WHAT NECESSITY KNOWS
Author of "Beggars All," etc
New York Longmans, Green, and Co. 15 East Sixteenth Street Typography by J.S. Cushing & Co., Boston.
TO MY BROTHER JOHN REDPATH DOUGALL THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED WITH REVERENCE AND AFFECTION
One episode of this story may need a word of explanation. It is reported that while the "Millerite" or Adventist excitement of 1843 was agitating certain parts of North America, in one place at least a little band of white-robed people ascended a hill in sure expectation of the Second Advent, and patiently returned to be the laughing stock of their neighbours. This tradition, as I heard it in my childhood, was repeated as if it embodied nothing but eccentricity and absurdity, yet it naturally struck a child's mind with peculiar feelings of awe and pathos. Such an event appeared picturesque matter for a story. It was not easy to deal with; for in setting it, as was necessary, in close relation to the gain-getting, marrying and giving in marriage, of the people among whom it might occur, it was difficult to avoid either giving it a poetic emphasis which it would not appear to have in reality or degrading it by that superficial truth often called realism, which belittles men. Any unworthiness in the working out of the incident is due, not so much to lack of dignity in the subject, or to lack of material, as to the limitations of the writer's capacity.
Lest any of my countrymen should feel that this story is wanting in sympathy with them, I may point out that it does not happen to deal with Canadians proper, but with immigrants, most of whom are slow to identify themselves with their adopted Country; hence their point of view is here necessarily set forth.
I would take this opportunity to express my obligation to my fellow-worker, Miss M.S. Earp, for her constant and sympathetic criticism and help in composition.
EDINBURGH, June, 1893.
"Necessity knows no Law."
WHAT NECESSITY KNOWS
"It is not often that what we call the 'great sorrows of life' cause us the greatest sorrow. Death, acute disease, sudden and great losses—these are sometimes easily borne compared with those intricate difficulties which, without name and without appearance, work themselves into the web of our daily life, and, if not rightly met, corrode and tarnish all its brightness."
So spoke Robert Trenholme, Principal of the New College and Rector of the English church at Chellaston, in the Province of Quebec. He sat in his comfortable library. The light of a centre lamp glowed with shaded ray on books in their shelves, but shone strongly on the faces near it. As Trenholme spoke his words had all the charm lent by modulated voice and manner, and a face that, though strong, could light itself easily with a winning smile. He was a tall, rather muscular man; his face had that look of battle that indicates the nervous temperament. He was talking to a member of his congregation who had called to ask advice and sympathy concerning some carking domestic care. The advice had already been given, and the clergyman proceeded to give the sympathy in the form above.
His listener was a sickly-looking man, who held by the hand a little boy of five or six years. The child, pale and sober, regarded with incessant interest the prosperous and energetic man who was talking to its father.
"Yes, yes," replied the troubled visitor, "yes, there's some help for the big troubles, but none for the small—you're right there."
"No," said the other, "I did not say there was no help. It is just those complex difficulties for which we feel the help of our fellow-men is inadequate that ought to teach us to find out how adequate is the help of the Divine Man, our Saviour, to all our needs."
"Yes, yes," said the poor man again, "yes, I suppose what you say is true."
But he evidently did not suppose so. He sidled to the door, cap in hand. The clergyman said no more. He was one of those sensitive men who often know instinctively whether or not their words find response in the heart of the hearer, and to whom it is always a pain to say anything, even the most trivial, which awakes no feeling common to both.
Trenholme himself showed the visitors out of his house with a genial, kindly manner, and when the departing footsteps had ceased to crunch the garden path he still stood on his verandah, looking after the retreating figures and feeling somewhat depressed—not as we might suppose St. Paul would have felt depressed, had he, in like manner, taken the Name for which he lived upon his lips in vain—and to render that name futile by reason of our spiritual insignificance is surely the worst form of profanity—but he felt depressed in the way that a gentleman might who, having various interests at heart, had failed in a slight attempt to promote one of them.
It was the evening of one of the balmy days of a late Indian summer. The stars of the Canadian sky had faded and become invisible in the light of a moon that hung low and glorious, giving light to the dry, sweet-scented haze of autumn air. Trenholme looked out on a neat garden plot, and beyond, in the same enclosure, upon lawns of ragged, dry-looking grass, in the centre of which stood an ugly brick house, built apparently for some public purpose. This was the immediate outlook. Around, the land was undulating; trees were abundant, and were more apparent in the moonlight than the flat field spaces between them. The graceful lines of leafless elms at the side of the main road were clearly seen. About half a mile away the lights of a large village were visible, but bits of walls and gable ends of white houses stood out brighter in the moonlight than, the yellow lights within the windows. Where the houses stretched themselves up on a low hill, a little white church showed clear against the broken shadow of low-growing pines.
As Trenholme was surveying the place dreamily in the wonderful light, that light fell also, upon him and his habitation. He was apparently intellectual, and had in him something of the idealist. For the rest, he was a good-sized, good-looking man, between thirty and forty years of age, and even by the moonlight one might see, from the form of his clothes, that he was dressed with fastidious care. The walls and verandah, of his house, which were of wood, glistened almost as brightly with white paint as the knocker and doorplate did with brass lacquer.
After a few minutes Trenholme's housekeeper, a wiry, sad-eyed woman, came to see why the door was left open. When she saw the master of the house she retired in abrupt, angular fashion, but the suggestion of her errand recalled him from his brief relaxation.
In his study he again sat down before the table where he had been talking to his visitors. From the leaves of his blotting-paper he took a letter which he had apparently been interrupted in writing. He took it out in a quick, business-like way, and dipped his pen in the ink as though, to finish rapidly; but then he sat still until the pen dried, and no further word had been added. Again he dipped his pen, and again let it dry. If the first sentence of the letter had taken as long to compose as the second, it was no wonder that a caller had caused an interruption.
The letter, as it lay before him, had about a third of its page written in a neat, forcible hand. The arms of his young college were printed at the top. He had written:—
My dear brother,—I am very much concerned not to have heard from you for so long. I have written to your old address in Montreal, but received no answer.
Here came the stop. At last he put pen to paper and went on:—
Even though we have disagreed as to what occupation is best for you to follow, and also as to the degree of reserve that is desirable as to what our father did, you must surely know that there is nothing I desire more than your highest welfare.
After looking at this sentence for a little while he struck his pen through the word "highest," and then, offended with the appearance of the obliteration, he copied this much of the letter on a fresh sheet and again stopped.
When he continued, it was on the old sheet. He made a rough copy of the letter—writing, crossing out, and rewriting. It seemed that the task to which he had set himself was almost harder than could appear possible, for, as he became more absorbed in it, there was evidence of discomfort in his attitude, and although the room was not warm, the moisture on his forehead became visible in the strong light of the lamp above him. At length, after preliminary pauses had been followed by a lengthened period of vigorous writing, the letter was copied, and the writer sealed it with an air of obvious relief.
That done, he wrote another letter, the composition of which, although it engaged his care, was apparently so much pleasanter, that perhaps the doing of it was chosen on the same principle as one hears a farce after a tragedy, in order to sleep the more easily.
This second letter was to a lady. When it was written, Trenholme pulled an album from a private drawer, and looked long and with interested attention at the face of the lady to whom he had written. It was the face of a young, handsome girl, who bore herself proudly. The fashion of the dress would have suggested to a calculating mind that the portrait had been taken some years before; but what man who imagines himself a lover, in regarding the face of the absent dear one in the well-known picture, adds in thought the marks of time? If he had been impartial he would have asked the portrait if the face from which it was taken had grown more proud and cold as the years went by, or more sad and gentle—for, surely, in this work-a-day world of ours, fate would not be likely to have gifts in store that would wholly satisfy those eager, ambitious eyes; but, being a man no wiser than many other men, he looked at the rather faded phonograph with considerable pleasure, and asked no questions.
It grew late as he contemplated the lady's picture, and, moreover, he was not one, under any excuse, to spend much time in idleness. He put away his album, and then, having personally locked up his house and said good-night to his housekeeper, he went upstairs.
Yet, in spite of all that Trenholme's pleasure in the letter and the possession of the photograph might betoken, the missive, addressed to a lady named Miss Rexford, was not a love-letter. It ran thus:—
I cannot even feign anger against "Dame Fortune," that, by so unexpected a turn of her wheel, she should be even now bringing you to the remote village where for some time I have been forced to make my home, and where it is very probable I shall remain for some years longer. I do, of course, unfeignedly regret the financial misfortune which, as I understand, has made it necessary for Captain Rexford to bring you all out to this young country; yet to me the pleasure of expecting such neighbours must far exceed any other feeling with which I regard your advent.
I am exceedingly glad if I have been able to be of service to Captain Rexford in making his business arrangements here, and hope all will prove satisfactory. I have only to add that, although you must be prepared for much that you will find different from English life, much that is rough and ungainly and uncomfortable, you may feel confident that, with a little patience, the worst roughness of colonial life will soon be overcome, and that you will find compensation a thousand times over in the glorious climate and cheerful prospects of this new land.
As I have never had the pleasure of meeting Captain and Mrs. Rexford, I trust you will excuse me for addressing this note of welcome to you, whom I trust I may still look upon as a friend. I have not forgotten the winter when I received encouragement and counsel from you, who had so many to admire and occupy you that, looking back now, I feel it strange that you should have found time to bestow in mere kindness.
Here there followed courteous salutations to the lady's father and mother, brothers and sisters. The letter was signed in friendly style and addressed to an hotel in Halifax, where apparently it was to await the arrival of the fair stranger from some other shore.
It is probable that, in the interfacings of human lives, events are happening every moment which, although bearing according to present knowledge no possible relation to our own lives, are yet to have an influence on our future and make havoc with our expectations. The train is laid, the fuse is lit, long before we know it.
That night, as Robert Trenholme sealed his letters, an event took place that was to test by a strange influence the lives of these three people—Robert Trenholme, the lady of whom he thought so pleasantly, and the young brother to whom he had written so laboriously. And the event was that an old settler, who dwelt in a remote part of the country, went out of his cabin in the delusive moonlight, slipped on a steep place, and fell, thereby receiving an inward hurt that was to bring him death.
The Indian summer, that lingers in the Canadian forest after the fall of the leaves, had passed away. The earth lay frozen, ready to bear the snow. The rivers, with edge of thin ice upon their quiet places, rolled, gathering into the surface of their waters the cold that would so soon create their crystal prison.
The bright sun of a late November day was shining upon a small lake that lay in the lonely region to the west of the Gaspe Peninsula near the Matapediac Valley. There was one farm clearing on a slope of the wild hills that encircled the lake. The place was very lonely. An eagle that rose from the fir-clad ridge above the clearing might from its eminence, have seen other human habitations, but such sight was denied to the dwellers in the rude log-house on the clearing. The eagle wheeled in the air and flew southward. A girl standing near the log-house watched it with discontented eyes.
The blue water of the lake, with ceaseless lapping, cast up glinting reflections of the cold sunlight. Down the hillside a stream ran to join the lake, and it was on the more sheltered slope by this stream, where grey-limbed maple trees grew, that the cabin stood. Above and around, the steeper slopes bore only fir trees, whose cone-shaped or spiky forms, sometimes burnt and charred, sometimes dead and grey, but for the most part green and glossy, from shore and slope and ridge pointed always to the blue zenith.
The log-house, with its rougher sheds, was hard by the stream's ravine. About the other sides of it stretched a few acres of tilled land. Round this land the maple wood closed, and under its grey trees there was a tawny brown carpet of fallen leaves from which the brighter autumn colours had already faded. Up the hillside in the fir wood there were gaps where the trees had been felled for lumber, and about a quarter of a mile from the house a rudely built lumber slide descended to the lake.
It was about an hour before sundown when the eagle had risen and fled, and the sunset light found the girl who had watched it still standing in the same place. All that time a man had been talking to her; but she herself had not been talking, she had given him little reply. The two were not close to the house; large, square-built piles of logs, sawn and split for winter fuel, separated them from it. The man leaned against the wood now; the girl stood upright, leaning on nothing.
Her face, which was healthy, was at the same time pale. Her hair was very red, and she had much of it. She was a large, strong young woman. She looked larger and stronger than the man with whom she was conversing. He was a thin, haggard fellow, not at first noticeable in the landscape, for his clothes and beard were faded and worn into colours of earth and wood, so that Nature seemed to have dealt with him as she deals with her most defenceless creatures, causing them to grow so like their surroundings that even their enemies do not easily observe them. This man, however, was not lacking in a certain wiry physical strength, nor in power of thought or of will. And these latter powers, if the girl possessed them, were as yet only latent in her, for she had the heavy and undeveloped appearance of backward youth.
The man was speaking earnestly. At last he said:—
"Come now, Sissy, be a good lassie and say that ye're content to stay. Ye've always been a good lassie and done what I told ye before."
His accent was Scotch, but not the broad Scotch of an entirely uneducated man. There was sobriety written in the traits of his face, and more—a certain quality of intellectual virtue of the higher stamp. He was not young, but he was not yet old.
"I haven't," said the girl sullenly.
He sighed at her perverseness. "That's not the way I remember it. I'm sure, from the time ye were quite a wee one, ye have always tried to please me.—We all come short sometimes; the thing is, what we are trying to do."
He spoke as if her antagonism to what he had been saying, to what he was yet saying, had had a painful effect upon him which he was endeavouring to hide.
The girl looked over his head at the smoke that was proceeding from the log-house chimney. She saw it curl and wreathe itself against the cold blue east. It was white wood smoke, and as she watched it began to turn yellow in the light from the sunset. She did not turn to see whence the yellow ray came.
"Now that father's dead, I won't stay here, Mr. Bates." She said "I won't" just as a sullen, naughty girl would speak. "'Twas hateful enough to stay while he lived, but now you and Miss Bates are nothing to me."
"Nothing to ye, Sissy?" The words seemed to come out of him in pained surprise.
"I know you've brought me up, and taught me, and been far kinder to me than father ever was; but I'm not to stay here all my life because of that."
"Bairn, I have just been telling ye there is nothing else ye can do just now. I have no ready money. Your father had nothing to leave ye but his share of this place; and, so far, we've just got along year by year, and that's all. I'll work it as well as I can, and, if ye like, ye're welcome to live free and lay by your share year by year till ye have something to take with ye and are old enough to go away. But if ye go off now ye'll have to live as a servant, and ye couldn't thole that, and I couldn't for ye. Ye have no one to protect ye now but me. I've no friends to send ye to. What do ye know of the world? It's unkind—ay, and it's wicked too."
"How's it so wicked? You're not wicked, nor father, nor me, nor the men—how's people outside so much wickeder?"
Bates's mouth—it was a rather broad, powerful mouth—began to grow hard at her continued contention, perhaps also at the thought of the evils of which he dreamed. "It's a very evil world," he said, just as he would have said that two and two made four to a child who had dared to question that fact. "Ye're too young to understand it now: ye must take my word for it."
She made no sort of answer; she gave no sign of yielding; but, because she had made no answer, he, self-willed and opinionated man that he was, felt assured that she had no answer to give, and went on to talk as if that one point were settled.
"Ye can be happy here if ye will only think so. If we seem hard on ye in the house about the meals and that, I'll try to be better tempered. Ye haven't read all the books we have yet, but I'll get more the first chance if ye like. Come, Sissy, think how lonesome I'd be without ye!"
He moved his shoulders nervously while he spoke, as if the effort to coax was a greater strain than the effort to teach or command. His manner might have been that of a father who wheedled a child to do right, or a lover who sued on his own behalf; the better love, for that matter, is much the same in all relations of life.
This last plea evidently moved her just a little. "I'm sorry, Mr. Bates," she said.
"What are ye sorry for, Sissy?"
"That I'm to leave you."
"But ye're not going. Can't ye get that out of your head? How will ye go?"
"In the boat, when they take father."
At that the first flash of anger came from him. "Ye won't go, if I have to hold ye by main force. I can't go to bury your father. I have to stay here and earn bread and butter for you and me, or we'll come short of it. If ye think I'm going to let ye go with a man I know little about—"
His voice broke off in indignation, and as for the girl, whether from sudden anger at being thus spoken to, or from the conviction of disappointment which had been slowly forcing itself upon her, she began to cry. His anger vanished, leaving an evident discomfort behind. He stood before her with a weary look of effort on his face, as if he were casting all things in heaven and earth about in his mind to find which of them would be most likely to afford her comfort, or at least, to put an end to tears which, perhaps for a reason unknown to himself, gave him excessive annoyance.
"Come, Sissy"—feebly—"give over."
But the girl went on crying, not loudly or passionately, but with no sign of discontinuance, as she stood there, large and miserable, before him. He settled his shoulders obstinately against the wood pile, thinking to wait till she should speak or make some further sign. Nothing but strength of will kept him in his place, for he would gladly have fled from her. He had now less guidance than before to what was passing in her mind, for her face was more hidden from his sight as the light of the sinking sun focussed more exclusively in the fields of western sky behind her.
Then the sun went down behind the rugged hills of the lake's other shore; and, as it sank below their sharp outlines, their sides, which had been clear and green, became dim and purple; the blue went out of the waters of the lake, they became the hue of steel touched with iridescence of gold; and above the hills, vapour that had before been almost invisible in the sky, now hung in upright layers of purple mist, blossoming into primrose yellow on the lower edges. A few moments more and grey bloom, such as one sees on purple fruit, was on these vast hangings of cloud that grouped themselves more largely, and gold flames burned on their fringes. Behind them there were great empty reaches of lambent blue, and on the sharp edge of the shadowed hills there was a line of fire.
It produced in Bates unthinking irritation that Nature should quietly go on outspreading her evening magnificence in face of his discomfort. In ordinal light or darkness one accepts the annoyances of life as coming all in the day's work; but Nature has her sublime moments in which, if the sensitive mind may not yield itself to her delight, it is forced into extreme antagonism, either to her or to that which withholds from joining in her ecstasy. Bates was a man sensitive to many forces, the response to which within him was not openly acknowledged to himself. He was familiar with the magnificence of sunsets in this region, but his mind was not dulled to the marvel of the coloured glory in which the daylight so often culminated.
He looked off at the western sky, at first chiefly conscious of the unhappy girl who stood in front of him and irritated by that intervening shape; but, as his vision wandered along the vast reaches of illimitable clouds and the glorious gulfs of sky, his mind yielded itself the rather to the beauty and light. More dusky grew the purple of the upper mists whose upright layers, like league-long wings of softest feather held edge downward to the earth, ever changed in form without apparent movement. More sparkling glowed the gold upon their edges. The sky beneath the cloud was now like emerald. The soft darkness of purple slate was on the hills. The lake took on a darker shade, and daylight began to fade from the upper blue.
It was only perhaps a moment—one of those moments for which time has no measurement—that the soul of this man had gone out of him, as it were, into the vastness of the sunset; and when he recalled it his situation took on for him a somewhat different aspect. He experienced something of that temporary relief from personal responsibility that moments of religious sentiment often give to minds that are unaccustomed to religion. He had been free for the time to disport himself in something infinitely larger and wider than his little world, and he took up his duty at the point at which he had left it with something of this sense of freedom lingering with him.
He was a good man—that is, a man whose face would have made it clear to any true observer that he habitually did the right in contradistinction to the wrong. He was, moreover, religious, and would not have been likely to fall into any delusion of mere sentiment in the region of religious emotion. But that which deludes a man commonly comes through a safe channel. As a matter of fact, the excitement which the delight of the eye had produced in him was a perfectly wholesome feeling, but the largeness of heart it gave him at that moment was unfortunate.
The girl stood just as before, ungainly and without power of expression because undeveloped, but excitation of thought made what she might become apparent to him in that which she was. He became more generous towards her, more loving.
"Don't greet, that's a good lassie," he said soothingly. "There's truth in what ye have said—that it's dull for ye here because ye have nothing to look ahead to. Well, I'll tell ye what I didn't mean to tell ye while ye are so young—when ye're older, if ye're a good lassie and go on learning your lessons as ye have been doing, I will ask ye to marry me, and then (we hope of course to get more beforehand wi' money as years go) ye will have more interest and—"
"Marry!" interrupted the girl, not strongly, but speaking in faint wonder, as if echoing a word she did not quite understand.
"Yes," he went on with great kindliness, "I talked it over with your father before he went, and he was pleased. I told him that, in a year or two, if he liked it, I would marry ye—it's only if ye like, of course; and ye'd better not think about it now, for ye're too young."
"Marry me!" This time the exclamation came from her with a force that was appalling to him. The coarse handkerchief which she had been holding to her eyes was withdrawn, and with lips and eyes open she exclaimed again: "Marry me! You!"
It was remarkable how this man, who so far was using, and through long years had always used, only the tone of mentor, now suddenly began to try to justify himself with almost childlike timidity.
"Your father and I didn't know of any one else hereabouts that would suit, and of course we knew ye would naturally be disappointed if ye didn't marry." He went on muttering various things about the convenience of such an arrangement.
She listened to nothing more than his first sentence, and began to move away from him slowly a few steps backwards; then, perceiving that she had come to the brink of the level ground, she turned and suddenly stretched out her arm with almost frantic longing toward the cold, grey lake and the dark hills behind, where the fires of the west still struggled with the encroaching November night.
As she turned there was light enough for him to see how bright the burning colour of her hair was—bright as the burning copper glow on the lower feathers of those great shadowy wings of cloud—the wings of night that were enfolding the dying day. Some idea, gathered indefinitely from both the fierceness of her gesture and his transient observation of the colour of her hair, suggested to him that he had trodden on the sacred ground of a passionate heart.
Poor man! He would have been only too glad just then to have effaced his foot-prints if he had had the least idea how to do it. The small shawl she wore fell from her unnoticed as she went quickly into the house. He picked it up, and folded it awkwardly, but with meditative care. It was a square of orange-coloured merino, such as pedlars who deal with the squaws always carry, an ordinary thing for a settler's child to possess. As he held it, Bates felt compunction that it was not something finer and to his idea prettier, for he did not like the colour. He decided that he would purchase something better for her as soon as possible. He followed her into the house.
Night, black and cold, settled over the house that had that day for the first time been visited by death. Besides the dead man, there were now three people to sleep in it: an old woman, whose failing brain had little of intelligence left, except such as showed itself in the everyday habits of a long and orderly life; the young girl, whose mind slow by nature in reaching maturity and retarded by the monotony of her life, had not yet gained the power of realising its own deeper thoughts, still less of explaining them to another; and this man, Bates, who, being by natural constitution peculiarly susceptible to the strain of the sight of illness and death which he had just undergone, was not in the best condition to resist the morbid influences of unhappy companionship.
The girl shed tears as she moved about sullenly. She would not speak to Bates, and he did not in the least understand that, sullen as she was, her speechlessness did not result from that, but from inability to reduce to any form the chaotic emotions within her, or to find any expression which might represent her distress. He could not realise that the childish mind that had power to converse for trivial things had, as yet, no word for the not-trivial; that the blind womanly emotion on which he had trodden had as yet no counterpart in womanly thought, which might have formed excuses for his conduct, or at least have comprehended its simplicity. He only felt uneasily that her former cause of contention with him, her determination, sudden as her father's death, to leave the only home she possessed, was now enforced by her antagonism to the suggestion he had made of a future marriage, and he felt increasing annoyance that it should be so. Naturally enough, a deep undercurrent of vexation was settling in his mind towards her for feeling that antagonism, but he was vexed also with himself for having suggested the fresh source of contest just now to complicate the issue between them as to whether she should remain where she was, at any rate for the present. Remain she must; he was clear upon that point. The form of his religious theories, long held in comparative isolation from mankind, convinced him, whether truly or not, that humanity was a very bad thing; she should not leave his protection, and he was considerate enough to desire that, when the time came for launching the boat which was to take her father's body to burial, he should not need to detain her by force.
The girl set an ill-cooked supper before Bates and the hired man, and would not herself eat. As Bates sat at his supper he felt drearily that his position was hard; and, being a man whose training disposed him to vaguely look for the cause of trial in sin, wondered what he had done that it had thus befallen him. His memory reverted to the time when, on an emigrant ship, he had made friends with the man Cameron who that day had died, and they had agreed to choose their place and cast in their lot together. It had been part of the agreement that the aunt who accompanied Bates should do the woman's work of the new home until she was too old, and that Cameron's child should do it when she was old enough.
The girl was a little fat thing then, wearing a red hood. Bates, uneasy in his mind both as to his offer of marriage and her resentment, asked himself if he was to blame that he had begun by being kind to her then, that he had played with her upon the ship's deck, that on their land journey he had often carried her in his arms, or that, in the years of the hard isolated life which since then they had all lived, he had taught and trained the girl with far more care than her father had bestowed on her. Or was he to blame that he had so often been strict and severe with her? Or was he unjust in feeling now that he had a righteous claim to respect and consideration from her to an almost greater extent than the dead father whose hard, silent life had showed forth little of the proper attributes of fatherhood? Or did the sin for which he was now being punished lie in the fact that, in spite of her constant wilfulness and frequent stupidity, he still felt such affection for his pupil as made him unwilling, as he phrased it, to seek a wife elsewhere and thus thrust her from her place in the household. Bates had a certain latent contempt for women; wives he thought were easily found and not altogether desirable; and with that inconsistency common to men, he looked upon his proposal to the girl now as the result of a much more unselfish impulse than he had done an hour ago, before she exclaimed at it so scornfully. He did not know how to answer himself. In all honesty he could not accuse himself of not having done his duty by the girl or of any desire to shirk it in the future; and that being the case, he grew every minute more inclined to believe that the fact that his duty was now being made so disagreeable to him was owing, not to any fault of his, but to the naughtiness of her disposition.
The hired man slept in an outer shed. When he had gone, and Bates went up to his own bed in the loft of the log-house, the last sound that he heard was the girl sobbing where she lay beside the old woman in the room below. The sound was not cheering.
The next day was sunless and colder. Twice that morning Sissy Cameron stopped Bates at his work to urge her determination to leave the place, and twice he again set his reasons for refusal before her with what patience he could command. He told her, what she knew without telling, that the winter was close upon them, that the winter's work at the lumber was necessary for their livelihood, that it was not in his power to find her an escort for a journey at this season or to seek another home for her. Then, when she came to him again a third time, his anger broke out, and he treated her with neither patience nor good sense.
It was in the afternoon, and a chill north breeze ruffled the leaden surface of the lake and seemed to curdle the water with its breath; patches of soft ice already mottled it. The sky was white, and leafless maple and evergreen seemed almost alike colourless in the dull, cold air. Bates had turned from his work to stand for a few moments on the hard trodden level in front of the house and survey the weather. He had reason to survey it with anxiety. He was anxious to send the dead man's body to the nearest graveyard for decent burial, and the messenger and cart sent on this errand were to bring back another man to work with him at felling the timber that was to be sold next spring. The only way between his house and other houses lay across the lake and through a gap in the hills, a way that was passable now, and passable in calm days when winter had fully come, but impassable at the time of forming ice and of falling and drifting snow. He hoped that the snow and ice would hold off until his plan could be carried out, but he held his face to the keen cold breeze and looked at the mottled surface of the lake with irritable anxiety. It was not his way to confide his anxiety to any one; he was bearing it alone when the girl, who had been sauntering aimlessly about, came to him.
"If I don't go with the boat to-morrow," she said, "I'll walk across as soon as the ice'll bear."
With that he turned upon her. "And if I was a worse man than I am I'd let ye. It would be a comfort to me to be rid of ye. Where would ye go, or what would ye do? Ye ought to be only too thankful to have a comfortable home where ye're kept from harm. It's a cruel and bad world, I tell ye; it's going to destruction as fast as it can, and ye'd go with it."
The girl shook with passion. "I'd do nothing of the sort," she choked.
All the anger and dignity of her being were aroused, but it did not follow that she had any power to give them adequate utterance. She turned from him, and, as she stood, the attitude of her whole figure spoke such incredulity, scorn, and anger, that the flow of hot-tempered arguments with which he was still ready to seek to persuade her reason, died on his lips. He lost all self-control in increasing ill-temper.
"Ye may prance and ye may dance"—he jerked the phrase between his teeth, using words wholly inapplicable to her attitude because he could not analyse its offensiveness sufficiently to find words that applied to it. "Yes, prance and dance as much as ye like, but ye'll not go in the boat to-morrow if ye'd six fathers to bury instead of one, and ye'll not set foot out of this clearing, where I can look after ye. I said to the dead I'd take care of ye, and I'll do it—ungrateful lass though ye are."
He hurled the last words at her as he turned and went into a shed at the side of the house in which he had before been working.
The girl stood quite still as long as he was within sight. She seemed conscious of his presence though she was not looking towards him, for as soon as he had stepped within the low opening of the shed, she moved away, walking in a wavering track across the tilled land, walking as if movement was the end of her purpose, not as if she had destination.
The frozen furrows of the ploughed land crumbled beneath her heavy tread. The north wind grew stronger. When she reached the edge of the maple wood and looked up with swollen, tear-blurred eyes, she saw the grey branches moved by the wind, and the red squirrels leaped from branch to branch and tree to tree as if blown by the same air. She wandered up one side of the clearing and down the other, sometimes wading knee-deep in loud rustling maple leaves gathered in dry hollows within the wood, sometimes stumbling over frozen furrows as she crossed corners of the ploughed land, walking all the time in helpless, hopeless anger.
When, however, she came back behind the house to that part of the clearing bounded by the narrow and not very deep ravine which running water had cut into the side of the hill, she seemed to gather some reviving sensations from the variety which the bed of the brook presented to her view. Here, on some dozen feet of steeply sloping rock and earth, which on either side formed the trough of the brook, vegetable life was evidently more delicate and luxuriant than elsewhere, in the season when it had sway. Even now, when the reign of the frost held all such life in abeyance, this grave of the dead summer lacked neither fretted tomb nor wreathing garland; for above, the bittersweet hung out heavy festoons of coral berries over the pall of its faded leaves, and beneath, on frond of fern and stalk of aster, and on rough surface of lichen-covered rock, the frost had turned the spray of water to white crystals, and the stream, with imprisoned far-off murmur, made its little leaps within fairy palaces of icicles, and spread itself in pools whose leafy contents gave colours of mottled marble to the ice that had grown upon them. It was on the nearer bank of this stream, where, a little below, it curved closer to the house, that her father, falling with a frost-loosened rock, had received his fatal injury. Out of the pure idleness of despondency it occurred to the girl that, from the point at which she had now arrived, she might obtain a new view of the small landslip which had caused the calamity.
She cast her arms round a lithe young birch whose silver trunk bent from the top of the bank, and thus bridging the tangle of shrub and vine she hung over the short precipice to examine the spot with sad curiosity.
She herself could hardly have told what thoughts passed through her mind as, childlike, she thus lapsed from hard anger into temporary amusement. But greater activity of mind did come with the cessation of movement and the examination of objects which stimulated such fancy as she possessed. She looked at the beauty in the ravine beneath her, and at the rude destruction that falling earth and rock had wrought in it a few yards further down. She began to wonder whether, if the roots of the tree on which she was at full length stretched should give way in the same manner, and such a fall prove fatal to her also, Mr. Bates would be sorry. It gave her a sensation of pleasure to know that such a mishap would annoy and distress him very much; and, at the very moment of this sensation, she drew back and tested the firmness of the ground about its roots before resigning herself unreservedly to the tree again. When she had resumed her former position with a feeling of perfect safety, she continued for a few minutes to dilate in fancy upon the suffering that would be caused by the death her whim had suggested. She was not a cruel girl, not on the whole ill-natured, yet such is human nature that this idea was actually the first that had given her satisfaction for many hours. How sorry Mr. Bates would be, when he found her dead, that he had dared to speak so angrily to her! It was, in a way, luxurious to contemplate the pathos of such an artistic death for herself, and its fine effect, by way of revenge, upon the guardian who had made himself intolerable to her.
From her post of observation she now saw, what had not before been observed by any one, that where rock and earth had fallen treacherously under her father's tread, another portion of the bank was loosened ready to fall. Where this loosening—the work no doubt of the frost—had taken place, there was but a narrow passage between the ravine and the house, and she was startled to be the first to discover what was so essential for all in the house to know. For many days the myriad leaves of the forest had lain everywhere in the dry atmosphere peculiar to a Canadian autumn, till it seemed now that all weight and moisture had left them. They were curled and puckered into half balloons, ready for the wind to toss and drift into every available gap. So strewn was this passage with such dry leaves, which even now the wind was drifting upon it more thickly, that the danger might easily have remained unseen. Then, as fancy is fickle, her mind darted from the pleasurable idea of her own death to consider how it would be if she did not make known her discovery and allowed her enemy to walk into the snare. This idea was not quite as attractive as the former, for it is sweeter to think of oneself as innocently dead and mourned, than as guilty and performing the office of mourner for another; and it was of herself only, whether as pictured in Bates's sufferings or as left liberated by his death, that the girl was thinking. Still it afforded relaxation to imagine what she might do if she were thus left mistress of the situation; and she devised a scheme of action for these circumstances that, in its clever adaptation to what would be required, would have greatly amazed the man who looked upon her as an unthinking child.
The difference between a strong and a weak mind is not that the strong mind does not indulge itself in wild fancies, but that it never gives to such fancy the power of capricious sway over the centres of purpose. This young woman was strong in mind as in body. No flickering intention of actually performing that which she had imagined had place within her. She played with the idea of death as she might have played with a toy, while resting herself from the angry question into which her whole being had for two days concentrated itself, as to how she could thwart the will of the man who had assumed authority over her, and gain the freedom that she felt was necessary to life itself.
She had not lain many minutes upon the out-growing birch before she had again forgotten her gust of revengeful fancy, and yielded herself to her former serious mood with a reaction of greater earnestness. The winter beauty of the brook, the grey, silent trees above, and the waste of dry curled leaves all round—these faded from her observation because the eye of her mind was again turned inwards to confront the circumstances of her difficulty.
As she leaned thus in childlike attitude and womanly size, her arms twined round the tree and her cheek resting on its smooth surface, that clumsiness which in all young animals seems inseparable from the period when recent physical growth is not yet entirely permeated by the character-life which gives it individual expression, was not apparent and any intelligent eye seeing her would have seen large beauty in her figure, which, like a Venus in the years when art was young, had no cramped proportions. Her rough, grey dress hung heavily about her; the moccasins that encased her feet were half hidden in the loose pile of dry leaves which had drifted high against the root of the tree. There was, however, no visible eye there to observe her youthful comeliness or her youthful distress. If some angel was near, regarding her, she did not know it, and if she had, she would not have been much interested; there was nothing in her mood to respond to angelic pity or appreciation. As it was, the strong tree was impotent to return her embrace; its cold bark had no response for the caress of her cheek; the north wind that howled, the trees that swayed, the dead leaves that rustling fled, and the stream that murmured under its ice, gave but drear companionship. Had she yielded her mind to their influence, the desires of her heart might have been numbed to a transient despair more nearly akin to a virtuous resignation to circumstance than the revolt that was now rampant within her. She did not yield; she was not now observing them; they only effected upon her inattentive senses an impression of misery which fed the strength of revolt.
A minute or two more and the recumbent position had become unendurable as too passive to correspond with the inward energy. She clambered back, and, standing upon level ground, turned, facing the width of the bare clearing and the rough buildings on it, and looked toward the downward slope and the wild lake, whose cold breath of water was agitated by the wind. The sky was full of cloud.
She stood up with folded arms, strength and energy in the stillness of her attitude. She heard the sound of carpenter's tools coming from the shed into which Bates had retired. No other hint of humanity was in the world to which she listened, which she surveyed. As she folded her arms she folded her bright coloured old shawl about her, and seemed to gather within its folds all warmth of colour, all warmth of feeling, that was in that wild, desolate place.
A flake of snow fell on the shawl; she did not notice it. Another rested upon her cheek; then she started. She did not move much, but her face lifted itself slightly; her tear-swollen eyes were wide open; her lips were parted, as if her breath could hardly pass to and fro quickly enough to keep pace with agitated thought. The snow had begun to come. She knew well that it would go on falling, not to-day perhaps, nor to-morrow, but as certainly as time would bring the following days, so certainly the snow would fall, covering the frozen surface of the earth and water with foot above foot of powdery whiteness. Far as she now was from the gay, active throng of fellow-creatures which she conceived as existing in the outer world, and with whom she longed to be, the snow would make that distance not only great, but impassable to her, unaided.
It was true that she had threatened Bates with flight by foot across the frozen lake; but she knew in truth that such departure was as dependent on the submission of his will to hers as was her going in the more natural way by boat the next day, for the track of her snow-shoes and the slowness of her journey upon them would always keep her within his power.
The girl contemplated the falling flakes and her own immediate future at the same moment. The one notion clear to her mind was, that she must get away from that place before the cold had time to enchain the lake, or these flakes to turn the earth into a frozen sea. Her one hope was in the boat that would be launched to carry her dead father. She must go. She must go!
Youth would not be strong if it did not seek for happiness with all its strength, if it did not spurn pain with violence. All the notions that went to make up this girl's idea of pain were gathered from her present life of monotony and loneliness. All the notions that went to make up her idea of happiness were culled from what she had heard and dreamed of life beyond her wilderness. Added to this there was the fact that the man who had presumed to stand between her and the accomplishment of the first strong volition of her life had become intolerable to her—whether more by his severity or by his kindliness she could not tell. She folded her shawl-draped arms more strongly across her breast, and hugged to herself all the dreams and desires, hopes and dislikes, that had grown within her as she had grown in mind and stature in that isolated place.
How could she accomplish her will?
The flakes fell upon the copper gloss of her uncombed hair, on face and hands that reddened to the cold, and gathered in the folds of the shawl. She stood as still as a waxen figure, if waxen figure could ever be true to the power of will which her pose betrayed. When the ground was white with small dry flakes she moved again. Her reverie, for lack of material, seemed to have come to nothing fresh. She determined to prefer her request again to Bates.
She walked round the house and came to the shed door. In this shed large kettles and other vessels for potash-making were set up, but in front of these Bates and his man were at work making a rude pinewood coffin. The servant was the elder of the two. He had a giant-like, sinewy frame and a grotesquely small head; his cheeks were round and red like apples, and his long whiskers evidently received some attention from his vanity; it seemed an odd freak for vanity to take, for all the rest of him was rough and dirty. He wriggled when the girl darkened the doorway, but did not look straight at her.
"There's more of the bank going to slip where father fell—it's loose," she said.
They both heard. The servant answered her, commenting on the information. These were the only words that were said for some time. The girl stood and pressed herself against the side of the door. Bates did not look at her. At last she addressed him again. Her voice was low and gentle, perhaps from fear, perhaps from desire to persuade, perhaps merely from repression of feeling.
"Mr. Bates," she said, "you'll let me go in the boat with that?"—she made a gesture toward the unfinished coffin.
His anger had cooled since he had last seen her, not lessening but hardening, as molten metal loses malleability as it cools. Much had been needed to fan his rage to flame, but now the will fused by it had taken the mould of a hard decision that nothing but the blowing of another fire would melt.
"Ye'll not go unless you go in a coffin instead of along-side of it."
The coarse humour of his refusal was analogous to the laugh of a chidden child; it expressed not amusement, but an attempt to conceal nervous discomposure. The other man laughed; his mind was low enough to be amused.
"It's no place for me here," she urged, "and I ought by rights to go to the burying of my father."
"There's no place for ye neither where he'll be buried; and as to ye being at the funeral, it's only because I'm a long sight better than other men about the country that I don't shovel him in where he fell. I'm getting out the boat, and sending Saul here and the ox-cart two days' journey, to have him put decently in a churchyard. I don't b'lieve, if I'd died, you and your father would have done as much by me."
As he lauded his own righteousness his voice was less hard for the moment, and, like a child, she caught some hope.
"Yes, it's good of you, and in the end you'll be good and let me go too, Mr. Bates."
"Oh yes." There was no assent in his voice. "And I'll go too, to see that ye're not murdered when Saul gets drunk at the first house; and we'll take my aunt too, as we can't leave her behind; and we'll take the cow that has to be milked, and the pigs and hens that have to be fed; and when we get there, we'll settle down without any house to live in, and feed on air."
His sarcasm came from him like the sweat of anger; he did not seem to take any voluntary interest in the play of his words. His manner was cool, but it was noticeable that he had stopped his work and was merely cutting a piece of wood with his jack-knife. As she looked at him steadily he whittled the more savagely.
The other man laughed again, and wriggled as he laughed.
"No," she replied, "you can't come, I know; but I can take care of myself."
"It's a thieving, drunken lot of fellows Saul will fall in with. Ye may prefer their society to mine, but I'll not risk it."
"I can go to the minister."
"And his wife would make a kitchen-girl of ye, and ye'd run off from her in a week. If ye'd not stay here, where ye have it all your own way, it's not long that ye'd put up wi' my lady's fault-finding; and ministers and their wives isn't much better than other folks—I've told ye before what I think of that sort of truck."
There was a glitter in her eyes that would have startled him, but he did not see it. He was looking only at the wood he was cutting, but he never observed that he was cutting it. After a minute he uttered his conclusion.
"Ye'll stay wi' me."
"Stay with you," she cried, her breath catching at her words—"for how long?"
"I don't know." Complete indifference was in his tone. "Till ye're old, I suppose; for I'm not likely to find a better place for ye."
All the force of her nature was in the words she cast at him.
"I'll not stay."
"No?" he sneered in heavy, even irony. "Will ye cry on the neighbours to fetch ye away?"
She did not need to turn her head to see the wild loneliness of hill and lake. It was present to her mind as she leaned on the rough wooden lintel, looking into the shed.
"Or," continued he, "will ye go a-visiting. There's the Indians camping other side o' the mountain here "—he jerked his head backward to denote the direction—"and one that came down to the tree-cutting two weeks ago said there were a couple of wolves on the other hill. I dare say either Indians or wolves would be quite glad of the pleasure o' your company."
She raised herself up and seemed suddenly to fill the doorway, so that both men looked up because much of their light was withdrawn.
"You'd not have dared to speak to me like this while father was alive."
As a matter of fact the accusation was not true. The father's presence or absence would have made no difference to Bates had he been wrought up to the same pitch of anger; but neither he nor the girl was in a condition to know this. He only replied:
"That's the reason I waited till he was dead."
"If he hadn't been hurt so sudden he wouldn't have left me here."
"But he was hurt sudden, and he did leave ye here."
She made as if to answer, but did not. Both men were looking at her now. The snow was white on her hair. Her tears had so long been dry that the swollen look was passing from her face. It had been until now at best a heavy face, but feeling that is strong enough works like a master's swift chisel to make the features the vehicle of the soul. Both men were relieved when she suddenly took her eyes from them and her shadow from their work and went away.
Saul stretched his head and looked after her. There was no pity in his little apple face and beady eyes, only a sort of cunning curiosity, and the rest was dulness and weakness.
Bates did not look after her. He shut his knife and fell to joining the coffin.
The girl lifted the latch of the house-door, and went in. She was in the living-room. The old woman sat in a chair that was built of wood against the log wall. She was looking discontentedly before her at an iron stove, which had grown nearly cold for lack of attention. Some chairs, a table, a bed, and a ladder which led to the room above, made the chief part of the furniture. A large mongrel dog, which looked as if he had some blood of the grey southern sheep dog in him rose from before the stove and greeted the in-comer silently.
The dog had blue eyes, and he held up his face wistfully, as if he knew something was the matter. The old woman complained of cold. It was plain that she did not remember anything concerning death or tears.
There was one other door in the side of the room which led to the only inner chamber. The girl went into this chamber, and the heed she gave to the dog's sympathy was to hold the door and let him follow her. Then she bolted it. There were two narrow beds built against the wall; in one of these the corpse of a grey-haired man was lying. The dog had seen death before, and he evidently understood what it was. He did not move quickly or sniff about; he laid his head on the edge of the winding-sheet and moaned a little.
The girl did not moan. She knelt down some way from the bed, with a desire to pray. She did not pray; she whispered her anger, her unhappiness, her desires, to the air of the cold, still room, repeating the same phrases again and again with clenched hands and the convulsive gestures of half-controlled passion.
The reason she did not pray was that she believed that she could only pray when she was "good," and after falling on her knees she became aware that goodness, as she understood it, was not in her just then, nor did she even desire it. The giving vent to her misery in half-audible whispers followed involuntarily on her intention to pray. She knew not why she thus poured out her heart; she hardly realised what she said or wished to say; yet, because some expression of her helpless need was necessary, and because, through fear and a rugged sense of her own evil, she sedulously averted her mind from the thought of God, her action had, more than anything else, the semblance of an invocation to the dead man to arise and save her, and take vengeance on her enemy.
Daylight was in the room. The girl had knelt at first upright; then, as her passion seemed to avail nothing, but only to weary her, she sank back, sitting on her feet, buried her locked hands deeply in her lap, and with head bowed over them, continued to stab the air with short, almost inaudible, complaints. The dead man lay still. The dog, after standing long in subdued silence, came and with his tongue softly lapped some of the snow-water from her hair.
After that, she got up and went with him back into the kitchen, and lit the fire, and cooked food, and the day waned.
There is never in Nature that purpose to thwart which man in his peevishness is apt to attribute to her. Just because he desired so much that the winter should hold off a few days longer, Bates, on seeing the snow falling from the white opaque sky, took for granted that the downfall would continue and the ice upon the lake increase. Instead of that, the snow stopped falling at twilight without apparent cause, and night set in more mildly.
Darkness fell upon the place, as darkness can only fall upon solitudes, with a lonesome dreariness that seemed to touch and press. Night is not always dark, but with this night came darkness. There was no star nor glimmer of light; the pine-clad hills ceased to have form; the water in the lake was lost to all sense but that of hearing; and upon nearer objects the thinly sprinkled snow bestowed no distinctness of outline, but only a weird show of whitish shapes. The water gave forth fitful sobs. At intervals there were sounds round the house, as of stealthy feet, or of quick pattering feet, or of trailing garments—this was the wind busy among the drifting leaves.
The two men, who had finished the coffin by the light of a lantern, carried it into the house and set it up against the wall while they ate their evening meal. Then they took it to a table in the next room to put the dead man in it. The girl and the dog went with them. They had cushioned the box with coarse sacking filled with fragrant pine tassels, but the girl took a thickly quilted cloth from her own bed and lined it more carefully. They did not hinder her.
"We've made it a bit too big," said Saul; "that'll stop the shaking."
The corpse, according to American custom, was dressed in its clothes—a suit of light grey homespun, such as is to be bought everywhere from French-Canadian weavers. When they had lifted the body and put it in the box, they stopped involuntarily to look, before the girl laid a handkerchief upon the face. There lay a stalwart, grey-haired man—dead. Perhaps he had sinned deeply in his life; perhaps he had lived as nobly as his place and knowledge would permit—they could not tell. Probably they each estimated what they knew of his life from a different standpoint. The face was as ashen as the grey hair about it, as the grey clothes the body wore. They stood and looked at it—those three, who were bound to each other by no tie except such as the accident of time and place had wrought. The dog, who understood what death was, exhibited no excitement, no curiosity; his tail drooped; he moaned quietly against the coffin.
Bates made an impatient exclamation and kicked him. The kick was a subdued one. The wind-swept solitude without and the insistent presence of death within had its effect upon them all. Saul looked uneasily over his shoulder at the shadows which the guttering candle cast on the wall. Bates handled the coffin-lid with that shrinking from noise which is peculiar to such occasions.
"Ye'd better go in the other room," said he to Sissy. "It's unfortunate we haven't a screw left—we'll have to nail it."
Sissy did not go. They had made holes in the wood for the nails as well as they could, but they had to be hammered in. It was very disagreeable—the sound and the jar. With each stroke of Saul's hammer it seemed to the two workmen that the dead man jumped.
"There, man," cried Bates angrily; "that'll do."
Only four nails had been put in their places—one in each side. With irritation that amounted to anger against Saul, Bates took the hammer from him and shoved it on to a high shelf.
"Ye can get screws at the village, ye know," he said, still indignantly, as if some fault had appertained to Saul.
Then, endeavouring to calm an ill-temper which he felt to be wholly unreasonable, he crossed his arms and sat down on a chair by the wall. His sitting in that room at all perhaps betokened something of the same sensation which in Saul produced those glances before and behind, indicating that he did not like to turn his back upon any object of awe. In Bates this motive, if it existed, was probably unconscious or short-lived; but while he still sat there Saul spoke, with a short, silly laugh which was by way of preface.
"Don't you think, now, Mr. Bates, it 'ud be better to have a prayer, or a hymn, or something of that sort? We'd go to bed easier."
To look at the man it would not have been easy to attribute any just notion of the claims of religion to him. He looked as if all his motions, except those of physical strength, were vapid and paltry. Still, this was what he said, and Bates replied stiffly:
"I've no objections."
Then, as if assuming proper position for the ceremony that was to ease his mind, the big lumberman sat down. The girl also sat down.
Bates, wiry, intelligent Scot that he was, sat, his arms crossed and his broad jaw firmly set, regarding them both with contempt in his mind. What did they either of them know about the religion they seemed at this juncture to feel after as vaguely as animals feel after something they want and have not? But as for him, he understood religion; he was quite capable of being priest of his household, and he felt that its weak demand for a form of worship at this time was legitimate. In a minute, therefore, he got up, and fetching a large Bible from the living-room he sat down again and turned over its leaves with great precision and reverence.
He read one of the more trenchant of the Psalms, a long psalm that had much in it about enemies and slaughter. It had a very strong meaning for him, for he put himself in the place of the writer. The enemies mentioned were, in the first place, sins—by which he denoted the more open forms of evil; and, in the second place, wicked men who might interfere with him; and under the head of wicked men he classed all whom he knew to be wicked, and most other men, whom he supposed to be so. He was not a self-righteous man—at least, not more self-righteous than most men, for he read with as great fervour the adjurations against sins into which he might fall as against those which seemed to him pointed more especially at other sinners who might persecute him for his innocence. He was only a suspicious man made narrower by isolation, and the highest idea he had of what God required of him was a life of innocence. There was better in him than this—much of impulse and action that was positively good; but he did not conceive that it was of the workings of good that seemed so natural that God took account.
Upon Saul also the psalm had adequate effect, for it sounded to him pious, and that was all he desired.
The girl, however, could not listen to a word of it. She fidgeted, not with movement of hands or feet, but with the restlessness of mind and eyes. She gazed at the boards of the ceiling, at the boards of the floor, at the log walls on which each shadow had a scalloped edge because of the form of tree-trunks laid one above another. At length her eyes rested on the lid of the coffin, and, with nervous strain, she made them follow the grain of the wood up and down, up and down. There was an irregular knothole in the lid, and on this her eyes fixed themselves, and the focus of her sight seemed to eddy round and round its darkened edge till, with an effort, she turned from it.
The boards used for making the coffin had been by no means perfect. They were merely the best that could be chosen from among the bits of sawn lumber at hand. There was a tiny hole in one side, at the foot, and this larger one in the lid above the dead man's breast, where knots had fallen out with rough handling, leaving oval apertures. The temptation Sissy felt to let her eyes labour painfully over every marking in the wood and round these two holes—playing a sort of sad mechanical game therewith—and her efforts to resist the impulse, made up the only memory she had of the time the reading occupied.
There was a printed prayer upon a piece of paper kept inside the lid of the Bible, and when Bates had read the psalm, he read this also. He knelt while he did so, and the others did the same. Then that was finished.
"I'll move your bed into the kitchen, Sissy," said Bates.
He had made the same offer the night before, and she had accepted it then, but now she replied that she would sooner sleep in that room than near the stove. He was in no mood to contest such a point with her. Saul went out to his shed. Bates shut the house door, and went up the ladder to his loft. Both were soon in the sound slumber that is the lot of men who do much outdoor labour.
The girl helped the old woman to bed in the kitchen. Then she went back and sat in the chamber of death.
Outside, the wind hustled the fallen leaves.
At dawn Bates came down the ladder again, and went out quietly. The new day was fair, and calm; none of his fears were fulfilled. The dead man might start upon his journey, and Bates knew that the start must be an early one.
He and Saul, taking long-handled oars and poles, went down to the water's edge, where a big, flat-bottomed boat was lying drawn up on the shore to avoid the autumn storms. The stones of the beach looked black: here and there were bits of bright green moss upon them: both stones and moss had a coating of thin ice that glistened in the morning light.
It was by dint of great exertion that they got the clumsy vessel into the water and fastened her to a small wooden landing. They used more strength than time in their work. There was none of that care and skill required in the handling of the scow that a well-built craft would have needed. When she was afloat and tied, they went up the hill again, and harnessed a yoke of oxen to a rough wooden cart. Neither did this take them long. Bates worked with a nervousness that almost amounted to trembling. He had in his mind the dispute with the girl which he felt sure awaited him.
In this fear also he was destined to be disappointed. When he went to the inner room the coffin lay as he had left it, ready for its journey, and on the girl's bed in the corner the thick quilts were heaped as though the sleeper, had tossed restlessly. But now there was no restlessness; he only saw her night-cap beyond the quills; it seemed that, having perhaps turned her face to the wall to weep, she had at last fallen into exhausted and dreamless slumber.
Bates and Saul carried out the coffin eagerly, quietly. Even to the callous and shallow mind of Saul it was a relief to escape a contest with an angry woman. They set the coffin on the cart, and steadied it with a barrel of potash and sacks of buckwheat, which went to make up the load. By a winding way, where the slope was easiest, they drove the oxen between the trees, using the goad more and their voices as little as might be, till they were a distance from the house. Some trees had been felled, and cut off close to the ground, so that a cart might pass through the wood; this was the only sign of an artificial road. The fine powdered snow of the night before had blown away.
When they reached the beach again, the eastern sky, which had been grey, was all dappled with cold pink, and the grey water reflected it somewhat. There was clearer light on the dark green of the pine-covered hills, and the fine ice coating on stone and weed at the waterside had sharper glints of brilliancy.
Bates observed the change in light and colour; Saul did not; neither was disposed to dally for a moment. They were obliged to give forth their voices now in hoarse ejaculations, to make the patient beasts understand that they were to step off the rough log landing-place into the boat. The boat was almost rectangular in shape, but slightly narrower at the ends than in the middle, and deeper in the middle than at the ends; it was of rough wood, unpainted. The men disposed the oxen in the middle of the boat; the cart they unloaded, and distributed its contents as they best might. With long stout poles they then pushed off from the shore. Men and oxen were reflected in the quiet water.
They were not bound on a long or perilous voyage. The boat was merely to act as a ferry round a precipitous cliff where the shore was impassable, and across the head of the gushing river that formed the lake's outlet, for the only road through the hills lay along the further shore of this stream.
The men kept the boat in shallow water, poling and rowing by turns. There was a thin coating of ice, like white silk, forming on the water. As they went, Bates often looked anxiously where the log house stood on the slope above him, fearing to see the girl come running frantic to the water's edge, but he did not see her. The door of the house remained shut, and no smoke rose from its chimney. They had left the childish old woman sitting on the edge of her bed; Bates knew that she would be in need of fire and food, yet he could not wish that the girl should wake yet. "Let her sleep," he muttered to himself. "It will do her good." Yet it was not for her good he wished her to sleep, but for his own peace.
The pink faded from the sky, but the sun did not shine forth brightly. It remained wan and cold, like a moon behind grey vapours.
"I'll not get back in a week, or on wheels," said Saul. He spoke more cheerfully than was pleasing to his employer.
"If it snows ye'll have to hire a sleigh and get back the first minute you can." The reply was stern.
The elder and bigger man made no further comment. However much he might desire to be kept in the gay world by the weather, the stronger will and intellect, for the hour at least, dominated his intention.
They rowed their boat past the head of the river. In an hour they had reached that part of the shore from which the inland road might be gained. They again loaded the cart. It, like the boat, was of the roughest description; its two wheels were broad and heavy; a long pole was mortised into their axle. The coffin and the potash barrel filled the cart's breadth; the sacks of buckwheat steadied the barrel before and behind. The meek red oxen were once more fastened to it on either side of the long pole. The men parted without farewells.
Saul turned his back on the water. The large, cold morning rang to his voice—"Gee. Yo-hoi-ist. Yo-hoi-eest. Gee." The oxen, answering to his voice and his goad, laboured onward over the sandy strip that bound the beach, up the hill among the maple trees that grew thickly in the vale of the small river. Bates watched till he saw the cattle, the cart, and Saul's stalwart form only indistinctly through the numerous grey tree-stems that broke the view in something the way that ripples in water break a reflection. When the monotonous shouting of Saul's voice—"Gee, gee, there. Haw, wo, haw. Yo-hoi-eest," was somewhat mellowed by the widening space, Bates stepped into the boat, and, pushing off, laboured alone to propel her back across the lake.
It took him longer to get back now that he was single-handed. The current of the lake towards its outlet tended to push the great clumsy scow against the shore. He worked his craft with one oar near the stern, but very often he was obliged to drop it and push out from shore with his pole. It was arduous, but all sense of the cold, bleak weather was lost, and the interest and excitement of the task were refreshing. To many men, as to many dogs, there is an inexplicable and unreasoning pleasure in dealing with water that no operation upon land can yield. Bates was one of these; he would hardly have chosen his present lot if it had not been so; but, like many a dry character of his stamp, he did not give his more agreeable sensations the name of pleasure, and therefore could afford to look upon pleasure as an element unnecessary to a sober life. Mid pushings and splashings, from the management of his scow, from air and sky, hill and water, he was in reality, deriving as great pleasure as any millionaire might from the sailing of a choice yacht; but he was aware only that, as he neared the end of his double journey, he felt in better trim in mind and body to face his lugubrious and rebellious ward.
When, however, he had toiled round the black rock cliff which hid the clearing from the river's head, and was again in full sight of his own house, all remembrance of the girl and his dread of meeting her passed from him in his excessive surprise at seeing several men near his dwelling. His dog was barking and leaping in great excitement. He heard the voices of other dogs. It took but the first glance to show him that the men were not Indians. Full of excited astonishment he pushed his boat to the shore.
His dog, having darted with noisy scatter of dry leaves down the hill to meet him, stood on the shore expectant with mouth open, excitement in his eyes and tail, saying as clearly as aught can be said without words—"This is a very agreeable event in our lives. Visitors have come." The moment Bates put his foot on land the dog bounded barking up the hill, then turned again to Bates, then again bounded off toward the visitors. Even a watchdog may be glad to see strangers if the pleasure is only rare enough.
Bates mounted the slope as a man may mount stairs—two steps at a time. Had he seen the strangers, as the saying is, dropping from the clouds, he could hardly have been more surprised than he was to see civilised people had reached his place otherwise than by the lake, for the rugged hills afforded nothing but a much longer and more arduous way to any settlement within reach. When he got up, however, he saw that these men carried with them implements of camp-life and also surveying instruments, by which he judged, and rightly, that his guests were ranging the lonely hills upon some tour of official survey.
That the travellers were his guests neither he nor they had the slightest doubt. They had set down their traps close to his door, and, in the calm confidence that it would soon be hospitably opened by rightful hands, they had made no attempt to open it for themselves. There were eight men in the party, two of whom, apparently its more important members, sauntered to meet Bates, with pipes in their mouths. These told him what district they were surveying, by what track they had just come over the hill, where they had camped the past night, where they wanted to get to by nightfall. They remarked on the situation of his house and the extent of his land. They said to him, in fact, more than was immediately necessary, but not more than was pleasant for him to hear or for them to tell. It is a very taciturn man who, meeting a stranger in a wilderness, does not treat him with more or less of friendly loquacity.
Under the right circumstances Bates was a genial man. He liked the look of these men; he liked the tone of their talk; and had he liked them much less, the rarity of the occasion and the fact that he was their host would have expanded his spirits. He asked astute questions about the region they had traversed, and, as they talked, he motioned them towards the house. He had it distinctly in his mind that he was glad they had come across his place, and that he would give them a hot breakfast; but he did not say so in words—just as they had not troubled to begin their conversation with him by formal greetings.
The house door was still shut; there was still no smoke from the chimney, although it was now full three hours since Bates had left the place. Saying that he would see if the women were up, he went alone into the house. The living-room was deserted, and, passing through the inner door, which was open, he saw his aunt, who, according to custom was neatly dressed, sitting on the foot of Sissy's empty bed. The old woman was evidently cold, and frightened at the unusual sounds outside; greatly fretted, she held the girl's night-cap in her hand, and the moment he appeared demanded of him where Sissy was, for she must have her breakfast. The girl he did not see.
The dog had followed him. He looked up and wagged his tail; he made no sign of feeling concern that the girl was not there. Bates could have cursed his dumbness; he would fain have asked where she had gone. The dog probably knew, but as for Bates, he not only did not know, but no conjecture rose in his mind as to her probable whereabouts.
He took his aunt to her big chair, piled the stove from the well-stored wood-box, and lit it. Then, shutting the door of the room where the disordered bed lay and throwing the house-door open, he bid the visitors enter. He went out himself to search the surroundings of the house, but Sissy was not to be found.
The dog did not follow Bates on this search. He sat down before the stove in an upright position, breathed with his mouth open, and bestowed on the visitors such cheerful and animated looks that they talked to and patted him. Their own dogs had been shut into the empty ox-shed for the sake of peace, and the house-dog was very much master of the situation.
Of the party, the two surveyors—one older and one younger—were men of refinement and education. British they were, or of such Canadian birth and training as makes a good imitation. Five of the others were evidently of humbler position—axe-men and carriers. The eighth man, who completed the party, was a young American, a singularly handsome young fellow—tall and lithe. He did not stay in the room with the others, but lounged outside by himself, leaning against the front of the house in the white cold sunlight.
In the meantime Bates, having searched the sheds and inspected with careful eyes the naked woods above the clearing, came back disconsolately by the edge of the ravine, peering into it suspiciously to see if the girl could, by some wild freak, be hiding there. When he came to the narrow strip of ground between the wall of the house and the broken bank he found himself walking knee-deep in the leaves that the last night's gale had drifted there, and because the edge of the ravine was thus entirely concealed, he, remembering Sissy's warning, kicked about the leaves cautiously to find the crack of which she had spoken, and discovered that the loose portion had already fallen. It suddenly occurred to him to wonder if the girl could possibly have fallen with it. Instantly he sprang down the ravine, feeling among the drifted leaves on all sides, but nothing except rock and earth was to be found under their light heaps. It took only a few minutes to assure him of the needlessness of his fear. The low window of the room in which Sissy had slept looked out immediately upon this drift of leaves, and, as Bates passed it, he glanced through the uncurtained glass, as if the fact that it was really empty was so hard for him to believe that it needed this additional evidence. Then the stacks of fire-wood in front of the house were all that remained to be searched, and Bates walked round, looking into the narrow aisles between them, looking at the same time down the hill, as if it might be possible that she had been on the shore and he had missed her.
"What are you looking for?" asked the young American. The question was not put rudely. There was a serenity about the youth's expectation of an answer which, proving that he had no thought of over-stepping good manners, made it, at the same time, very difficult to withhold an answer.
Bates turned annoyed. He had supposed everybody was within.
"What have you lost?" repeated the youth.
"Oh—" said Bates, prolonging the sound indefinitely. He was not deceitful or quick at invention, and it seemed to him a manifest absurdity to reply—"a girl." He approached the house, words hesitating on his lips.
"My late partner's daughter," he observed, keeping wide of the mark, "usually does the cooking."
"Married?" asked the young man rapidly.
"She?—No," said Bates, taken by surprise.
"Young lady?" asked the other, with more interest. Bates was not accustomed to consider his ward under his head.
"She is just a young girl about seventeen," he replied stiffly.
"Oh, halibaloo!" cried the youth joyously. "Why, stranger, I haven't set eyes on a young lady these two months. I'd give a five dollar-bill this minute, if I had it, to set eyes on her right here and now." He took his pipe from his lips and clapped his hand upon his side with animation as he spoke.
Bates regarded him with dull disfavour. He would himself have given more than the sum mentioned to have compassed the same end, but for different reasons, and his own reasons were so grave that the youth's frivolity seemed to him doubly frivolous.
"I hope," he said coldly, "that she will come in soon." His eyes wandered involuntarily up the hill as he spoke.
"Gone out walking, has she?" The youth's eyes followed in the same direction. "Which way has she gone?"
"I don't know exactly which path she may have taken." Bates's words grew more formal the harder he felt himself pressed.
"Path!" burst out the young man—"Macadamised road, don't you mean? There's about as much of one as the other on this here hill."
"I meant," said Bates, "that I didn't know where she was."
His trouble escaped somewhat with his voice as he said this with irritation.
The youth looked at him curiously, and with some incipient sympathy. After a minute's reflection he asked, touching his forehead:
"She ain't weak here, is she—like the old lady?"
"Nothing of the sort," exclaimed Bates, indignantly. The bare idea cost him a pang. Until this moment he had been angry with the girl; he was still angry, but a slight modification took place. He felt with her against all possible imputations.
"All right in the headpiece, is she?" reiterated the other more lightly.
"Very intelligent," replied Bates. "I have taught her myself. She is remarkably intelligent." The young man's sensitive spirits, which had suffered slight depression from contact with Bates's perturbation, now recovered entirely.
"Oh, Glorianna!" he cried in irrepressible anticipation. "Let this very intelligent young lady come on! Why"—in an explanatory way—"if I saw as much as a female dress hanging on a clothes-line out to dry, I'm in that state of mind I'd adore it properly."
If Bates had been sure that the girl would return safely he would perhaps have been as well pleased that she should not return in time to meet the proposed adoration; as it was, he was far too ill at ease concerning her not to desire her advent as ardently as did the naive youth. The first feeling made his manner severe; the second constrained him to say he supposed she would shortly appear.
His mind was a good deal confounded, but if he supposed anything it was that, having wakened to find herself left behind by the boat, she had walked away from the house in an access of anger and disappointment, and he expected her to return soon, because he did not think she had courage or resolution to go very far alone. Underneath this was the uneasy fear that her courage and resolution might take her farther into danger than was at all desirable, but he stifled the fear.
When he went in he told the company, in a few matter-of-fact words of his partner's death, and the object of the excursion from which they had seen him return. He also mentioned that his aunt's companion, the dead man's child, had, it appeared, gone off into the woods that morning—this was by way of apology that she was not there to cook for them, but he took occasion to ask if they had seen her on the hill. As they had come down the least difficult way and had not met her, he concluded that she had not endeavoured to go far afield, and tried to dismiss his anxiety and enjoy his guests in his own way.
Hospitality, even in its simplest form, is more often a matter of amiable pride than of sincere unselfishness, but it is not a form of pride with which people are apt to quarrel. Bates, when he found himself conversing with scientific men of gentle manners, was resolved to show himself above the ordinary farmer of that locality. He went to the barrel where the summer's eggs had been packed in soft sand, and took out one apiece for the assembled company. He packed the oven with large potatoes. He put on an excellent supply of tea to boil. The travellers, who, in fact, had had their ordinary breakfast some hours before, made but feeble remonstrances against these preparations, remonstrances which only caused Bates to make more ample provision. He brought out a large paper bag labelled, "patent self-raising pancake meal," and a small piece of fat pork. Here he was obliged to stop and confess himself in need of culinary skill; he looked at the men, not doubting that he could obtain it from them.
"The Philadelphian can do it better," said one. This was corroborated by the others. "Call Harkness," they cried, and at the same time they called Harkness themselves.
The young American opened the door and came in in a very leisurely, not to say languid, manner. He took in the situation at a glance without asking a question. "But," said he, "are we not to wait for the intelligent young lady? Female intelligence can make the finer pancake."
The surveyors manifested some curiosity. "What do you know about a young lady?" they asked.
"The young lady of the house," replied Harkness. "Hasn't he"—referring to Bates—"told you all about her? The domestic divinity who has just happened to get mislaid this morning. I saw him looking over the wood pile to see if she had fallen behind it, but she hadn't."
"It is only a few days since her father died," said the senior of the party gravely.
"And so," went on the young man, "she has very properly given these few days to inconsolable grief. But now our visit is just timed to comfort and enliven her, why is she not here to be comforted and enlivened?"
No-one answered, and, as the speaker was slowly making his way toward the frying-pan, no one seemed really apprehensive that he would keep them waiting. The youth had an oval, almost childish face; his skin was dark, clear, and softly coloured as any girl's; his hair fell in black, loose curls over his forehead. He was tall, slender without being thin, very supple; but his languid attitudes fell short of grace, and were only tolerable because they were comic. When he reached out his hand for the handle of the frying-pan he held the attention of the whole company by virtue of his office, and his mind, to Bates's annoyance, was still running on the girl.
"Is she fond of going out walking alone?" he asked.
"How could she be fond of walking when there's no place to walk?" Bates spoke roughly. "Besides, she has too much work to do."
"Ever lost her before?"
"No," said Bates. It would have been perfectly unbearable to his pride that these strangers should guess his real uneasiness or its cause, so he talked as if the fact of the girl's long absence was not in any way remarkable.
Having mixed a batter the American sliced pork fat into the hot pan and was instantly obscured from view by the smoke thereof. In a minute his face appeared above it like the face of a genius.
"You will observe, gentlemen," he cried without bashfulness, "that I now perform the eminently interesting operation of dropping cakes—one, two, three. May the intelligent young lady return to eat them!"
No one laughed, but his companions smiled patiently at his antics—a patience born of sitting in a very hot, steamy room after weeks in the open air.
"You are a cook," remarked Bates.
The youth bent his long body towards him at a sudden angle. "Born a cook—dentist by profession—by choice a vagabond."
"Dentist?" said Bates curiously.
"At your service, sir."
"He is really a dentist," said one of the surveyors with sleepy amusement. "He carries his forceps round in his vest pocket."
"I lost them when I scrambled head first down this gentleman's macadamised road this morning, but if you want a tooth out I can use the tongs."
"My teeth are all sound," said Bates.
"Thank the Lord for that!" the young man answered with an emphatic piety which, for all that appeared, might have been perfectly sincere.
"And the young lady?" he asked after a minute.
"The young lady's teeth—the teeth of the intelligent young lady—the intelligent teeth of the young lady—are they sound?"
He sighed deeply. "And to think," he mourned, "that he should have casually lost her just this morning!"
He spoke exactly as if the girl were a penknife or a marble that had rolled from Bates's pocket, and the latter, irritated by an inward fear, grew to hate the jester.
When the meal, which consisted of fried eggs, pancakes, and potatoes, was eaten, the surveyors spent an hour or two about the clearing, examining the nature of the soil and rock. They had something to say to Bates concerning the value of his land which interested him exceedingly. Considering how rare it was for him to see any one, and how fitted he was to appreciate intercourse with men who were manifestly in a higher rank of life than he, it would not have been surprising if he had forgotten Sissy for a time, even if they had had nothing to relate of personal interest to himself. As it was, even in the excitement of hearing what was of importance concerning his own property, he did not wholly forget her; but while his visitors remained his anxiety was in abeyance.
When they were packing their instruments to depart, the young American, who had not been with them during the morning, came and took Bates aside in a friendly way.
"See here," he said, "were you gassing about that young lady? There ain't no young lady now, is there?"
"I told you"—with some superiority of manner—"she is not a young lady; she is a working girl, an emigrant's——"
"Oh, Glorianna!" he broke out, "girl or lady, what does it matter to me? Do you mean to say you've really lost her?"
The question was appalling to Bates. All the morning he had not dared to face such a possibility and now to have the question hurled at him with such imperative force by another was like a terrible blow. But when a blow is thus dealt from the outside, a man like Bates rallies all the opposition of his nature to repel it.
"Not at all"—his manner was as stiff as ever—"she is lurking somewhere near."
"Look here—I've been up the hill that way, and that way, and that way"—he indicated the directions with his hand—"and I've been down round the shore as far as I could get, and I've had our two dogs with me, who'd either of them have mentioned it if there'd been a stranger anywheres near; and she ain't here. An' if she's climbed over the hill, she's a spunky one—somewhat spunkier than I should think natural." He looked at Bates very suspiciously as he spoke.
"Well, my belief is that there ain't no young lady, and that you're gassing me."
"Very well," said Bates, and he turned away. It was offensive to him to be accused of telling lies—he was not a man to give any other name than "lie" to the trick attributed to him, or to perceive any humour in the idea of it—but it was a thousand times more offensive that this youth should have presumed to search for Sissy and to tell him that the search had been vain.
Horrible as the information just given was, he did not more than half believe it, and something just said gave him a definite idea of hope—the strange dogs had not found Sissy, but the house-dog, if encouraged to seek, would certainly find her. He had felt a sort of grudge against the animal all day, because he must know which way she had gone and could not tell. Now he resolved as soon as the strangers were gone to set the dog to seek her. Upon this he stayed his mind.
The surveyors hoped to get a few days' more work done before the winter put an end to their march; they determined when thus stopped to turn down the river valley and take the train for Quebec. The way they now wished to take lay, not in the direction in which the ox-cart had gone, but over the hills directly across the lake. The scow belonging to this clearing, on which they had counted, was called into requisition.
The day was still calm; Bates had no objection to take them across. At any other time he would have had some one to leave in charge of the place, but especially as he would be in sight of the house all the time, he made no difficulty of leaving as it was. He could produce four oars, such as they were, and the way across was traversed rapidly.
"And there ain't really a female belonging to the place, except the old lady," said the dentist, addressing the assembled party upon the scow. "It was all a tale, and—my eye;—he took me in completely."
Probably he did not give entire credence to his own words, and wished to provoke the others to question Bates further; but they were not now in the same idle mood that had enthralled them when, in the morning, they had listened to him indulgently. Their loins were girded; they were intent upon what they were doing and what they were going to do. No one but Bates paid heed to him.
Bates heard him clearly enough, but, so stubbornly had he set himself to rebuff this young man, and so closely was he wrapped in that pride of reserve that makes a merit of obstinate self-reliance, that it never even occurred to him to answer or to accept this last offer of a fellow-man's interest in the search he was just about to undertake.
He had some hope that, if Sissy were skulking round, she would find it easier to go back to the house when he was absent, and that he should find her as usual on his return; but, as he wrought at his oar in returning across the leaden water, looking up occasionally to make the log house his aim, and staring for the most part at the lone hills, under the pine woods of which his late companions had disappeared, his heart gradually grew more heavy; all the more because the cheerfulness of their society had buoyed up his spirit in their presence, did it now suffer depression. The awful presentiment began to haunt him that he would not find the girl that night, that he had in grim reality "lost her." If this were the case, what a fool, what a madman, he had been to let go the only aid within his reach! He stopped his rowing for a minute, and almost thought of turning to call the surveying party back again. But no, Sissy might be—in all probability was—already in the house; in that case what folly to have brought them back, delaying their work and incurring their anger! So he reasoned, and went on towards home; but, in truth, it was not their delay or displeasure that deterred him so much as his own pride, which loathed the thought of laying bare his cause for fear and distress.