The Trespasser by Gilbert Parker
Chapter III. He Tells the Story of His Life
Gaston Belward was not sentimental: that belongs to the middle-class Englishman's ideal of civilisation. But he had a civilisation akin to the highest; incongruous, therefore, to the general as the sympathy between the United States and Russia. The highest civilisation can be independent. The English aristocrat is at home in the lodge of a Sioux chief or the bamboo-hut of a Fijian, and makes brothers of "savages," when those other formal folk, who spend their lives in keeping their dignity, would be lofty and superior.
When Gaston looked at his father's clothes and turned them over, he had a twinge of honest emotion; but his mind was on the dinner and his heritage, and he only said, as he frowned at the tightness of the waistband:
"Never mind, we'll make 'em pay, shot and wadding, for what you lost, Robert Belward; and wherever you are, I hope you'll see it."
In twelve minutes from the time he entered the bedroom he was ready. He pulled the bell-cord, and then passed out. A servant met him on the stairs, and in another minute he was inside the dining-room. Sir William's eyes flashed up. There was smouldering excitement in his face, but one could not have guessed at anything unusual. A seat had been placed for Gaston beside him. The situation was singular and trying. It would have been easier if he had merely come into the drawing-room after dinner. This was in Sir William's mind when he asked him to dine; but it was as it was. Gaston's alert glance found the empty seat. He was about to make towards it, but he caught Sir William's eye and saw it signal him to the end of the table near him. His brain was working with celerity and clearness. He now saw the woman whose portrait had so fascinated him in the library. As his eyes fastened on her here, he almost fancied he could see the boy's--his father's-face looking over her shoulder.
He instantly went to her, and said: "I am sorry to be late."
His first impulse had been to offer his hand, as, naturally, he would have done in "barbaric" lands, but the instinct of this other civilisation was at work in him. He might have been a polite casual guest, and not a grandson, bringing the remembrance, the culmination of twenty-seven years' tragedy into a home; she might have been a hostess with whom he wished to be on terms: that was all.
If the situation was trying for him, it was painful for her. She had had only a whispered announcement before Sir William led the way to dinner. Yet she was now all her husband had been, and more. Repression had been her practice for unnumbered years, and the only heralds of her feelings were the restless wells of her dark eyes: the physical and mental misery she had endured lay hid under the pale composure of her face. She was now brought suddenly before the composite image of her past. Yet she merely lifted a slender hand with long, fine fingers, which, as they clasped his, all at once trembled, and then pressed them hotly, nervously. To his surprise, it sent a twinge of colour to his cheek. "It was good of you to come down after such a journey," she said. Nothing more.
Then he passed on, and sat down to Sir William's courteous gesture. The situation had its difficulties for the guests--perfect guests as they were. Every one was aware of a dramatic incident, for which there had been no preparation save Sir William's remark that a grandson had arrived from the North Pole or thereabouts; and to continue conversation and appear casual put their resources to some test. But they stood it well, though. their eyes were busy, and the talk was cheerfully mechanical. So occupied were they with Gaston's entrance, that they did not know how near Lady Dargan came to fainting.
At the button-hole of the coat worn by Gaston hung a tiny piece of red ribbon which she had drawn from her sleeve on the terrace twenty-seven years ago, and tied there with the words:
"Do you think you will wear it till we meet again?" And the man had replied:
"You'll not see me without it, pretty girl--pretty girl."
A woman is not so unaccountable after all. She has more imagination than a man; she has not many resources to console her for disappointments, and she prizes to her last hour the swift moments when wonderful things seemed possible. That man is foolish who shows himself jealous of a woman's memories or tokens--those guarantees of her womanliness.
When Lady Dargan saw the ribbon, which Gaston in his hurry had not disturbed, tied exactly as she had tied it, a weird feeling came to her, and she felt choking. But her sister's eyes were on her, and Mrs. Gasgoyne's voice came across the table clearly:
"Sophie, what were Fred Bideford's colours at Sandown? You always remember that kind of thing." The warning was sufficient. Lady Dargan could make no effort of memory, but she replied without hesitation--or conscience:
"Yellow and brown."
"There," said Mrs. Gasgoyne, "we are both wrong, Captain Maudsley. Sophie never makes a mistake." Maudsley assented politely, but, stealing a look at Lady Dargan, wondered what the little by-play meant. Gaston was between Sir William and Mrs. Gasgoyne. He declined soup and fish, which had just been served, because he wished for time to get his bearings. He glanced at the menu as if idly interested, conscious that he was under observation. He felt that he had, some how, the situation in his hands. Everything had gone well, and he knew that his part had been played with some aplomb--natural, instinctive. Unlike most large men, he had a mind always alert, not requiring the inspiration of unusual moments. What struck him most forcibly now was the tasteful courtesy which had made his entrance easy. He instinctively compared it to the courtesy in the lodge of an Indian chief, or of a Hudson's Bay factor who has not seen the outer world for half a century. It was so different, and yet it was much the same. He had seen a missionary, a layreader, come intoxicated into a council of chiefs. The chiefs did not show that they knew his condition till he forced them to do so. Then two of the young men rose, suddenly pinned him in their arms, carried him out, and tied him in a lodge. The next morning they sent him out of their country. Gaston was no philosopher, but he could place a thing when he saw it: which is a kind of genius.
Presently Sir William said quietly:
"Mrs. Gasgoyne, you knew Robert well; his son ought to know you."
Gaston turned to Mrs. Gasgoyne, and said in his father's manner as much as possible, for now his mind ran back to how his father talked and acted, forming a standard for him:
"My father once told me a tale of the Keithley Hunt--something 'away up,' as they say in the West--and a Mrs. Warren Gasgoyne was in it."
He made an instant friend of Mrs. Gasgoyne--made her so purposely. This was one of the few things from his father's talks upon his past life. He remembered the story because it was interesting, the name because it had a sound.
She flushed with pleasure. That story of the Hunt was one of her sweetest recollections. For her bravery then she had been voted by the field "a good fellow," and an admiral present declared that she had a head "as long as the maintop bow-line." She loved admiration, though she had no foolish sentiment; she called men silly creatures, and yet would go on her knees across country to do a deserving man-friend a service. She was fifty and over, yet she had the springing heart of a girl--mostly hid behind a brusque manner and a blunt, kindly tongue.
"Your father could always tell a good story," she said.
"He told me one of you: what about telling me one of him?"
Adaptable, he had at once fallen in with her direct speech; the more so because it was his natural way; any other ways were "games," as he himself said.
She flashed a glance at her sister, and smiled half-ironically.
"I could tell you plenty," she said softly. "He was a startling fellow, and went far sometimes; but you look as if you could go farther."
Gaston helped himself to an entree, wondering whether a knife was used with sweetbreads.
"How far could he go?!" he asked.
"In the hunting-field with anybody, with women endlessly, with meanness like a snail, and when his blood was up, to the most nonsensical place you can think of."
Forks only for sweetbreads! Gaston picked one up. "He went there."
"Who told you?"
"I came from there."
"Where is it?"
"A few hundred miles from the Arctic circle."
"Oh, I didn't think it was that climate!"
"It never is till you arrive. You are always out in the cold there."
"That sounds American."
"Every man is a sinner one way or another."
"You are very clever--cleverer than your father ever was.
"I hope so."
"He went--there. I've come--from there."
"And you think you will stay--never go back?"
"He was out of it for twenty years, and died. If I am in it for that long, I shall have had enough."
Their eyes met. The woman looked at him steadily. "You won't be," she replied, this time seriously, and in a very low voice.
"Because you will tire of it all--though you've started very well."
She then answered a question of Captain Maudsley's and turned again to Gaston.
"What will make me tire of it?!" he inquired. She sipped her champagne musingly.
"Why, what is in you deeper than all this; with the help of some woman probably."
She looked at him searchingly, then added:
"You seem strangely like and yet unlike your father to-night."
"I am wearing his clothes," he said.
She had plenty of nerve, but this startled her. She shrank a little: it seemed uncanny. Now she remembered that ribbon in the button-hole.
"Poor Sophie!" she thought. "And this one will make greater mischief here." Then, aloud to him: "Your father was a good fellow, but he did wild things."
"I do not see the connection," he answered. "I am not a good man, and I shall do wilder things--is that it?"
"You will do mad things," she replied hardly above a whisper, and talked once more with Captain Maudsley. Gaston now turned to his grandfather, who had heard a sentence here and there, and felt that the young man carried off the situation well enough. He then began to talk in a general way about Gaston's voyage, of the Hudson's Bay Company, and expeditions to the Arctic, drawing Lady Dargan into the conversation.
Whatever might be said of Sir William Belward he was an excellent host. He had a cool, unmalicious wit, but that man was unwise who offered himself to its severity. To-night he surpassed himself in suggestive talk, until, all at once, seeing Lady Dargan's eyes fixed on Gaston, he went silent, sitting back in his chair abstracted. Soon, however, a warning glance from his wife brought him back and saved Lady Dargan from collapse; for it seemed impossible to talk alone to this ghost of her past.
At this moment Gaston heard a voice near:
"As like as if he'd stepped out of the picture, if it weren't for the clothes. A Gaston too!"
The speaker was Lord Dargan. He was talking to Archdeacon Varcoe.
Gaston followed Lord Dargan's glance to the portrait of that Sir Gaston Belward whose effigy he had seen. He found himself in form, feature, expression; the bold vigilance of eye, the primitive activity of shoulder, the small firm foot, the nervous power of the hand. The eyes seemed looking at him. He answered to the look. There was in him the romantic strain, and something more! In the remote parts of his being there was the capacity for the phenomenal, the strange. Once again, as in the church, he saw the field of Naseby, King Charles, Ireton's men, Cromwell and his Ironsides, Prince Rupert and the swarming rush of cavalry, and the end of it all! Had it been a tale of his father's at camp-fire? Had he read it somewhere? He felt his blood thump in his veins. Another half-hour, wherein he was learning every minute, nothing escaping him, everything interesting him; his grandfather and Mrs. Gasgoyne especially, then the ladies retired slowly with their crippled hostess, who gave Gaston, as she rose, a look almost painfully intense. It haunted him.
Now Gaston had his chance. He had no fear of what he could do with men: he had measured himself a few times with English gentlemen as he travelled, and he knew where his power lay--not in making himself agreeable, but in imposing his personality.
The guests were not soon to forget the talk of that hour. It played into Gaston's hands. He pretended to nothing; he confessed ignorance here and there with great simplicity; but he had the gift of reducing things, as it were, to their original elements. He cut away to the core of a matter, and having simple, fixed ideas, he was able to focus the talk, which had begun with hunting stories, and ended with the morality of duelling. Gaston's hunting stories had made them breathless, his views upon duelling did not free their lungs.
There were sentimentalists present; others who, because it had become etiquette not to cross swords, thought it indecent. Archdeacon Varcoe would not be drawn into discussion, but sipped his wine, listened, and watched Gaston.
The young man measured his grandfather's mind, and he drove home his points mercilessly.
Captain Maudsley said something about "romantic murder."
"That's the trouble," Gaston said. "I don't know who killed duelling in England, but behind it must have been a woman or a shopkeeper: sentimentalism, timidity, dead romance. What is patriotism but romance? Ideals is what they call it somewhere. I've lived in a land full of hard work and dangers, but also full of romance. What is the result? Why, a people off there whom you pity, and who don't need pity. Romance? See: you only get square justice out of a wise autocrat, not out of your 'twelve true men'; and duelling is the last decent relic of autocracy. Suppose the wronged man does get killed; that is all right: it wasn't merely blood he was after, but the right to hit a man in the eye for a wrong done. What is all this hullaballoo--about saving human life? There's as much interest--and duty--in dying as living, if you go the way your conscience tells you."
A couple of hours later, Gaston, after having seen to his horse, stood alone in the drawing-room with his grandfather and grandmother. As yet Lady Belward had spoken not half a dozen words to him. Sir William presently said to him:
"Are you too tired to join us in the library?"
"I'm as fresh as paint, sir," was the reply.
Lady Belward turned without a word, and slowly passed from the room. Gaston's eyes followed the crippled figure, which yet had a rare dignity. He had a sudden impulse. He stepped to her and said with an almost boyish simplicity:
"You are very tired; let me carry you--grandmother."
He could hear Sir William gasp a little as he laid a quick warm hand on hers that held the cane. She looked at him gravely, sadly, and then said:
"I will take your arm, if you please."
He took the cane, and she put a hand towards him. He ran his strong arm around her waist with a little humouring laugh, her hand rested on his shoulder, and he timed his step to hers. Sir William was in an eddy of wonder--a strong head was "mazed." He had looked for a different reception of this uncommon kinsman. How quickly had the new-comer conquered himself! And yet he had a slight strangeness of accent--not American, but something which seemed unusual. He did not reckon with a voice which, under cover of easy deliberation, had a convincing quality; with a manner of old-fashioned courtesy and stateliness. As Mrs. Gasgoyne had said to the rector, whose eyes had followed Gaston everywhere in the drawing-room:
"My dear archdeacon, where did he get it? Why, he has lived most of his life with savages!"
"Vandyke might have painted the man," Lord Dargan had added.
"Vandyke did paint him," had put in Delia Gasgoyne from behind her mother.
"How do you mean, Delia?!" Mrs. Gasgoyne had added, looking curiously at her.
"His picture hangs in the dining-room."
Then the picture had been discussed, and the girl's eyes had followed Gaston--followed him until he had caught their glance. Without an introduction, he had come and dropped into conversation with her, till her mother cleverly interrupted.
Inside the library Lady Belward was comfortably placed, and looking up at Gaston, said:
"You have your father's ways: I hope that you will be wiser."
"If you will teach me!" he answered gently.
There came two little bright spots on her cheeks, and her hands clasped in her lap. They all sat down. Sir William spoke:
"It is much to ask that you should tell us of your life now, but it is better that we should start with some knowledge of each other."
At that moment Gaston's eyes caught the strange picture on the wall.
"I understand," he answered. "But I would be starting in the middle of a story."
"You mean that you wish to hear your father's history? Did he not tell you?"
"Trifles--that is all."
"Did he ever speak of me?!" asked Lady Belward with low anxiety.
"Yes, when he was dying."
"What did he say?"
"He said: 'Tell my mother that Truth waits long, but whips hard. Tell her that I always loved her.'" She shrank in her chair as if from a blow, and then was white and motionless.
"Let us hear your story," Sir William said with a sort of hauteur. "You know your own, much of your father's lies buried with him."
"Very well, sir."
Sir William drew a chair up beside his wife. Gaston sat back, and for a moment did not speak. He was looking into distance. Presently the blue of his eyes went all black, and with strange unwavering concentration he gazed straight before him. A light spread over his face, his hands felt for the chair-arms and held them firmly. He began:
"I first remember swinging in a blanket from a pine-tree at a buffalo- hunt while my mother cooked the dinner. There were scores of tents, horses, and many Indians and half-breeds, and a few white men. My father was in command. I can see my mother's face as she stood over the fire. It was not darker than mine; she always seemed more French than Indian, and she was thought comely."
Lady Belward shuddered a little, but Gaston did not notice.
"I can remember the great buffalo-hunt. You heard a heavy rumbling sound; you saw a cloud on the prairie. It heaved, a steam came from it, and sometimes you caught the flash of ten thousand eyes as the beasts tossed their heads and then bent them again to the ground and rolled on, five hundred men after them, our women shouting and laughing, and arrows and bullets flying. . . . I can remember a time also when a great Indian battle happened just outside the fort, and, with my mother crying after him, my father went out with a priest to stop it. My father was wounded, and then the priest frightened them, and they gathered their dead together and buried them. We lived in a fort for a long time, and my mother died there. She was a good woman, and she loved my father. I have seen her on her knees for hours praying when he was away.--I have her rosary now. They called her Ste. Heloise. Afterwards I was always with my father. He was a good man, but he was never happy; and only at the last would he listen to the priest, though they were always great friends. He was not a Catholic of course, but he said that didn't matter."
Sir William interrupted huskily. "Why did he never come back?"
"I do not know quite, but he said to me once, 'Gaston, you'll tell them of me some day, and it will be a soft pillow for their heads! You can mend a broken life, but the ring of it is gone.' I think he meant to come back when I was about fourteen; but things happened, and he stayed."
There was a pause. Gaston seemed brooding, and Lady Belward said:
"Go on, please."
"There isn't so very much to tell. The life was the only one I had known, and it was all right. But my father had told me of this life. He taught me himself--he and Father Decluse and a Moravian missionary for awhile. I knew some Latin and history, a bit of mathematics, a good deal of astronomy, some French poets, and Shakespere. Shakespere is wonderful. . . . My father wanted me to come here at once after he died, but I knew better--I wanted to get sense first. So I took a place in the Company. It wasn't all fun.
"I had to keep my wits sharp. I was only a youngster, and I had to do with men as crafty and as silly as old Polonius. I was sent to Labrador. That was not a life for a Christian. Once a year a ship comes to the port, bringing the year's mail and news from the world. When you watch that ship go out again, and you turn round and see the filthy Esquimaux and Indians, and know that you've got to live for another year with them, sit in their dirty tepees, eat their raw frozen meat, with an occasional glut of pemmican, and the thermometer 70 degrees below zero, you get a lump in your throat.
"Then came one winter. I had one white man, two half-breeds, and an Indian with me. There was darkness day after day, and because the Esquimaux and Indians hadn't come up to the fort that winter, it was lonely as a tomb. One by one the men got melancholy and then went mad, and I had to tie them up, and care for them and feed them. The Indian was all right, but he got afraid, and wanted to start to a mission station three hundred miles on. It was a bad look-out for me, but I told him to go. I was left alone. I was only twenty-one, but I was steel to my toes--good for wear and tear. Well, I had one solid month all alone with my madmen. Their jabbering made me sea-sick some times. At last one day I felt I'd go staring mad myself if I didn't do something exciting to lift me, as it were. I got a revolver, sat at the opposite end of the room from the three lunatics, and practised shooting at them. I had got it into my head that they ought to die, but it was only fair, I thought, to give them a chance. I would try hard to shoot all round them--make a halo of bullets for the head of every one, draw them in silhouettes of solid lead on the wall.
"I talked to them first, and told them what I was going to do. They seemed to understand, and didn't object. I began with the silhouettes, of course. I had a box of bullets beside me. They never squealed. I sent the bullets round them as pretty as the pattern of a milliner. Then I began with their heads. I did two all right. They sat and never stirred. But when I came to the last something happened. It was Jock Lawson."
Sir William interposed:
"Jock Lawson--Jock Lawson from here?"
"Yes. His mother keeps 'The Whisk o' Barley.'"
"So, that is where Jock Lawson went? He followed your father?"
"Yes. Jock was mad enough when I began--clean gone. But, somehow, the game I was playing cured him. 'Steady, Jock!' I said. 'Steady!' for I saw him move. I levelled for the second bead of the halo. My finger was on the trigger. 'My God, don't shoot!' he called. It startled me, my hand shook, the thing went off, and Jock had a bullet through his brain.
". . . Then I waked up. Perhaps I had been mad myself--I don't know. But my brain never seemed clearer than when I was playing that game. It was like a magnifying glass: and my eyes were so clear and strong that I could see the pores on their skin, and the drops of sweat breaking out on Jock's forehead when he yelled."
A low moan came from Lady Belward. Her face was drawn and pale, but her eyes were on Gaston with a deep fascination. Sir William whispered to her.
"No," she said, "I will stay."
Gaston saw the impression he had made.
"Well, I had to bury poor Jock all alone. I don't think I should have minded it so much, if it hadn't been for the faces of those other two crazy men. One of them sat still as death, his eyes following me with one long stare, and the other kept praying all the time--he'd been a lay preacher once before he backslided, and it came back on him now naturally. Now it would be from Revelation, now out of the Psalms, and again a swingeing exhortation for the Spirit to come down and convict me of sin. There was a lot of sanity in it too, for he kept saying at last: 'O shut not up my soul with the sinners: nor my life with the bloodthirsty.' I couldn't stand it, with Jock dead there before me, so I gave him a heavy dose of paregoric out of the Company's stores. Before he took it he raised his finger and said to me, with a beastly stare: 'Thou art the man!' But the paregoric put him to sleep. . . .
"Then I gave the other something to eat, and dragged Jock out to bury him. I remembered then that he couldn't be buried, for the ground was too hard and the ice too thick; so I got ropes, and, when he stiffened, slung him up into a big cedar tree, and then went up myself and arranged the branches about him comfortably. It seemed to me that Jock was a baby and I was his father. You couldn't see any blood, and I fixed his hair so that it covered the hole in the forehead. I remember I kissed him on the cheek, and then said a prayer--one that I'd got out of my father's prayer-book: 'That it may please Thee to preserve all that travel by land or by water, all women labouring of child, all sick persons and young children; and to show Thy pity upon all prisoners and captives.' Somehow I had got it into my head that Jock was going on a long journey, and that I was a prisoner and a captive."
Gaston broke off, and added presently:
"Perhaps this is all too awful to hear, but it gives you an idea of what kind of things went to make me." Lady Belward answered for both:
"Tell us all--everything."
"It is late," said Sir William, nervously.
"What does it matter? It is once in a lifetime," she answered sadly.
Gaston took up the thread:
"Now I come to what will shock you even more, perhaps. So, be prepared. I don't know how many days went, but at last I had three visitors--in time I should think: a Moravian missionary, and an Esquimaux and his daughter. I didn't tell the missionary about Jock--there was no use, it could do no good. They stayed four weeks, and during that time one of the crazy men died. The other got better, but had to be watched. I could do anything with him, if I got my eye on him. Somehow, I must tell you, I've got a lot of power that way. I don't know where it comes from. Well, the missionary had to go. The old Esquimaux thought that he and his daughter would stay on if I'd let them. I was only too glad. But it wasn't wise for the missionary to take the journey alone--it was a bad business in any case. I urged the man that had been crazy to go, for I thought activity would do him good. He agreed, and the two left and got to the Mission Station all right, after wicked trouble. I was alone with the Esquimaux and his daughter. You never know why certain things happen, and I can't tell why that winter was so weird; why the old Esquimaux should take sick one morning, and in the evening should call me and his daughter Lucy--she'd been given a Christian name, of course-- and say that he was going to die, and he wanted me to marry her" (Lady Belward exclaimed, Sir William's hands fingered the chair-arm nervously) "there and then, so that he'd know she would be cared for. He was a heathen, but he had been primed by the missionaries about his daughter. She was a fine, clever girl, and well educated--the best product of their mission. So he called for a Bible. There wasn't one in the place, but I had my mother's Book of the Mass. I went to get it, but when I set my eyes on it, I couldn't--no, I couldn't do it, for I hadn't the least idea but what I should bid my lady good-bye when it suited, and I didn't want any swearing at all--not a bit. I didn't do any. But what happened had to be with or without any ring or book and 'Forasmuch as.' There had been so much funeral and sudden death that a marriage would be a godsend anyhow. So the old Esquimaux got our two hands in his, babbled away in half-English, half-Esquimaux, with the girl's eyes shining like a she- moose over a dying buck, and about the time we kissed each other, his head dropped back--and that is all there was about that."
Gaston now kept his eyes on his listeners. He was aware that his story must sound to them as brutal as might be, but it was a phase of his life, and, so far as he could, he wanted to start with a clean sheet; not out of love of confidence, for he was self-contained, but he would have enough to do to shepherd his future without shepherding his past. He saw that Lady Belward had a sickly fear in her face, while Sir William had gone stern and hard.
He went on:
"It saved the situation, did that marriage; though it was no marriage you will say. Neither was it one way, and I didn't intend at the start to stand by it an hour longer than I wished. But she was more than I looked for, and it seems to me that she saved my life that winter, or my reason anyhow. There had been so much tragedy that I used to wonder every day what would happen before night; and that's not a good thing for the brain of a chap of twenty-one or two. The funny part of it is that she wasn't a pagan--not a bit. She could read and speak English in a sweet old- fashioned way, and she used to sing to me--such a funny, sorry little voice she had--hymns the Moravians had taught her, and one or two English songs. I taught her one or two besides, 'Where the Hawthorn Tree is Blooming,' and 'Allan Water'--the first my father had taught me, the other an old Scotch trader. It's different with a woman and a man in a place like that. Two men will go mad together, but there's a saving something in the contact of a man's brain with a woman's. I got fond of her, any man would have, for she had something that I never saw in any heathen, certainly in no Indian; you'll see it in women from Iceland. I determined to marry her in regular style when spring and a missionary came. You can't understand, maybe, how one can settle to a life where you've got companionship, and let the world go by. About that time, I thought that I'd let Ridley Court and the rest of it go as a boy's dreams go. I didn't seem to know that I was only satisfied in one set of my instincts. Spring came, so did a missionary, and for better or worse it was."
Sir William came to his feet. "Great Heaven!" he broke out.
His wife tried to rise, but could not.
"This makes everything impossible," added the baronet shortly.
"No, no, it makes nothing impossible--if you will listen."
Gaston was cool. He had begun playing for the stakes from one stand- point, and he would not turn back.
"I lived with her happily: I never expect to have happiness like that again,--never,--and after two years at another post in Labrador, came word from the Company that I might go to Quebec, there to be given my choice of posts. I went. By this time I had again vague ideas that sometime I should come here, but how or why I couldn't tell; I was drifting, and for her sake willing to drift. I was glad to take her to Quebec, for I guessed she would get ideas, and it didn't strike me that she would be out of place. So we went. But she was out of place in many ways. It did not suit at all. We were asked to good houses, for I believe I have always had enough of the Belward in me to keep my end up anywhere. The thing went on pretty well, but at last she used to beg me to go without her to excursions and parties. There were always one or two quiet women whom she liked to sit with, and because she seemed happier for me to go, I did. I was popular, and got along with women well; but I tell you honestly I loved my wife all the time; so that when a Christian busy-body poured into her ears some self-made scandal, it was a brutal, awful lie--brutal and awful, for she had never known jealousy; it did not belong to her old social creed. But it was in the core of her somewhere, and an aboriginal passion at work naked is a thing to be remembered. I had to face it one night. . . .
"I was quiet, and did what I could. After that I insisted on her going with me wherever I went, but she had changed, and I saw that, in spite of herself, the thing grew. One day we went on an excursion down the St. Lawrence. We were merry, and I was telling yarns. We were just nearing a landing-stage, when a pretty girl, with more gush than sense, caught me by the arm and begged some ridiculous thing of me--an autograph, or what not. A minute afterwards I saw my wife spring from the bulwarks down on the landing-stage, and rush up the shore into the woods. . . . We were two days finding her. That settled it. I was sick enough at heart, and I determined to go back to Labrador. We did so. Every thing had gone on the rocks. My wife was not, never would be, the same again. She taunted me and worried me, and because I would not quarrel, seemed to have a greater grievance--jealousy is a kind of madness. One night she was most galling, and I sat still and said nothing. My life seemed gone of a heap: I was sick--sick to the teeth; hopeless, looking forward to nothing. I imagine my hard quietness roused her. She said something hateful--something about having married her, and not a woman from Quebec. I smiled--I couldn't help it; then I laughed, a bit wild, I suppose. I saw the flash of steel. . . . I believe I laughed in her face as I fell. When I came to she was lying with her head on my breast--dead-- stone dead."
Lady Belward sat with closed eyes, her fingers clasping and unclasping on the top of her cane; but Sir William wore a look half-satisfied, half- excited.
He now hurried his story.
"I got well, and after that stayed in the North for a year. Then I passed down the continent to Mexico and South America. There I got a commission to go to New Zealand and Australia to sell a lot of horses. I did so, and spent some time in the South Sea Islands. Again I drifted back to the Rockies and over into the plains; found Jacques Brillon, my servant, had a couple of years' work and play, gathered together some money, as good a horse and outfit as the North could give, and started with Brillon and his broncho--having got both sense and experience, I hope--for Ridley Court. And here I am. There's a lot of my life that I haven't told you of, but it doesn't matter, because it's adventure mostly, and it can be told at any time; but these are essential facts, and it is better that you should hear them. And that is all, grandfather and grandmother."
After a minute Lady Belward rose, leaned on her crutch, and looked at him wistfully. Sir William said: "Are you sure that you will suit this life, or it you?"
"It is the only idea I have at present; and, anyhow, it is my rightful home, sir."
"I was not thinking of your rights, but of the happiness of us all."
Lady Belward limped to him, and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"You have had one great tragedy, so have we: neither could bear another. Try to be worthy--of your home."
Then she solemnly kissed him on the cheek. Soon afterwards they went to their rooms.