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A Countess from Canada A Story of Life in the Backwoods online

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"You must do as you choose, of course, as you are too high up for
me to be able to reach you," he said, keeping his voice as steady
as he could, although his teeth were chattering still; "but all the
time you stay there you keep me here, so in compassing your own
death you compass mine also."

"Go away, Mr. Ferrars, go away, and save yourself," she groaned.
"I cannot, I dare not, plunge into that dreadful water!"

"You must; there is no other way to safety. Come, be a brave girl,
and take the plunge," he urged, a note of entreaty coming into his
tone, for life was sweet to him, sweeter than it had ever been
before, and it was dreadful to think that he must throw it away
because this wilful girl refused to allow herself to be saved. But
she only covered her face with her hands, moaning and crying
because of the panic that had her in its grip.

Then Jervis felt himself lifted higher; the water was rising fast,
and now, by straining upward and reaching as far as he could, he
managed just to touch the shelf whereon Mary was crouched.

"Here I am. Now, take my hand and come," he said urgently.

She only covered her face with her hands and moaned, but would not
stir nor look up.

In that narrow gulch they were sheltered from the wind, but the
rain was beginning to pour down in torrents, and Jervis thought
grimly that she would soon be as wet as if she had taken the plunge.

He was kicking vigorously in the water, and was thankful to find
that, now he had got over the first chill, his teeth were not
chattering so miserably.

Another ten minutes, he reckoned, would put him high enough in the
water to scramble on to the ledge, and then it would have to be a
tussle of physical strength, if necessary, for he meant to save
Mary somehow, whether she would let him or not.

The minutes dragged slowly on, the rain beat down with tempestuous
violence, and in that dreary gulch it was dark, almost like night.
But the water was rising still, and putting out all his strength
Jervis dragged himself up on to the shelf of rock. Mary saw him
coming. Then she scrambled to her feet with a cry of fear, and,
before he could stretch out an arm to save her, reeled and toppled
over into the water.




CHAPTER XX

Katherine Makes a Discovery

Katherine was having a thorough turn-out of the store. Everything
was off the shelves, the cobwebs had all been swept from the
ceiling, and now, armed with a scrubbing-brush, she was cleaning
all the shelves with soap and water. To use her own expression, it
was "horridly" dirty work. But it had to be done, so the sooner it
was got through and finished the better. She had done the top
shelves all round, and, changing the water in her pail, had started
on the next lot and was scrubbing vigorously, when she heard a
long-drawn, mournful howl from the other side of the river.

"That is Hero," she said to herself in surprise; and then,
remembering that Mary Selincourt had called for the dog that
morning on her way down river, she came down the ladder, and, going
to the door, looked out.

There was Hero plainly enough, a big black-and-white dog, which,
while looking like a Newfoundland, had such a marked aversion to
water that it would never swim if it could avoid doing so.
Katherine would have turned back to her work, and left the dog to
remain where it was until someone came along with a boat, but she
remembered that Mary had wanted the dog to accompany her in a
ramble, and so it was rather disquieting to find the creature had
wandered home again.

Sitting on its haunches, the dog was flinging up its head for
another howl, but, chancing to catch sight of Katherine, it broke
into eager barking instead, pleading so plainly for a dry journey
across the river that, with a laugh at her own weak yielding, she
ran down to the bank, and, getting into the boat which was moored
there ready for anyone who might want it, rowed across to the other
side, where the dog awaited her in a perfect ecstasy of welcome.

She had no hat on, the sleeves of her cotton blouse were rolled up
over her elbow, and she wore still the big rough apron she had
donned for scrubbing. It struck her, as she crossed the river,
that the wind was very cold, and that the day was grey and
cheerless, now the clouds had hidden the sun.

Hero jumped into the boat, and, crouching at Katherine's feet,
fawned upon her with great affection and delight.

"Oh, yes, you are very glad to see me, I have no doubt, but really
you are a fearful fraud to bring me away from my work on a busy day
like this, by pretending you cannot swim, when it is plain you have
been in the water, for you are dripping with wet!" Katherine said,
seeing the water which ran from the dog's thick coat as it sat in
the boat thumping a grateful tail in thanksgiving. Then she
noticed that the dog had something tied round its neck which looked
like a silk waist-belt, and that a handkerchief was knotted to the
belt.

"Something is wrong!" she muttered to herself; then, reaching the
other side, she moored her boat and proceeded to investigate the
message wrapped About the dog's neck.

A scrap of paper with writing upon it was crumpled up in the
handkerchief, and spreading this out she read:

"Please come and help me, for I have had a tumble
down a steep rock and twisted my foot. I can't walk,
and I am on a ledge deep down a gulch near the sea,
on the rocks beyond the fish-flakes.
MARY SELINCOURT."

"Deep down in a gulch near the sea," quoth Katherine to herself
with a puzzled frown; then she jumped up with a cry. "I know where
it is; that gulch is one of the tideholes, and she will be drowned
if I don't make haste!"

Out of the boat she bounded, and rushed up the slope to the store.
Springing over the confusion of canisters and boxes, she hurried
into the house, where Mrs. Burton was sitting at work making new
frocks for the twins.

"Nellie, will you look after the store for an hour? I should lock
the door if I were you, and refuse to serve anyone who comes, for
it is confusion thrice confounded in there, and I don't think you
would be able to find things if you tried."

"What is the matter, dear?" asked Mrs. Burton, looking up and
seeing how frightened her sister seemed.

"Hero has just come home, and I have found tied to his neck a note
from Mary, saying that she has sprained her ankle and is lying in
one of the tide-holes beyond the fish-flakes. I must hurry down to
Seal Cove as hard as I can row, for the tide is coming in now, and
she may be in danger."

"Are there none of the portage men who could go with you to help
you?" asked Mrs. Burton.

"I may find one at Seal Cove, but there are none here. One went
down river early with Mary, the other rowed Mr. Selincourt down an
hour or more ago. I will be back as soon as I can, dear; or it may
be that Miles and Phil will get in first: but keep the store locked
until someone comes."

"Indeed I will; trust me for that!" said Mrs. Burton, dropping her
work and following Katherine to the door to see her start.

As Katherine turned back to say something, two steps from the
threshold, a coil of strong cord hung on the house wall caught her
attention, and after a moment's hesitation she reached up and took
it down. It was the identical coil of rope that she and Phil had
had in the boat that day when they came home from Fort Garry and
found Mr. Selincourt in the muskeg. It had slipped aside and been
forgotten until a day or two ago, when Katherine had found it,
scrubbed it clean of muskeg mire, and hung it up to dry in the
sunshine, and again forgotten it. She had flung on a coat, because
her blouse showed signs of the hard, dirty work she had been doing,
and had crammed a woollen cap on her head to hide the roughness of
her hair.

"Are you going to take the dog? He will only make you more work,"
said Mrs. Burton, as Hero leaped into the boat and took his place
as a complacent passenger, looking on at the work being done.

"Yes, I must. The old dog is very wise; he will guide us quickly
to where Mary is lying," Katherine said. Then she threw off the
mooring rope, rowed out to midstream, where she could get the full
advantage of the current, and then began to row down river as fast
as she could pull.

The sky was still overcast, the wind howled through the trees, and
it was so chill that she was glad of her coat, despite the vigorous
exercise which she was getting in rowing. Never had it taken so
long to get to Seal Cove, or so it seemed in her impatient haste;
and after the first half-mile the current did not help her, for the
tide was coming in fast and making itself felt.

Seal Cove appeared to be deserted when she got there. Neither of
the portage men was to be seen, although both the Selincourt boats
were drawn up side by side on the beach near the fish shed. The
office was locked and the key gone. Katherine looked round in
despair and shouted at the top of her voice for help. Surely
someone must be within hearing distance, although the place looked
entirely devoid of life, except for some fishing boats a mile or
two out from shore, and beating into harbour against the strong
wind, which was blowing half a gale, perhaps more.

The shouts brought Mrs. Jenkin to the door of her house, with an
ailing babe tucked under her arm and two small children clinging to
her ragged skirt.

"Dear, dear, Miss Radford, what is the matter? Why, you look just
awful!" exclaimed the good woman, jogging the wailing babe up and
down, to still its fretful complaining.

"I can't find anyone, Mrs. Jenkin, and I want help so badly. Where
are all the men? Miss Selincourt has hurt her foot out on the
rocks beyond the fish-flakes, and I am afraid she may be caught by
the tide before she can be rescued," Katherine said anxiously.

"Dear, dear, what is to be done? I don't believe there is a man
about the place, unless it is Oily Dave. Mr. Ferrars went away in
his boat at dawn, and I don't know that he is back yet. I'd go
with you myself, dear, but I can't leave the babies," Mrs. Jenkin
said, with so much concern and sympathy that Katherine gulped down
something closely related to a sob before replying.

"Will you find Oily Dave and tell him to come on after me as fast
as he can? Tell him there is money in the job, then perhaps he
will hurry. If any more men come, send them on after me. And do
have a kettle of water boiling, so that we can give Miss Selincourt
a cup of coffee or something when we get her back here," said
Katherine, then hurried away, the coil of rope flung over her arm,
the dog following close at her heels.

It was a long way over a rough track to the rocks. The easier and
shorter process would have been to go round by boat, if only there
had been quieter water and less wind; but she knew very well that
it would take more strength than her one pair of arms possessed to
row a boat through such a sea, so she was forced to take the
landward route.

When she reached the fish-flakes it was as much as she could do to
stand against the wind, and in crossing the headland her pace was
of the slowest. She had expected to find someone up here, the
portage men perhaps, or some Indians attending to the hundreds and
thousands of fish which were spread out drying in the sun and wind;
but there was no one. She did not know, of course, that Mr.
Selincourt had passed that way half an hour before, and had
summoned the portage men to help him to search for Mary among the
rocks. Looking back, she could see Oily Dave coming along at a
shuffling pace behind her, and with an imperious wave of the hand
to hurry his movements she sped onward now at a quicker pace,
because the ground was descending, and the hill behind her broke
the force of the wind. At the bottom of the hill there were two
tracks, both of which led round among the gulches or tideholes,
only by different ways and to different points, and it was here
that Katherine knew she would be at fault.

Hero still trotted contentedly just behind, as if perfectly
satisfied that she should take the lead. But a mistake now might
be disastrous and waste hours of time; so, calling the dog forward,
she began to talk to him in an eager, caressing fashion: "Good old
Hero, clever old dog, go and find Mary! Mary wants you ever so
badly; hurry up, old chappy, hurry up!"

The dog threw up its head with an eager whine, and looked round as
if to make certain where Mary was to be found.

"Mary, Mary, find her, go along!" cried Katherine; then with a
short bark Hero turned to the track leading seawards, and set off
at a trot, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left.

Katherine groaned. The tideholes nearest the sea naturally filled
first, and it could not be very far from high tide already.
Looking back, she saw Oily Dave gaining upon her, and waved to him
again to make haste. It was of no use to shout, because the wind
was blowing from him to her, and so her voice would not carry.
Then a dash of cold rain struck her from behind, and thankful she
was that it was behind, for if it had struck her in the face she
could hardly have stood against it. Right in front of her Hero was
trotting forward with head carried well in the air, and an eager
alertness in every limb. It was clear the creature felt no
uncertainty about its movements, and the feeling that she was going
right was an unspeakable comfort to Katherine, who toiled along in
the rear.

Suddenly the dog stopped dead short, flung up its head with a
weird, dismal howl, then bounded forward at a headlong pace.

What had it heard?

Katherine tried to run too, but the track was uphill now, and the
force of the wind caught her the higher she got. Panting,
breathless, her heart beating with fierce, irregular thumps, she
toiled up the rocky track, and, crossing the summit, began to
descend on the other side.

The gulch was before her now. When she had seen it last it was a
rocky valley, deep in the cliffs, and floored with boulders. Now
it was a long pool, for the tide was in, and the sea, working
through the porous, frost-riven rocks, had half-filled it with
water. Katherine, approaching the gulch from the landward side,
was coming to the place from an opposite direction to that by which
Jervis Ferrars had reached it, and her path downwards was much
easier than his had been.

She was hesitating whether it was of any use to go in, thinking the
dog must have led her wrong after all, when she caught sight of
something bobbing up and down in the water - something that looked
like a man's head, and at which Hero was barking furiously.

She ran then with flying, reckless feet, jumping from boulder to
boulder, slipping and sliding, but, as she said afterwards, going
too fast to fall. The person in the water had put up a wet hand,
crying hoarsely for help, and the leaping, suffocating bound which
her heart gave told her that it was Jervis Ferrars who needed her.

"Can you catch the rope if I throw it?" she cried, flinging the
coil on the ground so that it might unwind easily.

"Yes," he said in an exhausted tone, which showed her that she had
come only just in time.

As she threw the line she wondered with sick fear in her heart
where Mary could be, then saw, to her surprise, that Jervis was
holding something up in the water, and understood why he had been
unable to land his burden on the steep, shelving bank.

Directly he had caught the rope with his one free hand, she rushed
a few steps back up the hill to wind the other end round a tall,
upstanding boulder; then hurrying back she began to pull gently on
the rope, which Jervis had managed to twist round his arm.

She had forgotten all about Oily Dave, and was fairly startled when
his voice sounded close to her, saying: "I've got the rope; see if
you can ketch 'old of the gal quick, for he's got cramp, sure as
blazes!"

Katherine made a dash forward, entered the water nearly to her
waist, and, seizing Mary with one hand, clutched at Jervis with the
other, holding both until Oily Dave came to her aid and dragged
Mary's unconscious form out of the water, while she stood clinging
to Jervis, unable to lift him, and fearing that he would slip from
her arms back into the water.

Then Oily Dave came back, and, with much puffing and snorting,
assisted her in dragging Jervis out of the water also, while Hero
barked like a wild thing, and capered round in mad delight because
the rescue had been effected. The barking did good, too, for it
brought Mr. Selincourt and the two portage men hurrying to the
spot, where they found Katherine doing what she could for Mary, who
still lay in limp unconsciousness, while Oily Dave worked with
perspiring energy at rubbing the cramped limbs of Jervis.

"Miss Selincourt is not drowned, she has not been under water long
enough," Jervis said faintly. "I think she has just swooned from
sheer terror."

"That is what it looks like," said Mr. Selincourt, with a sudden
great relief coming into his tone. Then he stripped off his jacket
to wrap his daughter in: the other men stripped off their jackets
also, the drenching rain wetting them to the skin in about two
minutes; but Mary must be wrapped as warmly as possible, and some
kind of a litter had to be improvised in which to carry her.

She stirred slightly, put up her hand, and showed signs of
returning life, and then her father determined to wait no longer,
but to carry her off to Seal Cove as quickly as possible, sending
the men back afterwards to bring Jervis. But by this time, with
the help of Oily Dave, Ferrars had managed to struggle to his feet,
and declared that he would walk back to Seal Cove, if someone would
help him.

Katherine came round to him then, saying simply: "If you will lean
on me, the men can carry Miss Selincourt, and if you cannot get all
the way I can stay with you until the men come back for you."

"Thank you, my dear, you are a brave, good girl," said Mr.
Selincourt, and then he hurried away to help the two portage men
and Oily Dave to carry Mary across the hills to Seal Cove.

The only litter they had was formed by spreading their jackets
under her, then lifting her so and carrying her as best they
could - no easy task, for she was well grown and well nourished, and
in her present condition of collapse she lay a dead weight on their
arms.

The progress of Jervis was at first but a feeble crawl, while the
bitter wind seemed to go through him and the driving rain took his
breath away. It was the middle of summer, but when the sun hid its
face, and the wind blew from the north, it was hard to remember how
hot it had been only yesterday.

"Can you bear it?" asked Katherine anxiously, as he shivered and
shook, clinging to her because he had so little strength to stand
against the blast.

"I must bear it," he answered; "at least it is safer than sitting
still. Does the wind often come as chilly as this at midsummer?"

"There are occasional days like this, but the cold don't last long,
and then the sun shines again. Do you think you would be a little
warmer if I walked in front of you?" she asked wistfully, for his
evident suffering, and her own impotence to relieve it, hurt her
dreadfully.

"I don't think the gain of having you for a wind buffer would make
up for losing you as a crutch," he said, as he hobbled slowly along
in his stockinged feet. He had kicked off his shoes when he went
to the aid of Mary, and the rising tide had floated them away.

"I am glad that I am so useful," she said, with a nervous little
laugh. She was wet through herself, and shivering with cold and
fright, yet despite these drawbacks the occasion was like a
festival, and her heart was singing for joy.

"How did you know?" he asked, trying to understand how she chanced
to be on hand at the critical moment with a rope.

"Mary had written a note and tied it round the dog's neck, then
sent the creature for help. I found it howling on the other bank
of the river, and went over to fetch the poor thing home; then I
found the note, and came as quickly as I could," she answered.

"You came just in time for me," he said in a shaken voice. "I
don't think that I could possibly have held out five minutes
longer, because of cramp, and I could not lift Miss Selincourt out
of the water."

"I don't think I could have done it either if it had not been for
Oily Dave," Katherine answered, a quiver of mirth stirring her
tones. "Fancy Oily Dave as a rescuer of people in direful straits!
We shall have him posing as a public benefactor soon!"

"He has long been a private benefactor, or at least I have regarded
him as such," Jervis said slowly.

"What do you mean?" she asked, looking at him in surprise, and
wondering if he had forgotten the grim incident of the flood.

"I feel grateful to him, and always shall, because he left me in
the lurch that day when the water came in. I had to owe my life to
you that day; and but for you and your rope I must have perished
to-day, Katherine. I am really very much in your debt. Do you
think I shall ever be able to repay you?"

"Of course; if not me, then someone else. Such things are always
passed on," she said lightly.

"Of choice I would rather pay my debt in this case, if indeed it
can be paid, to the person to whom I owe it," he said, with a slow
emphasis which made her heart beat tumultuously. Then she
remembered that it was her duty to stand aside for Mary's sake, and
that she must not let this man love her if Mary had set her own
affections upon him, as Nellie had more than hinted.

A cold shiver shook Katherine then, for now the chill came from
within as well as without, and the dreary day wrapped her exhausted
body in its dismal discomfort.

"Don't talk," she said with a touch of authority in her tone.
"Save your strength for enduring. See, here comes a man running
down from the fish-flakes; he has come to help us, and now we shall
get on faster, you will find."




CHAPTER XXI

Matter for Heartache

Three days had passed away, and life had dropped into its
accustomed monotony again. Mrs. Burton said there never was
anything to vary the sameness of existence at Roaring Water Portage
unless someone was in danger of his or her life, and really events
had a way of proving her to be right. When Katherine had rushed
off in such a hurry that day, to help Mary Selincourt out of her
fix, Mrs. Burton had left her sewing, and, taking her sister's work
in hand, had finished cleaning the shelves, then restored to them
the various canisters and boxes according to her own ideas of
neatness, instead of with any remembrance as to how they had been
arranged previously.

On reaching home that afternoon, wet, cold, weary, and with chill
foreboding in her heart, Katherine's first sensation was one of
lively gratitude to Nellie for having dispersed the confusion she
had left behind when she departed so hurriedly. But when a
customer came in a little later for a quarter of a pound of
mustard, and it took half an hour of hard searching to find it,
Katherine began to wonder whether after all it would not have been
easier to have been left to deal singlehanded with the confusion on
the floor, for at least she had known where to find things.

Then someone wanted corn-flour, which entailed a still longer
search; but the culminating point came when Mrs. M'Kree sent down
in hot haste for carbonate of soda and dried mint, to make some
remedy for an unexpected attack of dyspepsia. It took exactly one
hour and ten minutes by the clock to find the carbonate of soda,
followed by ten minutes' active search for the mint. After this
experience Katherine decided that tidiness might be too dearly
bought, and set to work to re-arrange matters after a more
practical pattern.

But all this took time, and, with her other work added on,
effectually prevented her having time for moping, which was of
course a very good thing. She had not seen Jervis since the slow
walk from the rocks to Seal Cove; but she knew that he had spent
the next day in bed with a bad chill and some fever. Mary was at
Seal Cove for two days, but had been brought up river on the
previous evening, and was now being looked after by Mrs. Burton,
who was never quite so happy as when she had some invalid to care
for.

Miles and Phil had gone over to Fort Garry that morning. Katherine
ought to have gone, but in view of the confusion which still
existed on the shelves it hardly seemed safe to leave Miles in
charge, because he had a habit, when he could not find the right


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Online LibraryBessie MarchantA Countess from Canada A Story of Life in the Backwoods → online text (page 14 of 22)