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A Countess from Canada by Bessie Marchant

Part 6 out of 6

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"Do you mean----?" began Katherine, then stopped in some confusion.

"Do I mean that I have only myself to keep now, were you going to
ask?" he said, laughing as he shifted his seat and took up the oars
to bring the boat in to the mooring post under the boathouse;
"because that is just what I do mean. I have only myself to keep
until I have the privilege of keeping you; and there will be no
more portage work for you then, I promise you."

Katherine sprang ashore, whistled for the dogs, then turned to him
with a saucy air. "Don't be too positive about the portage work;
fishermen do not exactly come under the heading of the leisured
classes, and I may be glad to earn an honest dollar where I can."

CHAPTER XXIX

Winter Again

Never had there been such excitement in Seal Cove and at Roaring
Water Portage as when, following close on the safe return of the
Mary, the tidings leaked out that Jervis Ferrars was going to marry
Katherine Radford. With a very few exceptions everyone was
disappointed, for common consent had given him to Mary Selincourt,
and Dame Rumour does not care to make mistakes. Some there were
who insisted that Mary Selincourt took the news badly, and looked
pale for days afterwards; but these were the very wise ones, who
always knew everything without any telling, whom nothing surprised,
and who were never taken unawares.

Mr. Selincourt had himself rowed across the river directly the
tidings reached him; for he was anxious to offer his
congratulations, and to inform Katherine that he had expected it
ever since he had been at Roaring Water Portage. Katherine's eyes
grew suspiciously dim when he had gone: she was thinking of the day
when he had taken her into his confidence about Mary's love affair
with Archie Raymond, and she guessed that he had told her on
purpose to prevent her putting any belief in the rumours flying
about concerning Jervis and Mary.

The person who was most surprised was Mrs. Burton. So keenly
remorseful was she, too, because of all the advice she had given
her sister about standing aside, that Katherine had to turn
comforter, and assure the poor little woman that the well-meant
counsel had done no serious harm. But she shivered at the
remembrance of how she had suffered; for the pain is always most
wearing that has to be crushed down out of sight of other people's
eyes.

It was the last week in September when the Selincourts sailed from
Seal Cove. Mary wanted to go south by river and trail, as they had
come; but the weather was so stormy that it seemed better to get to
Montreal with dry feet, if they could manage to do so. They were
coming back next summer to settle permanently; but before then a
bigger house would have to be built, and many changes were to take
place on both sides of the river from Seal Cove to Roaring Water
Portage.

Jervis had begged Katherine to marry him before the winter began,
so that he might take the heaviest of her burdens on his own
shoulders. He was to live in Mr. Selincourt's house during the
winter, and it seemed to him an ideal arrangement, if only
Katherine had been willing to live there too. But she could not
selfishly take her own happiness while the others needed her so
much, and she steadily refused to even think of marriage until the
spring came again. By that time Miles would be old enough to
assume the government of affairs, and her father would not miss her
presence from the house so much when the bright, long days came
round again.

Finding that he could not alter her resolution, and secretly
admiring her all the more because of it, Jervis set himself to pass
the months of waiting as best he could. This winter it was he who
taught the night school, thus relieving Katherine of what had been
a heavy and sometimes very embarrassing burden. There were more
scholars this year; for the river was crowded with boats, so many
fishermen who had formerly wintered at Marble Island preferring to
come south in order to begin work earlier in the spring.

The snow came early, shutting them in a full two weeks sooner than
usual. But "early come early go" was the legend at Seal Cove, and,
since the winter had to come, the sooner it was over and done with
the better.

Idleness for the fishermen had been the rule in previous winters,
and, as idleness is usually only another word for mischief and
dissipation, the morals of the men had suffered seriously. But
next summer had to be prepared for, and as there was money in
plenty to pay for the work which had to be done, it seemed probable
that Mr. Selincourt's plans would be pushed forward as fast as he
desired.

Astor M'Kree had set up a team of dogs and a sledge painted a
brilliant blue, and in this equipage, or on snowshoes, he was up
and down between his house and the bay several times in most days.
Some of the fishermen were fairly expert carpenters, and these
found the winter brought them as much work as the summer had done,
with less risk and better pay.

To Katherine the weeks of winter passed like a dream. Sometimes
she contrasted them with the dark, anxious weeks of the previous
winter, when the nightmare trouble about her father had first
descended upon her. She was a keener business woman now than then,
readier at buying and selling, quicker to see what was the right
thing to do under the circumstances of the moment; but her chief
aim this winter was to stand back and push Miles forward so that
other people might understand who was to be business chief of the
establishment in the future. Whenever Jervis could spare time to
come over the river and help Phil in the store, Katherine had Miles
for companion on the long journeys which were still necessary here
and there.

It was pure comedy now when they went to the Indian encampment.
The Indians of the bay shore could not be brought to believe that a
person could have any sound, reliable judgment on any subject
whatever until he had done growing; so, when Katherine appealed to
Miles regarding every skin offered in barter, the red men first
mocked. Then, however, they grew doubtful, and finally they veered
round to a respectful attitude towards the young tradesman which
Miles found very soothing.

Mr. Selincourt had arranged for an intermittent postal service
between Maxohama and Seal Cove, to be carried on by Indians, during
the winter. Two mails had safely reached the post office at
Roaring Water Portage in this way; then three months passed with
never a word from the outside world reaching the little isolated
colony on the bay shore, and the people thus cut off could not
understand the reason why no tidings reached them. Then one day
when Katherine and Miles had gone up to Ochre Lake, where a company
of Indians had made themselves winter quarters, they came upon a
clue to the mystery of the missing mails.

Ochre Lake was, as usual, frozen solid, except at one end, where an
enormous quantity of fish was to be found. It was nearly the end
of March, but as yet there was not the slightest prospect of the
frost breaking up. The nights were getting shorter, and the days
were brilliant with sunshine, but it was only a cold brilliance as
yet.

The Indians had remained there all the winter, so they said,
because there was such an abundance of fish for food. Their winter
quarters consisted of holes, about four feet deep, dug in the
earth, roofed over with spruce branches heaped with snow. Fires
were kindled in these lairs, and the people rarely came out save
when driven to it by the necessity to catch fish for food.

The day Katherine and Miles went to the encampment it was
gloriously fine, and for the first time that year the sun had real
warmth in it. This had induced some of the miserable creatures to
crawl out to the daylight, who perhaps had not been outside the
holes for weeks. There was quite a crowd of children visible, and
Katherine, whose heart always warmed to the pitiable little
objects, with their mournful black eyes, produced a packet of
sweets, which speedily brought a swarm of youngsters round her,

Doling the sweets out with strict impartiality, she noticed that
one child had a fragment of paper in its skinny hand. This was
puzzling, for the Indians were not given to education or culture in
any shape or form, and the paper looked like a fragment from a
letter, for she could plainly see writing upon it.

With a sign to Miles to keep the elders busy, Katherine proceeded
to bribe the child to give up his dirty fragment of paper in
exchange for the bag, which still had some sweets in it.

When this was done, she told Miles to cut the business short, and
then they started for home. She had thrust the fragment of paper
in her glove, and did not venture to look at it until they were
miles away from the lake, because she did not wish the Indians to
know that her curiosity had been aroused. But when the dogs had
dropped into a walk, and were coming slowly up the hill at some
distance behind, she pulled off her glove and proceeded to examine
the dirty fragment.

It was part of a letter, and directly she saw it she recognized the
handwriting as that of Mrs. Ferrars, the mother of Jervis. He had
shown her some of his mother's letters, and there was no mistaking
the regular, delicate handwriting. The paper was only written on
on one side, and only two lines of the writing were legible:

"--is very ill; you may be sent for now at any time."

Katherine pondered over the dirty fragment with a very puzzled
expression. There were three ways of explaining the presence of
that bit of paper at the encampment on Ochre Lake: it might have
been stolen from Jervis by the Indians, when they came down to the
Cove; or the Indians coming up from Maxohama might have been robbed
of the mails they were bringing by other Indians; or they might
have perished in one of the winter storms, and the bags might have
been found afterwards, and appropriated as justifiable treasure
trove.

Katherine said nothing of all this to Miles; she wanted to speak to
Jervis about it first, for, of course, it might be only part of an
old letter that he had lost, and of no importance at all to anyone
else. If this were proved to be the case she would be greatly
relieved. A whole host of misgivings had arisen in her heart on
reading the words: "You may be sent for now at any time". If
Jervis were to go away, what a blank it would make in her life! Of
course he would come back again, but the dreary months of his
absence would be very hard to live through.

She did not see Jervis that day until evening. He came in as usual
when night school was over. Then all the family were gathered in
the one sitting-room the house contained, which left little chance
for private conversation of any kind; the boys went away to bed
after a time, taking their father with them, and then Mrs. Burton
went to put her little girls to bed, and the lovers were alone for
the brief half-hour which was all the time they could get for
uninterrupted talk on most days. Then Katherine produced the
fragment, stated how she had discovered it, and asked a little
shyly if it were part of an old letter, or a bit of one he had
never received.

"I have never had it, of that I am quite certain," he said, with a
very grave look on his face.

"Then who is ill? Is it one of your brothers?" she asked, with a
painful throb at her heart; for something in his looks and his
expression made her certain that if the summons came he would have
to go.

"No, George and Fred are hard as nails; nothing is likely to ail
them, nor would their illness necessitate my going home. I expect
it is Cousin Samuel who is ill," Jervis answered, with a curious
hesitancy of manner and a sort of constraint which made Katherine's
heart heavy as lead, although she held her head high and looked
prouder than ever.

"What will you do?" she asked, and her tone was breathless, despite
her efforts to make her voice have merely a casual sound.

"If Cousin Samuel dies I shall have to go to England, I suppose.
He is the well-to-do member of our family, and his death would mean
business affairs to look after," Jervis answered, as he surveyed
the scrap of paper, turning it over and over, as if to see if there
were anything on it that might have been missed.

"Is he your cousin or your father's?" she asked. "Neither; he is
my grandfather's first cousin, a hard, cruel old man, with not an
ounce of charity, nor even ordinary kind-heartedness, in his whole
composition," Jervis answered in a hard tone. "I asked his help for
my mother when she was left a widow, but he turned a deaf ear to
the plea, and left her to struggle on, to sink or swim as best she
could."

"I see," said Katherine, and now it was her voice which was
constrained. Then she asked timidly: "If you go to England, when
will you have to start?"

"That will depend upon you; for of course I am not going to England
to leave you behind, that goes without saying," he answered, in a
masterful tone that set her heart throbbing wildly, only now it was
joy, and not sorrow, that caused the emotion. "I must see what I
can do about getting a minister up here to marry us," he went on;
"then we should be ready to start directly the waters are open, if
need should arise."

"Wouldn't it be wiser to put off our wedding until you come back?
It will cost you such a fearful lot to take me too," she said,
feeling that she must take a common-sense, prudent view of the
situation, although the prospect of going with him set her nerves
tingling with delight.

"No, no, sweetheart, I am not going to leave you behind," he said,
holding her hand in a pressure that hurt her. "If I go to England
I will take my wife along with me; if that can't be managed I will
stay where I am."

Katherine laughed. "It is all very well to be so positive, but I
don't see how it is to be managed. It is one thing for me to marry
and just go over the river to live, because then I can always come
to help when I am wanted," she said, the mirth dying out of her
face, and leaving it with a troubled look; "but it is quite another
matter to marry and go straight away to England."

"Nevertheless, it may have to be done," he said; adding, with a
smile: "Don't be so conceited as to think the world can't turn
round without your help in pushing it. Here comes Mrs. Burton; let
us ask her opinion."

"Upon what?" said Nellie, who came out from the bedroom at that
moment.

"Upon our getting married at the very earliest opportunity and
going to England afterwards on a honeymoon trip, if we feel so
inclined," replied Jervis promptly.

Mrs. Burton looked considerably surprised, but she said quickly:
"The trip would do Katherine a lot of good, if you can afford the
time and the expense, and we could spare her somehow."

"Just my own opinion," he answered, with a laugh.

CHAPTER XXX

Preparations

The weeks slid past at a faster rate when the snow began to melt
and the water came over the rapids with a roar, and a rush that
threatened to sweep everything before it. Jervis went up to Ochre
Lake a day or two after Katherine brought him that dirty fragment
of paper, and offered to buy any more of the same kind of thing
which the Indians might happen to possess, and pay for it liberally
with tobacco. But no one appeared to know anything about the
scrap, and no one had any more fragments to offer in barter, so he
had to go away with the mystery unsolved. Then a week later, when
Katherine and Miles went to the encampment with a sledgeload of
provisions it was to find that the whole lot had vanished, leaving
the dug-outs, in which they had existed so long, deserted. There
was no chance of tracing them, for the very next day it began to
snow again, and after two days of uninterrupted snowfall it began
to rain, and everyone realized that spring was coming.

There had been no trouble on the score of 'Duke Radford's health in
this second winter. His mind was placid, though clouded still. He
was gentle and affectionate, and easily pleased, and he played with
the two little girls as if he had been one of themselves.

Katherine, watching him with anxious, loving eyes, noticed that now
he clung to Nellie more than he did to her. At first this raised
an acute jealousy in her heart, for she was very human, and in his
days of health and mental vigour her father had always clung most
to her; but a very little reflection brought her to see that this
change was really a matter for thankfulness, as he would not miss
her so much during her absence. It was good for Mrs. Burton, too;
for the more there were to love and depend upon her the easier did
she find it to rise to the occasion, and be ready to meet all the
demands upon her.

The great difficulty in arranging for an early marriage lay in
securing a minister to perform the ceremony. Directly the waters
were open, Jervis sent men with mails to Maxohama, with
instructions to bring back a clergyman with them--the bishop if
they could get him; but if he were not available, that is, if his
spring visitation had not begun, then some other clergyman must be
secured. He also sent a letter to Mr. Selincourt, urging that
gentleman's speedy return, stating as his reason the necessity
there might be for his own absence when the fishing commenced.

When the men had gone there were other preparations to be set
afoot, and, although five weeks might possibly elapse before the
men returned with the clergyman, arrangements for the ceremony had
to be set about without delay, because there was so much to be done.

A wedding in that out-of-the-way place was such an extraordinary
occasion that everyone at Seal Cove and Roaring Water Portage would
expect an invitation, so preparations must be made to welcome and
entertain the entire population. Katherine would have much
preferred to be quietly married in their sitting-room, with no one
but her own people to look at her; but Mrs. Burton protested loudly
at this, and even Jervis took sides with her, saying that everyone
would surely be disappointed if shut out.

"But you don't mean to ask everyone?" exclaimed Katherine.

"I expect everyone will want to come," Jervis replied, with a shrug
of his broad shoulders.

"Do you mean to ask Oily Dave, Bobby Poole, and all that lot?" she
cried in dismay.

"If they will come I shall be delighted to see them," he answered
gravely.

"But Oily Dave----" she began, then stopped as if she had no words
adequate to the expression of her feelings.

"Tried to kill me once, were you going to say? I know he did. But
perhaps if he had not fastened me in, to drown like a rat in a
hole, you would not have come to rescue me; and as that fact so
much out-balances the other, why, I feel rather in Oily Dave's debt
than otherwise."

It was the Sunday after the men had started with the mail for
Maxohama, and Jervis was walking with Katherine in the woods above
the first portage, while the laughing chuckle of the ptarmigan
sounded on all sides.

Katherine began to smile at the figure her wedding guests might be
expected to cut, then cried out in alarm: "Oh dear, whatever shall
we do if the bishop comes, as you have asked? What will he think
of such a mixed medley of folks?"

"I have no doubt that he will think it a fine opportunity for
preaching a sermon, and, as he is really a very eloquent man, he is
sure to be worth listening to," Jervis said quietly.

"There is one thing Nellie and I can't agree about, and I want you
to settle it for me," she said, facing round upon him with a sudden
gravity which surprised him, because she had been laughing only a
moment before.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Nellie wants to take French leave and borrow Mr. Selincourt's new
house for the wedding; but I should hate it!" she exclaimed
vehemently.

"There is no need--besides, Mr. Selincourt will probably be here.
Why not use the store? Your stocks of goods are nearly at their
lowest, and the people that could not get inside could stay
outside," he said.

Katherine drew a long breath of relief; then she said softly:
"Thank you; I thought you would not disappoint me. You never have;
I do not think you ever will. But Nellie said--"

"Yes, what did she say?" he asked, his voice very gentle now, as if
he understood something of the trouble and diffidence which lay
behind.

"Nellie said that you would not care to be married in a country
store, with cheese and bacon and all that sort of thing about. She
and Ted Burton were married so, but that was different," Katherine
answered jerkily.

"The store seems to me an ideal place for the ceremony, seeing that
we have no church. How do you feel about it yourself?" he asked
abruptly.

"I should prefer it there. Only, I wanted to be sure you would not
mind," she said, flinging her head up with a proud gesture,
although the laughing light had come back to her eyes.

"I think, my dear, that the man who marries you will be so
supremely fortunate that it will matter nothing whether the
ceremony is performed in a cathedral or an Indian dug-out," he
said, with a gravity that showed the words to be no empty
compliment, but the sincere expression of what he felt.

Katherine's lips quivered, but it was a day for smiles, not tears;
so she laughed in the nervous fashion with which she was apt to
cloak all deep emotion, and said: "I suppose the store may be
regarded as the middle way between the cathedral and the dug-out;
anyhow, it will be cleaner than the latter by a good long way. I
shall tell Nellie to-night that you are quite satisfied to be
married in the store, and then perhaps her scruples will vanish."

"We will hope so, at all events," he answered. "The easiest way to
issue invitations will be to chalk a notice on the board outside
the store, inviting anyone who wishes to be present at the wedding
of Miss Katherine Radford with Jervis Ferrars, date to be fixed
later on. That had better be attended to to-morrow, so that the
intending guests may have time to get their finery all in
readiness."

"Oh, what finery it will be!" exclaimed Katherine, with a ripple of
amused laughter. "There will be the oddest assortment of garments
that anyone can imagine. I believe Oily Dave possesses a 'top'
hat, and that will be certain to appear."

"Never mind; we shall survive, I dare say, and so will the bishop
if he comes," Jervis answered; and then the talk of the two
wandered on to the golden future which they were to spend together,
while the glad sunshine filtered down upon them through the pine
boughs, and the world was a joyous place because of the love which
made everything beautiful.

Jervis chalked the general invitation to the wedding on the board
outside the store next day, and great was the satisfaction which
the announcement produced. If everyone was invited, then no one
felt left out in the cold; and immediately there ensued a great
bustle of preparation for the function, which certainly would be
the event of the year to the dwellers on the bay shore.

Katherine and Mrs. Burton were busier than anyone, for they had the
store to spring-clean, and that was a task calling for hard work
and careful management. There was also the question of wedding
garments; but these, in consideration of the limited stock of
materials at their disposal, could not amount to much. For a
bridal dress, Katherine had decided on a white embroidered muslin
which had been her one extravagance when she was in Montreal, and
which was made with a high neck and long sleeves. Sometimes she
wondered if embroidered muslin were quite the right material for
the wedding dress of a fisherman's wife; but as she had no other
frock which would serve, it had to be that or nothing.

The days slipped away one by one, and at last they were watching
hourly for the return of the men who had been sent to Maxohama for
the clergyman. It was a glorious day early in June when Katherine,
who had been over to Fort Garry with Phil, was rowing up the back
creek, and came suddenly upon quite a procession of small boats
which was passing up river.

"Hurrah! It is Mr. Selincourt!" yelled Phil, pulling off his cap
and waving it like mad.

"And Mary!" exclaimed Katherine, who suddenly went rosy red, for in
the last boat of all was an elderly man, with a kind face and a
clerical air, whom she instantly recognized as the bishop from the
description Jervis had given her of him.

"Katherine, Katherine, how bonny you look!" cried Mary, and then
the boats came nearer together, and greetings became general.

Katherine was introduced to the bishop, who bowed and smiled in a
kindly fashion, although introductions at fifteen or twenty yards
apart are rather awkward affairs. Then Mary insisted on being
transferred to Katherine's boat, and as unceremoniously ordered
Phil to occupy the place she was leaving.

"Oh, my dear, I am glad to be back again!" she cried, as she
settled herself on the seat from which she had just turned Phil.

"We are very glad to see you back," Katherine answered soberly.
The sight of the bishop had set her pulses fluttering wildly, and
she was hardly mistress of herself again, as yet.

"The journey has been delightful," Mary rattled on, understanding
the cause of Katherine's fluctuating colour, and anxious to give
her time to recover from her confusion. "We are such a large
party, too, that it has been like a perpetual picnic, with only two
drawbacks which really mattered."

"What were they?" asked Katherine, supposing the drawbacks to be
some item of portage discomfort, or rainstorms which came at the
wrong time.

"The first was a horrid little man, a Mr. Clay, who has come all
the way from England to see Mr. Ferrars, and begged to be allowed
to attach himself to our party. A perfect little kill-joy he is,
so prim, so proper and precise, that one is tempted to believe he
must have been born a grown-up, and so has had no childhood at all."

"Where is he now? I did not notice that there was another stranger
beside the bishop," said Katherine, turning her head to look at the
other boats, which were leading.

"We left him behind at the fish sheds with Mr. Ferrars," said
Mary. "He has his own boat and his own men. He turns his
aristocratic little nose up at everything Canadian, and loudly
pities anyone who is fated to live two or three hundred miles from
a railway depot. But he apparently has the most utter admiration
for Mr. Ferrars, and the fright he was in the day we found the
bones was, I am quite sure, entirely due to a fear he had lest it
was Mr. Ferrars who had come to grief."

"What bones, and where did you find them?" asked Katherine, with a
start.

Mary shrugged her shoulders and answered: "Two days ago we did a
portage on the Albany, and came, at camping time, upon the gruesome
spectacle of two skeletons lying side by side under a little
shelter formed of snowshoes and spruce boughs. We supposed that
they must have been the Indians dispatched from Maxohama months ago
with mails, only there were no mail bags, and no food bags either;
so, of course, they might have been only ordinary Indians on a
journey. Our portage men insisted that the remains were those of
Indians, to the intense relief of Mr. Clay. The poor man was
plainly in a great state of worry about the remains, and kept
questioning Father as to whether there would be any likelihood of
Mr. Ferrars trying to work his way down to the railroad in
midwinter."

"I should think those Indians must have been the men who were
bringing the mail, and probably they were caught in a snowstorm and
died in their sleep," said Katherine.

"In that case what had become of the mail bags and the food sacks?"
asked Mary.

"Stolen, doubtless, by other Indians," replied Katherine, who then
told Mary of the discovery she had made of the fragment of a letter
in the hands of a child at the Ochre Lake encampment.

"So you never had that mail? Oh, you poor things, what a long time
you have been without any news of the outside world!" cried Mary.

"But we have survived it, you see," Katherine answered with a
laugh. Then she asked Mary if she would not like to be rowed to
the store first, before going to inspect the new house.

"Yes, please; I want to see your father and Mrs. Burton, to say
nothing of the twins and Miles," Mary answered eagerly. Then she
said, with a wistful note in her voice: "You will let me be
bridesmaid tomorrow?"

"To-morrow?" repeated Katherine in surprise. Then, blushing
vividly, she answered: "But I am not sure that it will be
to-morrow."

"I am," replied Mary calmly, "for the simple reason that the bishop
starts the day after for Marble Island, which he hopes to reach
before the whalers are all broken out of the ice. Father is going
to send him up the bay in the best available boat. You will let me
be bridesmaid, won't you?"

"If you wish, certainly," said Katherine; then the boat bumped
against the mooring post and was made fast, after which the two
girls walked up to the store together.

'Duke Radford was sitting in the sunshine, looking dreamily out
over the river, which at this time of the year was at its widest
and highest. He rose with a pleased exclamation when Mary came
into view, and took off his hat with a courtly air.

"I remember you quite well, and your coming always used to make me
happy, but I have forgotten your name," he said, apologetically.

"Call me Mary; it is easy to remember," she answered in a gentle
tone. Then she stayed in the sunshine talking to him, until Mrs.
Burton and the twins rushed out to carry her off by force.

It was Miles who rowed Mary over the river, for a fit of shyness
came upon Katherine, and she was not visible to many people except
her own family for the remainder of that day. Jervis came over in
the evening, and there was a troubled look on his face which
Katherine noticed at once.

"Is something wrong?" she asked, a chill of fear creeping into her
heart lest even at this eleventh hour something was coming to stand
between her and her happiness.

"I have only had a few more cares and responsibilities dumped upon
me than I had bargained for," he answered. "Do you feel equal to
helping me to bear them?"

"Of course," she answered brightly.

"Did they tell you about Mr. Clay's arrival?" he asked, holding her
hands, and looking down into her face with an expression she could
by no means fathom.

"Yes; Mary told me about him. She said he was a horrid little man.
Is it true?" Katherine asked, smiling at the remembrance of Mary's
energetic utterances.

"I think he means to be very kind," Jervis answered; "but the
journey has got on his nerves rather. However, I helped him to a
hot bath, and now he has gone to bed in a happier frame of mind;
and he wants to be best man to-morrow, so I have squared matters
with Miles. Do you mind?"

"Of course not," she answered brightly, thrusting back the feeling
of not wanting any more strangers to intrude themselves into that
holy of holies which was to take place to-morrow.

"Mr. Clay is the----I mean, he is a friend of the family, and he
has been good to my mother," Jervis went on, a curious air of
constraint showing itself in him, which might have been due to
nervousness, although he was not wont to be troubled in that
fashion. "Cousin Samuel died in February, and affairs have been at
sixes and sevens since, wanting my presence in England."

"You will have to go, then?" she asked quickly.

"We must start next week, I think," he answered, with an emphasis
on the pronoun that set her heart at rest. "Mr. Clay is going on
to Marble Island with the bishop to-morrow. He wants to see if
there is any boat there which will serve to take us round to
Halifax when the Strait is open. If not, we shall have to go by
river and trail to Maxohama; but I want to spare you that fatigue
if I can, for you have done quite enough portage work already."

"I would just as soon face the portages as the sea-sickness which
will inevitably be my portion going through the Strait," she
answered, with a laugh. "But where do the troubles come in,
Jervis? Did your cousin die poor?"

"Time enough to hear about the troubles when to-morrow comes. I am
not going to worry you with them to-night."

CHAPTER XXXI

The Wedding

The day was as gloriously fine as the most exacting of brides could
have wished for, and by noon the company were beginning to assemble.

Some of the fishing boats were away, which was disappointing for
the crews, although it is a little difficult to imagine how one
extra person could have been squeezed into the congregation which
later on crowded the store.

Jervis came over the river very early in the morning, and, with the
help of Miles and Phil, got the store ready to serve as a church
for the occasion. Pails of lard with boards laid across served for
seats in the centre of the floor; barrels of pork, of beans, and of
flour made a sort of dais or high seat all round the walls, on
which the boys and the younger men might be accommodated. Rather a
precarious kind of seat this was, as barrel heads were apt to give
way, and then the luckless individual would be smothered with flour
or bespattered with brine.

Mary also came across early, to help to dress the bride, and her
mood was so wildly hilarious that Mrs. Burton felt it necessary to
gently reprove her.

"Of course it is right to be happy and cheerful at a wedding, but
there is always a strain of sadness somewhere to keep our spirits
even. And we can't forget that Katherine is to go to England next
week."

"But she will be glad to go, and glad to come back; no one wants to
stay in one place all her life, in these gadabout days," Mary
answered. Then she produced a box and bade Katherine admire what
she had brought her.

"I felt when I bought it that it was shockingly unsuitable," Mary
said, laughing, as from the folds of soft white paper she lifted
out a square of exquisite lace for a bridal veil, and flung it over
Katherine's hair. "But plainly I have the eye of a seer, and I
imagined you standing up to be married in a sailor hat, or
something equally unsuitable, and it was not to be endured."

"How lovely!" sighed Mrs. Burton, in an ecstasy of admiration. But
Katherine said nothing at all; her heart was too full for speech,
and she was thinking of last summer, when it had seemed right that
she should stand aside to let Mary have the happiness she wanted
for herself. Things had changed so much since then that it seemed
scarcely possible that she could have had to bear so many
heartaches.

At this moment one of the twins burst into the room with the
information that the bishop had arrived, and Katherine, walking
like one in a dream, went out from her chamber and crossed the
homely kitchen to the store.

A murmur went round the crowded place as she entered. Heretofore
she had been to them a good, hard-working girl, with pleasant
manners and a pretty face. They had seen her staggering along the
portage paths laden with heavy burdens; they had seen her
struggling to row a boat up river against a strong current; they
had met her dripping with wet, or covered with frost, like an
Esquimaux: but this stately girl with the beautiful face, clad in
her white bridal robe, and with Mary's veil over her shining hair,
was a revelation to them, and it was Oily Dave who voiced the
opinion of the assembly when he exclaimed in a very audible tone:
"My word, but ain't she a stunner!"

He was sitting in the very front row, as if he were the most
intimate and faithful friend the family possessed. He held his
treasured "top" hat carefully in front of him, as if it were a
collecting bag, and he were about to take the offertory. For the
rest, his costume was something of a mixture: a football sweater
with broad stripes, a Norfolk jacket, dungaree trousers, and a
fisherman's long boots made him a striking figure even in that
company of mixed costumes. He was as self-satisfied and complacent
as if he had never planned evil deeds and tried to carry them out,
while the benevolence with which he smiled upon the wedding party
might have led one to suppose they had no more tried or trusted
friend than he.

Katherine was conscious of the critical, appraising glances of the
trim little gentleman who stood by the side of Jervis, and they
made her vaguely uncomfortable, coming between her and the mellow
utterances of the bishop in his opening address. But she forgot
Mr. Clay and his searching looks after a time, and was sensible
only of the love which wrapped her round when Miles, at a sign from
the bishop, took Katherine's hand, and, placing it in that of his
father, whispered to him to give it to Jervis.

'Duke Radford, standing erect, his fine figure head and shoulders
taller than those around him, except the bridegroom, smiled round
on the assembly, stood holding Katherine's ungloved hand, softly
stroking and patting it, until Jervis reached forward to take it,
when he relinquished it with a smile and a nod, quite satisfied to
have it so.

The register was signed in the kitchen, and it was there that the
revelation took place which came as a thunderclap of surprise to
everyone concerned, except Jervis and Mr. Clay, the latter of whom,
when the bishop's part of the ceremony was done, took the remainder
upon himself, and proceeded to make his explanations in a voice
which Mary declared made her think of musty parchments and red tape.

He addressed himself to Katherine, bowing so profoundly that it was
wonderful he was able to return to a perpendicular position without
catching hold of something with which to pull himself up. "I have
to congratulate you on becoming the Countess of Compton, and I am
quite certain the title was never worn by one more worthy to adorn
it."

Katherine shrank a step nearer to her husband, and there was a look
of positive fear in her eyes, for privately she thought Mr. Clay
must be mad. "I do not understand you," she said gently, and the
silence in the kitchen was so profound, as they waited for Mr.
Clay's reply, that the buzz of talk which had broken out in the
crowded store seemed tremendously loud by contrast.

Mr. Clay cleared his throat with a dry little cough, intended to
emphasize the importance of the remarks which he had to make, then
he said: "Lord Compton insisted last night that no word should be
spoken concerning his accession to the title until after the
ceremony of to-day; but now it must be known, and I have to inform
you that your husband has been seventh Earl of Compton since the
18th of February last, only it seems he did not know of his
cousin's death until yesterday, when I arrived with papers for him
to sign."

Katherine became very pale, and turned with a quick movement to
Jervis, who stood looking down upon her with a smile. "Even now I
do not understand; please tell me," she said, with a bewildered
expression.

"My cousin Samuel was the sixth earl," said Jervis, taking his
wife's hand and talking to her in the same quietly confidential
tone that he might have used had they two been alone, instead of
the centre figures of a crowded room. "My father was the son of
the younger son, with three lives between him and the title. As I
have told you, Samuel, old Lord Compton, was very cruel to my
mother in her widowhood, and I hotly determined never to have
anything to do with him. Then his son and his grandson died within
a few weeks of each other, and Mr. Clay, who is the family lawyer,
wrote to me telling me that I was the next heir, and Cousin Samuel
wanted me to go home and take up the duties of my new position.
That letter came last summer, but I would not go, and I would not
accept an allowance for myself; but I asked for one for my mother,
and education for my brothers. I have not deceived you, my
dearest. I have only withheld from you facts which did not matter
until now."

Katherine flushed and then grew pale; she knew that all eyes were
upon her, but there was one thing she must know, and her voice had
an anxious ring as she asked: "Did you--did you know this, I mean
that you were the next heir, when you asked me to marry you?"

"Yes, I knew," he answered cheerfully, and now his voice had got
back its old confident ring, for the shadow of constraint which
Katherine had noticed in him last night had been owing to this
knowledge which he was holding back, and which had troubled him
more than he cared to confess. "But even then there was no great
certainty of my succeeding. Cousin Samuel might have married
again, and left another son to come after him. I was just a
working man, and I looked to support my wife by the labour of my
hands. You must forgive me that I did not tell you I was going to
make a great lady of you, because, you see, I did not know until
yesterday, though the scrap of paper you discovered at Ochre Lake
warned me that the title might not be far off; so I was not greatly
surprised when Mr. Clay introduced himself to me yesterday."

"Mr. Clay is evidently a lawyer by nature as well as by profession,
since he was able to keep a secret of such magnitude through so
many miles of travel," interposed the bishop, anxious to break the
strain for Katherine, whose colour was still coming and going, and
whose eyes had the frightened look of a trapped wild creature.

"I was sure there must be some story of greatness behind, when it
became necessary for a family lawyer to take such a journey as
this," Mary Selincourt said, with an easy laugh, doing her best to
second the bishop's efforts to draw off attention from Katherine
for a time. "And now, don't you think we might as well start
feeding the multitude, Nellie? or they will not be in a proper
frame of mind to appreciate the bishop's sermon presently."

The diversion was effectual; everyone poured outside to where
tables were spread under the trees by the river. Tea, coffee,
cakes, and lemonade became the concern of the moment. And in the
kitchen the two who had been made husband and wife were left alone.

"Am I forgiven, your ladyship?" Jervis asked; but there was a note
of anxiety in his bantering tone, for Katherine's head was averted,
and held at an angle which made him apprehensive.

"Jervis, why did you not tell me while there was time to draw back?
For I--I am not fit to be a great lady!" she burst out passionately.

"I did not tell you because I was so horribly afraid you would want
to draw back," he admitted candidly, "and I wanted you so badly
that I could not afford to take the risk. You are quite as fit to
be a great lady as I am to be a great gentleman; that goes without
saying."

"But think of the work I have had to do?" she faltered, shrinking
and shivering at the prospect before her.

"Work is no degradation," he answered hastily, "or my days in the
Nantucket whaler might easily rise up in judgment against me; for I
am certain there can be no more filthy or disgusting work on the
face of the earth than I did then. Perhaps it is better for us
that we have had to toil so hard; we shall be better able to
sympathize with other workers, and to help them."

"I shall not know how to manage a houseful of servants," she said,
with such a comical air of distress that he had to laugh again.

"You need not have more servants than you like, and if you can't
manage them, why, we must pay someone to manage them for us," he
said gaily. Then his voice grew graver as he asked: "When are you
going to tell me that I am forgiven, Katherine?"

Something in the look on his face reminded her of the day when she
had risked her life to save him from the flood, and the memory
broke down the rampart of offended pride which had sprung up in her
heart when Mr. Clay made his astounding revelation.

"I don't suppose it really matters what our position is as long as
we love each other," she said unsteadily. "And so--and so you are
forgiven; but don't do it again."

"My dear, there are no more titles in our family that I know of,"
he answered, as he lifted her veil to kiss her; "so there is not
the remotest chance that you will ever have higher rank than a
countess's."

"I don't want to have higher rank than a countess's," she answered
soberly. "But I mean, don't keep things back in future, Jervis, or
I shall always be in fear. I want to know the bad as well as the
good!"

"Do you call it bad to find yourself a countess?" he asked, with an
air of mock horror.

"I find it difficult to get used to the idea," she said, with a
rather watery smile; for the greatness thrust upon her was by no
means to her mind.

Later on, when she came out with her husband to drink a cup of
coffee with the group under the trees, although she was the same
Katherine, quick to smile, and with a pleasant word for everyone,
there was already a difference, and she carried herself with an
added stateliness which caused Mrs. Jenkin to remark with a
sentimental air that greatness had eaten into her soul.

But it was Oily Dave who took the chief credit for the whole
business, and, having succeeded in cornering the bishop and Mr.
Clay, he proceeded to inform them of the manner in which he had
helped the match along. "If it hadn't been for me there wouldn't
have been no interesting occasion such as this here to-day," he
said, standing before them, the fishing boots planted wide apart,
the "top" hat carefully held in his left hand: for of course he
could not have his head covered in presence of a bishop; moreover,
the hat, being too big for him, had a trick of coming down over his
face like an extinguisher.

"Pray, what was it that you did to help the business forward?"
asked the bishop, with a twinkle in his eye, whilst Mr. Clay's
stiff black hair nearly curled with horror at the thought of a
low-class person like Oily Dave having anything to do with making
the marriage of his client, the Earl of Compton.

"I gave the girl, I mean her ladyship, the chance to save the young
man's life, and that, I take it, was the starting-point of the
whole affair."

"Without doubt it helped the process," replied the bishop with a
laugh; and then Mr. Selincourt intervened by saying it was time for
the bishop's service to begin, so Oily Dave was promptly hustled to
his proper place in the background.

The bishop was more than ordinarily eloquent that evening; but the
bride, in her white robe, sitting beside her husband, heard only
the words of the text: "He shall choose our inheritance for us".

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