Romany Of The Snows by Gilbert Parker
Three Commandments in the Vulgar Tongue
"Read on, Pierre," the sick man said, doubling the corner of the wolf- skin pillow so that it shaded his face from the candle.
Pierre smiled to himself, thinking of the unusual nature of his occupation, raised an eyebrow as if to someone sitting at the other side of the fire,--though the room was empty save for the two--and went on reading:
The sick man put up his hand, motioning for silence, and Pierre, leaving the Bible open, laid it at his side. Then he fell to studying the figure on the couch. The body, though reduced by a sudden illness, had an appearance of late youth, a firmness of mature manhood; but the hair was grey, the beard was grizzled, and the face was furrowed and seamed as though the man had lived a long, hard life. The body seemed thirty years old, the head sixty; the man's exact age was forty-five. His most singular characteristic was a fine, almost spiritual intelligence, which showed in the dewy brightness of the eye, in the lighted face, in the cadenced definiteness of his speech. One would have said, knowing nothing of him, that he was a hermit; but again, noting the firm, graceful outlines of his body, that he was a soldier. Within the past twenty-four hours he had had a fight for life with one of the terrible "colds" which, like an unstayed plague, close up the courses of the body, and carry a man out of the hurly-burly, without pause to say how much or how little he cares to go.
Pierre, whose rude skill in medicine was got of hard experiences here and there, had helped him back into the world again, and was himself now a little astonished at acting as Scripture reader to a Protestant invalid. Still, the Bible was like his childhood itself, always with him in memory, and Old Testament history was as wine to his blood. The lofty tales sang in his veins: of primitive man, adventure, mysterious and exalted romance. For nearly an hour, with absorbing interest, he had read aloud from these ancient chronicles to Fawdor, who held this Post of the Hudson's Bay Company in the outer wilderness.
Pierre had arrived at the Post three days before, to find a half-breed trapper and an Indian helpless before the sickness which was hurrying to close on John Fawdor's heart and clamp it in the vice of death. He had come just in time. He was now ready to learn, by what ways the future should show, why this man, of such unusual force and power, should have lived at a desolate post in Labrador for twenty-five years.
"'This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us--'" Fawdor repeated the words slowly, and then said: "It is good to be out of the restless world. Do you know the secret of life, Pierre?"
Pierre's fingers unconsciously dropped on the Bible at his side, drumming the leaves. His eyes wandered over Fawdor's face, and presently he answered, "To keep your own commandments."
"The ten?" asked the sick man, pointing to the Bible. Pierre's fingers closed the book. "Not the ten, for they do not fit all; but one by one to make your own, and never to break--comme ca!"
"The answer is well," returned Fawdor; "but what is the greatest commandment that a man can make for himself?"
"Who can tell? What is the good of saying, 'Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath day,' when a man lives where he does not know the days? What is the good of saying, 'Thou shalt not steal,' when a man has no heart to rob, and there is nothing to steal? But a man should have a heart, an eye for justice. It is good for him to make his commandments against that wherein he is a fool or has a devil. Justice,--that is the thing."
"'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour'?" asked Fawdor softly.
"Yes, like that. But a man must put it in his own words, and keep the law which he makes. Then life does not give a bad taste in the mouth."
"What commandments have you made for yourself, Pierre?"
The slumbering fire in Pierre's face leaped up. He felt for an instant as his father, a chevalier of France, might have felt if a peasant had presumed to finger the orders upon his breast. It touched his native pride, so little shown in anything else. But he knew the spirit behind the question, and the meaning justified the man. "Thou shalt think with the minds of twelve men, and the heart of one woman," he said, and paused.
"Justice and mercy," murmured the voice from the bed.
"Thou shalt keep the faith of food and blanket." Again Pierre paused.
"And a man shall have no cause to fear his friend," said the voice again.
The pause was longer this time, and Pierre's cold, handsome face took on a kind of softness before he said, "Remember the sorrow of thine own wife."
"It is a good commandment," said the sick man, "to make all women safe whether they be true--or foolish."
"The strong should be ashamed to prey upon the weak. Pshaw! such a sport ends in nothing. Man only is man's game."
Suddenly Pierre added: "When you thought you were going to die, you gave me some papers and letters to take to Quebec. You will get well. Shall I give them back? Will you take them yourself?"
Fawdor understood: Pierre wished to know his story. He reached out a hand, saying, "I will take them myself. You have not read them?"
"No. I was not to read them till you died--bien?" He handed the packet over.
"I will tell you the story," Fawdor said, turning over on his side, so that his eyes rested full on Pierre.
He did not begin at once. An Esquimau dog, of the finest and yet wildest breed, which had been lying before the fire, stretched itself, opened its red eyes at the two men, and, slowly rising, went to the door and sniffed at the cracks. Then it turned, and began pacing restlessly around the room. Every little while it would stop, sniff the air, and go on again. Once or twice, also, as it passed the couch of the sick man, it paused, and at last it suddenly rose, rested two feet on the rude headboard of the couch, and pushed its nose against the invalid's head. There was something rarely savage and yet beautifully soft in the dog's face, scarred as it was by the whips of earlier owners. The sick man's hand went up and caressed the wolfish head. "Good dog, good Akim!" he said softly in French. "Thou dost know when a storm is on the way; thou dost know, too, when there is a storm in my heart."
Even as he spoke a wind came crying round the house, and the parchment windows gave forth a soft booming sound. Outside, Nature was trembling lightly in all her nerves; belated herons, disturbed from the freshly frozen pool, swept away on tardy wings into the night and to the south; a herd of wolves, trooping by the hut, passed from a short, easy trot to a low, long gallop, devouring, yet fearful. It appeared as though the dumb earth were trying to speak, and the mighty effort gave it pain, from which came awe and terror to living things.
So, inside the house, also, Pierre almost shrank from the unknown sorrow of this man beside him, who was about to disclose the story of his life. The solitary places do not make men glib of tongue; rather, spare of words. They whose tragedy lies in the capacity to suffer greatly, being given the woe of imagination, bring forth inner history as a mother gasps life into the world.
"I was only a boy of twenty-one," Fawdor said from the pillow, as he watched the dog noiselessly travelling from corner to corner, "and I had been with the Company three years. They had said that I could rise fast; I had done so. I was ambitious; yet I find solace in thinking that I saw only one way to it,--by patience, industry, and much thinking. I read a great deal, and cared for what I read; but I observed also, that in dealing with men I might serve myself and the Company wisely.
"One day the governor of the Company came from England, and with him a sweet lady, his young niece, and her brother. They arranged for a tour to the Great Lakes, and I was chosen to go with them in command of the boatmen. It appeared as if a great chance had come to me, and so said the factor at Lachine on the morning we set forth. The girl was as winsome as you can think; not of such wonderful beauty, but with a face that would be finer old than young; and a dainty trick of humour had she as well. The governor was a testy man; he could not bear to be crossed in a matter; yet, in spite of all, I did not think he had a wilful hardness. It was a long journey, and we were set to our wits to make it always interesting; but we did it somehow, for there were fishing and shooting, and adventure of one sort and another, and the lighter things, such as singing and the telling of tales, as the boatmen rowed the long river.
"We talked of many things as we travelled, and I was glad to listen to the governor, for he had seen and read much. It was clear he liked to have us hang upon his tales and his grand speeches, which seemed a little large in the mouth; and his nephew, who had a mind for raillery, was now and again guilty of some witty impertinence; but this was hard to bring home to him, for he could assume a fine childlike look when he pleased, confusing to his accusers. Towards the last he grew bolder, and said many a biting thing to both the governor and myself, which more than once turned his sister's face pale with apprehension, for she had a nice sense of kindness. Whenever the talk was at all general, it was his delight to turn one against the other. Though I was wary, and the girl understood his game, at last he had his way.
"I knew Shakespeare and the Bible very well, and, like most bookish young men, phrase and motto were much on my tongue, though not always given forth. One evening, as we drew to the camp-fire, a deer broke from the woods and ran straight through the little circle we were making, and disappeared in the bushes by the riverside. Someone ran for a rifle; but the governor forbade, adding, with an air, a phrase with philosophical point. I, proud of the chance to show I was not a mere backwoodsman at such a sport, capped his aphorism with a line from Shakespeare's Cymbeline.
"'Tut, tut!' said the governor smartly; 'you haven't it well, Mr. Fawdor; it goes this way,' and he went on to set me right. His nephew at that stepped in, and, with a little disdainful laugh at me, made some galling gibe at my 'distinguished learning.' I might have known better than to let it pique me, but I spoke up again, though respectfully enough, that I was not wrong. It appeared to me all at once as if some principle were at stake, as if I were the champion of our Shakespeare; so will vanity delude us.
"The governor--I can see it as if it were yesterday--seemed to go like ice, for he loved to be thought infallible in all such things as well as in great business affairs, and his nephew was there to give an edge to the matter. He said, curtly, that I would probably come on better in the world if I were more exact and less cock-a-hoop with myself. That stung me, for not only was the young lady looking on with a sort of superior pity, as I thought, but her brother was murmuring to her under his breath with a provoking smile. I saw no reason why I should be treated like a schoolboy. As far as my knowledge went it was as good as another man's, were he young or old, so I came in quickly with my reply. I said that his excellency should find me more cock-a-hoop with Shakespeare than with myself. 'Well, well,' he answered, with a severe look, 'our Company has need of great men for hard tasks.' To this I made no answer, for I got a warning look from the young lady,--a look which had a sort of reproach and command too. She knew the twists and turns of her uncle's temper, and how he was imperious and jealous in little things. The matter dropped for the time; but as the governor was going to his tent for the night, the young lady said to me hurriedly, 'My uncle is a man of great reading--and power, Mr. Fawdor. I would set it right with him, if I were you.' For the moment I was ashamed. You cannot guess how fine an eye she had, and how her voice stirred one! She said no more, but stepped inside her tent; and then I heard the brother say over my shoulder, 'Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud!' Afterwards, with a little laugh and a backward wave of the hand, as one might toss a greeting to a beggar, he was gone also, and I was left alone."
Fawdor paused in his narrative. The dog had lain down by the fire again, but its red eyes were blinking at the door, and now and again it growled softly, and the long hair at its mouth seemed to shiver with feeling. Suddenly through the night there rang a loud, barking cry. The dog's mouth opened and closed in a noiseless snarl, showing its keen, long teeth, and a ridge of hair bristled on its back. But the two men made no sign or motion. The cry of wild cats was no new thing to them.
Presently the other continued: "I sat by the fire and heard beasts howl like that, I listened to the river churning over the rapids below, and I felt all at once a loneliness that turned me sick. There were three people in a tent near me; I could even hear the governor's breathing; but I appeared to have no part in the life of any human being, as if I were a kind of outlaw of God and man. I was poor; I had no friends; I was at the mercy of this great Company; if I died, there was not a human being who, so far as I knew, would shed a tear. Well, you see I was only a boy, and I suppose it was the spirit of youth hungering for the huge, active world and the companionship of ambitious men. There is no one so lonely as the young dreamer on the brink of life. "I was lying by the fire. It was not a cold night, and I fell asleep at last without covering. I did not wake till morning, and then it was to find the governor's nephew building up the fire again. 'Those who are born great,' said he, 'are bound to rise.' But perhaps he saw that I had had a bad night, and felt that he had gone far enough, for he presently said, in a tone more to my liking, 'Take my advice, Mr. Fawdor; make it right with my uncle. It isn't such fast rising in the Company that you can afford to quarrel with its governor. I'd go on the other tack: don't be too honest.' I thanked him, and no more was said; but I liked him better, for I saw that he was one of those who take pleasure in dropping nettles more to see the weakness of human nature than from malice.
"But my good fortune had got a twist, and it was not to be straightened that day; and because it was not straightened then it was not to be at all; for at five o'clock we came to the Post at Lachine, and here the governor and the others were to stop. During all the day I had waited for my chance to say a word of apology to his excellency, but it was no use; nothing seemed to help me, for he was busy with his papers and notes, and I also had to finish up my reports. The hours went by, and I saw my chances drift past. I knew that the governor held the thing against me, and not the less because he saw me more than once that day in speech with his niece. For she appeared anxious to cheer me, and indeed I think we might have become excellent friends had our ways run together. She could have bestowed her friendship on me without shame to herself, for I had come of an old family in Scotland, the Sheplaws of Canfire, which she knew, as did the governor also, was a more ancient family than their own. Yet her kindness that day worked me no good, and I went far to make it worse, since, under the spell of her gentleness, I looked at her far from distantly, and at the last, as she was getting from the boat, returned the pressure of her hand with much interest. I suppose something of the pride of that moment leaped up in my eye, for I saw the governor's face harden more and more, and the brother shrugged an ironical shoulder. I was too young to see or know that the chief thing in the girl's mind was regret that I had so hurt my chances; for she knew, as I saw only too well afterwards, that I might have been rewarded with a leaping promotion in honour of the success of the journey. But though the boatmen got a gift of money and tobacco and spirits, nothing came to me save the formal thanks of the governor, as he bowed me from his presence.
"The nephew came with his sister to bid me farewell. There was little said between her and me, and it was a long, long time before she knew the end of that day's business. But the brother said, 'You've let, the chance go by, Mr. Fawdor. Better luck next time, eh? And,' he went on, 'I'd give a hundred editions the lie, but I'd read the text according to my chief officer. The words of a king are always wise while his head is on,' he declared further, and he drew from his scarf a pin of pearls and handed it to me. 'Will you wear that for me, Mr. Fawdor?' he asked; and I, who had thought him but a stripling with a saucy pride, grasped his hand and said a God-keep-you. It does me good now to think I said it. I did not see him or his sister again.
"The next day was Sunday. About two o'clock I was sent for by the governor. When I got to the Post and was admitted to him, I saw that my misadventure was not over. 'Mr. Fawdor,' said he coldly, spreading out a map on the table before him, 'you will start at once for Fort Ungava, at Ungava Bay, in Labrador.' I felt my heart stand still for a moment, and then surge up and down, like a piston-rod under a sudden rush of steam. 'You will proceed now,' he went on, in his hard voice, 'as far as the village of Pont Croix. There you will find three Indians awaiting you. You will go on with them as far as Point St. Saviour and camp for the night, for if the Indians remain in the village they may get drunk. The next morning, at sunrise, you will move on. The Indians know the trail across Labrador to Fort Ungava. When you reach there, you will take command of the Post and remain till further orders. Your clothes are already at the village. I have had them packed, and you will find there also what is necessary for the journey. The factor at Ungava was there ten years; he has gone--to heaven.'
"I cannot tell what it was held my tongue silent, that made me only bow my head in assent, and press my lips together. I knew I was pale as death, for as I turned to leave the room I caught sight of my face in a little mirror tacked on the door, and I hardly recognised myself.
"'Good-day, Mr. Fawdor,' said the governor, handing me the map. 'There is some brandy in your stores; be careful that none of your Indians get it. If they try to desert, you know what to do.' With a gesture of dismissal he turned, and began to speak with the chief trader.
"For me, I went from that room like a man condemned to die. Fort Ungava in Labrador,--a thousand miles away, over a barren, savage country, and in winter too; for it would be winter there immediately! It was an exile to Siberia, and far worse than Siberia; for there are many there to share the fellowship of misery, and I was likely to be the only white man at Fort Ungava. As I passed from the door of the Post the words of Shakespeare which had brought all this about sang in my ears." He ceased speaking, and sank back wearily among the skins of his couch. Out of the enveloping silence Pierre's voice came softly:
"Thou shalt judge with the minds of twelve men, and the heart of one woman."
"The journey to the village of Pont Croix was that of a man walking over graves. Every step sent a pang to my heart,--a boy of twenty-one, grown old in a moment. It was not that I had gone a little lame from a hurt got on the expedition with the governor, but my whole life seemed suddenly lamed. Why did I go? Ah, you do not know how discipline gets into a man's bones, the pride, the indignant pride of obedience! At that hour I swore that I should myself be the governor of that Company one day,--the boast of loud-hearted youth. I had angry visions, I dreamed absurd dreams, but I did not think of disobeying. It was an unheard-of journey at such a time, but I swore that I would do it, that it should go into the records of the Company.
"I reached the village, found the Indians, and at once moved on to the settlement where we were to stay that night. Then my knee began to pain me. I feared inflammation; so in the dead of night I walked back to the village, roused a trader of the Company, got some liniment and other trifles, and arrived again at St. Saviour's before dawn. My few clothes and necessaries came in the course of the morning, and by noon we were fairly started on the path to exile.
"I remember that we came to a lofty point on the St. Lawrence just before we plunged into the woods, to see the great stream no more. I stood and looked back up the river towards the point where Lachine lay. All that went to make the life of a Company's man possible was there; and there, too, were those with whom I had tented and travelled for three long months,--eaten with them, cared for them, used for them all the woodcraft that I knew. I could not think that it would be a young man's lifetime before I set eyes on that scene again. Never from that day to this have I seen the broad, sweet river where I spent the three happiest years of my life. I can see now the tall shining heights of Quebec, the pretty wooded Island of Orleans, the winding channel, so deep, so strong. The sun was three-fourths of its way down in the west, and already the sky was taking on the deep red and purple of autumn. Somehow, the thing that struck me most in the scene was a bunch of pines, solemn and quiet, their tops burnished by the afternoon light. Tears would have been easy then. But my pride drove them back from my eyes to my angry heart. Besides, there were my Indians waiting, and the long journey lay before us. Then, perhaps because there was none nearer to make farewell to, or I know not why, I waved my hand towards the distant village of Lachine, and, with the sweet maid in my mind who had so gently parted from me yesterday, I cried, 'Good-bye, and God bless you.'"
He paused. Pierre handed him a wooden cup, from which he drank, and then continued:
"The journey went forward. You have seen the country. You know what it is: those bare ice-plains and rocky unfenced fields stretching to all points, the heaving wastes of treeless country, the harsh frozen lakes. God knows what insupportable horror would have settled on me in that pilgrimage had it not been for occasional glimpses of a gentler life--for the deer and caribou which crossed our path. Upon my soul, I was so full of gratitude and love at the sight that I could have thrown my arms round their necks and kissed them. I could not raise a gun at them. My Indians did that, and so inconstant is the human heart that I ate heartily of the meat. My Indians were almost less companionable to me than any animal would have been. Try as I would, I could not bring myself to like them, and I feared only too truly that they did not like me. Indeed, I soon saw that they meant to desert me,--kill me, perhaps, if they could, although I trusted in the wholesome and restraining fear which the Indian has of the great Company. I was not sure that they were guiding me aright, and I had to threaten death in case they tried to mislead me or desert me. My knee at times was painful, and cold, hunger, and incessant watchfulness wore on me vastly. Yet I did not yield to my miseries, for there entered into me then not only the spirit of endurance, but something of that sacred pride in suffering which was the merit of my Covenanting forefathers.
"We were four months on that bitter travel, and I do not know how it could have been made at all, had it not been for the deer that I had heart to eat and none to kill. The days got shorter and shorter, and we were sometimes eighteen hours in absolute darkness. Thus you can imagine how slowly we went. Thank God, we could sleep, hid away in our fur bags, more often without a fire than with one,--mere mummies stretched out on a vast coverlet of white, with the peering, unfriendly sky above us; though it must be said that through all those many, many weeks no cloud perched in the zenith. When there was light there was sun, and the courage of it entered into our bones, helping to save us. You may think I have been made feeble-minded by my sufferings, but I tell you plainly that, in the closing days of our journey, I used to see a tall figure walking beside me, who, whenever I would have spoken to him, laid a warning finger on his lips; but when I would have fallen, he spoke to me, always in the same words. You have heard of him, the Scarlet Hunter of the Kimash Hills. It was he, the Sentinel of the North, the Lover of the Lost. So deep did his words go into my heart that they have remained with me to this hour."
"I saw him once in the White Valley," Pierre said in a low voice. "What was it he said to you?"
The other drew a long breath, and a smile rested on his lips. Then, slowly, as though liking to linger over them, he repeated the words of the Scarlet Hunter:
"'O son of man, behold! If thou shouldest stumble on the nameless trail, The trail that no man rides, Lift up thy heart, Behold, O son of man, thou hast a helper near! "'O son of man, take heed! If thou shouldst fall upon the vacant plain, The plain that no man loves, Reach out thy hand, Take heed, O son of man, strength shall be given thee! "'O son of man, rejoice! If thou art blinded even at the door, The door of the Safe Tent, Sing in thy heart, Rejoice, O son of man, thy pilot leads thee home?'
"I never seemed to be alone after that--call it what you will, fancy or delirium. My head was so light that it appeared to spin like a star, and my feet were so heavy that I dragged the whole earth after me. My Indians seldom spoke. I never let them drop behind me, for I did not trust their treacherous natures. But in the end, as it would seem, they also had but one thought, and that to reach Fort Ungava; for there was no food left, none at all. We saw no tribes of Indians and no Esquimaux, for we had not passed in their line of travel or settlement.
"At last I used to dream that birds were singing near me,--a soft, delicate whirlwind of sound; and then bells all like muffled silver rang through the aching, sweet air. Bits of prayer and poetry I learned when a boy flashed through my mind; equations in algebra; the tingling scream of a great buzz-saw; the breath of a racer as he nears the post under the crying whip; my own voice dropping loud profanity, heard as a lad from a blind ferryman; the boom! boom! of a mass of logs as they struck a house on a flooding river and carried it away. . . .
"One day we reached the end. It was near evening, and we came to the top of a wooded knoll. My eyes were dancing in my head with fatigue and weakness, but I could see below us, on the edge of the great bay, a large hut, Esquimau lodges and Indian tepees near it. It was the Fort, my cheerless prison-house."
He paused. The dog had been watching him with its flaming eyes; now it gave a low growl, as though it understood, and pitied. In the interval of silence the storm without broke. The trees began to quake and cry, the light snow to beat upon the parchment windows, and the chimney to splutter and moan. Presently, out on the bay they could hear the young ice break and come scraping up the shore. Fawdor listened a while, and then went on, waving his hand to the door as he began: "Think! this, and like that always: the ungodly strife of nature, and my sick, disconsolate life."
"Ever since?" asked Pierre. "All the time."
"Why did you not go back?"
"I was to wait for orders, and they never came."
"You were a free man, not a slave."
"The human heart has pride. At first, as when I left the governor at Lachine, I said, 'I will never speak, I will never ask nor bend the knee. He has the power to oppress; I can obey without whining, as fine a man as he.'"
"Did you not hate?"
"At first, as only a banished man can hate. I knew that if all had gone well I should be a man high up in the Company, and here I was, living like a dog in the porch of the world, sometimes without other food for months than frozen fish; and for two years I was in a place where we had no fire,--lived in a snow-house, with only blubber to eat. And so year after year, no word!"
"The mail came once every year from the world?" "Yes, once a year the door of the outer life was opened. A ship came into the bay, and by that ship I sent out my reports. But no word came from the governor, and no request went from me. Once the captain of that ship took me by the shoulders, and said, 'Fawdor, man, this will drive you mad. Come away to England,--leave your half-breed in charge,--and ask the governor for a big promotion.' He did not understand. Of course I said I could not go. Then he turned on me, he was a good man,--and said, 'This will either make you madman or saint, Fawdor.' He drew a Bible from his pocket and handed it to me. 'I've used it twenty years,' he said, 'in evil and out of evil, and I've spiked it here and there; it's a chart for heavy seas, and may you find it so, my lad.'
"I said little then; but when I saw the sails of his ship round a cape and vanish, all my pride and strength were broken up, and I came in a heap to the ground, weeping like a child. But the change did not come all at once. There were two things that kept me hard."
"The girl, and another. But of the young lady after. I had a half-breed whose life I had saved. I was kind to him always; gave him as good to eat and drink as I had myself; divided my tobacco with him; loved him as only an exile can love a comrade. He conspired with the Indians to seize the Fort and stores, and kill me if I resisted. I found it out."
"Thou shalt keep the faith of food and blanket," said Pierre. "What did you do with him?"
"The fault was not his so much as of his race and his miserable past. I had loved him. I sent him away; and he never came back."
"Thou shalt judge with the minds of twelve men, and the heart of one woman."
"For the girl. There was the thing that clamped my heart. Never a message from her or her brother. Surely they knew, and yet never, thought I, a good word for me to the governor. They had forgotten the faith of food and blanket. And she--she must have seen that I could have worshipped her, had we been in the same way of life. Before the better days came to me I was hard against her, hard and rough at heart."
"Remember the sorrow of thine own wife." Pierre's voice was gentle.
"Truly, to think hardly of no woman should be always in a man's heart. But I have known only one woman of my race in twenty-five years!"
"And as time went on?"
"As time went on, and no word came, I ceased to look for it. But I followed that chart spiked with the captain's pencil, as he had done it in season and out of season, and by and by I ceased to look for any word. I even became reconciled to my life. The ambitious and aching cares of the world dropped from me, and I stood above all--alone in my suffering, yet not yielding. Loneliness is a terrible thing. Under it a man--"
"Goes mad or becomes a saint--a saint!" Pierre's voice became reverent.
Fawdor shook his head, smiling gently. "Ah no, no. But I began to understand the world, and I loved the north, the beautiful hard north."
"But there is more?"
"Yes, the end of it all. Three days before you came I got a packet of letters, not by the usual yearly mail. One announced that the governor was dead. Another--"
"Another?" urged Pierre.
--"was from Her. She said that her brother, on the day she wrote, had by chance come across my name in the Company's records, and found that I had been here a quarter of a century. It was the letter of a good woman. She said she thought the governor had forgotten that he had sent me here --as now I hope he had, for that would be one thing less for him to think of, when he set out on the journey where the only weight man carries is the packload of his sins. She also said that she had written to me twice after we parted at Lachine, but had never heard a word, and three years afterwards she had gone to India. The letters were lost, I suppose, on the way to me, somehow--who can tell? Then came another thing, so strange, that it seemed like the laughter of the angels at us. These were her words: 'And, dear Mr. Fawdor, you were both wrong in that quotation, as you no doubt discovered long ago.' Then she gave me the sentence as it is in Cymbeline. She was right, quite right. We were both wrong. Never till her letter came had I looked to see. How vain, how uncertain, and fallible, is man!"
Pierre dropped his cigarette, and stared at Fawdor. "The knowledge of books is foolery," he said slowly. "Man is the only book of life. Go on."
"There was another letter, from the brother, who was now high up in the Company, asking me to come to England, and saying that they wished to promote me far, and that he and his sister, with their families, would be glad to see me."
"She was married then?"
The rashness of the suggestion made Fawdor wave his hand impatiently. He would not reply to it. "I was struck down with all the news," he said. "I wandered like a child out into a mad storm. Illness came; then you, who have nursed me back to life. . . . And now I have told all."
"Not all, bien sur. What will you do?"
"I am out of the world; why tempt it all again? See how those twenty- five years were twisted by a boy's vanity and a man's tyranny!"
"But what will you do?" persisted Pierre. "You should see the faces of women and children again. No man can live without that sight, even as a saint."
Suddenly Fawdor's face was shot over with a storm of feeling. He lay very still, his thoughts busy with a new world which had been disclosed to him. "Youth hungers for the vanities," he said, "and the middle-aged for home." He took Pierre's hand. "I will go," he added. "A door will open somewhere for me."
Then he turned his face to the wall. The storm had ceased, the wild dog huddled quietly on the hearth, and for hours the only sound was the crackling of the logs as Pierre stirred the fire.