Gilbert Parker.

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the night, the young lady said to me hurriedly, 'My
uncle is a man of great reading and power, Mr. Faw-
dor. 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 gov-
ernor. 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 hi 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 her-
self, for I had come of an old family in Scotland, the
Sheplaws of Canfire, which she knew, as did the gov-
ernor 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 gov-
ernor, 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 de-
clared 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

'"Good-day, Mr. Fawdor/ said the governor, hand-
ing me the map. 'There is some brandy hi 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

"For me, I went from that room like a man con-
demned to die. Fort Ungava in Labrador, a thou-
sand 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 mo-
ment. 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 neces-
saries 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 wood-
craft 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 bur-


nished 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, per-
haps 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 heav-
ing 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

"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, un-
friendly 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 clos-
ing days of our journey, I used to see a tall figure walk-
ing 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

"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:


"'0 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!

te< 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 hi 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 banisned 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 cap-
tain 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 hi 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?"

"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 tune went on?"

"As tune 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 hi 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 for-
gotten 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 wan-
dered 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, Hen 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.


"No, no, m'sieu' the governor, they did not tell you
right. I was with him, and I have known Little Babiche
fifteen years as long as I've known you. ... It was
against the time when down in your world there they
have feastings, and in the churches the grand songs
and many candles on the altars. Yes, Noel, that is the
word the day of the Great Birth. You shall hear how
strange it all was the thing, the tune, the end of it."

The governor of the great Company settled back in
a chair, his powerful face seamed by years, his hair
grey and thick still, his keen, steady eyes burning under
shaggy brows. He had himself spent long solitary years
in the wild fastnesses of the north. He fastened his
dark eyes on Pierre, and said: "Monsieur Pierre, I
shall be glad to hear. It was at the time of Noel

Pierre began: "You have seen it beautiful and cold
in the north, but never so cold and beautiful as it was
last year. The world was white with sun and ice, the
frost never melting, the sun never warming just a
glitter, so lovely, so deadly. If only you could keep the
heart warm, you were not afraid. But if once just for
a moment the blood ran out from the heart and did
not come in again, the frost clamped the doors shut,
and there was an end of all. Ah, m'sieu', when the
north clinches a man's heart in anger there is no pain
like it for a moment."

"Yes, yes; and Little Babiche?"



"For ten years he carried the mails along the route
of Fort St. Mary, Fort O' Glory, Fort St. Saviour, and
Fort Perseverance within the circle just one mail once
a year, but that was enough. There he was with his
Esquimaux dogs on the trail, going and coming, with

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Online LibraryGilbert ParkerThe works of Gilbert Parker (Volume 2) → online text (page 13 of 22)