glee, when she
felt the swing and the rush of the water swirling round her sides."

Katherine nodded, but did not speak. There was a rugged eloquence
about the boatbuilder which always appealed to her, but this
morning it was almost more than she could bear.

"Perhaps I will come in and see Mrs. M'Kree as I come back, but I
must hurry now, for I am anxious to get my business done and turn
my face homeward as soon as I can," she said, after a little pause.
"Father did not seem quite so well yesterday, and Nellie thinks it
is the gloom of other people which has upset him."

"Very likely: poor man, he'd be bound to be sensitive in unexpected
places; afflicted people mostly are. I will tell my wife you may
be in later; and look here, could you spare Phil to go to Ochre
Lake swan-shooting this evening? My two lads and I are going, and
it is always fun for a boy. I've got an old duck rifle he can use,
and we'll send him down river in time to make himself useful
to-morrow morning."

One glance at Phil's face was sufficient to make Katherine decide
she could do quite well without him when she got back over the
second portage, and so it was arranged.

The journey that day was got through sooner than usual, owing
chiefly to Phil's tendency to "hustle" in order to be back in good
time for the swan-shooting. He helped Katherine over the second
portage, and tumbled bundles of pelts and packages of dried fish
into the boat. Then, uttering a wild whoop of delight, he turned
head over heels in the dried grass on the bank, and started back
along the portage path to the boatbuilder's house at a run.

Being in good time, Katherine did not trouble to row herself down
river, but, pushing the boat out in midstream, let it drift on the
current. It was a great luxury to be alone--to let her face take
on the saddest expression it could assume, to let her hands drop
idly on her lap, while for a brief space she let her grief have
sway. She was thinking of the day when Jervis had come over the
portage to meet her, and she had been so late that he was obliged
to go back before she came. What had he come to say to her that
day?

This was the question which had ceaselessly tortured Katherine
through the days and nights since Oily Dave had brought the bad
news about the _Mary_. Her heart whispered that he might have come
that day to ask her to marry him, but she was not sure. If she
could have been certain of this, then it seemed to her the worst of
her suffering would have been removed, because then she would have
had some shadow of a right to mourn for him.

But there was the portage looming in sight, and she could hear the
water rushing round the bend in the river and over the falls. Then
she turned round in the boat, and, taking up the oars, prepared to
row in to the boathouse.

A figure, partly hidden by the cottonwood and the alders, stepped
forward at this moment and prepared to moor the boat for her.

Was it instinct that made her turn her head then, or was she merely
looking to see how much farther she had to row in? A frightened
cry escaped her at what she saw, and the colour ebbed from her
face, leaving it ghastly white.

"Katherine, did you take me for a ghost?" asked the voice of Jervis
Ferrars.

"I think so," she said faintly, then sent the boat with a jerk
against the mooring post, where he tied it up for her.

"Did you really think we had gone down, or had you the cheerful
faith of Mrs. Jenkin?"

"I--I am afraid that I had no faith at all," she said with an
effort, and never guessed how complete was her self-betrayal.

He looked at her keenly, was apparently satisfied with what he saw,
then said cheerfully: "Will you row me up to Astor M'Kree's, or,
rather, permit me to row you? I want to go and assure him that the
_Mary_ is quite safe, and the soundest boat that ever sailed the
Bay. Shall we leave this luggage here, or row it up river for the
sake of having a load?"

"Rowing is quite sufficient exercise without having an unnecessary
load," replied Katherine, with a shake of her head, as she handed
him the bundles to place on the bank. She was trembling so that
she could hardly trust herself to speak, and was horribly afraid of
breaking down like a schoolgirl, and crying from sheer joyfulness.

When the bundles were all out, Jervis got in, took the oars, and
sent the boat's head round for up river again, then pulled steadily
for a few minutes without speaking.

A boat is an awkward place for a person afflicted with
self-consciousness. Katherine would have been thankful for some
shelter in which to hide her face just then, but, having none, she
rushed into nervous speech instead.

"Were you in danger? Was the _Mary_ wrecked?" she asked, miserably
conscious of the unsteadiness of her voice, yet feeling altogether
too nervous to remain silent.

"No," he said. "We have had a very easy and prosperous time,
though, unfortunately, we lost one of our boats on the way out--the
boat picked up by Oily Dave, which has made all the trouble. We
fell in with a lot of white porpoises; so the take has been a
valuable one, and the men came home very well pleased with the
venture: though Nick Jones felt his spirits rather dashed by
meeting his wife tricked out in mourning attire, and flying a
pennon of widowhood from the back of her bonnet."

Katherine laughed: she could imagine the tragic figure Mrs. Jones
must have looked, and the effect the sight would have on the
susceptible nerves of a Bay fisherman. Then she said hurriedly: "I
shall have great faith in Mrs. Jenkin's judgment after this,
although I have wondered how she could be so persistently hopeful
in the face of such evidence as we had."

"And you yourself--how did you feel about it? Would it have made
any difference to you if I had gone under, dear?" he asked, with a
caressing note in his tone that she had never heard there before.

For answer she jerked her head round, staring at the tops of the
pine trees, with the blue sky behind them, but seeing nothing and
heeding nothing save the world of happiness which had suddenly
opened before her astonished eyes.

It seemed a long time before any sound broke the silence save the
regular splash of the oars, then Jervis said quietly: "Are you
quite sure that you are not afraid to marry a poor man, Katherine?"

She looked at him with only a glance, then asked, a trifle
unsteadily: "What do you mean?"

"Well, you might have looked higher, of course. I have told you
how miserably poor my people and I have been. Thanks to Mr.
Selincourt, things are easier with me now; but there is a streak of
modesty in me somewhere, and I have been afraid to ask for what I
wanted," he said, with a certain wistfulness of intonation which
brought Katherine's glance round again.

"You need not have been afraid," she said softly.

"Because why?" he asked, in the tone of one who meant to be
answered.

Katherine looked at the tops of the pine trees again, but, finding
no help there, let her gaze drop to the dancing water, and finally
faltered in a very low voice: "Because love is better than money,
or that sort of thing."

He bent forward until he could look into her downcast face, then
said earnestly: "You mean, then, it makes no difference to you what
my worldly position may chance to be?"

"Of course not; why should it?" she asked, her glance meeting his
now in surprise at his earnestness.

Their progress up river was rather slow after that, and it was
something over an hour later before they reached the second
portage. Astor M'Kree had started for the swan-shooting by that
time, and there was only his delighted wife to scream with joyful
relief at the news, that the Mary was riding safely at anchor in
the river.

"Poor Astor! He has been that down he could scarcely take his
food," said Mrs. M'Kree, wiping away the tears which sheer
happiness had brought into her eyes.

"Get an extra big supper ready for him, then, for I expect you will
find his appetite has come back with a bounce," said Jervis,
laughing. "You can tell him from me to get on with that new boat
as fast as he can, and we will name it the Katherine."

"Are you joking?" asked Mrs. M'Kree, who had suddenly become very
serious, as she looked from Jervis to Katherine, whose face was a
study in blushes.

"No, I am quite in earnest," he answered. "But we must go now, for
we dumped a lot of fish out on the portage path, and I should not
be surprised if half the dogs in the neighbourhood are there,
sampling it, when we get back."

"I hope not, or my trouble in bringing it over the long portage
will all have been thrown away," said Katherine, who could not help
smiling at the bewilderment on the face of Mrs. M'Kree.

There was no need to row going down the river; they just sat side
by side and let the boat drift on the current, while they talked of
the present and the future. Katherine remembered her other journey
down, earlier in the afternoon, and the bitter, black misery which
had kept her company then.

[Illustration: Drifting down the river.]

"What a difference things make in one's outlook!" she exclaimed.

"What things?" he demanded.

"I was thinking of when I let the boat drift down this afternoon,"
she said. "The pine trees looked so gloomy then, and those great,
black spruces yonder on the bank made me think of the decorations
on funeral hearses years and years ago, the sort of thing one sees
only in pictures; but now----"

"What do they let you think of now?" he asked, holding her hand in
a tighter clasp, as the boat swept slowly past the funereal spruces.

"Oh! they make me think of the ornamental grounds in Montreal, or
of the Swiss mountains which I see in visions when I dream I am
'doing Europe', as the Yankees say," and she laughed happily at her
wild flights of fancy.

"Would you like to do Europe--after we are married?" he asked, a
gravity coming into his tone that she could not understand.

"Why worry about the impossible?" she said gently. "Books are
cheap, if travel is not, and we will do our European travel sitting
by a winter fire."

"It might be possible some day; one never knows quite how things
may turn out," he said gravely. Then he asked: "Did anyone tell
you that I came up river to see you that afternoon before we sailed
for the Twins?"

"Yes," she answered, flushing as she remembered how much his visit
and its purpose had been in her mind during those days of keen
anxiety.

"I came then to ask you the question I asked just now," he said
slowly. "It has been in my heart to ask it ever since that day you
helped me across the ice, saving my life at the risk of your own.
But I had my mother to support then, in part, and the burden on me
was too heavy for me to dare to put my personal happiness first.
There was a letter for me in Mr. Selincourt's belated mail,
however, that changed my outlook pretty considerably, and left me
free to do as I liked; so I came to you directly."

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