Jack Chanty. A Story of Athabasca - Hulbert Footner - ebook

Jack Chanty. A Story of Athabasca ebook

Hulbert Footner

0,0

Opis

In this tightly plotted novel, we follow the bizarre career of a man who loathes criminals. After Humphrey Challoner finds his wife killed by the bullet of a robber in his home, he vows to catch the man. Mr. Challoner is a wealthy savant, and he saved the fingerprints of the robber as well as some of the robber’s strange hair which Challoner’s wife had in her hand. For twenty years Humphrey hunts for the killer, in the process revenging himself on London’s criminals class in a surprising and gruesome fashion. This Freeman work is not a Dr. Thorndyke mystery. Instead, it is the disturbing account of how a man wreaks vengeance on the miscreant who murdered his wife in a bungled robbery attempt. It also poses the question of how a moral society should deal with criminals.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
czytnikach Kindle™
(dla wybranych pakietów)
Windows
10
Windows
Phone

Liczba stron: 390

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS



Contents

I. THE HAIR-CUT

II. THE COMPANY FROM “OUTSIDE.”

III. TALK BY THE FIRE

IV. THE CONJUROR

V. JACK HEARS ABOUT HIMSELF

VI. THE PRICE OF SLEEP

VII. AN EMOTIONAL CRISIS

VIII. THE FEMININE EQUATION

IX. YELLOW METAL

X. A CRUMBLING BRAIN

XI. THE SHOWDOWN

XII. JACK FINDS OUT

XIII. THE RETREAT

XIV. BEAR’S FLESH AND BERRIES

XV. AN EXPEDITION OF THREE

XVI. THE TEPEES OF THE SAPIS

XVII. ASCOTA ESCAPEs

XVIII. THE END OF ASCOTA

XIX. AN OLD SCORE IS CHARGED OFf

XX. THE LITTLE GREAT WORLD

I. THE HAIR-CUT

The surface of the wide, empty river rang with it like a sounding-board, and the undisturbed hills gave it back, the gay song of a deep-chested man. The musical execution was not remarkable, but the sound was as well suited to the big spaces of the sunny river as the call of a moose to the October woods, or the ululation of a wolf to a breathless winter’s night. The zest of youth and of singing was in it; to that the breasts of any singer’s hearers cannot help but answer.

“Oh! pretty Polly Oliver, the pri-ide of her sex; The love of a grenadier he-er poor heart did vex. He courted her so faithfu-ul in the good town of Bow, But marched off to foreign lands a-fi-ighting the foe.”

The singer was luxuriously reclining on a tiny raft made of a single dry trunk cut into four lengths laced together with rope. His back was supported by two canvas bags containing his grub and all his worldly goods, and a banjo lay against his raised thighs. From afar on the bosom of the great stream he looked like a doll afloat on a shingle. The current carried him down, and the eddies waltzed him slowly around and back, providing him agreeable views up and down river and athwart the noble hills that hemmed it in.

“I cannot live si-ingle, and fa-alse I’ll not prove, So I’ll ’list for a drummer-boy and follow my love. Peaked ca-ap, looped jacke-et, whi-ite gaiters and drum, And marching so manfully to my tru-ue love I’ll come.”

Between each verse the banjo supplied a rollicking obbligato.

His head was bare, and the waves of his thick, sunburnt hair showed half a dozen shades ranging between sienna and ochre. As to his face, it was proper enough to twenty-five years old; an abounding vitality was its distinguishing character. He was not too good-looking; he had something rarer than mere good looks, an individuality of line and colouring. It was his own face, suggesting none of the recognized types of faces. He had bright blue eyes under beautifully modelled brows, darker than his hair. One eyebrow was cocked a little higher than the other, giving him a mocking air. In repose his lips came together in a thin, resolute line that suggested a hard streak under his gay youthfulness.

He was wearing a blue flannel shirt open at the throat, with a blue and white handkerchief knotted loosely away from it, and he had on faded blue overalls tucked into the tops of his mocassins. These mocassins provided the only touch of coxcombry to his costume; they were of the finest white doeskin elaborately worked with silk flowers. Such footwear is not for sale in the North, but may be surely construed as a badge of the worker’s favour.

Such was Jack Chanty, sprawling on his little raft, and abandoning himself to the delicious sunshine and the delights of song. It was July on the Spirit River; he was twenty-five years old, and the blood was coursing through his veins; inside his shirt he felt the weight of a little canvas bag of yellow gold, and he knew where there was plenty more to be had. Is it any wonder he was filled with a sense of wellbeing so keen it was almost a pain? Expanding his chest, he threw back his head and relieved himself of a roaring fortissimo that made the hills ring again:

“’Twas the battle of Ble-enheim, in a ho-ot fusillade, A poor little drummer-boy was a prisoner made. But a bra-ave grenadier fou-ought hi-is way through the foe And fifteen fierce Frenchmen toge-ether laid low.

“He took the boy tenderly in his a-arms as he swooned, He opened his ja-acket for to search for a wound. Oh! pretty Polly Olive-er, my-y bravest, my bride! Your true love shall nevermore be to-orn from your side!”

By and by the raft was carried around a wide bend, and the whitewashed buildings of Fort Cheever stole into view down the river. Jack’s eyes gleamed, and he put away the banjo. It was many a day since he had hobnobbed with his own kind, and what is the use of gold if there is no chance to squander it?

Sitting up, he applied himself to his paddle. Edging the raft toward the left-hand bank, he left the main current at the head of an island, and, shooting over a bar, paddled through the sluggish backwater on the shore of which the little settlement lay. As he came close the buildings were hidden from him by the high bank; only the top of the “company’s” flagpole showed. The first human sound that struck on his ears was the vociferous, angry crying of a boy-child.

Rounding a little point of the bank, the cause of the commotion was revealed. Jack grinned, and held his paddle. The sluggish current carried him toward the actors in the scene, and they were too intent to observe him. A half-submerged, flat-bottomed barge was moored to the shore. On the decked end of it a young girl in a blue print dress was seated on a box, vigorously soaping an infant of four. Two other ivory-skinned cupids, one older, one younger, were playing in the warm water that partly filled the barge. Their clothes lay in a heap behind the girl.

She was a very pretty girl; the mere sight of her caused Jack’s breast to lift and his heart to set up a slightly increased beating. It was so long since he had seen one! Her soft lips were determinedly pressed together; in one hand she gripped the thin arm of her captive, while with the other she applied the soap until his writhing little body flashed in the sun as if burnished. Struggles and yells were in vain. The other two children played in the water, callously indifferent to the sufferings of their brother. It was clear they had been through their ordeal.

The girl, warned of an approaching presence, raised a pair of startled eyes. Her captive, feeling the vise relax, plunged into the water of the barge with incredible swiftness, and, rapturously splashing off the hated soap, joined his brothers at the other end, safely out of her reach. The girl blushed for their nakedness. They themselves stared open-mouthed at the stranger without any embarrassment at all. The fat baby was sitting in the water, turned into stone with astonishment, like a statue of Buddha in a flood.

Something in the young man’s frank laugh reassured the girl, and she laughed a little too, though blushing still. She glowed with youth and health, deep-bosomed as Ceres, and all ivory and old rose. Her delicious, soft, roundness was a tantalizing sight to a hungry youth. But there was something more than mere provoking loveliness–her large brown eyes conveyed it, a disquieting wistfulness even while she laughed.

He brought his raft alongside the barge, and, rising, extended his hand according to the custom of the country. Hastily wiping her own soapy hand on her apron, she laid it in his. Both thrilled to the touch, and their eyes quailed from each other. Jack quickly recovered himself. Lovely as she might be, she was none the less a “native,” and therefore to a white man fair game. Naturally he took the world as he found it.

“You are Mary Cranston,” he said. “I should have known if there was another like you in the country,” his bold eyes added.

The girl lowered her eyes. “Yes,” she murmured.

Her voice astonished him, and filled him with the desire to make her speak again. “You don’t know who I am,” he said.

She glanced at the banjo case. “Jack Chanty,” she said softly.

“Good!” he cried. “That’s what it is to be famous!” Their eyes met, and they laughed as at a rich joke. Her laugh was as sweet as the sound of falling water in the ears of thirst, and the name he went by as spoken by her rang in his ears with rare tenderness.

“How did you know?” he asked curiously.

“Everybody knows about everybody up here,” she said. “There are so few! You came from across the mountains, and have been prospecting under Mount Tetrahedron since the winter. The Indians who came in to trade told us about the banjo, and about the many songs you sang, which were strange to them.”

The ardour of his gaze confused her. She broke off, and, to hide her confusion, turned abruptly to the staring ivory cupids. “Andy, come here!” she commanded in the voice of sisterly authority. “Colin! Gibbie! Come and get dressed!”

Andy and Colin grinned sheepishly, and stayed where they were. The smile of Andy, the elder, was toothless and exasperating. As for the infant Buddha, he continued to sit unmoved, to suck his thumb, and to stare.

She stamped her foot. “Andy! Come here this minute! Colin! Gibbie!” she repeated in a voice of helpless vexation.

They did not move.

“Look sharp, young ’uns!” Jack suddenly roared.

Of one accord, as if galvanized into life, they scrambled toward their sister, making a detour around the far side of the barge to avoid Jack.

Mary rewarded him with a smile, and dealt out the clothes with a practised hand. Andy, clasping his garments to his breast, set off over the plank to the shore, and was hauled back just in time.

“He has to have his hair cut, because the steamboat is coming,” his sister explained; “and I don’t see how I can hold on to him while I am dressing the others.”

“Pass him over here,” said Jack.

Andy, struck with terror, was deposited on the raft, whence escape was impossible without passing the big man, and commanded to dress himself without more ado.

Mary regarded the other two anxiously. “They’re beginning to shiver,” she said, “and I can’t dress both at once.”

Jack sat on the edge of the barge with his feet on the raft. “Give me the baby,” he said.

“You couldn’t dress a baby,” she said, with a provoking dimple in either cheek.

“Yes, I can, if he wears pants,” said Jack serenely. “There’s no mystery about pants.”

“Besides, he’d yell,” she objected.

“No, he won’t,” said Jack. “Try him and see.”

And in sooth he did not yell, but sat on Jack’s knee while his little shirt was pulled over his head and buttoned, sucking his thumb, and staring at Jack with a piercing, unflinching stare.

“You have a way with babies,” the girl said in the sweet, hushed voice that continually astonished him.

He looked at her with his mocking smile. “And with girls?” his eyes asked boldly.

She blushed, and attended strictly to Colin’s buttons.

Colin, fully attired in shirt, troussers, and moccasins, was presently dismissed over the plank. He lingered on the shore, shouting opprobrious epithets to his elder, still in captivity. At the same time the baby was dressed in the smallest pair of long pants ever made. He was as bow-legged as a bulldog. Jack leaned back, roaring with laughter at the figure of gravity he made. Gibbie didn’t mind. He could walk, but he preferred to sit. He continued to sit cross-legged on the end of the barge, and to stare.

Next, Andy was seated on the box, while Mary, kneeling behind him, produced her scissors.

“If you don’t sit still you’ll get the top of your ears cut off!” she said severely.

But sitting still was difficult under the taunts from ashore.

“Jutht you wait till I git aholt of you,” lisped the toothless one, proving that the language of unregenerate youth is much the same on the far-off Spirit River as it is on the Bowery.

Jack returned to the raft and unstrapped the banjo case. “Be a good boy and I’ll sing you a song,” he said, presumably to Andy, but looking at Mary meanwhile.

At the sound of the tuning-up the infant Buddha in long pants gravely arose stern foremost, and reseated himself at the edge of the barge, where he could get a better view of the player.

Jack chose another rollicking air, but a new tone had crept into his deep voice. He sang softly, for he had no desire to bring others down the bank to interrupt his further talk with Mary.

“Oh, the pretty, pretty creature! When I next do meet her No more like a clown will I face her frown, But gallantly will I treat her, But gallantly will I treat her, Oh, the pretty, pretty creature!”

The infant Buddha condescended to smile, and to bounce once or twice on his fundament by way of applause. Andy sat as still as a surprised chipmunk.

Colin was sorry now that he had cut himself off from the barge. As for the boy’s big sister, she kept her eyes veiled, and plied the scissors with slightly languorous motions of the hands. Even a merry song may work a deal of sentimental damage under certain conditions. And the sun shone, and the bright river moved down.

“Thank you,” she said, when he had come to the end. “We never have music here.”

Jack wondered where she had learned her pretty manners.

The hair-cutting was concluded. Andy sprang up looking like a little zebra with alternate dark and light stripes running around his head, and a narrow bang like a forelock in the middle of his forehead. Jack put away the banjo, and Andy, seeing that there was to be no more music, set off in chase of Colin. The two of them disappeared over the bank. Mary gathered up towels, soap, comb, and scissors preparatory to following them.

“Don’t go yet,” said Jack eagerly.

“I must,” she said, but lingering. “There is much to be done before the steamboat comes.”

“She’s only expected,” said Jack of the knowledge born of experience. “It’ll be a week before she comes.” Mary displayed no great eagerness to be gone.

A bold idea had been making a covert shine in Jack’s eyes during the last minute or two. It suddenly found expression. “Cut my hair,” he blurted out.

She started and blushed. “Oh, I–I couldn’t cut a man’s hair,” she stammered.

“What’s the difference?” demanded Jack with a great parade of innocence. “Hair is just hair, isn’t it?”

“I couldn’t,” she repeated naively. “It would confuse me so!”

The thought of her confusion was delicious to him. He was standing below her on the raft. “Look,” he said, lowering his head. “It needs it. I’m a sight!”

Since in this position he could not see her face, she allowed her eyes to dwell for a moment on the tawny silken sheaves that he exhibited. Such bright hair was wonderful to her. It seemed to her as if the sun itself was netted in its folds.

“I–I couldn’t,” she repeated, but weakly.

He swung about and sat on the edge of the barge. “Make out I am your other little brother,” he said insinuatingly. “I can’t see you, so it’s all right. Ju’st one little snip to see how it goes!”

The temptation was too great to be resisted. She bent over, and the blades of the scissors met. In her agitation she cut a wider swath than she intended and a whole handful of hair fell to the deck.

“Oh!” she cried remorsefully.

“Now you’ll have to do the whole thing,” said Jack quickly. “You can’t leave me looking like a half-clipped poodle.”

With a guilty look over her shoulder she drew up the box and sat down behind him. Gibbie, the youngest of the Cranstons, was a solemn and interested spectator. Jack thrilled a little and smiled at the touch of her trembling fingers in his hair. At the same time he was not unaware of the decorative value of his luxuriant thatch, and it occurred to him he was running a considerable risk of disfigurement at her hands.

“Not so short as Andy’s,” he suggested anxiously.

“I will be careful,” she said.

The scissors snipped busily, and the rich yellow-brown hair fell all around the deck. Mary eyed it covetously. One shining twist of it dropped in her lap. He could not see her. In a twinkling it was stuffed inside her belt.

Meanwhile Jack continued to smile with softened eyes. “Hair-cutting was never like this,” he murmured. He was tantalized by the recollection of her voice, and he cast about in his mind for something to lead her to talk more freely. “You were not here when I came through two years ago,” he said.

“I was away at school,” she said.

“Where?”

“The mission at Caribou Lake.”

“Did you like it there?”

He felt the shrug in her finger-tips. “It is the best there is,” she said quietly.

“It’s a shame!” said Jack. There was a good deal unspoken here. “A shame you should be obliged to associate with those savages,” he implied, and she understood.

“Have you ever been outside?” he asked.

“No,” she said.

“Would you like to go?”

“Yes, with somebody I liked,” she said in her simple way.

“With me?” he asked in the off-hand tone that may be taken any way the hearer pleases.

Her simplicity was not dullness. “No,” she said quickly. “You would tell me funny lies about everything.”

“But you would laugh, and you would like it,” he said.

She had nothing to say to this.

“Outside they have regular shops for shaving and cutting hair,” he went on. “Barber-shops they are called.”

“I know,” she said offended. “I read.”

“I’ll bet you didn’t know there was a lady barber in Prince George.”

“Nice kind of lady!” she said.

The obvious retort slipped thoughtlessly off his tongue. “I like that! What are you doing?”

Her eyes filled with tears, and the scissors faltered. “Well, I wouldn’t do it for–I–I wouldn’t do it all the time,” she murmured deeply hurt.

He twisted his head at the imminent risk of impaling an eye on the scissors. The tears astonished him.

Everything about her astonished him. In no respect did she coincide with his experience of “native” girls. He was vain enough for a good-looking young man of twenty-five, but he did not suspect that to a lonely and imaginative girl his coming down the river might have had all the effect of the advent of the yellow haired prince in a fairy-tale. Jack was not imaginative.

He reached for her free hand. “Say, I’m sorry,” he said clumsily. “It was only a joke! It’s mighty decent of you to do it for me.”

She snatched her hand away, but smiled at him briefly and dazzlingly. She was glad to be hurt if he would let that tone come into his mocking voice.

“I was just silly,” she said shortly.

The hair-cutting went on.

“What do you read?” asked Jack curiously.

“We get newspapers and magazines three times a year by the steamboat,” she said. “And I have a few books. I like ‘Lalla Rookh’ and ‘Marmion’ best.” Jack, who was not acquainted with either, preserved a discreet silence.

“Father has sent out for a set of Shakespeare for me,” she went on. “I am looking forward to it.”

“It’s better on the stage,” said Jack. “What fun to take you to the theatre!”

She made no comment on this. Presently the scissors gave a concluding snip.

“Lean over and look at yourself in the water,” she commanded.

Obeying, he found to his secret relief that his looks had not suffered appreciably. “That’s out of sight!” he said heartily, turning to her. “I say, I’m ever so much obliged to you.”

An awkward silence fell between them. Jack’s growing intention was clearly evident in his eye, but she did not look at him.

“I–I must pay you,” he said at last, a little breathlessly.

She understood that very well, and sprang up, the scissors ringing on the hollow deck. They were both pale. She turned to run, but the box was in her way. Leaping from the raft to the barge, he caught her in his arms, and as she strained away he kissed her round firm cheek and her fragrant neck beneath the ear. He roughly pressed her averted head around, and crushed her soft lips under his own.

Then she got an arm free, and he received a short-arm box on the ear that made his head ring. She tore herself out of his arms, and faced him from the other side of the barge, panting and livid with anger.

“How dare you! How dare you!” she cried.

Jack leaned toward her, breathing no less quickly than she. “You’re lovely! You’re lovely,” he murmured swiftly. “I never saw anybody like you before. I’ll camp quarter of a mile down river, out of the way. Come down to-night, and I’ll sing to you.”

“I won’t!” she cried. “I’ll never speak to you again! I hate you!” She indicated the unmoved infant Buddha with a tragic gesture. “And before the baby, too!” she cried. “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

Jack laughed a little sheepishly. “Well, he’s too young to tell,” he said.

“But what will he think of me?” she cried despairingly. Stooping, she swept the little god into her arms, and, running over the plank, disappeared up the bank.

“I’ll be waiting for you,” Jack softly called after her. She gave no sign of hearing.

Jack sat down on the edge of the barge again. He brushed the cut hair into the water, and watched it float away with an abstracted air. As he stared ahead of him a slight line appeared between his eyebrows which may have been due to compunction. Whatever the uncomfortable thought was, he presently whistled it away after the manner of youth, and, drawing his raft up on the stones, set to work to take stock of his grub.

II. THE COMPANY FROM “OUTSIDE.”

The Hudson Bay Company’s buildings at Fort Cheever were built, as is customary, in the form of a hollow square, with one side open to the river. The store occupied one side of the square, the warehouse was opposite, and at the top stood the trader’s house in the midst of its vegetable garden fenced with palings. The old palisade about the place had long ago disappeared, and nothing military remained except the flagpole and an ancient little brass cannon at its foot, blackened with years of verdigris and dirt. The humbler store of the “French outfit” and the two or three native shacks that completed the settlement lay at a little distance behind the company buildings, and the whole was dropped down on a wide, flat esplanade of grass between the steep bare hills and the river.

To-day at the fort every one was going about his business with an eye cocked downstream. Every five minutes David Cranston came to the door of the store for a look, and old Michel Whitebear, hoeing the trader’s garden, rested between every hill of potatoes, to squint his aged eyes in the same direction. Usually this state of suspense endured for days, sometimes weeks, but upon this trip the river-gods were propitious, and at five o’clock the eagerly listened for whistle was actually heard.

Every soul in the place gathered at the edge of the bank to witness the arrival. At one side, slightly apart, stood the trader and his family. David Cranston was a lean, up-standing Scotchman, an imposing physical specimen with hair and beard beginning to grizzle, and a level, grim, sad gaze. His wife was a handsome, sullen, dark-browed, half-breed woman, who, unlike the majority of her sisters, carried her age well. In his grim sadness and her sullenness was written a domestic tragedy of long-standing. After all these years she was still a stranger in her own house, and an alien to her husband and children. Their children were with them, Mary and six boys ranging from Davy, who was sixteen, down to the infant Buddha.

A small crowd of natives in ragged store clothes, standing and squatting on the bank, and spilling over on the beach below, filled the centre of the picture, and beyond them sat Jack Chanty by himself, on a box that he had carried to the edge of the bank. Between him and Mary the bank made in, so that they were fully visible to each other, and both tinglingly self-conscious. In Jack this took the form of an elaborately negligent air. He whittled a paddle with nice care, glancing at Mary from under his lashes. She could not bring herself to look at him.

While the steamboat was still quarter of a mile downstream, the people began to sense that there was something more than usual in the wind, and a great excitement mounted. We of the outside world, with our telegrams and newspapers and hourly posts, have forgotten what it is to be dramatically surprised. Where can we get a thrill like to that which animated these people as the magic word was passed around: “Passengers!” Presently it could be made out that these were no ordinary passengers, but a group of well-dressed gentlemen, and finally, wonder of wonders! what had never been seen at Fort Cheever before, a white lady–no, two of them!

Mary saw them first, two ladies, corseted, tailored, and marvellously hatted like the very pictures in the magazines that she had secretly disbelieved in. In another minute she made out that one of them, leaning on the upper rail, smiling and chatting vivaciously with her companions, was as young as Mary herself, and as slender and pretty as a mundane fairy.

Mary glanced swiftly at Jack. He, too, was looking at the deck of the steamboat and he had stopped whittling his paddle. A dreadful pang transfixed Mary’s breast. Her hands and feet suddenly became enormous to her, and her body seemed like a coarse and shapeless lump. She looked down at her clean, faded print dress; she could have torn it into ribbons. She looked at her dark-browed mother with eyes full of a strange, angry despair. The elder woman had by this time seen what was coming, and her lip curled scornfully. Mary’s eyes filled with tears. She slipped out of the group unseen, and, running back to the house, cast herself on her bed and wept as she had never wept.

The steamboat was moored alongside the half-submerged barge. She came to a stop with the group on the upper deck immediately in front of Jack and a little below him. True to the character of indifference he was fond of assuming, he went on whittling his paddle. At the same time he was taking it all in. The sight of people such as his own people, that he thought he had put behind him forever, raised a queer confusion of feelings in him. As he covertly watched the dashing, expensive, imperious little beauty and three men hanging obsequiously on her words, a certain hard brightness showed briefly in his eyes, and his lips thinned.

It was as if he said: “Aha! my young lady, I know your kind! None of you will ever play that game again with me!”

Consequently when her casual glance presently fell on the handsome, young, rough character (as she would no doubt have called him) it was met by a glance even more casual. The young man was clearly more interested in the paddle he was making than in her. Her colour heightened a little and she turned with an added vivacity to her companions. After a long time she looked again. The young man was still intent upon his paddle.

The first to come off the boat was the young purser, who hurried with the mail and the manifests to David Cranston. He was pale under the weight of the announcement he bore.

“We have his honour the lieutenant-governor and party on board,” he said breathlessly.

Cranston, because he saw that he was expected to be overcome, remained grimly unconcerned. “So!” he said coolly.

The youngster stared. “The lieutenant-governor,” he repeated uncertainly. “He’s landing here to make some explorations in the mountains. He joined us without warning at the Crossing. There was no way to let you know.”

“We’ll do the best we can for his lordship,” said Cranston with an ironic curl to his grim lips. “I will speak to my wife.”

To her he said under his breath, grimly but not unkindly, “Get to the house, my girl.”

She flared up with true savage suddenness. “So, I’m not good enough to be seen with you,” she snarled, taking no pains to lower her voice. “I’m your lawful wife. These are my children. Are you ashamed of my colour? You chose me!”

Cranston drew the long breath that calls on patience. “’Tis not your colour that puts me to shame, but your manners,” he said sternly. “And if they’re bad,” he added, “it’s not for the lack of teaching. Get to the house!”

She went.

The captain of the steamboat now appeared on the gangplank, ushering an immaculate little gentleman whose sailent features were a Panama hat above price, a pointed white beard, neat, agile limbs, and a trim little paunch under a miraculously fitting white waistcoat. Two other men followed, one elderly, one young. Cranston waited for them at the top of the path.

The captain was a little flustered too. “Mr. Cranston, gentlemen, the company’s trader here,” he said. “His Honour Sir Bryson Trangmar, the lieutenant-governor of Athabasca,” he went on. “Captain Vassall”–the younger man bowed; “Mr. Baldwin Ferrie”–the other nodded.

There was the suspicion of a twinkle in Cranston’s eye. Taking off his hat he extended an enormous hand. “How do you do, sir,” he said politely. “Welcome to Fort Cheever.”

“Charmed! Charmed!” bubbled the neat little gentleman. “Charming situation you have here. Charming river! Charming hills!”

“I regret that I cannot offer you suitable hospitality,” Cranston continued in his great, quiet voice. “My house is small, as you see, and very ill-furnished. There are nine of us. But the warehouse shall be emptied before dark and made ready for you. It is the best building here.”

“Very kind, I’m sure,” said Sir Bryson with offhand condescension–perhaps he sensed the twinkle, perhaps it was the mere size of the trader that annoyed him; “but we have brought everything needful. We will camp here on the grass between the buildings and the river. Captain Vassall, my aide-de-camp, will see to it. I will talk to you later Mr.–er?”

“Cranston,” murmured the aide-de-camp.

Cranston understood by this that he was dismissed. He sauntered back to the store with a peculiar smile on his grim lips. In the free North country they have never become habituated to the insolence of office, and the display of it strikes them as a very humorous thing, particularly in a little man.

Sir Bryson and the others reconnoitred the grassy esplanade, and chose a spot for the camp. It was decided that the party should remain on the steamboat all night, and go into residence under canvas next day. They then returned on board for supper, and nothing more was seen of the strangers for a couple of hours.

At the end of that time Miss Trangmar and her companion, Mrs. Worsley, arm in arm and hatless, came strolling over the gangplank to enjoy a walk in the lingering evening. At this season it does not become dark at Fort Cheever until eleven.

Jack’s raft was drawn up on the beach at the steamboat’s bow, and as the ladies came ashore he was disposing his late purchases at the store upon it, preparatory to dropping downstream to the spot where he meant to camp. In order to climb the bank the two had to pass close behind him.

At sight of him the girl’s eyes brightened, and, with a mischievous look she said something to her companion. “Linda!” the older woman remonstrated. “Everybody speaks to everybody up here,” said the girl. “It was understood that the conventions were to be left at home.”

Thus Jack was presently startled to hear a clear high voice behind him say: “Are you going to travel on the river with that little thing?”

Hastily straightening his back and turning, he raised his hat. Her look took him unawares. There was nothing of the insolent queenliness in it now. She was smiling at him like a fearless, well-bred little girl. Nevertheless, he reflected, the sex is not confined to the use of a single weapon, and he stiffened.

“I came down the river on it this morning,” he said politely and non-committal. “To-night I’m going just a little way to camp.”

She was very like a little girl, he thought, being so small and slender, and having such large blue eyes, and such a charming, childlike smile. Her bright brown hair was rolled back over her ears. Her lips were very red, and her teeth perfect. She was wearing a silk waist cunningly contrived with lace, and fitting in severe, straight lines, ever so faintly suggesting the curves beneath. In spite of himself everything about her struck subtle chords in Jack’s memory. It was years since he had been so close to a lady.

She was displeased with the manner of his answer. He had shown no trace either of the self-consciousness or the eager complaisance she had expected from a local character. Indeed, his gaze returned to the raft as if he were only restrained by politeness from going on with his preparations. He reminded her of a popular actor in a Western play that she had been to see more times than her father knew of. But the rich colour in Jack’s cheek and neck had the advantage of being under the skin instead of plastered on top. Her own cheeks were a thought pale.

“How do you go back upstream?” she asked with an absent air that was intended to punish him.

“You travel as you can,” said Jack calmly. “On horseback or afoot.”

She pointedly did not wait for the answer, but strayed on up the path as if he had already passed from her mind. Yet as she turned at the top her eyes came back to him as if by accident. She had a view of a broad back, and a bent head intent upon the lashings of the raft. She bit her lip. It was a disconcerting young man.

A few minutes later Frank Garrod, the governor’s secretary, who until now had been at work in his cabin upon the correspondence the steamboat was to take back next day, came over the gangplank in pursuit of the ladies. He was a slim and well-favoured young man, of about Jack’s age, but with something odd and uncontrolled about him, a young man of whom it was customary to say he was “queer,” without any one’s knowing exactly what constituted his queerness. He had black hair and eyes that made a striking contrast with his extreme pallor. The eyes were very bright and restless; all his movements were a little jerky and uneven.

Hearing more steps behind him, Jack looked around abstractedly without really seeing what he looked at. Garrod, however, obtained a fair look into Jack’s face, and the sight of it operated on him with a terrible, dramatic suddenness. A doctor would have recognized the symptoms of what he calls shock. Garrod’s arms dropped limply, his breath failed him, his eyes were distended with a wild and inhuman fear. For an instant he seemed about to collapse on the stones, but he gathered some rags of self-control about him, and, turning without a sound, went back over the gangplank, swaying a little, and walking with wide-open, sightless eyes like a man in his sleep.

Presently Vassall, the amiable young A. D. C., descending the after stairway, came upon him leaning against the rail on the river-side of the boat, apparently deathly sick.

“Good heavens, Garrod! What’s the matter?” he cried.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.