A Countess from Canada
Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Prepared by Al Haines
A COUNTESS FROM CANADA
A Story of Life in the Backwoods
Author of "Three Girls in Mexico" "Daughters of the Dominion"
"Sisters of Silver Creek" "A Courageous Girl" &c.
ILLUSTRATED BY CYRUS CUNEO
I. BEYOND THE SECOND PORTAGE
II. A CURIOUS ACCIDENT
III. OUTWITTING THE ENEMY
IV. A NIGHT OF ROUGH WORK
V. A SACRED CONFIDENCE
VI. BUSINESS BOTHERS
VII. ANOTHER CLUE
VIII. THE FIRST RAIN
IX. THE FLOOD
X. THE STRANGER PROVES A FRIEND IN NEED
XI. A WOMAN OF BUSINESS
XII. THE FIRST OF THE FISHING
XIV. WOULD THEY BE FRIENDS?
XV. MR. SELINCOURT IS INDISCREET
XVI. "WE MUST BE FRIENDS!"
XVII. 'DUKE RADFORD'S NEW FRIEND
XVIII. STANDING ASIDE
XIX. AN AWKWARD FIX
XX. KATHERINE MAKES A DISCOVERY
XXI. MATTER FOR HEARTACHE
XXII. A BUSINESS
XXIII. THE MAJORITY DECIDES
XXIV. MR. SELINCOURT IS CONFIDENTIAL
XXV. THE RIFT IN THE CLOUDS
XXVI. FIGHTING THE STORM
XXVII. A BEARER OF EVIL TIDINGS
XXVIII. THE GLADNESS
XXIX. WINTER AGAIN
XXXI. THE WEDDING
The Rescue of Jarvis Ferrars
'Duke Radford Meets with an Accident
Katherine and Miles Spearing for Fish
"With all her strength Katherine hauled at the rope"
Bartering with the Indians
Drifting Down the River
Beyond the Second Portage
"Oh dear, how I should love to go out!"
Katherine Radford stretched her arms wearily above her head as she
spoke. There had been five days of persistent snowfall; but this
morning the clouds had broken, showing strips and patches of blue
sky, and there was bright sunshine flooding the world again, with
hard and sparkling frost.
"Why don't you go?" demanded Phil, who was the youngest. "Miles
and me don't mind having a holiday at all."
"Speak for yourself if you like," growled Miles, who was thirteen;
"but I want to get this schooling business over and done with, so
that I can start doing something useful."
"And speak grammatically, please, or else keep silent. You should
have said, 'Miles and I'," remarked Katherine with quite crushing
dignity, as she turned from the window to take her place at the
table once more. Phil thrust his tongue in his cheek, after the
manner beloved of small boys, and subsided into silence and an
abstracted study of his spelling book.
The schoolroom was a small chamber, partitioned off from the store
by a wall of boards so thin that all conversation about buying and
selling, with the gossip of the countryside thrown in, was plainly
audible to the pupils, whose studies suffered in consequence. The
stovepipe from the store went through this room, keeping it
comfortably warm, and in winter 'Duke Radford and the boys slept
there, because it was so terribly cold in the loft.
Katherine had come home from college in July, determined to teach
school all winter, and to make a success of it, too, in a most
unpromising part of the world. But even the most enthusiastic
teacher must fail to get on if there are no scholars to teach, and
at present she had only Miles and Phil, her two brothers, as
pupils. This was most trying to Katherine's patience, for, of
course, if there had only been pupils enough, she could have had a
properly constituted school, and a salary also. She might even
have had a regular schoolhouse to teach in, instead of being
compelled to use a makeshift such as this. But everything must
have a beginning, and so she had worked on bravely through the
autumn, hoping against hope for more pupils. In the intervals
between teaching the boys she kept the books for her father, and
even attended to the wants of an occasional customer when 'Duke
Radford was busy or absent.
The store at Roaring Water Portage was awkwardly placed for
business. It stood on a high bank overlooking the rapids, and when
it was built, five years before, had been the centre of a mining
village. But the mining village had been abandoned for three years
now, because the vein of copper had ended in a thick seam of coal,
which, under present circumstances, was not worth working. Now the
nearest approach to a village was at Seal Cove, at the mouth of the
river, nearly three miles away, where there were about half a dozen
wooden huts, and the liquor saloon kept by Oily Dave when he was at
home, and shut up when he was absent on fishing expeditions.
Although houses were so scarce, there was no lack of trade for the
lonely store in the woods. All through the summer there was a
procession of birchbark canoes, filled with red men and white,
coming down the river to the bay, laden with skins of wolf, fox,
beaver, wolverine, squirrel, and skunk, the harvest of the winter's
trapping. Then in winter the cove and the river were often crowded
with boats, driven to anchorage there by the ice, and to escape the
fearful storms sweeping over the bay. The river was more favoured
as an anchorage than the cove, because it was more sheltered, and
also because there was open water at the foot of the rapids even in
the severest winter, and had been so long as anyone could remember.
As the morning wore on, Katherine's mood became even more restless,
and she simply yearned for the fresh air and the sunshine. She was
usually free to go out-of-doors in the afternoons, because the boys
only worked until noon, and then again in the evening, when it was
night school, and Katherine did her best with such of the fisher
folk as preferred learning to loafing and gambling in Oily Dave's
Even Miles seemed stupid this morning, for he was usually such a
good worker; while Phil was quite hopeless. Both boys were bitten
with the snow mania, and longing to be out-of-doors, in all the
exhilarating brilliancy of sunshine, frost, and snow. Noon came at
last, books were packed away; the boys rushed off like mad things,
while Katherine went more soberly across the store and entered the
living-room, which was sitting-room and kitchen combined.
An older girl was there, looking too young to be called a woman,
but who nevertheless was a widow, and the mother of the twin girls
who were rolling on the floor and playing with a big, shaggy
wolfhound. She was Nellie, Mrs. Burton, whose husband had been
drowned while sealing when the twins were twelve months old. Mrs.
Burton had come home to live then, and keep house for her father,
so that Katherine might go to Montreal to finish her education.
"Did you see Father as you came through the store?" Mrs. Burton
asked, as she rapidly spread the dinner on the table in the centre
of the room, while Katherine joined in the frolic that was going on
with the twins and the dog.
"No, he was not there," Katherine answered.
"He wants you to go up to the second portage with him this
afternoon. Another boat got in this morning with some mails on
board, and there are stores to be taken for Astor M'Kree," said
"That will be lovely!" cried Katherine, giving Lotta a toss up in
the air, after which Beth had to be treated in a similar fashion to
prevent jealousy. "I am simply yearning to be outside in the
sunshine and the cold. I have been wishing all the morning that I
were a man; then I could go off hunting, trapping, or even
lumbering, and so breathe fresh air all day long."
Mrs. Burton smiled. "I expect if you were a man you would just do
as other men do; that is, smoke a dirty little pipe all day long,
and so never breathe fresh air at all."
"That is not the sort of man I would be," retorted Katherine, with
a toss of her head.
Then she put the twins into their high chairs: her father and the
boys came in, and dinner began. It was a hasty meal, as early
dinner has to be when half of the day's work lies beyond it, and in
less than half an hour Katherine was getting into a thick pilot
coat, fur cap, mittens, and a big muffler; for, although the sun
was so bright, the cold was not to be trifled with.
'Duke Radford, short for Marmaduke, was a sombre-looking man of
fifty. Twenty-five years of pioneer life in the Keewatin country
had worn him considerably, and he looked older than his years. But
he was a strong man still, and to-day he had loaded a sledge with
stores to draw himself, while Katherine looked after the four great
dogs which drew the other sledge.
The track for the first three miles was as bad as a track could be.
'Duke Radford went first, to beat or pack the snow a little firmer
for Katherine and the dogs; but even then every movement of her
snowshoes sent the white powdery dust flying in clouds. The dogs
followed close behind, so close that she had often to show a whip
to keep them back, from fear that they would tread on her snowshoes
and fling her down.
It was five good long miles to the abode of Astor M'Kree, beyond
the second portage, but the last two miles were easy travelling,
over a firm level track. "Astor M'Kree has been hauling timber or
something over here to-day. I wonder how he managed it?" called
out Katherine, as her father's pace on the well-packed snow
quickened, while she flew after him and the dogs came racing on
behind. He shouted back some answer that was inaudible, then raced
on at a great pace. Those last two miles were pure enjoyment all
round, and when they drew up before the little brown house of the
boatbuilder, Katherine was sparkling, glowing, and rosy, with a
life and animation which she never showed indoors.
Mrs. M'Kree was a worn-looking little woman, with three babies
toddling about her feet, and she welcomed her visitors with great
"Well, now, I must say it is right down good of you to get through
all this way on the very first fine day. My word, what weather
we've been having!" she exclaimed. "I was telling Astor only last
night that if we had much more of that sort I'd have to keep him on
sawdust puddings and pine-cone soup. That fetched a long face on
to him, I can tell you; for it is downright fond of his food he is,
and a rare trencherman too."
"It is bad to run short of stores in keen weather like this," said
'Duke Radford, who with the help of his daughter was bringing bags,
barrels, and bundles of goods into the house from the two sledges,
while the dogs rested with an air of enjoyment delightful to behold.
When the stores were all safely housed, Mrs. M'Kree insisted on
their drinking a cup of hot coffee before they returned; and just
as she was lifting the coffee pot from the stove her husband came
in. He was tall, thin, and sombre of face, as men who live in the
woods are apt to be, but he had a genial manner, and that he was no
tyrant could be seen from the way his children clung about his legs.
"Dear me, these youngsters!" he exclaimed, sitting down on the
nearest bench with a child on each knee. "I wish they were old
enough to go to your school, Miss Radford, then I'd get some peace
for part of the day at least."
"I wish they were old enough, too," sighed Katherine. "It is
really quite dreadful to think what a long time I have got to wait
before all the small children in the neighbourhood are of an age to
"By which time I expect you won't be wanting to keep school at
all," said Mrs. M'Kree with a laugh. Then to her husband she said:
"Mr. Radford brought some letters, Astor; perhaps you'll want to
read them before he goes back."
"Ah! yes, I'd better perhaps, though there will be no hurry about
the answers, I guess, for this will be the last mail that will get
through the Strait before the spring." He stood up as he spoke,
sliding the babies on to the ground at his feet, for he could not
read his letters with the small people clutching and clawing at his
hands. The others went on talking, to be interrupted a few minutes
later by a surprised exclamation from the master of the house.
"Now, would you believe it! The Company has been bought out!"
"What company?" asked 'Duke Radford.
"Why, the fishing-fleet owners, Barton and Skinner and that lot,"
rejoined Astor M'Kree abstractedly, being again buried in his
letter. He was a boat-builder by trade, and this change in things
might make a considerable difference to him.
"Who is it that has bought the company out?" demanded Mrs. M'Kree
anxiously. Life was quite hard enough for her already; she did not
want it to become more difficult still.
"An Englishman named Oswald Selincourt," replied Astor. "He is
rich, too, and means to put money into the business. He wants me
to have four more boats ready by the time the waters are open, and
says he is coming himself next summer to see into matters a bit.
Now that looks hopeful."
Katherine chanced at that moment to glance across at her father,
and was startled by the look on his face; it was just as if
something had made him desperately afraid. But it was only for a
moment, and then he had got his features into control, so she
hastily averted her head lest he should see her looking, and think
that she was trying to pry into what did not concern her. He
swallowed down the rest of his coffee at a gulp and rose to go.
But his manner now was so changed and uneasy that Katherine must
have wondered at it, even if she had not caught a glimpse of that
dreadful look on his face when Astor M'Kree announced the change in
the ownership of the fishing fleet.
The journey home was taken in a different style from the journey
out: the two sledges were tied together, and both pairs of
snowshoes piled on the hindmost; then, Katherine and her father
taking their places on the first, the dogs started off at a tearing
gallop, which made short work of the two miles of level track, and
gave Katherine and her father plenty of occupation in holding on.
But when they reached the broken ground the pace grew steadier, and
conversation became possible once more.
'Duke Radford began to talk then with almost feverish haste, but he
carefully avoided any mention of the news contained in the
boatbuilder's letter, and a sickening fear of something, she knew
not what, crept into the heart of Katherine and spoiled for her the
glory of that winter afternoon. The sun went down in flaming
splendours of crimson and gold, a young moon hung like a sickle of
silver above the dark pine forest, and everywhere below was the
white purity of the fresh-fallen snow.
Supper was nearly ready when they got back to Roaring Water
Portage, but there were two or three customers in the store, and
Katherine went to help her father with them, while Miles
unharnessed and fed the four dogs. Oily Dave was one of the people
gathered round the stove waiting to be served with flour and bacon,
and it was his voice raised in eager talk which Katherine heard
when she came back from the sitting-room into the store.
"If it's true what they are saying, that Barton, Skinner, & Co. are
in liquidation, then things is going to look queer for some of us
when the spring comes, and the question will be as to who can claim
the boats, though some of them ain't much good."
"I suppose that you'll stick to your'n, seeing that it is by far
the best in the fleet," said another man, who had a deep, rumbling
Katherine looked at her father in dumb surprise. She had been
expecting him to announce the news of the fishing boats having been
bought by the Englishman with the remarkable name, instead of which
he was just going on with his work, and looking as if he had no
more information than the others.
Lifting his head at that moment he caught his daughter's perplexed
glance, and, after a moment, said hastily: "I wouldn't be in too
much hurry about appropriating the boats if I were you."
"Why not?" chorused the listeners.
"Barton & Skinner have been bought out, and the new owner might not
approve of his property being made off with in that fashion," 'Duke
"Who's bought it? Who told you? Look here, we want to know," one
man burst out impatiently.
"Then you had better go up to the second portage and ask Astor
M'Kree," rejoined 'Duke Radford slowly. "It was he who told me
about it, and he has got the order to build four more boats."
"Now that looks like business, anyhow. Who is the man?" demanded
Rick Portus, who was younger than the others, and meant "to make
things hum" when he got a chance.
'Duke Radford fumbled with the head of a flour barrel, and for a
moment did not answer. It was an agonizing moment for Katherine,
who was entering items in the ledger, and had to be blind and deaf
to what was passing round her, yet all the time was acutely
conscious that something was wrong somewhere.
The head of the barrel came off with a jerk, and then 'Duke
answered with an air of studied indifference: "An Englishman, Astor
M'Kree said he was; Selincourt or some such name, I think."
A burst of eager talk followed this announcement, but, her entries
made in the ledger, Katherine slipped away from it all and hurried
into the sitting-room, where supper was already beginning. But the
food had lost its flavour for her, and she might have been feeding
on the sawdust and pine cones of which Mrs. M'Kree had spoken for
all the taste her supper possessed. She had to talk, however, and
to seem cheerful, yet all the time she was shrinking and shivering
because of this mysterious mood displayed by her father at the
mention of a strange man's name.
'Duke Radford did not come in from the store until it was nearly
time for night school, so Katherine saw very little more of him,
except at a distance, for that evening; but he was so quiet and
absorbed that Mrs. Burton asked more than once if he were feeling
unwell. She even insisted on his taking a basin of onion gruel
before he went to bed, because she thought he had caught a chill.
He swallowed the gruel obediently enough, yet knew all the time
that the chill was at his heart, where no comforting food nor drink
could relieve him.
A Curious Accident
The nearest Hudson's Bay store to Roaring Water Portage was fifteen
miles away by land, but only five by boat, as it stood on an angle
of land jutting into the water, three miles from the mouth of the
river. 'Duke Radford's business took him over to this place, which
was called Fort Garry, always once a week, and sometimes oftener.
Usually either Miles or Phil went with him, although on rare
occasions Katherine took the place of the boys and helped to row
the boat across the inlet to the grim old blockhouse crowning the
It was a week after the trip to the house of Astor M'Kree that the
storekeeper announced his intention of going to Fort Garry, and
said that he should need Miles to help him.
"I must go by land to-day, which is a nuisance, for it takes so
much longer," he declared, as he sat down to breakfast, which at
this time of the year had always to be taken by lamplight.
"Shall I come instead?" asked Katherine, who was frying potatoes at
the stove. "I am quicker on snowshoes than Miles, and he has got
such a bad cold."
"You can if you like, though it isn't work for a girl," he answered
in a dispirited tone.
"It is work for a girl if a girl has got it to do," she rejoined,
with a merry laugh; "and I shall just love to come with you,
Father. When will you start?"
"At dawn," he replied brusquely; and, finishing his meal in
silence, he went into the store.
"Katherine, what is the matter with Father? Do you think he is
ill?" Mrs. Burton asked in a troubled tone. "He has been so quiet
and gloomy for the last few days; he does not eat well, and he does
not seem to care to talk to any of us."
Katherine shivered and hesitated. She knew the moment from which
the change in her father's manner dated, but she could not speak of
it even to her sister. "Perhaps the cold weather tries him a great
deal just at first; it has come so suddenly, and we are not
seasoned to it yet, you know," she answered evasively.
"I hope it is only that," answered Mrs. Burton, brightening up at
the suggestion. "And really the cold has been terribly trying for
the last week, though it won't seem so bad when we get used to it.
I am glad you are going with Father, though, for Miles has such a
dreadful cold, poor boy."
"His own fault," laughed Katherine. "If he will go and sit in a
tub half the day, in the hope of shooting swans, he must expect to
get a cold."
"Boys will do unwise things, I fancy. They can't help it, so it is
of no use to blame them," Mrs. Burton said with a sigh.
Katherine laughed again. Mrs. Burton had a way of never blaming
anyone, and slipped through life always thinking the very best of
the people with whom she came in contact, crediting them with good
intentions however far short they might prove of good in reality.
The sisters were alike in features and in their dainty, womanly
ways, but in character they were a wide contrast. Katherine, under
her girlish softness and pretty winning manner, had hidden a firm
will and purpose, a sound judgment, and a resourcefulness which
would stand her in good stead in the emergencies of life. She
liked to decide things for herself, and choose what she would do;
but Mrs. Burton always needed someone to lean upon and to settle
momentous questions for her.
'Duke Radford was ready to start by the time dawn arrived, and
Katherine was ready too. It was so very cold that she had twisted
a cloud of brilliant scarlet wool all over her head and ears, in
addition to her other wrappings. There were some stores to take to
Fort Garry, and there would be others to bring back, as
considerable trading was done between the fort and the settlement.
Very often when 'Duke Radford ran out of some easy-to-sell
commodity he was able to replenish his stock from the fort, while
he in his turn accepted furs in barter from his customers, which he
disposed of to the agent when next he visited the fort. As on the
journey to the second portage, 'Duke Radford went first, drawing a
laden sledge, followed by Katherine, who looked after the dogs.
There would be no riding either way to-day, and the daylight would
be only just long enough for the work, the snow on the trail not
being hard enough as yet to make the going very easy.
Fort Garry was reached without incident, although, to Katherine's
secret dismay, her father had not spoken to her once, but had just
gone moodily forward with his head hanging down, and dragging the
sledge after him. He roused up a little when the fort was reached,
and talked to Peter M'Crawney, the agent, an eager-faced Scot with
an insatiable desire for information on all sorts of subjects.
Mrs. M'Crawney was an Irishwoman who was always sighing for the
mild, moist climate and the peat reek of her childhood's home. But
Peter knew when he was well off, and meant to stick to his post
until he had saved enough money to live without work.
"Teaching school, are you? Well it's myself that would like to be
one of your scholars, for it's bonny you look with that scarlet
thing wrapped round your head!" exclaimed Mrs. M'Crawney in an
admiring tone, when Katherine sat down to have a talk with her
whilst 'Duke Radford did his business with the agent.
"You can come if you like; we don't have any age limit at Roaring
Water Portage," Katherine answered with a laugh. She had to be
bright and vivacious despite the heaviness of her heart, for it
would never do to display her secret uneasiness on her father's
account, or to betray his changed condition to strangers.
"And pretty I should look at my age, sitting among the babies
learning to do strokes and pothooks," the Irishwoman said, echoing
the laugh. Then she began to question Katherine eagerly concerning
the news which had filtered through into the solitudes from the
great world outside. "They are saying that the Mr. Selincourt who
has bought the fishing fleet will come here when the waters open;
but wherever will he stay?"
"I don't know; perhaps he will have one of the huts down at Seal
Cove, although they are very dirty. I think if I were in his place
I should have a new hut built, or else live in a tent," Katherine
"He will have a hut built, I expect; then perhaps if he likes the
place he will come every year. Although it's funny the whims rich
people have, to be coming to a place like this, when they might be
living in a civilized country, with everything that heart could
desire within a hand's reach," said Mrs. M'Crawney with a toss of
"I suppose being able to have all they want spoils them so much
that they are always wanting a change. But if we don't start we
shall be late in getting home, and travelling is very bad over the
broken ground at the end of the bay," Katherine said, as she rose
and began to draw her scarlet cloud closer round her head again.
Her father was still talking to Peter M'Crawney when she came in
search of him, but he looked so much relieved at the interruption
that she could only suppose the agent had been talking overmuch
about the rich Englishman who was expected in that remote quarter
of the world next spring, when the waters were open.
"Are you ready to go now?" Katherine asked, a sudden pang of pity
stabbing at her heart, for in the strong light her father's face
looked worn and furrowed, more than she had ever seen it before;
indeed, a look of age had crept over his countenance during the
last few days that was very marked, while his dark hair showed
streaks of grey which had certainly not been there a week ago. He
had momentarily taken off his cap, to do something to one of the
lappets which was not comfortable; but now he put it on again,
covering his head, ears, and a good part of his face as well.
"Yes, I am ready, and rather keen on starting, for there is a damp
smell coming in the air which may mean a slight thaw or more fall,
and either would be bad for us to-day," he answered, lifting his
head and sniffing, like a dog that scents a trail.
"Can't the dogs pull you a piece, Miss?" asked the agent in a tone
of concern. "It is a shocking long way for a bit of a girl, even
though she is on snowshoes."
"It is not longer for me than for Father, and I don't even have to
drag the sledge as he does," Katherine replied brightly, as she
fitted her moccasined feet into the straps of her snowshoes.
The dogs were in a great hurry to start, and one, a great
brown-and-white beast which always followed next the leader, kept
flinging up its head and howling in the most dismal manner until
they were well on their way. The noise got on Katherine's nerves
to such an extent that she was tempted to use her whip to the dog,
and only refrained because it seemed so cruel to thrash a creature
for just being miserable. To cheer the animals for the heavy work
before them, she talked to them as if they were human beings,
encouraging them so much that they took the first ten miles at a
tremendous rate, following so close on the track of the first
sledge that presently 'Duke Radford held up his hand as a signal
for stopping, then turned round to expostulate in a peevish tone:
"What do you mean by letting the dogs wear themselves out at such a
rate? We shall have one of them dropping exhausted presently, and
then we shall be in a nice fix."
"I haven't used the whip once, Father, but I thought it was better
to get them on as fast as I could, for I have felt and seen ever so
many snowflakes in the last half-hour," Katherine said penitently.
'Duke Radford turned his face rather anxiously windward, and was
considerably worried to find that a few small snowflakes came
dancing slowly down, and that the slight draught of the morning was
changing to a raw, cold wind from off the water.
"It is a fall coming, and by the look of it, it may be heavy. You
had better keep the dogs coming as fast as you can. But stop if I
throw up my hand, or you will be running me down."
"Shall we change places for a time?" asked Katherine. "I am not a
bit tired, but you look just worn out."
"No, no, I can't have you dragging a sledge. But be careful and
keep the dogs from rushing down the slopes and overrunning me," he
answered, then started forward again.
The flakes were falling faster now, but they were so fine that they
would have scarcely counted had it not been for the number of them.
At the end of the next half-hour the fall was like a fog of
whirling atoms, and the travellers looked like moving snow figures.
The dogs were still running well, and Katherine found it hard work
to keep them back, especially on the slopes, where they would
persist in trying to make rushes, so getting thoroughly out of
hand. She was keeping them back down one long bad slope which
abounded in pitfalls, when to her horror she heard her father cry
out, then saw him and his sledge disappear, shooting into a
whirling smother of snow.
[Illustration: 'Duke Radford meets with an accident]
With a sharp order to the dogs to stop, which they promptly obeyed
by dropping in four panting heaps on the snow, she went forward
alone to see what had happened to her father. It was a simple
enough accident, and one that had to be constantly guarded against
in drawing a sledge when travelling on snowshoes. In going down
the slope the sledge had travelled proportionally faster than the
man, and, catching against the framework of one of the snowshoes,
had flung him with tremendous force between two trees. The trees,
which were really two shoots from one root, grew so close together
that when 'Duke Radford was pitched in between them he was wedged
fast by the force of the impact, while the sledge, coming on
behind, bounded on to his prostrate body. He groaned when
Katherine dragged the sledge away, and cried out with the pain when
she tried to help him out.
"Did it hurt you so badly? Oh, I am sorry! But I will be more
careful next time," she said; and, stepping carefully backwards
after that first vain attempt, she slipped her feet clear of the
snowshoes and went closer to the tree, so that she might try to
lift him out of the fork by sheer strength of arm. But the snow
was so soft that she sank in over her ankles, going deeper and
deeper with every attempt which she made to wriggle herself free.
"This won't do," she said sharply. "I won't be long, Father dear,
but I must pack the snow a bit before I can get firm standing
Slipping her father's snowshoes, one of which was broken, from his
feet, she took the broken part and proceeded to beat the snow firm
all round the trees. This took perhaps ten minutes, although she
worked so hard that she perspired despite the cold. The snow was
firm now; she could stand without sinking, and going round in front
of her father she exerted all her strength and lifted him up a
little. He was bleeding from a wound on his face, and seemed to be
"Can you help yourself at all?" she asked urgently, knowing that it
was quite impossible for her unaided strength to get him clear of
the fork. But his only reply was a groan, and Katherine began to
grow frightened. It was quite impossible to leave him while she
went to summon aid, and equally impossible to get help without
going for it. Meanwhile the cold was so intense that every moment
of waiting became a risk. Even the dogs were whining and restless,
impatient to get off again for the last stage of their journey.
"Father, you must help yourself," the girl cried despairingly. "I
can't possibly get you out of the tree alone, and you will just
freeze to death if you are not quick."
The urgency of her tone seemed to rouse him a little, and, seeing
that he appeared to be coming to himself again, she rubbed his face
briskly with snow, which quickened his faculties, and incidentally
made the wound on his cheek smart horribly; but that was a minor
matter, the chief thing being to make him bestir himself. Then by
a great effort she lifted him up again, and this time he put out
his hand and clutched at the trunk of the tree, and so kept himself
from slipping back into the fork, while she ran round and pulled
him clear of the trees, making him lean upon her whilst she debated
on her next move.
"I don't know how we shall get home; I can't walk," he said feebly.
"Of course you can't; that is entirely out of the question," she
said briskly. "I must unload the two sledges, and cache the things
close to this tree, under your sledge; then the dogs can draw you
home. There is not much over three miles to be done, so we shall
not be long."
She made him sit on the snow while she set about her preparations,
for he seemed too weak to stand alone. Most of the goods were
taken from the dog sledge and piled in a heap at the foot of the
forked trees. The other sledge was brought alongside and unloaded
also, then Katherine dragged the hand sledge on to the top of the
packages, with the runners sticking upwards, so that a curious wolf
might think it was a trap of a fresh shape, and avoid it
accordingly. All this took time, however, and when she had got her
father packed into the sledge in readiness for a start it was
almost dark, while the snow was coming down thicker than ever. The
brown-and-white dog was howling dismally again, while the black one
which had a cropped ear seemed disposed to follow suit.
It was of no use trying to guide the dogs now, and, falling into
the rear, Katherine shouted to them to go forward, and left it to
their instinct to find the way home. She had to keep shouting and
singing to them the whole of the way. If from very weariness her
voice sank to silence, they dropped into a slow walk; but when it
rang out again in a cheery shout, they plunged forward at a great
pace, which was maintained only so long as she continued shouting.
But at last, after what seemed an interminable time, she heard the
noise of the water coming over Roaring Water Portage; the dogs
heard it too, and the need for shouting ceased, for they knew they
were almost at the end of the journey.
Outwitting the Enemy
Among his neighbours at Seal Cove, 'Duke Radford counted one very
pronounced enemy, and that was Oily Dave, master of one of the
sealing boats, and keeper of the only whisky saloon within twenty
or thirty miles of Roaring Water Portage. The cause of the enmity
was now nearly two years old, but like a good many other things it
had gained strength with age. Oily Dave had been supplying the red
man with liquor, and this in defiance of the law which forbade such
sales; 'Duke Radford reported him, and Oily Dave was mulcted in a
fine so heavy that it consumed all the profits from his Indian
traffic, and a good many other and more legitimate profits also.
Since then Oily Dave had hated the storekeeper with a zest and
energy which bade fair to become the ruling passion of his life;
but except for a few minor disagreeables, that could hardly be said
to count, his ill will had thus far not gone beyond sneer and
Katherine was always afraid of him, and of what he might do to her
father if he had the chance; for his nature was small and mean, so
small and so mean that, though he might not risk a reprisal which
would bring him within the reach of the law, he would not hesitate
at any small, mean act of spite which might injure his victim, yet
would not reflect on himself. Since knowing of her father's
trouble, she had been more afraid of Oily Dave than ever, for there
was a sinister look about the man, and she feared she knew not what.
When the dogs, with their master in the sledge, and Katherine
following close behind, dashed up to the door of the store that
evening, Oily Dave was the first person to step forward to lend a
helping hand in getting 'Duke Radford housed and his hurts
examined. There were six or seven men loafing about the store that
evening, and they all helped; so Katherine, when she had kicked off
her snowshoes, was able to dart indoors to warn Mrs. Burton about
what had happened.
"He ought to be put to bed at once, Nellie. Night school must go
for to-night, and if he has to keep his bed to-morrow, why, I must
teach in here, or even in the store," she said hurriedly, deciding
everything on the spot as was her wont, because Mrs. Burton always
found it so difficult to make up her mind on any subject.
"Do you think that would be best, or shall we give him our
bedroom?--though that would be frightfully inconvenient, and I
should be so worried to be obliged to put the children to bed in
that other room at night, so far away from us, after the store is
closed," sighed Mrs. Burton, who stood still in the middle of the
room, clasping and unclasping her hands in nervous distress, while
Katherine dragged off her encumbering wraps, tossing them in a heap
on the floor.
"Come and help me to make the bed, Nellie," she said, turning away
and leaving Mrs. Burton's plaintive questions unanswered.
The elder sister at once did as the younger requested, sighing a
little as she went, yet relieved all the same because the matter
had been settled for her. By this time some of the men had brought
'Duke Radford into the store, and, sitting him on the bench by the
stove, were peeling off his outer wraps. Some of the others had
unharnessed the dogs, while Phil carried out their supper. Miles,
meanwhile, was looking sharply after the store; for, although these
neighbours were so kind and helpful, some of them were not to be
trusted farther than they could be seen, and would have helped
themselves to sugar, beans, tobacco, or anything else which took
their fancy if the opportunity had been given them for doing so.
Whilst two of the men took 'Duke Radford's clothes off, and got him
safely into bed, another man approached Miles and asked for a
particular kind of tobacco. The boy sought for it in the place
where it was usually kept, but, failing to find it, turned to
Katherine, who stood in impatient misery by the stove, waiting to
go to her father when the men had done with him.
"Katherine. where is the Black Crow tobacco kept now? It always
used to be on the shelf below the tea packets."
"We are out of it," she replied. "But we shall have plenty
to-morrow. I had to cache most of the stores we were bringing; but
they are safe enough, for I turned the little sledge upside down on
the top of them, so I guess neither wolf nor wolverine will be able
to get at them to tear the packets to pieces."
"You won't be able to get them either, for with all this snow you
will never be able to find them," said the man in a disappointed
tone, for he was a great smoker who cared for only one sort of
"Oh! make your mind quite easy on that score," replied Katherine.
"I hung Father's broken snowshoe in a branch of the tree, to mark
the place, and I shall go over quite early to-morrow to bring the
Directly she had spoken she repented her words; for she saw,
without appearing to see, a look full of meaning which passed
between Oily Dave and the customer who had been disappointed. It
was only a glance, and might stand for nothing, but she had seen it
and was angry with herself for the indiscretion which had made her
utter words which had better not have been spoken. The men came
out of the bedroom then, so she and Nellie were able to go in.
'Duke Radford was considerably battered. He had a broken collar
bone; one shoulder was bruised so badly that it looked as if it had
been beaten with a hammer; and one side of his face had a deep
flesh wound. Mrs. Burton was a capital nurse: she and Katherine
between them soon had the sufferer as comfortable as it was
possible to make him; then they fed him with strong hot broth,
after which Mrs. Burton remembered that Katherine had had no
supper, and hustled her off to the other room in search of food.
Katherine noticed as she went back through the store that Oily Dave
had gone, also the man who had wanted to buy the Black Crow tobacco.
"Miles, can you leave Phil to look after things, and come with me
for five minutes?" she said, with a thrill of anxiety in her tone.
She was faint and spent with hunger and fatigue, the prospect
before her seemed too dreadful to be faced, yet deep down in her
heart was the stern determination not to be outwitted if she could
help it. But she must first of all get rid of this stupid
trembling, which made her feel as if her limbs were not strong
enough to bear the weight of her body; so sitting down at the table
she prepared to get a good square meal as the first step towards
the successful accomplishment of what was to come after. Miles was
a minute later in coming, because he had been attending to a
customer. "What is the matter; is Father very bad?" he asked, with
a quaver of fear in his tone. Accidents, or sickness of any kind,
always seemed so much worse in winter, and then death and disaster
had already worked havoc in the family.
"Poor Father is bad enough, but I dare say he will do very well
with care, and Nellie is a famous one for looking after sick
folks," Katherine answered, as cheerfully as she could, quick to
understand what was in the mind of Miles, and feeling genuinely
sorry for him. Then she said briskly: "But I have gone and done a
fearfully stupid thing to-night, and I want to know if you feel
brave enough to help me out of a very big muddle?"
Miles bristled up in an offended fashion. "I suppose I've got as
much pluck as most people; anyhow I'm not quite a coward."
"Of course you are not, or I should not have dreamed of asking you
to help me to-night," Katherine said, with a nervous laugh; then in
a jerky tone she went on: "I want you to get the store shut up as
soon as possible, then, directly the people have cleared off, we
have got to go and bring those stores home that I had to cache."
"But we can't go at night, and in a snowstorm!" expostulated Miles;
but his eyes glowed and his nostrils dilated, as if the very
thought of such an expedition sent thrills of delight all through
"It is not snowing so badly now, and luckily the moon will help us.
Moreover, if we don't go tonight it will not be of much use to go
at all; for if we wait until the morning I fancy we shall find that
most of the stores have disappeared, especially the Black Crow
tobacco," Katherine replied, then told him of the look she had seen
pass between the man who wanted the tobacco and Oily Dave, after
she had been so foolishly frank in explaining where the stores were
to be found.
"I'll go and shut up sharp, then we'll start as soon as possible,"
Miles said, with a jump of irrepressible joyfulness, for nothing
appealed to him like adventure.
"Don't let anyone even guess what we are going to do!" cried
Katherine, who felt that enough indiscretion had been committed
that night to last them for a long time to come.
"Trust me for that!" replied Miles. "I shall pull a face as long as
a fiddle, and yawn my head half off while I'm clearing up. Oh, it
will be rich to out-wit that precious pair! I had been wondering
why Stee Jenkin should go off so quiet and early with Oily Dave,
but I should never have guessed at the reason. I shall be through
with the shutting-up in about twenty minutes, and I've had my
supper, so there won't be anything to wait for."
Katherine felt better when she had eaten her supper; the thought of
what was before her was less of an ordeal, and she was more than
ever determined that Oily Dave and the other man must be outwitted,
cost what it might. There was to be no night school that night, so,
directly the door of the store was shut and barred, Miles and
Katherine were able to set out. The twins were in bed, and fast
asleep. Mrs. Burton was still busy in her father's room, so there
was only Phil to look after things.
"Tell Nellie when she comes out of Father's room that Miles and I
have got some work to do outside which may take us an hour or
more," Katherine said to her youngest brother. "Meanwhile you must
just make yourself as useful as possible--clear away supper, wash
the cups and plates, take care of the fire, and look after things
generally. You will have a school holiday to-morrow, so no lessons
need be learned to-night. We shall have to do the store work while
Father is ill, so you and Miles will have to be satisfied with
night school with the men instead of having lessons in the day."
"Hooray!" chirruped Phil, who had no love of learning, but always
yearned for action. Then he asked anxiously: "Couldn't you stay in
and look after things to-night, while I go and help Miles with the
Katherine laughed and shook her head. "No, no, the outside work
would be too heavy for you to-night; you might even get your nose
frozen. But you must stay up until we come back, because Nellie
may need you to help her."
"I'll stay," replied the boy, but he manifested so much curiosity
about the nature of the outside work that had to be done that
Katherine had finally to command him to stay inside the house.
Neither she nor Miles wished anyone to know what they were going to
do: there were so many reasons for keeping their errand secret.
Mrs. Burton would have wept and wailed at the mere thought of such
a journey at night, while Phil simply could not keep a secret.
The dogs were tired and sleepy, very unwilling to be turned out and
harnessed again, but directly they were fairly out of their shed
the cold seemed to rouse them, and they set off at a great pace.
Katherine and Miles were riding in the empty sledge now, with their
snowshoes tucked in beside them. The snow-storm had spent itself;
the moon shone out of a cloudless sky, while myriads of stars lent
their aid to the illumination of the night. Even the cold was less
noticeable than in the afternoon, when the damp wind blew off the
water and the snow was falling so fast.
"It was worth while your being indiscreet for once, seeing that it
has brought us out on a night like this," Miles said, as he
crouched low in the sledge, holding on with both thickly mittened
hands, for Katherine was driving, and the dogs were going with
leaps and bounds, which made the sledge bounce and sway in a very
"You won't say the indiscretion was worth while if it turns out
that we are the second arrivals and not the first," Katherine
answered. But her tone was buoyant and hopeful; for she had little
doubt about getting to the scene of her father's accident before
Oily Dave and Stee Jenkin had succeeded in locating the spot.
"Wolves! listen to them!" exclaimed Miles, as a hideous yapping and
howling sounded across the snowy waste.
"They are a good way off though, and I brought a pair Of Father's
revolvers in case of accident," Katherine replied, her heart
beating a little quicker, although in reality she would much rather
have met two or three wolves just then than have encountered Oily
Dave and the man who had wanted to buy the Black Crow tobacco.
"I'm glad you thought to bring them," said Miles. "Nick Jones told
me the wolves are uncommonly hungry for so early in the year, and
they are in great numbers too. He trapped twenty last week."
"That means twenty less to bother us to-night, which is a great
comfort," she answered, laughing nervously, for the yapping and
howling seemed to be coming nearer and nearer. Then, recognizing a
landmark, she cried out joyfully: "Oh, here is the place, and there
hangs the broken snowshoe!"
"What is that?" cried Miles sharply, as a shadowy something slid
away out of sight among the trees, a something that was so much
like its surroundings as to be hardly distinct from them.
"A wolf. Look at the dogs. Mind what you are about, Miles, or
they'll bolt!" she called quickly. They were both on the ground
now, and the boy was trying to hold in the dogs, which were
barking, raging, howling, and whining, making a violent uproar, and
all striving to get free in order to rush at that something which
had slid out of sight among the trees a minute before.
"We must tie them up. I can't hold the brutes. They pull as if
they were mad," said Miles breathlessly, while the dogs struggled
and fought, nearly dragging him off his feet, as he tried to keep
them from dashing away in pursuit of what they deemed a legitimate
Katherine swung a rope with a running noose over the head and
shoulders of the leader, a huge white dog with a black patch on its
back like a saddle.
"There, my fine fellow; now perhaps you will understand that this
is not playtime, but a working day extending into the night," she
said, as she patted the great beast in an affectionate manner to
show that it was repression, not punishment, which was intended by
the tightening of the rope.
The dog whined, licking her mitten, but left off struggling, as if
it realized the uselessness of such a course. The other dogs were
fastened in like manner, for they had all been trained to hunt
wolves, and might bolt at an unexpected moment, wrecking the sledge
and scattering the things which were loaded upon it. Then came ten
minutes of hard work clearing away the snow and getting at the
packages which Katherine had been obliged to cache a few hours
before. One package had been torn open, and its contents
scattered, which showed that the wolf had already started thieving
operations; so that even if Oily Dave and his companion had
contemplated no raid on the cache, there would not have been much
left later which was worth carrying away.
"I don't like you having to draw that sledge. Suppose it overruns
you, and you get hurt, like Father did this afternoon," Miles said
in a troubled tone, as Katherine prepared to go forward with the
hand sledge, while he followed behind with the dogs.
"I don't intend to let it overrun me, so there is no need to worry.
In fact there is much more danger for you if the dogs hear the
wolves and try to bolt. But let us get along as fast as we can, or
Nellie will be in a fine state of anxiety about us," Katherine
replied. Then, gathering the lines of the sledge round her arms,
as her father had taught her, she set out at a good pace, followed
by Miles and the dogs.
For a time little was to be heard save the creaking of the babiche
lacing of the snowshoes, for the dogs were running silently, and
Miles, saving his breath for the work of getting along, was
controlling them merely by dumb show, flourishing the whip to hold
them back when they took on a spurt, or beckoning them along when
they showed signs of lagging. They were less than a mile from
home, and going well, when suddenly a hideous uproar broke out near
at hand--the long-drawn howling of wolves, human shouts and cries,
and the crack of a revolver.
A Night of Rough Work
"Phil, where is Katherine?" asked Mrs. Burton, coming out of her
father's room about half an hour after the two had started to bring
home the stores.
"She has gone to help Miles to do some work outside, though what it
can be I'm sure I don't know," grumbled Phil, who was sleepy and
wanted to get to bed. He had washed the supper things after a
fashion, had cleared up the kitchen for the night, according to his
own ideas of tidiness, and now was sitting in the rocking-chair by
the stove, trying very hard to keep his eyes open.
"Oh dear, how unwise of her!" exclaimed Mrs. Burton in a plaintive
tone. "I am always so afraid for her to go outside at night when
it is freezing so sharply, for her face would be quite spoiled if
she were to get it frostbitten, and she is so pretty."
"Is she?" Phil's voice had a drowsy drawl, as if the subject of
Katherine's looks had very little interest for him, as indeed it
had. But an unexpected lurch of the chair, coming at that moment,
landed him in a squirming heap on the floor.
"Oh, Phil, I am so sorry that I upset you, dear, but I had to catch
at the chair to save myself from falling over the broom! What made
you leave it lying on the floor?" asked Mrs. Burton, who had been
the innocent cause of his collapse.
Phil rose to his feet and dusted the ashes from the sleeve of his
jacket with a rueful air. "Did I leave the broom there? Oh, I
suppose I forgot it! I remember I had it to sweep up the
fireplace, because I could not find a brush."
"There is the brush hanging close to the stove," remarked Mrs.
Burton. Then she broke out again: "I wonder what Katherine can be
doing out-of-doors at this time of the night, and Miles too?"
"Perhaps they are gone to a surprise party. Don't you remember
there was one at Astor M'Kree's last winter?" suggested Phil, whose
tumble had dispelled some of his sleepiness, although he still
talked in a drowsy tone, and rumpled his hair wildly all over his
"Katherine would not go to a surprise party with Father lying in
such a condition," replied Mrs. Burton severely. Then she went
on: "Besides, she must be pretty well worn out, poor girl, for she
has done thirty miles on snowshoes since the morning, with all the
worry and trouble of Father's accident thrown in."
"Perhaps she has gone to help Miles to look after his wolf traps.
I wanted to go instead, only she wouldn't let me. I told her that
girls ought to stay indoors to wash cups and things, while boys did
the outside work," Phil explained, in a rather injured tone.
Mrs. Burton laughed softly. "I'm glad Katherine did not let you
turn out to-night, laddie, though I am sorry she had to go herself.
Now make haste and get off to bed; I have put everything ready for
you. But you must be very quiet, because I think Father is
inclined to go to sleep."
"Katherine said I was not to go to bed until she came in, and I'm
not so very tired," replied Phil, choking back a yawn with a great
"I am, though. And if you are in Father's room I shall be able to
sit down here by the stove and rest without any worry. So run
along, laddie, and be sure that you come to rouse me if Father
wants me," Mrs. Burton said. Then, drawing a big shawl round her
shoulders, she sat down in the rocking-chair vacated by Phil to
wait for the return of her sister and brother.
She wondered why they had gone out, but did not worry about it,
except on the score of Katherine's complexion. Even that ceased to
trouble her, as she swayed gently to and fro in the comfortable
warmth flung out by the stove, and very soon she was fast asleep.
'Duke Radford, who lay in restless discomfort from the pain of his
hurts, was the first to hear sounds of an arrival, and he tried to
rouse Phil to see what all the commotion was about. But the boy
always slept so heavily that it was next to impossible to wake him.
The dogs were barking. Katherine called out to Miles, who answered
back. Then there were other voices and a great banging at the door
of the store. That was when Mrs. Burton first became aware that
something was going on, and started up out of the rocking-chair
under the impression that she had been there the whole night and
that morning had come already.
A glance at the clock showed her, however, that it was not so very
late yet, and still a long way from midnight. Then, remembering
that Katherine and Miles were out, she guessed it was they who were
making such a clamour at the door of the store, and hurried to let
"I hope we haven't frightened Father with all the noise we have had
to make, but you seemed so dead asleep that we had to make a great
riot in order to get in," Katherine said, as she and Miles towed
the sledge inside the store to be unloaded at leisure when morning
"I will go and see to Father, but Phil is with him now. Where have
you been, Katherine? And oh, I do hope you have not frosted your
face!" Mrs. Burton said, with sisterly concern.
Katherine laughed, but even Mrs. Burton noticed that the sound was
strained and unmirthful. "My complexion has not suffered, I can
assure you. But Nellie, dear, could you get a cup of hot coffee
quickly for two men? They have been having a rather terrible time
of it, and are a good bit shaken."
"Bring them into the kitchen and I will have the coffee ready
directly," Mrs. Burton said promptly. But first of all she just
looked into her father's room to tell him there was nothing to
worry about. Then she hurried into the kitchen to rouse up the fire
and put the coffee pot on to boil.
Oily Dave and Stee Jenkin accepted Katherine's invitation to walk
in, following her through the dark store and into the lighted room
beyond with a sheepish expression on their faces, which certainly
no one had ever seen there before. Stee Jenkin had his outer
garments nearly torn off him, there was blood on his face, and he
sank on to the nearest bench as if his trembling limbs refused to
support him any longer.
"Why, your face is bleeding! What have you been doing--not
fighting, I hope?" T here was a touch of severity in Mrs. Burton's
tone; for she knew the man did not bear a very good character, and
she was not disposed to give herself much trouble on account of
anyone who had brought his misfortunes upon his own head.
"Yes, ma'am, I have been fighting, and for my life too, which is a
very different thing from a round of fisticuffs with your
neighbour," growled Stee Jenkin in a shaken tone, and the hand with
which he tried to lift the steaming coffee to his lips shook so
violently that he spilled the hot liquid on his clothes.
Katherine and Miles had gone back to the store again, so it was
Oily Dave who explained the nature of the fight in which both men
had been involved.
"We'd a perticular bit of business on hand to-night," he said, in
response to the enquiring look which Mrs. Burton turned upon him,
for Stee was plainly too much upset to be coherent. "I'd got a
revolver certainly, but Stee had nothing but a knife, for we didn't
expect any trouble with wolves so early in the season, though it is
a fact we might have done, for everyone knows the place is just
about swarming with them this winter."
"Did the wolves attack you? Oh, how truly horrible!" exclaimed
Mrs. Burton, with so much genuine sympathy that both men winced
under it, hardened offenders though they were; for they knew very
well that they deserved the fate which had so nearly fallen upon
"About ten of the cowards closed in on us as we were going through
a patch of cotton woods, where we couldn't move fast because of
catching our snow-shoes," Oily Dave went on, winking and blinking
in a nervous fashion. "And we were fairly cornered before we knew
where we were. One great brute came at me straight in the face. I
knocked him off with my fist and fumbled for my barker, but shot
wild and did no more damage than to singe the hair off another
brute's back; but I managed to edge a bit closer to Stee, who was
getting it rough, and hadn't even a chance to draw his knife. But
we should have been down and done for to a dead certainty, if it
hadn't been for Miss Radford and Miles. They let the dogs loose
from the sledge when they heard the rumpus, and that turned the
scale in our favour. That great white dog with the black patch on
its back came tearing into the cotton woods roaring like a bull,
and then I can tell you there was a stampede among the brutes that
were baiting us." Oily Dave drew a long breath as he finished his
narration, but the other man groaned.
"Katherine, what were you doing so far away from home at this time
of night?" gasped Mrs. Burton, in a shocked tone, as her sister
came into the room. "Why, the wolves might have attacked you."
"Not likely; we had the dogs with us, you see. But we had to go
about three miles along the trail to bring home the things I had to
leave behind when Father had his accident," said Katherine, as she
stood beside the stove slowly unwinding her wraps. Now that the
strain and excitement were over, she looked white and tired, but
her face was set in hard, stern lines, which for the time seemed to
add years to her age.
"It is dreadful that you should have to go out at night like that.
Wouldn't to-morrow have done as well?" asked Mrs. Burton in a tone
"No," replied Katherine slowly, as she wrestled with an obstinate
fastening of her coat, keeping her gaze carefully on the ground the
while. "We were almost too late as it was. A wolf had found out
the cache and was beginning to tear the packages to pieces, in
spite of my care in turning the hand sledge upside down on the top
Oily Dave rose to his feet with a jerky movement. "I think we had
best be moving now," he said gruffly. "Perhaps you'd lend us a
couple of the dogs to help us down to Seal Cove; we'll give 'em a
good feed when we get there. But neither Stee nor I can face three
miles' tramp without something to protect us."
"Yes, you can have two of the dogs on leash; but remember they are
dreadfully tired, poor things, for they have had a long, hard day.
You had better leave your sledge here to-night, then there will be
no temptation for you to let the dogs draw you," Katherine said, in
a hard tone.
Mrs. Burton looked at her in surprise, even meditated a word of
excuse, because her attitude was so unfriendly towards these
neighbours who had been in such direful peril. But the word was
not spoken, for Katherine's face was too stern for the elder sister
to even suggest any change in her manner. Miles tied two of the
dogs on a leash while the men put on their snowshoes, then he
carefully drew their sledge inside the door of the store, which was
afterwards securely barred.
"Katherine, what is the matter? Why did you and Miles go stealing
off in that fashion to bring the stores home without telling me?
And why, oh! why, did you treat those men as if they were the dirt
beneath your feet?" demanded Mrs. Burton, as she plied her sister
and brother with hot coffee and comforting food, to make up to them
for all the toil and hardship which had gone before.
"Because I regard them as the scum of the earth," Katherine
answered with a yawn, as she stretched out her feet to the glowing
warmth of the fire.
"They are not very noble characters certainly, but when men have
been face to face with such a terrible death, one feels it is a
duty to be kind to them," Mrs. Burton said, in gentle reproof.
Miles burst out laughing, but Katherine shook her head at him and
proceeded to explain. "It was because I was afraid those two were
going to steal our stores that we started off in such a hurry to
get the lot home, and we were on our way back when we heard the
wolves, then cries and shots. We let the first two dogs go then,
and had to hold on to the others with all our might to keep them
from going too. I wish you could have seen how silly those men
looked, when they discovered to whom they owed their lives. I
could have laughed at the spectacle if I had not been so angry."
"It suits you to be angry, I think," broke in Miles. "You ordered
those two round just as if you had been a duchess, and they simply
squirmed before you, like the worms that they are."
"Silly boy, you have never seen a duchess, so you can't know how
she would order people about. Indeed she might be mild as milk,
which I am not. But I hate to feel as angry as I have been doing
to-night, so I am going to creep in and have a look at Father.
That will make me feel better and more amiable, I hope."
"Don't disturb him if he is at all sleepy. I am so afraid he will
be feverish to-morrow if he does not get a good night," Mrs. Burton
said, in a warning tone.
"I shan't disturb him," answered Katherlne; then, taking a lamp,
she stole across the dark store to the little room at the other
end, where her father was lying.
One look at his face showed her how little chance of sleep there
was for him at present; and guessing that it was anxiety as well as
pain which kept him awake, she sat down beside him and related
again the story of that night's adventures. He laughed, in spite
of his pain, at her description of how the precious pair had looked
when they found to whom they owed their lives.
"But I don't like you having such hard, rough things to do,
Katherine. I wish you and Miles could change places in age," he
said, with a sigh.
"I don't," she answered with a shrug. "But you must go to sleep
now, Father, or you will be feverish to-morrow. Do the bruises
hurt much?" she asked tenderly.
"The bed is full of sore places," he answered, with a whimsical
transposition of terms. "But I shall go to sleep presently, I
"And wake up in the morning feeling better, I hope," she forced
herself to say brightly, though it worried her to see how ill he
"I don't know about that," he said gravely. "When a man has lived
a hard life like mine, a knock-down blow, such as I have had
to-day, very often sets a lot of mischief in motion; but there is
no need to fear disaster until it actually comes. Get away to your
bed now, child. I shan't want anything more until the morning."
Katherine bent and kissed him. With all the strength of her heart
she loved her father. In her early girlhood he had been her hero.
Since her mother's death he had been her good comrade, and never
had there been a shadow between them until that day when they had
taken the last mail of the season up to the second portage, and
heard the news about the change in the ownership of the fishing
fleet from Astor M'Kree. Perhaps he had been taken with some
feeling of illness that day, and this continuing ever since had led
to his altered ways and gloomy looks. But even with this idea to
comfort her Katherine went to her bed with a heavy heart that
night, and a dread of the morning to which before she had been a
stranger. Her father had said that it was of no use to fear
disaster until it really came, but her heart quailed that night as
she lay sleepless, thinking of the days which stretched in front of
her. Until her father grew strong again she would have to let the
day teaching go, even though it might be possible to keep the night
school together. Her days would have to be spent in buying and
selling, in bartering barrels of flour and pork for skins of wolf,
of ermine, and of beaver. She would have to stand between home and
the difficulties that menaced from the outside, and if her heart
failed her who could wonder at it?
A Sacred Confidence
'Duke Radford was very ill. For a week he hovered between life and
death, and Mrs. Burton's skill was taxed to the uttermost. There
was no doctor within at least a hundred miles. One of the fishers
at Seal Cove had set the broken collar bone, the work being very
well done too, although the man was only an amateur in the art of
bone-setting. But it was not the broken bone, nor any of his
bruises and abrasions, which made 'Duke Radford's peril during that
black week of care and anxiety. He was ill in himself, so ill in
fact that Mrs. Burton lost heart, declaring that her father's
constitution had broken up, and that half a dozen doctors could not
pull him through if his time had come.
Katherine would not share this gloomy view, and was always hoping
against hope. If only the waters had been open, a doctor might
have been procured from somewhere; but in winter time, when the
small lakes and many of the lesser rivers were all frozen, nothing
in the way of outside help was available, and the dwellers in
remote places had to depend upon their own skill, making up in
nursing what was lacking in medicine.
By the time the second Sunday came, the sick man showed signs of
mending. Mrs. Burton grew hopeful again, while Katherine was
nearly beside herself with joy. It had been a fearfully hard week
for them all, though the neighbours had been as kind as possible.
Stee Jenkin's wife came up from Seal Cove one day, and, after doing
as much work as she could find to do, carried the twins off with
her to her little house at the Cove, which was a great relief to
Mrs. Burton and Katherine. Mrs. M'Kree was ill herself, so could
do no more than send a kindly message; but even that was better
than nothing, for sympathy is one of the sweetest things on earth
when one is in trouble.
Sunday was a blessed relief to them at the end of their troubled
week. Finding her father so much better, Mrs. Burton betook
herself to bed at noon for the first real untroubled rest she had
enjoyed for many days. The boys were stretched in luxurious
idleness before the glowing fire in the kitchen, and Katherine was
in charge of the sickroom. She was half-asleep herself; the place
was so warm and her father lay in such a restful quiet. It had
been so terrible all the week because no rest had seemed possible
to him. But since last night his symptoms had changed, and now he
lay quietly dozing, only rousing to take nourishment. Presently he
stirred uneasily, as if the old restlessness were coming back, then
asked in a feeble tone:
"Are you there, Nellie?"
"Nellie has gone to lie down, Father; but I will call her if you
want her," Katherine said, coming forward to where the sick man
could see her.
"No, I don't want her; it is you I want to talk to, only I didn't
know whether she was here," he replied.
"I don't think you ought to talk at all," she said, in a doubtful
tone. "Drink this broth, dear, and then try to sleep again."
"I will drink the broth, but I don't want to go to sleep again just
yet," he said, in a stronger voice.
Katherine fed him as if he were a baby, and indeed he was almost as
weak as an infant. But she did not encourage his talking, although
she could not prevent it, as he seemed so much better.
"There is something that has been troubling me a great deal, and I
want to tell you about it," he said. "I could not speak of it to
anyone else, and I don't want you to do so either. But it will be
a certain comfort to me that you know it, for you are strong and
more fitted for bearing burdens than Nellie, who has had more than
her share of sorrow already."
Katherine shivered. There was a longing in her heart to tell her
father that she wanted no more burdens, that life was already so
hard as to make her shrink from any more responsibility. But,
looking at him as he lay there in his weakness, she could not say
such words as these.
"What is it you want to tell me, Father?" she asked. Her voice was
tender and caressing; he should never have to guess how she shrank
from the confidence he wanted to give her, because her instinct
told her that it was something which she would not want to hear.
"Do you remember the day we went up to Astor M'Kree's with the last
mail which came through before the waters closed?" he said
abruptly, and again Katherine shivered, knowing for a certainty
that her father's trouble was proving too big for him alone.
"Yes, I remember," she replied very softly,
"That was a black day for me, for it brought dead things to life in
a way that I had thought impossible. I used to know that Oswald
Selincourt who has bought the fishing fleet."
"That one? Are you sure it is the same?" she asked in surprise.
"The name is uncommon, still it is within the bounds of probability
that there might be two, and you said the one you knew was a poor
"I fancy there is no manner of doubt that it is the same," 'Duke
Radford said slowly. "The day we went to Fort Garry, M'Crawney
told me he had a letter from Mr. Selincourt too, in which the new
owner said he was a Bristol man, and that he had known what it was
to be poor, so did not mean to risk money on ventures he had no
chance of controlling, and that was why he was coming here next
summer to boss the fleet."
"Poor Father!" Katherine murmured softly. "Ah, you may well say
poor!" he answered bitterly. "If it were not for you, the boys,
poor Nellie, and her babies, I'd just be thankful to know that I'd
never get up from this bed again, for I don't feel that I have
courage to face life now."
"Father, you must not talk nor think like that, indeed you must
not!" she exclaimed, in an imploring tone. "Think how we need you
and how we love you. Think, too, how desolate we should be without
"That is what I tell myself every hour in the twenty-four, and I
shall make as brave a fight for it as I can for your sakes," he
said in a regretful tone, as if his family cares were holding him
to life against his will. Then he went on: "Oswald Selincourt and
I were in the same business house in Bristol years ago, and I did
him a great wrong."
Katherine had a sensation that was almost akin to what she would
have felt if someone had dashed a bucket of ice-cold water in her
face. But she did not move nor cry out, did not even gasp, only
sat still with the dumb horror of it all filling her heart, until
she felt as if she would never feel happy again. Her father had
always seemed to her the noblest of men, and she had revered him
so, because he always stood for what was right and true. Then some
instinct told her that he must be suffering horribly too, and
because she could not speak she slid her warm fingers into his
trembling hand and held it fast.
"Thank you, dear, I felt I could trust you," he said simply, and
the words braced Katherine for bearing what had to come, more than
anything else could have done.
"What is it you want me to know?" she asked, for he had lain for
some minutes without speech, as if the task he had set himself was
harder than he could perform.
"I wanted to tell you about the wrong I did Selincourt," the sick
man said in a reluctant tone. He had brought himself to the point
of confiding in his daughter, yet even now he shrank from it as if
fearing to lower himself in her eyes. "We were clerks in one
business house, only Selincourt was above me, and taking a much
higher salary; but if anything happened to move him, I knew that
his desk would be offered to me. I was poor, but he in a sense was
poorer still, because he had an invalid father and young sisters
dependent on him."
"Father, surely there is no need to tell me of this dead-and-buried
action, unless you wish it, for the telling can do no good now,"
burst out Katherine, who could not bear to see the pain in her
"A wrong is never dead and buried while the man lives who did it,"
'Duke Radford answered with a wan smile, "for his conscience has a
trick of rounding on him when he least expects it, and then there
is trouble, at least that is how it has been with me. One day a
complaint was lodged with our business chiefs that one of the
clerks had been gambling, was an habitual gambler in fact. I was
not the one, and I was not suspected, but I knew very well which
one it was; but when suspicion fell on Selincourt, I just kept
silent. For some reason he could not clear himself, was dismissed,
and I was promoted. But the promotion did me little good; the firm
went bankrupt in the following year, and I was adrift myself."
"What became of Selincourt?" asked Katherine, and was instantly
sorry she had spoken, because of the pain in her father's face.
"I don't know. I never heard of him from the day he left the
counting-house until Astor M'Kree read his name from that letter,
but I thought of him a good bit. It is hard enough for a man to do
well with an unblemished character, but to be thrown out of a
situation branded as a gambler is ruin, and nothing short of it."
"What became of the other man--the one who was a gambler?" asked
"I don't know. He remained with the firm until the crash came. I
fancy Selincourt's fate made a great impression on him, for I never
heard of his gambling after Selincourt's dismissal," answered her
"How strange that he could not clear himself! Do you expect he had
been gambling really, as well as the other one?" Katherine said
"I am sure he had not," replied 'Duke Radford. "He was not that
sort at all. But the thing that bowled him over was that he was
known to have money in his possession, a considerable amount, for
which he could not or would not account."
"Still, I don't see that you were so much to blame," said Katherine
soothingly. "If the man was accused and could not clear himself,
then plainly there was something wrong somewhere: and after all you
simply held your tongue; it was not as if you had stolen anything,
letting the blame fall on him, or had falsely accused him in any
"Just the arguments with which I comforted myself when I kept
silent and profited by the downfall of a man who was blameless,"
'Duke Radford replied. "But though there may be a sort of truth in
them, it is not real truth, and I have been paying the price ever
since of that guilty silence of mine."
"Father, why do you tell me all this now?" cried Katherine
protestingly. Never in her heart would she have quite so much
admiration for her father again, and the knowledge brought keen
suffering with it.
He drew a long breath that was like a sobbing sigh; only too well
did he understand what he had done, but he had counted the cost,
and was not going to shirk the consequences.
"Because I've got the feeling that you will be able in some way to
make the wrong right. I don't know how, and I can't see what can
be done, only somehow the conviction has grown to a certainty in my
mind, and now I can rest about it," he replied slowly.
"Has this trouble made you so restless and ill?" she asked,
thinking that his burden of mental suffering had grown beyond his
powers of endurance since he had been keeping his bed.
"I suppose it may have helped. I have suffered horribly, but since
I made up my mind to tell you, things have seemed easier, and I
have been able to sleep," he answered with a heavy sigh.
"Will you tell me just what you want me to do, if--if----?" she
began, but broke off abruptly, for she could not put in words the
dread which had come into her heart that her father might be dead
before the summer, when Mr. Selincourt was expected in Keewatin.
"If I am alive and well when the summer comes there will be no need
for you to do anything; I shall be able to face the consequences of
my own wrong-doing. But if not, I leave it to you to do the very
best you can. You can't make up for all the man may have had to
suffer, but at least you can tell him that I was sorry."
Katherine shuddered. It was bad enough to be compelled to hear
that her father had been guilty of such meanness as to keep silent,
in order that he might profit by the downfall of an innocent man;
but when, in addition to this, she was expected to tell that man of
how her father had acted, and, as it were, ask pardon for it, the
ordeal appeared beyond her strength to face. Not a word of this
did she say, however, for it was quite plain to her that the
invalid had already over-excited himself, and she rather dreaded
what Mrs. Burton would say presently.
"You must go to sleep, Father, and we will talk about this again
another day," she said firmly.
"No, we will not speak of it again, for it is not a pleasant
subject for discussion," he replied. "Only tell me that you will
take my burden and bear it for me as best you can, if I am not able
to bear it myself, and then I can be at peace."
Katherine bent over him, gathering his feeble hands in a close
clasp, and the steadfast light in her eyes was beautiful to see.
"Dear Father, I will do my very best to make the wrong as right as
it can be made. Now try to rest, and get better as fast as you can."
He smiled, shook his head a little at her talk of getting better
speedily, then to her great relief he shut his eyes and went to
sleep. The burden had fallen from him upon her, and it had fallen
so heavily that just at first she was stunned by the blow. There
was no sound in the quiet room except the regular breathing of the
sleeper. Outside the brief winter day merged into the long
northern night; the stars came out, shining with frosty brilliancy,
but Katherine sat by the bedside, and never once did her gaze
wander to the window. Mrs. Burton came in presently, bringing a
lamp, and scolding softly because the room was in darkness. But
when she saw how quietly her father was sleeping, her gentle
complaining turned into murmurs of pleased satisfaction.
"Really, Katherine, you are a better nurse than I thought. I was
so afraid of the restlessness coming on again, as it has done about
this time every day since his accident. But now he is sleeping most
beautifully, so I feel sure he has taken a turn, and that we shall
pull him through."
"Yes," said Katherine, as she followed Mrs. Burton into the store
to look after the fire. "I think he will get better now," but her
tone was so dull and lacking in spirit that her sister faced round
upon her in quick consternation.
"What is the matter? Do you feel ill? Why, you are white as chalk,
and you look as if you had seen a ghost!"
"I don't think there are any ghosts to see in this part of the
world," Katherine replied, with a brave attempt at a laugh,
"unless, indeed, the unquiet spirit of some Hudson's Bay Company's
agent, done to death by treacherous Indians, haunts these shores."
"Or some poor sealer caught in the ice and frozen to death,"
murmured Mrs. Burton, with a sobbing catch in her breath.
Katherine, who was putting wood in the stove, turned suddenly,
catching her sister in a warm, impulsive hug. "There are no ghosts
nor unquiet spirits among those brave men who meet death while
doing their daily work, darling!" she said earnestly. "But I fancy
some of those old H.B.C. agents were fearful rogues, and well
deserved the fate they met at the hands of the outraged red men."
"Perhaps so; I don't know. But I don't like seeing you look so
pale, Katherine. Come and have your tea, and I will send one of
the boys to look after Father for a little while."
Katherine followed her sister from the store into the kitchen,
wondering as she went if tea, however hot, would have the power to
drive away the creeping chill at her heart. Miles went off to take
charge of the sickroom, while Phil set tea, chattering all the time
concerning the gossip of the store which had come to his ears
during the last few days.
"The men are saying that most likely, if Mr. Selincourt is such a
rich man, he will be sure to have a steamer run up through the
Strait two or three times during the summer with provisions, and so
it will be bad for Father and the store," he said, carefully
setting the cracked cup for Miles, although by rights it was his
own turn to have it.
"What nonsense people talk!" exclaimed Mrs. Burton, with a
scornful laugh. "Mr. Selincourt will have his hands full with
managing the fishing fleet, and if he is so unwise as to turn
general trader, I dare say we can find some way of underselling him
or enticing his customers away."
Katherine put down her cup of tea with an unsteady movement which
spilled some of the contents over the tablecloth. Here was a view
of the situation which she had not thought to be compelled to face.
If Mr. Selincourt did anything which took their trade away, and
left them face to face with starvation, would it be their duty to
sit down meekly and bear such an injustice, without attempting a
blow in self-defence, and all because of that evil from the past
which, although so long buried, had suddenly come to life again?
"Katherine, how frightened you look! You surely are not worrying
about a bit of store gossip, which has probably not the slightest
foundation in fact?" Mrs. Burton said in remonstrance.
"It is of no use to worry about anything so remote as Mr.
Selincourt and the fishing fleet," Katherine answered languidly.
"But I am so tired that bed for a few hours seems the most
desirable thing on earth."
"Then go, dear, and get a good rest," said her sister.
But, although Katherine lay down and covered herself with the
bedclothes, sleep was long in coming, while the burden she had
taken made her heart heavy as lead.
For a few days 'Duke Radford appeared to get better with
astonishing rapidity. He left his bed, and crept across the store,
to sit in the rocking-chair by the kitchen stove, and said he was
now quite well. But when he had pulled up thus far towards
strength again, he stopped short, unable to get any farther. In
vain Mrs. Burton plied him with every nourishing food she could
think of: an invalid he remained, weak and depressed, all his old
energy and enterprise under a cloud, and with a settled melancholy
which nothing could lift.
It was then that the burden of life descended with such crushing
force on Katherine. The work of the store must go on, and it was
harder in winter than in summer. She spent long hours burrowing
among the piles of merchandise in the underground chamber beneath
the store, where were kept the goods bought and brought to Roaring
Water Portage when the waters were open. Or, with Miles for a
companion, she went long distances across the snowy wastes,
delivering stores by dog team and sledge. This was all very well
on the still days, when the sun shone with cloudless brilliancy in
a clear sky, and the dogs tore along like mad creatures, and the
whole of the expedition would seem like a frolic; but there were
other days when things were very different. Sometimes a raging
wind would sweep in from the bay, laden with a terrible stinging
damp, which kind of cold pierced like daggers. Or a roaring north
wind would howl through the forests, snapping off big trees from
their roots as if they were only twigs, while earth, air, and sky
were a confusion of whirling snowflakes. These were the dangerous
days, and they never ventured far from home when such blizzards
were raging, unless it was for the three miles' run down to Seal
Cove, where the trail had been dug out, and the snow banked, at the
beginning of winter.
There were a large number of sealing and walrus boats laid up in
ice between Roaring Water Portage and Seal Cove. Most of these had
men living on board, who passed the days in loafing, in setting
traps for wolves, or in boring holes through the ice for fishing.
Many of them spent a great portion of their time in the little
house at the bend of the river, where Oily Dave dispensed bad
whisky and played poker with his customers from morning to night,
or, taking a rough average, for sixteen hours out of the
twenty-four. These were the men whom Katherine most dreaded to
encounter. They looked bold admiration, and roared out compliments
at the top of husky voices, but they ventured nothing further; her
manner was too repressive, and the big dogs which always
accompanied her were much too fierce to be trifled with. Mrs.
Burton had left off lamenting the chances of damage to her sister's
complexion from exposure, for she realized that Katherine must be
breadwinner now, and the stern necessities of life had to be first
consideration for them all.
One day Katherine found to her surprise that some tin buckets of
lard were missing from the store. It was only the day before that,
rummaging in the far corner of the cellar, she had unearthed six of
these buckets, which had apparently been forgotten, as the date
chalked on them was eighteen months old. With much hard work she
hauled four of them to the store above, ripped the cover from one,
so that the contents might be retailed at so much per pound, and
left the other three standing in a row on a shelf which was remote
from the stove. But now two were gone, and looking at the one
which had been opened she saw that it was only half full. For a
moment she supposed that there must have been a considerable run on
lard during the previous evening, while she was teaching night
school, with Miles on duty in the store. It had been such a fine
clear evening that many people were abroad who would otherwise have
been in bed, or at any rate shut up in the stuffy little cabins of
the snow-banked sealers.
A minute of thought, however, showed her that such a demand for
lard would have been so much out of the common as to have elicited
some comment from Miles at closing time. Each bucket would contain
something over thirty pounds in weight, so the sale of over sixty
pounds' weight of lard in one evening would have been something of
a record for Roaring Water Portage. Miles was busy at the wood
pile; she could not leave the store to go and question him then, so
had to wait with what patience she could muster until he came
indoors again. Her father had not left his bed yet; indeed he
rarely did leave it now until noon or later, when he dressed
himself, walked across the kitchen, and sat in the rocking-chair
until it was time for bed again.
The life would have seemed dreary and monotonous enough if it had
not been for the hard and constant work, which made the days of
that winter fly faster for Katherine than any winter had ever flown
before. She did not mind the work. Young, strong, and with plenty
of energy, the daily toil seemed rather pleasant than otherwise.
It was business bothers like this about the missing lard which
tried her patience and temper. Presently Miles came in, his face
red and warm from hard work in the open air, but puckered into a
look of worry, which found a reflection on the countenance of
"We are running out of fish for the dogs, Katherine. Have we been
using it too fast, do you think?" he asked.
"Surely not. The poor creatures cannot work unless they are well
fed, and they have never had more than they could eat. How much
longer will it last?"
"Three days perhaps, not more," Miles answered. "It has seemed to
go all at once."
"Just so. I should fancy the fish has suffered in the same way as
the lard. You had better keep the door of the fish-house locked in
future. I wonder where we can get some more fish? People's stocks
of dried fish will be getting low now, I expect," Katherine said,
wrinkling her brows and trying to think of a likely place where the
want could be supplied.
"I know where we could get fresh fish, pretty nearly any amount of
it, if you didn't mind the bother of catching it. We could freeze
it and keep it so. But what about the lard? You meant it to be
sold, didn't you?"
"Yes, of course; but how much did you sell?" asked Katherine, with
a hope that he really had sold it all and merely forgotten to
"Sixteen pounds, all told. Oily Dave seemed uncommonly pleased
with it; though, of course, he wanted to beat me down two cents a
pound, and when he found I would not put up with that, he tried to
palm some bad money off on to me. I'm not so sure that he would
not have had me there, for I'm not half so sharp about money as I
ought to be, but Stee Jenkin called out to me to keep my eyes open,
and then I soon found out there was something on hand, so I made
the old rascal pay up in honest coin."
There was an air of modest swagger about Miles as he spoke, for he
rather prided himself on his business acumen and general smartness,
so Katherine's next words were a terrible blow to his pride.
"My dear boy, you had better have let him have his two cents twice
over, and then winked at the money, than have given him such a
chance as he must have made for himself last night," she said
"What do you mean?" he demanded, with the offended air he always
displayed when his pride was wounded.
"I mean that Oily Dave or some of his precious companions walked
off with two whole buckets of that lard from under your nose last
night, unless indeed you took the trouble to carry it into the
"It would not have been possible for anyone to do that, for I was
here all the time," he answered stiffly.
"Quite all the time, or did you have to leave for anything; some
silly little thing, perhaps?" she said in a coaxing tone, anxious
to win him from his show of bad temper, and at the same time get
some clue to the disappearance of the stuff.
"I don't think I went away at all," Miles began, then caught
himself up in a sudden recollection. "Oh yes, I did! I remember I
took a ten-dollar bill, that Jean Doulais brought, indoors for
Father to give me change."
"Then while you were indoors the thief stepped into the store and
walked off with our two pails of lard. Well, I hope the stuff will
make him very sick indeed!" exclaimed Katherine, in a tone of
"I wonder who it was? It couldn't possibly have been Jean," said
Miles, "for he was sitting on the counter and banging his heels.
When I went into the kitchen I heard him thumping away all the time
I was there, and he was sitting and banging when I came back."
"Was it Jean Doulais who made all that noise?" said Katherine. "I
was demonstrating on the blackboard, and had to write my
explanations, because I could not make myself heard. One of the
boys volunteered to go and punch the noisy one's head, but this I
forbade for prudent reasons."
"Pity you didn't let the fellow come. He might have happened on
the thief," growled Miles. "If Jean didn't take the things, he
must know pretty well who did. Will you tackle him about it?"
"I think not," replied Katherine, after a pause for consideration.
"He might think we suspected him, which would be bad from a
business point of view. Then he would be certain to tell the
thief, and that would lessen our chances of detecting him."
"What a desperately light-fingered lot they are here this winter!"
Miles exclaimed in a petulant tone. "Just see what a rush we had
to save the stores from your cache the night Father had his
"But we did save them," replied Katherine with a ripple of
laughter. "And incidentally we also saved the lives of a noble
pair of men."
Miles gave a grunt of disgust. "A regular pity they didn't get
killed, I think; and I shouldn't wonder if they are at the bottom
of this piece of thieving also."
Katherine shook her head. "Oily Dave may be, for pilfering seems
to be second nature with him. But Stee Jenkin is made of better
stuff, and I believe he is really grateful because we saved him
that night. Then remember how kind he and his wife were to us when
Father was so ill. Oh, I've got a better opinion of Stee than to
think he would steal our things now!"
Miles grunted again in a disbelieving fashion, but he did not
attempt to upset Katherine's convictions by argument; only they
agreed that for the future a more vigilant watch should be kept
both indoors and out. A padlock and chain were put on the door of
the fish-house, everything that could be locked up was carefully
made fast; then Katherine and Miles set themselves to the task of
keeping their eyes open to find out who had stolen the lard.
Later in that same day a miserable-looking Indian came in with a
lot of dried fish which he wanted to trade off for provisions, and,
after a good deal of bargaining, Katherine took the lot in exchange
for a small barrel of flour and a packet of tobacco.
"No need for us to go fishing to-morrow, Miles. I have got enough
fish to last the dogs for a fortnight, if we are careful," she said
to her brother, when he came back from a journey down to Seal Cove.
"Where did you get it from?" he asked.
"From an Indian who called himself Waywassimo, so I think he must
have been reading Longfellow's Hiawatha, for you know Waywassimo
was the lightning, and Annemeekee the thunder," Katherine replied.
"Only there was nothing grand nor terrible about this Waywassimo.
He was simply a miserable-looking Indian with a most dreadful
Miles began to laugh in a hugely delighted fashion, but it was some
time before Katherine could get from him the cause of his mirth.
At length, with many chuckles, he commenced to explain.
"There has been a wretched-looking Indian hanging about Seal Cove
for the last two or three days, stealing pretty nearly everything
he could lay his hands on, and Mrs. Jenkin told me that last night
he broke into Oily Dave's fish-house and cleared off with every bit
of dried fish there was."
"So I have been buying stolen goods. How horrid!" exclaimed
Katherine with a frown. "Now I suppose it is my duty to hand at
least a part of that fish back to Oily Dave. Oh dear, I would
rather it had been anyone else, for I do dislike him so much!"
"Don't fret yourself; wait until you hear the end of my story, and
then you will see that for once the biter has been bitten,"
answered Miles, with so much chuckling and gurgling that he seemed
to be in a fair way to choke himself. "Mrs. Jenkin says she is
quite positive that Oily Dave stole that fish, because his
fish-house was quite empty a week ago, as she saw with her own
eyes, but yesterday, when she was cleaning his house for him, she
saw that he had a lot of fish. He told her then that he had bought
it to sell again. She knew how much of that to believe, however,
and asked me if we had missed any of our fish."
"What did you say?" asked Katherine, who then began to wonder if
their fish had really wasted through being stolen, instead of
having merely been used too fast.
"Oh, I didn't commit myself! Mrs. Jenkin has a good heart, but her
head is as soft as blubber, so I was pretty careful not to say
much," Miles answered, with a wag of his own head, which he thumped
with his fist to show that at least he was not topped with blubber.
"It is maddening whichever way one looks at it!" cried Katherine.
"If Oily Dave stole our fish, and Waywassimo stole it from him
again, then I have been buying our own property, and paying for it
at a rather stiff price. I simply could not beat that poor wretch
down, he looked so sad and hungry. Oh, Miles, what shall we do?
If this business leaks out we shall just be the laughing-stock of
the whole place."
"It is not going to leak out; I'll take good care of that,"
retorted the boy, squaring his jaws. "If we say nothing about it,
who is to be any the wiser? Was there anyone here when you bought
"Not a soul. How very fortunate!" cried Katherine, beginning to
smile again. "It is quite bad enough to be taken in by such a
trick, but it would be simply intolerable to have other people
knowing about it and laughing at our misfortunes."
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