Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Al Haines
THE CALL OF THE NORTH
Beyond the butternut, beyond the maple,
beyond the white pine and the red, beyond
the oak, the cedar, and the beech, beyond
even the white and yellow birches lies a
Land, and in that Land the shadows fall
crimson across the snow.
THE CALL OF THE NORTH
Being a Dramatized Version of
A Romance of the Free Forest
Stewart Edward White
AUTHOR OF THE WESTERNERS,
THE BLAZED TRAIL,
THE CALL OF THE NORTH
The girl stood on a bank above a river flowing north. At her back
crouched a dozen clean whitewashed buildings. Before her in
interminable journey, day after day, league on league into
remoteness, stretched the stern Northern wilderness, untrodden save
by the trappers, the Indians, and the beasts. Close about the
little settlement crept the balsams and spruce, the birch and
poplar, behind which lurked vast dreary muskegs, a chaos of
bowlder-splits, the forest. The girl had known nothing different
for many years. Once a summer the sailing ship from England felt
its frozen way through the Hudson Straits, down the Hudson Bay, to
drop anchor in the mighty River of the Moose. Once a summer a
six-fathom canoe manned by a dozen paddles struggled down the
waters of the broken Abitibi. Once a year a little band of
red-sashed _voyageurs_ forced their exhausted sledge-dogs across
the ice from some unseen wilderness trail. That was all.
Before her eyes the seasons changed, all grim, but one by the very
pathos of brevity sad. In the brief luxuriant summer came the
Indians to trade their pelts, came the keepers of the winter posts
to rest, came the ship from England bringing the articles of use or
ornament she had ordered a full year before. Within a short time
all were gone, into the wilderness, into the great unknown world.
The snow fell; the river and the bay froze. Strange men from the
North glided silently to the Factor's door, bearing the meat and
pelts of the seal. Bitter iron cold shackled the northland, the
abode of desolation. Armies of caribou drifted by, ghostly under
the aurora, moose, lordly and scornful, stalked majestically along
the shore; wolves howled invisible, or trotted dog-like in
organized packs along the river banks. Day and night the ice
artillery thundered. Night and day the fireplaces roared defiance
to a frost they could not subdue, while the people of desolation
crouched beneath the tyranny of winter.
Then the upheaval of spring with the ice-jams and terrors, the
Moose roaring by untamable, the torrents rising, rising foot by
foot to the very dooryard of her father's house. Strange spirits
were abroad at night, howling, shrieking, cracking and groaning in
voices of ice and flood. Her Indian nurse told her of them all--of
Mannabosho, the good; of Nenaubosho the evil--in her lisping
Ojibway dialect that sounded like the softer voices of the forest.
At last the sudden subsidence of the waters; the splendid eager
blossoming of the land into new leaves, lush grasses, an abandon of
sweetbrier and hepatica. The air blew soft, a thousand singing
birds sprang from the soil, the wild goose cried in triumph.
Overhead shone the hot sun of the Northern summer.
From the wilderness came the _brigades_ bearing their pelts, the
hardy traders of the winter posts, striking hot the imagination
through the mysterious and lonely allurement of their callings.
For a brief season, transient as the flash of a loon's wing on the
shadow of a lake, the post was bright with the thronging of many
people. The Indians pitched their wigwams on the broad meadows
below the bend; the half-breeds sauntered about, flashing bright
teeth and wicked dark eyes at whom it might concern; the traders
gazed stolidily over their little black pipes, and uttered brief
sentences through their thick black beards. Everywhere was gay
sound--the fiddle, the laugh, the song; everywhere was gay
color--the red sashes of the _voyageurs_, the beaded moccasins and
leggings of the _metis_, the capotes of the _brigade_, the
variegated costumes of the Crees and Ojibways. Like the wild roses
around the edge of the muskegs, this brief flowering of the year
passed. Again the nights were long, again the frost crept down
from the eternal snow, again the wolves howled across barren wastes.
Just now the girl stood ankle-deep in green grasses, a bath of
sunlight falling about her, a tingle of salt wind humming up the
river from the bay's offing. She was clad in gray wool, and wore
no hat. Her soft hair, the color of ripe wheat, blew about her
temples, shadowing eyes of fathomless black. The wind had brought
to the light and delicate brown of her complexion a trace of color
to match her lips whose scarlet did not fade after the ordinary and
imperceptible manner into the tinge of her skin, but continued
vivid to the very edge; her eyes were wide and unseeing. One hand
rested idly on the breech of an ornamented bronze field-gun.
McDonald, the chief trader, passed from the house to the store
where his bartering with the Indians was daily carried on; the
other Scotchman in the Post, Galen Albret, her father, and the head
Factor of all this region, paced back and forth across the veranda
of the factory, caressing his white beard; up by the stockade,
young Achille Picard tuned his whistle to the note of the curlew;
across the meadow from the church wandered Crane, the little Church
of England missionary, peering from short-sighted pale blue eyes;
beyond the coulee, Sarnier and his Indians _chock-chock-chocked_
away at the seams of the long coast-trading bateau. The girl saw
nothing, heard nothing. She was dreaming, she was trying to
In the lines of her slight figure, in its pose there by the old gun
over the old, old river, was the grace of gentle blood, the pride
of caste. Of all this region her father was the absolute lord,
feared, loved, obeyed by all its human creatures. When he went
abroad, he travelled in a state almost mediaeval in its
magnificence; when he stopped at home, men came to him from the
Albany, the Kenogami, the Missinaibe, the Mattagami, the
Abitibi--from all the rivers of the North--to receive his commands.
Way was made for him, his lightest word was attended. In his house
dwelt ceremony, and of his house she was the princess.
Unconsciously she bad taken the gracious habit of command. She had
come to value her smile, her word; to value herself. The lady of a
realm greater than the countries of Europe, she moved serene, pure,
lofty amid dependants.
And as the lady of this realm she did honor to her father's
guests--sitting stately behind the beautiful silver service, below
the portrait of the Company's greatest explorer, Sir George
Simpson, dispensing crude fare in gracious manner, listening
silently to the conversation, finally withdrawing at the last with
a sweeping courtesy to play soft, melancholy, and world-forgotten
airs on the old piano, brought over years before by the _Lady
Head_, while the guests made merry with the mellow port and ripe
Manila cigars which the Company supplied its servants. Then
coffee, still with her natural Old World charm of the _grande
dame_. Such guests were not many, nor came often. There was
McTavish of Rupert's House, a three days' journey to the northeast;
Rand of Fort Albany, a week's travel to the northwest; Mault of
Fort George, ten days beyond either, all grizzled in the Company's
service. With them came their clerks, mostly English and Scotch
younger sons, with a vast respect for the Company, and a vaster for
their Factors daughter. Once in two or three years appeared the
inspectors from Winnipeg, true lords of the North, with their
six-fathom canoes, their luxurious furs, their red banners trailing
like gonfalons in the water. Then this post of Conjuror's House
feasted and danced, undertook gay excursions, discussed in public
or private conclave weighty matters, grave and reverend advices,
cautions, and commands. They went. Desolation again crept in.
The girl dreamed. She was trying to remember. Far-off,
half-forgotten visions of brave, courtly men, of gracious,
beautiful women, peopled the clouds of her imaginings. She heard
them again, as voices beneath the roar of rapids, like far-away
bells tinkling faintly through a wind, pitying her, exclaiming over
her; she saw them dim and changing, as wraiths of a fog, as shadow
pictures in a mist beneath the moon, leaning to her with bright,
shining eyes full of compassion for the little girl who was to go
so far away into an unknown land; she felt them, as the touch of a
breeze when the night is still, fondling her, clasping her, tossing
her aloft in farewell. One she felt plainly--a gallant youth who
held her up for all to see. One she saw clearly--a dewy-eyed,
lovely woman who murmured loving, broken words. One she heard
distinctly--a gentle voice that said, "God's love be with you,
little one, for you have far to go, and many days to pass before
you see Quebec again." And the girl's eyes suddenly swam bright,
for the northland was very dreary. She threw her palms out in a
gesture of weariness.
Then her arms dropped, her eyes widened, her head bent forward in
the attitude of listening.
"Achille!" she called. "Achille! Come here!"
The young fellow approached respectfully.
"Mademoiselle?" he asked.
"Don't you hear?" she said.
Faint, between intermittent silences, came the singing of men's
voices from the south.
"_Grace a Dieu_!" cried Achille. "Eet is so. Eet is dat
He ran shouting toward the factory.
Men, women, dogs, children sprang into sight from nowhere, and ran
pell-mell to the two cannon. Galen Albret, reappearing from the
factory, began to issue orders. Two men set about hoisting on the
tall flag-staff the blood-red banner of the Company. Speculation,
excited and earnest, arose among the men as to which of the
branches of the Moose this _brigade_ had hunted--the Abitibi, the
Mattagami, or the Missinaibie. The half-breed women shaded their
eyes. Mrs. Cockburn, the doctor's wife, and the only other white
woman in the settlement, came and stood by Virginia Albret's side.
Wishkobun, the Ojibway woman from the south country, and Virginia's
devoted familiar, took her half-jealous stand on the other.
"It is the same every year. We always like to see them come," said
Mrs. Cockburn, in her monotonous low voice of resignation.
"Yes," replied Virginia, moving a little impatiently, for she
anticipated eagerly the picturesque coming of these men of the
Silent Places, and wished to savor the pleasure undistracted.
"Mi-di-mo-yay ka'-win-ni-shi-shin," said Wishkobun, quietly.
"Ae," replied Virginia, with a little laugh, patting the woman's
A shout arose. Around the bend shot a canoe. At once every paddle
in it was raised to a perpendicular salute, then all together
dashed into the water with the full strength of the _voyageurs_
wielding them. The canoe fairly leaped through the cloud of spray.
Another rounded the bend, another double row of paddles flashed in
the sunlight, another crew broke into a tumult of rapid exertion as
they raced the last quarter mile of the long journey. A third
burst into view, a fourth, a fifth. The silent river was alive
with motion, glittering with color. The canoes swept onward, like
race-horses straining against the rider. Now the spectators could
make out plainly the boatmen. It could be seen that they had
decked themselves out for the occasion. Their heads were bound
with bright-colored fillets, their necks with gay scarves. The
paddles were adorned with gaudy woollen streamers. New leggings,
of holiday pattern, were intermittently visible on the bowsmen and
steersmen as they half rose to give added force to their efforts.
At first the men sang their canoe songs, but as the swift rush of
the birch-barks brought them almost to their journey's end, they
burst into wild shrieks and whoops of delight.
All at once they were close to hand. The steersman rose to throw
his entire weight on the paddle. The canoe swung abruptly for the
shore. Those in it did not relax their exertions, but continued
their vigorous strokes until within a few yards of apparent
"Hola! hola!" they cried, thrusting their paddles straight down
into the water with a strong backward twist. The stout wood bent
and cracked. The canoe stopped short and the _voyageurs_ leaped
ashore to be swallowed up in the crowd that swarmed down upon them.
The races were about equally divided, and each acted after its
instincts--the Indian greeting his people quietly, and stalking
away to the privacy of his wigwam; the more volatile white catching
his wife or his sweetheart or his child to his arms. A swarm of
Indian women and half-grown children set about unloading the
canoes. Virginia's eyes ran over the crews of the various craft.
She recognized them all, of course, to the last Indian packer, for
in so small a community the personality and doings of even the
humblest members are well known to everyone. Long since she had
identified the _brigade_. It was of the Missinaibie, the great
river whose head-waters rise a scant hundred feet from those that
flow as many miles south into Lake Superior. It drains a wild and
rugged country whose forests cling to bowlder hills, whose streams
issue from deep-riven gorges, where for many years the big gray
wolves had gathered in unusual abundance. She knew by heart the
winter posts, although she had never seen them. She could imagine
the isolation of such a place, and the intense loneliness of the
solitary man condemned to live through the dark Northern winters,
seeing no one but the rare Indians who might come in to trade with
him for their pelts. She could appreciate the wild joy of a return
for a brief season to the company of fellow-men.
When her glance fell upon the last of the canoes, it rested with a
flash of surprise. The craft was still floating idly, its bow
barely caught against the bank. The crew had deserted, but
amidships, among the packages of pelts and duffel, sat a stranger,
The canoe was that of the post at Kettle Portage.
She saw the stranger to be a young man with a clean-cut face, a
trim athletic figure dressed in the complete costume of the
_voyageurs_, and thin brown and muscular hands. When the canoe
touched the bank he had taken no part in the scramble to shore, and
so had sat forgotten and unnoticed save by the girl, his figure
erect with something of the Indian's stoical indifference. Then
when, for a moment, he imagined himself free from observation, his
expression abruptly changed. His hands clenched tense between his
buckskin knees, his eyes glanced here and there restlessly, and an
indefinable shadow of something which Virginia felt herself obtuse
in labelling desperation, and yet to which she discovered it
impossible to fit a name, descended on his features, darkening
them. Twice he glanced away to the south. Twice he ran his eye
over the vociferating crowd on the narrow beach.
Absorbed in the silent drama of a man's unguarded expression,
Virginia leaned forward eagerly. In some vague manner it was borne
in on her that once before she had experienced the same emotion,
had come into contact with someone, something, that had affected
her emotionally just as this man did now. But she could not place
it. Over and over again she forced her mind to the very point of
recollection, but always it slipped back again from the verge of
attainment. Then a little movement, some thrust forward of the
head, some nervous, rapid shifting of the hands or feet, some
unconscious poise of the shoulders, brought the scene flashing
before her--the white snow, the still forest, the little square pen
trap, the wolverine, desperate but cool, thrusting its blunt nose
quickly here and there in baffled hope of an orifice of escape.
Somehow the man reminded her of the animal, the fierce little woods
marauder, trapped and hopeless, but scorning to cower as would the
gentler creatures of the forest.
Abruptly his expression changed again. His figure stiffened, the
muscles of his face turned iron. Virginia saw that someone on the
beach had pointed toward him. His mask was on.
The first burst of greeting was over. Here and there one or
another of the _brigade_ members jerked their heads in the
stranger's direction, explaining low-voiced to their companions.
Soon all eyes turned curiously toward the canoe. A hum of
low-voiced comment took the place of louder delight.
The stranger, finding himself generally observed, rose slowly to
his feet, picked his way with a certain exaggerated deliberation of
movement over the duffel lying in the bottom of the canoe, until he
reached the bow, where he paused, one foot lifted to the gunwale
just above the emblem of the painted star. Immediately a dead
silence fell. Groups shifted, drew apart, and together again, like
the slow agglomeration of sawdust on the surface of water, until at
last they formed in a semicircle of staring, whose centre was the
bow of the canoe and the stranger from Kettle Portage. The men
scowled, the women regarded him with a half-fearful curiosity.
Virginia Albret shivered in the shock of this sudden electric
polarity. The man seemed alone against a sullen, unexplained
hostility. The desperation she had thought to read but a moment
before had vanished utterly, leaving in its place a scornful
indifference and perhaps more than a trace of recklessness. He was
ripe for an outbreak. She did not in the least understand, but she
knew it from the depths of her woman's instinct, and unconsciously
her sympathies flowed out to this man, alone without a greeting
where all others came to their own.
For perhaps a full sixty seconds the newcomer stood uncertain what
he should do, or perhaps waiting for some word or act to tip the
balance of his decision. One after another those on shore felt the
insolence of his stare, and shifted uneasily. Then his deliberate
scrutiny rose to the group by the cannon. Virginia caught her
breath sharply. In spite of herself she could not turn away. The
stranger's eye crossed her own. She saw the hard look fade into
pleased surprise. Instantly his hat swept the gunwale of the
canoe. He stepped magnificently ashore. The crisis was over. Not
a word had been spoken.
Galen Albret sat in his rough-hewn armchair at the head of the
table, receiving the reports of his captains. The long, narrow
room opened before him, heavy raftered, massive, white, with a
cavernous fireplace at either end. Above him frowned Sir George's
portrait, at his right hand and his left stretched the row of
home-made heavy chairs, finished smooth and dull by two centuries
His arms were laid along the arms of his seat; his shaggy head was
sunk forward until his beard swept the curve of his big chest; the
heavy tufts of hair above his eyes were drawn steadily together in
a frown of attention. One after another the men arose and spoke.
He made no movement, gave no sign, his short, powerful form blotted
against the lighter silhouette of his chair, only his eyes and the
white of his beard gleaming out of the dusk.
Kern of Old Brunswick House, Achard of New; Ki-wa-nee, the Indian
of Flying Post--these and others told briefly of many things, each
in his own language. To all Galen Albret listened in silence.
Finally Louis Placide from the post at Kettle Portage got to his
feet. He too reported of the trade,--so many "beaver" of tobacco,
of powder, of lead, of pork, of flour, of tea, given in exchange;
so many mink, otter, beaver, ermine, marten, and fisher pelts taken
in return. Then he paused and went on at greater length in regard
to the stranger, speaking evenly but with emphasis. When he had
finished. Galen Albret struck a bell at his elbow. Me-en-gan, the
bowsman of the factor's canoe, entered, followed closely by the
young man who had that afternoon arrived.
He was dressed still in his costume of the _voyageur_--the loose
blouse shirt, the buckskin leggings and moccasins, the long
tasselled red sash. His head was as high and his glance as free,
but now the steel blue of his eye had become steady and wary, and
two faint lines had traced themselves between his brows. At his
entrance a hush of expectation fell. Galen Albret did not stir,
but the others hitched nearer the long, narrow table, and two or
three leaned both elbows on it the better to catch what should
Me-en-gan stopped by the door, but the stranger walked steadily the
length of the room until he faced the Factor. Then he paused and
waited collectedly for the other to speak.
This the Factor did not at once begin to do, but sat
impassive--apparently without thought--while the heavy breathing of
the men in the room marked off the seconds of time. Finally
abruptly Galen Albret's cavernous voice boomed forth. Something
there was strangely mysterious, cryptic, in the virile tones
issuing from a bulk so massive and inert. Galen Albret did not
move, did not even raise the heavy-lidded, dull stare of his eyes
to the young man who stood before him; hardly did his broad arched
chest seem to rise and fall with the respiration of speech; and yet
each separate word leaped forth alive, instinct with authority.
"Once at Leftfoot Lake, two Indians caught you asleep," he
pronounced. "They took your pelts and arms, and escorted you to
Sudbury. They were my Indians. Once on the upper Abitibi you were
stopped by a man named Herbert, who warned you from the country,
after relieving you of your entire outfit. He told you on parting
what you might expect if you should repeat the attempt--severe
measures, the severest. Herbert was my man. Now Louis Placide
surprises you in a rapids near Kettle Portage and brings you here."
During the slow delivering of these accurately spaced words, the
attitude of the men about the long, narrow table gradually changed.
Their curiosity had been great before, but now their intellectual
interest was awakened, for these were facts of which Louis
Placide's statement had given no inkling. Before them, for the
dealing, was a problem of the sort whose solution had earned for
Galen Albret a reputation in the north country. They glanced at
one another to obtain the sympathy of attention, then back toward
their chief in anxious expectation of his next words. The
stranger, however, remained unmoved. A faint smile had sketched
the outline of his lips when first the Factor began to speak. This
smile he maintained to the end. As the older man paused, he
shrugged his shoulders.
"All of that is quite true." he admitted. Even the unimaginative
men of the Silent Places started at these simple words, and
vouchsafed to their speaker a more sympathetic attention. For the
tones in which they were delivered possessed that deep, rich throat
timbre which so often means power--personal magnetism--deep, from
the chest, with vibrant throat tones suggesting a volume of sound
which may in fact be only hinted by the loudness the man at the
moment sees fit to employ. Such a voice is a responsive instrument
on which emotion and mood play wonderfully seductive strains.
"All of that is quite true," he repeated after a second's pause;
"but what has it to do with me? Why am I stopped and sent out from
the free forest? I am really curious to know your excuse."
"This," replied Galen Albret, weightily, "is my domain. I tolerate
no rivalry here."
"Your right?" demanded the young man, briefly.
"I have made the trade, and I intend to keep it."
"In other words, the strength of your good right arm," supplemented
the stranger, with the faintest hint of a sneer.
"That is neither here nor there," rejoined Galen Albret, "the point
is that I intend to keep it. I've had you sent out, but you have
been too stupid or too obstinate to take the hint. Now I have to
warn you in person. I shall send you out once more, but this time
you must promise me not to meddle with the trade again."
He paused for a response. The young man's smile merely became
"I have means of making my wishes felt," warned the Factor.
"Quite so," replied the young man, deliberately, "_La Longue
At this unexpected pronouncement of that dread name two of the men
swore violently; the others thrust back their chairs and sat, their
arms rigidly braced against the table's edge, staring wide-eyed and
open-mouthed at the speaker. Only Galen Albret remained unmoved.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked, calmly.
"It amuses you to be ignorant," replied the stranger, with some
contempt. "Don't you think this farce is about played out? I do.
If you think you're deceiving me any with this show of formality,
you're mightily mistaken. Don't you suppose I knew what I was
about when I came into this country? Don't you suppose I had
weighed the risks and had made up my mind to take my medicine if I
should be caught? Your methods are not quite so secret as you
imagine. I know perfectly well what happens to Free Traders in
"You seem very certain of your information."
"Your men seem equally so," pointed out the stranger.
Galen Albret, at the beginning of the young man's longer speech,
had sunk almost immediately into his passive calm--the calm of
great elemental bodies, the calm of a force so vast as to rest
motionless by the very static power of its mass. When he spoke
again, it was in the tentative manner of his earlier interrogatory,
committing himself not at all, seeking to plumb his opponent's
"Why, if you have realized the gravity of your situation have you
persisted after having been twice warned?" he inquired.
"Because you're not the boss of creation," replied the young man,
Galen Albret merely raised his eyebrows.
"I've got as much business in this country as you have," continued
the young man, his tone becoming more incisive. "You don't seem to
realize that your charter of monopoly has expired. If the
government was worth a damn it would see to you fellows. You have
no more right to order me out of here than I would have to order
you out. Suppose some old Husky up on Whale River should send you
word that you weren't to trap in the Whale River district next
winter. I'll bet you'd be there. You Hudson Bay men tried the
same game out west It didn't work. You ask your western men if
they ever heard of Ned Trent."
"Your success does not seem to have followed you here," suggested
the Factor, ironically.
The young man smiled.
"This _Longue Traverse_," went on Albret, "what is your idea there?
I have heard something of it. What is your information?"
Ned Trent laughed outright. "You don't imagine there is any secret
about that!" he marvelled. "Why, every child north of the Line
knows that. You will send me away without arms, and with but a
handful of provisions. If the wilderness and starvation fail, your
runners will not. I shall never reach the Temiscamingues alive."
"The same old legend," commented Galen Albret in apparent
amusement, "I heard it when I first came to this country. You'll
find a dozen such in every Indian camp."
"Jo Bagneau, Morris Proctor, John May, William Jarvis," checked off
the young man on his fingers.
"Personal enmity," replied the Factor.
He glanced up to meet the young man's steady, sceptical smile.
"You do not believe me?"
"Oh, if it amuses you." conceded the stranger.
"The thing is not even worth discussion."
"Remarkable sensation among our friends here for so idle a tale."
Galen Albret considered.
"You will remember that throughout you have forced this interview,"
he pointed out. "Now I must ask your definite promise to get out
of this country and to stay out."
"No," replied Ned Trent.
"Then a means shall be found to make you!" threatened the Factor,
his anger blazing at last.
"Ah," said the stranger softly.
Galen Albret raised his hand and let it fall. The bronzed and
gaudily bedecked men filed out.
In the open air the men separated in quest of their various
families or friends. The stranger lingered undecided for a moment
on the top step of the veranda, and then wandered down the little
street, if street it could be called where horses there were none.
On the left ranged the square white-washed houses with their
dooryards, the old church, the workshop. To the right was a broad
grass-plot, and then the Moose, slipping by to the distant offing.
Over a little bridge the stranger idled, looking curiously about
him. The great trading-house attracted his attention, with its
narrow picket lane leading to the door; the storehouse surrounded
by a protective log fence; the fort itself, a medley of
heavy-timbered stockades and square block-houses. After a moment
he resumed his strolling. Everywhere he went the people looked at
him, ceasing their varied occupations. No one spoke to him, no one
hindered him. To all intents and purposes he was as free as the
air. But all about the island flowed the barrier of the Moose, and
beyond frowned the wilderness--strong as iron bars to an unarmed
Brooding on his imprisonment the Free Trader forgot his
surroundings. The post, the river, the forest, the distant bay
faded from his sight, and he fell into deep reflection. There
remained nothing of physical consciousness but a sense of the
grateful spring warmth from the declining sun. At length he became
vaguely aware of something else. He glanced up. Right by him he
saw a handsome French half-breed sprawled out in the sun against a
building, looking him straight in the face and flashing up at him a
"Hullo," said Achille Picard, "you mus' been 'sleep. I call you
two t'ree tam."
The prisoner seemed to find something grateful in the greeting even
from the enemy's camp. Perhaps it merely happened upon the
psychological moment for a response.
"Hullo," he returned, and seated himself by the man's side, lazily
stretching himself in enjoyment of the reflected heat.
"You is come off Kettle Portage, eh," said Achille, "I t'ink so.
You is come trade dose fur? Eet is bad beez-ness, dis Conjur'
House. Ole' man he no lak' dat you trade dose fur. He's very hard,
dat ole man."
"Yes," replied the stranger, "he has got to be, I suppose. This is
the country of _la Longue Traverse_."
"I beleef you," responded Achille, cheerfully; "w'at you call heem
"Me Achille--Achille Picard. I capitaine of dose dogs on dat
"It is a hard post. The winter travel is pretty tough."
"I beleef you."
"Better to take _la Longue Traverse_ in summer, eh?"
"_La Longue Traverse_--hees not mattaire w'en yo tak heem."
"Right you are. Have there been men sent out since you came here?"
"_Ba oui_. Wan, two, t'ree. I don' remember. I t'ink Jo Bagneau.
Nobodee he don' know, but dat ole man an' hees _coureurs du bois_.
He ees wan ver' great man. Nobodee is know w'at he will do."
"I'm due to hit that trail myself, I suppose," said Ned Trent.
"I have t'ink so," acknowledged Achille, still with a tone of most
"Shall I be sent out at once, do you think?"
"I don' know. Sometam' dat ole man ver' queek. Sometam' he ver'
slow. One day Injun mak' heem ver' mad; he let heem go, and shot
dat Injun right off. Noder tam he get mad on one _voyageur_, but
he don' keel heem queek; he bring heem here, mak' heem stay in dose
warm room, feed heem dose plaintee grub. Purty soon dose
_voyageur_ is get fat, is go sof'; he no good for dose trail. Ole
man he mak' heem go ver' far off, mos' to Whale Reever. Eet is
plaintee cole. Dat _voyageur_, he freeze to hees inside. Dey tell
me he feex heem like dat."
"Achille, you haven't anything against me--do you want me to die?"
The half-breed flashed his white teeth.
"Ba non," he replied, carelessly. "For w'at I want dat you die? I
t'ink you bus' up bad; _vous avez la mauvaise fortune."
"Listen. I have nothing with me; but out at the front I am very
rich. I will give you a hundred dollars, if you will help me to get
"I can' do eet," smiled Picard.
"Ole man he fin' dat out. He is wan devil, dat ole man. I lak
firs'-rate help you; I lak' dat hundred dollar. On Ojibway
countree dey make hees nam' _Wagosh_--dat mean fox. He know
"I'll make it two hundred--three hundred--five hundred."
"Wat you wan' me do?" hesitated Achille Picard at the last figure.
"Get me a rifle and some cartridges."
The half-breed rolled a cigarette, lighted it, and inhaled a deep
"I can' do eet," he declared. "I can' do eet for t'ousand
dollar--ten t'ousand. I don't t'ink you fin' anywan on dis
settlement w'at can dare do eet. He is wan devil. He's count all
de carabine on dis pos', an' w'en he is mees wan, he fin' out purty
queek who is tak' heem."
"Steal one from someone else," suggested Trent.
"He fin' out jess sam'," objected the half-breed, obstinately.
"You don' know heem. He mak' you geev yourself away, when he lak'
do dat." The smile had left the man's face. This was evidently
too serious a matter to be taken lightly.
"Well, come with me, then," urged Ned Trent, with some impatience.
"A thousand dollars I'll give you. With that you can be rich
But the man was becoming more and more uneasy, glancing furtively
from left to right and back again, in an evident panic lest the
conversation be overheard, although the nearest dwelling-house was
a score of yards distant.
"Hush," he whispered. "You mustn't talk lak' dat. Dose ole man
fin' you out. You can' hide away from heem. Ole tam long ago,
Pierre Cadotte is stole feefteen skin of de otter--de
sea-otter--and he is sol' dem on Winnipeg. He is get 'bout
thousand beaver--five hunder' dollar. Den he is mak' dose longue
voyage wes'--ver' far wes'--_on dit_ Peace Reever. He is mak' heem
dose cabane, w'ere he is leev long tam wid wan man of Mackenzie.
He is call it hees nam' Dick Henderson. I is meet Dick Henderson
on Winnipeg las' year, w'en I mak' paddle on dem Factor Brigade,
an' dose High Commissionaire. He is tol' me wan night pret' late
he wake up all de queeck he can w'en he is hear wan noise in dose
cabane, an' he is see wan Injun, lak' phantome 'gainst de moon to
de door. Dick Henderson he is 'sleep, he don' know w'at he mus'
do. Does Injun is step ver' sof' an' go on bunk of Pierre Cadotte.
Pierre Cadotte is mak' de beeg cry. Dick Henderson say he no see
dose Injun no more, an' he fin' de door shut' _Ba_ Pierre Cadotte,
she's go dead. He is mak' wan beeg hole in hees ches'."
"Some enemy, some robber frightened Away because the Henderson man
woke up, probably," suggested Ned Trent.
The half-breed laid his hand impressively on the other's arm and
leaned forward until his bright black eyes were within a foot of
the other's face.
"Wen dose Injun is stan' heem in de moonlight, Dick Henderson is
see hees face. Dick Henderson is know all dose Injun. He is tole
me dat Injun is not Peace Reever Injun. Dick Henderson is say dose
Injun is Ojibway Injun--Ojibway Injun two t'ousand mile wes'--on
Peace Reever! Dat's curi's!"
"I was tell you nodder story--" went on Achille, after a moment.
"Never mind," interrupted the Trader. "I believe you."
"Maybee," said Achille cheerfully, "you stan' some show--not
moche--eef he sen' you out pret' queeck. Does small _perdrix_ is
yonge, an' dose duck. Maybee you is catch dem, maybee you is keel
dem wit' bow an' arrow. Dat's not beeg chance. You mus' geev dose
_coureurs de bois_ de sleep w'en you arrive. _Voila_, I geev you
He glanced rapidly to right and left, then slipped a small object
into the stranger's hand.
"_Ba_, I t'ink does ole man is know dat. I t'ink he kip you here
till tam w'en dose _perdrix_ and duck is all grow up beeg' nuff so
he can fly."
"I'm not watched," said the young man in eager tones: "I'll slip
"Dat no good," objected Picard. "Wat you do? S'pose you do dat,
dose _coureurs_ keel you _toute suite_. Dey is have good excuse,
an' you is have nothing to mak' de fight. You sleep away, and dose
ole man is sen' out plaintee Injun. Dey is fine you sure. _Ba_,
eef he sen' you out, den he sen' onlee two Injun. Maybee you fight
dem; I don' know. _Non, mon ami_, eef you is wan' get away w'en
dose ole man he don' know eet, you mus' have dose carabine. Den
you is have wan leetle chance. _Ba, eef you is not have heem dose
carabine, you mus' need dose leetle grub he geev you, and not
plaintee Injun follow you, onlee two."
"And I cannot get the rifle."
"An' dose ole man is don' sen' you out till eet is too late for
mak' de grub on de fores'. Dat's w'at I t'ink. Dat ees not fonny
Ned Trent's eyes were almost black with thought. Suddenly he threw
his head up.
"I'll make him send me out now," he asserted confidently.
"How you mak' eet him?"
"I'll talk turkey to him till he's so mad he can't see straight.
Then maybe he'll send me out right away."
"How you mak' eet him so mad? inquired Picard, with mild curiosity.
"Never you mind--I'll do it"
"_Ba oui_," ruminated Picard, "He is get mad pret' queeck. I t'ink
p'raps dat plan he go all right. You was get heem mad plaintee
easy. Den maybee he is sen' you out toute suite--maybee he is
"I'll take the chances--my friend."
"_Ba oui_," shrugged Achille Picard, "eet is wan chance."
He commenced to roll another cigarette.
Having sat buried in thought for a full five minutes after the
traders of the winter posts had left him, Galen Albret thrust back
his chair and walked into a room, long, low, and heavily raftered,
strikingly unlike the Council Room. Its floor was overlaid with
dark rugs; a piano of ancient model filled one corner; pictures and
books broke the wall; the lamps and the windows were shaded, a
woman's work-basket and a tea-set occupied a large table. Only a
certain barbaric profusion of furs, the huge fireplace, and the
rough rafters of the ceiling differentiated the place from the
drawing-room of a well-to-do family anywhere.
Galen Albret sank heavily into a chair and struck a bell. A tall,
slightly stooped English servant, with correct side whiskers and
incompetent, watery blue eyes, answered. To him said the Factor:
"I wish to see Miss Albret."
A moment later Virginia entered the room.
"Let us have some tea, O-mi-mi," requested her father.
The girl moved gently about, preparing and lighting the lamp,
measuring the tea, her fair head bowed gracefully over her task,
her dark eyes pensive and but half following what she did. Finally
with a certain air of decision she seated herself on the arm of a
"Father," said she.
"A stranger came to-day with Louis Placide of Kettle Portage."
"He was treated strangely by our people, and he treated them
strangely in return. Why is that?"
"Who can tell?"
"What is his station? Is he a common trader? He does not look it."
"He is a man of intelligence and daring."
"Then why is he not our guest?"
Galen Albret did not answer. After a moment's pause he asked again
for his tea. The girl turned away impatiently. Here was a puzzle,
neither the _voyageurs_, nor Wishkobun her nurse, nor her father
would explain to her. The first had grinned stupidly; the second
had drawn her shawl across her face, the third asked for tea!
She handed her father the cup, hesitated, then ventured to inquire
whether she was forbidden to greet the stranger should the occasion
"He is a gentleman," replied her father.
She sipped her tea thoughtfully, her imagination stirring. Again
her recollection lingered over the clear bronze lines of the
stranger's face. Something vaguely familiar seemed to touch her
consciousness with ghostly fingers. She closed her eyes and tried
to clutch them. At once they were withdrawn. And then again, when
her attention wandered, they stole back, plucking appealingly at
the hem of her recollections.
The room was heavy-curtained, deep embrasured, for the house,
beneath its clap-boards, was of logs. Although out of doors the
clear spring sunshine still flooded the valley of the Moose;
within, the shadows had begun with velvet fingers to extinguish the
brighter lights. Virginia threw herself back on a chair in the
"Virginia," said Galen Albret, suddenly,
"You are no longer a child, but a woman. Would you like to go to
She did not answer him at once, but pondered beneath close-knit
"Do you wish me to go, father?" she asked at length.
"You are eighteen. It is time you saw the world, time you learned
the ways of other people. But the journey is hard. I may not see
you again for some years. You go among strangers."
He fell silent again. Motionless he had been, except for the
mumbling of his lips beneath his beard.
"It shall be just as you wish," he added a moment later.
At once a conflict arose in the girl's mind between her restless
dreams and her affections. But beneath all the glitter of the
question there was really nothing to take her out. Here was her
father, here were the things she loved; yonder was novelty--and
Her existence at Conjuror's House was perhaps a little complex, but
it was familiar. She knew the people, and she took a daily and
unwearying delight in the kindness and simplicity of their bearing
toward herself. Each detail of life came to her in the round of
habit, wearing the garment of accustomed use. But of the world she
knew nothing except what she had been able to body forth from her
reading, and that had merely given her imagination something
tangible with which to feed her self-distrust.
"Must I decide at once?" she asked.
"If you go this year, it must be with the Abitibi _brigade_. You
have until then."
"Thank you, father." said the girl, sweetly.
The shadows stole their surroundings one by one, until only the
bright silver of the tea-service, and the glitter of polished wood,
and the square of the open door remained. Galen Albret became an
inert dark mass. Virginia's gray was lost in that of the twilight.
Time passed. The clock ticked on. Faintly sounds penetrated from
the kitchen, and still more faintly from out of doors. Then the
rectangle of the door-way was darkened by a man peering
uncertainly. The man wore his hat, from which slanted a slender
heron's plume; his shoulders were square; his thighs slim and
Against the light, one caught the outline of the sash's tassel and
the fringe of his leggings.
"Are you there, Galen Albret?" he challenged.
The spell of twilight mystery broke. It seemed as if suddenly the
air had become surcharged with the vitality of opposition.
"What then?" countered the Factor's heavy, deliberate tones.
"True, I see you now," rejoined the visitor carelessly, as he flung
himself across the arm of a chair and swung one foot. "I do not
doubt you are convinced by this time of my intention."
"My recollection does not tell me what messenger I sent to ask this
"Correct," laughed the young man a little hardly. "You _didn't_
ask it. I attended to that myself. What you want doesn't concern
me in the least. What do you suppose I care what, or what not, any
of this crew wants? I'm master of my own ideas, anyway, thank God.
If you don't like what I do, you can always stop me." In the tone
of his voice was a distinct challenge. Galen Albret, it seemed,
chose to pass it by.
"True," he replied sombrely, after a barely perceptible pause to
mark his tacit displeasure. "It is your hour. Say on."
"I should like to know the date at which I take _la Longue
"You persist in that nonsense?"
"Call my departure whatever you want to--I have the name for it.
When do I leave?"
"I have not decided."
"And in the meantime?"
"Do as you please."
"Ah, thanks for this generosity," cried the young man, in a tone of
declamatory sarcasm so artificial as fairly to scent the
elocutionary. "To do as I please--here--now there's a blessed
privilege! I may walk around where I want to, talk to such as have
a good word for me, punish those who have not! But do I err in
concluding that the state of your game law is such that it would be
useless to reclaim my rifle from the engaging Placide?"
"You have a fine instinct," approved the Factor.
"It is one of my valued possessions," rejoined the young man,
insolently. He struck a match, and by its light selected a
"I do not myself use tobacco in this room," suggested the older
"I am curious to learn the limits of your forbearance," replied the
younger, proceeding to smoke.
He threw back his head and regarded his opponent with an open
challenge, daring him to become angry. The match went out.
Virginia, who had listened in growing anger and astonishment,
unable longer to refrain from defending the dignity of her usually
autocratic father, although he seemed little disposed to defend
himself, now intervened from her dark corner on the divan.
"Is the journey then so long, sir," she asked composedly, "that it
at once inspires such anticipations--and such bitterness?"
In an instant the man was on his feet, hat in hand, and the
cigarette had described a fiery curve into the empty hearth.
"I beg your pardon, sincerely," he cried, "I did not know you were
"You might better apologize to my father," replied Virginia.
The young man stepped forward and without asking permission,
lighted one of the tall lamps.
"The lady of the guns!" he marvelled softly to himself.
He moved across the room, looking down on her inscrutably, while
she looked up at him in composed expectation of an apology--and
Galen Albret sat motionless, in the shadow of his great arm-chair.
But after a moment her calm attention broke down. Something there
was about this man that stirred her emotions--whether of curiosity,
pity, indignation, or a slight defensive fear she was not
introspective enough to care to inquire. And yet the sensation was
not altogether unpleasant, and, as at the guns that afternoon, a
certain portion of her consciousness remained in sympathy with
whatever it was of mysterious attraction he represented to her. In
him she felt the dominant, as a wild creature of the woods
instinctively senses the master and drops its eyes. Resentment did
not leave her, but over it spread a film of confusion that robbed
it of its potency. In him, in his mood, in his words, in his
manner, was something that called out in direct appeal the more
primitive instincts hitherto dormant beneath her sense of
maidenhood, so that even at this vexed moment of conscious
opposition, her heart was ranging itself on his side.
Overpoweringly the feeling swept her that she was not acting in
accordance with her sense of fitness. She knew she should strike,
but was unable to give due force to the blow. In the confusion of
such a discovery, her eyelids fluttered and fell. And he saw, and,
understanding his power, dropped swiftly beside her on the broad
"You must pardon me, mademoiselle," he begun, his voice sinking to
a depth of rich music singularly caressing. "To you I may seem to
have small excuses, but when a man is vouchsafed a glimpse of
heaven only to be cast out the next instant into hell, he is not
always particular in the choice of words."
All the time his eyes sought hers, which avoided the challenge, and
the strong masculine charm of magnetism which he possessed in such
vital abundance overwhelmed her unaccustomed consciousness. Galen
Albret shifted uneasily, and shot a glance in their direction. The
stranger, perceiving this, lowered his voice in register and tone,
and went on with almost exaggerated earnestness.
"Surely you can forgive me, a desperate man, almost anything?"
"I do not understand," said Virginia, with a palpable effort.
Ned Trent leaned forward until his eager face was almost at her
"Perhaps not," he urged; "I cannot ask you to try. But suppose,
mademoiselle, you were in my case. Suppose your eyes--like
mine--have rested on nothing but a howling wilderness for dear
heaven knows how long; you come at last in sight of real houses,
real grass, real door-yard gardens just ready to blossom in the
spring, real food, real beds, real books, real men with whom to
exchange the sensible word, and something more, mademoiselle--a
woman such as one dreams of in the long forest nights under the
stars. And you know that while others, the lucky ones, may stay to
enjoy it all, you, the unfortunate, are condemned to leave it at
any moment for _la Longue Traverse_. Would not you, too, be
bitter, mademoiselle? Would not you too mock and sneer? Think,
mademoiselle, I have not even the little satisfaction of rousing
men's anger. I can insult them as I will, but they turn aside in
pity, saying one to another: 'Let us pleasure him in this, poor
fellow, for he is about to take _la Longue Traverse_.' That is why
your father accepts calmly from me what he would not from another."
Virginia sat bolt upright on the divan, her hands clasped in her
lap, her wonderful black eyes looking straight out before her,
trying to avoid her companion's insistent gaze. His attention was
fixed on her mobile and changing countenance, but he marked with
evident satisfaction Galen Albret's growing uneasiness. This was
evidenced only by a shifting of the feet, a tapping of the fingers,
a turning of the shaggy head--in such a man slight tokens are
significant. The silence deepened with the shadows drawing about
the single lamp, while Virginia attempted to maintain a breathing
advantage above the flood of strange emotions which the personality
of this man had swept down upon her.
"It does not seem--" objected the girl in bewilderment, "I do not
know--men are often out in this country for years at a time. Long
journeys are not unknown among us, We are used to undertaking them."
"But not _la Longue Traverse_," insisted the young man, sombrely.
"_La Longue Traverse_." she repeated in sweet perplexity.
"Sometimes called the Journey of Death," he explained.
She turned to look him in the eyes, a vague expression of puzzled
fear on her face.
"She has never heard of it," said Ned Trent to himself, and aloud:
"Men who undertake it leave comfort behind. They embrace hunger
and weariness, cold and disease. At the last they embrace death,
and are glad of his coming."
Something in his tone compelled belief; something in his face told
her that he was a man by whom the inevitable hardships of winter
and summer travel, fearful as they are, would be lightly endured.
"This dreadful thing is necessary?" she asked.
"I do not understand----"
"In the North few of us understand," agreed the young man with a
hint of bitterness seeping through his voice. "The mighty order,
and so we obey. But that is beside the point. I have not told you
these things to harrow you; I have tried to excuse myself for my
actions. Does it touch you a little? Am I forgiven?"
"I do not understand how such things can be," she objected in some
confusion, "why such journeys must exist. My mind cannot
comprehend your explanations."
The stranger leaned forward abruptly, his eyes blazing with the
magnetic personality of the man.
"But your heart?" he breathed.
It was the moment. "My heart--" she repeated, as though bewildered
by the intensity of his eyes, "my heart--ah--yes!"
Immediately the blood rushed over her face and throat in a torrent.
She snatched her eyes away, and cowered back in the corner, going
red and white by turns, now angry, now frightened, now bewildered,
until his gaze, half masterful, half pleading, again conquered
hers. Galen Albret had ceased tapping his chair. In the dim light
he sat, staring straight before him, massive, inert, grim.
"I believe you--" she murmured hurriedly at last. "I pity you!"
She rose. Quick as light he barred her passage.
"Don't! don't!" she pleaded. "I must go--you have shaken me--I--I
do not understand myself----"
"I must see you again," he whispered eagerly. "To-night--by the
"To-night," he insisted.
She raised her eyes to his, this time naked of defence, so that the
man saw down through their depths into her very soul.
"Oh," she begged, quivering, "let me pass. Don't you see--I'm
going to cry!"
For a moment Ned Trent stared through the darkness into which
Virginia had disappeared. Then he turned a troubled face to the
task he had set himself, for the unexpectedly pathetic results of
his fantastic attempt had shaken him. Twice he half turned as
though to follow her. Then shaking his shoulders he bent his
attention to the old man in the shadow of the chair.
He was given no opportunity for further speech, however, for at the
sound of the closing door Galen Albret's impassivity had fallen
from him. He sprang to his feet. The whole aspect of the man
suddenly became electric, terrible. His eyes blazed; his heavy
brows drew spasmodically toward each other; his jaws worked,
twisting his beard into strange contortions; his massive frame
straightened formidably; and his voice rumbled from the arch of his
deep chest in a torrent of passionate sound.
"By God, young man!" he thundered, "you go too far! Take heed! I
will not stand this! Do not you presume to make love to my
daughter before my eyes!"
And Ned Trent, just within the dusky circle of lamplight, where the
bold, sneering lines of Ins face stood out in relief against the
twilight of the room, threw back his head and laughed. It was a
clear laugh, but low, and in it were all the devils of triumph, and
of insolence. Where the studied insult of words had failed, this
single cachinnation succeeded. The Trade saw his opponent's eyes
narrow. For a moment he thought the Factor was about to spring on
Then, with an effort that blackened his face with blood, Galen
Albret controlled himself, and fell to striking the call-bell
violently and repeatedly with the palm of his hand. After a moment
Matthews, the English servant, came running in. To him the Factor
was at first physically unable to utter a syllable. Then finally
he managed to ejaculate the name of his bowsman with such violence
of gesture that the frightened servant comprehended by sheer force
of terror and ran out again in search of Me-en-gan.
This supreme effort seemed to clear the way for speech. Galen
Albret began to address his opponent hoarsely in quick, disjointed
sentences, a gasp for breath between each.
"You revived an old legend--_la Longue Traverse_--the myth. It
shall be real--to--you--I will make it so. By God, you shall not
Ned Trent smiled. "You do not deceive me," he rejoined, coolly.
"Silence!" cried the Factor. "Silence!--You shall speak no
more!--You have said enough----"
Me-en-gan glided into the room. Galen Albret at once addressed him
in the Ojibway language, gaining control of himself as he went on.
"Listen to me well," he commanded. "You shall make a count of all
rifles in this place--at once. Let no one furnish this man with
food or arms. You know the story of _la Longue Traverse_. This
man shall take it. So inform my people, I, the Factor, decree it
so. Prepare all things at once--understand, at once!"
Ned Trent waited to hear no more, but sauntered from the room
whistling gayly a boatman's song. His point was gained.
Outside, the long Northern twilight with its beautiful shadows of
crimson was descending from the upper regions of the east A light
wind breathed up-river from the bay. The Free Trader drew his
lungs full of the evening air.
"Just the same, I think she will come," said he to himself. "_La
Longue Traverse_, even at once, is a pretty slim chance. But this
second string to my bow is better. I believe I'll get the
rifle--if she comes!"
Virginia ran quickly up the narrow stairs to her own room, where
she threw herself on the bed and buried her face in the pillows.
As she had said, she was very much shaken. And, too, she way
She could not understand. Heretofore she had moved among the men
around her, pure, lofty, serene. Now at one blow all this
crumbled. The stranger had outraged her finer feelings. He had
insulted her father in her very presence;--for this she was angry.
He had insulted herself;--for this she was afraid. He had demanded
that she meet him again; but this--at least in the manner he had
suggested--should not happen. And yet she confessed to herself a
delicious wonder as to what he would do next, and a vague desire to
see him again in order to find out. That she could not
successfully combat this feeling made her angry at herself. And so
in mingled fear, pride, anger, and longing she remained until
Wishkobun, the Indian woman, glided in to dress her for the dinner
whose formality she and her father consistently maintained. She
fell to talking the soft Ojibway dialect, and in the conversation
forgot some of her emotion and regained some of her calm.
Her surface thoughts, at least, were compelled for the moment to
occupy themselves with other things. The Indian woman had to tell
her of the silver fox brought in by Mu-hi-ken, an Indian of her own
tribe; of the retort Achille Picard had made when MacLane had
taunted him; of the forest fire that had declared itself far to the
east, and of the theories to account for it where no campers had
been. Yet underneath the rambling chatter Virginia was aware of
something new in her consciousness, something delicious but as yet
vague. In the gayest moment of her half-jesting, half-affectionate
gossip with the Indian woman, she felt its uplift catching her
breath from beneath, so that for the tiniest instant she would
pause as though in readiness for some message which nevertheless
delayed. A fresh delight in the present moment held her, a fresh
anticipation of the immediate future, though both delight and
anticipation were based on something without her knowledge. That
would come later.
The sound of rapid footsteps echoed across the lower hall, a
whistle ran into an air, sung gayly, with spirit;
"J'ai perdu ma maitresse,
Sans l'avoir merite,
Pour un bouquet de roses
Que je lui refusai.
Li ya longtemps que je t'aime,
Jamais je ne t'oublierai!"
She fell abruptly silent, and spoke no more until she descended to
the council-room where the table was now spread for dinner.
Two silver candlesticks lit the place. The men were waiting for
her when she entered, and at once took their seats in the worn,
rude chairs. White linen and glittering silver adorned the
service. Galen Albret occupied one end of the table, Virginia the
other. On either side were Doctor and Mrs. Cockburn; McDonald, the
Chief Trader; Richardson, the clerk, and Crane, the missionary of
the Church of England. Matthews served with rigid precision in the
order of importance, first the Factor, then Virginia, then the
doctor, his wife, McDonald, the clerk, and Crane in due order. On
entering a room the same precedence would have held good. Thus
these people, six hundred miles as the crow flies from the nearest
settlement, maintained their shadowy hold on civilization.
The glass was fine, the silver massive, the linen dainty, Matthews
waited faultlessly: but overhead hung the rough timbers of the
wilderness post, across the river faintly could be heard the
howling of wolves. The fare was rice, curry, salt pork, potatoes,
and beans; for at this season the game was poor, and the fish
hardly yet running with regularity.
Throughout the meal Virginia sat in a singular abstraction. No
conscious thoughts took shape in her mind, but nevertheless she
seemed to herself to be occupied in considering weighty matters.
When directly addressed, she answered sweetly. Much of the time
she studied her father's face. She found it old. Those lines were
already evident which, when first noted, bring a stab of surprised
pain to the breast of a child--the droop of the mouth, the
wrinkling of the temples, the patient weariness of the eyes.
Virginia's own eyes filled with tears. The subjective passive
state into which a newly born but not yet recognized love had cast
her, inclined her to gentleness. She accepted facts as they came
to her. For the moment she forgot the mere happenings of the day,
and lived only in the resulting mood of them all. The new-comer
inspired her no longer with anger nor sorrow, attraction nor fear.
Her active emotions in abeyance, she floated dreamily on the clouds
of a new estate.
This very aloofness of spirit disinclined her for the company of
the others after the meal was finished. The Factor closeted
himself with Richardson. The doctor, lighting a cheroot, took his
way across to his infirmary. McDonald, Crane, and Mrs. Cockburn
entered the drawing-room and seated themselves near the piano.
Virginia hesitated, then threw a shawl over her head and stepped
out on the broad veranda.
At once the vast, splendid beauty of the Northern night broke over
her soul. Straight before her gleamed and flashed and ebbed and
palpitated the aurora. One moment its long arms shot beyond the
zenith; the next it had broken and rippled back like a brook of
light to its arch over the Great Bear. Never for an instant was it
still. Its restlessness stole away the quiet of the evening; but
left it magnificent.
In comparison with this coruscating dome of the infinite the earth
had shrunken to a narrow black band of velvet, in which was nothing
distinguishable until suddenly the sky-line broke in calm
silhouettes of spruce and firs. And always the mighty River of the
Moose, gleaming, jewelled, barbaric in its reflections, slipped by
to the sea.
So rapid and bewildering was the motion of these two great
powers--the river and the sky--that the imagination could not
believe in silence. It was as though the earth were full of
shoutings and of tumults. And yet in reality the night was as
still as a tropical evening. The wolves and the sledge-dogs
answered each other undisturbed; the beautiful songs of the
white-throats stole from the forest as divinely instinct as ever
with the spirit of peace.
Virginia leaned against the railing and looked upon it all. Her
heart was big with emotions, many of which she could not name; her
eyes were full of tears. Something had changed in her since
yesterday, but she did not know what it was. The faint wise stars,
the pale moon just sinking, the gentle south breeze could have told
her, for they are old, old in the world's affairs. Occasionally a
flash more than ordinarily brilliant would glint one of the bronze
guns beneath the flag-staff. Then Virginia's heart would glint
too. She imagined the reflection startled her.
She stretched her arms out to the night, embracing its glories,
sighing in sympathy with its meaning, which she did not know. She
felt the desire of restlessness; yet she could not bear to go. But
no thought of the stranger touched her, for you see as yet she did
Then, quite naturally, she heard his voice in the darkness close to
her knee. It seemed inevitable that he should be there; part of
the restless, glorious night, part of her mood. She gave no start
of surprise, but half closed her eyes and leaned her fair head
against a pillar of the veranda. He sang in a sweet undertone an
old chanson of voyage.
"Par derrier ches man pere,
Vole, mon coeur, vole!
Par derrier' chez mon pere
Li-ya-t-un, pommier doux."
"Ah lady, lady mine," broke in the voice softly, "the night too is
sweet, soft as thine eyes. Will you not greet me?"
The girl made no sign. After a moment the song went on,
"Trois filles d'un prince,
Vole, mon coeur, vole!
Trois filles d'un prince
Sont endormies dessous."
"Will not the princess leave her sisters of dreams?" whispered the
voice, fantastically, "Will she not come?"
Virginia shivered, and half-opened her eyes, but did not stir. It
seemed that the darkness sighed, then became musical again.
"La plus jeun' se reveille,
Vole, mon coeur, vole!
La plus jeun' se reveille
--Ma Soeur, voila le jour!
The song broke this time without a word of pleading. The girl
opened her eyes wide and stared breathlessly straight before her at
"--Non, ce n'est qu'une etoile,
Vole, mon coeur, vole!
Non, ce n'est qu'une etoile
Qu' eclaire nos amours!"
The last word rolled out through its passionate throat tones and
died into silence.
"Come!" repeated the man again, this time almost in the accents of
She turned slowly and went to him, her eyes childlike and
frightened, her lips wide, her face pale. When she stood face to
face with him she swayed and almost fell.
"What do you want with me?" she faltered, with a little sob.
The man looked at her keenly, laughed, and exclaimed in an
every-day, matter-of-fact voice:
"Why, I really believe my song frightened you. It is only a
boating song. Come, let us go and sit on the gun-carriages and
"Oh!" she gasped, a trifle hysterically. "Don't do that again!
Please don't. I do not understand it! You must not!"
He laughed again, but with a note of tenderness in his voice, and
took her hand to lead her away, humming in an undertone the last
couplet of his song:
"Non, ce n'est qu'une etoile,
Qu'eclaire nos amours!"
Virginia went with this man passively--to an appointment which, but
an hour ago, she had promised herself she would not keep. Her
inmost soul was stirred, just as before. Then it had been few
words, now it was a little common song. But the strange power of
the man held her close, so she realized that for the moment at
least she would do as he desired. In the amazement and
consternation of this thought she found time to offer up a little
prayer, "Dear God, make him kind to me."
They leaned against the old bronze guns, facing the river. He
pulled her shawl about her, masterfully yet with gentleness, and
then, as though it was the most natural thing in the world, he drew
her to him until she rested against his shoulder. And she remained
there, trembling, in suspense, glancing at him quickly, in
birdlike, pleading glances, as though praying him to be kind. He
took no notice after that, so the act seemed less like a caress
than a matter of course. He began to talk, half-humorously, and
little by little, as he went on, she forgot her fears, even her
feeling of strangeness, and fell completely under the spell of his
"My name is Ned Trent," he told her, "and I am from Quebec. I am a
woods runner. I have journeyed far. I have been to the uttermost
ends of the North even up beyond the Hills of Silence." And then,
in his gay, half-mocking, yet musical voice he touched lightly on
vast and distant things. He talked of the great Saskatchewan, of
Peace River, and the delta of the Mackenzie, of the winter journeys
beyond Great Bear Lake into the Land of the Little Sticks, and the
half-mythical lake of Yamba Tooh. He spoke of life with the Dog
Ribs and Yellow Knives, where the snow falls in midsummer. Before
her eyes slowly spread, like a panorama, the whole extent of the
great North, with its fierce, hardy men, its dreadful journeys by
canoe and sledge, its frozen barrens, its mighty forests, its
solemn charm. All at once this post of Conjurors House, a month in
the wilderness as it was, seemed very small and tame and civilized
for the simple reason that Death did not always compass it about.
"It was very cold then," said Ned Trent "and very hard. _Le grand
frete_ [froid--cold] of winter had come. At night we had no other
shelter than our blankets, and we could not keep a fire because the
spruce burned too fast and threw too many coals. For a long time
we shivered, curled up on our snowshoes; then fell heavily asleep,
so that even the dogs fighting over us did not awaken us. Two or
three times in the night we boiled tea. We had to thaw our
moccasins each morning by thrusting them inside our shirts. Even
the Indians were shivering and saying, 'Ed-sa, yazzi ed-sa'--'it is
cold, very cold.' And when we came to Rae it was not much better.
A roaring fire in the fireplace could not prevent the ink from
freezing on the pen. This went on for five months."
Thus he spoke, as one who says common things. He said little of
himself, but as he went on in short, curt sentences the picture
grew more distinct, and to Virginia the man became more and more
prominent in it. She saw the dying and exhausted dogs, the
frost-rimed, weary men; she heard the quick _crunch, crunch,
crunch_ of the snow-shoes hurrying ahead to break the trail; she
felt the cruel torture of the _mal de raquette_, the shrivelling
bite of the frost, the pain of snow blindness, the hunger that yet
could not stomach the frozen fish nor the hairy, black caribou
meat. One thing she could not conceive--the indomitable spirit of
the men. She glanced timidly up at her companion's face.
"The Company is a cruel master," she sighed at last, standing
upright, then leaning against the carriage of the gun. He let her
go without protest, almost without thought, it seemed.
"But not mine," said he.
She exclaimed, in astonishment, "Are you not of the Company?"
"I am no man's man but my own," he answered, simply.
"Then why do you stay in this dreadful North?" she asked.
"Because I love it. It is my life. I want to go where no man has
set foot before me; I want to stand alone under the sky; I want to
show myself that nothing is too big for me--no difficulty, no
"Why did you come here, then? Here at least are forests so that
you can keep warm. This is not so dreadful as the Coppermine, and
the country of the Yellow Knives. Did you come here to try _la
Longue Traverse_ of which you spoke to-day?"
He fell suddenly sombre, biting in reflection at his lip.
"No--yes--why not?" he said, at length.
"I know you will come out of it safely," said she; "I feel it. You
are brave and used to travel. Won't you tell me about it?"
He did not reply. After a moment she looked up in surprise. His
brows were knit in reflection. He turned to her again, his eyes
glowing into hers. Once more the fascination of the man grew big,
overwhelmed her. She felt her heart flutter, her consciousness
swim, her old terror returning.
"Listen," said he. "I may come to you to-morrow and ask you to
choose between your divine pity and what you might think to be your
duty. Then I will tell you all there is to know of _la Longue
Traverse_. Now it is a secret of the Company. You are a Factor's
daughter; you know what that means." He dropped his head. "Ah, I
am tired--tired with it all!" he cried, in a voice strangely
unhappy. "But yesterday I played the game with all my old spirit;
to-day the zest is gone! I no longer care." He felt the pressure
of her hand. "Are you just a little sorry for me?" he asked.
"Sorry for a weakness you do not understand? You must think me a
"I know you are unhappy," replied Virginia, gently. "I am truly
sorry for that."
"Are you? Are you, indeed?" he cried. "Unhappiness is worth such
pity as yours." He brooded for a moment, then threw his hands out
with what might have been a gesture of desperate indifference.
Suddenly his mood changed in the whimsical, bewildering fashion of
the man. "Ah, a star shoots!" he exclaimed, gayly. "That means a
Still laughing, he attempted to draw her to him. Angry, mortified,
outraged, she fought herself free and leaped to her feet.
"Oh!" she cried, in insulted anger.
"Oh!" she cried, in a red shame.
"_Oh!_" she cried, in sorrow.
Her calm broke. She burst into the violent sobbing of a child, and
turned and ran hurriedly to the factory.
Ned Trent stared after her a minute from beneath scowling brows.
He stamped his moccasined foot impatiently.
"Like a rat in a trap!" he jeered at himself. "Like a rat in a
trap, Ned Trent! The fates are drawing around you close. You need
just one little thing, and you cannot get it. Bribery is useless!
Force is useless! Craft is useless! This afternoon I thought I
saw another way. What I could get no other way I might get from
this little girl. She is only a child. I believe I could touch
her pity--ah, Ned Trent, Ned Trent, can you ever forget her
frightened, white face begging you to be kind?" He paced back and
forth between the two bronze guns with long, straight strides, like
a panther in a cage. "Her aid is mine for the asking--but she
makes it impossible to ask! I could not do it. Better try _la
Longue Traverse_ than take advantage of her pity--she'd surely get
into trouble. What wonderful eyes she has. She thinks I am a
brute--how she sobbed, as though her little heart had broken.
Well, it was the only way to destroy her interest in me. I had to
do it. Now she will despise me and forget me. It is better that
she should think me a brute than that I should be always haunted by
those pleading eyes." The door of the distant church house opened
and closed. He smiled bitterly. "To be sure, I haven't tried
that." he acknowledged. "Their teachings are singularly apropos to
my case--mercy, justice, humanity--yes, and love of man. I'll try
it. I'll call for help on the love of man, since I cannot on the
love of woman. The love of woman--ah----yes."
He set his feet reflectively toward the chapel.
After a moment he pushed open the door without ceremony, and
entered. He bent his brows, studying the Reverend Archibald Crane,
while the latter, looking up startled, turned pink.
He was a pink little man, anyway, the Reverend Archibald Crane, and
why, in the inscrutability of its wisdom, the Church had sent him
out to influence strong, grim men, the Church in its inscrutable
wisdom only knows. He wore at the moment a cambric English
boating-hat to protect his bald head from the draught, a full
clerical costume as far as the trousers, which were of lavender,
and a pair of beaded moccasins faced with red. His weak little
face was pink, and two tufts of side-whiskers were nearly so. A
heavy gold-headed cane stood at his hand. When he heard the door
open he exclaimed, before raising his head, "My, these first flies
of the season do bother me so!" and then looked startled.
"Good-evening," greeted Ned Trent, stopping squarely in the centre
of the room.
The clergyman spread his arms along the desk's edge in
"Good-evening," he returned, reluctantly. "Is there anything I can
do for you?" The visitor puzzled him, but was dressed as a
_voyageur_. The Reverend Archibald immediately resolved to treat
him as such.
"I wish to introduce myself as Ned Trent," went on the Free Trader
with composure, "and I have broken in on your privacy this evening
only because I need your ministrations cruelly."
"I am rejoiced that in your difficulties you turn to the
consolations of the Church," replied the other in the cordial tones
of the man who is always ready. "Pray be seated. He whose soul
thirsteth need offer no apology to the keeper of the spiritual
"Quite so," replied the stranger dryly, seating himself as
suggested, "only in this case my wants are temporal rather than
spiritual. They, however, seem to me fully within the province of
"The Church attempts within limits to aid those who are materially
in want," assured Crane, with official dignity. "Our resources are
small, but to the truly deserving we are always ready to give in
the spirit of true giving."
"I am rejoiced to hear it," returned the young man, grimly; "you
will then have no difficulty in getting me so small a matter as a
rifle and about forty or fifty rounds of ammunition."
A pause of astonishment ensued.
"Why, really," ejaculated Crane, "I fail to see how that falls
within my jurisdiction in the slightest. You should see our
Trader, Mr. McDonald, in regard to all such things. Your request
addressed to me becomes extraordinary."
"Not so much so when you know who I am. I told you my name is Ned
Trent, but I neglected to inform you further that I am a captured
Free Trader, condemned to _la Longue Traverse_, and that I have in
vain tried to procure elsewhere the means of escape."
Then the clergyman understood. The full significance of the
intruder's presence flashed over his little pink face in a trouble
of uneasiness. The probable consequences of such a bit of charity
as his visitor proposed almost turned him sick with excitement.
"You expect to have them of me!" he cried, getting his voice at
"Certainly," assured his interlocutor, crossing his legs
comfortably. "Don't you see the logic of events forces me to think
so? What other course is open to you? I am in this country
entirely within my legal rights as a citizen of the Canadian
Commonwealth. Unjustly, I am seized by a stronger power and
condemned unjustly to death. Surely you admit the injustice?"
"Well, of course you know--the customs of the country--it is hardly
an abstract question--" stammered Crane, still without grasp on the
logic of his argument "But as an abstract question the injustice is
plain," resumed the Free Trader, imperturbably. "And against plain
injustice it strikes me there is but one course open to an
acknowledged institution of abstract--and concrete--morality. The
Church must set itself against immorality, and you, as the Church's
representative, must get me a rifle."
"You forget one thing," rejoined Crane.
"What is that?"
"Such an aid would be a direct act of rebellion against authority
on my part, which would be severely punished. Of course," he
asserted, with conscious righteousness, "I should not consider that
for a moment as far ay my own personal safety is concerned. But my
cause would suffer. You forget, sir, that we are doing here a
great and good work. We have in our weekly congregational singing
over forty regular attendants from the aborigines; next year I hope
to build a church at Whale River, thus reaching the benighted
inhabitants of that distant region. All of this is a vital matter
in the service of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. You suggest
that I endanger all this in order to right a single instance of
injustice. Of course we are told to love one another, but--" he
"You have to compromise," finished the stranger for him.
"Exactly." said the Reverend Crane. "Thank you; it is exactly
that. In order to accomplish what little good the Lord vouchsafes
to our poor efforts, we are obliged to overlook many things.
Otherwise we should not be allowed to stay here at all."
"That is most interesting," agreed Ned Trent, with a rather biting
calm. "But is it not a little calculating? My slight familiarity
with religious history and literature has always led me to believe
that you are taught to embrace the right at any cost
whatsoever--that, if you give yourself unreservedly to justice, the
Lord will sustain you through all trials. I think at a pinch I
could even quote a text to that effect."
"My dear fellow," objected the Reverend Archibald in gentle
protest, "you evidently do not understand the situation at all. I
feel I should be most untrue to my trust if I were to endanger in
any way the life-long labor of my predecessor. You must be able to
see that for yourself. It would destroy utterly my usefulness
here. They'd send me away. I couldn't go on with the work, I have
to think what is for the best."
"There is some justice in what you say," admitted the stranger, "if
you persist in looking on this thing as a business proposition.
But it seems to my confessedly untrained mind that you missed the
point. 'Trust in the Lord,' saith the prophet. In fact, certain
rivals in your own field hold the doctrine you expound, and you
consider them wrong. 'To do evil that good may come' I seem to
recognize as a tenet of the Church of the Jesuits."
"I protest. I really do protest," objected the clergyman,
"All right," agreed Ned Trent, with good-natured contempt. "That
is not the point. Do you refuse?"
"Can't you see?" begged the other. "I'm sure you are reasonable
enough to take the case on its broader side."
"You refuse?" insisted Ned Trent.
"It is not always easy to walk straightly before the Lord, and my
way is not always clear before me, but----"
"You refuse!" cried Ned Trent, rising impatiently.
The reverend Archibald Crane looked at his catechiser with a trace
"I'm sorry; I'm afraid I must," he apologized.
The stranger advanced until he touched the desk on the other side
of which the Reverend Archibald was sitting, where he stood for
some moments looking down on his opponent with an almost amused
expression of contempt.
"You are an interesting little beast," he drawled, "and I've seen a
lot of your kind in my time. Here you preach every Sunday, to
whomever will listen to you, certain cut-and-dried doctrines you
don't believe practically in the least. Here for the first time
you have had a chance to apply them literally, and you hide behind
a lot of words. And while you're about it you may as well hear
what I have to say about your kind. I've had a pretty wide
experience in the North, and I know what I'm talking about. Your
work here among the Indians is rot, and every sensible man knows
it. You coop them up in your log-built houses, you force on them
clothes to which they are unaccustomed until they die of
consumption. Under your little tin-steepled imitation of
civilization, for which they are not fitted, they learn to beg, to
steal, to lie. I have travelled far, but I have yet to discover
what your kind are allowed on earth for. You are narrow-minded,
bigoted, intolerant, and without a scrap of real humanity to
ornament your mock religion. When you find you can't meddle with
other people's affairs enough at home you get sent where you can
get right in the business--and earn salvation for doing it. I
don't know just why I should say this to you, but it sort of does
me good to tell it. Once I heard one of your kind tell a sorrowing
mother that her little child had gone to hell because it had died
before he--the smug hypocrite--had sprinkled its little body with a
handful of water. There's humanity for you! It may interest you
to know that I thrashed that man then and there. You are all
alike; I know the breed. When there is found a real man among
you--and there are such--he is so different in everything,
including his religion, as to be really of another race. I came
here without the slightest expectation of getting what I asked for.
As I said before, I know your breed, and I know just how well your
two-thousand-year-old doctrines apply to practical cases. There is
another way, but I hated to use it. You'd take it quick enough, I
dare say. Here is where I should receive aid. I may have to get
it where I should not. You a man of God! Why, you poor little
insect, I can't even get angry at you!"
He stood for a moment looking at the confused and troubled
clergyman. Then he went out.
Almost immediately the door opened again,
"You, Miss Albret!" cried Crane.
"What does this mean?" demanded Virginia, imperiously. "Who is
that man? In what danger does he stand? What does he want a rifle
for? I insist on knowing."
She stood straight and tall in the low room, her eyes flashing, her
head thrown back in the assured power of command.
The Reverend Crane tried to temporize, hesitating over his words.
She cut him short.
"That is nonsense. Everybody seems to know but myself. I am no
child. I came to consult you--my spiritual adviser--in regard to
this very case. Accidentally I overheard enough to justify me in
The clergyman murmured something about the Company's secrets.
Again she cut him short.
"Company's secrets! Since when has the Company confided in Andrew
Laviolette, in Wishkobun, in _you_?"
"Possibly you would better ask your father," said Crane, with some
return of dignity.
"It does not suit me to do so," replied she. "I insist that you
answer my questions. Who is this man?"
"Ned Trent, he says."
"I will not be put off in this way. _Who_ is he? _What_ is he?"
"He is a Free Trader," replied the Reverend Crane with the air of a
man who throws down a bomb and is afraid of the consequences. To
his astonishment the bomb did not explode.
"What is that?" she asked, simply.
The man's jaw dropped and his eyes opened in astonishment. Here
was a density of ignorance in regard to the ordinary affairs of the
Post which could by no stretch of the imagination be ascribed to
chance. If Virginia Albret did not know the meaning of the term,
and all the tragic consequences it entailed, there could be but one
conclusion: Galen Albret had not intended that she should know.
She had purposely been left in ignorance, and a politic man would
hesitate long before daring to enlighten her. The Reverend Crane,
in sheer terror, became sullen.
"A Free Trader is a man who trades in opposition to the Company,"
said he, cautiously.
"What great danger is he in?" the girl persisted with her catechism.
"None that I am aware of," replied Crane, suavely. "He is a very
ill-balanced and excitable young man."
Virginia's quick instincts recognized again the same barrier which,
with the people, with Wishkobun, with her father, had shut her so
effectively from the truth. Her power of femininity and position
had to give way before the man's fear for himself and of Galen
Albret's unexpressed wish. She asked a few more questions,
received a few more evasive replies, and left the little clergyman
to recover as best he might from a very trying evening.
Out in the night the girl hesitated in two minds as to what to do
next. She was excited, and resolved to finish the affair, but she
could not bring her courage to the point of questioning her father.
That the stranger was in antagonism to the Company, that he
believed himself to be in danger on that account, that he wanted
succor, she saw clearly enough. But the whole affair was vague,
disquieting. She wanted to see it plainly, know its reasons. And
beneath her excitement she recognized, with a catch of the breath,
that she was afraid for him. She had not time now to ask herself
what it might mean; she only realized the presence of the fact.
She turned instinctively in the direction of Doctor Cockburn's
house. Mrs. Cockburn was a plain little middle-aged woman with
parted gray hair and sweet, faded eyes. In the life of the place
she was a nonentity, and her tastes were homely and commonplace,
but Virginia liked her.
She proved to be at home, the Doctor still at his dispensary, which
was well. Virginia entered a small log room, passed through it
immediately to a larger papered room, and sat down in a musty red
armchair. The building was one of the old regime, which meant that
its floor was of wide and rather uneven painted boards, its ceiling
low, its windows small, and its general lines of an irregular and
sagging rule-of-thumb tendency. The white wall-paper evidently
concealed squared logs. The present inhabitants, being possessed
at once of rather homely tastes and limited facilities, had
over-furnished the place with an infinitude of little
things--little rugs, little tables, little knit doilies, little
racks of photographs, little china ornaments, little spidery
what-nots, and shelves for books.
Virginia seated herself, and went directly to the topic.
"Mrs. Cockburn," she said, "you have always been very good to me,
always, ever since I came here as a little girl. I have not always
appreciated it, I am afraid, but I am in great trouble, and I want
"What is it, dearie," asked the older woman, softly. "Of course I
will do anything I can."
"I want you to tell me what all this mystery is--about the man who
to-day arrived from Kettle Portage, I mean. I have asked
everybody: I have tried by all means in my power to get somebody
somewhere to tell me. It is maddening--and I have a special reason
for wanting to know."
The older woman was already gazing at her through troubled eyes.
"It is a shame and a mistake to keep you so in ignorance!" she
broke out, "and I have said so always. There are many things you
have the right to know, although some of them would make you very
unhappy--as they do all of us poor women who have to live in this
land of dread. But in this I cannot, dearie."
Virginia felt again the impalpable shadow of truth escaping her.
Baffled, confused, she began to lose her self-control. A dozen
times to-day she had reached after this thing, and always her
fingers had closed on empty air. She felt that she could not stand
the suspense of bewilderment a single instant longer. The tears
overflowed and rolled down her cheeks unheeded.
"Oh, Mrs. Cockburn!" she cried. "Please! You do not know how
dreadful this thing has come to be to me just because it is made so
mysterious. Why has it been kept from me alone? It must have
something to do with me, and I can't stand this mystery, this
double-dealing, another minute. If you won't tell me, nobody will,