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Title: A Canadian Farm Mystery - Or, Pam the Pioneer
Author: Marchant, Bessie
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Canadian Farm Mystery - Or, Pam the Pioneer" ***

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http://www.pgdpcanada.net.



[Illustration: “WHAT IS THAT?” WHISPERED SOPHY SHARPLY,
 AND PAM’S HEART GAVE A SUDDEN LEAP]



                                   A
                         Canadian Farm Mystery


                                   BY

                            BESSIE MARCHANT

                     Author of “The Unknown Island”
                       “Joyce Harrington’s Trust”
                         “A Girl and a Caravan”
                       “Molly Angel’s Adventures”
                                &c. &c.

                      _Illustrated by Cyrus Cuneo_

                         BLACKIE & SON LIMITED
                           LONDON AND GLASGOW



                             Zenith Library

                                _BOYS_
              =In the Great White Land.= Gordon Stables.
              =The Disputed V.C.= Frederick P. Gibbon.
              =The First Mate.= Harry Collingwood.
              =The Boy Castaways.= H. Taprell Dorling.
              “=Quills.=” Walter C. Rhoades.

                                _GIRLS_
              =A Canadian Farm Mystery.= Bessie Marchant.
              =The Youngest Sister.= Bessie Marchant.
              =A Princess of Servia.= Bessie Marchant.
              =A True Cornish Maid.= G. Norway.
              =Meriel’s Career.= Mary B. Whiting.

       _Printed in Great Britain by Blackie & Son, Ltd., Glasgow_



                                Contents

                    I. HER GREAT IDEA
                    II. BUSINESS ENTERPRISE
                    III. THE SURPRISE PARTY
                    IV. WHAT THEY FOUND
                    V. THE NEXT DAY
                    VI. WHERE HAS HE GONE?
                    VII. SEARCHING
                    VIII. THE FIRST SNOW
                    IX. MAKING THE BEST OF IT
                    X. SOMEONE’S DESPERATE PLIGHT
                    XI. WHO WAS IT?
                    XII. SUGARING
                    XIII. JUST A DOUBT!
                    XIV. FROM AN UNEXPECTED QUARTER
                    XV. PAM’S BIG ADVENTURE
                    XVI. WHY DID HE GO?
                    XVII. WHAT REGGIE SUSPECTS
                    XVIII. MET ON THE TRAIL
                    XIX. THE STRANGER’S ERRAND
                    XX. WEDDING PLANS
                    XXI. HOW IT WAS DONE
                    XXII. GOOD NEWS
                    XXIII. THE MYSTERY CLEARED
                    XXIV. THE END



                             Illustrations

             I. “WHAT IS THAT?” WHISPERED SOPHY SHARPLY,
             AND PAM’S HEART GAVE A SUDDEN LEAP

             II. THE DOG AND THE UNKNOWN FURY WERE ROLLING
             OVER IN THE DEADLIEST OF COMBATS

             III. PAM WAS DRAGGED UP AND TUGGED HERE AND
             PULLED THERE



                        A Canadian Farm Mystery
                          Or, Pam the Pioneer

                 *        *        *        *        *



                               CHAPTER I


                             Her Great Idea

“Jack, Jack, I have had a truly wonderful inspiration!” cried Pam as she
came dashing down the stairs like a whirlwind.

Unfortunately Barbara, the little maid-of-all-work, was at that moment
toiling upwards with the soup tureen and a pile of plates on a tray. She
was near the top, too, and very much out of breath. She had no strength
to stand against the violent impact, but went down before it, being
brought up in a heap at the turn of the stairs while tray, tureen, and
plates went careering to the bottom, accompanied by a stream of soup.

“Now you’ve done it!” exclaimed Jack, with an ominous growl in his
voice, as, leaning on his stick, he came limping from the kitchen to
survey the ruins.

“Oh, haven’t I just!” cried Pam in heartfelt contrition. Then she
gasped: “Whatever will Mother say?”

The afflicted Barbara, who still lay at the bend of the stairway where
she had fallen, burst into noisy crying at this. She had been dismissed
from her last place for ravages among the crockery, and if she had to
leave the house of Mrs. Walsh for a similar cause, where would her
character be?

“Dry up!” burst out Jack impatiently. “We have too much moisture here
already by the look of it.” As he spoke he hopped aside to let a rivulet
of soup go past him. Such good soup it had been too! The savoury odours
steamed up under his nose, and as he was desperately hungry the waste
was all the more exasperating.

Just at this moment the green baize door at the top of the stairs opened
smartly, and Greg called down: “Jack, Mother says don’t let Barbara
bring up the soup for another ten minutes, because Colonel Seaford has
’phoned to say that he can’t be here till then.”

“What luck!” exclaimed Pam. “Come along, Barbara, we can make a fresh
lot of soup in ten minutes, and we will serve it in a salad bowl and
porridge plates. Dear me, nothing is ever so bad that it might not be
worse!”

“You can’t make soup out of nothing, and there is not a teacupful of
stock in the house,” growled Jack.

“Wait and see!” laughed Pam, as she lightly sprang over the ruins at the
bottom of the stairs, dodged brown rivulets of soup that meandered along
the floor, and darted in at the kitchen door. “Come along, Barbara!
England expects, &c.”

“If you had done your duty and looked where you were going, the soup
would not have been spilled,” growled Jack, but Pam was too busy to heed
him.

Seizing the empty soup saucepan, she half-filled it with hot water from
the boiler and set it over the fire. Then she darted to the table, where
she stood busily stirring, mixing, and pounding, calling all the time
for a succession of things which Barbara was quick to supply. “There,
that will do, I think,” she exclaimed in great satisfaction. “Corn
flour, tomato powder, salt, pepper—a good lot of that—Worcester sauce,
burnt sugar, and a dash of shrimp sauce just by way of piquancy. Very
nice to look at, and interesting to taste; not very nourishing, perhaps,
but that will not matter for once.”

The hot water was poured on the concoction, the stuff was returned to
the saucepan and brought to the boil; then, the ten minutes being up,
Pam carried the emergency soup to the dining-room herself, while Barbara
collected the fragments of broken earthenware and swabbed up the river
of soup with a grubby mop.

“Well, you take the cake, and no mistake about it, in rising to the
occasion!” admitted Jack with grudging admiration, as he limped about
the kitchen, getting ready for the fish course, and seeing that other
things were keeping in a state of readiness.

Pam’s merry laugh rang out. “It is a mercy I can do so much, for it is
my fate to be always creating situations that call for dispatch and
skill in the managing.”

Jack looked at her in silent wonder. Somehow he always was wondering at
Pam. It was barely more than half an hour by the clock since she had
been drowned in tears because of that curt letter from Lady Dalby, who
had written to say that as she could not have Miss Walsh when she needed
her so much, she had secured another governess. Pam’s salary had not
been much, but in poverty like theirs every little counts. There was the
doctor’s bill for Muriel’s illness, with all the other bills which had
sprung from the same source, while winter was coming on. But it was of
no use to “grouse” over things, it did not make them the least bit
better. So he left off speculating about Pam, and ordered Barbara round
in fine style for the next twenty minutes, and the courses of the dinner
went up one by one until it was all over.

When coffee had been taken to the drawing-room, Greg and Sid cleared the
dinner-table, and then came down to their supper in the breakfast-room,
which opened out of the kitchen. Pam, who had rushed upstairs to see if
Muriel was comfortably asleep, came hurrying back to help in washing up
the silver and glass.

Then, “What is your great idea?” asked Jack, who was seated on a high
stool at the table, and was rapidly polishing the spoons and forks which
Pam had washed.

She glanced round, saw that the door of the scullery, where Barbara was
washing plates and dishes, was a little way open, and darting across the
room closed it softly.

“Jack!” she cried, with positive rapture in her tone, as she plunged her
hands into the soapy water again, “Jack, I am going to ask Mother to let
me go to Grandfather!”

“You can’t go alone—you are only a girl!” he exclaimed, dropping a
handful of spoons with a clatter because he was so amazed at the daring
and audacity of Pam’s great idea.

She laughed softly; it always amused her to hear Jack talk in this
fashion. She was four years older than he was, and although she lacked
his steadiness and balance, she knew that she was vastly ahead of him
when it came to dealing with an emergency. “You are a dear, Jack, but
you have your limitations. You are quite early Victorian in your ideas
of what girls should or should not do. But you have got to widen your
outlook a bit before Mother comes down from the drawing-room, because
you must back me up in this. We can always influence Mother when we
stand solid, and my great idea is for the general good.”

“For instance?” Jack had retrieved the fallen spoons, and was polishing
vigorously. Pam had a good many great ideas of one sort and another, but
he had a cautious streak, and was not going to back her up in any wild
scheme just because she wanted him to do so.

“Grandfather told Mother to send one of us out to him, and he promised
to pay a salary. He said one of the children, but he did not mention
whether it was a boy or a girl that he would prefer.” Pam put out her
facts with a calm decision, and Jack nodded approvingly. “Very well, you
can’t go. It will be another month before you can walk without a stick,
and when you can, there is your work at Gay & Grainger’s waiting for
you, while until you go back they are paying you——”

“A mere pittance—half a crown a week, accident insurance!” he groaned.
“If only I had been over sixteen I could have had the proper State
Insurance. It is a rotten shame, and the grossest injustice!”

“Be quiet, and let me talk!” Pam lifted an impatient hand to stay the
tide of his eloquence, sprinkling him with soapy water in the process.
“You have this pittance, and work waiting for you, but I have nothing.
You also are twice the help to Mother that I am. Don’t interrupt!
Compliments are not necessary at this juncture; we are out for facts
without trimmings, and don’t you forget it. Suppose that you had gone
out to Grandfather this month. Mother says the winters in New Brunswick
are dreadfully cold. Being a boy, you would naturally have had to work
out of doors, and if there is no woman in the house, you would have had
little comfort when you came in. Now, if I go, the dear little old man
can hardly send me out into the forest chopping trees down when the
temperature is miles below zero, but I can make him so comfortable in
the house that by the spring he will be wanting the lot of us.”

“Query as to that.” Jack shook his head, and reached for the plate
basket to put away his spoons.

“Oh, but he will. I shall lay myself out to win his heart; then when he
has got so fond of me that he simply can’t bear me out of his sight, I
shall turn home-sick. I shall refuse my food, and tell him that I am
pining for my family, that I can bear the cruel separation no longer. He
will soften towards Mother then, and write her an imperative letter to
sell up and come out to him without a moment’s unnecessary delay. Oh, I
can manage him, I have no doubt of it at all!”

“I don’t think that I have either, if you go straight at it,” admitted
Jack, who spoke from experience, knowing himself to be weak as water in
the hands of Pam when she had really made up her mind to influence him.
“The question in my mind is whether Mother and he will hit it off
comfortably when they live together. She is mistress here, and does as
she likes; but it would not be happy for her if the old man took to
ordering her round as I do Barbara.”

“Indeed, no; but I tell you he can be managed, he must be managed for
his own good,” she said earnestly. “If he is very happy and comfortable,
he will not want to be tiresome. Think how good it will be for Muriel to
have a country life for the next few years. Think, too, what it will do
for the boys. Greg is growing much too fast. He ought to have quiet
evenings, and to be in bed by eight o’clock, instead of which he and Sid
are working hard until after nine on most evenings, waiting at table and
clearing away, qualifying for posts as footmen and butlers, but missing
all the free and easy life of boyhood that they ought to have.”

Jack drew a long breath which ended in a whistle.

“My word, if you talk to the old man like that, he will be sending for
us all by the next boat! I will back you up for all I am worth, see if I
don’t. Three cheers for Pam the Pioneer, the intrepid and the brave! Of
all the great ideas you ever had, this is the greatest!”

Pam flushed with pleasure. Jack had the balance and steadiness which she
lacked; he was apt to sit in judgment on her, and that sort of thing is
rather unbearable as a rule. Her mother was always holding Jack before
her eyes as a model to be studied and copied, which, of course, was more
unbearable still; so that the present moment was sweet indeed,
compensating for many a bad quarter of an hour which had come before.

“I must hurry up to Muriel now,” she said, ten minutes later, when they
had discussed the scheme in all its bearings. “Be sure you stick by me,
Jack, when it comes to the arguments, for you know I do not shine
there.”

“Oh, I’ll stick by you, never fear,” he answered in a cheery tone. “I
would do a good deal to see a way out of this boarding-house business.
This stewing and grilling down here every night, to give those people
upstairs a chance to overfeed themselves, gets on my nerves. The folks
who are so keen on big dinners at eight o’clock at night ought to have
to cook for themselves; then they would soon be cured of the habit.”

“I daresay they would, but think what a crowd of people would suffer
from loss of income.” Pam laughed as she gave him a bear-like hug by way
of showing her gratitude. “Think, too, what a slump there would be in
the medical business, for Dr. Scott said yesterday that it was the
people who ate too much who provided the doctors with a living.”

But Jack only grunted by way of answer, and then, taking his stick,
limped out to the scullery to see if Barbara had fastened up for the
night.



                               CHAPTER II


                          Business Enterprise

Galena Gittins had her hair screwed up tightly in curling-pins. Reggie
Furness was late in coming to do “chores” that morning, and so he had
crept in by way of the milk-room door with as little ostentation as
possible. He had found by experience that it was not wise to attract
attention to himself when he was behind time. Directly he noticed the
curling-pins his courage revived. The fair Galena was never hard to live
with when there was a festivity to the fore.

She was dashing round at such a rate that she even failed to notice his
silent entrance. He picked up the milk-buckets and scurried away to the
barn, well pleased at his escape, but actively curious as to the sort of
frolic to which Galena was bound that day.

“There’s no one dead, so it can’t be a funeral,” he muttered, as he tied
the white cow’s leg to a post to prevent her kicking while he milked.
“It isn’t a wedding either, or else I should have been bound to hear
about it. Her aunt has gone to Fredericton, so she ain’t going there.”

He was so absorbed in his meditations that he did not notice that the
rope had come unfastened, until the cow by an adroit movement knocked
him sprawling. He was used to her pranks by this time, and he contrived
to keep the bucket from being kicked over, so his own upset did not
count; and as he always pretended to himself that the white cow was a
playful creature, instead of, as was actually the case, a bad-tempered
animal, his feelings were not ruffled by his being rolled over and
having his head thumped against a post.

When he carried the milk-buckets in to the little chamber that was
scooped out from the side of the hill, he heard signs of unusual bustle
in the kitchen, and poking his head cautiously round the post of the
door, he was amazed to see a big baking in progress.

“Is that you, Reggie Furness?” called the voice of Miss Galena, who was
darting here and there, apparently trying to do three things at once.
“Step lively, will you, and help me here. I want eggs whisked, and
currants washed, sugar rolled, and a dozen things done all nearly at
once. You can’t have a sitting-down breakfast this morning. But none of
us have had that. You will have to be content to feed as you run about.”

“I don’t care how I have my breakfast as long as I do have one,” said
Reggie, who had got hold of the whisker, and was turning it at a great
rate, while the eggs churned into yellow foam under his active
exertions.

Galena laughed at the broadness of the hint, but she had not had six
brothers without knowing that boys were the hungriest creatures under
the sun; so she brought him a great wedge of pumpkin pie, just to keep
him from starving, and promised him some hot cookies as soon as they
were out of the oven. The pie was fragrant with spice and black with
currants. Reggie was in clover for once in his life. Breakfast, which
was part of his wage, consisted in a usual way of buckwheat or oatmeal
porridge drowned out with skim milk. There was no porridge pot visible
this morning, so plainly there was something very unusual on hand.

“Please, are you going to be married to-day?” he asked, his eyes fairly
bulging with curiosity. The ham boiler was on the stove, and it was
beginning to bubble, while delicious odours filled the kitchen and made
their way out through the open door. His question was only a wild
hazard. He had never heard that Miss Galena had any views with regard to
matrimony, but he guessed that in any case it would please her to be
asked, and so he would be the more likely to find out what he wanted to
know so badly. He was through with the whisking by now, and Miss Galena
had set him rolling sugar. He would not have taken any, of course, being
irreproachably honest so far as he understood what honesty meant; but he
saw no harm in continually licking his fingers as he drew the sugar in a
lump for the rolling-pin. It was good! He would have enjoyed rolling
sugar all day long.

Galena burst into a great laugh of derision, but she was not ill-pleased
at the suggestion.

“Dear me, no; I am not going to be married yet, though you never can
tell what may happen.” She lifted her head and tried to look sprightly,
but she was so worn with hard work and much dyspepsia that the attempt
was rather a failure.

Reggie looked disappointed. If the festivity were not a wedding or a
funeral, he did not see what it could be. No church functions were in
progress this month, for the parson was away on holiday, and it would
not have been considered in good taste to have a church frolic in his
absence.

Galena’s eyes sparkled. She was aching for someone to talk things over
with. The men were always in a hurry when they came in from the field,
and there was not another woman within half a mile of the place. She
hesitated, and was lost.

“We are going to have a great frolic to-night; it was only decided late
last night, that is why I am so driven with cooking this morning. We are
going to have a big surprise party at old Wrack Peveril’s; you know
where he lives—over the Ridge at Ripple. They say he is a most
fearfully disagreeable old man. He lives quite alone, and has done so
for more years than you have been alive. I have heard he made a vow that
no woman should enter his house, on account of his only daughter having
run away from him to get married. Don’t you expect it will make him sit
up when all the lot of us go walking in?”

“Suppose he won’t let you inside the door?” Reggie stared at her with
bulging eyes. He was thinking of what had happened at his own poor home
two winters before, when he and Mose had gone to bed, and had been
hounded out of it by a surprise party that threatened to pull the
shingles off the roof if they were not admitted. Mose had been furious
at the invasion, for the cupboard was empty, and the stark poverty of
the home had been all laid bare to the laughing, careless crowd who had
taken the place by storm.

“Suppose he can’t keep us out!” she mocked. “I just love surprise
parties when there is a spice of mischief in them. When we go to
parson’s and take more food than we could eat in a month, and leave it
all behind for him and Mrs. White, it is most as tame as going to church
on Sunday, or having a missionary meeting and giving money to convert
the heathen; but when we go to surprise someone who does not want to see
us, why, that is where the fun begins.”

Reggie nodded in token of understanding, but he was spared the necessity
of reply by the entrance of Nathan Gittins, the eldest brother of
Galena, who ran the farm and the saw-mill, all the four brothers in
between having left New Brunswick for the Far West when they came to
man’s estate.

All the way to school that morning Reggie fumed over the injustice to
old Wrack Peveril in forcing a surprise party, mostly of women, upon him
when he had said that no woman should enter his house.

Reggie had not had much to do with women since his mother died. He had
been only a shaver of five years old then, and he had been “dragged up”
ever since by his step-brother, Mose Paget, who owned a long strip of
rather unfertile land running parallel with the creek, but separated
from the water by Sam Buckle’s quarter-section of water frontage. All
through morning school Reggie debated the matter with so much absorption
that he had no attention to give to mischief, and in consequence earned
the good-conduct mark, to his great amazement.

Directly school was out he set off to climb the Ridge, not going by the
ordinary trail that led past Ripple, but taking a bee-line through the
woods and up over the gap where the forest fire had been two years
before. He had serious business on hand, while his conscience troubled
him a little, because he was going to betray the confidence of Galena.
He had made up his mind to warn Wrack of what was impending, so that the
old man should have a chance of doing as he liked about being at home
when the visitors came.

The day was very hot although it was October. The maples on the Ridge
were aflame with their autumn splendours, and the scarlet of the oaks at
Cumberland Crossing was a sight to see. But Reggie had scant attention
for the beauties of nature, for he was in a hurry. Make the best speed
he could, it would still be almost impossible for him to get back to the
schoolhouse before afternoon school began, and if he had no satisfactory
excuse for being late he would have the cane. To be late at morning
school was a forgivable offence, because of the long distances the
scholars had to come and the heaviness of the morning “chores” at most
of the homes; but there was no excuse for being late in the afternoon,
because no one went home then, and it did not take long to eat the
noon-piece each scholar brought in his or her school bag.

From the top of the Ridge to Ripple was easy going, downhill all the
way. Reggie crashed through the undergrowth at a great rate. He had no
watch, and could only guess at the time. Every minute gained would make
one stroke of the cane the less, for the rule was one stroke for every
minute late, so it was necessary to use dispatch.

When he emerged at the clearing in front of the house he saw the old man
doing something to a gun, in front of the chiphouse door. Quickening his
pace, Reggie was making straight towards him, but before he could
clamber through the hole in the garden fence a quavering shout reached
him.

“Now, then, stay where you are, boy! If you come a step nearer I will
set the dog at you.” Wrack’s aspect was so threatening that Reggie
decided it to be the best part of valour to stay where he was,
especially as a powerful dog which had been lying on the ground rose at
this moment and growled in a menacing fashion.

“I’ve come to tell you something that you will be glad to know,” called
Reggie.

“Tell it, then, and be off. I don’t want a lot of loafers on these
premises,” growled the old man. And enraged though he was, Reggie’s face
twitched in a grin of amusement. One small and perspiring boy who had
run all the way from the schoolhouse could hardly be described as a lot
of loafers.

“Gittins’s folks and a lot of women are going to have a surprise party
here to-night. They are going to bring supper, and dance to an accordion
afterwards,” called out Reggie in clear tones which carried amazingly in
the hot, still air. If he had been able to whisper the information it
would not have seemed so bad, but to be obliged to shout out what in
honour he ought to have kept silent about made him so angry that he
hated the old man he had come so far to serve.

Wrack gave a scornful, cackling laugh, and the dog growled in sympathy.

“If the surprise party come here it is likely they may find themselves a
bit surprised,” the old man called back, then went on cleaning his gun
as if no one were there.

“Ain’t you going to give me nothing for coming all this way to tell
you?” demanded Reggie in a shrill tone of indignation. It was past
believing that this disagreeable old man should actually refuse to
reward him for all his trouble.

“I’ll give you the stick if you don’t clear out of this sharp,” the old
man retorted with a snarl, and he looked as if he meant it.

Reggie was insistent, and inclined to clamour for what he deemed his
rights, so he burst into noisy abuse after the manner of his kind.

“Think I’m going to put up with that sort of treatment, do you? A
regular old skin-flint you are, and no mistake. I hope the surprise
party will come, scores of ’em, and I hope they will dance and dance
till your carpets are in rags, and they have worn holes in your floors.”

“Here, dog, after him!” exclaimed the old man, swinging his hand with an
air of exasperation in Reggie’s direction. But Reggie was not going to
stay on the chance of a mauling. The dog was a big animal, and he was
only rather a small boy; so he fled away with the speed of a hunted fox,
and the dog, having pursued him to the end of the cleared ground, gave
up the chase, returning towards the house at a languid trot, as if the
exertion was too much on such a hot day.

There was no slackening of Reggie’s speed until he was well on his way;
then, as the ascent of the Ridge grew steeper, he dropped into a walk.
There was black hate in his heart for the old man who had treated him so
badly, and he was meditating all manner of wildly impossible schemes for
getting the better of him as he toiled over the Ridge, then broke into a
trot again where the ground sloped to the schoolhouse.

He would be late, he was sure of it, and he would have the cane. He had
broken a confidence reposed in him, and he had gained nothing by it. No
wonder he was furious. As he turned to enter the school door he shook
his fist in impotent rage at the wooded ridge he had just crossed.



                              CHAPTER III


                           The Surprise Party

Pam stepped off the boat at Hunt’s Crossing. There was a curious sense
of unreality all about her. She felt as if she were walking in her
sleep, and she half-expected to wake presently and find herself back in
the top bedroom of the boarding-house in London, which she had shared
with her mother and Muriel.

The forest had been pushed back a little at Hunt’s Crossing. There were
three wooden houses and several barns grouped near the river, but they
all had a ragged, unfinished look which jarred on Pam, and forced her to
the realization of being in a strange land. If she had been merely
dreaming these things would not have troubled her.

There was no one to meet her; she had not expected there would be. Her
mother, once she had agreed to Pam’s plan, had told her all about the
road from Hunt’s Crossing to Ripple. The trail wound sharply round past
Bond’s store, which was the Post Office, curved round the angle of the
hill, and then stretched in a straight line for three miles and a half
to Ripple. There were cross trails here and there, but there was no
mistaking the way. Pam even felt as if she had been here before when she
saw the cluster of houses near to the river, the tumbledown barns, and
the various trails that converged at the crossing.

She went into the store and arranged for her heavy baggage to be kept
there until she could send or come for it; then, carrying her bag, her
umbrella, and a waterproof, she set her face to the trail.

Curious glances followed her as she left the little cluster of houses.
It was so rarely that a stranger of the softer sex left the river boats
at this point. Men there were in plenty who came and went, intent on
selling something, or looking for something to buy. But a well-dressed
girl, who arranged for her baggage to be left at the store and then went
marching along the forest trails as if she had lived there all her life,
was, indeed, something to speculate over. Life moved fairly easily with
the people at Hunt’s Crossing, so they were able to lean over their
front fences and continue their speculations without any serious upset
to the day’s work.

It was late in the afternoon, and the October sunshine had a mellow
tinge, as if the reflected glories of the crimson and gold of the oaks
and maples had somehow coloured the glow of the sunshine to a warmer
tint. Pam kept bursting into “Oh’s” and “Ah’s” of pleasure as she trod
the trail with a sprightly step, and gazed on all the wealth of colour
with which the forest was painted on that sunny autumn afternoon.
Accustomed as her eyes had been to the soft neutral tints of London, and
fresh as she was from a week of gazing on the grey Atlantic, all this
flaming beauty of the woodland affected her senses, making her giddy.

For a mile or more she went ahead at a brisk pace, but her bag was
heavy, her coat was hot, and presently, sitting down for a brief rest,
she found herself so comfortable that she fell asleep. It was a foolish
thing to do, of course, but who can expect fully-fledged wisdom and
hoary-haired discretion in a girl of twenty? Pam awoke with a start
after a delicious dream of her grandfather’s warm welcome at the end of
the journey; she thought he was telling her with tears in his tired old
eyes that he was sure she would be the joy of his life and the solace of
his lonely days, but that he would know no real happiness until her
mother and the other children came to live with him also.

The glory had faded from the forest, and a cool wind stirred among the
rustling leaves. The sun had dropped out of sight, and with a sharp
exclamation of dismay Pam rose to her feet to continue her journey. How
idiotic she had been to fall asleep in this fashion when she should have
been marching straight on! By the way, in which direction did she
require to go? Straight on—but now she was not sure which direction was
straight on, or which led back to Hunt’s Crossing. If by ill luck she
took the wrong way darkness would overtake her, and she would have to
ask for a night’s lodging at one of the three houses there. Even if she
went forward on the right road she would still have difficulty in
reaching Ripple by the time it grew dark, for now she was finding one
foot very sore where her boot had rubbed it. She limped along the trail
for a few hundred yards, gazing to right and left in a perfect fever of
anxiety. There was forest on either side. Cedar, birch, beech, oak, and
ash jostled each other, or stood singly or in groups, with wide
stretches of lesser growth. It looked so exactly like the way she had
been traversing before she went to sleep that after ten minutes or so
Pam became convinced that she had turned round and was going back by the
way she had come.

“Oh, I am in a hopeless muddle!” she murmured in a rueful tone, and
turning back on her tracks she limped along as fast as she could go.
Darkness dropped so suddenly on the forest that she was not prepared for
its coming, and panic seized her in its grip. She could have screamed
from sheer terror; but it was of no use to scream if there was no one to
hear.

Suddenly a sound struck her ear—a sound of singing—voices in unison.
Whatever could it be? Pam stood motionless in the middle of the trail,
straining her ears to listen, while her heart beat so loudly that it
seemed to stop her from catching the words that were sung. It was an old
negro melody, and presently the words came to her through the clear air
of the evening with quite startling distinctness:

            Mother, rock me in the cradle all the day.
              You may lay me down to sleep, my mother dear,
            But rock me in the cradle all the day.

Pam had never heard anything like it before. The haunting sweetness of
the melody, joined to the words, made her so fearfully home-sick that
she had the greatest difficulty to keep from crying like a baby. But the
singers were coming nearer, and her position of being lost on a straight
trail was quite sufficiently ridiculous without her making herself look
more absurd by being found in tears; so she stiffened her back and
clenched her fists tightly.

Suddenly the singers changed their tune and broke into a rollicking,
lilting melody:

            I’m so glad the angels brought the tidings down,
                  I’m hunting for a home.
            You’ll not get lost in the wilderness,
                  Hunting for a home.

Pam could hear the measured trot of horses now. The party were coming
nearer and nearer. There were the voices of girls mingling with the
deeper tones of men, and a sudden wave of confidence surged into her
heart, for she knew that she would not be afraid to trust these people.

“Stop, will you please stop, I have lost my way!” Her voice sounded
strange and shrill in her own ears as she ran out to the middle of the
trail and held up her arms to stop the first wagon. By this time she had
gathered that there were two wagons, and that they were very near
together. The rising moon sent a pale shaft of light down among the
forest trees, falling on Pam, lighting her face with an unearthly
brilliance, and turning her fair hair into a mass of gleaming gold. The
horses were startled by the sudden apparition in the track. They stopped
short, tried to rear, and veering round would have bolted but for the
firm hand on the lines and the reassuring shouts of the driver in their
ears.

“Whoa, there! Steady, Tom and Firefly! What possesses you to cut capers
like unbroken colts every time you meet a lady on the trail?”

“A lady, is it? I declare I thought it was a ghost!” cried another
voice. “What eyes you have, Don! You are a perfect bat to see like that
in the dark!”

The singing came to an abrupt end, and a perfect babel of questions
broke out from both wagons.

The driver of the first, a young man with broad shoulders and a
determined manner, jumped down from the high seat and, approaching Pam,
who had retreated to the side of the trail through fear of being run
over, asked her politely:

“What can we do for you? Have you lost your way?”

“Yes,” admitted Pam, and now she was tingling all over with
mortification. “I am going to Ripple, and I am not sure that I am on the
right trail.”

“You are going away from Ripple at this moment, as straight away from it
as possible,” said the young man. Then he asked the question which Pam
had expected would come. “Where have you come from? Excuse my curiosity,
but this trail only leads to Ripple, you see, so it is passing wonderful
that you failed to find it.”

The stupidity of the situation struck Pam then. Oh, what an idiot she
had been! How these people would laugh at her! But it could not be
helped, and so she began by laughing at herself.

“Would you believe it? I was going to Ripple from Hunt’s Crossing, but
the afternoon was hot and I sat down to rest, then went so fast asleep
that when I woke I did not know which was forward and which was back to
the river. I went as I thought forward, then it looked so much like the
trail I had been following before I sat down that I turned round and
took the other way; then it got dark, and I was just beginning to be
frightened nearly out of my senses when along you came, and the sound of
your singing brought my courage back.”

“Poor little girl!” The young man spoke as if she were about ten years
old, and Pam coloured hotly with indignation because he had so little
discernment.

“I am old enough to take care of myself,” she retorted, with quite
crushing dignity.

“I do not doubt it.” He was frankly laughing at her now, but his manner
was so kind that she did not care. Then the people in the second wagon
shouted to know when the first lot were going to get a move on, and the
young man said hurriedly: “We are going to Ripple; won’t you get up in
our wagon and come with us? That is my sister Sophy on the front
seat—Sophy Grierson. I am Don Grierson.”

A tremendous load was lifted from the heart of Pam. She would not have
to walk the dark forest trail alone.

“Thank you, I shall be glad to ride,” she answered, keeping her voice
steady with an effort.

“Up you get, then. Move along a bit farther, will you, Sophy? There will
be room for this young lady between us if I sit a bit on the side. Ah,
steady there! Where have you been raised? It looks as if you don’t know
how to board a wagon.” The young man caught Pam in his arms as she
stumbled in climbing, and his quickness saved her from a nasty fall.

“I can board a motor bus when it is moving, but this is different,” she
said with a gasp when she was fairly settled between Sophy and Don, and
the horses had started forward again. “I come from London, and I have
never been in the country except for a holiday.”

“And then to set out to walk a forest trail for the first time alone,
and to go to sleep on the way! What next, I wonder?” Don flourished his
whip in the air to express all the things he could not put into
language, but the horses took it as a hint to go faster, and they tore
along at such a pace that Pam was breathless and giddy from being shaken
and bumped.

“Old Wrack Peveril will sit up when we come walking in upon him, I
guess,” said a girl with a loud voice who was sitting at the rear of the
wagon.

“He will sit up still more when he sees the supper we have brought him,”
replied Galena Gittins, who was sitting just behind Pam. “Folks say the
old man never has a decent meal, because he is too mean to spend money
on proper food, the wretched old skin-a-flint!”

Pam wrenched herself round with a violence which all but upset Sophy
Grierson, who was rather cramped for room.

“It is not fair to talk like that before me,” she said explosively. “Mr.
Wrack Peveril is my grandfather, and I have come all the way from
England to live with him. I don’t believe he is so mean, but I am afraid
that he is poor, and he sent the money to pay my passage, so perhaps he
has not been able to buy things for himself.”

“Are you Nancy Peveril’s girl?” cried a stout woman who sat on the seat
with Galena Gittins, and as she asked the question she leaned forward
and gripped the shoulder of Pam in the friendliest fashion imaginable.

“I am Pamela Walsh, and my mother was Nancy Peveril before she married
my father,” replied Pam with great dignity, and then her shoulder was
gripped more heartily than before by the excitable stout woman.

“Dear, dear, how time flies! I declare it makes me feel quite old to
think of Nancy having a grown-up daughter. My dear, we are ever so glad
to see you; but I don’t think your mother should have let you come all
this way alone to live with an old man like Wrack Peveril, who won’t
have a woman inside his doors.”

“He won’t be able to help himself to-night!” chuckled the girl with the
loud voice.

Pam caught her breath in a gasp of dismay. Her mother had written to
Ripple to say that Pam was coming instead of Jack, but there had been no
time for an answer to that letter. It was the very first time since she
had left England that a doubt of her welcome assailed her. Now she was
suddenly afraid, and she cowered closer against Sophy Grierson, while
she wondered what sort of a greeting she would get when Ripple was
reached.

“We are going to have a surprise party at your grandfather’s house
to-night,” said Galena Gittins, leaning forward and speaking over the
shoulder of Pam in a very friendly fashion. “We’ve got a jolly good
supper here in the wagons with us, and there is another wagon coming
from over the Ridge. That lot will bring a fiddle and a melodeon with
them, so we shall have some music, and be able to dance all night. I
just love surprise parties, don’t you?”

“I have never been to one,” answered Pam. After a brief hesitation she
asked: “Will Grandfather like a lot of folks coming along unexpected
like this? And to stay all night, too?”

“I guess he won’t!” broke in the stout woman with a jolly, rollicking
laugh. “But, my dear, it is the good of the many that we have to study
in this part of the world; and what would become of the young people if
there was no fun going at all? For myself, I’d nearly as soon stay at
home o’ nights now as go racketing round and losing my night’s rest. But
well I know it is good for the boys and girls to have someone to mother
them a bit at their play, so I don’t shy at a frolic, even though it
takes me a week to get over it.”

“The folks don’t have to suffer when we go round surprising them, Miss
Walsh,” said Don, who had not spoken for some time save to shout at the
horses, the trail at this part being very difficult and dark; tall trees
stood in serried ranks on either side of the way, and the moonlight had
no chance at all. “We always take about twice as many provisions as we
can possibly eat; and if we upset a house a bit, we always put
everything straight before we leave. You should see how glad they are to
have us at some places.”

“I don’t care for a surprise party where the folks like to have us. I
would rather go where we were not wanted,” broke in the girl with the
loud voice, whom the others called Sissy. “What fun we did have that
time we surprised Mose Paget, and he would not get up to let us in until
we threatened to break the door down! Do you remember that night,
Galena? You had that pink blouse on, and Mose was most insulting in what
he said about the way you had dressed up.”

“That is Ripple, Miss Walsh.” The quiet voice of Don broke in upon
Sissy’s loud-toned reminiscences, and Pam gave a start of surprise as
the dim outlines of a big timber house came into view. It stood in a
clearing with a background of lofty trees, and the light of the rising
moon fell full upon the long brown front.

“It looks so different from what I expected, and yet I have known it all
my life,” said Pam eagerly, and she leaned forward to get a better view.
Then she cried out sharply: “But there is no one at home, and it looks
like a dead house. Don’t you think so?”



                               CHAPTER IV


                            What They Found

Don drew his horses up with a jerk and sprang to the ground.

“The other lot from over the Ridge have not got here yet, so we are
first,” he remarked cheerfully, and then he held out his arms to Pam, so
that she might descend with safety. But she drew back with a sudden
shyness.

“You go first, please, and show me the way,” she said to Sophy, who
laughed, and then dropped into the strong arms of her brother, which was
certainly the easiest mode of descent.

“Come, Miss Walsh, I promise not to drop you, and I don’t expect that
you are heavier than Sophy.” Don had turned to the wagon again, and now
Pam had no excuse for holding back; so, dropping as she had seen Sophy
do, she was speedily standing on the ground by her side and looking at
the blank windows of the house that was to be her home. She could not
repress a shiver as she thought how angry her grandfather would probably
be when he found the sort of company in which she had arrived.

“Let us go and knock at the door while the others are unloading,”
suggested Sophy, who seemed to understand Pam’s secret fear, and was
anxious to reassure her.

Pam moved forward on unsteady feet. There was a queer sensation all
about her that she was walking in a dream; nothing seemed real, least of
all the girl with the kindly face and the quiet voice who stood at her
side, gently encouraging and wholly sympathetic. The outlines of the
house were vaguely familiar. Mrs. Walsh had talked so often to her
children of her childhood’s home that Pam would never feel strange at
Ripple; she had known it at second-hand for so long.

“I wish you would knock,” she said in a low voice, shrinking back behind
Sophy as they stood before the heavy door. They were quite alone now,
for all the others were busy about the wagons, taking out the supper
baskets, and talking excitedly about something that was missing.

“What are you afraid of?” asked Sophy, when she had beat upon the door
with her fists and they stood waiting for it to be opened.

Pam shivered, for she was genuinely scared. In the background a dog was
barking in angry protest, but the house itself was absolutely deserted,
to all appearance. She did not answer Sophy, but remembering that she
was in a manner at home, whilst these others were only outsiders, she
laid her hand on the door and tried to open it. Of course it was fast,
and after a little more time spent in knocking at the door she turned to
Sophy, asking: “What will you do? There does not seem to be anyone at
home.”

“The men will find a way to get in, they always do,” replied Sophy
laughing softly. Then she called to her brother: “Don, come here. There
seems to be no one at home. How will you get in?”

“I will go and see if I can find a way. Don’t let the others start
beating the door in until I have tried what I can do,” he said with a
backward wag of his head in the direction of the noisy group by the
wagon, who were still wrangling over the problem of a missing basket.
Then came quite a long wait, or so it seemed to Pam, who was trying to
form little sentences of explanation so that she might appease her
grandfather if he should suddenly arrive upon the scene to demand the
reason of her arrival with such a turbulent company.

“Here comes Don!” cried Sophy, as a step sounded inside the house, and
there was a noise of a bolt being dragged back. “How did you get in?”
she asked, as the heavy door came open, and Don with a lantern in his
hand appeared on the threshold.

“The old fellow went away in a hurry, and forgot to shut the pantry
window,” said Don, laughing as he stood back to let the others enter the
house. Then he held the lantern high above his head to show them the
way.

Pam went in first. A sudden sense of proprietorship had come to her; it
was as if this were her own house and all that turbulent company outside
were her guests. They might not be quite all that she would wish them to
be, but she would make the best of them. There was a lamp standing on a
small table near the stove, and she turned at once to light it.

“Don’t you think we ought to go over the house to see if he is at home?”
she asked. “He might be ill, you see. I am sure we ought to do that
first, before the others come in.”

“So am I,” Sophy agreed quickly. “Don, do you light the fire in the
stove while we are gone; there are kindlings lying in that corner. Come
along, Miss Walsh; the others will be here directly, so we must make
haste!”

Sophy had taken the lantern from Don, and she handed it to Pam,
instinctively taking her place in the rear, for this girl who was a
stranger in a strange country moved with the assured air of one who was
at home.

Pam held the lantern high, looking about her with absorbed interest.
This was the living-room, and the outer door opened right into it, and
that door in the corner would lead into the kitchen. She knew it well,
for her mother had shown Jack how to draw a plan of the house. The door
on the other side led to a sitting-room, the best room, which was only
used on state occasions; a dreary place, so her mother had said. Beyond
it was the bedroom where her grandfather slept, the very room in which
her mother had been born. That was where she expected to find her
grandfather if he was in the house. The best room had an unwholesome
smell, as of a place never used and never aired. There was no carpet on
the floor, but there was a couch, a cabinet, some chairs, and a table.
Even in walking across the room with the lantern in her hand, Pam
noticed that the stove was red with rust, and she wondered if there had
been a fire there in all the years since her mother had run away from
home to get married.

At the inner door she paused and knocked; then, as there was no reply,
and the door stood ajar, she pushed it open and went in. It was a wide
chamber, like the others, and being a corner room it had windows on two
sides. It was even more airless and stuffy than the sitting-room. A heap
of rugs and a mattress on the bed were a sign that someone slept there,
while there was a heap of ashes before the stove which showed that,
early in the autumn as it was, the old man had begun having a fire at
nights. He was not there. Pam made quite sure of that, even pausing to
lift the heap of tumbled rugs on the bed as if she expected to find him
tucked away underneath. Sophy came to help her, and they peered under
the bed, and in the old press which stood in the corner.

“He is not here, we must go upstairs,” said Pam, who was breathing hard,
as if she had been running.

“Is there any upstairs to the house?” asked the other. She had not
observed the outlines of the house particularly when they arrived, and
it was the first time she had ever been to Ripple.

“Yes, there are three rooms,” Pam replied, and turning, she led the way
back across the dreary sitting-room, and out to the living-room, where
by this time Don had a fire roaring in the stove. Galena Gittins, the
woman named Sissy, and one or two others were busy bringing in the
supper baskets, but she took no notice of them. Crossing the floor, she
went out by the door on the other side of the stove to the wide kitchen,
or out-place, whence a narrow wooden stair led to the three bedrooms in
the roof. These also were wide chambers, but only one of them had any
furniture. This had been her mother’s old bedroom, as Pam recognized at
the very first glance. There was a big press of red pine, which smelled
like cedar, and was just as good at keeping away moths. There was the
little bed with the carved head-board, the work of her
great-grandfather, and the table that her great-uncle Zach had carved.
There were even some old garments hanging on pegs behind the door, and
she wondered if they had hung there ever since her mother went away.
What a Rip-van-Winkle kind of business it was! Perhaps the room had
hardly been entered for twenty years; it smelled stuffy enough.

“There is no one here,” said Sophy softly. She stood just behind Pam and
looked about her in wonder. She did not understand how it was that this
stranger from across the sea was so at home in this deserted house.

“No, he is not here,” said Pam. “He is not in the house, unless he is in
the cellar. We ought to look there at once, before that lot downstairs
start making a noise. Oh, pardon me, I forgot they are your friends, and
of course they mean well.”

Sophy made a wry face, for the unconscious reproach in the voice of Pam
made her wince.

“Yes, they—we mean all right,” she answered. She hesitated a moment,
and then burst out: “It would have been rather horrid for you if you had
come straight here, and found no one at all.”

“Indeed it would, and I am properly grateful down underneath,” replied
Pam, and then she led the way towards the cellar, while Sophy followed
behind. The cellar stretched right under the whole length of the house,
as is common in New Brunswick, the severity of the winters making it
essential to have a good storage that frost cannot touch.

But downstairs the merry crowd had been augmented by the other wagonload
of people from over the Ridge; these were all presented to Pam in due
course, and she found herself thrust, whether she would or no, into the
position of hostess. It was in her to rise to the occasion, and she did
it right royally, only there was all the time that feeling in her heart
that she must search in the cellar before she allowed herself to be
drawn into any merry-making. She slipped away with Sophy while the
others were all busy trying to make the supper-table bigger by the
addition of boards laid across the backs of chairs, and holding her
lantern high above her head, she went carefully down the ladder-like
stairs, while Sophy came close behind.

“Take care, there should be a very bad place about half-way down,” said
Pam, who was breathing in little gasps again, for she was tremendously
excited. “Ah, here it is! Mother has told me that she sprained her ankle
over that step at three different times. Don’t you wonder what some
people are made of, to leave necessary things neglected for so long?”

Sophy stumbled, nearly fell, and recovered herself with an effort; and
steadying herself with a hand on Pam’s shoulder she answered with a
laugh:

“Wait until you have lived at Ripple for a year before you pass
judgment. Our summers are a fierce rush to do the things that must be
done, and in the winter we are more or less torpid.”

“I shall not be torpid,” cried Pam in merry defiance. Then she paused
and cried out in rapturous delight, as, reaching the bottom step, she
came in sight of shelves piled with apples—bushels and bushels of them,
some quite enormous in size, some so rosy and tempting to look at that
she wanted to stretch out her hand and start eating then and there.
Others were green and hard, as if they would not be mellow enough to eat
for months to come. “What can my grandfather do with so much fruit?” she
asked in surprise, as the flashing light of her lantern showed shelf
after shelf piled with apples, while of pumpkins, squashes, and the
harder sort of melons there was a goodly array.

“One needs a good lot of provisions to face a winter that is seven
months long,” replied Sophy, who was also peering about with great
interest, for she was of a housewifely turn. “But really, for an old man
living alone, your grandfather has stored a considerable lot of apples.
I suppose he has not lifted his potatoes yet, or we should smell them.”

“The potatoes always went into the inner cellar, so Mother said. Here
they are, and what a lot! I shall live on roasted apples and potatoes
this winter, I think. They will be easy to cook, and that will give me
time for other things. Do you think I ought to take some of these apples
up for the surprise party, or would Grandfather object to my making free
with his property?”

“We have brought apples in plenty,” said Sophy. “If you are asked out to
a surprise party yourself this fall (autumn), you might bring along some
of those yellow ones over there; I don’t think there is another tree of
that variety in the district. Mother has sent over here to buy some
every winter since I can remember, and ever so many folks have asked to
have scions from the tree, but Mr. Peveril would neither give nor sell
them.”

“Poor Grandfather; I am afraid he is rather disobliging sometimes!” Pam
murmured with wistful regret in her tone.

When they had thoroughly inspected the cellar, as they had done the rest
of the house, they went back to the living-room, where the fun was now
uproarious. The young men were making coffee, while the girls set the
table, and the older women unpacked the food. There were even one or two
middle-aged men, but Pam noticed that these withdrew into a corner,
where they sat talking, quite heedless of the confusion all around them.
They were much too tired to care for anything in the way of festivity
which entailed any labour, but a chance to exchange opinions with a
neighbour, and to hear a little gossip, was inducement sufficient to
bring them long distances, and make them willing to be all night out of
bed.

Old Wrack Peveril’s supply of lamps was limited, but the resourceful
surprise party had succeeded in getting a fine illumination
notwithstanding. A generous supply of pine knots had been brought along
in a basket, and these, tossed on the fire a few at a time, lighted the
big room with a vivid, flashing glare. There were also several lanterns,
and these were hung in the outer kitchen, in the dreary best
sitting-room, and even in the old man’s bedroom. This surprise party was
not going to do things by halves, and they wanted room in which to
spread themselves. A supply of candles eked out the lanterns, but these,
being home-made, were not very brilliant, and they guttered fearfully in
the liberal draughts.

Pam was not allowed to lift a finger to do anything. She was of the
family, they told her, even though she had arrived with the company.
Failing her grandfather, she was hostess. Entering into the spirit of
the thing, some of the girls rushed out of doors and gathered great
boughs of foliage by moonlight; these they wreathed in the back of a
ponderous arm-chair, and dragging it to the head of the supper-table,
installed Pam there in regal state.

“Oh, I cannot take the head of the table; it is not my house!” she
cried. “My grandfather might be angry with me if he came back and found
that I was taking his place in such a fashion, and it would be dreadful
to start with him in that way.”

“I don’t fancy he will be back before to-morrow,” said Mrs. Morse, the
stout woman who had known Pam’s mother. “It is awkward travelling the
forest trails at night, and the moon will soon be down. We mostly stay
where sundown finds us, and let travelling wait until daylight comes
again. That is what your grandfather is going to do, I expect, so you
might as well get all the fun you can. We are only young once, and there
is no sense in being dismal when you can have the time of your life.”

“If the old man happens along we will square him somehow, Miss Walsh,
don’t you be afraid,” put in Don Grierson, who, having undertaken the
work of head coffee-maker, was busy at the stove.

Pam yielded then, and really it would have been silly to protest. She
was excited, too, and the whole affair had taken on the character of an
adventure. She permitted herself to be placed in the great chair, she
let the girls take her hat off and twine a wreath of yellow maple leaves
for her hair, and she sat at the head of the long table, a veritable
queen of the ceremonies. Her face was flushed, her eyes were shining,
and she entered into the fun with an abandon that surprised even
herself.

The supper was very good, and she was so hungry that she could have
devoured almost anything. Never, never had she tasted such chicken pie,
or such delicious cake. They had given her an earthenware plate—cracked
it is true, and browned with having been put in the oven, but it was a
plate—and as there were only about three others this was a distinction
indeed. Mrs. Morse, sitting at her side, was placidly eating from an old
baking-tin, while Galena Gittins, farther down the table, had a saucepan
lid by way of plate. These small drawbacks did but add to the fun,
however, and gales of laughter resounded through the wide room, which
must have been silent for so many years.

Suddenly Pam felt something pressing against her, and looking down she
saw the shaggy head of a big dog pressed against her knee, while two
wistful eyes looked into hers, and an eager tail thumped the floor.

“A dog, and such a dear! Where did it come from?” she asked, stooping to
pat the shaggy head, and then sharing a liberal bit of pie with the
hungry animal.

“It is old Wrack’s dog, and was going to eat us all when we took our
horses into the barn; but a mouthful of food soon brought it to a better
frame of mind,” said a young man, edging a little nearer for a chance of
talking to Pam. She was having a triumph in a small way, and the
surprise party were feeling that they themselves had had a very charming
surprise at Ripple that night, for it is always the unexpected that
appeals to people.

“If it is Grandfather’s dog, then it belongs to me in a way, and we must
be friends, of course.” Pam stooped over the animal again, feeding it
with morsels from her plate, and doing her very best to win the
creature’s liking. Perhaps if the dog loved her, the old man would also
find it easy to care for her. That was how she argued the matter to
herself, as she sat at the head of the table playing hostess in a house
she had never before entered, to a company of people she had never
before seen.

“Funny the old man did not take his dog along with him where he has
gone. Folks say that he is never seen without the beast,” remarked the
young man who had just been talking to Pam, and for want of some one
better he addressed his remark to Mrs. Morse.

“The old man knew his own business best, I guess,” rejoined the stout
woman tartly. “It is likely he left the critter here to guard the place
a bit. But it does seem a bit strange to me that the old fellow should
have gone out for the night, and he expecting his granddaughter at any
time, as you might say. Now you suppose what the situation would have
been for that poor girl, if we had not taken it into our heads to
surprise old Wrack to-night! I declare it fairly makes my flesh creep to
think about it.”

“Then don’t think about it, Mrs. Morse,” said Pam, who had overheard the
remark. “Grandfather would not have meant to treat me badly, I am sure;
perhaps he has even gone some part of the way to meet me, and by ill
fortune we missed each other.”

The company looked at each other, as much as to say that was about the
most unlikely thing to have happened, but no one ventured to say so.
There was not one present in the room who would have said or done
anything to sadden Pam or put any foreboding as to her future into her
heart. When supper was over, the food remaining—a goodly pile—was
carefully stacked out of the way, the table was dragged to one side of
the room, and then the fun began. One of the party had brought a fiddle,
and one had a melodeon, and with these for orchestra, dancing went on
with great spirit. Sir Roger de Coverley was first favourite, and they
danced it over and over again until they were fairly tired out, and
subsided on to chairs and forms to play General Post. This entailed so
many forfeits, and so much hilarity in the paying of them, that midnight
was long past before anyone even thought of wanting any fresh amusement.
Singing was called for then, and chorus after chorus rang round the
heavy timbers of the ceiling. Pam noticed that it was all sacred music,
chorales, anthems, and sonorous fugues which had been learned at church,
and which matched with the sombre grandeur of the leagues on leagues of
forest surrounding Ripple on every side.

“Won’t you sing something?” Sophy asked, coming over to Pam, whose face
was wearing a rather awed expression.

“I can’t sing—not by myself, I mean. I am not accomplished really,
though I can play the piano enough to teach young children,” Pam
answered, thinking of the governess life which she had left so far
behind.

“Ah, the piano is rather out of it here. The useful instrument is one
that can be carried about, like the violin or the melodeon,” Sophy said.
She went on to tell Pam that so far as she knew there was only one piano
in the township, and that was broken.

“I shall learn to play the jews’ harp; I am sure that I could manage it,
for I could perform quite creditably with a comb and a piece of paper.”
Pam laughed at her own small wit, then suddenly grew serious, for the
night was wearing, and with the first streaks of dawn to light the
forest trails these lively people would be gone, and she would be left
alone to face whatever might come.

“Could you stay with me, just until my grandfather comes back? Would it
be asking too much?” There was such a wistful look in the eyes she
turned to Sophy as betrayed the heart-shrinking that was behind.

“I think so, but I will ask Don what he thinks. Mother is not very
strong, but I know she will do her best to let me help you,” Sophy said.
She made her way across to Don, who was just going to start making
coffee again: a minute of consultation and she was back by the side of
Pam. “Don says he is sure that I ought to stay, and that he will drive
over for me this afternoon, unless Father happens to have a round in
this direction. Father is the township doctor, you know, so he is all
over the place, and we never know where he will have to go next. If I
stay here with you we will do the clearing up after the company are
gone. That will please them all, because, you see, it is proper for them
to do it.”



                               CHAPTER V


                              The Next Day

Dawn was only faintly creeping up through the avenues of the forest when
the last wagon, filled with tired merrymakers, drove away from Ripple.
The silence which dropped when they had gone was so appalling that Pam
turned to Sophy with actual consternation in her eyes.

“Is it always as deadly quiet as this?” she asked, and now it was hard
work to keep her voice from quavering. She did not realize that she was
worn out with all the excitement she had gone through.

“You don’t think of the quiet when you are used to it,” Sophy answered.
“At least, I never think about it; but of course our house is not so
remote as this. The fact is, you are so tired that you can hardly stand
on your two feet. Suppose you lie down for a little rest before your
grandfather comes back, and I will do the clearing up.”

“As if I should even dream of letting you work while I take my ease!”
cried Pam in a shocked tone. “I am quite sure that you must be as tired
as I am, only you are made of better stuff and will not cry out about
it. Let us do what is necessary as quickly as we can, then we will just
lie down and sleep the worst of it off. I wonder when Grandfather will
come back, and what he will say when he finds that I have come?”

“He ought to say how sorry he is that he was not here to give you a
welcome,” replied Sophy, as she moved to and fro straightening the
furniture, picking up bits of paper, and restoring the room to the
condition in which they had found it. The house door stood wide open,
and presently they heard the sound of a cow mooing in the barn.

“There are the animals to be fed, and if you are a London girl you will
not know much about milking.” Sophy had paused in her work of clearing
and was standing still with a frown on her face. She did not know very
much about it herself, for in the doctor’s household there were always
men or boys to do that sort of work. But she was going to help Pam all
she could, and if it entailed milking a cow, well, she did not intend to
be beaten at the business. She had seen cows milked often enough, the
operation looked fairly easy, and she was not afraid of the animals.

“I know that milk comes from cows—and coconuts, and that is about all,”
said Pam, shrugging her shoulders as she realized the extent of her
ignorance.

“Come and have your first lesson in milking, then.” Sophy caught up the
cleanest bucket she could find, and tied a towel over her best frock.
“We may have to feed pigs if there are any in the barn. If I had thought
about the live stock I should certainly have asked one of the menfolks
to stay and see us through with the morning chores. As it is, we must
just do the best we can until your grandfather comes home again.”

“You never know what you can do until you try,” exclaimed Pam, as she,
too, tied a towel over her frock in imitation of Sophy. The two stepped
out into the keen, crisp air of the morning, and went across grass which
sparkled with frost to the barn. They were closely followed by the dog.
The creature had apparently decided that Pam was one of the family, and
meant to treat her accordingly.

There were pigs and poultry to be fed, there was a cow to be milked and
turned into a little paddock, which sloped like a wedge into the forest.
There were half a score of sheep in the paddock also, but Sophy said
these would not need feeding, as they were quite able to get their own
living. When the “chores” were all done Pam went back to the house
feeling as if her education had taken great strides since the previous
day, and she envied the ease with which Sophy tackled all the mysteries
of milking and feeding.

The two were just deciding that, now the “chores” were done, they were
free to lie down and take a rest, when from the open door they caught
the sounds of horses approaching. A moment later two men in police
uniform rode up to the front of the house and dismounted.

“The police!” cried Sophy, and her face went as white as her blouse.
“Courage, Pam! I am afraid something must have happened to your
grandfather.”

Pam caught her breath in a little sobbing gasp, and clung to Sophy as
the men rode up and dismounted before the door of the house.

“Is Mr. Peveril at home?” demanded the elder of the two, and at the
question Pam’s courage instantly rose, for of course if the old man had
been found injured or dead the police would not ask if he were at home.

Putting Sophy gently in the background Pam came forward, flushing a
little as she looked into the strong, weather-beaten face of the
policeman. Her voice was quite steady as she answered:

“My grandfather is not at home just now, and we do not know when he will
be back, but we are expecting him at any minute.”

“Is Mr. Peveril your grandfather? I did not know he had any relatives,”
said the officer, and Pam noticed with exceeding dismay that he looked
as if he were sorry for her.

“Mr. Peveril has a daughter, my mother, who lives in England, and I have
come from there to live with Grandfather and take care of him,” she
said. Now there was defiance in her tone, for she was telling herself
that she did not want this man’s pity. Why should people pity her for
coming to live with her grandfather? It was horrid! Moreover, it was a
slur on his character, and because blood is thicker than water every
instinct of affection and defence of which Pam was capable rallied to
champion the old man.

The officer nodded. “What time did Mr. Peveril leave here yesterday?” he
asked. Then, suddenly recognizing Sophy, who had remained in the
background where Pam had thrust her, he said: “Good morning, Miss
Grierson; I am afraid we worked the Doctor rather hard last night.”

“Was Father called out last night?” cried Sophy in dismay. “Oh, I am
sorry for Mother, for Don and I were both away. I do hate for her to be
left alone like that. What time was Father called?”

“Between seven and eight o’clock. He was called to attend Sam Buckle,
whose wife had found him lying near the fence that divides his
quarter-section from Ripple. He was most fearfully battered, but just
alive. I fear there is not much hope of his recovery, he is so badly
knocked about.”

“Oh dear, oh dear, how truly dreadful!” gasped Sophy, and Pam, whose
senses were by this time quite abnormally acute, noticed that she turned
a glance full of pity upon herself.

“What time did Mr. Peveril leave here yesterday?” demanded the officer,
turning to Pam once more, and now his voice had a more peremptory ring.

“I do not know; he was not here when we came last night,” she faltered.
A chill dismay was creeping over her, and she was wondering why Sophy
looked so distressed, and why she had so carefully averted her face.

“What time did you come?” asked the officer sharply.

This time it was Sophy who answered.

“It must have been about half an hour, perhaps three-quarters, after
sundown. We came for a surprise party. We were in two wagons coming
along the trail when we met Miss Walsh, who in walking here from Hunt’s
Crossing had lost her way. We took her into our wagon and brought her
along with us. We found the house deserted, and stayed all night
enjoying ourselves. When the others went at dawn I remained with Miss
Walsh, who is a stranger and a city girl, so she would have been hard
put to it alone. That is all we know.”

“Can you remain here with Miss Walsh still, Miss Grierson? I will tell
your father you are here.”

“Oh, yes, I will stay, of course. I could not leave Miss Walsh alone at
such a time!” exclaimed Sophy, and there was such a thrill in her tone
that Pam’s face blanched with a sudden terror. What was the hidden
meaning of this compassion, and what had Sam Buckle’s accident to do
with her or her grandfather? But she could not ask the officer. Indeed,
she had no chance. Staying only to give a few instructions to Sophy, and
saying that he would probably look round that way later in the day, the
officer rode away accompanied by his companion, and the silence settled
down again.

All desire to sleep seemed to have vanished from both girls. Directly
they were alone, Pam turned to Sophy.

“Why did that man seem to pity me so much? Why should he come here to
know where Grandfather is?” she demanded.

Sophy put her hand up in protest.

“It may be nothing, of course; but when such things happen people always
jump to conclusions. Your grandfather and Sam Buckle have quarrelled
about that fence ever since I was a small girl; as often as Sam has put
it up your grandfather has broken it down. Maybe Sam had been putting
the fence up before he was found so badly hurt.”

A long moment of silence passed. Pam was staring at Sophy with dilated
eyes, and such a feeling of terror in her heart as she had never
experienced before. Then finally she found her tongue.

“Do you mean to tell me,” she asked, “that you think Grandfather injured
that poor man so dreadfully?”

Sophy put her arms about Pam in protecting wise, and her voice was kind
and soothing when she spoke.

“Dear,” she said, “Mr. Peveril was very likely nowhere near the place
where Sam Buckle was found, and when he comes back he will be able to
tell people where he has been; but until then you have this hard thing
to bear, and you will have to be as brave as ever you can.”

“Suppose he never does come back?” Pam shuddered violently, and then hid
her face in her hands, feeling that the trouble was really more than she
could bear.

“He will surely come back unless something has happened to him,” said
Sophy soothingly; then she bent over Pam’s bowed head and comforted her
as best she could. She succeeded so well that presently Pam suffered
herself to be persuaded into lying down. She promptly fell asleep then,
and lay wrapped in profound slumber while the hours of the hot, sunny
noon came and passed. Sophy slept too, but fitfully; there was a sense
of responsibility on her that kept her wakeful and alert. The house door
was open, and the big dog slumbered on the threshold. The creature
seemed to share Sophy’s wakefulness, for it kept lifting an uneasy head.
Once or twice it growled, although apparently there was nothing anywhere
near to growl at, except the chipmunks darting to and fro, busy in the
collection of their winter store of nuts.

Then far away along the trail from the westward came the faint beat of a
horse’s hoofs. Immediately the dog rose to its feet and stood growling,
while Sophy, who had been drifting into deeper slumber, also rose and
rubbed her eyes to get the sleepiness out of them.

“Pam,” she called softly, “Pam, dear, there is someone coming; you had
better wake up.”

But Pam was so sound asleep that it was hard work to rouse her. The
horseman was very near, indeed, before she had come to a real
understanding of what Sophy was saying. Then she stood for some seconds
swaying to and fro, more asleep than awake.

“There is water in the out-kitchen. Run, dip your face in the bucket,
you will feel better then!” urged Sophy, and Pam moved slowly away,
found the bucket of water and a coarse towel, dipped her face, and,
rubbing it vigorously, at once began to feel better. “Why, it is
Father!” Sophy fairly shouted with delight as a grey-haired man mounted
on a powerful black horse rode into view and lifted his whip in
salutation. He rode up to the doorstep, slid from his horse, and Sophy
rushed into his arms.

“The police told me that I should find you here, so I rode round this
way,” said Dr. Grierson, as he held his daughter with one hand and
lifted his hat to Pam with the other. “Is this Miss Walsh, of whom I
have been hearing? I am very pleased to meet you, but I am real sorry
that you should have been pitchforked, as it were, into such a peck of
trouble, my dear. I have heard of your mother very often. Quite the
belle of these parts she was, I should imagine, but more than a bit
headstrong. Do you take after her?”

“I don’t know,” answered Pam, a little dubiously, for she thought the
Doctor was making fun of her. “I am not so wise as my mother, and I am
always getting into muddles.”

“So did she, according to all accounts, so doubtless you are a chip off
the old block,” he said with a laugh; then he asked if Wrack Peveril had
come back.

“No; we have seen nothing of him,” Pam replied; and Sophy immediately
asked how Sam Buckle was.

“He is very bad indeed.” The Doctor’s tone was curt, a sure sign, as
Sophy knew, that there was not much hope. The Doctor simply hated having
his patients die, and he always behaved as if it were a personal affront
when they showed signs of slipping out of life.

“Has he said anything about—about who hurt him?” asked Pam. She was
determined to know all there was to be known, and she feared they would
hide things from her unless she asked right out.

“He has not said much of anything that we can understand except to
mutter over and over again that ‘it is his right, it is his right’,”
said the Doctor; and Pam suddenly felt a great sinking of heart, for why
should the injured man say words like those unless he were living over
again the quarrel with his neighbour?

“He is such a fearfully disagreeable man!” exclaimed Sophy, as if she
read the thought in the heart of Pam, and would give her comfort if she
could. “I never knew anyone yet who really liked Mr. Buckle; even his
own wife admits that he is a dreadfully hard man to live with. Father,
you will never get your money for attending him; he will say that he did
not call you himself, and so there is no obligation to pay you. That was
how he served you the time the tree fell on him and nearly killed him;
don’t you remember it?”

“Some people are made that way,” said the Doctor. “But I guess that I
shall be no poorer in the long run for doing my duty by my fellow
creatures. Would you two like Don to come and stay the night here with
you? It is a lonesome place for two girls.”

“We shall not mind, I think,” put in Sophy hastily. She was thinking of
her mother, and how Mrs. Grierson hated to be left at home at night with
the younger children only.

“Oh, no, we shall not mind!” cried Pam, who understood perfectly the
reason why Sophy did not want Don to come. She, for her own part, was
anxious to get used to being alone at Ripple. If her grandfather failed
to come back, she would have to do as best she could until her family
came out from England to live with her, so it was just as well to get
used to things. “We have the dog, and there are two guns in the
sitting-room; that is one each, and I don’t think we need more than
that.”

“If you take my advice you will leave the guns severely alone,” broke in
the Doctor hastily. “There is nothing so dangerous as fire-arms in the
hands of people who know nothing about them. We don’t want any more
tragedies in the neighbourhood just now.”

“Keep your mind easy, Dad,” said Sophy with a laugh. “The guns are here
right enough, but so far as I have been able to find there is not a dust
of powder or any shot on the place.”

“Hush, don’t talk of it!” cried Pam, holding up her finger in warning.
“All the time no one knows that we have no ammunition the guns will
serve their purpose. If we pointed the things full at any intruder he
would be properly scared, of course, and we should be in no danger, so
it would be quite right.”

“You will do!” said the Doctor heartily, patting Pam on the shoulder as
if she were a little schoolgirl. “Now I must go, but I will look along
to-morrow and let you know how Sam Buckle is getting on. Have you got
enough clothes, Sophy, or would you like Don to bring some over for you
this evening?”

“I have nothing but what I have on, and this is my best frock,” she
answered in a rueful tone, for her best frocks had to last a long time,
and this was only about the third time of wearing that one. “I would
spend the time I am here in helping Pam to clean this house down—very
needful work, too—but what can one do in a best frock?”

“I will ask your mother to put some things in a bag for you, then Don
shall ride over with them,” said the Doctor, who was in a hurry to mount
and ride away, for he was needed in another direction.

“Sophy, I am haunted by the thought that poor Grandfather may have met
with an accident somewhere out in the woods or the fields,” said Pam
when the last echoes of the Doctor’s horse had died away. “Could we not
go and look to see if we can find him?”

“We might, but it would be awkward if he came back while we were away,”
answered Sophy.

“We will leave a paper here on the table to say that we have gone to
look for him, and we can shut the dog indoors to take care of the
place.” Pam had rummaged a pencil and a piece of paper from her bag, and
writing her message, she left it lying in a prominent place on the
table, with a blue mug standing on the edge of the paper to keep it from
being blown away by any draught from the door. The dog was coaxed in and
left to guard the place, and then the two set forth on their quest.

Sophy had never been at Ripple before. Pam also was a stranger in a
sense, and yet she knew so much more of the place from hearsay as to
seem quite at home.

“We will go right round the cleared land first,” she said to Sophy, who
had naturally fallen into the second place and was following Pam’s lead.

“There does not seem to be much cleared land,” Sophy remarked, gazing
round at the crowding forest trees. Here and there a little field had
been made, but even in these great stumps were still standing.

“We will go round all the fields first, and then we will search in the
forest.” A little sob came up in Pam’s throat as she added: “I must find
him somehow, the poor lonely old man!”



                               CHAPTER VI


                           Where has He Gone?

It was quite late in the afternoon when the two girls reached the house
again. They were both of them tired out, for the day was fiercely hot.
They had come upon no trace of the old man, but of one thing they had
made quite certain: he was not lying in a dying or dead condition in any
of his fields, which was, as Pam said, a comfort of a sort.

They heard the dog barking wildly as they reached the house, and a man
was turning away from the door as if he had been trying to get admission
and had failed.

“Who is that?” cried Pam. At the first sight of the man she had jumped
to the conclusion that it was her grandfather, but a second glance had
shown her that this man was young, or comparatively young.

“It is Mose Paget,” Sophy whispered hurriedly, and there was so much
disapproval in her tone that Pam gathered the arrival was something of a
detrimental. And indeed he looked it, from the torn brim of his
weather-beaten hat to the burst boots on his feet.

“Good afternoon!” said Pam politely. She would have supposed the man to
be a tramp, only her companion knew his name, and so far as she knew
tramps had no names, or if they had no one knew them. To her surprise
the man swept off his ragged hat with a flourish, and he spoke like an
educated man when he returned her greeting, and asked if Mr. Wrack
Peveril was at home.

Pam’s face clouded. She had hoped that the man had come to give her news
of her grandfather, and here he was asking where he was, just like all
the other folks! She would have poured out the story of their long
search that afternoon, only Sophy’s hand dropped with a warning touch on
her arm, and instead of being confidential she merely said:

“I do not think that he has come back yet. If you will wait a moment I
will go into the house and see.”

The man nodded, then leaned against the fence very much at his ease,
while Pam, with Sophy at her side, walked to the door of the house and
opened it. With a howl of rage the dog burst out, but seeing it was the
two girls who were there the creature at once mended its manners, the
growls died in its throat, and it came to fawn upon them with every
appearance of joyfulness. Then, catching sight of the shabby figure
leaning on the fence, it began growling again, and would have dashed
away to do the man a serious injury, only Pam caught it round its neck
and held it fast.

One glance into the room showed her that it was just as they had left
it. The paper still lay on the table. No one had been there, and the old
man had not returned.

“My grandfather has not come home yet. Is there any message you would
like to leave for him?” she asked, raising her voice a little so that it
might reach the man who leaned against the fence. The dog still
struggled in her grasp, being plainly anxious to rend the man if only it
could reach him.

“Well, no, I can’t say that I have,” he answered. As he spoke he drew
himself erect from his leaning posture, and there was so much relief in
his face that both girls noticed it and wondered. “Perhaps I shall meet
him at The Corner in a day or two, or I may be round this way again
soon. It ain’t no sort of consequence. Good afternoon!”

“Didn’t you think he seemed very glad to find that Grandfather was not
at home?” said Pam, turning to Sophy as the retreating figure of Mose
Paget was hid by the winding of the trail. She was still gripping the
dog, and that sagacious beast was being nearly choked with its own
growls. Plainly the man did not appeal to the dog, or perhaps the wise
animal had some past grudge against him.

“Yes, I think that his wanting to see Mr. Peveril was only an excuse. It
was a good thing we left the dog shut in the house, or we might have
found the place had been ransacked while we were away. Mose Paget has
not much of a reputation, though folks do say he is very kind to his
half-brother, Reggie Furness.”

“A man would have to be very bad indeed if he had no good points,”
remarked Pam, as the two turned into the house. Then she asked: “Do you
suppose that there would be anything here worth stealing?”

“Not by the look of the place,” said Sophy, gazing round the wide, bare
room. The solid furniture was mostly home-made, very clumsy, and only
worth firewood price, which in that part of the world would not be worth
consideration. Of household plenishing of the more movable sort, such as
plate, glass, and cutlery, there was almost nothing; in fact, it was the
most hopeless wilderness, from the point of view of a burglar, that
could be imagined. “But Mose Paget might have heard that your
grandfather was not at home, and so just happened round to see if there
were any money to be picked up. When a man lives in the fashion Mr.
Peveril has done people are apt to think that there must be money hidden
somewhere close at hand, and to be had for the finding; and it is these
people who find it almost impossible to believe that it is poverty and
not miserliness which accounts for the barren look of things.”

Pam nodded, and was conscious of some secret sinking of heart. Sophy had
spoken of the old man’s poverty by way of reassuring Pam, who might have
been afraid to be compelled to guard the secret hoards of a miser.
Besides, everyone believed that Wrack Peveril was very poor, and even in
the wilderness people can make a very fair guess at the business of
their neighbours. If Pam’s grandfather were so poor, it would be madly
impracticable for her mother to give up the London boarding-house and
come to the old home in New Brunswick. But Pam was longing for her
family, and feeling that she could never be really happy while the wide
Atlantic rolled between herself and them.

The two girls did the evening “chores” between them, only to-night it
was Pam who sat on the stool and milked the cow under the able tuition
of Sophy, whose best frock was still the barrier to happiness in work.
Pam had to learn, however, and there was no time like the present, for
without doubt Sophy was a more patient teacher than the old man would be
when he came back; and Pam made up her mind to imbibe as much
information as was possible in the time. The pigs and the poultry had
fed themselves with the harvest of field and forest, but they had to be
shut up because of the nocturnal marauders, to whom a chicken, or even a
small porker, would not come amiss.

“We are all farmers more or less,” exclaimed Sophy, when Pam openly
wondered at her cleverness and the extent of her knowledge. “That is to
say, there is land under cultivation round most of the houses; and so we
all grow our own milk and butter, and rear our own pigs and poultry.”

“I feel so dreadfully ignorant now that I am here, for the sort of
knowledge I possess seems of no use at all,” said Pam, who had even to
be instructed in the art of lighting a fire with a back stick.[1] She
had never seen a cooking-stove of such a pattern before, and she would
have been very much at a loss in her new surroundings had it not been
for Sophy.

“You will soon pick up the ways of daily living that are most suited to
this part of the world,” Sophy said in a comforting tone. Then the two
proceeded to set supper. The food left over from the surprise party
would keep them supplied with provisions for several days to come, which
was just as well, for a house more bare of things to eat it would be
hard to imagine. There was no tea, no coffee, only a little dust of
sugar screwed up in a grimy paper bag, and a little meal in a tub. Pam
was ready to cry, thinking that her grandfather must have been on the
brink of starvation. Sophy reminded her of the cow, and pointed out
that, supposing he lived on new milk, with meal porridge, he would be
even better nourished than people who had tea, coffee, and all sorts of
groceries.

“Poor old man!” wailed Pam, as she inspected that bare house, “I feel as
if I could nearly break my heart over him. But if he comes back, and is
fearfully hard to live with, then I shall feel like breaking it from
another standpoint altogether.”

“Just so; and neither way will do any good, so it is much better to keep
cheerful,” said Sophy, who was of a very literal turn of mind. “Here
comes Don with some garments for me. Shall we ask him to stay for
supper, or do you think your grandfather would object?”

“Time enough to think about that when the dear old man shows up;
meanwhile we could not be so inhuman as to let anyone go away unfed.
Bring your brother in, and we will feed him on chicken pie and spiced
cake. What a good thing it is for me that the surprise party had such
liberal ideas with regard to food!” Pam whisked round to find another
plate as she spoke, but she left Sophy to go and invite the visitor in
to supper.

Don was looking very serious. He muttered to Sophy in that moment of
meeting that it was to be hoped old Wrack Peveril would not turn up in
the township just now, for the people were ready to rise and slay him,
because of the manner in which Sam Buckle had been knocked about.

“But they are not sure, are they, that Mr. Peveril did it?” gasped
Sophy, with a quick backward glance to make certain that Pam was nowhere
within earshot.

Don shrugged his broad shoulders.

“Who else was there to do it? The two were known to be at enmity. Sam
Buckle keeps muttering that it was his right, and everyone knows he
always declared it was his right to put a fence just there.”

“Sam Buckle is such a disagreeable old man that I cannot feel he is
worth much pity,” remarked Sophy with a scornful tilt of her nose, as
she laid her hand on the bag of clothes which her brother had brought
for her.

“I don’t feel any for him,” said Don quickly, “nor for old Wrack either;
the pair are about as amiable as a couple of old bull moose, and there
is nothing for it but to let them fight to a finish, that I can see. The
one that I am sorry for is that nice little girl in yonder, and whatever
her mother could have been thinking about to let her come so far with no
one to take care of her is more than I can imagine.”

“Oh, Pam can take care of herself, don’t you fret! She might be a
Canadian by the way she takes hold of life, and she does not seem to be
afraid of anything except the old mother-pig, and anyone might be
forgiven for being a bit scared at facing her, she looks so very
fierce.” Sophy was leading the way into the house as she spoke, and
looking back over her shoulder at her brother. She did not remember
having seen Don look so grave before, but she decided that gravity
certainly became him, for it gave him a dignity which was quite new to
him.

They were very merry at supper that night, despite the cloud which
overhung the house. Sophy had carried her bag upstairs, and had slipped
into a working frock. With her mind at ease about her clothes her
spirits had mounted at once. She made little jokes, and went off into
bursts of laughter about anything or nothing in a fashion which proved
so infectious that the other two were speedily laughing also.

Directly supper was over Don rose to go. Not having been in bed on the
previous night, and having been hard at work all day, he was so sleepy
that he could hardly keep his eyes open. Sophy would have besought him
to lie down on the settle in the living-room and have his sleep out
there, but she was so concerned that her mother should not be alone
another night that she would not even suggest his remaining at Ripple.

“Where are you two going to sleep to-night?” he asked, just as he was
going to mount his horse.

“In one of the upstairs rooms. We have had the bed out in the sun all
day,” said Sophy, and there was in her mind a swift wonder at his
concern.

“That is right. Look here, sis, if there is a bolt to the stairs door,
mind you shoot it when you go upstairs, and don’t come down in the night
whatever you may hear. I’m not afraid that anyone would harm either of
you—if you keep out of the way, that is. But I should not be surprised
if someone tried a bit of burgling on here, for there are plenty of
people silly enough to think that old Wrack was a miser, and not so
bed-rock poor as he looked.”

“We won’t come down, I promise you,” said Sophy. Then she added, with a
merry laugh: “Not even if another surprise party happens along this way,
and dances all night to the strains of a cornet and flute. Oh, I say,
wouldn’t it be weird!”

“I should think it would,” replied Don, and bothered though he was by
the lonely condition of the two, he could not forbear a chuckle of
amusement at the fancy picture his sister had called up. “Mose Paget is
the only man that can play the cornet in the township that I know of,
and he is going to help Mrs. Buckle with Sam to-night.”

It was very weird and still at Ripple when Don had ridden away. The
darkness dropped over the forest like a pall. It was cloudy to-night,
and the young moon had no chance at all against the billowy masses of
cloud that were piled along the horizon. It would rain before morning,
so Sophy said. If the weather broke it might even be dull and stormy for
a week or more, and she sighed, because she loved fine weather so much
the best. Pam sighed too, and her face was a little white and drawn when
she dropped the heavy bar of ironwood into the socket at the side of the
door. Sophy had told her that the nearest house was three miles away,
and she was trying to picture the situation. Brought up in London,
taught from her childhood to understand that there were bristling
dangers all around her, the solitude of Ripple seemed to put her almost
outside the world. She argued that if there were no people there could
be no danger, and then was surprised because she was scared at the
solitude.

The dog had attached itself to her with slavish devotion. The creature
accorded Sophy a bare tolerance, but there was perfect worship in the
gaze it turned on Pam, and she was tremendously flattered by its
preference. It even wanted to come up to bed with her that night when,
soon after Don had gone, they betook themselves to the upstairs room
where they intended to sleep. They humoured the animal, feeling that it
would really be a comfort to have it upstairs with them, and they did
not forget to bolt the door at the bottom of the stairs when they shut
it.

They were so tired that the night passed for both of them in dreamless
slumber, and they did not rouse until the dog woke them by whining to be
let out. It was Pam who, with a dressing-gown round her, came down to
open the house door that the creature might go free. She stood on the
doorstep for a moment sniffing the freshness and drinking in the beauty
of the morning. There was a chill in the air which made her shiver, for
the dressing-gown was thin and the sun was not up yet. It was the
magical beauty of the forest that was drawing her, the call of the wild
that was in her blood.

“I love it, I love it, I would not go back to England if I could!” she
whispered as she turned into the house again to go upstairs and dress.
Then it suddenly occurred to her to wonder what would happen if her
grandfather failed to return. “It is silly even to think of such a
thing. Of course he will come back!” she murmured as she went upstairs;
but she could not repress a little shiver, for the possibility would
haunt her despite her efforts to banish it.

The morning “chores” were done, breakfast was out of the way, and Sophy
was discussing with Pam what was the most necessary bit of work for them
to start that morning, when the Doctor rode up, and they both ran out to
greet him. The dog growled languidly. There had been so many people at
Ripple in the last two days that the creature plainly felt it was too
much fag to growl at everyone and so was indifferent about the business,
although when an arrival was a once-a-week or once-a-fortnight event it
had been ready to tear the new-comer to pieces.

“How is Mr. Buckle?” demanded Pam, giving Sophy no time to do the
asking, but shouting the question as she ran.

“He died at midnight,” replied the Doctor briefly, and Pam flung up her
hands in horror and consternation at the news. Of course she knew
yesterday that the poor man was very ill, but she had never thought that
he was going to die. Oh, it was too dreadful! Suppose her grandfather
really had hurt him, then the poor old man would not be able to come
home now, but would have to be a wanderer always, hiding from the
punishment which would await him if he were found.

“Father, you should not have told her so suddenly!” cried Sophy with
acute reproach in her tone as Pam turned and clung to her.

“So it seems,” replied the Doctor, as he slid from his horse and came to
help in the restoration of Pam. “But there are some things that do not
improve by keeping, and this is one of them. Miss Walsh, you have need
of every atom of courage you possess. I think you are made of good
stuff, and you have got to rise to the occasion somehow.”

“I will if I can!” whispered Pam, but she was white to the lips, and
there was such dismay in her heart that she was ready to sink with the
pain of it all.

“It is all very well to tell her to be brave, but think of the shock for
the poor girl! Why, I feel downright bad myself, and I am only an
outsider. Poor Pam! Whatever will become of her? Will she have to turn
round and go back to England?” Sophy was firing out a stream of
questions, for she was tremendously excited. Nothing like this had ever
come her way before, and she was a little thrown off her balance by it.

“I can’t go back to England, I have not money enough, and Mother cannot
afford to send me any either,” said Pam, recovering herself a little.
Then drawing away from Sophy she stood erect, though she was still white
and trembling. “I shall stay here and make the best of it!” she
declared.

“That is right!” The Doctor’s voice had such a ring of approval in it
that Pam began at once to feel better. “Nothing is proved against Mr.
Peveril, of course,” the Doctor went on. “He might not even have been
suspected of having hurt Sam Buckle but for his unaccountable absence.
As it is, people are disposed to think the very worst of him, and yet he
may be as innocent as you or I.”

“I believe he is. I cannot think that he would hurt anyone,” murmured
Pam, and the Doctor shook his head, but whether in agreement or dissent
did not appear.

“Will Pam have to live on here alone? Will she have to run the farm?”
demanded Sophy in a blaze of excitement. She was wondering whatever the
city girl would do alone in the wilderness with winter coming on.

For a moment the Doctor looked from one girl to the other as if he was
making up his mind, and then he spoke with brisk decision.

“No, she certainly cannot live alone; it is not to be thought of. You
will have to stay with her until some of her own people can come out to
her, or until she can find someone she likes better—that is, always
supposing her grandfather makes no sign.”

“I shall love to have Sophy with me, but I am afraid it is more than I
have any right to expect,” said Pam, striving to speak steadily. “I am
such an absolute stranger, and she has been so good to me.”

“We have to be good to each other out here in the backwoods, or we
should certainly get left every time there is trouble,” the Doctor
replied. He went on in a lighter tone: “You need not worry overmuch
about keeping Sophy. She is going to be married in the spring, and she
has mountains of sewing to do. At home she will never get time for it;
here she may.”

“Oh, and she never told me!” cried Pam, looking with new interest at
Sophy, whose face was covered with blushes, and a sight to see.

“Did she not? I thought girls always told such things,” said Doctor
Grierson with a glance of pride at his eldest daughter. Sophy had always
been his right hand ever since she had been old enough to do anything at
all. It was a piece of real self-sacrifice to spare her to stay with Pam
at Ripple, but the plight of the stranger girl was so serious that he
did not hesitate for a moment as to where his duty lay. He rode away in
a great hurry as usual, and when he had gone Pam for a time broke down
and cried.

Sophy, with rare wisdom, crept away and left her alone to have her cry
out. A moaning wind swept through the trees and sighed away in the
distance. Pam sobbed on until she had no more tears to shed, then she
gathered her courage to face what lay before her. She realized that she
was up against the hardest thing she had ever faced in her life; and she
was going to meet it boldly if she could. Her courage might feel like
water, but other people must not know it. For the sake of her
grandfather, who had so mysteriously disappeared, she must stay on at
Ripple and do her best. The thought of running a farm tickled her so
much that her tears were dry, and she was laughing when Sophy crept back
to see how it was with her.

“Well, you are a queer girl!” she exclaimed, and her opinion of Pam went
up by leaps and bounds.

-----

[1] A “back stick” is a fair-sized log of hard wood which is slow in
burning. It is lit in the stove of a Canadian house at bedtime, and
smoulders through the night, so that in the morning a fire may easily
enough be kindled from it.



                              CHAPTER VII


                               Searching

Days passed. The police came and went. Indeed, they might be said to
haunt Ripple at this time. The dog grew so used to strange faces and
visitors at all hours that it took no notice of them at all. It was
tired, too. Morning, noon, and night Pam was searching for some trace of
the old man whom she had come so far to live with, and yet had never
seen; and where she went the dog went too. It was a dead body she was
looking for now, and she had tramped the fields until she knew the land
literally foot by foot. Then she penetrated into the forest, going very
warily at first, for she had all a city girl’s dread of the unknown, and
who could tell what terrors might lurk unseen beneath the brambles and
the undergrowth?

She did not find anything. Sometimes the dog would stop suddenly, and
lifting its head, would howl in a manner calculated to make the warm
blood in her veins turn cold, for she believed herself on the brink of a
find; but always there was nothing.

While Pam was away searching, Sophy sat in the house and sewed. She was
to be married in the spring, as her father had said, and she had her own
ideas as to the amount of plenishing it was proper to take with her to
her husband. At home she was harassed and hurried between her duty and
her inclination. Here there was no duty to harass her, and she felt as
if she was having the best holiday she had known for years. Every
morning after the “chores” were done she and Pam cleaned a room; when
that was finished, Sophy sat down to her sewing, and Pam started out to
search. The house was beginning to look different already, and it had
lost the odour of exceeding fustiness which had struck them both on the
night of the surprise party.

Then the inevitable happened, and Pam lost her way in the forest one
day. She walked on and on, realizing that she was getting more
hopelessly bewildered every minute. Suddenly she remembered the dog, and
catching the creature round the neck, she told it all about her
difficulty, winding up by telling it in the most forcible language she
possessed to take her home.

“Woof! woof! woo-o-o-h!” The dog flung up its head and howled in such a
fearfully dismal fashion that Pam gave an involuntary cry.

“You must not make such an awful row, I simply cannot bear it!” she
exclaimed, seizing the creature round the neck and giving it a great
hug. “We are in trouble, both of us, but you must learn to keep yours to
yourself a bit, my friend; this sort of thing is past bearing. Now, take
me home, dear, and make haste about it, or Sophy will certainly have a
fit.”

The animal gave a short bark as if perfectly understanding what was
required of it, then started off along a cross-trail, going at a
businesslike trot, but looking round every few minutes as if to make
sure that Pam was following all right. The trail turned suddenly through
a belt of beechwood thick with foliage into a bare and desolate region,
which made Pam cry out in amazement. As far as she could see the forest
had been burned. Even the ground appeared to have been charred, and
there was hardly a vestige of green to be seen anywhere. The mighty
trunks had been the sport of the winter tempests since being ravaged by
fire, and here and there they were blown into heaps of gigantic
confusion. They lay in piles, or were bunched together in groups, while
heaps of cinders and charred fragments lay in all directions. The dog
went steadily on through this desolate region, and Pam saw that the
creature was following a well-defined trail. She was beginning to wonder
where she would find herself by and by, when her guide turned short
round into the living forest once more, the trail grew broader and
broader, and suddenly she was in a little clearing where there was a
long, low, brown house in front of her, and just beyond the shimmering
waters of the creek.

“Oh, how pretty!” she murmured to herself, for the autumn sunshine fell
full on the water, while a little wind was ruffling the surface, making
it catch a thousand sparkles that seemed to light the woodland and the
strip of brown field through which it ran.

An elderly woman came to the door of the house, and seeing Pam and the
dog, beckoned her to come nearer. Pam went at once, needing no second
invitation, for she was very anxious to know where she was, and how long
it would take her to reach home again. But the dog was growling and
growling, while a ridge of hair bristled erect along its spine.

“There, there, mend your manners, can’t you? Don’t you see that the lady
is a friend?” cried Pam, catching at the old strap which the dog wore
round its neck by way of a collar, for she was afraid that it was going
to fly at the woman who was smiling in such friendly welcome.

“Now, say, ain’t that Wrack Peveril’s dog? And I do believe you must be
his granddaughter! My dear, I do take it kind that you should have come
to see me so soon. Come in, come in, and don’t take no notice of the dog
growling. Because men fall out is no reason why women should be at
enmity, and it is glad I am to see you, my dear!”

Pam suddenly began to tremble, tried to speak and could not, then,
giving herself a shake, gasped out, “Are you Mrs. Buckle?”

“Why, yes, my dear, of course. Didn’t you know, and hadn’t you come to
see me?” There was so much disappointment in the woman’s face and manner
that Pam hastened to soothe her.

“I would have come before if I had had the faintest idea that you would
care to see me, but I naturally supposed that I was the very last person
you would want to have for a visitor.” To her exceeding dismay Pam found
herself on the verge of tears. It was dreadful to think that she should
have blundered into the presence of the woman whom of all others she
would have chosen to avoid.

“I should have come to Ripple myself to see you,” said Mrs. Buckle,
shaking hands with Pam in the friendliest fashion imaginable, and then
leading her into the house, and literally forcing her to sit in the big
cushioned chair that stood between the window and the stove. “But, you
see, the trouble is I haven’t got my widow’s bonnet made yet, and it
would not be honouring to poor Sam’s memory for me to go paying calls in
a hat with a blue feather, which is all the outdoor wear I’ve got at the
present. I went to the funeral in Mrs. O’Rafferty’s bonnet, a dreadfully
shabby affair, as you may guess, for her man has been gone nearly two
years, and she was never good at taking care of things. She is not too
clean either, and I did not fancy wearing her bonnet, I can tell you.
Miss Johnson, the milliner at The Corner, was quite out of widows’
crape—that is, the sort with the big tear-drops, you know—so I had to
wait until she had got a fresh lot in from St. John.”

“It was very kind of you to think of coming in to see me!” murmured Pam,
when Mrs. Buckle paused for want of breath. “I am so very, very sorry
for the trouble you have had, but I cannot think that my grandfather, an
old man himself, would have knocked Mr. Buckle about so cruelly.”

“Ah, you never knew my poor Sam!” cried Mrs. Buckle, shaking her head,
as she wiped away a tear to her husband’s memory. “He was the most
aggravating man that ever was, and I ought to know, seeing that I bore
with his infirmity for hard on twenty-nine years. And, my dear, if your
grandfather didn’t do it, poor man, why should his axe, with his name
branded on the handle, have been found lying on the ground close to the
broken fence?”

“Was it found there?” breathed Pam in a cold horror, and from that
moment the iron of a deep humiliation and disgrace entered into her very
soul.

“Why, yes. Didn’t they tell you?” asked Mrs. Buckle. “But, there! I
expect they kept it back just to spare your feelings, poor child!” The
kindly woman came nearer as she spoke, and her work-worn hand dropped in
a consoling fashion on to Pam’s arm. “But you must not blame the poor
old man too much, for doubtless he was angered past bearing. Everyone
knew that he had a violent temper, and he would be deaf and blind to the
consequences when once he began to lay on. It is well when people learn
to restrain themselves when they are young, for when they have come to
years they lose control over their passions. I wish your grandfather had
stayed to face the music, though. I am sure that the inquiry would have
brought in that there were extenuating circumstances, and so he would
have got off lighter. Now, he will have to face the very worst when they
find him.”

“Oh, I do not think they will find him alive; it is his dead body that I
am looking for!” said Pam, and her voice was sharp with pain.

Mrs. Buckle shook her head.

“You did not know your grandfather, and so you think of him as a feeble
old man; but he was not, he was strong and vigorous. I saw him once
knock Sam down as clean as if he were bowling a ninepin over, and I did
not pity Sam either, for that time, at least, I knew very well he
deserved all he got. From my heart I pity your grandfather now; it is
cruel hard that a man at his time of life should have to be a wanderer.”

“Oh, it is dreadful, dreadful!” wailed Pam, hiding her face in her
hands. The trouble had been bearable when she thought of her grandfather
as dead, for then he at least would have been beyond the reach of hunger
and cold; but if he had done this terrible thing of beating a fellow-man
to death, and was forced by his crime to be a fugitive from justice, how
the poor old man would suffer! She would never be at peace now, but
would always be looking for him to come stealing back to his home for
money, for food, and for shelter.

“Child, you must not take on like that!” said Mrs. Buckle, whose own
tears were falling like rain. “You have just got to be bright and brave,
and to keep your end up as best you can. It is hard lines for you to be
pitchforked into a trouble of this sort, but just figure to yourself how
much worse it would have been for the poor old man if you had not been
at Ripple just now. The place would have been in the hands of strangers;
there would have been no one to look after his interests or to keep the
place going. Now he will most likely come creeping back some stormy
night this fall, for he will want money to help him get clear away from
parts where he is known. You must keep some handy for him when he comes.
Have you got any?”

“Only a few shillings—I mean, dollars,” replied Pam, who had constantly
to remind herself of the difference in currency.

“I thought as much!” muttered Mrs. Buckle. Telling Pam to sit still a
minute, she went away to an inner room, whence she returned a minute
later to thrust a bundle of dirty-looking papers into the girl’s hand.
“Take that, my dear, it is only twenty dollars, but it is all I have to
spare; and it may make the difference for him between starvation and
security, for he is a man that can do with very little, from having
lived alone so long.”

“But I cannot take your money, yours of all people’s, to help my
grandfather!” protested Pam, in a voice of awe, and she looked up at the
kindly old woman, trying to thrust back the little bundle of paper
money.

But Mrs. Buckle was obdurate.

“You must take it, please, my dear,” she insisted. “It is my right to
spare myself what suffering I can, for I have had enough to bear. I feel
that it would be the last straw to my endurance if the police were to
find your grandfather, and all that old trouble had to be raked up in a
court of justice. It is not likely I have many more years to live, and
they might as well be peaceful years, but I should never know another
happy hour if your grandfather were put in prison for wounding my
husband. I’ve no doubt that poor Sam’s aggravating ways were a sort of
infirmity, like a hare-lip or a crooked back, and I would rather leave
the punishment of the man who did him to death in the hands of Almighty
God; so you will please take the money and say no more about it. Only
you must keep it in a place where the poor old man can get it himself if
he happens along when there is no one about; for he may break into his
own house, don’t you see, because he won’t know how we feel about his
escaping.”

“The desk in his bedroom is locked,” said Pam faintly. She could protest
no more, and taking the roll of notes, she thrust it for security into
the front of her blouse.

“Try if you have got a key that will open it,” said Mrs. Buckle, who was
plainly a person of resource. “If not, perhaps I can pick it for you as
soon as I get my bonnet and can come to pay a call. Oh, it wouldn’t be
the first lock I have picked by a good many. When a woman has a husband
who keeps her as short as my man kept me, she is apt to do things that
won’t bear daylight; but he is dead now, and his faults ain’t going to
be talked about except in the way of stopping other people from having
to suffer for them. You are a dear good girl for coming to see me; it
has done me a power of good to have you to talk to. I feel better than I
have done since Sam was taken.”

“It is very sweet of you to feel like this, Mrs. Buckle, and I thank you
for myself and for my mother. But oh, I wish that I had some way of
repaying you for your kindness to us!” Pam’s eyes were wet with tears as
she leaned forward and warmly kissed Mrs. Buckle’s cheek.

“There is something that perhaps you may be able to do for me if you
have a mind,” said Mrs. Buckle slowly.

“Oh, tell me, please, what it is, and I will so gladly do it if it is in
my power.” Pam was thinking how she must in her own person expiate what
she could of her grandfather’s wrong-doing. She could not bring Sam back
to life again, but she might be able to do some service for the widow.

Mrs. Buckle hesitated. She was not a woman of fine feeling, and yet she
hated to tell this nice girl, with the straightforward, fearless gaze,
that the old man, her grandfather, was a thief. Yet there it was, and
although she might soften it down, the ugly fact remained the same.
Nervously she cleared her throat, and a hot flush crept over her kindly
old face as she burst into speech.

“Sam was found with his pockets cleared out. Some money he had on him, I
know, but whether it was much or little I can’t say, and of course I
shan’t ever know now; but what upset me more than the loss of the money
was that poor Sam’s watch had been taken. A good watch it was, and it
had belonged to my father, who gave it to Sam when he died. My word, but
I did value that watch! Of course I’m not saying that your grandfather
took it for the sake of stealing from the man he’d hurt so badly, but I
think perhaps, when he found that he had knocked the sense out of Sam,
he just took the money and the watch to make it look as if the whole
thing had been done by someone for the sake of stealing. If your
grandfather comes creeping back some night, and you see him, I want you
to ask him to give you back the watch. Tell him from me that he can keep
the money and welcome, for it is sorely he will need it, poor man, if he
has got to be a wanderer all through this bitter wintertime that lies
before us.”

“I will tell him, Mrs. Buckle; I will be sure not to forget,” answered
Pam, her eyes shining with earnestness. “But oh, since you have told me
of the robbery, I am quite sure that Grandfather did not do that. You
see, my mother has told us so much about Grandfather, and what an
upright man he was; hard and difficult to live with, but straight as a
die. I can understand that he might have quarrelled with Mr. Buckle, and
in the heat of anger might have beaten and injured him, but I am not
going to believe that Grandfather stole the money and the watch. Someone
must have come along afterwards and done that. Oh, what a fearful
business it is!”

“You are right, my dear; it is a fearful thing, and no mistake about
it!” cried Mrs. Buckle, following Pam to the door. Then she exclaimed
sharply, “Why, whatever are you hanging round here for, Mose Paget?” and
Pam saw the untidy figure of the man whom she had once taken for a tramp
leaning against the angle of the house. He was white and trembling, and
she was sorry that Mrs. Buckle felt it necessary to speak so harshly to
him.

“I’m bad!” the man said briefly. “I was working in my creek-lot when I
was took queer, so I came up here to see if you had anything you could
give me, something to stop the pain,” and he pointed vaguely at his
chest as if to indicate the seat of the trouble.

“Come straight in and sit down!” cried the widow heartily. “I wouldn’t
turn a sick dog from my door, and certainly I would not turn you away,
seeing how you helped me when my husband lay dying. I expect it is colic
that you have got, and I’ve a fine remedy for that, though it is a bit
nasty. No, Miss Walsh, you need not trouble to stop, for I do just know
that you are wanting to get away home. I have got Amanda Higgins here if
I want anyone; she is away down in the corner lot picking berries, and I
shall just whistle for her if I want her.”

Pam was glad to go. Mrs. Buckle had shown her the right trail to take,
telling her that she could make no mistake; nor did she, for, crossing
the creek on the log footbridge at the ford, she passed the fence which
had been the cause of all the trouble between her grandfather and Sam
Buckle, and was at once on their own land at Ripple.

Mrs. Buckle’s account of her grandfather’s axe having been found close
beside the injured man had been a great shock to Pam. She had refused to
let herself believe that her grandfather would hurt anyone so badly and
then disappear, and not a word had been said in her presence of the axe.
But when Mrs. Buckle had spoken of the robbery, a gleam of comfort had
stolen into her heart again. She was quite, quite sure that her
grandfather would not steal money and a watch. Disagreeable he was, and
so hard to live with that her mother had been glad to run away from him;
but he was bed-rock honest. He owed no man anything, and would rather
have lived on buckwheat porridge all the time than run up an account at
the store for groceries for which he could not pay. Perhaps he was
entirely innocent of this thing, although it did look so black against
him. But where was he hiding? And if he had done nothing to be ashamed
of, why was he hiding?

These questions, which she could not answer, brought Pam back to her old
theory of something having happened to him, and she reached the house at
Ripple thoroughly tired out with her search, but with courage unabated
to go on again. She told Sophy of her visit to Mrs. Buckle, and how that
kindly woman had given her money to supply her grandfather’s need if the
poor fugitive should come back; and Sophy dropped her sewing, and sat
with parted lips, staring at Pam as she listened to the extraordinary
story.

“Just to think of it! Why, Pam, Sam Buckle must have been a tyrant if
his widow can feel so kindly to the man who is believed to have caused
his death! If I thought all men were like that I should change my mind
about getting married. But I know that George is good and kind.”

“People are not all alike, of course,” said Pam, as she leaned back in
the big chair and fanned herself with her hat, for the day was hot. “I
think that even the very disagreeable ones would not be so bad if they
were properly handled. Take Grandfather, for instance. I know he was
hard to live with, but half of his disagreeableness came because he was
so upset at Mother wanting to marry Father, who was not particularly
hard-working, and I am afraid not too steady. Mother was wayward, she
would have her own way, but ah, how bitterly she has had to pay!” Pam
sighed as visions of her childhood rose up before her eyes.

Sophy nodded in perfect sympathy, but she asked no questions about those
old, sad memories. Pam’s past did not concern her, so why be curious
about it? Her needle went in and out of the white seam with such
soothing regularity, and the house in the forest was so quiet, that
presently Pam fell fast asleep, curled up in the big chair with the
tired dog at her feet.



                              CHAPTER VIII


                             The First Snow

Pam had been five weeks at Ripple. She was getting used to the forest
solitude. She was rosy and energetic, keenly resolved to do her very
best to keep the farm going until her grandfather came back or made some
sign. She was more puzzled than ever that he should have gone and never
left one word or sign. It was cruel to her, so she told herself
sometimes, because he knew that she was coming; and what a plight she
would have been in but for the Griersons! Mrs. Grierson, a kindly but
rather dreary woman, had been over once or twice to see the girls at
Ripple, and she had told Pam that Sophy should stay through the winter
with her. It was a solitary place for two girls alone, but farther down
the creek Mrs. Buckle was living with only little Amanda Higgins for
company. There was nothing to be afraid of except solitude, and people
had to get used to that. Pam was getting used to it, and she was so
occupied from morning to night that she had not much time to think about
herself.

The neighbours were kind, although they lived so far away. Galena
Gittins came over regularly every week, and it was she who was
instructing Pam in the mysteries of farmwork. Galena had a shrewd head
on her shoulders, and knew what had to be done and the best way to do
it, so Pam was rigorously put through her paces. She spent laborious
days in the forest with Galena gathering beech-nuts for the pigs, to be
stored against the time when the snow would prevent the creatures
foraging for themselves. She toiled over harvesting the roots that were
still in the fields, and with her own hands dragged the loads on a truck
to the house, where the capacious cellar received them and would keep
them safe from fear of being spoiled by frost. There was not a horse on
the place. Pam had wondered at first how her grandfather had managed
without a beast of burden, but Galena told her that a good many people
who had only a few cleared fields kept no horses, for the keep of the
animals was a big consideration in winter, and it was possible to hire a
man and a team when they were needed for purposes of cultivation.

“I am glad not to have a horse to look after, but it will seem rather
far to walk to The Corner or to Hunt’s Crossing every time I want to
post a letter when the snow comes,” said Pam, who was looking forward to
being snowbound with considerable dread, only she took good care that no
one should know it. She did not choose that these people, to whom the
forest was so well known and familiar, should ever guess how scared she
was at the thought of the long dark nights and the cheerless days which
would have to be faced before the summer came again.

[Illustration: THE DOG AND THE UNKNOWN FURY WERE ROLLING
 OVER IN THE DEADLIEST OF COMBATS]

It was not in her nature to give up, and so much hung on her ability to
keep the place going through the winter. If her grandfather did not
return in a year, and if he gave no sign of being alive, it was probable
that the authorities would allow his death to be assumed. Then, in the
event of no will being found, his daughter would naturally take what was
left. It was the future of her mother and the other children that Pam
was guarding, and she was minded to do her very best.

Ah, how home-sick she was for them during those shortening days, while
the forest trees flamed through splendours of crimson and gold to the
brown and russet of dead leaves! But she would not speak of her pain,
she would not even grumble over her misery. It was when she was most
hilarious that Sophy guessed the home-sickness raged the fiercest.

There had been no need for Mrs. Buckle to practise her lock-picking
skill on the desk in Wrack Peveril’s sleeping-chamber. When Pam’s heavy
luggage was brought from Hunt’s Crossing she discovered that the key of
her writing-desk served also to open the desk which the old man had
used. This when opened had not been found to contain much. Some money
there was, but only a little. There was a small heap of letters well
worn with much reading. They were letters from Pam’s mother, and Pam
cried over them more bitterly than she had ever cried before, for they
revealed a side of her home life that she had only faintly guessed at.
Mrs. Walsh had not found her marriage a happy one, and she had poured
out her bitter disappointment and grief to the old man, her father, whom
she had set at naught and run away from in her desperate eagerness to
get her own way.

Those letters did not appear to have been answered. Indeed, almost every
one of them began with a reproach because the old man had not written.
Some of them begged for money to meet some pressing need. The babies had
come so fast, and the needs had been so great.

Pam wondered why the old man had not asked his daughter to come home
again after the death of her husband. But he had not. He had never even
hinted that he would like to see her again. It made Pam shiver to think
of it. She could not imagine being parted for years from her mother
without her mother wanting to see her again. But she was too just to
condemn the old man. Of course there was another side to the question,
her mother’s side. Without doubt Pam gained a greater insight to the
natural laws, the ethics of give and take between parent and child, in
that reading of the letters in her grandfather’s desk, than she would
have done from any other source.

Her grandfather must be found somehow; then, when she had found him, it
must be her work to bring about a reconciliation between him and her
mother. Then her mother must come home. Without doubt the place of Mrs.
Walsh was at Ripple. The children would love the wild free life of the
forest. The boys would grow into strong men here, and if the effort to
get an education was greater, the chances were that they would prize it
more.

It was this planning for the good of her family that kept Pam’s heart
warm in those shortening days of the fall. The mornings grew colder and
colder; the pond behind the barn which drained into the creek was
fringed with ice, and she had to use a long pole to keep a space of open
water for the animals. Later on that would not be possible, and she
would have to melt snow for them in the boiler that was built into the
out-shed which stood between the house and the barn. There was no snow
as yet, but it might come any day now. There would be an end to all
search for the old man when once the land was covered in its winter
mantle, so Pam took advantage of every day when she could spare the time
to take long tramps across the forest in every direction. Don Grierson
had brought her a pocket compass, and armed with this she found her way
back, however hopelessly she might get confused in trying to strike a
trail.

There came a day in early November when the dawn seemed as if it could
not penetrate through the cloud masses that brooded so closely down over
the forest trees. A grey, dreary day, which made Pam more home-sick than
ever, though apparently in the wildest of spirits. She rushed about
between the house and the barn, doing the morning “chores“, and as she
hurried to and fro she sang at the top of her voice, the sound of her
singing having a weird effect on that drear, cold morning.

Luke Dobson, from Hunt’s Crossing, came along about ten o’clock, and
wanted to know what was to be done about the lumber-felling. Her
grandfather had arranged for twenty acres of black spruce to be cut this
fall, and Luke Dobson wanted to know if the work was to be carried
through, or what was to be done in the matter.

“You say that Grandfather had settled price and everything?” asked Pam,
who was so terribly in the dark about business matters that she had to
rely on other people. It was a great comfort to her that this man looked
honest and respectable, and Sophy had told her that he did most of the
lumbering in the district this side of the Ridge.

“No. If the price had been settled and the contract signed there would
have been nothing for me to do but warn you of the transaction, and cut
the lumber at my own convenience,” said Mr. Dobson, who had rather a
bothered air. He did not like having to do business with women, for,
privately, he considered them lacking in common sense; and this one was
only a girl—a girl, moreover, with a skittish look, just for all the
world like a young colt, so he told himself, in severe disapproval of
Pam’s radiant good spirits and smiling face.

“How much did Grandfather want, and how much were you prepared to give?”
asked Pam, who had her own theories on the way to do business.

Mr. Dobson stated the price he was prepared to give and the sum for
which Wrack Peveril had stood out, a matter of only a few dollars in
reality.  He was sufficiently straightforward to say that black spruce
was going up in price, and he was willing to make a small advance on his
first offer, if Pam was able to do business with him.

“Oh, I am quite willing to do business,” replied Pam in an airy tone.
Then she dropped suddenly into graver speech, while lines of care showed
on her face. “The trouble is to know what power I have to sell anything
belonging to my grandfather. Supposing I took your offer, and when you
had cut the lumber he came back and objected to the transaction, it
would be out of your power, or mine either, to put the trees back on
their stumps again; and what would be my position?”

Mr. Dobson shook his head and looked dubious, hesitated a minute, then
said rather uneasily:

“I take it that you are here to do your best for the old man, or if he
is dead, for your mother, who is his natural heir. You can leave that
lot of trees standing another year if you would prefer it. But if your
grandfather comes home, and the police get hold of him for the part he
is supposed to have had in the death of Sam Buckle, there will be the
expense of his defence, and all the other things that arise out of an
action at law, and you will be hard put to it perhaps to find ready
money when you most need it. If, on the other hand, he is dead, or is
never heard of again, your mother would agree that you had acted for the
best in selling, and your trees would be hard cash, and safe from any
danger of being destroyed in a forest fire.”

Pam shivered. She was thinking of that awfully desolate region that
spread over so many acres of forest near to where Mrs. Buckle lived. Her
grandfather’s black spruce would not be worth the trouble of lumbering
if a forest fire happened along that way. But she had a cautious streak
in her character, and she knew how dreadfully ignorant she was, so she
said frankly: “I should like to take your offer straight away, but I
think I ought just to ask the advice of someone outside. Dr. Grierson
will be round this way to-day or to-morrow; do you mind letting it stand
over until then?”

“That will suit me very well indeed, and I will wish you good morning,”
said Mr. Dobson, getting to his feet in a great hurry. But Pam had a
question to ask before he went—one that she had been wanting to ask all
the while Luke Dobson had been talking.

“Do you mind telling me where that twenty acres of black spruce is?” she
asked nervously. Of course she ought to know every bit of her
grandfather’s land by this time, and as a matter of fact she had
supposed that she did know it, but puzzle her head as she would she
could not remember any plantation of trees which would be twenty acres
in extent. What a lot of trees there would be on twenty acres of land—a
piece that was twice as big as the cleared field at the back of the
house! Don Grierson had told her that was ten acres—the ten-acre lot he
called it.

“Ah! you would have gone the round of the quarter-section boundary
posts,” said Luke Dobson slowly, and then he turned to a roughly-drawn
map that was nailed to the wall opposite the window and called Pam’s
attention to it. “You see this map, Miss Walsh? Well, this red line is
your grandfather’s boundary.” His broad finger was travelling slowly
round the red line for her benefit, but he paused where a thick black
line crossed the red. “This black line here shows the old tote road.”

“What is a tote road?” demanded Pam.

Luke Dobson rubbed his head in a rueful fashion.

“I don’t know. It has always been called the tote road ever since I can
remember, and I have lived about these parts all my life, but I never
heard anyone ask before.”

“I know!” cried Sophy, looking up from her work. “A tote road is so
called because it is the road along which people ‘tote’ things—that is,
carry them. That road leads straight away through the forest to the
river miles below Hunt’s Crossing. It is rarely used now, but I have
heard some of the old people say that is the way the lumber used to be
carried from these parts to be floated down river to Fredericton.”

“Well now, I shouldn’t wonder but what you are right!” exclaimed Mr.
Dobson, who was fairly amazed at such a reasonable solution of the
mystery.

“What a thing it is to be clever!” cried Pam, and then crossed the room
on purpose to give Sophy a little hug, just to show that she had no
intention of making fun of her.

“Your grandfather bought that lot cheap about fifteen years ago,” said
Luke Dobson, his big finger covering the small red-lined patch on the
farther side of the old tote road. “There was a half-breed lived up
there, a mighty hunter he was too. But he got caught napping one day and
was clawed by a b’ar, died of it, he did too, and his wife—she was a
white woman from St. John—she sold the land at what anyone would give
her for it, and cleared out sharp. They used to live in a bit of a shack
standing on the tote road; I expect it is standing there still, bits of
it, but no one has lived there since.”

“I am sure that I have not been in that direction yet, or I should have
seen the house,” said Pam, who was studying the map with close
attention. It was bewildering to her to get her bearings in the forest,
and she had not hitherto understood the significance of the
roughly-drawn map.

“You had better take a stroll round there before fixing up with me about
lumbering that bit,” Mr. Dobson advised her as he took his leave, and
Pam made up her mind that she would go right away.

The tote road ran on the side of her grandfather’s land farthest away
from the trail to Hunt’s Crossing. It was thick forest in that
direction, and Pam with the dog at her heels had to make her way by a
narrow trail that was really an old game path; but presently she emerged
on a wide avenue running in a straight line east and west, and looking
as if it stretched for miles and miles, as indeed it did. It was fast
being choked with rubbish, brambles and so forth, but it would not take
much trouble to make it fit for traffic once more, and the ground was
solid and level beneath her feet, very different from the mossy, marshy
trails which abounded in these parts.

“So this is the old tote road!” she murmured, as she stood surveying it.
But it was too cold to stand long, and she was anxious to start her
inspection of the lot of black spruce. She had learned all she could
about trees and lumber generally since she had been at Ripple, and her
education was so far advanced that she could tell black spruce when she
saw it, also cedar, ash, maple, birch, and oak. She was wise enough
already to understand that it was a really valuable lot of trees that
stood in serried rows bordering on the old tote road. Sophy had told her
that black spruce was valuable because it was so largely used for pulp
for paper-making. All those long lines of trees at which she was gazing
were potential newspapers, or novels, or perhaps hymn-books. How strange
it was to think that trees could be made into paper, a material that she
in her ignorance had always associated with rags and straw! She laughed
a little as she thought of all the wonders science had wrought, and the
dog at the sound of her voice crept closer to her side, pressing its
head against her knee with a whimper of affection.

She stooped to pat the shaggy head, for the love of the creature was
really precious to her. Suddenly the dog gave a low, savage growl, then
stood with its teeth bared, snarling, while a ridge of hair stood up
along its spine, sure sign indeed of something wrong.

“Have you heard someone about, or is it only a fancy that you have got
in your thick old head?” asked Pam; but although the dog wagged its tail
at the sound of her voice, it began to growl again the next moment, and
then went creeping forward, its teeth still bared, and looking so fierce
and ugly that Pam was more than half-afraid.

Then she caught sight of the angle of a shingled roof, and guessed that
she was close to the half-ruined shack that stood on her grandfather’s
land.

“Did the poor dear see a house, and didn’t the poor dear like it?” she
asked the dog, jumping at once to the conclusion that it was the
nearness to a dwelling-place that made the dog growl. It took no notice
of her this time, but crept forward with great caution, growling so low
down in its throat that it seemed to be swallowing its own voice.

A queer purring noise, such as a very big cat might make, broke on the
ears of Pam. The dog heard it too, and growled more fiercely than
before. Pam had a cold sensation, and her limbs seemed suddenly
paralysed. She lifted one foot by a great effort, took a step forward,
tried to lift the other, failed, and would have fallen, for she trembled
so badly, only she gripped at the slender stem of a young spruce growing
close to the edge of the tote road, and clung to it, quite helpless from
the overmastering terror that had seized upon her.

Without doubt it was that same terror which saved her life. If she had
not been so badly scared she would have moved forward when the dog went.
As it was, she clung to the trunk of the tree, the rough bark bruising
her bare hands, her heart beating so fast that it made her feel
downright sick.

The broken door of the shack was half-open. The dog was close to it now,
creeping and creeping, as if ready for a spring. The purring sound had
dropped to silence, and a minute passed which seemed to Pam as long as
hours. Then came an awful, ear-splitting yell, as a lithe grey creature
hurled itself out from the shattered door like an arrow from a bow
straight at the dog. Pam heard a shriek of pure terror, yet had no idea
that it was herself who had screamed. The dog swerved, the lithe grey
thing hit the ground beside it, and then dog and the unknown fury were
rolling over in the deadliest of combats.

The dog would be killed, Pam was sure of it, and she simply could not
stand by to see her dumb friend done to death. Instead of running away,
which under the circumstances would have been the highest discretion,
she dashed towards the door of the shack, intending to get hold of a
piece of wood which might do for a weapon. She had almost reached the
door when out bounded another creature, sinuous of body, grey of hue,
with a thick head, short ears, and fetid breath that seemed to smite her
like a poison blast as the beast bowled her over in its mad rush to get
away. Pam was somewhat stunned by her fall, for her head struck against
a stump, and she lay where she had been flung, too dazed to rise.

She came to her senses to find a weirdly dishevelled figure helping her
to her feet, a man with a familiar voice, but his face so smothered in
dirt and blood that it was not easy to remember where she had seen him
before. Then she recalled the man whom at the first she had supposed to
be a tramp. He was speaking to her, but she had difficulty in
understanding what he said, for he mumbled so, and his mouth was
bleeding.

“Did the beast claw you? Say, now, did it claw you?” he was asking with
desperate anxiety.

Pam put her hand to her head.

“It was a fearful bang I had where my head struck the tree, but I don’t
think I am hurt anywhere else. But you—oh, what will you do? You are
most fearfully wounded!” she cried, fairly appalled at his condition.

Mose Paget shook his head.

“I have a few scratches where the beast clawed me, but it isn’t worth
talking about. It is lucky, though, that I heard you scream, for it
might have gone hard with you and the dog if I had not been here.”

“Is the dog killed?” cried Pam, starting up to run back to the spot
where the plucky creature had been so mixed up in the fray with the
savage grey animal of the sinuous shape.

Mose stopped her with a gesture.

“No, it isn’t dead, but it is a bit clawed about, and it will be a week
or two before it is fit to walk again, I’m afraid. I am going to carry
it home for you, only I might as well fasten this door, so that those
beasts can’t take shelter here again.”

“What were they?” asked Pam. She was shaking horribly still, and she had
a feeling of nausea that was horrible.

“Canada lynx is their book name, but we call them Indian devils, and the
name fits them to a nicety,” he answered, as he put his head into the
tumbledown shack; but he hastily withdrew it, the odour from the animals
which had found a shelter there being unpleasantly overpowering. “They
are the cutest and wickedest beasts that are found anywhere in the
forests. They are very rare, though, and happily they are getting rarer.
I had an uncle who was so badly clawed by one that he carried the marks
to his grave; fifty years ago that must have been, and I have not heard
of any in this neighbourhood since.”

“I shall be afraid to venture into the forest alone after this,” cried
Pam, and again she shivered violently, feeling deadly sick, and not
understanding that the nausea was almost entirely due to the shock to
her nerves.

“No, you won’t,” Mose contradicted her harshly, then drew the broken
door close and fastened it, so that no wild creature could get inside.
“You won’t see that charming pair again, I’ll be bound. There will be a
score of men out hunting for them directly word goes round that they
have been seen, and it is not likely that you will see another pair if
you live in these parts until you are an old woman.”

“Oh, the poor dog!” cried Pam, as they reached the spot where the animal
lay. It was already feebly trying to lick its wounds—a good sign, Mose
told her, for if it had been mortally wounded it would have lain still
and not troubled at all. He lifted it carefully, as if it had been a
baby, and then went striding back on the way to Ripple, while Pam
stumbled along in the rear. He was bleeding from his numerous hurts, but
would not let her bind him up with her handkerchief, and he stalked on
ahead with the savage dignity which she had always connected with an
Indian chief.

It was beginning to snow, but not with the leisurely falling flakes to
which Pam had been accustomed in England. The air was suddenly full of a
white smother, fine as dust, which, filling eyes and nose and mouth all
at once, set up such a choking and confusion that Pam felt as if she
would be suffocated. The man in front grew into an indistinct blur,
although she was so close to him that by reaching out her hand she could
have gripped his coat. A fear seized her that they would be lost and
would both perish miserably. Her breath was beaten out of her by the
sting of that awful cold, and she cried out sharply.

Mose stopped so suddenly at the sound of her cry that she punted into
him without being able to help herself.

“What is wrong, miss; have you hurt yourself?” he asked in a jerky tone,
for the dog was heavy and he was short of breath.

“I—I thought we were lost, and this snow is awful!” Pam cried.

“You are close home now; here is the house!” he said in an encouraging
tone, just as one might speak to a frightened child.

Pam peered through the snow-blur, and there, just ahead, was the outline
of the house, as he had said. A moment later and the door was flung
open, and they staggered into the room, where Sophy fell upon them in
tearful thanksgiving that Pam had escaped with her life. The blizzard
had come on so suddenly that she had been frightened at the thought of
Pam exposed to its fury.

While Pam explained the situation in a hurried, incoherent fashion, Mose
Paget was caring for the dog. Calling for hot water, he washed its
wounds, and bound them so that the dirt could not get into them. Then he
made the animal as comfortable as possible on a bit of carpet and some
cushions at the back of the stove, called for milk, warm milk, and fed
it himself, taking as much care as if the creature had been a human
being. But when they wanted to bring him water and bandages for his own
hurts, he brushed them aside brusquely, declaring that there was nothing
needed for him.

“I want to get home for my gun; I must have a shot at that vermin if I
can,” he said hurriedly. “I am only sorry I could not do for the one the
dog had its teeth fixed in. Gee, but the critter had a grip on it, and
no mistake!”

“You cannot possibly go out in this storm; you will lose your way and
perish!” cried Pam.

“It is clearing, and I have faced worse weather,” he answered briefly.
He was so eager to be gone that Pam could not insist on his staying
longer, especially as Sophy was curiously silent on the matter.

Mose was quite right. The gloom was lifting and the snowfall was thinner
when he opened the door, and, shutting it with a bang, disappeared from
view. Not a cent would he accept for the work he had done, though Pam
had begged him to take some money, if only to pay for the time he had
wasted on her and the dog. He warned Pam to keep to the house for a day
or two, until the lynxes were either killed or driven away from the
neighbourhood, and then he was gone.

“It is dreadful to have him go like that, for I know he is badly hurt,
and he saved my life twice over. If I had escaped the lynx, I certainly
should have perished in the snow, it is so bewildering.” Pam was
distinctly tearful, for she was shaken by the nerve-wracking experience
she had gone through.

“Fancy Mose Paget turning out like that!” cried Sophy. “I thought he was
bad all through.”

“Even the worst people have streaks of good in places,” answered Pam.



                               CHAPTER IX


                         Making the Best of It

Quite a wave of excitement spread over the neighbourhood when the news
of Pam’s encounter with the lynxes got abroad. Hunting parties were
organized, and enthusiastic young men spent nights of watching in the
forest. When Nathan Gittins had three sheep mauled the excitement grew
to fever heat, everything else was let slide, and the district rose as
one man to rid the place of such a serious menace to property.

During these days neither Pam nor Sophy went beyond the few cleared
fields surrounding Ripple. Kindly neighbours visited them at intervals
of every two or three days to see that they wanted for nothing, bring
their mail, and take letters to post for them. The Doctor rode in that
direction when he had patients anywhere near, and Don showed a brotherly
devotion that set up some private wonders in the mind of Sophy. Of
course he had always been kind to her, and better than most brothers;
but she argued to herself that his conduct now was not according to
nature, and she was shrewd enough to guess that she was not the chief
reason of his many journeys across the forest from his father’s house at
The Corner. The Doctor lived at The Corner because it was the middle of
everything; and although it appeared to be misnamed, it had really been
so called because it stood at the angle or corner of the hill, just
where the creek went tearing down through a wooded defile to join the
river a little below Hunt’s Crossing.

At last the patience and perseverance of the hunters were rewarded, and
both of the great cats were killed. The dwellers at the lone farms lived
in peace after that, and children were able to go to school again. The
snow was thick in the forest now, and it was owing to their footmarks
that the wily animals had been tracked to their doom.

The day after the second lynx was killed a party of men, with Don
Grierson at their head, arrived at Ripple to bank the sides of the house
with snow. Pam enquired in a rather scared fashion of Sophy how much she
would be expected to pay for the work, but Sophy assured her that there
would be no charge. She might if she liked give them hot coffee all
round when the work was finished, but nothing else was either expected
or desired.

“Coffee and cakes it shall be, then!” exclaimed Pam, commencing to roll
her sleeves above her elbows. “I shall have to make the cakes, though,
for we have scarcely any in the house. I can manage it if I make haste.”

“Make soda-biscuit, that is the quickest,” said Sophy. “I will make up
the fire for you, and I can bring the things for you and wait upon you.
No, they won’t want you to help; it is hardly work for girls, and there
are enough of them to do the work comfortably. I see Nathan Gittins is
there, but I don’t think Mose Paget is among the lot. I wonder whether
he is better yet?”

“Is he ill? I had not heard.” Pam did not pause in her work, she was in
too much of a hurry for that; but she looked at Sophy with considerable
interest and some anxiety. She was remembering that she owed her life
twice over to the ragged, down-at-heel Mose Paget, who had the
reputation of being the very laziest man in the township.

“Mrs. Buckle told me that he was bad; that was when she was here the day
before yesterday. But of course she is such a kindly old soul that she
would say he was ill, even if it was only a lazy fit that was keeping
him from work.”

There was the sound of a crash outside at this minute, and Pam cried out
in alarm. But Sophy, who ran out to see what was the matter, came back
to say that it was nothing of great importance, only Don, who had been
on a ladder banking the snow, had taken a header into the drift he was
helping to pile higher. He was cut rather badly on the cheek, for he had
fallen on a shovel, and he came in to have his wound washed and
bandaged. Sophy cried out in dismay then, and she turned so white that
it was Pam who left her cake-making and ran to offer first aid.

“No, the sight of a cut does not frighten me very much,” she laughed, as
she dabbed the cut with a handkerchief dipped in warm water. “I have
three brothers, you see, so I have served an apprenticeship in looking
after cuts and hurts of all sorts.”

“It is a great pity that Mose Paget did not let you look after his hurts
a bit that time when the lynx clawed him.” Don winced as her hand came
down rather heavily on the wound, but she was too startled by what he
had said to notice that she had hurt him.

“Is Mose ill from his wounds, and is your father looking after him?” Her
eyes were anxious now, for she was in a measure responsible, or that was
how she felt.

“Mose has gone off to Fredericton, and he was going from there to St.
John, so Reggie Furness said this morning. Reggie is half-brother to
Mose, you know—a poor half-starved kid, who does chores for Miss
Gittins to earn his food. He told me this morning that Mose was real bad
from his hurts, and I guessed it was largely his own fault for not
keeping them clean.”

“We ought to have made him get them washed!” cried Pam in acute
distress. “He was so careful to clean the wounds of the dog, but he
would not hear of our doing anything for himself.”

“It was downright pig-headedness on his part; but he is like that, and
it is of no use to worry about it,” said Don, trying to put the best
face on the matter that he could.

Later on, when all the men came in and were gathered about the stove,
drinking coffee and eating the soda-biscuits hot from the oven, the talk
turned again to Mose Paget, and what his step-brother had said of his
condition.

“It would not be so serious if he had been better nourished and a
cleaner living man,” said Nathan Gittins, his voice sounding mumbled by
reason of his mouth being full of soda-biscuit. “But a whisky-drinking,
half-starved chap like that hasn’t a chance when it comes to a case of
blood-poisoning.”

“It is all my fault!” Pam’s voice was full of self-reproach. “I ought to
have insisted on his taking proper care. He saved my life twice on that
dreadful day, and I just let him alone when I might have looked after
him.”

“I should rather like to see the person who could make Mose Paget do
anything he did not want to do!” exclaimed Nathan with a great laugh,
which was promptly echoed by the other men. Then they proceeded to tell
Pam stories about the doings of Mose Paget, whose father had been a
mighty hunter, and had lost his life in an encounter with a bear.

“Mose has got courage of a sort,” said one man, between bites of hot
biscuit. “To me he always seems a good sort spoiled in the making. There
is what would have made a decent man, only so much laziness and
drunkenness is down underneath that it keeps coming up and spoiling
everything, don’t you see.”

The other men nodded in perfect accord with this pronouncement; then the
talk veered to other things—the latest news from Europe, the chances of
an extra severe winter, and the possibilities of grain-farming out west.
But Pam, darting to and fro waiting on these guests of hers who had come
to help her that day, kept repeating to herself that Mose had twice
saved her life in one day, and so deserved her warmest gratitude.

She went out later to see the effect of the snow-banking, and cried out
in dismay at the unsightly appearance of the house, which looked more
like a cutting by the side of a dug-out railway than anything.

“It is so dirty to look at!” she complained in confidence to Sophy, who
had followed her out.

“It will be all right next time it snows,” Sophy answered. “It is the
treading on it and the shovelling that make it look dirty. The frost
will not get in so easily, and a banked-up house is so much warmer than
one that is not banked. I think we ought to sleep downstairs at night
now, because of the stove. If you do not like to use your grandfather’s
room, we might put a bed in the best sitting-room.”

“We might use his room, then it would be aired if he should come back
suddenly,” Pam replied, then immediately thought how disastrous it would
be for him to come back with the responsibility of Sam Buckle’s death
hanging over him.

Sophy made no answer. She had tact and sympathy, and was too fond of Pam
to say or do anything which might add to the burden of her endurance.

There was a slow monotony about the days now, and the nights were so
long that some mornings it seemed as if the day would never dawn. The
outside work was very little now, for, acting on the advice of Nathan
Gittins, Pam had sold the sheep when the first snow came. It was not
wise to keep sheep through the winter in this forest district. If the
weather was very severe the wolves always gathered in bands, and a
sheepfold, however well protected, would offer no serious obstacles to
them. The pigs were also reduced in number, those that were left having
comfortable quarters at the end of the barn. The cow was in the barn for
a permanency during this bad weather, and the rooster with half a dozen
hens spent languid days in picking up crumbs at the door of the house,
or standing idly on one leg in the sunshine when there was any.

The money from the sale of the pigs had been lodged with the storekeeper
at The Corner. That was Sophy’s wisdom. The storekeeper had two prices
for everything, one rather high for the people who wanted credit, the
other very reasonable indeed for the people who were able to lodge money
with him at the beginning of the winter. The difference would mean the
saving of many dollars at the end of the winter. As she was there to
guard the interests of her grandfather, Pam felt justified in spending
so much of his money on necessaries. The money she was to receive for
the twenty acres of lumber would be banked for her grandfather’s use
should he come back to need it. Mrs. Buckle would not take back the
twenty dollars she had lent to Pam to meet the needs of the old man if
he should return, and that money was kept in the house to be handy if
required.

Pam spent laborious hours in the barn, sawing wood to keep the stoves
going. Never had she realized what a lot of wood one stove could consume
in twelve or fifteen hours, and when it became necessary to have a fire
at night also, wood-cutting bade fair to become her sole occupation. But
it was fine, healthy work, and it sent her to bed so tired that she
slept without dreams until morning, and that was surely worth while,
considering the unprotected condition of herself and Sophy.

It had been snowing for two days without stopping—not a raging
blizzard, but a steady downfall, which had piled a thick layer of the
most dazzling white all over the banked-up house, and had weighed down
the forest trees until the air was filled with the creaking, groaning,
and snapping of straining branches.

“Will anyone ever come near us again, do you expect? And were you ever
shut up in such a fashion before?” demanded Pam, as they sat down to
breakfast on the third morning of their isolation.

“I have had it worse that this,” Sophy answered. She was looking
radiantly content this morning. It was mail-day, and there would
probably be a letter for her from George Lester, who was serving in the
Mounted Police out in the wild Skeena country.

“Worse?” Pam’s eyebrows went up. To her it did not seem possible that
there could be anything worse than this white imprisonment, walled in on
every side, and with the silent but persistent fall of snow.

Sophy laughed, and nodded. “Two years ago I had to go over and keep
house for Aunt Marion while she went to Europe. She lives ever so far
from here, right away in the beech wood district beyond Selkirk. Her
husband, Uncle Horace, had to go to the town for stores. It came on to
snow as it has been doing these last two days, and he could not get
back, and I was alone with Leo and Winnie, the two children. Leo was
ten, and Winnie six. The worst of it was, our stores were nearly out. We
had so little kerosene that we had to creep to bed when it got dark, and
stay there until daylight came again. We had no sugar, the flour was
almost out, and it was nearly a week before anyone could get through to
help us.”

“What did you do?” gasped Pam.

“Oh, the best we could. We told each other things. I taught the children
how to spell, and we recited the multiplication table every day. Their
father said their education had taken great strides by the time he came
home. It was just a question of making the best of it, and not worrying.
Of course, it was horrid being short of provisions, but we had potatoes,
a pail of lard, and some bacon, so we might have been worse off.”

“Sophy, you are one of the world’s splendid women, and I am just proud
to know you!” Pam sprang up from her seat as she spoke, and swept Sophy
a low bow. They were both laughing over her exaggerated deference when
Don came gliding out from the forest on snow-shoes, and they rushed to
the door to give him a welcome.

“I tried to get here last night, but the strap of my shoe broke, and as
I sank in over my knees, I knew that it was not safe to try.” Don was
modestly apologetic, but Sophy cried out in horror that he should have
even thought of risking his life in such a fashion.

“Father was out,” said Don. “He was called to a woman who was very ill
on the other side of the Ridge. He did not get home until dawn this
morning, and then Nathan Gittins came for him to go over to their place
and have a look at that boy, Reggie Furness. Nearly starved the poor kid
has been, I should fancy, since Mose Paget has been away. He has been
living on in their shack alone—‘doing for himself’ he called it; ‘doing
without’ would be a better way of expressing it, I fancy. He fainted
whilst he was doing chores at Gittins’ place yesterday, and Galena put
him to bed there. He didn’t get better as she hoped, and was off his
head a good bit in the night, and she was so scared about him that she
sent Nathan to get Father first thing this morning.”

“When is Mose coming back?” asked Sophy, who was making fresh coffee for
her brother, whilst Pam fried bacon at the stove.

“When he is better, I suppose,” replied Don. “He has had a near squeak
for his life, I should fancy, and it will take him a little while to get
over it. Reggie will be all right now he is with the Gittins, and Galena
will not let him go until Mose comes home. She is real kind-hearted,
only I always find that a little of her goes a long way; but she means
all right, and that is the chief thing. Here is your letter, sis, and
such a fat one! An industrious fellow is George, though it beats me what
he can find to say!”

Sophy took the letter with a look of positive rapture on her face, and
retired to the bedroom, where the fire was not yet out, to read it in
peace. This was just what Don wanted, and had counted upon. He liked to
talk to Pam best when no one else was by. But this morning she was
abstracted and rather dull, a wonderful thing for her. Don thought
perhaps it was because there were no letters for her, and he hastened to
cheer her by saying he did not believe the English mail was in, for they
had said at the post office that no European letters had been received.

“I was not thinking of letters,” replied Pam, and her smile was rather
wan. “Mother may not write this mail—she has not much time, you know.
Indeed, I always used to write her letters for her, and I think she must
miss me so dreadfully at the business, for she always hated writing. I
am feeling so bad about that poor Reggie Furness. I have never seen him,
but I am constantly hearing about him, and in a way I am responsible for
his having been left in such a plight. If I had only insisted on
cleansing his brother’s wounds, they would not have done so badly, and
then the poor boy would not have been left to such hardship.”

“Why not go a bit farther back when you are at it?” said Don
impatiently. “If Mose had only been a clean-living fellow, he might not
have been so susceptible to blood-poisoning. If only he had had a
pleasanter manner he would have accepted your offer of water and washed
his hurts himself. Oh, I have no patience with all the sentimental
sympathy that is wasted on that miserable pair!”

“All the same, you need not allow it to colour all your behaviour when
you appear in polite society,” remarked Pam demurely, whereat Don glared
at her in downright anger for a moment. Then they both burst out
laughing, and the air cleared at once. He offered to teach her to walk
on snow-shoes, and Pam, delighted at the prospect of getting out of
doors, ran to wrap up warmly.

Sophy came too, and for the next two hours there was riotous fun on the
open space before the house. The snow was so soft that every spill meant
floundering in billowy clouds of white dust. Pam went down so many times
that at the end of the lesson she declared herself tired out. But she
had learned to stand erect, to pass one foot before the other, and then
to poise herself properly for the next step, so that she was fairly well
over the worst drudgery of learning to walk on snow-shoes.

“The snow will pack in a few days, then you will get on fine!” said Don,
who was proud of his pupil.

“Pack? Do you mean that it will go away?” she asked with a bewildered
air.

“It won’t go away under normal conditions before March or April. By
packing, we mean settling down in a close and firm mass. After a few
weeks it gets so hard anyone can walk on it without sinking in, even if
he has no snow-shoes. That is when life begins to get worth living in
these parts. We have parties nearly every night, and we contrive to see
more of each other than can be managed in all the rest of the year.” Don
found himself growing almost eloquent under the spell of Pam’s
interested face, and he launched into a vigorous account of the
pleasures of winter parties that lasted until he had to go.

“Your brother must think that I am made of queer stuff if he imagines
that I am going here and there enjoying myself this winter,” said Pam,
when Don had gone and the two girls were busy in the house again.

“I do not see that there is anything to prevent you from going round and
seeing folks when you have the chance,” Sophy answered, looking a little
surprised, for she knew what a social person Pam was, and she could not
understand the reason of her proposed abstinence from party-going.

“Do you think that people would care to have me at their parties when
they all know that my grandfather will have to stand his trial for
something that is next door to murder when he is found?” Pam’s tone was
very bitter. She had been musing a great deal during these days of
isolation, and the result was that deep down in her heart she was
getting absolutely scared at the thought of going about and seeing
people. Going to church at The Corner, once a fortnight, was bad enough,
but then it was possible to sit at the back and to leave early.
Church-going could not be called social intercourse either, and the less
she had to do with her neighbours while she was under a cloud the
better.

But Sophy only laughed, and putting her hands on Pam’s shoulders gave
her a gentle shake.

“As if anyone thought the worse of you for a thing you cannot help!
Besides, we all want to make much of you for the dear, plucky way in
which you have tackled a difficult situation. You will have to find a
better excuse than that if you want to be unsociable!”



                               CHAPTER X


                       Someone’s Desperate Plight

The weeks of winter wore on, and Christmas passed in quite a whirl of
hard work and social activities. There were packing bees, when everyone
worked with perspiring energy at packing apples in boxes and barrels for
sending to the cities. Pam liked that work; the apples reminded her of
summer, and they linked her up with warmth and sunshine. There were also
bees for making lard, but they were not so interesting. The fat portions
of several pigs were cut into small squares, and boiled down in great
pans, then strained. It was greasy, horrid work, but, like other
unpleasant tasks, it was very necessary, and, as no one else seemed to
mind the grease, Pam decided that it was of no use for her to make a
fuss about it either.

Christmas brought the most acute home-sickness for Pam, who had never
before been away from her family at the great festival. They wanted her
rather badly, too, which fact did but add to her pain. Greg was ill with
rheumatic fever—very ill, her mother wrote. Pam knew that the doctor’s
bill for Muriel’s illness was not all paid off yet, so it was ghastly to
think of another being piled on to it. Mrs. Walsh was in great trouble
about Pam, and she wrote that as soon as Greg was able to leave his bed
Jack would travel to New Brunswick to help her. It was this last piece
of information that gave Pam the courage to wear a smiling face, and to
hold her own at the gatherings with which the forest-dwellers beguiled
the winter nights.

It had been difficult to travel the forest ways after dark in the
summer-time and in the fall. Now, with snow on the ground and the trees
bare of leaves, it made little difference, while the moonlight nights
were almost as light as the days. Don Grierson had a sleigh with fur
robes made from the skins of animals he had shot himself—quite a
luxurious vehicle—and he would come driving along after dark to take
Sophy and Pam out to the various gatherings. The dog would be left to
guard the house, and the two went away feeling certain that all would be
right until they came back again.

The new year came in with raging storms, and these were followed at the
middle of the month by still colder weather, such cold as Pam had never
even dreamed of before. Then people began to talk of having heard wolves
howling round the lone farms at night. The children were not allowed to
go to school alone, and men traversing the forest after dark carried
fire-arms.

Even Pam carried an ancient but useful fowling-piece when she walked the
forest ways. She had learned to shoot, and she could manage to hit the
thing she aimed at. One day she contrived to shoot a hare, and although
she cried over it all the way home, she had to admit that it was
uncommonly good eating, and made a most agreeable change in their usual
food. Besides, as Sophy pointed out, the creature would probably have
fallen a victim to a wolf or a fox, or it might have perished miserably
of starvation.

“I will take the next hare I shoot to Mrs. Buckle; she is not very well,
Amanda told me.” Pam rose from her seat at table with largely increased
courage and determination; if there was a worse fate for hares than
being shot she might as well kill a few and help her neighbour.

“You had better go soon, it gets dark so early. I can do these dishes;
in fact, I shall be glad to move about a little, for I am nearly frozen
with sitting still.” Sophy shivered, for the day though bright was
intensely cold.

“I will be off at once, then.” Pam was wriggling into her coat with all
speed. “If I get anything I shall go straight to Mrs. Buckle before
coming back. Have you any message for her?”

“You can tell her that I have nearly finished mending those sheets, and
when they are done I will start at Amanda’s frock right away.” Sophy was
darting to and fro as she talked, intent on getting the noonday meal
cleared and the dishes washed, but she came out of the door to watch Pam
start, and to beg her to be careful with the gun, which had an
uncomfortable trick of kicking in unaccustomed hands.

Pam secured her hare without much trouble, and walking briskly across
the cleared fields and over the boundary line, where the broken fence
would never be repaired again, she walked in upon Mrs. Buckle and
bestowed the hare which had fallen to her gun. She delivered the message
also, and then turned back towards Ripple, quickening her steps a
little, for it was later than she had intended to be, and there were the
“chores” waiting to be done before dark.

She had almost reached the fence again when she saw a man moving towards
her along the trail; and her heart gave a great bound as she recognized
the slouching figure of Mose Paget. She had not seen him since the day
when he saved her life twice over, and now, seeing that he looked as if
he were going to avoid her by turning into a cross-trail, she shouted to
him to stop, and then ran to catch him up.

“Are you better?” she asked a trifle breathlessly. She was annoyed at
the man’s rudeness in turning away when she wanted to speak to him, but
that was just as he always treated people, Sophy had told her, and there
was nothing to be done save to ignore his rudeness as much as possible.

“Yes, thank you, Miss,” he replied, and then his hand went with a
grudging motion towards his cap, and he lingered awkwardly as if waiting
to see if she had any more to say to him.

“I was so very sorry to hear that you had been ill from the wounds you
got when you came to my help that day.” Pam’s colour was coming and
going; she felt that the man did not want to talk to her, and yet she
positively had to do something to let him know she was not ungrateful.

He shifted from one foot to the other in an uneasy manner.

“It ain’t nothing to worry about, Miss,” he said. “The Doctor told me
straight that I had only myself to thank for being so bad, and I suppose
he ought to know if anyone did. He was honest about it, too, and said
just what he thought. It would not have been much loss to anyone if I
had gone under, but I pulled through, as you see.”

“It would have been a very lasting regret to me,” said Pam with crushing
dignity. Then, because she did not know what to say, she asked if Reggie
were better, although Mrs. Buckle had told her only half an hour ago
that the boy was doing his work as usual.

“He is quite well again now, thank you, Miss,” said Mose. He moved as if
to go on, hesitated, stopped, then lowering his voice to a cautious
undertone, although probably there was no one within half a mile of
them, he said, “Do you know that the old man has been seen?”

“Grandfather, do you mean?” cried Pam, and the colour ebbed out of her
face, leaving her cheeks like ashes.

Mose Paget nodded, gave her a swift but furtive glance, and then his
gaze dropped to the ground.

“Where?” she cried. Her tone was imperious now; the man seemed so
unwilling to speak, but know she must.

“I ran up against a fellow in St. John who knew him. He said that he had
seen the old man at work in a lumber camp away in a back creek of the
Miramichi River.”

“Was the man quite sure?” Pam forced the question from her parched lips,
while her heart beat with sledge-hammer force.

“I don’t see how he could have been mistaken,” replied Mose. “The fellow
knew Wrack as well as I do. He said the old man did not seem to want to
be talked to, which was natural under the circumstances. You need not
look so scared, Miss; the man wouldn’t give him away to the police—we
none of us would do that. I shouldn’t have told you, only I thought you
would be glad to know the poor old man was alive.”

Pam nodded, for she could not speak. She felt nearly choked, and a
dreadful doubt had crept into her mind as to whether she was glad that
her grandfather was alive. She had sought tirelessly for his dead body,
and if she had found it she would have grieved for him, cut off
untimely, as it seemed to her. In such a case there would have been an
end of her fear; but now she would know no peace. She would always be
fearing that the police would find him, and that he would have to stand
his trial for being the cause of Sam Buckle’s death.

“We would not betray him to the police,” said Mose again in a tone more
emphatic than before. “It is his turn to-day, it might be ours
to-morrow, and I take it that we should do as we would be done by. Good
day, Miss!”

Lifting his cap he turned away abruptly and walked off, and Pam stood
staring after him with fearful dismay in her heart. To be linked even in
seeming with a man of this sort was dreadful. He would not betray her
grandfather to the police, because he might be in fear of being betrayed
himself another day. Her grandfather would be regarded as a “pal” by
this down-at-heels tramp. Oh, it was hateful! She stood with clenched
hands, staring at the trail by which the man had disappeared, until
warned by the cold that it was not wise to linger. As she went her way
home she debated with herself as to whether she would tell Sophy, but
she shrank in her hurt pride from the humiliation of such a confession,
and so decided that for the present she would keep the knowledge to
herself.

Reaching Ripple, she had to hurry over the evening “chores”, for she had
lingered longer with Mrs. Buckle than she should have done, and the
meeting with Mose on the way home had, of course, made her later still.
She looked so white and pinched when she came indoors to supper that
Sophy cried out in dismay at her appearance, thinking she must be ill.

“I am tired, that is all. We will go to bed early to-night,” Pam
answered, and strove to hide her aching heart under a brave show of good
spirits, until she could lie down and shut her eyes on her misery.

Sophy nodded, and said no more. She supposed that Pam was home-sick; she
understood the symptoms now, and never bothered or fussed when the
attack was extra severe. Pam’s conscience was a bit troubled about the
deception, for it was like defrauding Sophy of what it was her right to
know, to hide this news of the old man having been seen and recognized;
but she could not bring herself to talk of it.

They were getting to bed in the room which had been Wrack Peveril’s when
they were startled by a hideous howling all round the house.

“What is it?” asked Pam, her eyes wide with alarm. The dog was raging
and tearing round the kitchen, and barking fit to burst itself.

“Wolves!” murmured Sophy, and she looked so badly scared that Pam
rallied her own courage, and began to make fun of her.

“Suppose there are wolves outside, they cannot get inside, so what does
it matter? Of course, the poor dear old dog may have nervous breakdown
from too much barking, but otherwise I can’t see that we are to be much
the worse.”

“The noise is so weird. A wolf’s howl always does get on my nerves,”
faltered Sophy, who was white and trembling from fright.

Pam, who had been undressing, now began to put on her garments again
with quick, determined fingers.

“What are you going to do?” cried Sophy in dismay. “You are surely,
surely not going out of doors? Why, Pam, it would not be safe!”

“It would be rather silly to go out, seeing that there is nothing to be
gained by it,” said Pam. “I am not going out, but I am going upstairs to
see if I can get a shot at the creatures. Your brother cleaned that
rifle of Grandfather’s last week, and I might be able to kill one of
those singing beasties yonder; and just think how well it would sound in
one of my letters home!”

Sophy shivered, but uttered no further protest. At the worst Pam would
only catch a cold, and if she stopped the howling by scaring the wolves
away, she would have accomplished something well worth doing. She heard
Pam go upstairs, heard her tramping to and fro on the bare floors; there
was silence for a little, then came another burst of wolf music. A shot
rang out, and shortly after Pam came down, saying that she believed she
had driven the wolves away. The two went to bed then, sleeping without
disturbance until morning.

A brilliant day it was, with blazing sun and sparkling frost. The Doctor
drove up soon after breakfast, and for a wonder he had Mrs. Grierson
with him. They wanted to know if Pam and Sophy would like to go to a
lard-making bee at Hunt’s Crossing that night. Mindful of the howling of
the wolves last night, both Pam and Sophy declared that they would
rather be at home, so Mrs. Grierson was given a message for Don, telling
him not to come, as they had no fancy for lard-making just then.

The Doctor said a quiet word to Pam as he was going away.

“Have you heard the rumour there is going round just now that your
grandfather has been seen at work in a lumber camp on the Miramichi?”

“Yes, Mose Paget told me yesterday,” faltered Pam; and then she added in
an outburst of candour: “But I feel so bad about it. Why has he never
sent to see how it fares with his home? Why has he never come back for
the money he left behind? It was not much, but every little helps when a
man has to earn his daily bread. I have thought about it and thought
about it until I begin to wonder whether the person might not be
mistaken, and if the man he saw was not Grandfather at all.”

Dr. Grierson nodded thoughtfully.

“That was just my impression,” he agreed. “Still, seeing that the fellow
had nothing to gain by setting the story afloat, there seems no reason
beyond actual fact why he should have done so. There is nothing to be
done that I can see, except to await developments. If it is not true, it
is still very bothering that the rumour should have been started,
because it puts the assumption of the old man’s death farther away. I
mean that supposing he is not heard of again, you will have to take the
date at which this man says he saw him at the lumber camp as the last
time he was seen alive. That is three months later, don’t you see?”

Pam did see, and the seeing brought no comfort with it. She could not
tell the Doctor that she was deadly ashamed of being related to her own
grandfather; she could not explain that the disgrace and humiliation
that had come to her were almost too hard to be borne.

For the remainder of the day she chopped and sawed wood with great
vigour, working off the depression which threatened to break her down.
She had a sick longing for someone of her own to turn to, her mother or
Jack. As a matter of fact, she had never been in the habit of leaning on
her mother, and Jack was mostly sitting in judgment upon her, so that
the two had not been greatly in sympathy in those old days, which in
retrospect looked so sheltered and so dear. Not a word had she said to
Sophy as yet about her grandfather having been seen, and she did not
believe that the Doctor had spoken of it either. By and by she would
tell Sophy—indeed, it would be necessary for her to be warned, as the
old man might come home when he thought the search for him had died down
somewhat.

Very silent and absorbed was Pam that evening, and Sophy, thinking that
she was tired, suggested that they should go to bed early. There was no
probability of visitors to-night, everyone would be gone to the
lard-making frolic at Hunt’s Crossing. There was no reason at all why
they should sit up if they would be more comfortable in bed. When Sophy
proposed it Pam rose and stretched her arms above her head, declaring
that there was nothing that she would like better.

It was at that moment that the howl of a wolf sounded somewhere near the
house, and Pam’s sleepiness vanished as if it had never been.

“Those wretched creatures round the place again?” she cried. “The
uncanny beasts! I thought I had given them something to remember me by
last night. We won’t go to bed yet awhile, for I want to see if I can’t
bag one. If they come as close to the place as they did last night I
ought to be able to manage it.”

“You will get so cold!” objected Sophy.

“I will put my thick coat on. Honestly, I can’t stand that noise, and I
am going to end it somehow or know the reason why. Your mother said it
was the smell of the pigs that attracted them. But we cannot afford to
get rid of our pigs, so the only thing is to show the wolves that this
is not a healthy neighbourhood.”

Taking the gun, Pam went upstairs into the cold, unused bedrooms.
Putting her lamp on the table of the chamber in which she had slept on
first coming to Ripple, she passed into the next room, and, shutting the
door behind her, groped her way across the floor until she reached the
window. Softly opening the casement she peered out into the night. It
was most intensely cold. There was no moon, but the stars shone with a
hard brilliance, and the soft radiance of the snow made even distant
objects visible. Soon a long-drawn howl broke the stillness, and this
was promptly answered by another and yet another. The wolves seemed to
be all round the place, but Pam realized that they were by no means
close, and she was just going to draw in her head because of the
stinging quality of the cold when she caught sight of a figure gliding
in and out among the trees, which on that side grew quite close to the
house.

Her heart beat violently. Who was it that lurked yonder among the trees
instead of openly approaching the house? Was it her grandfather, who,
pressed by his necessities, had found his way back to his home? Her
sense of disgrace slipped from her as if it had never been. If her
grandfather was out there among the trees, then she must do her best to
induce him to come in and be sheltered from the cold. He would be quite
safe for that one night at least. He might even lie hidden for days in
that lone place without any outsider being the wiser.

“Grandfather!” she called. “Grandfather, is it you? Come to the door,
and I will run downstairs and let you in. It is quite safe.”

There was no answer to this, only to her straining eyes it seemed that
the figure gliding in and out among the trees waved to her, then sank
farther back into the shadows, becoming an indistinguishable blur in the
gloom.

“Grandfather, don’t be afraid, you will be quite safe!” she called
again, and not waiting this time to get an answer she shut the window,
and, groping her way to the door of the next room, picked up the lamp
and hurried down the stairs.

Sophy met her at the bottom wearing an anxious look.

“Pam, what is the matter? I heard your voice and I came to see if you
wanted me.”

“It is Grandfather out there in the cold, and I am trying to get him
inside. Think of it, Sophy, an old man like that and wandering without
shelter on such a night!”

“Your grandfather?” cried Sophy in amazement. “Pam, are you sure? Just
think, it is months ago since he was heard of, and we have thought him
dead.”

Pam groaned. If only she had told Sophy when she had heard the rumour!
It was so senseless to keep a thing like that to herself.

“He is not dead, he has been seen; the knowledge is all over the place,
but I was ashamed and silly and I would not tell you. Please forgive me,
dear, and help me all you can.” Pam was fumbling with the fastening of
the door as she spoke. She was so clumsy in her anxiety and distress
that she could not get it unfastened, and Sophy came to her help.

“Pam, you should have told me. I cannot help you if I do not know,” she
said in her quiet way, and that was all the reproach that Pam ever heard
from her. A heaven-sent friend for such a time of trouble!

The door was open at last, and Pam stood on the threshold peering out at
the night. The lamp which Sophy was holding in the background threw a
shaft of light that sharply outlined her figure, making its anxious pose
as plain as spoken words.

“Grandfather, where are you?” Breathlessly Pam waited for the answer to
her call. But none came, only presently the howl of a wolf sounded much
nearer than before. This was answered from another direction. Then all
was silent again. The two girls stood on the threshold, the keen cold
wrapping them round. Then suddenly Pam remembered that Sophy had only
her indoor garments on and might take a severe chill. “Go, dear, put a
coat on and a muffler; cover your head up or you will have bad toothache
to-morrow,” she said urgently; adding, as if by an afterthought: “I am
going over to those trees yonder to see if I can find the poor old man
and bring him into the house.”

“No, you do not, unless I come too,” burst out Sophy, with an explosive
vigour that showed how dead in earnest she was. “If you will not wait
until I can get a cloak I will come just as I am.”

“I will wait, only make haste.” Pam jerked the words out, for she was
feeling nearly desperate. She did not dare let the dog out, although the
creature was raging to and fro in the inner room. She was afraid that it
would go in pursuit of the wolves and be torn to pieces by them.

What a long time Sophy was! Pam felt that she could not wait another
minute, especially as a long-drawn howl close at hand told her that the
unpleasant beasts were getting much nearer to the house. Then Sophy came
out of the inner room wrapped to the eyes, and holding the dog by her
handkerchief slipped through its collar.

“Don’t let it loose, we shall never get it back again to-night,” said
Pam, and then she stepped out on to the snow, closely followed by Sophy
and the dog, which strained and whimpered in its efforts to get free.

“Grandfather, it is I, Pam Walsh! There is nothing to fear; you can come
into the house, at least for to-night!” Pam sent her voice out in a
reassuring shout which must have carried far in that lone place. But
there was no reply, although they lingered long, standing in the shadow
of the trees and hearing the howling of the wolves in the distance.

“What is that?” whispered Sophy sharply, and Pam’s heart gave a sudden
leap of dread. It was a faint cry for help that had reached their ears,
and at the sound the dog struggled to be free, tugging and tugging at
the lead just as if it understood.

“Come along, he is over there. I expect he has fallen and has hurt
himself,” cried Pam, dashing across the snow at a great rate, followed
by Sophy and the dog.

“Help! Help!” The cry was louder and more urgent now. The person in
trouble had a wavering, cracked voice like an old man’s, and there was
not a shadow of doubt in the mind of either girl that it was Wrack
Peveril who was calling for help. Why he should have been so close to
the place and then have gone away again puzzled Pam, but she put it down
to his natural fear of a police trap and his ignorance of what kind of
girl his granddaughter really was. They went on and on, answering the
call, searching and searching, yet never finding what they looked for.
Then suddenly they had an awful scare, for there came a scurrying rush
of feet, and an animal of some kind bounded past them, followed by some
four or five wolves in full cry. Pam lifted her rifle and fired wildly,
as there was no time to take aim, and at that moment the dog wrenched
itself free from Sophy’s grasp and tore away in mad pursuit.

“What was it, oh, what was it?” cried Pam.

“A young moose, I expect,” answered Sophy. Then she took hold of Pam,
saying urgently: “Come home, dear, we can do no good here!”



                               CHAPTER XI


                              Who was It?

Neither Pam nor Sophy had realized how far away they had wandered, when
they followed that faint cry for help. Indeed, just at the first Pam
could not think where they were, or which direction they ought to take
to find the house. The night was clouding over, the fine brilliance was
gone, and a chill wind moaned through the leafless trees.

The dog had not come back. Pam had whistled and called until she was
tired. Then she turned to help Sophy back, blaming herself bitterly
because she had followed that will-o’-the-wisp call for help, which had
given them such a fruitless chase.

“Ah!” The ejaculation was forced from Sophy as her foot slipped on an
upstanding root, and she went down with a crash.

“You poor thing! Oh, you poor thing!” cried Pam, who was more remorseful
than before.

“It was fearfully clumsy of me, and now I have hurt my foot. Pam,
whatever shall we do?” There was tragic dismay in Sophy’s tone, and it
found its echo in the heart of Pam, in whose ears the howling of the
wolves seemed to be still sounding.

“I will get you home somehow, if I have to carry you on my back,” she
cried valiantly. It seemed to be half the battle to be brave outwardly,
and indeed the sound of her own voice speaking cheerfully took away a
lot of her secret fear.

“I am quite sure that you cannot carry me, for I am as big as you, and
heavier,” said Sophy, and Pam knew this was true, for they had weighed
each other only two days before, when they were using the big scales
that were in the barn. “Perhaps I could hop on one foot like a robin if
you held me up.”

“I will hold you,” replied Pam. “Come along, it is much too chilly to
linger out here. I don’t want to be obliged to render first aid for
frost-bite. It will be quite as much as I can do to doctor your hurt
foot. I think it is going to snow again. Ah, that was a flake I felt on
my face! Sophy, we must make haste, no matter how it hurts you, dear! I
can’t find my way in the falling snow, it bewilders me so dreadfully,
and to lose our way means that we must perish miserably almost within
sight of home.”

“Clutch me tightly, and don’t take any notice if I groan,” muttered
Sophy, who was standing on one foot now, and steeling her courage to
endure. “I am not made of heroic stuff, but we have to get home, as you
say, no matter at what cost!”

A short distance was traversed: to Sophy it seemed like miles. She had
uttered no sound of pain, but what it cost her to put her hurt foot to
the ground no one but herself could know. But it was death to linger,
and pain did not count when compared with the greater terrors of the
forest at night. Then Pam called out in glad relief that she could see
the house, Sophy gathered up her courage to endure a little longer, and
they pressed forward at the best pace they could make.

“There is a light in our room; did we leave one there?” asked Pam in a
bewildered tone as she half-led, half-carried Sophy the remaining
distance to the door.

“I am sure that I did not, for I went into the room in the dark; at
least, there was no light except the glimmer from the stove.”

“Then Grandfather has come home,” announced Pam. “Unless, indeed, the
stove has somehow contrived to set the place on fire.”

“Go and see, go and see!” cried Sophy, wrenching herself free from Pam’s
supporting grip, and pushing her forward. “Don’t trouble about me, I can
manage. Hurry, Pam, hurry, or the house may be burned down, and think
how helpless we are!”

“I am not helpless, and I don’t think it is fire, it doesn’t flicker.
Most likely it is Grandfather. Oh, I do hope that he will be nice to
us!” Pam darted ahead as she spoke, and opening the door burst with
impetuous haste into the living-room. This appeared to be exactly as
they had left, it. The lamp was standing on the table, the stove was
sending out a cheerful glow, and the place was as cosy and comfortable
as any home could be. One rapid glance round Pam gave, then pushed open
the door into the best sitting-room. All was dark here, but she knew her
way too well to stumble over the furniture, and crossing the floor with
a brisk, determined tread, she pushed open the door of the inner room,
which they had been using as a bedroom.

The place was not on fire. Her first glance told her that. Her second
revealed the fact that no one was there; then all at once she realized
that someone had been there, someone who had lighted the lamp which
stood on the table by the window, and who had then been at the desk in
the corner and had wrenched open the lid.

A little inarticulate cry escaped her. She seemed to understand what had
happened so well. Her grandfather had doubtless been frightened from his
work in the lumber camp when he was recognized, and he had made his way
home, hard-pressed perhaps for money. But finding his home occupied, and
being afraid to make himself known to his granddaughter, who was of
course a stranger to him, he had hovered about the place, and had
beguiled them from the house, luring them away from the place on a false
trail. Then he must have hurried home, and, entering the house, have
gone straight to the desk in his own room, and pulled it open by force.
Great force he must have used, for it was a strong old desk, of the
home-made variety, and it would need a powerful wrench to get it open.

A hasty inspection showed her that the money was gone, not only the
amount which she had found there when she had opened the desk with her
own key, but also the twenty dollars which Mrs. Buckle had given her as
a loan, and had refused to take back.

Pam leaned against the rifled desk with a queer mixture of relief and
repulsion in her heart. She was thankful that the old man had not stayed
to be sheltered and hidden by her. It was humiliating beyond words to
have someone belonging to her who was in the unfortunate case of being
wanted by the police. It would have been horrid for Sophy to have been
mixed up even indirectly with a matter of this sort, seeing that Sophy
was going to be married to a member of the mounted police force. The
repulsion was because, try hard as she might, Pam could not fight down a
bitter dislike for the man who would beat another man, however much in
the wrong, as poor Sam Buckle had been beaten. It was horrible, it was
brutish, and she was ashamed of being descended from an individual with
such a cruel and callous nature.

Then she remembered Sophy. Leaving the room as she had found it—open
desk, the lamp burning, and everything—she hurried back through the
best sitting-room, to find when she reached the living-room that Sophy
had crept into the house, and shutting the door, had sunk down on the
nearest bench, too exhausted to go any farther.

“The place is not on fire!” shouted Pam in a cheery tone. “So there is
no danger of our having to take refuge for the night with the cow and
the pigs, or, worse still, of our having to convey ourselves as far as
Mrs. Buckle’s for a night’s lodging. But someone has been here while we
were hunting for the supposed person in trouble in the forest, and
before I attend to that foot of yours, I am going round the house, just
to make sure that the someone has really taken himself off again.”

“You must not go alone, I will come with you,” said Sophy, making a
valiant attempt to bear yet more suffering without crying out.

“Indeed you will do no such thing!” Pam cried with decision. “If you are
equal to any more exertion, just creep a little nearer to the stove, and
get a good warm, while I go my rounds. Oh, I am not afraid; I shall take
the poker—it is light and handy, and I could make very good use of it
if need arose.”

“I do not doubt it!” murmured Sophy in honest admiration; then clinging
to the furniture she crept slowly to the low seat by the stove which Pam
had made from the half of an old apple barrel, and sinking on to it, she
thankfully gave up her Spartan pose, and did not even try to feel brave
any longer.

Pam went back to the bedroom for the other lamp, and made an exhaustive
inspection of the room. It would have been difficult for a cat to have
remained hidden in places where she searched for a full-grown man, but,
as she told herself in a vigorous undertone, in such a case it did not
do to take any risks, and she meant to be quite sure that they were
alone before she went to sleep. The bedroom inspected, she opened the
window, and getting hold of the heavy wooden shutter she dragged it
across the window, and slipped the bolt into the socket. They were now
as secure as bolts and bars could make them. Carrying the lamp with her,
she then inspected the sitting-room, and passed out to the living-room,
where Sophy crouched by the stove.

“Pam, the dog has come home, it is scratching at the door.” Sophy’s
voice had a distinct sound of tears in it, but this Pam wisely ignored
for the present, being much too busy to have time for consolation just
then.

“I will let the silly beast in, and I very much hope that it found
itself out of the running when it came to chasing wolves. It is valiant
enough to attack anything, but it has no sense at all in regard to being
beaten,” she remarked, as she crossed the floor, and slipping back the
bolt let the dog into the house. The animal jumped about her in an
ecstasy of joyfulness at being indoors again. Then it sniffed curiously
about, and finally went to the door of the sitting-room and whined to be
let in.

“Ah, the wise beast!” cried Pam, with a catch in her breath. “Do you
see, it knows that its old master has been here—evidently it thinks he
is here still! No, my dear dog, you are not going into that room, and
equally you are not going out into the night again. You are going to
stay here with Sophy while I go to examine the upper story of this
desirable and beautiful residence.”

“Oh, Pam, how frivolous you sound!” cried Sophy in a rather shocked
tone. “To hear you, no one would dream of what we had gone through
to-night. Oh, I never saw anything more horrible than the wolves chasing
that poor moose; I cannot even imagine anything worse, can you?”

“Yes,”—Pam’s face paled a little as she turned to go upstairs—“I can
imagine how very much worse it would have been if those wolves had been
chasing us. I feel that we were horribly impulsive and indiscreet to go
out as we did, and it is a fine thing for us that nothing worse was the
result.”

The dog followed her up the stairs, and sniffed round the rooms in an
inquiring fashion. Once it lifted its head as if about to howl, but
happening to see the movement, Pam gripped the creature by its collar,
shaking it vigorously.

“No, you don’t, not if I know it!” she said sharply. “That poor girl
downstairs has had enough to bear by way of nervous strain to-night,
without any uproar from you to add to her burden.”

“You are sure that it was your grandfather who came to-night?” Sophy
asked later, when her ankle had been bathed and bandaged, and she was
lying at peace in bed.

“Yes, about as sure as if I had seen him.” Try as she would, Pam could
not keep the scorn from her voice. “He must have come indoors and gone
straight to his room, where he wrenched open the desk and took the money
we had been keeping there for him.”

“If it had been your grandfather would he not have had a key to the
desk?” Sophy stirred a little restlessly as she spoke; it was very
disturbing to have a thing of this kind happen, and she thought she
would be afraid to be left alone in the house after this, and, as a
rule, she was left alone so much.

“He had a key, I suppose, seeing that the desk was locked, but he might
have lost it, or he might have left it somewhere else with his baggage,
if he had any baggage. A hundred things might have happened to make it
necessary for him to break open his own desk in his own house like an
ordinary thief. But, Sophy, we have got to keep the affair to ourselves;
no one must know about his coming, do you understand?”

“Not even Father?” demanded Sophy, lifting her head from the pillow to
stare at Pam, who was undressing, and rather spinning the business out
because the stove was burning so well, and there was such a sense of
restful leisure in her heart.

“Not even Dr. Grierson.” Pam was very emphatic. “You see, he might drop
a chance word or hint of what had happened, without in the least meaning
to injure Grandfather, of course, and then the police might get hold of
it and follow up the clue. I should imagine it is not so easy to cover
one’s tracks in winter as it is in summer; and, Sophy, I believe that I
should die with shame if the poor old man were taken and made to stand
his trial!”

“Poor Pam!” murmured Sophy in the deepest, truest sympathy; but Pam
wriggled her shoulders impatiently by way of expressing her distaste for
pity.

“Proud Pam would be nearer the mark,” she said. “I am quite sure that at
the bottom it is my private and personal pride which makes me suffer so
badly at the mere thought of Grandfather being taken. I never saw him,
of course, and I never received any kindness direct from him. Even the
money which paid my passage was sent for Jack. The way my mother has
talked of him has not made it easy to feel any strong love for him. Yet
I would do anything, and suffer almost anything, rather than give the
slightest clue to those whose business it is to find him.”

“Then people must not know that we went out to find him to-night,” said
Sophy. She blinked sleepily at the lamp, and was conscious of a rather
acute disappointment. It would have made her feel almost like a heroine
if she could have talked of that escapade of theirs. She knew very well
that she was not made of heroic stuff, and it would have given her a
very solid satisfaction to have been able to speak of the wild chase
they had witnessed, when the pack of wolves dashed past them at the
heels of the moose.

“No, indeed!” Pam was more emphatic than ever. “It was a mad thing to
rush out of the house in the night like that. I did not realize what
fearful risks we might be running until I saw that poor hunted moose. I
did not know moose ever came so near to houses before; I thought they
kept entirely to the wild lands.”

“They do usually, but pressed by winter and deep snow they will come
right into settled places,” replied Sophy, who was plainly getting
drowsy. “I have known them come round the houses at The Corner, and they
have even helped themselves to Father’s haystacks when the weather has
been very severe.”

“I cannot think what men are made of. I should hate to go
moose-hunting!” cried Pam with a shiver.

“Wait until you have tasted moose-meat,” murmured Sophy, and then she
drifted into dreamland before she could say any more.

Pam was very wide awake, and she sat for a long time crouched over the
stove, her eyes fixed on the glowing embers and her thoughts very busy
with the future. She would have to work hard to get some more money
ready for her grandfather by the time he should need it. How long would
the lot he had taken to-night last him? She had no first-hand knowledge
of his habits to guide her. When he had been at home he had been
apparently something of a miser, unless, indeed, he had been very, very
poor. Of course, he might make that money go for a long time. But she
would never feel safe, and she must have some more for him if he needed
it. Of course there was the money for the black spruce, but she could
not touch that; it was lodged in the bank in trust for her grandfather
if he should want it for his trial, and to ask for a portion of it might
bring suspicion upon him.

The hopelessness of it all weighed upon her as she sat brooding by the
fire. Her grandfather might even choose to sell the house and land, when
she would be stranded in a strange country, with only her own exertions
and the kindness of friends to help her. She had left home with a brave
determination to win a place for her brothers in this land of promise.
She had cheerfully faced the hardest and most laborious work, just
because she was holding their inheritance for them, but to-night the
question in her mind was as to whether she was really doing anything for
her family at all. Ripple belonged to her grandfather, and he was
plainly alive and in hiding, so that he was still master, even though he
might not be able to show his face in his home; and the rosy future she
had planned for the boys and Muriel was dependent on what he might
choose to do with his own.

A man in hiding would not be able to make a good bargain if he tried to
sell his property, so she told herself, and from her mother’s
description of her grandfather she could not imagine the old man being
willing to let the place go at less than its market value. He would be
more likely to give her discretionary powers to do her best with the
place, and hand over some portion of the profits as he might need them.
She wondered when he would come again, and if she would see him next
time. It was a pity that she could not live at Ripple alone, then he
would not be afraid to venture. She herself had perfect trust in the
fidelity of Sophy, but unless she could see her grandfather and talk to
him, she could not make him understand this.

“If only Jack were here what a comfort it would be just now!” Pam
murmured the words to herself, then yawned and rose from her seat. It
was very late, nearly midnight, and there was much wood-sawing waiting
for her to-morrow.

She would write and tell her mother as much as it seemed wise, and,
after all, it would not be long to wait now until Jack came. Pam laughed
softly to herself at the difference Jack would find in her. Oh, she knew
that she had changed; the old carelessness was gone, she was more
heedful of consequences than before. She had learned a lot of
self-reliance too. Of course she still made blunders, some of them
rather ghastly ones too; but then, as she argued, Rome was not built in
a day, and she could not expect to learn wisdom all at once, so it was
of no use being dismal when she made mistakes.

She crept into bed beside Sophy and quickly fell asleep. Outside the
house a wild snowstorm was raging, the wind howled round the lone abode,
and presently Pam began to dream that the old man, her grandfather, had
come back, and was reproaching her for letting his money be stolen.

“But you came and stole it yourself!” she exclaimed in surprise, and
then was awakened by the sound of her own voice. The lamp which she had
left burning was going out for want of oil, and the dog was scratching
at the door, sure sign that morning had come.



                              CHAPTER XII


                                Sugaring

Spring was coming with swift and certain steps. A breath of life was
sweeping through the forest, and there was a stir and a movement which
quickened the pulses of the forest-dwellers. The snow lay deep on hill
and valley, and the cold was more intense than ever, but the days were
lengthening, and the sun had more heat in it when it shone at midday.

Pam was casting about for some way to earn money, or at least to save
money, for in that isolated region saving often stood for earning, and
to go without a thing, or without many things, was equal to a rise in
income. It was the store bill which was bothering her now. The deposit
at the store was nearly at an end, and in a few weeks she would have to
choose between paying ready money and submitting to being charged the
credit price for all goods, and that was so high that she hated the
thought of it.

It was true she was a Londoner by birth and upbringing, but she was
descended from generations of forest-dwellers, and the lore of the woods
was somehow bred in the bone. Other people could make a living in the
forest, and she would do it too, or perish in the attempt.

“Sophy, did you ever go sugaring?” she asked one evening when she had
come in rather late to supper, and was pulling off her heavy boots,
groaning a little because she was so stiff and sore from long hours of
splitting and sawing firewood.

Sophy was frying flapjacks for supper, and she had to turn one very
carefully before she answered.

“Yes,” she said, “I have been several times, but I always fail to see
where the fun comes in.”

“Mother used to love sugaring,” Pam remarked in a thoughtful tone as she
attacked her second boot.

“I dare say she did.” Sophy turned her flapjack out on to the dish,
where it fell with a sputtering hiss. She put another chunk of lard in
the pan, and set it on the stove to get hot. “There are sugaring parties
most years, and people seem to think it is great fun; but we are not all
made alike, and I never can see much pleasure in getting my clothes all
messed up, catching bad colds, and working until every bone in my body
aches, just for amusement.”

“My dear, to hear you talk anyone would think that you were qualifying
for speedy development into a suburban old maid of the most conventional
sort,” laughed Pam. “Instead of which, you are making your trousseau for
marriage with a man in the most adventurous profession that can be
found. Now, I would enjoy a sugaring party more than anything else;
really for the fun of it, I mean. But there is solid gain too, is there
not? It is the profit side of the question that appeals to me at the
present. Do you think I could get up a party?”

“I don’t doubt it,” Sophy gurgled with amused laughter. “Don would give
anything for a chance to come, and so, of course, would Nathan Gittins,
though I expect they would quarrel a bit over the best mode of
procedure. Don can never forget that he has been to college and has been
trained in the most expert and scientific fashion, while Nathan is quite
sure that weight of years and experience should take the first place.
The two Hubbards would like to come too, also young Will Palmer from
over the Ridge, and, oh—half a dozen more perhaps.”

“But they are all young men, or at least unmarried men; I could not go
sugaring with them. Sophy, I think you are horrid!” cried Pam, but the
laughter in her voice took the edge from her speech, and Sophy was
laughing also.

Over supper they sketched out a plan of campaign. The maples on the
Ripple land had not been tapped for several years, and should yield a
fine lot of syrup. It was the boiling that would be the trouble;
experience was necessary here, and although Pam would have preferred
what she called a hen-party for her sugaring, it was plain the business
could not be carried to a successful finish without masculine aid.

“I will go over to-morrow and ask Galena what she thinks about it,” said
Pam with decision; and when supper was done she went round the house,
and even hunted through the cellar, to see how many pans and buckets
were available for use in holding syrup. There was a tremendous lot of
rubbish of one sort and another stored in the cellar under the house at
Ripple. Pam had never seemed to have the time to turn the place out and
sort things up, but after she had been poking round that evening she
made up her mind she would have to do it before the sugaring took place,
so that she might get some clear idea as to her storage capacity.

Galena Gittins welcomed Pam’s great idea with acclamation.

“You are really wonderful for a city girl, and an English city girl
too!” she exclaimed. “You think and plan as if you had been reared in
the backwoods.”

“It is in my bones,” replied Pam. “Sometimes I feel as if all the other
part of my life had been a dream, and only this is real. Although I was
brought up in the city, I have never really belonged to it; consciously
or unconsciously, it is the country I have been pining for, and my
mother has always hated London so much that it is not wonderful we, her
children, have hated it too. Then you think we can go sugaring?”

“Why, yes, of course; it is a fine idea!” Galena’s tone was hearty, for
the work promised a frolic, which appealed to the frivolous part of her.
It would also be a paying piece of work, and that appealed to the
prudent side of her character, so no wonder she approved!

Together they arranged details—the time, the company to be invited, and
the terms on which they should be asked to come. Sugaring was usually
paid for in kind, Galena told Pam—that is, every member of the sugaring
party had a percentage of the sugar that was obtained.

“The trees are all fairly near to your house, so we can go and come in a
day. One of the men had better camp at the ground, but there will be no
need for the women to do it, and that will save any amount of trouble.”
Galena’s tone was brisk and business-like. She and her brother were two
of the very few people who made farming in those parts downright
profitable, as Pam knew, and that was why, in all matters pertaining to
outdoors, she came to sit at the feet of Galena.

“Camping would be more fun,” said Pam, whose tone was actually wistful.
She would have dearly loved to camp out by the trees which were to be
forced to yield their sweetness. It would be an experience indeed to
have a tent on the snow, to sit at the tent door to warm by a fire of
logs, and then to dream through the solemn midnight hours, while the
wind moaned through the leafless branches of the trees and the stir of
the rising sap sent new life among the whispering twigs. But she had
plenty of common sense, and it was easy to see how dangerous it would be
for anyone who had been sleeping all the winter in a banked house, with
a fire in the bedroom, to go camping in the forest before the snow was
entirely gone. This was a case where sentiment had to be flung
overboard, and common sense had to dictate the mode of daily life. So
far, Pam had not ailed the whole winter through, she had not even had a
bad cold. But spring was the testing time, and it would never do, from
the point of view of economy, for her to be ill now that work was about
to increase on her hands.

Nathan Gittins readily promised to lend a hand with the boiling, but he
advised her to ask Don Grierson to take the management of the affair.

“The lad has got book-learning to help out experience, and it is when
the two go together that the best results are obtained,” said Nathan in
his deep voice. Then he went on to say: “If he is bossing the show I
shan’t feel so tied and responsible. I’m willing enough to give labour,
but I don’t want the burden of thinking and planning the whole
business.”

After this there was nothing for it but that Pam should ask Don if he
would take the lead in the sugaring, and in truth Don was very willing
to accept the responsibility. He had been busy enough all the winter
lumbering the black larch on his own land, for he had taken a farm near
to The Corner which had dropped out of cultivation for nearly ten years,
and it would require a tremendous lot of hard work and a considerable
amount of money to make it a paying venture. But just for a few weeks,
until the snows were melted, work was easy with him, and sugaring would
be something of a holiday.

He came over one damp afternoon to go the round of the trees with Pam.
The forest was full of the music of tinkling streams and falling water.
Pam had rubbers over her boots, or she would have been foot-wet before
she had gone ten steps, for it was like wading in a pond.

Taking the narrow trail, where now they had to walk high on the ridge of
the drifted snow, they came out on to the old tote road; and following
it for nearly half a mile, they descended a steep dip and plunged into a
forest of maples.

“Are all these sugar maples?” demanded Pam. There was an inflection of
awe in her voice, for it seemed to her that if all the trees she could
see yielded maple sugar she would be in process of becoming a
millionaire, or rather her grandfather would be, seeing that the
property belonged to him and not to her.

“No, there is a lot of red maple here,” replied Don, whose gaze was
searching the bare trunks with the eye of an expert.

“How can you tell them apart?” she asked, then sighed a little, because
the more she knew of forest lore the more she found there was to learn.

“By formation largely,” he said, pointing out to her this and that
difference in shape. “But if I were seriously at a loss there is one
infallible test. Just drop a little sulphate of iron on to the wood, and
if it is sugar maple it turns a greenish hue, but if it is red maple it
goes a deep blue colour. But that would be quite an extreme test; it is
easy enough to tell them apart as a rule.”

“They look dreadfully alike to me,” she said ruefully; then burst out,
“Oh, how I wish Jack were here! How he would enjoy all the fun of the
sugaring!”

“Can’t he get here in time?” Don was counting and measuring, and so he
asked his question in an abstracted fashion. Of course it would be to
Pam’s advantage to have her brother to help, for it would mean one share
of sugar saved, seeing that every worker from outside would take from
her profits.

“Mother said the end of the month, and I did not like to press her to
send him sooner, because he is earning a really good salary for a boy of
his age. Messrs. Gay & Grainger have been very good to him, and they do
not like losing him. Then, of course, Mother has got to find the money
for his fare. It has made me feel so bad that I could not help her with
that, but I dared not take Grandfather’s money in case it might be
wanted before I could make it up again.”

“Do you still think he will come back or be found by the police?” Don
looked at her in amazement. He knew nothing of that night’s experience
when Sophy and Pam had been lured from the house by that false cry for
help, for Sophy had kept the secret most loyally.

Pam winced. She always did wince at any mention of the police in
connection with her grandfather, for she was very proud, and the shame
of it all scorched her very soul. It was quite bad enough to be poor,
but happily there was no shame in that when the poverty could not be
helped.

“Of course I think he will come back when he feels inclined,” she
answered, and in spite of herself a note of offence, crept into her
tone. “Then when he does come back the police will have to do their
duty, and that is why the money must be kept for his defence.”

“It is hard on your mother, though.” Don was still keenly surveying the
trees, and so his eyes were away from the face of his companion, where
the red blood was mounting in a burning blush of shame, right to the
roots of her hair. “Mrs. Walsh has had no help from you all the winter,
and now she will have to lose your brother’s help, too.”

“It is not quite so bad as it might be.” Pam was smiling a little
ruefully at the remembrance of what she was and comparing it with what
she had been forced by circumstances to become. “I was out of a
situation when I came here, and as Grandfather sent the money for my
fare, I did not cost Mother anything, and she has not had to keep me all
the winter. Then I was not much good at home; I always seemed to do the
wrong things. I upset the boarders by laughing at them. I could not get
as much work out of the servants as Jack could, and I was always
breaking things, or tearing things, or doing things wrong.”

“Did you change your nature on the voyage?” asked Don, turning to look
at her in amazement, for she had struck him as about the most capable
and clever girl it had ever been his lot to meet, and he valued her
accordingly.

Pam laughed merrily; she was not even embarrassed by the very evident
admiration in her companion’s face. He was so plainly unconscious of it
that it would be in the worst possible taste to notice or appear to
resent it.

“I don’t think I changed my nature, only that my peculiar gifts have now
found a more suitable setting,” she answered indifferently, then asked a
question about the sugaring which diverted the talk from personalities
and kept it in a strictly business groove.

Don was great on sugaring, and after some deliberation he declared that
the boiling would be best done at the house. It would add to the labour
a good deal to have to carry the syrup so far, but there was so much
less risk of spoiling the colour by any over-boiling, the fire could be
kept steadier, and the work could be done in a more satisfactory manner.

Then came busy days of trough-making. This was all done at
Ripple—indeed, most of it was done by Pam after Don had made a few as
patterns; for Dr. Grierson was spilled from his sledge just at that
time, and was so much hurt that he could not go to his patients except
when Don went with him, to lift him in and out of the sledge and help
him to the bedsides of those who needed him badly. It was the
sickness-time; the fierce cold was relaxing its grip on the land, and
everyone was feeling the change. Nathan Gittins, who had said that he
would come and help to make the troughs, was ill in bed with influenza,
and Galena was tied hand and foot with the work of the house and the
farm, to say nothing of the nursing. Indeed, Nathan was so ill for three
days that Mrs. Buckle went over to the Gittins farm to help Galena, who
was nearly worn out. Then he began to improve, and got better almost as
fast as he had got ill.

Then the sugaring began. The trees selected were carefully numbered, an
incision was made in the bark, and the little troughs made by Pam were
fixed under the openings to catch the oozing syrup. When the troughs
were full they were emptied into a cooking pot, which two of the sugar
workers carried the round of the trees; then the pot was brought to the
house, and the work of boiling and skimming began. But the accidents,
the frights, and the surprises were so numerous that Pam began to wonder
whether after all her sugaring venture would pay its expenses. The snow
was melting fast, and the sun was so hot at midday that the bears, which
had been sleeping for most of the winter snugly tucked into some cranny
of the hillside, or in hollow trees, came out of their long slumber and
cast about for food to satisfy them after their long fast. As a matter
of course they found the troughs under the tapped trees, and equally as
a matter of course they helped themselves to the syrup, knocked the
troughs down, so that the escaping syrup was wasted, and generally upset
things. After this a very close watch had to be kept, and although it
was impossible to keep the bears from stealing the syrup, it was
possible to prevent the waste by fixing the troughs anew, or by
replacing them, when they were damaged, with fresh ones.

The boiling was an anxious business, too, but here Pam proved her
mettle. It took her some days to discover just how big to make her fire,
and just how fast it was safe to let the syrup boil without its boiling
over; but when once she had succeeded in mastering these details, she
was able to run the boiling business single-handed whilst the others of
the party were away collecting syrup. Sophy’s time was fairly well
filled in catering for such a big party, and the fun at meal-times was
fast and furious. Luckily the weather was fine, and so the work went on
with dispatch. The house was redolent of the smell of boiling syrup, and
when Sophy complained that it made her feel sick, Pam pointed out to her
how much worse it would be if the stuff were allowed to boil over on the
stove and the odour of burning were added to the smell of the syrup.

At last the long hours of bending over the boiling syrup began to affect
Pam; she had a fearful headache, then came nausea and sickness. Galena
was forced to take the place of boiler, while Pam went out to the woods
to help in the collecting. Don wanted her to come with him. It was
necessary for them to work in pairs, and Pam looked so shockingly bad
from her bilious fit that she was really an object of pity. But Pam had
a perverse fit and would not go. She told Don that he must go with
Nathan and work as fast as possible, while she strolled along behind
with little Amanda Higgins, whom Mrs. Buckle had generously spared for a
day’s outing in the forest. Don was reluctant to leave her; he said that
Amanda could go with Nathan, and they two would go together, when he
would see that she did not have to work hard, nor yet to walk farther
than she felt fit for. But Pam was bent on having her own way, and, like
most perverse people, she had to suffer in consequence.

Amanda was a feckless girl, whose idea of sugaring was to run here and
there looking in sheltered places, and on the sunny sides of the banks,
to see if the colt’s-foot was coming into blossom. She left Pam to do
the work of emptying the troughs and refixing them, and she was a proud
and happy girl when she announced with a shout of jubilation that she
had found the first flower. Pam dropped her trough in a hurry then, and
let the exuding sap drip to waste while she ran to look at the tiny
yellow blossom, which was indeed the harbinger of the hosts of flowers
that were waiting to carpet the waste places with beauty.

“It is too early for flower-hunting yet,” said Pam, mindful of her duty,
as she picked up the trough which she had flung down in such a hurry and
went off to fix it to the tree. “Come and help me, Amanda, and then next
week, when this sugar business is all out of the way, I will ask Mrs.
Buckle to spare you, and we will have a long afternoon in the forest
hunting for flowers. They will all be new to me, but I expect you know
all about them, and which come first?”

“I should just think I do!” cried Amanda, who was skipping and prancing
like a young lamb, and was almost as irresponsible. She started to run
down a little bank that was clear of snow, and to jump the hollow at the
bottom, where the drift still lay in unsullied whiteness on the top of
last year’s leaves; but she caught her foot in an upstanding root, tried
to save herself, failed, then went sprawling into the drift, clutching
wildly for something by which to save herself, and screaming at the top
of her voice.

Pam put the pot of syrup carefully on the ground and went to the help of
Amanda. Privately she was sharply regretting the fit of perversity which
had made her refuse to go with Don, for if Amanda had been with Nathan
Gittins, he would have taken good care that she did not get up to pranks
of this sort, which not merely wasted time, but endangered her limbs
likewise. There was so much sickness about at this time that it was of
all things foolish to run risks which might be avoided.

“Catch hold of my hand and I will pull you out!” cried Pam, and holding
to the stem of a slender young birch with one hand, she reached out the
other to assist Amanda from the hollow, which was a deep one.

“Oh! Oh! Oh!” Amanda’s voice rose in a crescendo of shrieks as she
squirmed round and round in an agitated endeavour to get on her feet,
and she was in such a hurry that it took about twice as long to scramble
up as it would have done if she had gone to work in a cooler fashion.
“Ah! Oh! Ah! There is a dead man here down under me, and I am frightened
out of my life!”

“Catch hold of me, I will pull you out; but do not trample about in that
fashion, it is horrible!” Pam’s voice was sharp with authority now. It
was dreadful that Amanda should be trampling on what had once been a
human being, and the child seemed too demoralized by her fear to do the
sensible thing, and get out of the hole as quickly as possible. She was
shrieking and crying, but Pam did not once check the noise, for it
seemed to her it was the best way of letting the others know that
something serious was the matter.

There was an answering shout from the distance, but the two men did not
arrive before Pam had managed to grip Amanda and land her on the bank.
She was shivering and crying at such a rate that she was wholly
incoherent, and it was Pam who had to tell the two men the cause of the
trouble. But she kept her back turned upon the hollow, so desperately
afraid was she of seeing something of what had scared Amanda so badly.

Nathan slid carefully into the hollow, and began scraping away the
melting snow with his hands. Then Don crept down also, and Pam hushed
Amanda with a gesture of authority, while she still kept her back turned
upon the scene.

“We found that, and that,” said the voice of Don at her elbow; “but
there is little else save a few bones. It looks as if the poor fellow,
whoever he was, had been set upon and eaten by wolves.”

Pam glanced at the objects he was holding out to her, and then gave a
startled cry, for the first, a little wallet with leather cover and
metal corners, was one of the things taken from her grandfather’s desk
that night when she and Sophy had been lured from the house; and the
other thing was a stout little canvas bag containing coin.



                              CHAPTER XIII


                             Just a Doubt!

“It is Grandfather!” cried Pam in a startled tone. She had recognized
the things at once, and of course she came to the most obvious
conclusion concerning them.

“You can’t be sure, unless you can swear to his having carried the bag
and the wallet when he went away from Ripple, and you were not here
yourself to know anything about it,” objected Nathan, who prided himself
on having a judicial mind, and not accepting anything as fact which had
not been proved inside and out.

Pam thrust out her hands with an impatient gesture. She had never felt
so much like fainting in her life. She wanted something to cling to, to
keep her from falling, but there was nothing except Amanda, who was
clinging to her, and crying as if her heart would break.

“You do not know, and I have never dared to speak of it before,” she
said, plunging into her story with a desperate haste to get it told, and
realizing, now that it was too late, how very much better it would have
been if she had never made Sophy keep silence on the subject.
“Grandfather came back one night in January, and—and he took the money.
Of course, he had a perfect right to what was in his own desk!”

Don stared at Pam in surprise. Why did she fling up her head as if she
were defying the whole world in championing the cause of her
grandfather?

“The poor old fellow came home, and you never let on to us about it!”
exclaimed Nathan in amazed disapproval. “You don’t mean to say you
really thought that any one of us would have betrayed him to the police?
Why, he might have stayed hidden in our house all the winter, and no one
outside the township would have been a bit the wiser. How long did he
stay? Was he very much cut up? Dreadful hard on a man of his sort to be
forced into wandering!”

“I don’t know; I did not see him,” faltered Pam, who could not repress a
shudder as she thought of what Amanda had found in the ditch. Almost
unconsciously she moved a step nearer to Don and farther from the
hollow.

“If you did not see him, how was it that you knew he had come?” asked
Don hurriedly. He had seen the black frown on the face of Nathan, and
was dreadfully afraid of what he might say to Pam. Nathan was a Justice
of the Peace for the district, but all the same he had his own ideas of
how far it was wise to obey the law, which, according to him, had been
made for the instruction of fools.

Pam gave a little gasp as if she were choking, and then she went on with
the story of that night when she and Sophy had braved the dangers of the
forest to find the person who had called for help. She told how they had
seen the wolves in pursuit of the moose, and had made their way back to
the house, to find that someone had been there who had taken the money
from the desk. She explained how she had firmly believed this to be the
work of her grandfather, who, pressed by his dire need, had lured them
out in order to get in and help himself to his own money.

“But it was not all his own money,” objected Nathan. “You say that
twenty dollars of it belonged to Mrs. Buckle, and that was taken too.”

Pam lifted her head, and there was a stormy light in her eyes.

“Why should he not take the money that was in his own desk? As it
happened, he had a perfect right to it too, for Mrs. Buckle had given it
to me for him, she was so afraid he would be found by the police and
punished for what happened to her husband, and she said there had been
quite enough suffering and misery already. Are you trying to insinuate
that my grandfather was a thief?”

“No, I am not,” said Nathan in his slow and stolid manner; “and if I did
think he was, you would be the last person who would hear of it from me.
All the same, it was a thief who entered the house that night. It was a
thief who knew the neighbourhood pretty well, too. That means we have a
thief living amongst us, a pretty low-down sort of a rogue too, seeing
that he would lure a couple of defenceless girls out to take the choice
of several ways of dying at night in midwinter, the snow deep on the
ground, the wolves hunting in packs. I just wish I had caught the wretch
red-handed; I would have choked the life out of him then and there!”

“Oh, hush!” cried Pam, aghast at the passion of the quiet man’s tone.
“Remember that the thief, whoever he was, is dead.”

“If he is dead, then it certainly was no one from round about here,”
said Don. “We have had no one disappear from the neighbourhood this
winter.” He had been running over in his mind all the persons of shady
character that he knew, but none of them filled this bill.

“I do not think it was a thief,” protested Pam. “I think it was poor
Grandfather himself, who came to get the money from his own desk because
he was so hard pressed by want. Then when he got clear of the house he
must have lost his way in the forest. Where would he have been heading
for in this direction?”

Both Don and Nathan knew the forests like a book, but this question of
Pam’s seemed to puzzle them very much.

“So far as I can judge he would not have been heading for anywhere,”
answered Don, and Nathan nodded in complete acquiescence. “If it was
your grandfather, he must have been wandering for the sake of wandering,
or else he must have lost his way in the snow, and that is not likely,
seeing how well he knew the ground. But we may know more about it when
we have scooped the snow away. You and Amanda had better go back to the
house and not worry about this.” Don nodded in the direction of the
hollow, and Pam shivered anew.

“Will you bring the remains to our house?” she asked, and before her
eyes came a picture which made her feel as if she would faint.

“No, we shan’t, we shall carry them to The Corner,” answered Don
briefly; and then he hurried Pam off the scene, and hustled Amanda until
she turned on him with a childish impertinence on her tongue, though she
burst into noisy crying before it was uttered. Her nerves were shaken by
the tragedy on which she had stumbled, and she clung to Pam, sobbing
violently.

“You must help me carry the pot of syrup; you can cry when you get
home,” said Pam in a matter-of-fact fashion intended for the soothing of
Amanda.

“She had better wait until she has something to cry about,” put in
Nathan, who was also doing his best to speed their going.

Pam picked up the pot with the syrup.

“What about the trees I have not done?” she said to Don. “Will you be
able to go over them later, or shall I come back presently?”

“I will do them when I come back from The Corner,” replied Don, and then
he watched until Pam and the weeping Amanda had passed out of sight.

Gone was the joy of the sugaring! The grim story which the melting snows
revealed was on every tongue. Nothing else was talked about, or thought
about. A formal inquiry was held at The Corner, the Doctor’s wagon-house
being used as a court-house for want of a better. Pam had to attend,
also Sophy, and both of them told the story of the night alarm,
describing how they had heard someone crying for help, and how, in spite
of the fact that they knew wolves were in the neighbourhood, they had
gone into the forest to hunt for the person they believed to be in
difficulties.

“You must have been mad to do such a thing!” exclaimed the Doctor,
looking at his daughter with horror on his face. He had thought so much
of Sophy’s level-headed discretion that he had never seriously worried
about the unprotected state in which she and Pam had lived all the
winter. But the story of their wandering made him inclined to change his
estimate of his daughter’s good sense. “Of course Miss Walsh would not
understand how full of danger such a search might be; but you have been
reared in the forest, or near it. If you had failed to hit the trail
back to the house you would both have perished miserably by morning.”

“Would you have had us remain in the warmth and security of the house
while someone was perhaps perishing within shouting distance of us?”
demanded Pam with fire in her eyes. All this talk of taking care of
themselves rather grated on her nerves.

“We should all have felt pretty bad if harm had come to you,” answered
the Doctor, looking up at her with a smile which completely disarmed her
resentment.

It was dreadful to Pam to have to stand in that crowded wagon-house and
tell the assembled men that she had hidden the fact of the house being
robbed, because she was afraid that if she spoke of her loss it would
put the police on the track of her grandfather.

“If you did not see the person who entered the house and took the money,
how could you be sure that it was your grandfather who had done it?”
asked the legal gentleman in charge of the inquiry.

“I was not sure,” said Pam, turning to him with wistful appeal in her
eyes. “I only felt that it must be Grandfather, who, pressed by his sore
need, had lured us out so that he could enter the house, his own house,
unobserved, to get the money.”

“I happened to know your grandfather,” said the lawyer, “and anything
less likely for him to do I cannot conceive. No, Miss Walsh, if ever the
story of that night is known, you will find that it was not your
grandfather, coming, as you pathetically put it, to take his own money,
but a miserable scamp of a thief, who, not content with robbing a lone
house at night, made his wrong-doing into black crime by exposing two
girls to risks of the gravest kind. It is deeds of this sort which call
for summary justice, only the trouble is the wily rogues are hard to
catch.”

“At least the justice of heaven overtook this one,” said the Doctor as a
murmur of anger went through the crowd, and Pam realized with a thrill
how kindly was the feeling for her and Sophy. She had to listen meekly
enough to the lecture which the lawyer read her on her wrong-headedness
in trying to keep what she thought was the visit of her grandfather from
the police, but in her heart she knew that in similar circumstances she
would do the same again.

The verdict of the inquiry was that a man had been found dead in the
forest, but that there was not sufficient evidence to show whether he
had died first and his body had then been eaten by wolves, or whether he
had fallen a victim to the hungry creatures when he was making his way
from Ripple. There was no evidence to show who he was; from the size of
the bones it might have been Wrack Peveril, but equally it might not.
One thing only was certain—that it must have been the man who entered
the house at Ripple in the absence of Pam and Sophy, for both Pam and
Mrs. Buckle testified to this. Mrs. Buckle had marked the paper money
with a little cross on the flourishes of one capital letter, which she
pointed out, while Pam testified to the stout little wallet being the
one in which she had stored the twenty dollars. One thing was very
puzzling to her, and that was the fact that the canvas bag only
contained seven dollars in cash, whereas it should have had fourteen
dollars, this being the amount of the money she had found in her
grandfather’s desk, and left there against the time of his necessity.

“You are quite sure about this amount?” the lawyer asked her. And Pam
was quite sure. Conjecture was busy then, but it amounted to no more
than conjecture, and the affair had to be left shrouded in mystery.

The remains were buried in a nameless grave. The lawyer would not permit
it to be assumed that the bones were those of Wrack Peveril, while the
strictest search revealed nothing by which an identity could be set up.
The torn clothing, such as remained, was what anyone might have worn,
the boots had no name on them, and there was nothing else to go by.

Pam came out of the wagon-house at the close of the inquiry feeling as
if she would like to run away and never show her face in the
neighbourhood again. She was acutely miserable, and it did not tend to
raise her spirits when a small boy, lean and ragged, who hung on the
outskirts of the crowd, deliberately stuck his tongue out at her. She
flushed scarlet at the insult and turned away so sharply that she punted
into Sophy, who was walking on the other side of her, and who
immediately wanted to know what was the matter that she was so red in
the face, because she had been so pale before.

Pam would not tell her. She would not even inquire the name of the
ragged boy. It was such an emphasis of what she had been feeling, just
as if her secret thoughts had been put into speech, and shouted out so
that all might hear. Surely never before had a girl so hard a thing to
bear! The very pity of these kindly folk did but add to her suffering.
She thought of her mother, and it was only the urgent necessity for
safe-guarding the interests of the dear home people that enabled her to
bear the ordeal with patience.

In her own mind Pam was absolutely certain that the poor remains found
in the forest were those of her grandfather. She found it best to keep
silent about her belief, however. The neighbours were indignant that
that idea should gain a moment’s credence. They held it an insult to his
memory that such a thing should be believed of him as that he should
enter his own house like a burglar and steal his own money! Yet everyone
believed he had beaten Sam Buckle so sorely that the man had died from
his wounds! Pam would have laughed at the absurdity of their
standpoints, if she had not been so sore at heart about it all. If only
the remains had had anything upon them to prove her right, most of her
troubles would have been over; she could have written to her mother to
say that her grandfather was dead, and then Mrs. Walsh would have
disposed of the boarding-house, and would have come out to Ripple with
the other children. It was Pam’s comfort that Jack was coming. Perhaps
when he arrived, and heard all that there was to be told, he would be
able to persuade her mother that it was best to come.

The maple trees on Ripple had not been tapped for so long that the yield
was quite wonderful. Pam found herself in the position of being able to
sell a couple of hundredweights of sugar, as well as having enough for
home consumption for a long time to come. She reckoned that her trees
had averaged twenty pounds weight of sugar each. Of course higher
averages had been made; some people talked of having had trees which
yielded thirty pounds each. But, as Galena said, you would not find more
than one tree in a few hundreds do as much as that; the average of
twenty pounds was very high, and it would not be safe to tap those trees
again next spring, as it would probably kill them.

By the time the sugaring was safely over, the snow had melted
sufficiently for the plough to get to work. Neither Pam nor her next
neighbour, Mrs. Buckle, had horses for ploughing. Mrs. Buckle did
certainly possess an ancient nag, knock-kneed and a roarer, which drew
her to meetings on Sundays, but the creature was not capable of very
much in the way of exertion, so the ploughing on both farms had to be
done by outside labour. Nathan Gittins having undertaken the work, in
addition to his own fields, his plough was going every day and all day.
Then the wind veered round to the cold quarter, there was another
blizzard, and they were back in winter again, to the secret disgust of
Pam, who had seen enough of snow to last her for that season.

But spring snow is swift to go. The brown earth was showing, and a brisk
but warm wind was blowing on the day when Pam went to borrow Mrs.
Buckle’s ancient horse to drive to Hunt’s Crossing to meet Jack. It was
amazing to Pam that the widow should be such a kind friend to her.
Indeed, Mrs. Buckle’s attitude was something remarkable, seeing how her
husband had met his death. But she had no strong prejudices, and common
sense told her that Pam, the stranger, was in no way to blame for the
long-standing animosity between the men who had quarrelled for so many
years about the fence, which, in point of fact, made no difference to
either.

“Can you spare the horse?” asked Pam, standing on the threshold of Mrs.
Buckle’s little brown house, her feet with difficulty refraining from
dancing, and her face wreathed in smiles. Such happiness she had not
known since her feet had first pressed Canadian soil, and she was
thinking of what Jack would say when he saw the house and the land at
Ripple, for the keeping of which, for him and the others, she had borne
so much.

“Why, yes, of course,” replied Mrs. Buckle with an answering smile. “It
is not Sunday, so I don’t want to go to meeting, and there is nowhere
else to go to in these benighted parts that I know of.”

“You might go to school.” Pam gurgled into happy laughter at her own
small joke. It is so easy to find things to laugh about when one is
happy.

“Well, well, of course. I had not thought of the school; I might go
there. The youngsters would laugh, and nudge each other as we used to do
in the old days, and they would wonder what Martha Buckle was up to.
They would maybe want me to spell something, and oh, my word! where
should I be then!” Mrs. Buckle leaned against the door-post and fairly
rocked with laughter, while Pam laughed too, until Amanda came running
from the out-place, where she had been washing the breakfast dishes, and
joined in the merriment, although she had not the remotest idea what the
others were laughing about.

Pam harnessed the horse herself, an accomplishment she had learned from
Mrs. Buckle, and then she mounted the rickety old wagon and drove out on
to the trail which led to Hunt’s Crossing. She had asked Sophy to come
with her, but Sophy, with a rare understanding of what that meeting
would mean to Pam, had pleaded too much work, at the same time pointing
out to Pam what a heavy load they would be on the homeward journey—Jack
and his baggage, Pam and herself. The ancient horse might well object to
so much weight behind it, and Pam was fain to see that the excuse was
reasonable. She was even glad, right down at the bottom of her heart,
that she could be alone when she met her brother again.

The sun was very hot to-day, and the old horse was not disposed to move
very fast. Pam got so tired of trying to get some pace out of the
creature that she finally got out of the wagon and walked on ahead, with
the lines over her arm. It was really pleasant walking too; the grass
was fresh, flowers were springing on all sides, while over the forest
was creeping a daily thickening veil of green. It was springtime, and
the winter was past and gone!

“Hullo! How far is it to Ripple?” A lanky youth rose from a fallen log
which lay by the side of the trail, and advanced upon Pam before she was
aware of anyone being near at hand. One long look she gave him, and then
she shrieked joyfully.

“Jack! Why, Jack, how enormously you have grown!” She cast the lines
from her as she spoke, and rushing towards the youth hugged him
rapturously.

“Pam, old girl, you are quite a beauty!” exclaimed Jack, holding her at
arm’s length, and surveying her critically. “You always were pretty
fair, as far as looks go, but now you are a peach, and a daisy, and
everything else that is blooming!”

“The life suits me, I guess!” laughed Pam, and then she hugged Jack
again, just to convince herself that he was really here in the flesh;
and because she was very silly she had to cry a little in memory of the
fierce home-sickness which had been upon her so often in the winter that
was past.

“Hullo! Where is the ancient horse off to with so much haste?” demanded
Jack, as he looked round in time to see that the horse had deliberately
turned back on its tracks, and was proceeding along the trail at a brisk
walk.

“Oh, the wretched creature!” cried Pam. “I have had such a task to get
it along this morning, it seemed so old and spent. Now look at it!” She
and Jack had both started to run after the animal, and when it heard
them coming it broke into a run, going at a shambling trot that made it
exceedingly difficult to overhaul it.

“Moral: never leave go of the lines when you go a journey with a racer
of this description!” said Jack, who was panting heavily by the time
they had overtaken and stopped the horse. He had not the wind of Pam,
and seemed quite done up by the scramble.

“The lazy creature has got to turn round again, and do the bit to the
river,” she said, tugging its head round with great energy. “Did you
bring any books, Jack?”

“Nearly all we possess. I say, Pam, what trees! Why, they are giants!”

“Wait until you see some of ours on Ripple!” cried Pam, with an
unconscious air of proprietorship. “Mr. Dobson told me last fall that he
believed we had some of the finest timber anywhere round here.”

“Turn it into money then, before anything happens to it,” advised Jack,
as the horse went slowly along the trail to Hunt’s Crossing.

“I must not sell any more just yet,” she answered nervously. “You see,
it is not as if we had a clear title to the land.”

“Was that Grandfather who was found in the forest?” Jack asked, his face
very serious now. The tragedy looked more real now that he was here
close to it. The descriptions in Pam’s letters had been of necessity
meagre. Then, too, she was not particularly good at letter-writing, and
so had failed to give many details which would help to the understanding
of the affair. Now, when she had loaded Jack’s baggage on to the wagon,
and they had started back along the trail to Ripple, she plunged into a
full and circumstantial account of everything connected with that grim
find in the forest.

Presently Jack drew a long breath, made an explosive sound as if he were
letting off steam, and then burst into speech.

“Oh, I say, isn’t it just ripping! To think that I am really here at
last! Pam, you were a brick to come when you did, and to stick by things
for us. It would have been just wasted if you had not been here! My
word, though, you must have wanted some pluck, to live the life you have
done here all through the winter!”

“I could not have done it if Sophy had not stayed with me!” cried Pam.
“You will love her, Jack, she is such a dear!”

Jack gave a wriggle, then demanded abruptly: “Going to be married, isn’t
she?”

“Yes, in June or July. It is lucky you were able to come to me, for I
could not live alone at Ripple. I wish Mother and the others would come
out this summer. The children would love it so much, and I am certain
that Mother would not have as much anxiety as she has with that wretched
old boarding-house. Does it pay better than it did?”

“Not much. We are full up, and the takings are good, but the expenses
are frightful, and they run away with any chance of making the thing
pay. It will be worse now that I have left home, for I could keep an eye
on the kitchen in the evenings.”

“You were all the time doing your best to keep expenses down. You will
have to do it still, for I need looking after. But there is Ripple,
Jack, just showing through the trees. Welcome home, dear!”



                              CHAPTER XIV


                       From an Unexpected Quarter

“It is downright ripping!” burst out Jack with explosive energy. Then he
dropped into sudden silence, and said never a word while Pam was guiding
the obstinate old horse as close to the door of the house as she could
persuade it to go. She stole a glance at him once, and was so awed by
the expression of his face that she turned her head quickly, for she
guessed he would not want her to know how he was feeling.

The horse had its own ideas about how close to the door of the house it
intended to draw the wagon, and being obstinate as a mule it planted its
fore feet wide apart in an attitude worthy of FitzJames when he cried:

                “Come one, come all! this rock shall fly
                From its firm base as soon as I”.

“If you were my horse you would have to come, but seeing you belong to
my neighbour it does not seem worth the trouble to make you,” said Pam,
giving in gracefully, determined not to let a small difference of
opinion between herself and the horse upset for her the joy of having
Jack reach Ripple safe and sound.

Sophy burst out of the door, coming at a run to welcome the traveller,
and chaffing Pam because she could not manage the stupid old horse.

“If it were merely stupid I could manage it fast enough,” replied Pam.
“It is so crafty, and I lose my temper in trying to circumvent it.” She
went round to the back of the wagon as she spoke, and started to haul
out the trunks which Jack had brought with him.

“What a lot of baggage for a boy!” cried Sophy. “Why, Jack, you must be
quite a dandy! How many dress suits have you brought with you?”

“Just you wait and see!” chuckled Jack, who had come out of his quiet
fit, and was ready to answer chaff with chaff, to laugh and see the
funny side of everything. “Of course I need football togs, and golfing
duds, a rowing rig-out, and another set of nautical clothes for when I
go out on my yacht. Then there are garments for sitting and for
standing, there are things to sleep in, a swimming outfit, a set of
go-to-meeting clothes, and—and a court dress, only I am afraid that
won’t be of much use in this part of the world, so any reasonable offer
will not be refused.”

“Don’t take any notice of him, Sophy,” said Pam, who was laughing at his
glib description of his fictitious wardrobe. “The boxes are crammed with
books, and things about the house that Mother thought he might as well
bring. I guess he has not many more clothes than what he is wearing, and
even those will be outgrown in a few months at the rate he is going on.
Shall we have a feed before I take the wagon back, or shall I drive the
horse and wagon back to Mrs. Buckle straight away?”

“Dinner is quite ready, and if you have it now I can get the dishes
washed while you are away,” replied Sophy.

“Have it now, by all means. I am almost hungry enough to start on eating
the old horse, although by the look of it the creature would be tough,”
said Jack. He ducked his head nearer to that of the animal, and worked
his jaws in a fashion so fierce and suggestive that the horse suddenly
started forward, drew the wagon close to the house door, and stopped
again, while the three laughed until the tears came, over the success of
Jack’s manœuvre.

They carried the luggage into the house, tied the horse to the
hitching-post and gave it a feed of hay, then went indoors to the dinner
which Sophy had ready for them. It was so warm that they had the door
wide open, letting in the sunshine, the scents of trees and flowers, and
the rippling notes of the bobolink in the big red maple near the house.
Oh! the forest was a delightful place on a day in early spring, and Pam,
stealing glances at Jack’s face, realized that behind the nonsense in
which he was indulging, he was fighting back a whole storm of emotion.

The two went off when the meal was over, to restore the horse and wagon
to Mrs. Buckle. When they came back there would be the afternoon
“chores” to get through, and a lot of other things which Pam had been
forced to neglect in order to reach Hunt’s Crossing in time to meet
Jack. Even then she had not reached the river until long after the boat
had passed. Last summer the boats up from Fredericton had done the
journey in the daytime, passing Hunt’s Crossing in the afternoon; now
they left the wharf of the city at midnight, and so reached the nearest
point for Ripple early in the day.

“Do we pass the fence that made all the trouble?” Jack asked, as the
horse moved away from the hitching-post, and broke into a shambling trot
when it found it had its head towards home.

“Yes, I will show you,” said Pam, and then they began to talk of the
mystery of their grandfather’s disappearance afresh.

“I can’t see why he needed to run away at all,” said Jack. “The two men
quarrelled, and started to fight, I expect, and for aught we know
Grandfather might have been as badly hurt as the other man. He might
even have crawled into the shelter of the trees to die. I say, Pam,
where was it the bones were found when you were sugaring? Anywhere near
here?”

“No, miles away in an opposite direction,” she answered. “Besides, you
forget the money which had been taken from Grandfather’s desk was found
with those remains. I thought, as you have done, that he might have
crept into the woods to die, and I tramped through the undergrowth in
every direction last fall; the police hunted too. But he has been seen
alive since then, you know.”

Jack nodded.

“I had forgotten that. I don’t suppose it is of any use for me to try to
spring new theories on to you, seeing that you have been on the spot,
and have had all the winter to think the matter round. You will have to
be patient with me when I start any extra silly idea about it. But I
can’t rest while we don’t know what has become of him. It does not seem
right to enjoy being here either, for it is his place, and not ours at
all.”

Pam nodded her head sadly.

“That is just how I feel about it. But there are two sides to think of,
and if we were not here just think how the place would go to ruin! We
are doing our best for him, and keeping the home together. If we can be
happy while we are doing it, so much the better for us, and our
happiness does not injure him if he is alive, nor is it any disrespect
to him if he has gone.”

Jack gave a non-committal grunt, and then sat in silence, staring at the
mighty trees which walled in the trail, or stood singly or in groups
here and there, the lesser growths crowding about the big trunks like
children round a mother’s knee.

“There is Mrs. Buckle, and that is her house,” Pam exclaimed presently,
as they emerged from the forest and began to cross the fields. “Is it
not strange that she has been one of my kindest friends?”

“Yes, it seems to me against nature,” he answered shortly. “It is one of
the things that make me think that perhaps after all Grandfather had no
hand in hurting Sam Buckle; for if he had, her instinct would have been
dead against her being friends with you. And a woman usually follows her
instinct, while a man trusts to his judgment. You need not laugh; I told
you I should be springing all sorts of silly theories upon you about
every ten minutes or so.”

“I am not going to laugh at you,” said Pam, turning a face that was
deeply troubled upon him. “But, Jack, if Grandfather did not hurt the
other man, why did he disappear? Where is he now? And why was his axe
found beside the poor fellow? Why, too, did Sam Buckle keep muttering
that it was his right?”

“I’m not a blooming detective!” growled Jack, who looked every bit as
troubled as his sister. “But this I do know, that there are mostly two
ways of explaining everything—a wrong way and a right. It is possible
that all, or nearly all, your reasonable explanations are wrong ones,
after all.”

“What solemn faces you have both got!” exclaimed Mrs. Buckle, as she
hurried to meet them. She told Jack that he was a great acquisition,
that the forest wanted young men more than it wanted anything, and that
she was very glad indeed to see him there.

“Thank you, ma’am: I am sure that I am very glad to be here,” said Jack
politely; and then he followed Mrs. Buckle round her small domain,
listening in interested silence to all she had to say about things. He
was as fond as most boys of talking and giving his opinion on this and
that. But he was up against a most complete ignorance of the things she
was discussing, so he had the sense to keep quiet until he knew
something about it all.

Then Pam came along from the barn, where she had been to unhitch the
horse; but because he was unwilling to go just yet, Jack pulled out his
watch to see the time.

“Why, Jack, I did not know that you had a watch!” cried Pam in surprise.
“Where did you get it from?”

“I bought it in St. John,” replied Jack. “Colonel Seaford came with
Mother to see me on board. He gave me a sovereign to do what I liked
with. Mother said I had better have a look round the second-hand shops
in St. John when I landed, to see if I could buy a watch with the money,
because she had not been able to get me one. I saw this priced at three
dollars, and so I bought it. It is a jolly good one to go, and it is a
fair size for the money.”

“What an old-fashioned watch!” cried Pam. “It looks good, though. See,
Mrs. Buckle, wouldn’t you say that it was a good one?”

Mrs. Buckle took the watch which Pam handed to her, and turned it over
in her hand. Pam noticed that she went very pale. Then she pressed the
spring that opened the back, and immediately uttered a startled cry.

“It is Sam’s watch that was stolen from him before he died!”

It was Pam’s turn to become white now. Her cheeks were colourless, and
her eyes dilated with fear as she gasped:

“How do you know? How can you be sure of a thing like that?”

Mrs. Buckle held the watch towards her with shaking hands.

“See that!” she whispered hoarsely. “Just down there by the keyhole—M.
P. That stands for Moses Pratt, which was my father’s name. He scratched
the initials there himself. Don’t you see how he boggled the loop of the
P? He said it was easy enough to do the strokes, it was the curves that
were the trouble. It is Sam’s watch. I would swear to it before any jury
in the Dominion. Do you see that mark there?—I mean the little dash by
the side of the name. That stands for my father’s marriage. The next
little dash means me; he put it there when I was born. His record of
blessings, he called it. Then the dot underneath was put when Mother
died; and when Father was dying he used to say he had been such a
fortunate man, for he had only one dot to two dashes!”

Mrs. Buckle broke down over her reminiscences, and sobbed aloud. Jack
looked supremely uncomfortable, just as if he would have liked to run
away. It was Pam who realized what had to be done.

“You must give her the watch.” The whisper was inaudible to the sobbing
Mrs. Buckle, but Jack heard it and made a wry face, which was not to be
wondered at. A boy’s first watch is mostly a treasured possession, and
Mrs. Buckle was only a stranger. He had not even lived in touch with the
tragic happenings of last fall, as Pam had done, so he was to be
forgiven his momentary unwillingness to yield the watch he had valued so
much. He was made of good stuff, though; for as Mrs. Buckle caught her
breath on an extra big sob, and looked up to put a request to him,
before she could utter one word of it he had thrust his hand out with a
hasty movement, and was saying hurriedly:

“You will keep the watch, of course. I had no idea that it had been
stolen. I am very glad that I have been able to bring it back to you.”

“Stolen!” cried Pam, aghast at the word. “Jack, Grandfather must have
taken it!”

“We can’t be sure of that. All the same, it was stolen, whoever did it,
seeing it was not his own,” said Jack with a sullen note in his voice;
and he was turning away in a great hurry, for the scene was too
emotional for him, when he knocked against a man who had come upon the
group without being noticed, and who was standing staring at the watch
in Mrs. Buckle’s hand.

“Hullo! I beg your pardon,” he said, expecting to be pulled up for his
carelessness.

The man took no notice of him, only stared at Mrs. Buckle, who, now
becoming aware of his presence, held the watch toward him, saying
eagerly:

“See here, Mose Paget, this boy, Miss Walsh’s brother from England, has
got my husband’s watch, and I knew it again directly. Isn’t it just
wonderful?”

The man shook his head slightly, then said in a gruff voice:

“I don’t see anything very remarkable about it myself. Everyone knows
that Wrack Peveril stole the watch from poor Sam, so what more natural
than he should give it to his grandson?”

Jack flamed with sudden wrath, and thrusting out his fist he shook it
within an inch of the tip of Mose Paget’s nose.

“Are you insinuating that my grandfather was a thief?” he asked; and Pam
shivered at the thrill in his quiet voice. He was one of the most
even-tempered people she knew, but when he did get roused he flared into
hotter anger than any of them.

Mose laughed in a casual fashion that was infinitely irritating, then
swung round with his back to Jack, as if the boy in his righteous anger
were a thing of no account at all. He addressed himself again to Mrs.
Buckle.

“I have come to say that I can’t take on that job we talked about. I
have had an offer to join a man out west, and he wants me to go
to-night.”

“But a bargain is a bargain,” expostulated Mrs. Buckle, who for the
moment forgot the miraculous finding of the treasured watch, while she
threshed out the matter in hand. “You said that you would see me through
the farmwork this summer, you agreed upon the price and everything, and
you can’t back out now.”

“Can’t I?” The man smiled in an ugly, aggravating fashion. “I guess, now
my chance has come to better myself, I am going to take it. It isn’t a
woman that is going to turn me when I have made up my mind. I should be
obliged if you would pay me what is owing, as I’ve to get down river
to-night, so as to catch the cars for the west to-morrow.”

Mrs. Buckle’s mouth set itself in lines of stern determination.

“I suppose I can’t force you to stay here and keep your word, but I can
do as I like about paying you, and not a cent-piece shall you have
before the end of the week. I am not used to paying every minute a lazy
man wants his money, and, being a lone woman, I don’t keep no hard cash
worth speaking of in the house, not being willing to have it stolen. If
you want to go down river to-night you will have to go without that
money, and I will pay it to Reggie—or are you going to take him with
you?”

“No, I can’t be bothered with a kid at my heels all day,” rejoined Mose
in a sulky tone. Hearing this, Pam felt again the swift repulsion for
the man that was so nearly detestation; and yet, as she told herself,
the man was not all bad, for had he not saved her life, and that at the
risk of his own?

“Well, you won’t have the money, that is flat. I have not got it in the
house for you,” said Mrs. Buckle; and then she burst into stormy
invective because of the way he was treating her, in going off in this
fashion and leaving her with the summer’s work on her hands.

Pam stepped a little closer to her as the man turned away.

“Never mind, dear Mrs. Buckle,” she said. “Jack and I will see you
through. We don’t know much, it is true; but we are strong and can work,
and we will take your land on as well as our own, so you will not be
left in the lurch.”

“Yes, we will see you through, never you fear!” put in Jack. Then he
burst out in a stormy fashion: “You are not going to believe that
Grandfather is a thief, Mrs. Buckle, or that I knew I had no right to
the watch?”

“Of course not. What a silly boy it is!” Mrs. Buckle looked up at the
sky, as if she were talking to someone above her head, and she took no
notice at all of Mose Paget, who hovered still in the background, as if
to see if there was any chance that she would pay up. “It is not at
Ripple that I shall look when I want to find the thief. Don’t you think
that I have sense enough to know an honest man when I see one?”

“Is it me you are wanting to call a thief?” burst out Mose, looking as
if he would do her an injury there and then, while his face was fairly
convulsed with anger.

Mrs. Buckle looked him over with a calm scorn that made him wince.

“I have always found you honest,” she said; then added, with a suspicion
of malice in her tone, “but then I have always believed that it was
opportunity that made the thief, and it is precious little opportunity
you have had in my house to be anything but an honest man.”

“You are right enough there!” retorted Mose with hearty spite. “Yours is
reckoned the meanest house in the township, and the stuff that is thrown
away would not keep a sparrow. The mice die from want of nourishment,
and the one or two rats that I have seen were just walking skeletons.
Talk about the tender mercies of a woman! Why, you are the meanest
creature alive!”

“Well, Amanda is fat enough even if the vermin are thin,” replied Mrs.
Buckle with a jolly laugh at being able to get the last word. Then she
said sternly: “Now, Mose Paget, if you are not going to keep your side
of the bargain, out you get, and that sharp, for I don’t allow no lazy,
idle vagabonds to sauce me twice. Now, then, get!”

For a moment Mrs. Buckle stared into the face of the furious man, while
he glared back at her; then, without another word, he swung round on his
heel and took the trail which led east to the river, although his home
was in the opposite direction.

“It looks funny, that it does!” Mrs. Buckle remarked as if talking to
herself, and seeming for the moment quite unaware of the others standing
near her. “Something has scared him pretty badly, or my name is not
Martha Buckle. I don’t believe he has seen anyone this morning. If any
stranger had been about the place surely I should have known about it.”

“Perhaps he had the offer made to him yesterday, only did not feel
disposed to take it then,” put in Pam. Then, mindful of the long time
they had been lingering, she said: “We must go now, Mrs. Buckle, but one
of us will be over to-morrow to see how you are getting on, and if you
want us before that, just send Amanda to Ripple to fetch us.”

“You can’t go yet; I must know about this,” said Mrs. Buckle, indicating
the watch in her hand. “Then I want to pay your brother the value of
it.”

“Oh, Jack would not take money for it!” cried Pam. “Especially after
that most hateful thing said by Mose Paget, about Grandfather having
stolen it and given it to Jack.”

“Of course I don’t want to be paid for what was not my own,” agreed
Jack; but he was sore at heart all the same, for he had valued that
watch very highly. It was such a substantial affair, and it made him
feel as if he were almost, if not quite a man.

Mrs. Buckle laughed.

“Do you think I am really as hard up as I would have Mose Paget
believe?” she asked, and her voice dropped to a cautious undertone. “It
is quite true I have almost no money in the house, and I have kept none
there ever since that mysterious theft from Ripple leaked out. But there
are other places in which to keep money. You tell me how much this watch
is worth to you, then go into the house and sit down while I find the
cash, do you hear?”

“Yes, but I am not going to do it,” said Jack hurriedly. “Come along,
Pam, it is time we were marching.”

The two marched off in spite of Mrs. Buckle’s protestations, and when
they were well on their way Jack turned to Pam, demanding: “What do you
think now?”

“I don’t know what to think,” she answered sadly.

“I think that you are all working on a wrong idea, and that poor old
Grandfather was as innocent as I am of any hand in hurting Sam Buckle!”
Jack’s voice had a confident, happy ring that was most inspiring. He had
a host of theories, too, and he treated Pam to so many of them on the
way back to Ripple that she arrived at home almost disposed to believe
he might be right; only the circumstantial evidence of the axe being
found near to Sam Buckle, and that other still more damaging fact of her
grandfather’s disappearance, were so hard to explain away.



                               CHAPTER XV


                          Pam’s Big Adventure

Never before had Pam realized how much one’s brother might be to one.
Those first days of Jack’s coming to Ripple would have spelled unalloyed
happiness for her had it not been for the trouble about her grandfather.
It was of no use to tell herself that she knew the old man was not a
thief, and that he would not have dreamed of robbing the man he had hurt
so badly. The fear that he had done it in a moment of evil temper was
always present with her to spoil her peace. She worried, too, as she
thought of what his suffering must have been when he was outcast from
his home. In spite of all that Jack and Sophy could say to the contrary,
the fear was on her that the old man lay in the nameless grave where
that little heap of bones found in the forest had been put.

Laughing and talking with Jack, labouring hard with him over the tasks
to which they were both so unaccustomed, Pam found it easy to be happy
and to put even the remembrance of the trouble away. It was in the
nights, when sometimes she was too tired to sleep, that the burden of
her care dropped upon her, and then she was as acutely miserable as it
was possible for a healthy girl to be.

The poultry was increasing on her hands. One brood of chickens was
safely hatched, and the ten downy, fluffy chicks threatened to be great
time-wasters, they were so dear and so cunning. But Sophy reminded her
that she was out to make the place pay, and the chicks were neither
ornaments nor playthings, but just a detail of farm life; after which
Pam hardened her heart and tore herself away to less congenial tasks.
The pigs failed to rouse much enthusiasm in her. She was glad to resign
the care of them to Jack, even though he was six months younger to farm
life than she was, and ignorant in proportion. Yet in spite of this
drawback he was showing uncommon wisdom, or perhaps it was adaptability,
in looking after the animals. When a litter of young was born, he was as
enthusiastic over it as Pam was over the chickens. He talked largely of
going in for pig-breeding on a large scale, because, as he very truly
said, people always wanted bacon for breakfast, so there would always be
a market for his stuff.

Pam only laughed at him, and wrinkled her nose in a little grimace of
disgust every time she came near his end of the barn. She was secretly
delighted at the way in which he was taking hold of things and adapting
himself to the new life. She had been afraid that he might hark back to
city life, and want to be a clerk or something of that sort. The younger
boys had never been so fond of books as Jack. She was slow in
understanding that his love of books arose from the honest desire for
information, and was not an indication of any wish for life in a city
office.

When Jack had been at Ripple two weeks Sophy went home for a few days.
She and her mother were going down river to Fredericton to buy the
wedding frock, or, at least, the material for it. Nothing would suit
Sophy but that she should make it herself, and as she was so expert with
her needle, it would have been folly to pay another to do work that
would bring exquisite pleasure to herself.

It was very strange at Ripple without her. Jack took his share of
getting meals and in washing dishes, but all the same it was Pam who had
to feel the great want. Sophy had been a comrade worth having. She had
tact and sympathy, she never wanted to talk when Pam had a quiet fit,
and she was so helpful in a quiet way that she had to go before it was
possible to understand how useful she was.

With Sophy away, Pam found it necessary to be in the house more. When
the morning “chores” were done, Jack went off most days to help Nathan
Gittins, who was planting corn and potatoes in the fields of Mrs.
Buckle, and also on the cleared land at Ripple. Reggie Furness, who did
the “chores” for the Gittins’s place, was only a night and morning
boy—that is to say, he had to go to school, and was only available out
of school hours. Left so much to herself, Pam decided that it was a fine
chance for turning the house upside down. She argued that if she did it
thoroughly now, it would keep fairly tidy in the brief brilliant summer
weather, when the outdoor work would be too pressing to allow much time
for anything else.

A spell of wet weather set in. Every day it rained and rained as if it
would never leave off. The creek rose and rose, until there was danger
that Mrs. Buckle would be cut off, and the field in which her house
stood made temporarily into an island. There was no such danger for
Ripple, where the house stood on rising ground, and was a whole field
distant from the swollen creek.

But corn planting had to stop while the rain came down. Jack had more
time for the work in the barn now, so Pam was free for her campaign of
scouring and scrubbing. Oh, how dirty the house was! Surely never had a
place been as long without a spring clean as this comfortable old timber
house at Ripple! The best sitting-room had been a dumping-ground for all
manner of things during the winter. Extra firewood had been neatly
stacked in a remote corner. Sophy had kept her big rolls of flannel and
calico on the massive centre table. All kinds of rubbish had gathered
there. But now Pam meant that it should be clean, as clean as her mother
doubtless kept it in those long-past days before Mrs. Walsh had run away
to be married.

It was a pouring wet day when Pam started on her campaign. The rain was
coming down with a steady slant that promised more flooding later on.
Jack wanted to help in the cleaning, but Pam thought he would be of more
use elsewhere, so she suggested that he should do all the outside
“chores”, and get breakfast also, which would leave her free for her
great campaign. This suited Jack finely; he had scored a distinct
success in the making of Indian corncake and buckwheat porridge, which
was uncommonly good when eaten with maple syrup. He went to work with
great zest when he came in from the barn, while Pam for her part was
busy sorting the lumber and carrying the things which belonged to Sophy
to the sanctuary of one of the clean rooms upstairs.

Breakfast was about an hour late, but Pam was so hard at work that she
did not notice that, although she was faint and fagged from want of
food. When Jack called to her that it was ready he apologized meekly
enough for the delay, which had been owing to accident; he had upset the
porridge into the fire, and had been obliged to make a fresh lot.

“Oh, Jack, it is just lovely for you to upset something, because in the
past it was poor unlucky me who had all the accidents!” cried Pam, as
she drew up her chair to the table and fell upon the second edition of
porridge with keen appetite.

“It makes one feel so horribly mad with oneself—such a silly thing to
do!” growled Jack, who was by way of being very cross over his
stupidity.

“I suppose even that state of mind is rather an advantage than
otherwise, since it takes away any tendency to swelled head,” said Pam,
as she helped herself to more syrup—then, abruptly, she changed the
subject—“Jack, I wonder who it was that sold Sam Buckle’s watch to the
second-hand shop at St. John?”

Jack scraped the saucepan with great care, for he was not minded to
waste any of the porridge which had bothered him so much in the making.
Then he said with deliberation: “If we knew so much we should most
likely be able to get the miserable business cleared up. But you know
what the manager said when we wrote to him—he had so many men in during
the winter selling their watches because they were hard up that it was
impossible to remember any details.”

“It is very mysterious,” said Pam thoughtfully. “Still, it is only
reasonable that the man should not be able to remember. There is one
thing about it that bothers me though——”

“Only one? You are lucky. There are a round dozen bothering me at this
very moment!” exclaimed Jack, and then he got up from his place at the
table and went to fetch the letter which had been received from the
manager of the second-hand shop at St. John where he had purchased the
watch.

“One is enough for me at this minute,” Pam went on with her face
overcast. “There was one man from here who went to St. John during last
fall, or just after the first snow came. I have only now remembered
about it. You see, here we only think of Fredericton; St. John is out of
the world to us.”

“Who was the man? Out with it, and now we may get on a little!” and Jack
slapped his letter down on the table with great gusto, and waited for
Pam to speak.

“Oh, but it is horridly mean of me even to let such a thought come into
my head, for he saved my life before he went.” Pam looked so miserable,
and she wore such an aspect of guilt, that anyone to look at her would
have thought she was the culprit.

[Illustration: PAM WAS DRAGGED UP AND TUGGED HERE
 AND PULLED THERE]

“Do you mean Mose Paget?” cried Jack, leaping to his feet with a
startled air.

“He certainly went to Fredericton, and I understood that he went
farther—all the way to St. John, where he was very ill—and that poor
little step-brother of his was half-starved here at home. Then, Jack,
just remember it was at the moment when Mrs. Buckle recognized the watch
that Mose Paget came along, saying he was going out west. No one had
heard anything about his going off until that very minute, and he went
straight away, not even staying to say good-bye to his brother, so
Galena told me. Poor Galena! Years ago, when they were both quite young,
they were lovers, but the thrift in her resented the unthrift in him, so
they quarrelled and parted. But she would have made a man of him if
anyone could!”

“It is mighty hard on a woman to have to form her husband’s character. I
shan’t expect my wife to form me,” said Jack, with a squaring of his
shoulders that made Pam laugh, for it was very evident that there would
not be much for Jack’s wife—if he had one—to do in the way of
character-forming. Then he went on: “But I don’t see that you have
anything but coincidence to work on. Even if Mose was in St. John, you
have no proof that it was he who sold the watch, although of course he
might have done it. Then as to his throwing up his work for Mrs. Buckle,
you must remember that he was coming to do it when he stumbled into the
scene of her recognition of the watch. If he had not been coming to tell
her that he was going to throw up the work he would not have been there
at the moment, don’t you see? That disposes of clue number two, as you
might call it, while always behind everything else we have got to find
out why Grandfather is missing. If he did not damage his neighbour, then
why did he go? And who was it that stole the money from Ripple, whose
bones were afterwards gnawed by the wolves?”

Pam put up her hands in dismay.

“Don’t, Jack!” she protested. “I feel sometimes as if my poor brain will
give way under the strain of trying to think it all out and to supply a
reason for everything. I should lie awake at night to puzzle about it,
only I am always so tired when I go to bed that I am asleep before I
know I am sleepy, and the next thing I know is that getting-up time has
come again. Oh, there is great compensation in hard work, for it most
often stops hard worry!”

“Well, go and get on with your cleaning; I will wash the dishes and get
this room into shape,” said Jack, rising from the table and stretching
his arms high above his head. He always stretched himself to his full
height after a meal, for someone had told him that it assisted growth,
and he fairly yearned to be tall. His father had been rather short, and
Jack was desperately afraid of failing in the matter of height.

“I wonder if it is ever going to leave off raining?” Pam went to the
door and peered out at the steady downpour. “I want to scrub those rag
carpets that I found tucked away in that old chest in Grandfather’s
room; it is my belief he put them there because they were too dirty to
lie on the floor. I think if I took them across to the creek and washed
them there I should have plenty of water to rinse them; you see, they
are much too thick and heavy for the ordinary sort of washing, and they
want such a lot of water, too.”

“Why don’t you put them out in the rain now? They would have a chance to
get soaked.” Jack’s wisdom was mostly equal to the demand for it, and
Pam was quick to avail herself of it.

“Leave the dishes, Jack dear, and I will get my mackintosh and rubbers,
while you bring the little truck from the barn. We will pile the carpets
on the truck, and take them across the field to the side of the creek
and hang them in a safe place where they are not likely to be washed
away. I don’t want Grandfather’s rag carpets travelling to Fredericton
by water. If we hang them over there it will save carrying them about
while they are wet, and they can stay there until they are dry, for of
course they will be fearfully heavy when they are full of water.”

Jack went for the truck, while Pam got into waterproof and rubbers as
quick as she could. Then she dragged out the heavy home-made rugs, the
work of her mother and her grandmother, which she had found stowed away
in safety, but so plastered with dirt that it was quite impossible to
use them until they had been cleansed. Sophy had told her months ago
that they would have to be washed, and that it was of no use to think of
it until the snow melted, and they could be rinsed in abundance of
water. She offered to do the work herself, but Pam was not minded to
pile up the burden of her indebtedness more than could be helped. Sophy
had been like an angel to her all through the dreary days of that long,
anxious winter; this heavy, dirty task of rug-washing was to be got over
before she came back, and Pam decided that there was no time like the
present.

One of the rugs was so heavy that Pam could barely lift it alone when it
was dry, and when it was wet lifting would be quite out of question.
There were stout loops of cord under the fringe, and Pam had threaded a
length of rope through these which she meant to fasten to a tree on the
bank of the creek. Then, with her rug safely moored, she could beat it
with sticks until it was clean, while the running water would wash the
dirt away.

They loaded the rugs on the truck, then, heedless of the pouring rain,
started to drag it across the field. What heavy work it was! Neither of
them was of the looking-back sort, however, and so, despite mud, rain,
and the heaviness of the truck, they toiled on, reached a cluster of
trees growing at the edge of the swollen creek, and by dint of furious
exertions succeeded in getting the rugs afloat and moored to the
branches of the trees. They were hot and tired, it rained harder than
ever, but they felt so successful that they were ready to shout in
triumph over their achievement.

“The water is rising fast. Oh, Jack, I think you ought to go over and
see how Mrs. Buckle and Amanda are getting on,” said Pam as they turned
back from the creek. “I will do the breakfast dishes before I go back to
my cleaning. If Mrs. Buckle is drowned out, tell her she can come over
here to stay until the floods go down.”

“Right oh! Shall I help you to tow the truck home first, or will you
leave it here until the laundry work is done?” he asked, swinging his
hand with a flourish to the rugs that were fastened to the branches.

“Leave it here and go straight. Since I have seen how high the water is
I have felt rather bad because we have been so wrapped in our own
concerns this morning. Stay and help Mrs. Buckle if she needs it. One’s
duty to one’s neighbour is of first importance in this lonely part of
the world, you know, and I can manage very well, for I can easily leave
undone the things I cannot do.” Pam laughed as she turned away to go
back to the house, and Jack echoed her laughter as he went along the
back of the creek to Mrs. Buckle’s house.

The hours sped away. Pam was so busy she scarcely noticed their going.
The big sitting-room was as clean as hands could make it. The breakfast
dishes were washed, and she was busy putting the big kitchen into what
she called normal tidiness, when she was startled by a blaze of
sunshine. They had hardly seen the sun for days and days, while the rain
had poured down with dreary persistence.

She looked at the clock then, and was surprised to find that it was long
past noon. Jack had not come back. Doubtless Mrs. Buckle had need of
him, and would give him some dinner there. Pam sighed with thankfulness
to think there was no need for her to worry about getting a meal. She
got herself some food, which she shared with the dog; then, having fed
the chickens, which were clamouring loudly about the door, she put on
her hat, and, taking a stout stick from the wood-pile, went across the
field to the creek, revelling in the warmth and beauty of the sunshine,
and humming a little tune because she felt so very cheerful.

The creek was higher than ever. One of her rugs had been lifted so high
that it had floated off its mooring branch and had started on a
down-creek trip, but had happily caught on a trail of brambles a little
distance down, where it was momentarily held.

“It is lucky I happened along just as I did!” she muttered, and after
some skilful handling with her big stick she retrieved the errant rug,
towed it back to its mooring and proceeded to beat it, laying on the
strokes with great vigour, although her arms were beginning to ache with
all the work she had done that day. She was raising so much water with
her active strokes that in spite of her waterproof there seemed a
likelihood of her getting wet through, when she was startled by the
amount of wreckage floating past. There were boxes and barrels, a
chicken coop or two, and a bamboo chair, which rode on the
swiftly-flowing current with an air of rakish irresponsibility that
would have been amusing if it had not been so horribly suggestive of
someone’s drowned-out home.

“I wonder what is the matter, and whose house has been flooded?” she
said, and then she stood leaning on her stick surveying the wreckage,
which was coming faster and faster, while the creek was crowded with all
sorts of things sailing along.

A shrill screaming smote on her ear, and at the sound her heart seemed
to stand still. Instinctively she looked about for something to cling
to, and, catching at the branch to which her biggest rug was moored,
stood peering up-stream to get the first possible glimpse of what was
coming.

A big table with its legs uppermost was careering down-stream, and
crouching on it was the drenched figure of a small, white-faced boy, who
was uttering shrill cries for help. She had seen him before, but where?
Even as she asked herself the question there flashed across her mind the
remembrance of the inquiry in the Doctor’s wagon-house, and the small
boy who had made grimaces at her when she came out. The bitter injustice
of the insult had struck her then, and it came across her now. There had
been no reason so far as she could see why he should have treated her in
such a fashion, and she was still in the dark as to the cause.

“I will pull him out, and then he shall tell me, the little wretch!” she
murmured, and the thought of possible danger to herself never even
entered her head. Plunging down into the water until it was up to her
waist, she started shouting her loudest to attract his attention, and
waving her stick to make him see that help was at hand. The branch would
not let her go far enough, but by catching at the rug that floated
moored to the branch she was able to get ever so much farther out.
Luckily the creek did not seem to be very deep at that place, and the
footing was firm. The boy had seen her now, and was shrieking to her to
help him, and to save him from being drowned.

“Catch hold of the stick!” she screamed, realizing that she would barely
reach him even now, and as she could not swim it would be madness to
venture beyond the reach of the floating rug. “If I had not been washing
those carpets I could have done nothing for him!” she gasped, and then
caught her breath sharply, for, stretch her arm as she might, she could
not get her stick within reach of his hand. In another moment he would
be beyond reach, the current flowed so fast. She must get him, she must!
Putting her foot forward with a cautious movement she found firm ground,
and letting the rug go she thrust the stick out farther, and had the joy
of feeling it gripped. But the jerk almost upset her. She reeled,
recovered herself by a great effort, and tugged at the pole to tow the
boy and the table inshore.

Some more wreckage punted into the table from behind, and it came on her
with a jerk; the pole slipped from her grasp, and she was down before
she had time to see that the table was going to strike her. There was a
wild cry from the boy, who felt himself lost, and then Pam made a great
effort, and found herself clinging to the table leg, while the boy clung
to her, his grip a frantic clutch that had more danger for her in it
than anything else, as she knew full well. But she could not get free of
him, and she would have to get him to the bank somehow, or be drowned
with him. Then she noticed that some of the wreckage in front of her had
been caught by something, and was piling into a barrier. It might not
hold many minutes, but if it held long enough for her to reach the bank
with the boy it was all that she asked of it. There was a noise in her
ears as of someone calling, and she was so dazed by her great effort
that she thought it was her mother reminding her of some neglected duty,
as had so often been the case in those far-away days when duty had no
meaning for her beyond an unpleasant something not always to be shirked.

Ah, her feet touched the bottom! She would do it after all! A feeble
shout of triumph burst from her lips and was echoed by the boy, who had
plainly pluck of a sort, although he was so desperately afraid of water.
Even as the shout left her lips Pam was down again, and this time she
seemed to have no strength to pull herself up. She felt it was all over,
and there was even a pang because she would never know why that small
boy had been so rude to her. Then something struck her with a force that
hurt. She was dragged up and tugged here and pulled there. Someone was
working hard to get her ashore, and panting heavily in the process. But
she could not help. She could not do anything but struggle to get her
breath, and to marvel that she was still alive. At first she could not
even open her eyes, and she seemed to be slipping, slipping, while a
great black void waited to swallow her up, when she heard a voice in her
ears calling to her, and she strove with all her might to answer.

“Jack, Jack, I did not know that you were here!” Her voice was so feeble
that she was even surprised herself to find how little noise she could
make.

“It is lucky that I was coming along the creek when you fell!” he
answered. His tone was jerky, and opening her eyes again, Pam felt
half-frightened by the look on his face.

“Was it such a near thing? Poor old Jack!” Pam felt a leaping joy at
heart to think he cared so much. She had been so home-sick all the
winter that it seemed worth while being brought to such a pitch as this,
just to have surprised that look of adoring affection in her brother’s
eyes. Then she remembered the boy who was the cause of all the trouble,
and she cried out sharply: “Where is the boy? Surely he is not drowned,
I tried so hard to save him!” The thought that she might have tried in
vain was too much for Pam. She saw the black void open close to her once
more; she was slipping, slipping again, and then she heard a burst of
noisy crying, and a shrill voice calling:

“Can’t you do nothing to save her? She is dying—I say she is dying, and
I never told her. Boo-oo-oo!”

It seemed to Pam that she had slipped to the very verge of the void. The
slightest further movement, and she would be gone beyond recall; but she
hung poised as it were while Jack said sharply:

“Help me to bring her round, can’t you? It is of no good to howl like
that.”

“I might have told her, though, and now it is too late!” wailed the boy,
and the sharp curiosity in the heart of Pam drew her back again from the
edge of the void.



                              CHAPTER XVI


                             Why did He Go?

There was a stirring of wind in the willows at the side of the creek.
Some wreckage swung gently against a box laden with tinware that was
taking a hurried voyage down-stream, and the collision brought a chiming
protest from the tinware that made Pam think of church bells in England.
She struggled for strength to speak, and tried to lift her hands to
clutch at something that would hold her back from that awful gulf into
which she had so nearly slipped. What was it the boy had to tell her?
and why, oh why, had he made grimaces at her on that day when the
inquiry was held on the remains found in the forest?

“Better, old girl?” Jack’s voice sounded so waggly and anxious that Pam
could have laughed for sheer joy because he cared so much; the love in
it warmed her like sunshine, and she strove with all her might to keep
from slipping down, down, down!

The noisy crying broke out again. Then she heard a voice that was fierce
and passionate demanding:

“Can’t you do something to bring her round? Dab water in her face or
something like that!”

“It seems to me that she has had too much water already,” replied Jack’s
troubled voice. “If I could leave her I would run back to Mrs. Buckle’s.
Don Grierson is there, and he would go and fetch his father for me
quick!”

“That he would, you bet! They say he just about worships the ground she
walks on, and he has always been a regular stand-offish sort.” A hot
feeling like a blush surged over Pam, and she made another effort to
open her eyes, to speak and let them know how she was, but before she
could achieve so much, the boy had burst out again: “I say, do fan her
or something! Burnt feathers is good for swooning folks, Miss Gittins
says, but we ain’t got no burnt feathers here!”

“What is it you have got to tell me? Say it, quick!” The authority in
Pam’s voice was not to be set aside. She struggled to rise, then felt
Jack’s arms under her, holding her up to a sitting posture. A broad
stream of sunshine smote her eyes, making her blink; then she opened her
eyes again, and saw the boy whom she had tried to save sitting on the
ground at a little distance, his small thin face all wrinkled and drawn
with pain, his eyes pathetic with distress.

“What is it that you ought to have told me?” she asked with hurry in her
voice, some instinct telling her that this thing, whatever it was,
mattered a great deal to her, and she must know without delay.

The boy hesitated, a gleam of fear came into his eyes, then he blurted
out in a great hurry:

“The old man couldn’t have done Sam Buckle in; I know he couldn’t, there
wouldn’t have been time.”

It was as if a rush of new life swept through the veins of Pam. Pushing
aside the supporting arms of Jack, she crawled across to where the boy
was lying. It seemed to her that she could not trust herself on her feet
just yet, for there was no strength in her limbs.

“Tell me what you mean,” she said with sharp insistence. “How do you
know that Grandfather did not hurt Sam Buckle?”

“Because I went to Ripple to warn the old man they were going to have a
surprise party at his place that night. It is hateful having a surprise
party come to your house when you don’t know that they are coming,” said
the boy, looking at Pam with a wistful, hungry gaze that made her feel
she wanted to cry out of sheer pity for all the limitations and
deprivations that the poor child’s life had plainly known.

“Who are you, and where do you come from?” she asked gently. The
sunshine was streaming down on her now, and she was feeling the stronger
for the genial warmth that took away the deadly chill of her immersion
in the creek.

“I am Reggie Furness, Mose Paget’s half-brother; I thought you knowed!”
he said. There was surprise in his tone, and Pam was at once conscious
that his feelings were hurt because he was of so little importance in
the place that she had lived in the district so many months without
making his acquaintance.

“Reggie Furness, then, why did you make grimaces at me that day when I
came from the inquiry in the Doctor’s wagon-house?” There was blank
bewilderment in Pam’s tone. She wanted to ask at least half a dozen
questions in a breath, and yet she was so weak and stupid that she could
scarcely collect her faculties for coherent speech.

The boy’s eyes fell, and when he answered there was a shamed note in his
tone.

“It was pure spite. I knew I could put some things right, but I wasn’t
going to then, because it might have hurt Mose. I’ve always stuck by
Mose ever since Ma died. Powerful set on Mose she was, though she knowed
his weak places better than most. She told me to take care of him for
her, and she said it would be good for his character to have me to
provide for, but it seems to me I’ve mostly had to provide for myself or
to go without. I could do it all right enough if it was not for the time
wasted every day in going to school; that is where the trouble comes
in.”

“Why would it have hurt Mose for you to tell?” asked Pam, and then was
swift to discover that her question had embarrassed the boy so sorely
that she was quick to cover her blunder by another query. “Never mind
that now. Tell me what Grandfather said to you when you came to warn
him, and how it is that you can be so positive he did not hurt Mrs.
Buckle’s husband?”

Reggie gave a wriggle, then winced as if he had hurt himself.

“The old man was downright nasty. It wouldn’t have hurt him to have
given me a quarter for my trouble, or if he hadn’t the cash to spare, he
might have given me a chunk of food; I can mostly do with a bit of
something to eat,” he said, with a wan smile that made Pam feel she
wanted to cry more than ever. She thrust out a wet and dirty hand to
give the boy a reassuring pat on the arm, then signed for him to go on.
She was too anxious to know what he had to tell to have any notice to
spare for the supreme discomfort of her condition.

“He didn’t give me nothing,” went on Reggie. “He only growled out that
if the surprise party came there they might find that they would get a
surprise themselves that they had not bargained for. Then when I asked
him out straight what I was to have for my trouble, he just said he
would set the dog at me if I did not clear out sharp. He called to the
dog, but I did not wait to have the thing come at me; it didn’t seem
worth while bringing the creature into the business, especially as I had
no stick nor anything to help me in putting up a fight. I just pelted
back to the schoolhouse as hard as I could go, and when I got there, it
was fifteen minutes past two o’clock.”

“Are you quite, quite positive about the time?” demanded Pam with
devouring eagerness.

Reggie gave a weak gurgle of laughter.

“Sure and certain!” he declared. “Schoolmarm she lays on a stroke a
minute when we are late at noon spell. We can’t help being late in the
mornings, you see, so she says she will take good care that we ain’t
encouraged in wasting time in the middle of the day. She is uncommon
smart with the stick, and I went sore for days after that.”

“Why did you not tell this before?” cried Pam with anger in her tone.
“Just think of the misery I might have been saved!”

“Why should I tell?” cried the boy bitterly. “The old man was not even
ordinarily civil to me, yet I had taken all that trouble for him. Then I
was afraid, and reckoned that the less said the better.”

“What were you afraid of?” asked Pam.

Reggie gave another wriggle.

“My leg hurts something awful, do you expect that I have broken it?” he
demanded; and now there was a whine in his voice as if he was purposely
calling attention to his sufferings in order to draw Pam’s notice from
things he did not want to have discussed just then.

“Are you hurt?” she asked in quick sympathy. She had not noticed his
position before.

“It is either a sprain or a break,” put in Jack. “The poor kid was hurt
when he came sailing down-stream on the table. Amanda saw him slipping
along past Mrs. Buckle’s house, and she came screaming to warn me, for
he shouted to her that he was hurt and could not help himself. I came as
fast as I could, and it was lucky I did, for I was only just in time to
pull you out.”

“There is the truck!” exclaimed Pam, waving her arm towards the truck,
which had been left to carry the rugs back to the house. “We can put him
on that and wheel him to the house. Then you must go for the Doctor,
Jack. Perhaps Mrs. Buckle will lend you the horse; you can stick on its
back if you try hard enough.”

“Don is at Mrs. Buckle’s, helping to make a dam to keep the water out;
he will go for the Doctor,” said Jack. Then Pam suddenly remembered what
she had heard Reggie saying when she lay in her half-swoon, and she
blushed right up to the roots of her hair. It was so absurd for people
to put sentimental constructions on every little appearance of
friendship between Don and herself; he was her very good friend, just as
Sophy was, and that was all. It was stupid to blush like a little
schoolgirl! Pam was painfully conscious of a quizzical look from Jack as
he brought the truck to the place where Reggie was sitting, and then of
course she blushed harder than ever.

Reggie was lifted on to the truck with considerable difficulty. He might
be thin and small to look at, but it took all the strength of Pam and
Jack to lift him, while his moans and groans when they touched him made
Pam feel so bad that she did not know how to bear it. The task of
pulling the truck across the sodden field was heavy, too. She and Jack
pressed forward shoulder to shoulder, and she had a queer spent feeling
as if she would give up the next moment and slip to the ground.

“What makes the kid so certain that Grandfather had no hand in hurting
Sam Buckle?” asked Jack. His head was close to hers as they drew the
heavy truck, and they could talk in low tones without any danger of
Reggie hearing what they had to say.

“It is the time that settles it,” replied Pam. “It would take Reggie
nearly an hour to go from Ripple to the schoolhouse, though he might do
it in three-quarters if he ran all the way. That would make it half-past
one when he left Ripple in a hurry, because Grandfather set the dog at
him. It was just one when Sam Buckle left his home that day, and he had
not been gone ten minutes by the clock when Mrs. Buckle remembered he
had taken the keys with him, and that she would want them when the man
from the stores came with the week’s groceries. It would take her from
twenty minutes to half an hour to walk to our boundary from her house,
which would bring her to the place about the time that Reggie was
starting away from Ripple. When she got to the fence she found her
husband lying on the ground unconscious, and so fearfully battered that
at first she thought he must be dead. Grandfather’s axe lay on the
ground near to him, and it was not wonderful, knowing as she did of the
feud between them, that she believed Grandfather had done it. Ripple was
the nearest place to run for help, but she would not be likely to come
here under the circumstances. Indeed, she could not leave her husband to
go anywhere for help at first; she found he was just alive, and so she
set to work to keep him from slipping away. It was five o’clock before
she was able to get any help of any kind. Even then it was only little
Amanda Higgins, who had happened that way round on going home from
school, because Mrs. Buckle had promised her some cookies. It was nearly
seven before the neighbours arrived to carry the poor man to his home,
and then the police and the Doctor had to be sent for.”

Jack drew a long breath. “It is something to know that Grandfather did
not do a thing like that! But why did he go away? It looks as if he had
had something to be ashamed of anyhow. The puzzle seems to grow rather
than decrease. Don’t you think so?”

Pam nodded. She was so fearfully out of breath, and she was feeling so
exhausted, that she had no strength left for any more speculation just
then. She could not even feel properly glad over the lifting of one
cloud, so afraid was she that another was going to brood close over her.
There must have been some strong reason for her grandfather going away
and remaining absent, and she quailed lest the reason might be one to be
ashamed of. It is not easy to take rosy views of things when one is
drenched to the skin with muddy water and aching from head to foot. Hope
and courage would spring again presently, but just now they were low
down, and nothing would have been easier than for Pam to collapse in a
miserable heap and burst into crying.

Her pride saved her. Talk of the sin of pride! A few sermons on the
virtues of the proper sort would not be out of place in some phases of
life and living, for certain it is that many a man and woman would give
up the struggle to present a brave face to the world but for this same
proper pride. Pam took her share of dragging the truck, and when the
house was reached she helped Jack to carry Reggie to the bedroom that
had been her grandfather’s. Then she left her brother to the task of
getting the boy to bed while she ran upstairs and slipped into clean,
dry clothing. Oh, the comfort of having a clean face and feeling dry!
Pam suddenly felt pounds better; half her aches and pains vanished, and
she hurried down to help Jack, and to insist that he, too, should stay
for dry clothes before he went off to Mrs. Buckle’s to send Don to bring
the Doctor.

It was easy to see that Reggie was in a rather bad way, and Pam, having
had but little experience of sickness, would have been thankful to shift
the burden of caring for him on to someone else. When Jack had gone, and
she was left alone with him, his moans and cries were incessant. His
mind was not clear; very often when she bent over him trying to make him
more comfortable he thought she was Mose, and he would look up at her
with a face full of reproach, crying out that he should not have stolen
the money, that stolen goods were of no use to anyone.

The waiting for the Doctor was about the hardest thing Pam had had to
bear for some time. The boy’s face was flushed with fever, and he talked
in a high-pitched tone that sounded weird and unnatural. His revelations
about his home life were to the last degree pathetic, and always he was
reminding himself that he had promised his dying mother to do what he
could to keep his brother straight.

Jack came back, and set to work on the evening “chores”, leaving Pam
free to remain in the house. It was necessary that someone should be
with the boy every minute now, for he thought himself afloat on the
table again, and he was all the time trying to throw himself out of bed
in the hope of reaching the bank. His horror of water was very great,
and he felt himself drowning every minute.

“Here comes Dr. Grierson, and Sophy is with him!” shouted Jack, putting
his head in at the door of the best sitting-room, and Pam uttered a
little cry of thankfulness, for she had wanted Sophy that afternoon more
than words could express. It was dreadful to feel so helpless and to be
able to do so little.

“Broken leg!” said the Doctor. “You will have your work cut out, Miss
Walsh, but there is no help for it; he can’t be moved. Sophy will stay,
though, and the neighbours will do what they can. The trouble is that
the boy has no reserve strength, poor child. He has been so nearly
starved, too, that a shock of this kind will certainly make things go
hard with him.”

“You don’t think that he will die, do you?” demanded Pam with blank
dismay on her face. If Reggie died her grandfather’s name could not be
cleared. Such an issue to the boy’s present condition was too dreadful
to be thought of; his life must be saved somehow.

“Doctors never think their patients are going to die,” replied Dr.
Grierson curtly. “I said that the boy had no reserve of strength, so
that he would be more ill than an ordinary case of fracture would
warrant; that is to say, he will be very feverish, and he will wander in
his mind a great deal. He will need a great deal of nursing, too, and I
expect he will be very bad-tempered and difficult to manage. As I said
before, you are going to have your hands full.”

“Anything more?” she asked with a comical gesture of pretended despair.
“But you have not frightened me yet, and he is going to be nursed back
to strength if care and painstaking can accomplish it. He told me to-day
he could prove that Grandfather was here at Ripple at the time when Sam
Buckle was so knocked about. If he can clear the name of the poor old
man, neither Jack nor myself will grudge the work of nursing him.”

“If he can do that, why has he not done it already?” asked the Doctor.
He was in the kitchen now, sitting by the stove, and drinking a cup of
tea that Jack had made for him while he was busy with Reggie.

“He was angry with Grandfather, who had not treated him well,” explained
Pam; and then she plunged into the story which the boy had told her of
how he came to Ripple to warn Wrack Peveril of the surprise party that
was coming, and did not get even thanks for his trouble. It hurt her
considerably to have to tell of that part, but she must be just, and the
old man’s treatment of the boy had not been fair, or kind either.

“Told on the surprise party, did he?” chuckled the Doctor. “I am not so
very much surprised at his keeping quiet about it, for Galena would
certainly have been very wrathful if she had known; she was the head and
front of the affair, and she is spirited, too. But, Miss Walsh, that
does but deepen the mystery, because if your grandfather had done
nothing to be ashamed of, why did he disappear in such a strange
fashion? He must have dropped everything and gone.”

“The only explanation that I can think of is that something happened to
him in the forest, and we have never found his body,” said Pam.

“Not likely,” objected the Doctor. “Supposing that he had dropped dead
from unsuspected heart disease or anything of that sort, he would have
fallen on the open trail, and his body would have been found. Then, if
he did not do the damage to Sam Buckle, why did the poor chap keep
muttering that it was his right, always that it was his right? Then
remember the rumour of the old man having been seen in the lumber camp.
How can it be explained?”

“I don’t know. It is as mysterious to me as it is to you,” said Pam,
drawing a long breath. Then she looked into the face of the Doctor, and
the steadfast light in her eyes was a sight to see, as she continued: “I
am quite sure that Reggie has told the truth. He had nothing to gain by
telling me, but perhaps a good deal to lose, for Galena can be hard
sometimes, and he works there, you see. It has given me hope. I can hold
up my head and look people in the face again, now I know Grandfather did
not do that shameful thing. Oh, you cannot think how I have suffered in
my pride because of it!”

“Yes, I can, because I know how proud you are!” The Doctor rose to go,
and stood looking at Pam with a good deal of kindliness in his gaze; he
liked her very much, and he guessed that his son liked her still more.

It was just at this moment that there came a swift run of feet across
the best sitting-room, the door was flung hastily open, and Sophy
appeared on the threshold crying urgently:

“Oh, Father, do come back again before you go, for the boy is saying
such dreadful things!”



                              CHAPTER XVII


                          What Reggie Suspects

His eyes bright, and his face flushed with fever, Reggie Furness was
sitting up in bed talking rapidly in a low tone.

“What is the matter, old fellow?” asked the Doctor, entering the room
with Sophy, greatly perturbed, at his heels, while Pam brought up the
rear, and stood halting on the threshold, as if uncertain whether to go
in or to remain outside.

“It is Mose, only I didn’t like to say so.” Reggie turned his flushed
face to the Doctor and talked rapidly, as if he were afraid he would
forget what he wanted to say. “Mose hated Sam Buckle like poison; he
talked, too, when he had had too much to drink. I used to be afraid he
would say something when folks was round, but he always seemed to know
enough to hold his tongue then.”

“I don’t see why he should hate him so much?” The Doctor’s tone had a
note of query in it, and he frowned a little. The wanderings of a
feverish patient were not to be trusted, and this would create a
prejudice against Mose Paget, which would be grossly unfair if the
things Reggie was babbling of were untrue.

Reggie laughed in an unmirthful fashion.

“Things have always gone against our Mose, but he ain’t a bad sort at
the bottom—not when he doesn’t forget, that is. I told Ma I would stick
by him and keep him straight when I could; I’ve done it too, only now
he’s gone away, didn’t even stop to say good-bye to me, he didn’t—looks
as if he didn’t care a red cent whether I lived or died.”

“Well, go to sleep now, and leave Mose alone till you feel a bit
better,” the Doctor said soothingly. Then he laid Reggie down in bed,
drew the coverlet over him, and waited until his eyes closed and he
seemed to sleep.

“It is of no use to take any notice of what the boy says while he is in
this condition,” he then said, drawing Sophy out of the room, and
closing the door so that Reggie should not be disturbed. “When he comes
to his senses he will most likely have forgotten everything he has said.
Are you two afraid to be left here alone with him? I dare say Mrs.
Buckle would come over and lend you a hand until he gets a bit more in
his right mind.”

“I am not afraid,” said Pam sturdily. “I don’t think that I want Mrs.
Buckle here at present. Just think how hard it would be for her to hear
all this talk of the poor boy’s! We will manage somehow, and we have
Jack now, you know.”

“We shall do very well,” agreed Sophy, who still looked white and
scared. “I called you because I thought I ought to do it for the sake of
Pam; but if you don’t think there is any truth in what he is saying, of
course it is of no use taking any notice of it.”

“I did not say there was no truth in it. I said it could not be regarded
as evidence,” corrected her father. “What we have to do is to nurse the
boy back to health and strength, and when he is better see if he will
tell us what he knows, if he really knows anything, that is. But there
must be no mention of this in any conscious spells that he may have. Now
I must be going; I have to go over to Hunt’s Crossing, and I want to get
home before dark if I can. By the way, do you know how the boy got his
hurt?”

“Jack says the water began to come into the house where Reggie lives. He
was trying to save the furniture when some up-stream wreckage crashed
into the side of the house, and the crazy old place collapsed; the boy
escaped by a miracle, and managed to scramble on to the table, which was
upside down. He was carried past Mrs. Buckle’s in that fashion, but they
were all so busy there, trying to barricade the house to keep the water
out, that they did not see him until it was too late. Jack started in
pursuit, and it was lucky for me that he did, for I was in difficulties
when he reached our frontage on the creek. I am not much good where
water is concerned. I can’t swim, and I have the most fearful terror of
water, too.” Pam shivered as she spoke, and the whole grim struggle
seemed to come back upon her; again she was fighting to keep on her feet
in the swirling brown current, while she strove to tow the table and the
boy to the bank.

The Doctor nodded in complete understanding, then said in his most
business-like manner:

“Suppose you go straight to bed now, and lie there until dawn; then you
can get up and relieve Sophy. The evening chores bothering you, are
they?” he laughed, as Pam began on a spirited objection to being sent to
bed like a naughty child in broad daylight. “Jack can manage them, he is
a downright capable chap; but I don’t want you for a patient to-morrow,
so you must do as you are told.”

It was of no use to protest. Pam felt so bad that she was very thankful
to be spared anything further in the way of exertion. She was so tired,
too, that she went fast asleep directly her head touched the pillow, and
she knew nothing more until the first grey glimmer of dawn began to
steal over the tops of the forest trees. She sprang up then, intent on
relieving Sophy. Hastily dressing, she stole downstairs, walked softly
across the best sitting-room, and gently pushed open the door of the
bedroom, which stood ajar.

Sophy was fast asleep, her head resting on the side of the bed. Reggie
was asleep too, and he looked such a small boy, his face so pinched and
white and pathetic, that Pam could have wept in sheer pity as she looked
at him. She withdrew as softly as she had entered, and, going out to the
kitchen, set to work to rouse the fire in the stove, and to make coffee.
She would not disturb Sophy yet; better to sleep in an uncomfortable
position than not to sleep at all.

Breakfast was ready, a very early breakfast, and the big kitchen was
full of the odours of coffee, fried bacon, and toast, when Pam went
across to the bedroom carrying a cup of milk for the invalid and some
toast. Sophy woke then, cramped, stiff, and miserable, and was ordered
out to the kitchen to have her breakfast, while Pam stayed to look after
the patient, who was also awake. The old dog had entered the room behind
her, and stood wagging a friendly tail by way of welcome to the boy on
the bed. The animal was used to fresh faces now, and being of a friendly
disposition was ready to welcome everyone that came.

“Better, are you?” asked Pam briskly. She put the milk down by the side
of the bed, and then stood looking at the boy with kindly pity in her
eyes. He was so small and thin that it was to the last degree pathetic
to think of him staying alone, and striving to make a living for himself
since Mose had deserted him.

“I suppose so; only, things seem queer,” he answered, with an uneasy
look round as if he were in search of something.

“People always feel queer when they have a broken leg; but time will
mend it, and you will be all the better for the rest in bed. I expect
you will grow a bit, too.” Pam spoke in the cheeriest possible tone, and
then she added, with intent to make him laugh: “Jack says that my
brother Greg grew so much, when he lay in bed ill with rheumatic fever,
that when he was able to get up they had to buy new clothes for him
because the old ones were too small.”

Reggie looked frightened.

“If that happens to me,” he rejoined, “I shall have to sew myself into a
sack, for I have no more clothes, nor any money to buy them. I am
dreadful scared because of the Doctor, and all the rest of it. Of course
I can work it all out, but it takes time, and going to school makes such
a difference. I get up directly it comes daylight, then by school-time
I’m so sleepy I can’t see the figures of my sums, and I’m dreaming
before I even think of dozing. Schoolmarm lays on for that, and no
mistake! My word, she is a rare one at fighting!”

Pam laughed, but her heart was very sore, and she felt that she wanted
to put her head down beside Reggie and cry from sheer pity. Instead, she
gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder, and said kindly:

“Don’t you worry about expense. The Doctor won’t charge for coming to
see you, and we shan’t charge for taking care of you, so you can feel as
if you are away from home on a visit, and you need have no worries about
anything. Then, when you are better, you can go on earning your living
again, unless your brother has come back to take care of you.”

The reference to Mose was unfortunate. The light which had come into the
eyes of Reggie at her words faded into a look of apprehension, and his
face set itself in lines of care, while his voice was an anxious whisper
as he said:

“Mose won’t come back; he has quit for good and all. If only he had
taken me with him I wouldn’t have cared, but it wasn’t playing fair to
leave me behind.”

Pam had a choking sensation, and her eyes were smarting with tears; but
it would never do to let him see them, so she made an effort to say
lightly:

“Perhaps he felt that you would be happier here among the people you
know. You have regular work with Miss Gittins, and perhaps she will let
you sleep there, now that your house has been washed away.”

“I’ve lost that!” answered the boy, with dumb hopeless misery in his
face.

“When did you lose it, and why?” she demanded. She supposed that he had
been up to some mischievous prank that had angered Galena, whose
patience was not of the most long-suffering kind.

“When she hears that I came here to warn the old man about the surprise
party, she won’t never forgive me,” he said in a shamed tone. “She can’t
abide folks that run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. She says
you ought to be true to one side or the other, and it was she who told
me about the surprise party, you see; then I came straight here and told
the old man. You can’t clear him without letting on to Miss Gittins that
I told, and she won’t get over it, not if I know anything about it.”

“You lie still, and try not to worry,” said Pam hopefully. “More
wonderful things have happened than that. You may have Miss Gittins
coming to see you one of these fine days, for she is a kind-hearted
sort.”

Reggie shook his head.

“I know her better than you,” he said, and Pam could not deny that he
did. “She likes you until you do something that makes her despise you;
then she never gets over it. Mose and she was going to get married an
awful long time ago, when I was a kid, but they quarrelled, and she
never got over it. Then one night there was a surprise party came to our
house when we was in bed. We hadn’t food, nor fire, nor nothing that
time, and Mose and me we just squirmed inside at having all them
laughing, joking, dressed-up folks coming to find out how poor we were.
They were just dressed up like grand folks in books, and Mose he went on
at Galena—that is Miss Gittins, you know—in the most awful way because
of her smart rig-out. Folks said that she had helped to get up that
surprise party because she wanted to make it up with Mose; but after
that, of course, they were worse than ever.”

“Still, she has found work for you,” Pam said gently, though his bitter
confidences made her feel unhappy.

“There wasn’t no one else to go,” he answered with great finality. “The
only other boy that lives near enough to do chores on Gittins’s place
and attend school is Josie Higgins, and his folks have got enough for
him to do at home. I don’t know how they will get on without me, and I
was downright fond of the beasts and things.”

Pam comforted poor sore-hearted Reggie to the best of her ability, but
when the days went past and Galena Gittins made no sign, she began to
realize with some consternation that the boy was right in his estimate
of his late employer. The Doctor had been to see the school teacher, who
at once confirmed Reggie’s statement as to the number of strokes of the
cane he had received on that particular day. She even showed the Doctor
the punishment record which she kept, and he read for himself the entry
in her neat handwriting to the effect that Reginald Furness, being
fifteen minutes late for afternoon school, had received fifteen strokes
of the cane.

“There is nothing like method,” said the Doctor with a smile, as he
handed her back the book, and thought how easy the record would make it
for Wrack Peveril to prove his alibi on that particular day—if he ever
came back, that was, which at present seemed doubtful.

“No, there is nothing like method,” agreed the teacher; and then she
added: “It is of no use to make rules and not keep to them. I do not
thrash the boys and girls because I like to do it, or because it
gratifies some brutal instinct in me—indeed, I hate it; but, because I
have said that I would do it, I keep my word. It is the only thing which
will bring them to school in time; and so, unpleasant though it is, I do
it as part of my duty.”

The Doctor nodded and went away, but it was noticeable afterwards, when
people complained to him that the teacher was so fond of punishing, that
he always stood up in her defence, declaring that it was not love of it,
but merely an honourable desire to keep her word.

The days were hard for the three at Ripple. Reggie was very ill, and
needed nursing night and day. Mrs. Buckle came over when she could, but
it was the busy time of the year. She had a great flock of turkeys
hatched, and they needed about as much care as if they had been babies.
Even Mrs. Higgins, the hard-worked mother of Amanda, put in two or three
nights of sitting up, so that Pam and Sophy might not be worn out; and
everyone—except Galena—was as kind as could be.

Then the fever abated, and Reggie began to get better; the Doctor only
came once a day instead of twice, and even took to missing a day once in
a way, and sending Don over instead to know how the boy was getting on.
At least, that was what Don said he came for, and although Sophy screwed
her face into an understanding smile, she was loyal enough to her
brother not to give him away by announcing that the Doctor never paid
proxy visits of that sort.

Don drove a frisky, high-stepping colt which he had bred himself, and
was very proud of. He said the creature needed exercise, and when he
came to enquire after Reggie, he would take Pam for a drive across the
forest, just to keep the colt in proper trim, so he said. Pam enjoyed
the swift motion, the fresh air, and the absence of fatigue as only a
very hard-worked person can enjoy anything. Don was so beguiling in his
conversation, too, and he knew so much, that she was won into
forgetfulness of her worries, and that in itself was a benefit indeed.

The question of money was always uppermost. It was quite astonishing
what a little they lived upon; but then there was so little coming in.
Of course there was the money for the black spruce, but both Pam and
Jack would have gone hungry any day rather than touch that. Reggie’s
confession would save their grandfather from having to stand his trial
for wounding Sam Buckle; but all the same the old man might need the
money very sorely, and in any case it was not theirs.

By the end of May some of the crops were coming up and needed careful
hoeing, the live stock was increasing in number and in size, and there
was a look of prosperity about Ripple which the place had not worn for
many a long year past, and that in spite of the tightness of money. It
was marvellous to Pam what a lot of their wants the farm supplied. Milk
they had in generous supply, and butter. There were enough potatoes in
the cellar to feed them, and the pigs and poultry, until potatoes came
again. Eggs they had also, but as these were in great demand they mostly
went to help out the store account, whilst the healthy folk ate corn
porridge and milk. Flour they had to buy, but not much else. Jack had
snared quite a lot of hares, and these served to vary the bacon, which
was home-cured; and other meat they did not buy.

Pam was realizing that she was learning to be thrifty in spite of
herself, while Jack was satisfied with anything in the way of food, and
would not have been inclined to complain if she had asked him to eat
nothing but baked potatoes and buckwheat porridge every day until
harvest came round.

In the days of Reggie’s slow convalescence Pam, who knew him best,
discovered that he was worrying himself most dreadfully because of
Galena’s attitude. Something would have to be done, that was certain.
Pam could not very well keep him at Ripple indefinitely, for she hoped
that her mother would consent to bring the children over in a month or
two. Even if Mrs. Walsh decided that she would stay in England for
another winter, it was still not advisable to keep Reggie at Ripple. The
boy knew everything there was to be known about life in the country, and
Jack knew only what he had been able to pick up since he had come to
Canada; Reggie was of the very dominant sort, and from very superiority
of knowledge he would come to the front and stay there, which would not
be good for him nor yet for Jack.

Then Pam had a bright idea, and the next time Don drove over to Ripple
to exercise that tireless colt she asked him if he would drive her over
to the Gittins’s farm, because she had important business with Galena.

“I will drive you anywhere with the greatest pleasure,” responded Don
with warmth, but Pam was so absorbed that she did not even blush. She
was so hard driven that she had no time to be self-conscious these days,
and this doubtless added to her charm in Don’s eyes, although he could
not help being a trifle resentful sometimes because she was so oblivious
of his attentions.

It was the last week in May. The fervid warmth of the spring sunshine
had made the forest foliage a sight to see. The young and tender greens,
freshened up by last night’s rain, were at their very best and most
beautiful stage, there were flowers everywhere, and the ground was
carpeted in places with a mosaic of colour.

“Why do people live in cities when the country is so beautiful?”
demanded Pam in a tone of positive awe, as her gaze roamed over the open
spaces and the vistas of green which stretched away on either side.

“People love their own species better than Nature,” answered Don, with
the rare wisdom which sometimes characterizes quiet folk. “So they herd
together, the closer the better, and find their happiness so. Half of
them don’t need any pity, for they would be just miserable if they had
to live alone with Nature.”

“I have never been in the woods in springtime before,” said Pam, who was
drawing deep breaths of pure ecstasy. “Every day shows some new miracle,
and I tell myself it was worth while enduring the winter to have the
glory of the spring.”

Nathan Gittins had just come home from a long day of seeding at a little
farm high up on the hills beyond the Ridge, where the winter lingered
long and was very loath to go. Yet the high ground was astonishingly
fertile, and responded more quickly to tillage than even the sheltered
valleys, so the long journey and hard work were worth while. Only Nathan
had not come home in the most amiable of tempers, for he missed Reggie
at every turn, and he often had to get the food for the horses ready
himself, after the long day afield, if Galena happened to be hard
pressed indoors.

This was the case to-night. Don, who understood about such things, tied
his horse to the hitching-post and went across to the barn to help,
while Pam, quaking inwardly, betook herself indoors to do her errand
with Galena.

Miss Gittins was on her dignity to-night. A deeply injured person she
felt herself, and she showed it in every line of her body as she darted
to and fro getting supper. But her manners were equal to the demand
hospitality made upon them, and she pressed Pam to stay to supper with
real cordiality, albeit she was excessively dignified, a pose that did
not suit her because it was unnatural.

“I have had supper, thank you, and I could not eat anything more if I
tried. I am very sorry, though, for your cookies do look most
delightful. I can’t think how it is you do it; mine never come out so
well.”

“It is use,” replied Galena. “I was doing that sort of thing when you
were in your cradle, and I have been doing it ever since, while I
suppose that you hardly saw a cooky until since you came to live at
Ripple.”

“That is it, I suppose; and so I may expect to become proficient by the
time I am grey-haired. Galena, why have you never been over to see that
poor boy since his accident?” Pam fired her question at Galena with such
disconcerting suddenness that she was too much taken aback to consider
her reply, and so blurted out the plain, unvarnished truth.

“I do not want to have anything to do with a miserable little sneak that
worms himself into my confidence and then goes hot-foot to tell what he
has found out. I have no use for two-faced people!”

“Neither have I in an ordinary way,” said Pam quietly. She had gently
elbowed Galena from the stove, and was briskly stirring Nathan’s
porridge herself. It was the first thing she saw that she could do, and
her doing it left Galena’s hands free for something else. “But do you
know why he did it? I mean, do you know why he went off to Ripple that
day to warn Grandfather about the surprise party?”

“To earn a quarter, I suppose. It is just disgusting to see young
children so set on getting money by fair means or foul. I have no
patience with it.” Galena was quite splendid in her wrath, but Pam’s
eyes were suddenly dim with tears.

“He did want money, I know,” she said quietly; “but he did not get it,
for Grandfather set the dog at him in return for his kindness in having
come to warn him.”

“Kindness!” snorted Galena, with her head in the air, and she set a dish
on the table with so much emphasis that the contents were spilled on the
table-cloth.

Pam wanted to laugh, but managed to keep a grave face. She knew that
Galena hated to spill things, and this was only Tuesday, so she would
have to look at that soiled table-cloth every day for the rest of the
week, which would be punishment enough for her without anything else.

“I think it was kindness,” said Pam quietly. “It must be dreadful to
have a set of people you do not care for coming to take forcible
possession of your house sometime when you have gone, or are just going
to bed, to have them go poking and prying through your private places,
and seeing all the miserable little shifts that you have to make to
present a decent front to the world. Oh, it must be hateful! You would
not realize it yourself, because you have never been poor. I don’t mean
that you have not had to want something you could not have, but you have
never had to make all sorts of miserable little shifts to keep people
from finding out how poor you were.”

“But you went to more than one surprise party yourself last winter, and
you enjoyed it as much as anyone, or at least you appeared to!” burst
out Galena, showing quick resentment, for she thought it was the idea
that Pam was attacking.

“I know that I did,” answered Pam. “Indeed, I never enjoyed a frolic
more in my life than the night we came here to surprise you and your
brother. But then you had nothing to hide. You were friends with every
one of us. There was food in your larder and firing in its proper place.
You had table-cloths, and dishes, and everything else that was needed.
But how would you have felt if you had gone to bed without any supper,
or next to none, if there had been no firing in the house, and your only
table-cloth was a torn old newspaper, not too clean, while all the house
was in the state of the most abject poverty that you can imagine?”

“Your Grandfather’s house was not like that!” cried Galena in amazement
and indignant astonishment. “Why, you were there and saw it yourself!”

“I know,” said Pam, whose heart was beating very fast; “but I was not
thinking of Grandfather just then, I was showing you the position from
Reggie’s standpoint. We cannot correctly judge other people’s motives
unless we can see things from their point of view. You blame him for
going to Ripple to tell Grandfather that the surprise party was coming,
yet you are forgetting how Reggie and his brother suffered from the same
infliction of most mistaken kindness. It was because he and Mose Paget
had suffered so fiercely in their pride that Reggie went to Ripple that
day.”

“Mose Paget has no pride; he would not be where he is to-day if he had
had a grain of pride worth having. He is bed-rock lazy, too!” burst out
Galena.

“I dare say he is not much good or he would not have left poor Reggie as
he has done,” admitted Pam rather ruefully. She hated to have to speak
against Mose, because of his goodness to her on that
never-to-be-forgotten day when she stumbled on the lynxes at the ruined
house on the old tote road. “Still, perhaps he had pride of a sort, only
it got so badly wounded that he could not rise above it: people are like
that sometimes. But it is Reggie that I am concerned about, and I have
come to ask you to forgive him, and to let him come back here to work
when he is better.”

“He was downright useful, I will say that for him, and we are lost
without him,” admitted Galena. “But I should hate to have anyone about
that I could not trust, and it will always be coming up against him in
my mind that he played me false before.”

“You will get over that. Try him again and see,” urged Pam. Then Don
called to her that it was time to be going, and she had to leave things,
uncertain whether she had scored a success or failed.



                             CHAPTER XVIII


                            Met on the Trail

Pam’s face was so long when she came out of the house in response to a
summons from Don that he took to rallying her on her evident depression
as they drove back to Ripple.

“It looks as if you and Galena had been having a little difference of
opinion, and that you had come off second best. Why didn’t you shout for
me? It would have given me all the pleasure in life to have squashed her
flat.”

“But it would not have mended matters at all,” said Pam with an
impatient sigh. “I wanted Galena to be willing to take Reggie Furness
back to work there when he is well enough, but she has got such an
impossible attitude with regard to a wrongdoer. Because a person has
once done the thing which is not square she will never trust that person
again. She knows she is not perfect herself, and yet she expects
perfection in everyone else.”

“That is the stand most folks take,” he answered with a short laugh.
“Self-blindness, I call it, and as a rule the more they shout about the
weaknesses of other people the more disposed they are to the same
infirmity themselves. But Galena is a good sort at the bottom, and she
will very likely turn things over in her mind a bit when she has had a
little time. I guess Nathan is more than a little cross with me. He
wanted his supper about as much as it is possible for a man to want
anything, and I kept him out in the barn, asking him questions about
every imaginable thing, from moose-calling to the best and quickest way
of plucking chickens. I helped him feed his horses, though, and he said
he hated that business worse than anything he had to do all day. He said
it made him real bad to see the creatures stuffing their noses into the
food and having such a good time, while he felt like sinking into his
boots with hunger. Then I reminded him that he would soon have the boy
back to get supper ready for his horses, so he cheered up a bit,
although he did mention that Galena might have something to say on the
subject.”

“Oh, it was good of you to put in a word for Reggie like that. If Nathan
feels he wants the boy back so badly, Galena may have to give way.”
There was a catch in Pam’s voice, for she was feeling this affair very
keenly. Reggie was having to suffer for his vindication of her
grandfather, and so it became very much of a personal matter to her.

The colt was spanking along at a fine pace. The trail was very good just
at this part, and Don’s high-wheeled cart went bumping and swaying along
under the shade of the birches and the hemlocks while the level rays of
the setting sun lay in bars of gold across the heavy green foliage. In
another ten or fifteen minutes they would be at Ripple, and Don’s golden
evening would be over. It was not wonderful that he wanted to make the
most of it while it lasted.

“I am a bit jealous of that boy Reggie. You seem to have no time to
think of anyone else,” he ventured, greatly daring, and Pam turned to
him with a look of astonishment.

“What else could we do but think of him, seeing how ill he has been?”
she demanded; then added with a laugh: “Besides, he is not the sort to
remain in the background at any time. He has been teaching me all sorts
of things about the wild life of the forest, and telling me about
racoons and minks and beavers. He told me that there is a beaver meadow
about seven miles across the forest from here, and he is going to take
me to see it some day when he is stronger.”

“I will drive you over. It is too far for you to walk, and the trail is
rough,” said Don. Then, finding his golden minutes fleeting faster than
ever, he burst out in impulsive speech: “I have loved you ever since
that night you stopped us on the trail to ask the way to Ripple, and
there isn’t a thing I would not do to please you, if you would let me.”

Pam looked keenly distressed.

“Oh, please, don’t!” she said, clasping her hands tightly and feeling
that she would love to run away.

But Don, having once started, was not to be easily stopped.

“Why shouldn’t I tell you that I care for you more than for anyone else
in the world?” he demanded. “I am not so clever as you by a long way,
and you always make me feel that I am the very clumsiest animal that
ever wore shoe leather; but Mother says that is very good for me, and
she told me to-night that she owed a deep debt of gratitude to the
little girl at Ripple for smartening up her son. Can’t you care for me
at all, Pam?”

Pam went very white. What possessed this infatuated young man to talk to
her of love, when for aught she knew there might be shame in front of
her far greater than any she had had to bear as yet? It was fairly plain
that her grandfather had had no hand in the hurting of Sam Buckle, but
it was quite possible he was involved in something else which would not
bear the light of day, seeing that he must have fled from his home to
avoid meeting the surprise party.

“It is not a time to think of oneself,” she said in a chilly tone, which
was all the colder because of the wave of self-pity that suddenly filled
her heart. It did seem hard that her life should be clouded by this
mystery, and just at the time when things might have been really
delightful. “We never know what is going to happen next, or whether
Grandfather will come home.”

“That seems to me all the more reason why you should have someone with a
right to stand by you,” said Don, whose face was setting into stern
lines of determination. “You have Jack here now, it is true, but he is
only a boy, and I want the right to stand by you.”

She shook her head. Speech was so difficult just now, and oh! she could
have cried because her golden evening was spoiled. But in her way she
was as resolute as Don, and she was determined that she would avoid
anything that might bring more suffering later on.

“It is very nice of you to want to shelter me,” she said gently. “But I
don’t need it. I mean, I am quite able to stand up under things without
help. I could not let you care for me—I mean, go on caring for me, when
perhaps there is heavy disgrace to come on us in the near future. Of
course we know now that Grandfather did not hurt Sam Buckle, but we do
not understand why he had to leave his home. We know he did not die in
the forest, because Mose Paget knew a man who had seen him and talked to
him. This was all easy of understanding while we thought he had gone
away because of what happened to his neighbour. Now it is a maddening
mystery, and I can’t begin to think of myself or to plan for being happy
in my own way. I have to do my very best to keep the farm going so that
it shall pay, and so that there may be a little money for Grandfather if
he comes home. I came to New Brunswick hoping to make a place for Mother
and the younger children, but my work seems to go in the direction of
helping Grandfather all I can, even though I have never seen him.”

Pam was talking now for talking’s sake. She wanted to stave off all the
things which she instinctively felt Don wanted to say to her. She was
stifling back, too, a very real heartache. They had been such friends,
such real chums, and it was hard to feel that she must give up what she
had had, just because circumstances would not let her give more. But she
did not know Don quite as well as she thought she did. He received all
she had to say in a very non-committal silence, and then, when the house
at Ripple was reached, he said quietly:

“I can wait. You have not said that you did not care for me, or that
there was anyone else, and nothing else matters. No, I won’t come in
to-night, thank you, it is getting late. I shall come over again and
take you out when there is time, and things will be just as they were.”

Would they? Pam greatly doubted it. She would always be self-conscious
now when she was with Don; the old comradeship would have disappeared,
and she would feel it necessary to stand on guard always.

It was quite early next morning when Galena Gittins drove up to the
house in a smart little wagon that she had bought for herself from her
own earnings.

“I thought I would just come over and see for myself if that pickle of a
boy is getting better,” she explained a little awkwardly. “Nathan was
saying last night that if he could not have Reggie back he would have a
hired man in the house for this summer, but I tell him we can’t get men
these days, and so we have to be thankful to have boys. Nathan ought to
have married years ago, then maybe he would not be dependent on outside
labour now.”

Sophy laughed quietly as she led Galena across the best sitting-room to
the end bedroom where Reggie lay. Rumour said that back in those far-off
years when he was a young man, Nathan Gittins had wanted to get married,
but gave up the idea because of the strenuous objections of Galena; but
then rumour is not much to be trusted, so perhaps Nathan had not been
very keen upon matrimony.

Reggie looked up and flushed scarlet when Galena entered the room. But
she walked across the floor with her usual brisk tread, saying, in a
matter-of-fact tone:

“Getting better, are you? Well, the sooner you are fit for work the
better we shall like it. A rotten time we are having at our place, and
Nathan is about worn out with all the things he has to do at night when
he comes in from the field.”

Reggie stared at her with unbelieving joy in his eyes.

“Do you mean that I am to come back to work the same as if nothing had
happened—I mean, the same as if I had not told?” he asked, in a tone
that quavered suspiciously.

Galena snorted, and tossed her head with an air of fine scorn.

“I haven’t much patience with two-faced folks myself, but this time, at
least, it has turned out all right, since you can clear Wrack Peveril
from such a low-down charge as that brought against him. The pity is
that you did not do it before, but the wisest of us make mistakes
sometimes.”

Reggie murmured an incoherent something, then lay staring at Galena with
shining eyes, while she talked to Sophy about the wedding that was to be
so very soon. Then Pam came in from the barn, where she had been helping
Jack with the morning “chores”, and very soon afterwards Miss Gittins
went away, declaring that she could not stay another minute. But when
she bade him good-bye she told Reggie that she was going to ask the
Doctor how soon he could be moved, as it would be a comfort to have him
at their place, even if he could do nothing better than lie on the
settle in the kitchen and tell her when the saucepans boiled.

A week later he was gone, and the house dropped back into its condition
of normal quiet. Pam and Jack only came into the house to eat and sleep,
while Sophy worked industriously at her wedding-gown. She had decided
that she would rather make it at Ripple than at her own home, where
there were so many interruptions. Every day she approached her task with
the reverent awe of a priestess performing a religious ceremony, and Pam
had many a quiet chuckle to herself over the happiness Sophy got from
work that is mostly left to outsiders.

One baking hot morning in early June the cow was missing. The creature
had apparently pushed down a weak portion of the fence and gone for a
stroll on her own account. There was in consequence no milk for
breakfast. Corn porridge and molasses is not bad fare, but coffee
without milk is horrid, so many hard things were said about the cow
while they had breakfast. In an ordinary way there would have been the
milk of the previous night to fall back upon, but it so chanced that the
storekeeper from The Corner had been collecting all the evening milk of
the district for the last few weeks, because he had bought a separator
and was making butter for his customers.

“I will take the dog and go to find the cow,” said Pam. “I was going to
hoe potatoes in the field by the creek, but those weeds will have to get
a little bigger before they are hoed up. I don’t believe I am sorry
either, for I would much rather tramp about the forest than hoe potatoes
to-day. Isn’t the weather just gorgeous? I wish, oh, I wish that the
boys and Muriel were here to enjoy it!”

People told her that June was not often as hot as this, and that the
weather would probably break in a thunder-storm soon, and then it would
get cooler.

“You will have to go, because I can’t.” Jack spoke with his mouth full,
for he was bolting his breakfast in a great hurry, having lost time in
hunting for the cow. “I promised Nathan that I would be at his place in
good time. We are going to start haymaking to-day, and now we shall have
to hustle for all we are worth.”

Pam started on her quest directly breakfast was over. It was really
stupid of the cow to break bounds in this fashion, because if the
creature wandered very far the night’s milk would not be so good, and
Pam was rapidly developing the farmer instinct, which is dead against
waste of this sort.

She went out through the break in the fence made by the cow, and
followed the trail of the animal through the long grass, so far as it
showed; when she could no longer see it she had to trust to common sense
for direction. The cow was out for change of diet rather than from any
desire to run away, so most likely it would wander straight along the
nearest trail, which was the narrow one that led out to the old tote
road. Pam had not been there for some time, work having called her in
other directions. Farmers in that part of the world do not often walk
for the sake of taking a stroll in the middle of summer, time being too
precious.

The dog paced soberly along at her heels, and she wondered if the
creature had any recollection of the happening of last fall, when it had
encountered the lynx at the ruined house. Her way this morning led past
the ruin, for as she turned into the old tote road she saw far away in
the distance something which looked like a cow. The creature was so far
away that it was of no use to send the dog in pursuit yet, so she went
on, ankle-deep in grass and flowers, while the morning seemed to grow
hotter and hotter.

She halted at the door of the ruined house, trying to get courage enough
to enter. Apparently the door had not been touched since Mose Paget had
tied it up to keep the lynxes from returning to their lair. Pam had a
vivid remembrance of the bit of yellow pocket-handkerchief he had used
for the purpose, and there it was still tied to the door. The place had
a bad name. Luke Dobson told her that he himself had once been scared
nearly out of his senses by seeing a grey shape flit along the tote road
in front of him one night when he was belated in that part of the
forest, and it had disappeared in or near the ruins. Pam had laughed
then: it is so easy to laugh when one is hearing of an experience of
such a kind second-hand. Now she was shivering at the remembrance, and
she did not wonder that even a stolid, unimaginative man like Mr. Dobson
had been frightened.

“Oh, but it is all nonsense to be so scared. I will open the door and
have a look inside,” she whispered to herself. She was noticing that the
shell of the house still appeared sound and good, and she was thinking
that the place might be used as a dwelling again if only someone could
be found brave enough to live there. She forced her unwilling feet close
to the door, laid her hand on the rag with which Mose had fastened the
door to the frame, then stood still for a moment to overcome the fierce
trembling which had seized her.

A crash sounded overhead, followed by a long, crackling roll of thunder,
and at the same moment the dog flung up its head, uttering a most
doleful howl. With a sharp cry of fear Pam darted out to the middle of
the wide green road, and stood shaking and shivering, for she was
dreadfully afraid of thunder. Of choice she would have turned and fled
back to Ripple as fast as she could go; but there was the cow. She had
found it, and for very shame she could not go back and say that she had
run home because she was afraid.

The sun was shining still, and from where she stood she could not see
the storm coming up against the wind. The wonder seized her as to
whether the crash of thunder had been sent to warn her from trying to
enter that haunted ruin. Then she laughed aloud at her own folly in
thinking such a thing, and set forward in pursuit of the cow once more.
But she did not look back, and she was debating in her mind if there was
not a cross-trail that would take her back to Ripple without her having
to come back past the ruins.

The cow saw her coming, and moved gently on ahead, as if to prolong the
morning’s stroll as far as possible.

“Tiresome thing!” cried Pam, who was shaken by her experience. Then she
quickened her pace, for the cow had turned out of the straight wide road
into a narrow avenue of mighty beech trees. The sun was certainly
clouding over now, and the heat grew every moment more suffocating. She
had left the great open space where the black spruce had been lumbered
last winter, and had plunged into a dense forest of mighty beech trees.
Here and there were dead trees and plentiful windfalls—that is, broken
branches stripped off by the tempest in its fury.

Another crash louder than before. A queer sensation of being stunned
came to Pam, and she leaned against a tree to recover her breath. How
dark it had grown! The cow was out of sight, and the dog crouched at her
feet, whimpering as if frightened also. Then came a quick, darting
flash, and a cracking, riving noise, followed by a peal of thunder so
mighty and overwhelming that Pam shrieked aloud in her terror, yet could
not hear her own voice. Such a dead silence followed that her ears
fairly ached. A big tree towering above its fellows had been riven from
summit to base by lightning, and to her horror and dismay she saw little
crackling flames and a thin haze of smoke creeping about its foot.

The forest was on fire—she could smell the burning! Everything she had
ever heard or read of forest fires came back to her now, and she turned
to flee. She had taken half a dozen flying steps backward to the
comparative safety of the old tote road when she remembered what Don had
said to her one day, to the effect that there would not be half so many
fires in the forest if the people who saw them start were to take the
trouble to beat them out.

Could she do it? Would she dare go back to the burning tree? She was
running with the wind, and if the fire grew, as sometimes forest fires
did grow, then soon the flames would overtake her, and her life would be
forfeit. Better face the danger now, and stop it, if stopping was
possible.

A moment she halted, then she fled back by the way she had come, just as
a loud peal of thunder crashed above her head. The smoke was blinding.
It was last year’s dead leaves that were burning, for the beech leaves
only fell as the new growth pushed them off, except where they were
exposed to the fury of the wind. She had a stick in her hand, and
although she was nearly blinded by the smoke, she dashed into the circle
of burning leaves and began beating out the fire. At first her efforts
seemed only to make things worse; instead of extinguishing the fire she
flicked the sparks here and there and started other fires. But she grew
wiser as she went on, and did her beating in surer fashion. The smoke
was certainly growing less, she was gaining on the fire, and she was
ready to shout with triumph, when suddenly, without any warning, a
blazing branch fell on the ground in front of her, so close that it was
nothing short of marvellous it had not come right on her head. Looking
up, she saw that the flames had been creeping up the side of the tree
farthest away from where she was working, and, finding a rotten branch
as inflammable as tinder, had burst into an active conflagration far
above her reach.

Oh, the horror of it! Pam’s courage, shaken by the thunder and the
fierce efforts she had made to stop the outbreak, gave way altogether
now, and again she fled. The dog had disappeared long ago, she had seen
nothing of the cow since the fire began, and she was alone with this
great terror. Never in all her life had solitude frightened her so much.
The fire on the ground had all been beaten out; but for the blazing
branch above her head the danger would be nearly all over by now. There
was another crash. Pam gave a sideway leap just in time to avoid another
decayed branch that came crashing to the ground, throwing out showers of
sparks and starting another fire of dead leaves where it fell. She could
now hear the flames crackling above her, and she suddenly realized her
own danger, for if a blazing branch fell upon her she must burn to death
with no one to help her.

She fled then, not back to the old tote road, for the blazing tree was
between her and the trail which led that way, but straight ahead by a
trail she did not know. To her nothing mattered just then but to get as
far away as possible from the burning tree.

The trail she took was a cross-trail, and five minutes later she emerged
on a wider one. Glancing distractedly to right and left, she saw to her
intense relief a man coming towards her. He was a stranger. The first
glance showed her that. But he looked so much at home on the forest
trail that she made up her mind he was of the wilderness places.

“A forest fire has started, can you help?” she shouted as she came
nearer to him.

He looked at her and broke into a run. No need to tell a forest-dweller
to hurry when a fire has started. It is seconds that count then, and a
few of them may make all the difference between ruin and security.

“Where is it?” he shouted, and there was something in his voice that
brought instant comfort to Pam, for she instinctively realized that here
was a man who could grapple with the situation.

“This way!” She had turned, and was speeding back by the way she had
come. She had forgotten the cow, she had lost sight of everything save
the need of the moment.

A blast of hot air struck her as she neared the tree. But a moment later
she saw to her great joy that the fire was still confined to the one
tree that had been struck by lightning. The foliage of the forest was at
present so green and tender that it would not readily flame. Scorched
and blackened it might be, but it would have to be drier before it would
burn easily. The danger lay in the bits of blazing branches that were
falling from the stricken tree. There was a large amount of dead wood
cumbered up with the living branches, and it was these that were blazing
so furiously. The man she had met overtook Pam by the time she came in
sight of the tree, and he rapidly summed up the situation, for he
plainly understood all about it.

“Beech tree, struck by lightning; dead wood ablaze. Chief danger of
spreading lies in the burning fragments that are dropping from the tree.
We shall have to beat the fires out as they start. You have a stick;
come along!” As he spoke the man sprang forward, and, using the stout
walking-stick he carried, started to beat out the flame of a
particularly vigorous little fire that had started in a great mass of
dried bracken.

What a difference between the wrong way and the right! Pam watched him,
fascinated by the way he was doing it, and quite unconscious that a very
active blaze had just started within a few paces of her on the other
side.

“Look out!” called the man sharply. “You will be on fire yourself in
another moment!”

“Oh, oh!” Pam started forward and commenced hitting wildly, raising
showers of sparks. Panic had seized her, fire was such a truly horrible
thing, and she was almost at the end of her self-control.

“Slower, slower! Don’t be in such a hurry!” called the man, and then he
left his own fire and came over to where Pam was trying to beat the fire
so that it would go out. “Knock the other stuff down on the top of what
is blazing; that smothers it, don’t you see?”

“Be careful!” shrieked Pam, looking up just in time to see that a great
fragment of blazing wood was coming straight down on the man; then,
because he did not look up and spring away himself, she rushed at him,
pushing with so much vigour that, unable to save himself, he was bowled
over like a ninepin. Just as he measured his length on the ground, the
branch, blazing furiously, struck him on the boot and rolled harmlessly
to one side.

“Thank you!” he said, as he picked himself up and again started on
smothering the fire. “There is an old proverb among the Mic-macs to the
effect that he who fights fire wants eyes all over him. I should have
been in a sorry case if you had not come to my help just then.”

“It is horrible—horrible! Shall we ever be able to stop it?” Pam was
very near despair, for it seemed to her that for every fire they beat
out three more started. Her arms were aching so badly that she could
hardly lift her stick. But she stuck to it because the man who was
helping her kept shouting to her to come on, and worked with an amazing
vigour himself which was tremendously infectious.

He paused a moment to look at the tree that was blazing far above their
heads; then he gave a glance at the sky, dashed to one side to beat out
a fresh fire, came back to help Pam with the one she was beating out,
and said encouragingly:

“We shall do it, I fancy. The rain will begin inside of ten minutes, and
if it comes down according to promise, the fire will be out in another
ten minutes. We shall be as wet as if we had been wading, but you will
have saved quite a big forest fire.”

“I?” cried Pam in astonishment. “Why, I could not keep it back; that was
why I ran away. I was running away when I met you on the trail. Didn’t
you know?”

“I guessed that was what you were doing, and small blame to you, for you
might easily have lost your life, and no one any the wiser. But when
there are two, the danger is so much less, because one can help the
other, as you did me when you bowled me over.”

“It was dreadful of me, but there was no other way,” said Pam. Then she
cried out in dismay, for the rain was suddenly flung upon the forest,
coming down with such force and violence that her breath was nearly
taken away, and she could only lean against a tree and gasp.

“Our work is done,” said the stranger, who seemed in no way disturbed by
the downpour. “And as there is nothing more to do, we might as well be
moving. Can you direct me to the house of Mrs. Sam Buckle?”

“I am not sure, but I think so. I don’t think I have been in this part
before, but I have a general idea as to where the trail leads, and I
think I can guide you,” said Pam, who was wondering more than ever who
this stranger could be.



                              CHAPTER XIX


                         The Stranger’s Errand

“I could not think of letting you guide me anywhere in this downpour,”
said the stranger, who had drawn Pam away from the fine tree against
which she was leaning, telling her that it was not safe to shelter under
a tree, especially a beech tree, until the storm was over. “If you will
tell me which way to go I dare say that I can manage, or, if it is very
complicated, perhaps you will let me go with you to the nearest shelter.
This rain is going to keep on for a few hours, which will be a good
thing for the farmers, but it is not worth while to keep more of it off
the ground than we can help.”

“If I am right as to where we are, Mrs. Buckle’s house is the nearest
place where we can shelter; and if I am not to lean against a tree, we
might as well be going forward, for I don’t feel as if I can breathe
with all this water dropping on my face.” Pam was gasping and choking as
she turned into the trail which she thought led to Mrs. Buckle’s house,
and she felt as if it would be a physical impossibility to reach shelter
of any sort unless she could get her breath more easily. She thought of
the ruined house on the old tote road, but decided that she would rather
be out in the rain than forced to shelter there. Then, too, it was no
farther to the house of Mrs. Buckle in one direction than it would be to
go back to that place of ill repute.

“Keep your head down, then you will be able to breathe easier!” called
out the stranger from the rear, and Pam decided that he was a very
understanding sort, and well versed in forest lore likewise, so her
curiosity grew and grew as she plodded along through the pouring rain,
as wet through as if she had been sitting in the creek.

A turn in the trail, and she saw the angle of the little brown house.
She had made no mistake, but had brought the stranger straight as the
crow flies to the house he was seeking. They emerged from the forest and
were crossing the field, when the door was flung open, and to her
surprise Pam saw Jack on the threshold, peering at her and her companion
as if he failed to recognize her.

“Just a nice little shower, isn’t it?” she called out, trying to make
her voice sound as cheerful as possible, although she was feeling pretty
bad by this time.

“Pam, is it you? Why, you are nearly drowned! What has happened to bring
you out in such a downpour?” demanded Jack, darting out to help her
along those last few steps.

“I went out to find the cow,” she explained; then, reaching the door,
paused on the threshold, for the house was clean, and she could not bear
to enter in such a condition.

At this moment Mrs. Buckle came upon the scene, and, bursting into a
torrent of exclamations and questions, dragged Pam indoors to find dry
clothes. Then she made Jack take the stranger away to the barn to change
into a suit of her late husband’s. She talked all the time at her very
fastest rate, and gave Pam no chance at all of explaining how she came
to be in such a plight.

The rain stopped almost as suddenly as it began; the clouds were
breaking and the sun was coming out when Pam emerged from Mrs. Buckle’s
bedroom wearing an old washing frock of her hostess, which was much too
short and much too broad for her. It was at this moment that Jack came
hurrying in from the barn, crying excitedly:

“I say, Pam, why didn’t you say that it was Sophy’s policeman that you
had in tow? My word, isn’t he a fine chap! Won’t she be pleased to see
him, too!”

“Is that Mr. Lester?” cried Pam in amazement. “Why, I never dreamed of
such a thing! Besides, he wanted to see Mrs. Buckle!”

“I suppose he can want to see whom he pleases,” retorted Jack. Then, as
the stranger came along, looking grotesque and floppy clad in the
deceased Sam Buckle’s best “blacks”, he was graceless enough to burst
into a shout of laughter, in which he was joined by Pam, who simply
could not help her merriment.

“It is not fair that you should laugh at me, Miss Walsh, for your own
things are not a very good fit,” said George Lester, and then he shook
hands with her, telling her that he was glad to see her, but that he had
guessed who she was when they were putting out the fire.

“Why did you not tell me?” she said reproachfully. “If you had said who
you were we would have struggled on as far as Ripple instead of coming
here, for of course Sophy wants to see you.”

“But I had to see Mrs. Buckle, and it is business first, you know.” He
spoke in a quick, firm tone, and, looking at him, Pam decided that
certainly Sophy had made no mistake, and that here was a man of whom any
girl might very reasonably feel proud.

“Jack and I will go across to the barn and wait while you do your
business; then we will guide you to Ripple. Sophy is staying there with
us, you know.” Pam spoke a little uncertainly, for after all she did not
know how much Mr. Lester might know of the movements of his betrothed.

“My business is rather public than private—at least, so far as you and
your brother are concerned. You had better stay and hear about it, then
we will go to Ripple together. Sophy told me in her last letter that I
should find her staying there.” Mr. Lester then turned from Pam to speak
to Mrs. Buckle, and Pam sat down on the nearest chair, feeling
tremendously curious as to the errand that had brought George Lester to
this house before he made any attempt to see Sophy, from whom he had
been parted for a year.

Amanda Higgins had gone home for the day to help her mother, so there
were only Jack and Pam with Mrs. Buckle when George Lester began to
state his errand.

“I think you used to know a man named Mose Paget?” He was looking at
Mrs. Buckle as he spoke, and Pam felt a queer contraction of her heart
as she told herself that Mose was dead; she was sure of it from the
stranger’s manner of speaking.

“Yes, I knew him, but I’m sorry to say he was not very well worth
knowing,” answered Mrs. Buckle. “He was downright good to my poor
husband when he was dying, but the fellow played me rather a dirty trick
afterwards in going off and leaving me in the lurch just at seeding
time. I can’t think how I would have got through if it had not been for
Miss Walsh and her brother. The way Mose treated that poor little
half-brother of his was just shameful, too, so I’m not to say proud of
his acquaintance.”

“The man is dead.” George Lester spoke in a quiet tone, but his voice
sounded loud in the ears of Pam, who had difficulty in suppressing a
sob. She was thinking of all the tragedies that lay behind the wasted
days of Mose Paget, and of Galena’s spoiled life, for spoiled it had
been to a certain extent.

Mrs. Buckle threw up her hands in surprise.

“Dead, is he? Well, the world isn’t much the poorer anyhow. Not but what
he had his good streaks; but there! a man would be bad indeed if there
was not some good in him.”

“Did you know that he had a quarrel with your husband?” asked George
Lester, who had opened a bulky pocket-book, and was busy sorting papers.

“Why, no, Sam never told me anything about it,” replied Mrs. Buckle.

Pam gave a sudden start as a wonderful possibility flashed upon her
mind. She went rather white, too, and there was a sound of surging
waters in her ears, so that the voice of George Lester seemed to come to
her from a great distance.

“Two nights before I left on furlough,” he was saying, “we had word
brought us of a shooting affray at a saloon in the mining town at the
bottom of Black Cow Pass. Things are pretty lively down there as a rule,
and we have to go fully armed; we have to use our weapons, too, for
mostly that man is safest who is first in with the shooting irons. On
this night I went down with one other man, and we found that there had
been a fight between two of the miners, and the one getting the worst of
it had pulled out his revolver, shooting wildly. He did not hit the man
with whom he had been fighting, but another man sitting in a far corner
got the bullet in his chest. It was easy to see the poor fellow had been
badly hit, and one of the boys started to ride for the doctor; fifteen
miles he would have to ride, on a bad trail, and the rain coming down at
a pour.

“We made the injured man as comfortable as we could, but we could not do
much, for it was a hopeless case from the first. I stayed with him, for
I knew most of what was best to be done. I took the medical course
before I joined the Mounted Police, and that is such a help at times
like this. I told the man that if he had anything to say he had better
out with it while he had the power to talk. Then he told me his name was
Mose Paget, that he came from this part of New Brunswick, and that there
was something on his mind that must be told before he died.”

“Ah! I thought it was strange that he should leave here in such a hurry,
it was such a trumped-up story!” said Mrs. Buckle. George Lester nodded,
then went on with his story, only now he was turning over the papers and
sorting out some sheets covered closely with writing.

“The man told me that he owned a strip of ground running by the side of
land belonging to Sam Buckle, who had the creek frontage, but only a
narrow strip about two hundred yards deep. This bit of land had always
been coveted by Mose, who felt that he could develop the land that was
his own so much better if he could front the creek. Often and often he
had asked Sam Buckle to put a price on it, but he could never get a
satisfactory reply.”

“Sam was just like that!” sighed Mrs. Buckle, dropping a tear to her
husband’s memory, while she shook her head in disapproval of his
unneighbourly ways.

Again George Lester nodded; but he never took his eyes from the papers,
and when Mrs. Buckle ceased speaking, he took up the thread of his
narrative once more.

“It came to the ears of Mose that Sam Buckle intended planting his strip
of frontage with black spruce; the young trees had been already
bargained for, and were to be planted before the frost came if the
ground could be got ready. This was like a deathknell to the hopes of
Mose, and he determined to make one more effort to get Sam to put a
price on the land. He had made up his mind that if he could get hold of
that piece of ground he would leave off his lazy ways and work hard to
retrieve the past. He would have a saw-mill on the creek, and he knew
that with the help of his young step-brother he would be able to make
his venture pay in very quick time.

“He went in search of Sam Buckle directly he heard the rumour, and meant
to have it out with him and to know for certain what he had to expect.
When he got near to this house he saw Sam leaving the door and going off
across the field in the direction of Ripple, so, without approaching the
house, Mose started in pursuit, for he guessed that the other was going
to a fence which had been a bone of contention between Sam Buckle and
his neighbour for many years past. When he reached the place he found
Sam Buckle in a towering rage. It appeared that Sam had been working on
putting up the fence on the previous day, and that Wrack Peveril must
have come at dawn and chopped it all down, and then gone away in such a
hurry that he had left his axe lying on the ground.

“Mose started on his grievance right away, asking Sam if it was
neighbourly, kind, or Christian to try to take the bread out of a man’s
mouth. Sam answered that he treated his neighbours as his neighbours in
their turn treated him; then he pointed to the demolished fence, and to
Wrack’s axe lying on the ground, and he said that because of that last
outrage from the old man at Ripple he would do as he chose about
planting his frontage with black spruce. It was his right to do as he
liked with his land, and no one should stop him. Then Mose seemed to go
mad, and flying at Sam, the two fought as only madmen will. Of course
Sam got the worst of it. Mose was the younger man; he was, too, the man
with the grievance, and that lent power to his arms, while his passion
gave him double strength. But it was not until Sam dropped apparently
dead at his feet that he realized where his strength had led him. Then
he was afraid and fled, for the curse of Cain was on him, and he
believed that he had killed his fellow-man.”

“Oh, why did he not come for help straight away? We might have saved
poor Sam if only help had been there in time. The Doctor said so!”
wailed Mrs. Buckle, while Pam cried from sheer sympathy, and Jack sat
staring out through the open door, making the most horrible grimaces at
the landscape, as if the peaceful scene had in some way offended him.

“A good deal of misery would be averted if only people would own up when
they have done wrong,” remarked George Lester. Then he went on again:
“It was not until quite late in the evening that Mose chanced to hear
that Sam Buckle was still alive. He had been making up his mind to leave
the neighbourhood that night, for he felt that he was a murderer, and
from thenceforth he must be a wanderer. If Sam was alive, however, then
there was hope for him still. But Sam Buckle died, and, as of course you
know, he died saying nothing but the last words that had been on his
lips before he and Mose fought—it was his right to do what he would
with his own. Mose would have run away then, but he realized that, Wrack
Peveril having disappeared, it was safest for him to stay where he was,
while the old man’s memory bore the blame.”

“If Wrack Peveril did not hurt my husband, what made him go away?”
demanded Mrs. Buckle.

“That is what we want to know,” put in Pam, brushing away her tears, and
looking at George as if she expected him to explain that mystery also.

“Ah, that is more than I can tell you,” he replied. “But doubtless time,
which has cleared this mystery, will clear that one also. Of course I
was not here to know anything about it. I had no acquaintance with the
old man, but from what Sophy has told me in her letters I should incline
to the belief either that he went away because he felt he did not dare
stay where he was any longer, or else that something happened to him.”

“But he has been seen,” put in Pam in a jerky tone. She always hated to
speak of this, because the circumstance seemed to write the old man down
as a wrongdoer straight away. “A man met him at a lumber camp in the
back country last winter, but Grandfather did not like being
recognized.”

“What man was it?” asked George Lester quickly. It was plain he doubted
the evidence, and Pam made haste to state her authority.

“He was a man named O’Brien, who used to work for Mr. Luke Dobson at
Hunt’s Crossing, years ago. He told Mose Paget of this meeting with
Grandfather, and he spoke of it also to Dr. Grierson, but he said he had
told no one else, because he was afraid of putting the police on the
track of Grandfather’s whereabouts.”

“If it was that O’Brien—Cassidy O’Brien, his full name was—then we
shall never know more about it than we do now, for he, too, is dead,”
said George, referring again to the papers in his hand. “Do you remember
the night when someone entered the house at Ripple, and took the money
from the desk?”

“Why, yes. I thought it was—I mean, I had believed it might be
Grandfather come back for his own money, to which, of course, he had a
perfect right.” Pam’s tone always became defiant when she spoke of her
grandfather’s supposed return. How much she hated having to defend that
coming back, no one but herself could know. She realized perfectly that
it had been a dastardly thing to lure two unprotected girls from the
shelter of a warm house on a night in midwinter, when the wolves were
hunting in packs, and that no man worthy the name would have done it.
But for the sake of her mother she would not alter her attitude,
although it was impossible not to feel a little resentful about it all.

“It was not your grandfather who entered the house that night and forced
open the desk where the money was kept, then walked off with all he
could find. It was Mose Paget,” said George. Pam started up with a
little cry of sheer amazement, for if Mose were the thief, how was it
that the money had been found with those poor remains which the melting
snows had revealed at the time of sugaring?

“How do you know?” she demanded, her heart beating furiously. Had she
been misjudging the poor old man all this time? How good it would be to
feel that she could respect him in her own private heart, and not have
to continually fight down her secret mistrust of him!

“It is here, in the confession,” replied George, giving a shuffle to the
papers he was holding; “but because they are mostly in shorthand, as I
took the statement down, and I have not had time to transcribe them, I
have told my story instead of writing it. Cassidy O’Brien came back to
this part of the world to hunt out Mose Paget, who owed him money. He
threatened that if Mose did not pay up he, O’Brien, would make known to
the police a bit of the past of Mose that would not bear the light of
day. The debt was not a big one, but it was more than Mose could pay. He
had heard Mrs. Buckle pressing Miss Walsh to take the money to supply
the wants of Wrack Peveril if the old man should come creeping back to
his home in want. He had heard Miss Walsh say where she intended putting
the money, so that her grandfather would be sure to find it if he came
when she was not about. It is the opportunity that makes the thief, and
because it was all made so plain for him, Mose determined to get that
money from Ripple, and to clear his debt with it.

“He arranged to meet O’Brien at a certain place and to take the money to
him. It was fifty dollars he owed the man, but there was not sufficient
to pay all; so he kept some of the cash for himself, and gave the rest
of the cash and the paper money to O’Brien, who vowed that he would go
straight to the police and tell what he knew. Apparently he must have
started, for the direction in which his remains were found would seem to
point to his having tried to hit the trail to the police head-quarters.
Either he sat down and was frozen to death, or else he was chased by
wolves, and died that way; this we shall never know.

“Mose was amazed to find that his old enemy made no sign. But when the
bones were found in the forest it seemed to him as if fate had been
working for him, and henceforth he had nothing to fear. Then Jack Walsh
came out from England, and suddenly the blow of which Mose had stood in
dread fell from a most unexpected quarter. He was coming into the house
to see Mrs. Buckle about some small matter connected with his work, when
to his horror he saw Mrs. Buckle with Sam’s watch in her hand. He had
taken away Sam’s watch and the money in the man’s pockets after their
fight, just to make it look like a case of robbery and violence. Then
when he had been so ill in St. John from the after-effect of the mauling
he got from the lynx, he had sold the watch to pay the doctor.”

“My word!” cried Mrs. Buckle; “he was a bad lot to rob the man he had
knocked about so badly!”

“He had got out of the straight, and when once a man gets on the slant,
there is no saying what he will do,” replied George, who then went on to
tell them how Mose had worked his way out west, tracking backwards and
forwards in the going, in order to hide his trail. But the fugitive had
known no rest and no peace, and had faced starvation and hardship, until
at last he had come by his death-wound in a fray between two strangers,
when the bullet meant for another man found its billet in his breast. It
was, indeed, a sad and tragic story.

“There is one thing for which I shall be grateful to my dying day,” said
Mrs. Buckle between her sobs, “and that is that I was never tempted to
visit what I supposed Wrack Peveril had done to my poor man on his
granddaughter. She has always been my dear friend, and though sometimes
I’ll admit I felt a bit wicked about it all, I stuck to what my
instincts told me, and I’m just more glad about it than I can say.”

“You have been truly good to me, and to Jack too!” murmured Pam. Then,
the confession having come to an end, she declared that they must be
going, for it was not fair to Sophy to keep Mr. Lester away any longer.

“I will come with you,” said Jack. “When I got to the Gittins’s place
this morning, Nathan told me he could not get the machine until
to-morrow, so, of course, we could not start haymaking; and as he did
not need me, I came over to put in some time at Mrs. Buckle’s hoeing
corn. Then the rain came and I bolted indoors for shelter, and that is
how I happened to be loafing round, apparently doing nothing, in the
middle of the day.”

Pam laughed. It was rich to hear Jack trying to explain that he was more
industrious than he looked, for those who knew anything about it at all
had no trouble in making up their minds as to his hard work, though he
always seemed to think that he might do a bit more if only he were a
little more energetic. But it was not Jack or his doings that interested
her most just then. She was turning over and over in her mind the
problem of her grandfather’s mysterious conduct. Now that the old man’s
name was entirely cleared, his conduct in going away was more mysterious
than ever. Why did he choose to leave home without any warning on the
very day that she had arrived at Ripple? It was not even as if he had
not known of her coming. To Pam, in her fit of depression, it looked as
if he had gone away because of her. A bitter humiliation this! How she
winced in her secret heart to think that perhaps it was her self-will in
coming that had driven the old man from his home! It might be that his
mind had become a little unhinged from his long years of living alone
since her mother left him. Perhaps he had vowed that he would never live
in a house again that had a woman in it. But how strange that he should
drop everything and go like that!

George Lester was talking to Jack, as they went along the trail, of the
solitudes of the far west, but Pam was silent, thinking and thinking of
her grandfather, and making herself so acutely miserable over the
mystery of his disappearance that she was perilously near the verge of
tears.

Then Jack began to speculate on what Sophy would think of her betrothed
husband tricked out in the go-to-meeting garments of the late Sam
Buckle.

“It looks as if there ought to be some tucks let down in one direction,
and some tucking put in in another direction,” said Jack, falling back a
few steps to get a better view of what the new-comer looked like from
the rear.

“Get in front of me and see how I look from there,” said George. “You
don’t surely think I have come over two thousand miles for my wife to
give her any chance of seeing a back view of me on the very first day of
my arrival, do you? It is the front that matters. A smudge down my nose,
or anything of that sort, might be serious; but I can sort of snap my
fingers at my clothes, especially as they are big enough. If I couldn’t
move without fear of a burst somewhere it would be a different matter,
but you can’t deny that they are roomy.”

Jack hopped round to the front of the stranger, and walking backwards
began a lively criticism from that point of view.

“Too much ankle, and, though you have a fairly big foot of your own, the
late Sam Buckle had a bigger. Then you stick your arms too far through
your sleeves; can’t you shrug them up a bit? That is better! Quite an
inch of raw wrist has disappeared. I suppose you will do, and your face
is the same whatever clothes you wear; but I can’t help being reminded
of a man who bought an undertaking business, and the late proprietor’s
clothes were thrown in to make the bargain a little better for him.”

“Oh, Jack, you are horrid!” cried Pam, who had to laugh in spite of her
low spirits. “Mr. Lester, you do not look like a second-hand undertaker,
and Sophy will be so glad to see you that she will not have a thought to
spare for your clothes.”

“I hope she will be glad to see me,” said George simply, but there was
something in his tone that made Pam say hurriedly, when they came in
sight of the house at Ripple:

“There is the house, Mr. Lester, do you go right in and introduce
yourself. Jack and I have some work to do in the barn, and we shall be
in presently.”

“But——” began Jack, who for all his sharpness lacked the insight of
Pam. Her intuition perhaps came from a sympathetic feeling of what she
herself would like under the same circumstances.

“But me no buts, only come, as I tell you,” she said with a laugh,
catching at his arm and giving it a playful squeeze. “Look, Jack, look,
there is the cow, so she came back alone after all! We must milk her
straight away. Oh, the silly creature, what a chase she has led us!”

“I guess it was the old dog that brought her home; and see, there lies
the creature in the gap in the fence by which the cow broke out of the
pasture!”

Jack and Pam turned abruptly away across the grass to where the cow was
feeding as quietly as if she had never broken bounds. But George Lester
went with a quick step towards the house. His weird garments of sombre
black flapped and flopped with every step he took, and, as Jack had
said, his arms and legs stuck ever so much too far through them; but
nothing could detract from the real dignity of the man or hamper the
splendid alertness of his movements.

As he drew near to the house the door flew open, and Sophy appeared on
the threshold.

“George! Is it really you? I thought you were not coming until next
week.”

“Have I come too soon?” he asked, as he covered the remaining distance
in a few long strides.

“You could not do that,” she said, holding out her hands to him; and
gathering them into a tight clasp he drew her over the threshold and
shut the door.



                               CHAPTER XX


                             Wedding Plans

No trouble was spared to clear the name of Wrack Peveril from the shadow
that had rested upon it. The confession left by Mose Paget was read out
in the meeting-house on the following Sunday. This was the only place
and time, at that busy season of the year, when men and women could be
got together for the purpose.

Pam was not present. She went across to the Gittins’s place and stayed
with Reggie, who was too much of an invalid as yet to stand the shaking
and bumping of the wagon on the rough trail. Galena insisted that she
was going, and she left the house tricked out in the smartest clothes
she possessed. She clambered up into the wagon to sit by the side of her
brother, and looked as hard and defiant as you please. Just as the wagon
started, Pam, yielding to an impulse, ran out, and, holding up her hand
to Nathan to wait a moment, clambered up on the high step. Then,
flinging her arms round Galena, she gave her a bear-like hug and a warm
kiss.

“What is that for?” demanded Miss Gittins in a caustic tone, and she
tossed her head, making the roses on her much-beflowered hat nod
vigorously.

“Because I love you,” said Pam, looking into the hard face with the
quiet daring of a real affection. She added, with a trifle of
hesitation: “I shall be thinking of you every minute of the time you are
at meeting.”

“Which means you think I ought not to go. But I should like to know
why?” Again Galena tossed her head, and the roses nodded in reply.

“It is splendid and brave of you to be able to bear it, but I am afraid
you will find it very hard; that is why I came.” Pam reached up and
dropped another kiss on the cheek of Galena, then slid down from the
wagon with a nod to Nathan in token that he could go on. Her eyes filled
with tears as she watched the two elderly-young people bumping placidly
across the rough pasture in the little wagon. She wondered if she could
ever go to meeting to hear a confession of Don’s read to clear the name
of someone of a wrongfully imputed crime. Of course she and Don were not
betrothed. Pam had not really owned to herself in plain speech that she
loved him. But standing there that morning, watching the backs of Galena
and Nathan, she told herself that she could not have borne it. Then she
went back to the house to talk as cheerfully as possible to Reggie, and
to make the leaden-footed hours pass for him as pleasantly as might be.

Reggie was very white-faced this morning. He was grieving over his
brother’s death in a fashion that seemed strange when one remembered the
callous neglect of Mose.

“You see, I had him to look after. Ma left him to me, and I can’t help
feeling that I have left something out that I ought to have done.” The
boy’s tone was so wistful as he spoke that Pam found her heart aching
for him so badly as to make her forget how sorry she had just been for
Galena. Really, when one comes to think of it, there are so many people
to be sorry for that one’s own private and particular pain has mostly to
be thrust into the background.

“I think you did everything a boy could do, but it is hard to influence
a man, you know.” Pam spoke soothingly, thinking that if Mose could
ignore the affection of his small step-brother, and leave the child as
he had done, there could not have been much good stuff in him.

Reggie spoke as if he had read her thoughts.

“Mose would have been different if he had seen anything ahead of him
that he could reach. Things were terribly against him. When Galena threw
him over because he was lazy, she ought to have said that if he’d work
hard and show willing she’d hitch up with him again, but what she did
say was that she hadn’t no use for lazy people, and that was all. Then
there was that bit of creek frontage. If only Sam Buckle would have put
a price on that, then Mose would have stirred round and found the money,
and he would have been so busy getting what he wanted that he wouldn’t
have had time to be lazy. His trouble was that he could not have what he
wanted, and so he lost heart.”

Pam put her head down close beside the thin white face on the pillow.

“Perhaps Galena lost heart too,” she said, “and that was why she was not
as wise as you wanted her to be. You will have to leave it now, Reggie,
because it is all over, but you must not think hard things of Galena,
for I am sure she is suffering horribly.”

“I should say she is by the way she tries to hustle Nathan round, but it
takes a deal of pushing to get him to move, so it does not matter. She
is downright good to me, and I like living here. I hope they will let me
stay always; they won’t lose by it in the long run.”

“I am sure they will not!” said Pam. Then she fetched out _The Pilgrim’s
Progress_, which was one of the few books to be found in the Gittins’s
house, and read to him the stirring account of Christian’s fight with
Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation. It was when she looked up to
answer some eager question of his that she caught a glimpse of a figure
in a very much beflowered hat coming rapidly across the field, and she
realized that Galena had found the ordeal too much for her after all.

“There is the book, you can read about it yourself if you like,” she
said, thrusting the musty-smelling volume into Reggie’s hands. Then she
rose from her chair and hurried out to meet Galena.

“I could not face it. I made Nathan stop the horse and let me get out,”
said Miss Gittins, who was very pale under the smart hat. “He wanted to
turn round and drive me back here, but I just would not have that. Folks
would have been able to talk fine if we had both been away from meeting;
but if Nathan was there in his place, it would only look as if I had
stayed at home with Reggie. I can’t help feeling that it is partly my
doing that Mose went so wrong, and I am a miserable woman to-day.”

Pam slid her arm through Galena’s, and turned with her to the strip of
forest that still remained on one side of the home pasture. There were
big trees here, spruce and birch and maple, and to walk in their shade
on this glowing summer morning was like being in some vast cathedral.
There were the hush and the calm of the cloistered building, and the
sense of nearness to the Infinite. Oh, the forest was wonderful on a day
like this! especially when one could turn away from the sordid little
brown house, with its clustering barns and piggeries, that stood on the
edge of this forest fane.

Galena was sobbing and moaning in her pain. All the way back from the
place where she had stopped the wagon she had walked with her head in
the air and her mouth set in hard lines of endurance, but when Pam had
met her with that silent sympathy, and had drawn her into the shade of
the trees, her stoicism broke down, and she could only sob in her
misery.

“If I could have the past over again!” wailed the stricken woman.

“You have the present and the future,” Pam reminded her, with the rare
wisdom which came to her in moments of need like this.

“What do you mean?” demanded Galena sharply. “Mose is dead, and you
can’t bring the dead to life, so the past is past—done with,
altogether, I take it.”

“For him, not for you,” ventured Pam softly. How fearful she was of
saying the wrong word, or of uttering a word too many! “You have the boy
left, and the mistakes you feel you made with Mose can be rectified with
his brother.”

“Reggie is not Mose,” snapped Galena, and Pam fairly winced at the
revelation of heart hunger and exceeding wretchedness that the words
revealed.

“No, I fancy he is much better stuff than Mose, so more worth the
helping,” replied Pam. After much hesitation she ventured to say gently:
“Don’t scorn him too much when he goes wrong. You could not expect a boy
brought up as he has been to keep always above reproach, but it will
help him to recover when he stumbles if he knows you love him all the
time.”

“I wish that I was dead!” moaned Galena, and she looked a really tragic
figure, her eyes swollen and red with weeping, her smart hat tipped
rakishly askew, and her equally smart blouse pulled open at the throat,
where she had clutched at it in order to give herself more air.

“No, you don’t!” said Pam cheerfully. “Down at the bottom you are just
as glad to be alive as I am. You are very miserable just now, but when
you have had a rest you will feel better. Shall I run to the house and
fetch a rug for you to lie on out here, or would you rather go to your
own bedroom?”

“Oh, I will go indoors, thank you, and lie on my bed like a Christian.”
Galena turned back towards the house with something of her old arrogance
as she spoke. “I don’t hold with sleeping rough when one can get
shelter. Besides, the wind in the trees makes such a noise when you have
nothing to do but listen to it, and the creeping things in the grass all
seem to talk at once. Oh, I have no fancy for lying on the ground when I
have a decent bed to go to.”

Pam laughed, but she made no further protest. It was good to hear the
old dictatorial tone creeping into Galena’s speech; it was a sure and
certain sign of returning spirit and courage. They went to the house
together, then Pam went back to amuse Reggie for a while, and Galena
went to her own chamber.

Nathan drove Pam back to Ripple when he got home from the meeting, and
he imparted a piece of news on the way that made her cry out in dismay.
Two of the young Griersons had sickened with something that looked like
scarlet fever, and the Doctor would not allow Sophy to enter the house
when she went home that morning.

“How dreadful for poor Mrs. Grierson!” cried Pam, and indeed the
Doctor’s wife seemed to have anything but a rosy time with those younger
children. “Whatever will they do about the wedding?”

“Miss Grierson will have to be married from some other place,” replied
Nathan. “It is quite certain that the Doctor won’t let the wedding be
held at an infected house. He is always preaching to other people to
take care when there is infection about, and he is bound to do as he
tells other folks to do. It is a chance for you, but if you don’t want
the bother, there are plenty of other people ready and willing for the
job.”

“What do you mean?” demanded Pam, turning a startled look on her
companion.

Nathan cleared his throat, making so much noise over the business that
the horse mistook it for a command to make haste, and tore onward at top
speed, so that its driver had to quiet it down before he could say what
was on his mind. Then he wanted to cough again, but did not dare because
of upsetting the nerves of the horse.

“It is like this,” he began at last, and his speech was slower and more
lumbering than usual; “Miss Grierson has been in your house all winter,
and you would have been hard put to it without her.”

“Indeed I should!” said Pam in fervent outburst.

“Well, then, it is for you to insist that you shall have the wedding at
your place.”

“But we haven’t things for a wedding!” cried Pam, aghast at the bare
suggestion. “There are two cups with handles, and one without; we have
four whole saucers and a half; there are six plates in the house, and
about three dishes, and other things to correspond. Sophy wants to have
a big wedding—that is, she has asked a lot of people. And—and—it is
horrid to have to say it, but it is the truth, we have no money for a
show of that sort. Besides, it is Grandfather’s house, and oh, suppose
for yourself what would happen if he came home in the middle!”

Nathan laughed, and his great guffaws rang out with astonishing noise on
the noontide stillness of the forest; and distressed as Pam was at the
thing which had been suggested to her, she could not help laughing also.

“I will admit the poor old fellow might have reason for complaint if he
came back to find the place stuffed as full of women and girls as it
will be if the wedding is held there,” said Nathan. “You want him back,
though, and everyone wants the mystery cleared up about his going, and
as the wedding will certainly bring him back if anything will, I should
just advise you to get on with it as fast as you can, and to keep
smiling. As to the cups and that sort of thing, there ain’t no cause to
fuss; you just say what you want, and the folks will bring it. That way
saves a lot of trouble. We don’t give wedding presents in these parts,
because we can’t afford it, and we haven’t the sort of stores that sell
the kind of trash that is used for that purpose. But when anyone is
asked to a wedding they understand that they will have to provide some
of the food, or lend crockery or table-cloths, or truck of that sort,
only they mostly wait until they are told what is wanted, because it
saves confusion.”

“What a perfectly lovely idea!” cried Pam, with her eyes shining, as
they always did at any mention of a frolic. “Thank you so much for
telling me where my duty lies. But you will have to stand by me if
Grandfather should suddenly appear on the scene, for I can imagine that
the poor old man would be simply horrified at the bare idea of a wedding
at Ripple.”

“Perhaps if there had been a wedding at Ripple in bygone years, instead
of the runaway match your mother had to make, things would have been
happier all round. But don’t you worry, Miss Walsh, we will all stand by
you through thick and thin, though I am thinking you don’t need much
outside championing when the Doctor’s son is knocking round, for he is a
oner for making things hum!”

Nathan had had his joke, and he appreciated it so immensely that at the
sight of the crimson he had called into the cheeks of Pam he burst into
another guffaw that ended in a choking fit, and Ripple was reached
before he had properly recovered.

“Will you come in and have some dinner?” asked Pam out of politeness,
though she did not really want him. But he had driven her home and it
was getting late, so she felt she must ask him.

“No, thank you, and you don’t want no company either. Just you get
indoors and fix up about the wedding before anyone else chips in. And
when you ask me and Galena, you ask her to bring food, and you ask me
for the loan of our Mam’s best chinay, and the table-cloths that Aunt
Selina gave us.”

“Oh, suppose the china got broken!” cried Pam, as Nathan swung her to
the ground.

“A good thing if it did. Then we would buy a common sort that was not
too good to use. I don’t hold with things that you can’t use, so you can
smash the lot so far as I am concerned.” Nathan waved his hand in an
airy flourish as he clambered back into the wagon, and then he drove off
along the trail he had come by, while Pam went into the house with
mingled feelings, for she rather doubted her ability to organize a
proper wedding for Sophy, and yet she owed her friend so much that she
would gladly do anything towards paying part of it back.

Jack was in the kitchen getting dinner ready, and told Pam that Sophy
had gone upstairs to lie down, saying that she did not want anything.

“Did Nathan tell you that two of the kids have scarlatina, and so Sophy
can’t be married at home?” he asked. “She is frightfully down about it.
George being away for the week-end makes it all the worse for her,
because she hasn’t him here to say comforting things to her.”

“I am going to say comforting things to her!” announced Pam, with her
head in the air, although her heart was beating fast with excitement.
“We are going to have the wedding here, Jack, and we must make the
biggest splash possible, just to show Sophy how really we appreciate
what she has done for me. Oh, I know we can’t afford it, but Nathan has
told me how it can be done with but little expense, and for Sophy’s dear
sake I am going to put my pride in my pocket, and ask my neighbours to
lend me all the things we have not got. If you come to think of it, that
is a tremendously long list, for we really have nothing except
house-room, and it seems a mad venture, but we have got to do it
somehow. Go on getting dinner ready, and be sure to lay a place for
Sophy, for I am certain I can coax her into coming down.”

“You can mostly get people to do as you wish!” said Jack, and he began
to stir round at a lively rate, while Pam went up the stairs two steps
at a time, and burst into the bedroom where Sophy was lying face
downwards on the bed with despair in every line of her body.

“Sophy, Sophy, we are going to have the wedding here, and the best
sitting-room shall justify its existence for once!” cried Pam, hurling
herself into the room with so much force that she caught her foot in a
board that stood a little above the rest of the flooring. She stumbled
and lurched forward, falling on to the bed and getting sadly mixed up
with Sophy, who had sprung up at the sound of her voice, and who started
at once to protest.

“Pam dear, it is most fearfully good of you, but I could not think of
letting you do it. Father thinks I had better have a meeting-house
wedding, and he will drive us straight from the church to Hunt’s
Crossing to catch the down-river boat. Of course it is rather horrid,
and I would much rather have had a house wedding, but no one can have
all they want in this world.”

“Yes, they can!” stoutly affirmed Pam. “People can always get what they
want, if only they will be careful only to want what they can get. We
are going to have a gorgeous time, dearie, and I am really grateful to
those children for taking fever just now, and giving me a chance to pay
back something of my debt.”

“Pam, you must not take that money you had for the spruce; I could not
bear it!” cried Sophy.

“Don’t worry, that money shall not be touched, dear; I am going to do
the wedding at the expense of my neighbours. Nathan Gittins has put me
on to the idea, and I am going to run it for all I am worth. He told me
to ask for his mother’s best china—the loan of it, you know—and her
table-cloths. He says that we can smash up the china if we like. Isn’t
he a dear?”

“Of course, we could do the wedding that way; people often do. But, Pam,
it will be most fearfully hurting to your pride. Just fancy how you will
feel when you are pouring out the coffee if that awful Mrs. Brown should
say: ‘Be careful how you spill that coffee, Miss Walsh; I paid top-price
for it, and I can’t abide seeing things wasted!’ Oh, you would just
squirm!”

“I am going to enjoy every bit of it!” announced Pam in a valiant tone,
and she meant what she said. “Put your hair tidy and come down to
dinner; I am fearfully hungry. We must make out the lists of what we
want the folks to lend us to-day. By the way, who has a nice new
sitting-room carpet? That will be a first necessity, for you can’t stand
up to be married on bare boards.”

“It would have been bare boards at the meeting-house. Oh, Pam, it is
lovely of you not to mind asking for the things! I had set my mind on a
home wedding, and this house is just made for weddings and things of
that sort; there is so much room, and the sitting-room is so big!”

Sophy was standing at the glass now, and winding up the heavy masses of
her hair with quick fingers; all the despair was gone from her figure,
and she looked almost radiant, in spite of red eyes and a swollen nose.

“Make haste down, we have got to hustle. Oh, I wish I could think of
someone who had bought a new carpet this spring, for I do want you to
have something gorgeous to stand upon. I know what I will do; I will get
Galena to drive me to the houses over the Ridge, and we will make a
systematic house-to-house collection, the same as they do in England
when they want to have a rummage sale. Oh, it will be great fun!”

“Pam, you are shameless! It will be absolute begging!” laughed Sophy,
and then she came hurrying downstairs in the wake of Pam, and Jack gave
a long whistle of pure amazement. His last vision of her had been dismal
enough. She had walked with him across the forest from the
meeting-house, punctuating the distance with her sobs, and he had wanted
to run away as badly as he had ever wanted to do anything, for this was
a form of grief that he could not understand. To his way of thinking a
fussy wedding was more bother than comfort, and provided she got
married, nothing else really mattered.

Pam understood things better, and was able to view the situation from
Sophy’s standpoint. All through the long, dark winter Sophy had sewed
and planned. Her plans had all centred round her wedding day. Her new
home would be a back district of the far west, so distant that her
imagination would not stretch so far: but her wedding she could see in
fancy, and she had planned and planned for it until she was perfect as
to detail. Then came this crowning disaster of being shut out of her
home by the infectious illness of the younger children, and her house of
cards had tumbled all about her ears. A disaster of this sort would not
have meant so much to Pam, for she was cast in a different mould, and
the details of her wedding would not have mattered at all. But she
sympathized so keenly with Sophy that she was ready to go to almost any
length on behalf of her friend.

Dinner was a merry meal, with pencil and paper in constant requisition
for jotting down the things that would be required to give Sophy a
really good send-off. The ceremony was fixed for next Thursday, it was
the busiest time of the year, and what had to be done must be done at
once.

“It is lucky that I did not have to walk home this morning, because I am
not tired,” said Pam. “If you and Jack will get the dinner dishes out of
the way, I will toddle back to the Gittins’s place, and get Galena to
take me out driving. She is a bit low-down herself to-day, and so the
little outing will do her good. The turkeys will want looking after,
Jack, for I may not be home until late. Do you think that we have put
down everything that we shall need, Sophy? I am not used to this sort of
thing, and so it is easy to make a muddle.”

“If you get all that you have set your mind on we shall have a record
show,” replied Sophy briskly, and then she hurried to help Pam to get
ready, for the afternoon was wearing, and the distances to be traversed
were so great that Pam would hardly get through her list of friendly
calls before bedtime.

Just as Pam was going out of the house, who should come driving up but
Galena! Nathan had pitched her such a tale when he got home, after
driving Pam to Ripple, that Galena cast her own sorrow and her private
regrets to the winds, and leaving Nathan to wash the dinner dishes and
look after Reggie, she had hitched the horse to her own wagon, and had
come to offer everything she could to furnish the wedding feast.

Of course her prompt appearance on the scene made all the difference to
Pam’s venture, and the two of them started out to make the round of
their friends and neighbours. They went with the comfortable certainty
of getting what they wanted, and they soon found that the chief
difficulty lay in drawing a line as to the amount to be lent or given.
Pam even secured the loan of the new carpet on which she had set her
heart—a gorgeous affair, with roses as big as cabbages, and the sort of
colouring that “hits you in the eye”; but it was new and gay, so nothing
else really mattered. It was late when the day was ended, and Pam was
tired, but her efforts were going to be crowned with success.



                              CHAPTER XXI


                            How it was Done

Never in her life had Pam worked so hard as she did in that week before
Sophy was married. The house must be scrubbed from top to bottom. It had
seemed clean enough for everyday occupation, and she would not have
troubled about it until some wet spell had given her the leisure from
outside tasks necessary for cleaning out the one or two rooms which
seemed to need it most. But the wedding altered everything. Pam cared
not at all because the place needed almost everything in the way of
household plenishing; that was not her fault, nor her responsibility.
But her pride would have been hurt in its most vital part if those
neighbour women had come in to find dirty floors, and windows bunged up
with cobwebs. She was astir at dawn on Monday morning, and started on
her campaign against dirt in the most energetic fashion possible. When
she began to stir the rooms out she was dismayed to find how really
dirty they were, and she worked so hard that Jack declared there would
be nothing of her left by Thursday.

Sophy wanted to help with the cleaning, but was sternly reminded that
brides were looked upon as being rather ornamental than useful, and she
was not allowed to soil her hands for that one week at least. Don came
over on Tuesday and scrubbed the big kitchen for Pam; he had been away
over the week-end with George Lester, and knew nothing of the trouble at
home until he got back late on Monday evening, to find himself billeted
at the stores, in company with George, and ordered to keep away from
home. The two children who had sickened were not really ill, but of
course the next cases might be very bad indeed, so the Doctor was taking
no risks. Mrs. Grierson shut herself up with the small invalids, and the
rest of the children were taken to a lone house where there were no
other children, and their father saw them twice a day to make certain
they were not developing the complaint.

Dr. Grierson had done so many kind things for people in his time that
all the neighbours vied with each other in their efforts to smooth for
him the present embarrassment. Pam had to refuse so many offers of help,
and to insist so strongly that supplies should be kept down to the limit
she had asked for, that she was amazed, not only at the kindness of
everyone, but also at the resources at their disposal. She would not
allow them to bring anything to the house until Wednesday, by which time
she would have the place in fit trim to receive all the things that were
to be loaned, and all the food that was to be given.

She had refused to let Jack scrub, for she had her own ideas as to how
the work should be done, and she meant to have the house brought up to
standard somehow. But when Don appeared and took bucket and brush away
from her by sheer force, there was nothing for it but to give way,
because he was the stronger, and she knew she could not get the things
away from him if she tried. Then, too, he did the work in a masterly
fashion. It was pure pleasure to see the energy he put into the
brush-work, and the capable manner in which he swabbed up the water; the
corners, too, got such a routing-out that after watching him for five
minutes, Pam stretched her weary arms above her head, and went away to
put her hair straight, feeling that so far as the scrubbing was
concerned, her responsibility was at an end.

By Wednesday night the house was so transformed that Pam declared her
grandfather would not know the place if he came back.

“Do you think he will come back?” asked Jack, as the two had a final
look round before going to bed.

“Nathan said that if anything would bring him back it would be the
wedding. He would be so scandalized at the thought of having so many
women and girls about the place that he would certainly turn up if he
were still alive. That is one of the reasons why I have been so keen to
have a great fuss. Of course he may be very angry, but even that will be
worth while if it only ends this suspense, and lets us know where we
are.” Pam sighed. She was so very tired of the uncertainty of her
present life, and she so badly wanted her mother and the others to come
before the summer was really over. Their help would be useful, too, for
each day brought so many things to be done, and two pairs of hands
seemed quite inadequate for the task.

Sophy’s trunks were packed and labelled for the far west. There was
nothing left to be done, except the custards and the coffee, and there
would be plenty of help in the morning for them. Dr. Grierson had been
over for a last talk with his daughter, and Sophy had gone off to bed
drowned in tears, for it did seem cruelly hard that she could not have
the support of her mother’s presence at this, the most important time in
her life. But her father had promised that her mother should come to pay
her a visit before very long, and that was a very real consolation.
Still, there were tears to be shed, and Sophy was just having a really
good cry before Pam came upstairs.

Jack was going to sleep on the settle in the kitchen to-night, because
his bedroom had been requisitioned as an extra sitting-room, and it was
all arranged, and in the most splendid order. A big table formed from
boards from the barn stretched the length of the kitchen, and was duly
spread for the feast with borrowed knives and forks, spoons, and
crockery. Oh, it was a fine sight! for no one had been niggardly, and
everyone had done their bit to give the Doctor’s daughter a good
send-off.

“What a lot of fuss for one wedding!” remarked Jack. “If I were you and
Don, I would get married at the same time, now that we have got all the
things here. It seems a real pity to waste all this fine spread on one
couple, and you could not get such a smart carpet every day.”

“I am not going to get married yet awhile, so don’t worry about that;
and if you think the show is wasted on two people, you had better find a
wife for yourself, or else help Nathan Gittins to find one,” laughed
Pam. But her colour mounted, for privately she had been thinking what a
lovely place Ripple was for a wedding.

“I should not wonder if it puts the idea in his head,” Jack answered
soberly; and then he pranced up and down the room, looking at all the
things that had been loaned, and wondering what would happen if a
burglar came along.

“Oh, don’t even mention such a thing!” cried Pam. “I should not know
where to put my head if anything happened to any of the things. You must
sleep with one eye open, and if you hear a sound you must make a clamour
at once. Would you rather that I stayed here with you? I could get quite
a lot of sleep sitting in a chair. Indeed, I am so tired that I think I
could have a comfortable nap standing on my feet, as Mrs. Buckle’s old
horse does.”

“No, no, my child, you toddle off upstairs and get your beauty sleep,
and then you will be properly good-looking for to-morrow,” said Jack,
taking her by the shoulders and gently pushing her towards the door. “It
does not do for a girl to play fast and loose with her complexion; she
can only take care of what she has got, and she can’t hope to get
another when that is gone, unless she can afford to buy one, and even
that is not like the real thing. Don’t you worry about me. If a burglar
comes nosing round after this co-operative furnishing, he will get more
than he bargains for from the old dog and me. We are in fine feather
to-night I can tell you, so there is no need for you to worry.”

Sophy had cried herself to sleep by the time that Pam got upstairs. Pam
herself was so sleepy that it was almost too much trouble to slip out of
her garments. But when she lay down, and her tired body could rest, she
suddenly became tremendously wide-awake. It was the thought of her
grandfather that was keeping her from sleep. Ever since Nathan Gittins
had declared that the wedding would fetch him back if anything did, Pam
had been expecting that he would come, and she was stirred to a
wonderful pitch of excitement about it. Of course he would be angry,
that was only to be expected. But if only the ceremony was over, and
Sophy safely turned into Mrs. George Lester, Pam decided that she did
not much care what happened in the way of a disturbance. There would be
plenty of people on hand ready to manage the old man, and she herself
could render a good account of her stewardship.

What was it Nathan had said yesterday? Oh, she remembered! He had said
that he had never seen the land at Ripple in such a fine state of
cultivation before, and he had known the place for a good many years.
For much of this he was responsible himself, as he had cultivated the
land—that is to say, he had ploughed it and planted it, as he had done
Mrs. Buckle’s land. But Pam and Jack had paid for this by lending him
the use of their hands and their strength on his own fields, and they
had kept the crops at Ripple hand-hoed ever since the first bit of green
had shown through. It had been hard work, and they had been appallingly
ignorant, but they had done exactly as they had been told, and had
worked so hard that success was bound to come.

Pam flounced round uneasily. If only she could go to sleep! When morning
came she would be so tired that it would be positive misery to drag
herself from her bed. Oh, it was stupid to be so wakeful when she could
sleep! The moon poured a flood of silvery light into the room, and
before it paled dawn would come stealing up over the forest, for the
summer nights were at their shortest. She rose softly from the bed she
shared with Sophy, and walked to the window. This room looked out on the
side of the house where the forest came nearest, which was one of the
reasons why Pam loved it so; another of her reasons for being fond of it
was because it had been her mother’s room—indeed, she had found one of
her mother’s old cotton frocks hanging in the funny home-made wardrobe
that stood in one corner of the wide room.

The forest came so close on this side that only a strip of pasture lay
between it and the house. It was here that Pam had shot at the wolves to
scare them when they howled round the house in the winter. What a
difference between those nights and this one! Pam leaned out of the
window, and enjoyed the cool breeze, fragrant with the odours of hemlock
and pine, which stole across the wide reaches of the forest. Then her
ear was caught by a faint, rustling sound. What was it? Surely the cow
had not broken bounds again! It would be too annoying to have to go
hunting on Sophy’s wedding day. But no, by dint of craning her neck at a
most uncomfortable angle Pam got a glimpse of the cow lying peacefully
near to the big maple at the far end of the small strip of pasture. Then
she heard the rustling again, and she was positive she saw a head poked
out from the bracken and brambles.

A head! But whose head? Suddenly there rushed into her mind what Nathan
had said about her grandfather, and thrusting her head farther from the
window, so that she might not disturb Sophy, she called softly,
“Grandfather, Grandfather, is it you?”

How loud her voice sounded in the silence of the forest! The whirring of
the grasshoppers grew faint, as if they had paused listening for the
answer to her call; then a cock crowed lustily from the barn, under the
mistaken impression that morning was close at hand, and a sleepy bird in
a thicket hard by let loose a rippling cadence ending in a plaintive
chick-a-dee-dee-dee.

Though Pam strained her ears she heard not a single further movement,
and after a long while she crept back to bed, and fell asleep
immediately, not waking in the morning until she was aroused by Sophy.

Had it been fancy, or did someone really poke his head from that thicket
last night? she wondered. Directly she was dressed, she ran downstairs,
and made an exhaustive search of the spot. She got very wet from the
dew, and tore a three-corner slit in the sleeve of her blouse, but she
accomplished nothing else, and went back to the house feeling very cross
with herself for being so foolish.

Sophy was radiantly happy this morning, just as a bride should be. The
tears of last night had washed away her natural regret that her mother
could not stand by her to-day. After all, it might have been worse; and
Don, who came over early, told her that the two invalids were so well
that they refused to stay in bed, and were only kept in the house by
main force.

“Oh, it is a shame!” cried Sophy. “But there must always be a drawback
somewhere, and better that than some things. But it is horrid to be
parted from one’s mother!”

“So I think,” murmured Pam with a wistful sigh. “I have kept you from
Mrs. Grierson such a lot, too, that my conscience is troubling me a
bit.”

“Oh, you could not help yourself, and I have had a lovely chance of
doing my sewing,” said Sophy. “I cannot think how girls like to have
that sort of work done for them. I have had no end of real happiness
from making my trousseau.”

“That is because you are a hopelessly old-fashioned and stodgy person.
Early Victorian, we should call you in London, and we should tilt our
noses in quite a superior fashion. But all the same we should admire
your industry, and envy you the garments your clever fingers have made.”
Pam gave Sophy a big hug as she spoke, and then rushed away to look
after the custards. Weddings had their sad side, and it would be a real
grief to her to lose Sophy from her daily life. But she was not going to
shed tears to-day, however bad she might feel. Plenty of time for
weeping when the show was over and the guests were gone. She stirred the
custards with so much vigour that she spilled the stuff on to the hot
plate of the cooking stove, raising awful odours, and rousing the wrath
of Galena, who had come over early and assumed the leadership of the
food department.

There was so much to do that the hours of the morning simply flew. Pam
gave her turkeys a big meal in the middle of the day, and told them that
they would have very short commons for supper, and might even get none
at all. Then when the poultry and the young pigs had been stuffed until
they could eat no more, she and Jack rushed indoors to get into festal
attire. There was not much in the way of dress that either of them could
manage. Jack’s Sunday suit was rather shabby, and too small also, for he
had grown so fast since coming to New Brunswick. But he would not be the
only person with well-worn garments at the wedding, and when one
listened to his jokes, and joined in the laughter he raised, one forgot
all about his garb, and thought only of him.

Pam was not in much better case, for she had had no new clothes this
summer; but a girl’s things are easier to manage, and her white frock,
washed and ironed by her own hands, was fresh enough to pass muster
anywhere.

The company began to arrive quite early, for everyone was anxious to
have as much of the fun as possible. The horses were unharnessed, and
turned into the farther pasture with the cow. The poor beasts thought
that Sunday had come a little earlier than usual. They were worked so
hard at this time of the year that a few extra hours off work meant a
lot to them. Some of them had come fourteen or fifteen miles, but they
would rest until late in the evening, and so they enjoyed the treat in
their own way as much as the humans did in theirs.

Pam and Jack received the company. It was not etiquette that Sophy
should be seen as yet, so she remained upstairs, feeling rather out of
it, if the truth be told, and wondering what all the laughter was about
down below. By peeping from the big empty room which was next to their
bedroom she could get glimpses of wagons driving up to the house, filled
with people, and every minute the laughter and the fun downstairs grew
louder and merrier.

“What a time they are having!” she murmured, then she paced the room
restlessly, her little high-heeled shoes making a fitful tapping on the
bare floor as she walked. Of course it was lovely to be the bride, the
person of most consequence in the crowd, the one to whom all the others
were looking; but she realized that the others had their compensations,
and that there was a large amount of fun to be got in the hard work of
organizing and carrying the festivity through.

Then a hush fell on the place, and the house grew suddenly quiet. Sophy
began to tremble then, for she realized that the minister had come, and
she guessed that she would soon hear Pam’s foot on the stairs. It was
Pam who was coming to fetch her. Pam had to act in a good many rôles
that day. She was bridesmaid, she was hostess, and she had to mother the
poor fluttering little bride as well. These manifold interests left her
with no time to think of herself; she had scarcely a moment either to
think of her grandfather, or to wonder what sort of a scene there would
be if he chose this moment for his return to his home.

A light run of feet up the stairs, then the door flew open, and Pam
burst into the room.

“Oh, you are lovely!” she cried, with positive awe in her voice. “My
dear, I never realized before what a beautiful face you have; it has
always been the beauty of your character that has appealed to me. Come,
it is time, and the clergyman is waiting!”

All Sophy’s impatience and restlessness dropped from her as if it had
never been. She rose slowly, and without a word she put her hand in that
of Pam, then went with her down to the crowded sitting-room, where the
bridegroom awaited her coming. The silence was so profound that the
tapping of Sophy’s heels sounded quite loud as she crossed the kitchen
and entered the sitting-room, where her father came forward to lead her
on to the bright-hued carpet. A bobolink was singing in the tree
outside, and the sunshine filtered in through the elegant pair of white
lace curtains which Mrs. Luke Dobson of Hunt’s Crossing had lent to
adorn the window.

A low murmur of approval swept round the crowded room as the bride
walked forward to take her stand on the carpet. It was doubtful whether
Sophy heard it, for the full solemnity of what she was doing was on her
now, with the exaltation of a great happiness. It was Pam who heard it,
and to her it was like sweet music, for she knew that she had succeeded
in her undertaking, and that Sophy’s wedding, regarded from the
standpoint of a social function, was all that it should be.

It was a very novel sight to Pam, and it upset all her previous notions
of what weddings were like. She had been a spectator at several weddings
in London churches, but this was quite different, and in some peculiar
fashion immeasurably more solemn. In fact, before the ceremony was over
she was shaking and shivering, and telling herself that matrimony was
such a terrible responsibility that she would never dare to face it on
her own account. The old dog poked its head in at the open door, but
seeing the number of people gathered in serious state, the creature
backed out and fled. It had in a measure got used to seeing people, but
a number of persons gathered in one place always seemed to upset its
nerves.

When the benediction was pronounced, there was a stir and a movement;
everyone wanted to crowd about the bride, to congratulate her. But Pam
fled to the out-place where the kettles had been set to boil on the
cracked stove. She was responsible for the coffee-making, and she knew
that the wedding feast must begin directly the register had been signed,
for those of the guests who had come long distances would be greatly in
need of refreshment, and she was not minded to fall short in her duties
as hostess.

Amanda Higgins had been entrusted with the task of looking after matters
in this direction, but she was rather a feather-headed young person, and
all thought of the kettles and the fire went out of her head directly
she heard the tap-tapping of Sophy’s heels on the stairs. She had rushed
to see the bride, and getting squeezed into a corner of the sitting-room
whence it was not easy to escape, she had stayed there, revelling in the
show, while the fire had died down for want of attention, and the
kettles were scarcely warm.

Poor Pam! It was really hard to have succeeded so far to fail at this
point. She trembled with anger as she stuffed dry kindlings into the
stove, and listened to the roaring of the flames up the rusty old
stove-pipe. But it was horrid to feel angry on such an occasion; indeed,
it seemed almost like an insult to Sophy to give way to such bad temper
just now, and Pam fought with might and main to get calm control of
herself, the while she plied her fire with sticks.

Her face was hot and red, her hands were dirty, and even her frock had
some smudges, when the Irishman who had driven Janey Robinson and her
lame sister to the wedding came in from the barn, and took the work out
of her hands. He declared that he was a first-rate hand at making fires
burn on all occasions, and that nothing would make him happier than to
get those kettles to boil. Pam yielded her task thankfully enough, and
was turning to wash her hands before going back to the company when the
Irishman said:

“There was an old man came a-creeping round here a while ago, and he was
after asking if the young lady were to be seen, and I tould him that if
it was yourself he was after wanting to see, he would have to be waiting
until the wedding was over. He was moighty curious to know whose wedding
it would be, and when I had tould all I knew, and a little more, he said
that he would be after resting himself in the shade of the trees, until
such time as you might find it convenient to see him.”

Pam turned with a jerk, her heart beating so hard that it seemed to her
the Irishman must hear it.

“An old man, did you say? Where, oh where has he gone?”

“He said that he would be resting in the shade away out beyant,” and the
Irishman, whose name was Riley O’Sheen, flung his hand out in a vague
direction of the forest.

It was her grandfather, of course! That was Pam’s first thought, and her
second was that he was afraid to enter his own house because of the
wedding crowd, and all the bustle that was on hand. She must go and find
him, and bring him in to join in the feast! Oh, this tiresome Irishman,
why had he not come before to let her know she was wanted?

“Go, find Miss Gittins or Mrs. Buckle, and ask one of them to make the
coffee for me, and to begin the meal if I am not back. I must go to find
my grandfather, and bring him here as quickly as I can!” Pam was wildly
excited. She remembered the rustling that she had heard in the
undergrowth, and how she had fancied she saw a face poked out. Could
that have been the old man, come to reconnoitre before he ventured back
to his home? Then came the maddening wonder as to what it was that had
kept him away so long, and why he seemed afraid to come back.

She ran swiftly across the narrow strip of pasture, and plunged in among
the trees.

“Grandfather, Grandfather, where are you?” She was sending her voice out
in a shout, for she argued he might be hard of hearing, and oh, she must
make him understand that she wanted him to come. The Irishman had said
that he was going to rest in the shade over there, but that was surely
foolish, when there was shade in plenty under the trees which stood
almost close to the house.

“Grandfather, Grandfather, where are you?” Try as she would, she could
not keep a ring of impatience from her voice. They would be wanting her
at the house. Neither Mrs. Buckle nor Galena would know quite how much
coffee to make, and it was of all things most exasperating to have to
run away in this fashion, when there was so much to be done, and the
occasion was so unusually festive.

In spite of all the calling there was no response. Perhaps the man had
gone farther away. Pam searched along the narrow tracks made by the pigs
and the calves, she wandered here and hurried there with feverish
persistency, until the perspiration was pouring down her face. She had
torn her frock, and her hair, done more elaborately than usual, was
streaming down her back.

How really horrid it all was! She was ready to give up the quest in
disgust, and to go back to the house, when, shouting once again, she
heard a faint response to her calling, and at once plunged forward to
meet the one who called. In her haste she went to jump the rotting trunk
of a tree that lay half-buried in fern, but catching the heel of her
shoe as she tried to clear the obstacle, she came down with a tremendous
crash, and was for the time completely stunned.



                              CHAPTER XXII


                               Good News

People accustomed to waiting on themselves never feel so much at a loss
in times of strain as those who have servants to command in a general
way. Galena Gittins, summoned by the Irishman, came to the out-place,
and started making coffee for all that big company with the ease and
dispatch that came from long years of having to do all sorts of things
at the shortest possible notice. She wondered why Pam had not spoken to
her before about doing this particular bit of business, but she supposed
something had turned up suddenly to call her away.

“Miss Gittins, where is Pam?” demanded Jack, dashing out from the big
kitchen like a small tornado. The guests were all filing in and taking
their places at the table, but there was no one to look after them, to
act as hostess, or to do anything at all.

“I have not the ghost of a notion,” replied Galena, who was very hot,
and very much occupied with the coffee. “If the folks are ready you had
better start them at feeding, for this coffee is prime now, and some of
the people must be fair tuckered out by this time.”

“I can’t sit at the head of the table, and—what do you call
it?—dispense hospitality,” said Jack. “I will get Dr. Grierson to do
it, and Mrs. Buckle can help him, but I want to know where Pam has got
to. Is anything the matter, do you expect?”

“There will be in a minute, if this coffee boils over!” exclaimed
Galena, as she hastily lifted two hissing pots from the stove. Jack
darted away to see that Dr. Grierson and Mrs. Buckle were looking after
the company, and then he came back to tell Galena that someone had seen
Pam running across the paddock to the forest.

“What would she be going there for at a time like this?” demanded Galena
in blank amazement.

“Perhaps she would be going for to find the ould man that was waiting to
see her,” put in the Irishman, who had just come in from the wood pile
with another armful of logs, which he proceeded to cram into the stove
one by one.

“What old man?” asked Jack.

“Riley O’Sheen, why didn’t you tell me this before? You never said one
word.” Galena stamped with impatience, and turned upon the unfortunate
Irishman with so much wrath that he fairly cowered before her.

“Was it yourself then that was wanting to know? Sure an’ faith I’m sorry
to have disappointed ye. It was an ould man that was after asking to see
the young lady, and when I tould him that it was a wedding that she was
seeing through in the next room, he said that he would wait until it was
over. He went off to sit in the shade by reason that he was so very hot;
and here he comes, but the young lady isn’t with him.”

Jack and Galena faced round in a great hurry at the Irishman’s last
words, and then Galena cried out in a tone of disappointment:

“Why, it is only old Gilbert Pomroy, from Corner-Bottom. I expect he has
come over to see Pam about the bees; he told her that he would let her
know as soon as he had a swarm to spare.”

“When Pam heard it was an old man, I expect she said to herself that it
was Grandfather come home, and she would set off hot-foot to find him. I
know her!” Jack drew a long breath, and looked decidedly troubled. Their
grandfather was a much less real person to him than to Pam, because he
had not arrived at Ripple close upon the old man’s disappearance, as she
had.

“I will talk to Gilbert; do you go and find Don Grierson, and he will
hunt for Pam.” Galena had taken hold of the situation in her usually
capable fashion, and sending Amanda to carry the coffee into the next
room, she sailed out to talk bees with old Gilbert Pomroy, and finally
induced the old man to come into the house and drink the health of the
bride in a cup of coffee, which was the strongest beverage at Ripple
that day.

Don started on a hasty search for Pam, shouting and calling, but getting
no response. Then Jack set off in another direction. But the time
passed, and as they did not return, Galena went into the room where the
wedding feast was spread, and explained the situation in a few terse
words.

“Has Mr. Peveril really come back?” demanded Sophy, going rather white,
for she had lived with Pam long enough to know that the old man’s return
was longed for and feared by her friend in about equal proportions.

“No,” snapped Galena, who was feeling decidedly cross by this time.
Everything regarding the wedding had gone so smoothly before, and it was
horrid to have a hitch at this crucial point; she had worked so hard
beforehand that she was decidedly aggrieved that she could not be left
in peace to enjoy herself now. “That silly idiot of an Irishman said
that an old man was waiting to see her, and you know what Pam is! She
thought the old man had come home, so she rushed off to find him, and
she will run until she drops, unless someone catches up with her and
tells her that it was a mistake, and that the old man is only Gilbert
Pomroy from Corner-Bottom.”

Everyone rose from the table now. Food had lost its flavour, and
appetite had gone. The men went here and there through the undergrowth
searching and searching for Pam, while the women and the girls wandered
up and down, calling to her and listening in vain for an answer to their
shouts.

It was Don who found her. When he sprang over the log, and saw her lying
among the fern and the willow scrub white and unconscious, with a streak
of blood on her cheek, he thought she was dead, and cried out in dismay.

Pam opened her eyes at the sound of his voice, staring at him for a few
minutes in a bewildered sort of way, as if she could not remember where
she was, or what had happened; then she gasped out in a frightened sort
of tone: “Oh, Don, Grandfather has come back, and I cannot find him.
Whatever shall I do?”

“He has not come back!” burst out Don in an explosive fashion. “It was
only old Gilbert Pomroy from Corner-Bottom, who had come up to know if
you would have that swarm of bees that you talked about. The Irishman,
being a stranger, and not too sharp, did not know him, and you jumped to
the conclusion that it was your grandfather; you rushed off without
letting anyone know, and now everybody is out searching for you, and we
have been in a regular panic.”

“I am so sorry!” murmured Pam, and there were tears in her eyes because
of the reproach in his tone.

“This constant expecting to see the old man is wearing you out, and
spoiling your life,” said Don, as he helped Pam to her feet, and
supported her until she was able to stand alone. “Look here, we have got
the clergyman, and we have the company; let us be married when we get
back to the house, and then I can stay here and take care of you!”

To poor Pam, sore of head, and still more sore of heart, the suggestion
was about the fiercest temptation she had ever had to face. If only she
might take the easy way out, and have Don between herself and the
ever-present dread of the old man’s return. She was owning to herself
now that she did fear his coming back more than anything else, and it
was the constant apprehension of it that was spoiling her life. Oh, to
have the mystery cleared, and to be done with the uncertainty!

“Say yes, Pam, and it shall be managed; I am quite sure that it can be
done, because of the number of witnesses we have here. Or if a longer
notice is really necessary, then I will get Mrs. Buckle to stay with you
until we can be married,” he urged, and with his arm holding her up, his
strength between her and the trouble which shadowed her days, Pam felt
as if she must give way, and take the short cut out of the muddle. Then
she remembered that she had come as the pioneer, to make the way easy
for the others, and it was not herself that she should be thinking of at
this time. Her head was aching so badly from the blow which had stunned
her that it was difficult to think and act coherently. She felt bruised
and battered, a perfect wreck; all the flavour had gone from the day’s
festivity, and she was conscious only of a great weariness, and a
longing to creep away out of sight, and to be done with it all.

“I can’t do it, Don, really, I can’t!” she faltered, and her eyes were
wistful in their pleading when she raised them to his face. “I must go
on as I am doing now, until I know where Grandfather is, or until he
comes back again.”

“He may be dead; just think how easy it is for anyone to drop out
without other people knowing it,” urged Don. But there was something in
the resolute set of Pam’s white face that warned him he would not find
it easy to turn her from the course on which she had set her mind.

“That is what I tell myself,” she said, and her tone was deeply
troubled. “All the same, we have no proof, and so we are bound to go on
as usual. Oh, I am sorry to have been so silly, and to have spoiled
everyone’s pleasure in such a fashion. I can walk now, thank you, and I
am not hurt at all, except that my head is so sore where I banged it
into the tree-trunk when I caught my foot and fell.”

Don urged her no further, seeing the uselessness of it. He helped her
back to the house, explained the situation to the others, and made it
easy for her to slip away to her room to lie down for a rest. Then he
got the fun started in good earnest, and with the help of Jack succeeded
in keeping the whole company in a state of bubbling satisfaction. The
bride and bridegroom were driven to Hunt’s Crossing for the down-river
boat and the first stage of the long journey to the far west, and then
by twos and threes, in wagons, in carts, and on foot, the company
dispersed. Most of them would have “chores” to do when they reached
home, and all would need to go to bed with the sun, since the next day’s
work would call them from their rest at dawn.

Don drove his father home, for the Doctor was glad to rest his horse
when he could, and his son mostly drove good cattle, which got over the
ground in fine style. They took the corners rather more smartly than the
older man approved, but young things have a tendency to be reckless, and
so far Don had always contrived to keep clear of accidents.

To-night Don had only secondary attention for his horses, for he was
telling his father of Pam’s state of mind regarding the possible return
of the old grandfather, and he was insisting that the Doctor should
write to Mrs. Walsh, and tell her it was her plain duty to come back to
her old home.

“It will be some time yet before the law will permit the old man’s death
to be assumed, especially as he was seen at the lumber camp,” said Don.

“It is not clear to my mind that he was seen at that camp,” replied the
Doctor. “When I wrote to the foreman of the camp, he said they had had
no one of the name of Wrack Peveril there, nor did he remember anyone
who answered to the description I gave him of the old man.”

“The trouble is that we can’t prove he was not there.” Don shook his
head with a bothered air, then went on: “In any case, it should be Mrs.
Walsh who is in command at Ripple. She is the old man’s daughter, and
her duty is here. You will write, Father, and you will put it strongly,
please. Pam is at the point where every nerve is strained almost to
breaking point. She has got Jack, I know; but he is younger than she is,
and she needs someone older.”

“Yourself, for instance?” suggested the Doctor slyly, and he laughed in
his hearty, genial fashion. Having got rid of his eldest daughter
to-day, he was thinking it would be uncommonly pleasant to feel that he
had another daughter to take her place.

Don shook his head with a rueful air.

“Pam won’t have me until the mystery is cleared up. If it is never
cleared, then I suppose we shall remain single until the end of our
lives. It is not a cheerful prospect, and that is another reason why I
shall be glad to see Mrs. Walsh and the rest of the family.”

The Doctor nodded in complete comprehension, and promised that the
letter should be ready for the next mail. Then he began to talk of other
things, and so the journey ended.

The next three weeks slipped by in such a whirl of work that Pam could
keep no count of their going. She and Jack were out of doors from
morning until night. When Sunday came they managed to get to meeting
once in the day, when they saw their neighbours, who were all as busy as
they were themselves. The weather was glorious, and all that could be
desired from the farmer’s point of view. The crops were looking well,
and life was jogging on with only a normal amount of friction. Then one
evening Amanda Higgins arrived with a letter for Pam, which she said
Nathan Gittins had left at Mrs. Buckle’s on his way home from the post
office.

Not finding anyone but the dog at home at Ripple, Amanda walked into the
house, and laying the letter on the table, where the uncleared breakfast
crockery was still standing, she went out again, closing the door behind
her, to keep the poultry from wandering into the house. She met Pam and
Jack toiling home from the woods with a great heap of timothy grass
piled on the hand truck. There were parts of the forest near Ripple
where timothy grass grew in profusion, and they were harvesting some of
the patches as provision for the winter, when they hoped to have more
cattle.

“There is a letter for you in the house, I left it on the table,” called
Amanda, when she came within shouting distance; and then she volunteered
the additional information: “It has come from England.”

“A letter from Mother!” cried Pam, with positive ecstasy in her tone.
“Oh, how truly delightful! Thank you for bringing it over, Amanda. I had
just been dreading going indoors this evening, for the breakfast things
are still unwashed, the beds are not made, and we must cook supper, or
go without. It was not a rosy prospect, but this has made all the
difference.”

“I saw you were a bit behind with things when I went into your house,
and I would have stopped and slicked things up a bit for you if I
could,” said Amanda, who had a kindly disposition, albeit she was more
than a trifle feckless. “But Mrs. Buckle told me to make haste back
because we are going to make butter to-night. It is so much firmer this
hot weather when it is done in the evening.”

Pam thanked her for the friendly thought, then hurried on her way,
putting quite double energy into her task. She had been so tired only
the minute before, and almost inclined to tell Jack that if he wanted
any supper he would have to cook it himself. Now things looked quite
different, and, with the thought of the letter to cheer her, she began
to plan a really nice supper that would cook itself while she washed the
breakfast dishes and made the beds. It was not often that she left these
necessary household tasks undone when she went to work in the fields,
but she had slept later than usual, and could not get through her work
before Jack was ready and waiting for her help.

When they reached the house Jack went off to do the evening “chores”,
while Pam prepared to rush round indoors. She fairly yearned for time to
wash her face and do her hair, but a glance at the clock and the
keenness of her appetite warned her that she had better get forward with
preparations for the evening meal. They had had no dinner that day,
there had been no time; and a hunch of harvest-cake had been the only
food for which they had stayed during the long hot hours. No wonder Pam
felt tired! A year ago she would have thought of such a life with
horror; but ideals change as one grows older, and Pam felt that her
highest joy now lay in keeping the old home ready for her mother and the
children.

The breakfast things were washed and spread for supper, the beds were
made, and supper was smelling really good by the time Jack came into the
house. Pam had washed her hands and face, she had even put her hair
tidy, and she was feeling that she had earned a rest.

“What is the letter about?” asked Jack as he came to the supper-table.
He was very damp about face and head, for he had been stuffing his head
into a bucket of water, as that was the quickest way of getting clean,
and being very anxious for his supper he had not stayed for much towel
work.

“As if I should dream of opening the letter until you were here to share
it with me!” cried Pam in fine scorn. “Oh, I do wonder how they are
getting on with both of us away! Of course it may be good for the boys
and Muriel to learn to help themselves, but it seems to me that they
need us as much as ever they did.”

“I need my supper!” sighed Jack, and he reached for the saucepan of
“stirabout” which was simmering on the stove.

“We will have a proper midday meal to-morrow,” said Pam. “I do not think
it pays to go so long without meals, one feels so tired out; but oh, I
do begrudge the time spent in coming indoors to cook it, especially now
that there is so much to do.”

“Mother is coming!” yelled Jack, who had opened the letter because his
portion of stirabout was too hot to eat. “She and the children are
already on their way. Read the letter, Pam; they will be here next week!
My word, she has hustled this business, and no mistake!”

“Mother coming!” cried Pam, who had snatched the letter and was eagerly
devouring it. “It sounds too good to be true! You won’t get any dinner
to-morrow, Jack; we dare not spend time in fussing about ourselves when
there is so much to be done to get ready for her. You see what she
says—that she has had such a good offer for the house and the furniture
that it seemed better to take it, and come off straight away, especially
as Dr. Grierson had written to her that for my sake she ought to come at
any sacrifice. Oh, how could he write to her in such a fashion?”

“I am very glad that he did, because, don’t you see, his letter got
there at the very moment it was needed to help Mother to make up her
mind. Now she will come and she will settle down; and if Grandfather
comes back she will be able to manage him—at least, we will hope so—or
if he does not turn up, then she will be on the spot to claim the
property as heir-at-law as soon as we are allowed to assume that he is
dead. To my way of thinking there is a great deal in being on hand at a
time like this.”

“So I think. But I can’t grasp it yet that Mother is really coming!”
cried Pam, who had jumped up from the supper-table, and was rushing
round frantically trying to do two or three things all at once. “Jack, I
must clean the house down again from top to bottom, for I could not have
Mother come and find the place dirty. What would she think of me?”

“She would think you had other things to do, and she would be about
right,” replied Jack, leaning back in his chair and stretching out his
limbs with an air of luxurious enjoyment. “Leave off fussing round, Pam,
and sit down for two minutes while we let this bit of news soak in. I
don’t seem able to believe it yet, but I expect it is true. As for the
house, if it is not clean enough to suit Mother, she will start at
turning it inside out herself, and by the time she has done it she will
feel quite at home, and she will wonder why she didn’t come back sooner.
There is nothing like work for making people contented with their
surroundings. That is why folks butter a cat’s toes when they take pussy
to a fresh home; she has to be so busy at licking her feet clean, and it
is such a pleasant occupation, that she forgets she ever lived anywhere
else.”

Pam laughed. She was shrewd enough to see that Jack’s arguments were
unanswerable. The house had been thoroughly cleaned for the wedding, but
it had hardly been touched since, for every available minute had been
spent out-of-doors. It was necessary to be always at work on the growing
crops, pulling out the fern and grubbing up the willow shoots. Ripple
had been a cleared farm for more than forty years, but if it had been
left to lie without attention for six months of summer it would have
lapsed back to forest again. The roots were there, and the seeds, and it
was only the most careful and vigilant care and attention that kept the
wilderness growth in check.

“It will be lovely to have Mother here.” Pam heaved a big sigh of pure
happiness as she came to sit down in the rocking-chair near the open
door. “We shall have a home again, Jack.”

“And a dinner every day, which is still more to the point!” he
exclaimed, smacking his lips loudly, and screwing his face into such an
aspect of absolute enjoyment that Pam had to laugh at him.

“Think of the berries the children will be able to gather! Why, there is
enough fruit getting ripe on the bushes down by the creek to keep half a
dozen families in pies and puddings. We can have jam made, and heaps of
things. I have felt very bad because it was so impossible to get time to
do things. When I am in the fields all day I have no energy left to
gather fruit in the evening. But, Jack, if we leave the house dirty, we
must have that field of potatoes weeded before Mother comes. The fern in
some places is smothering the potatoes, and it looks so untidy, too.”

“I am going to bed,” said Jack, stumbling to his feet. “Perhaps when
morning comes I may want to hoe potatoes; just now I don’t seem to care
whether they are full of weeds or not.”

Jack had slept upstairs since the wedding, because it was less lonely
for Pam to have him within call at night. She was ten minutes later than
he was in coming upstairs, but as she passed his open door on her way to
her room she heard his deep breathing. He was already asleep!

It was long before slumber came to her; she was too happy even to
remember that she was tired. Her mother was coming, and her heavy
responsibility would be at end. But how good it was to think she had
been able to achieve so much!



                             CHAPTER XXIII


                          The Mystery Cleared

Mrs. Walsh looked round her with mingled pleasure and pain. The pleasure
was because the old house was so unchanged, and it made her feel almost
young again to be shot back into the scenes of her girlhood, and to find
that the environment had scarcely altered at all. But there was keen
pain in the thought of what the old man’s lonely years must have been
like, and the mystery of his disappearance was brought home to her so
much more forcibly now that she stood in her old home once more.

The boys and Muriel had rushed off with Jack to see the barn and the
pigs, and the calves which were the pride of Pam’s heart. They had two,
one that belonged to their own cow, and another that Pam had bought from
Mrs. Buckle when it was a week old, and had brought up by hand.

“There are quite a lot of things missing from the house,” said Mrs.
Walsh with a troubled air, as she walked from room to room. “Of course
in an ordinary way this would not have seemed wonderful, but knowing my
father as I do, I cannot think he would have parted with Mother’s
picture, which always hung in his own room. Then there was the safe that
he kept his money in, a small iron affair, which used to stand by the
side of his bed. Have you seen it anywhere?”

“There is no safe in the house that I know of, and we have turned out
every hole and corner,” replied Pam. “A finer collection of rubbish was
surely never found outside a second-hand shop, but we brushed and dusted
it all and put it back for you to sort when you came.”

“I cannot think what he could have done with the safe, unless he has
buried it somewhere,” said Mrs. Walsh in a musing tone. “He did not
believe in banks, and he often used to keep a lot of money in the house.
It was locked up in the safe and he thought it was all right, but I
think it was a very risky thing to do.”

“Especially if people got to suspect it, for even this wilderness is not
too remote for light-fingered folk.” Pam was thinking of Mose Paget as
she spoke, and there was, as always, a pang of pity in her heart for the
man whose life had been so wasted.

“To me it looks as if his going was a planned affair, and in view of
your expected arrival it makes things seem very strange,” went on Mrs.
Walsh; and then, the two of them being at this moment in the end bedroom
downstairs, which had been prepared for her use, she went down on her
knees and started peering curiously at the floor.

“What are you looking for?” demanded Pam with a ring of alarm in her
voice, for her mother’s conduct was certainly strange.

“I am looking for the mark on the floor where the safe stood, and—yes,
there it is! Do you see those screw-holes? It was screwed to the floor,
and by the look of things it has not been removed from the place so very
long. Pam, he must have moved that safe when he expected to have one of
you children here with him. I expect he buried it, only the puzzle will
be to find where. He must have had money in it, and was afraid that you
would be curious about it. Oh, what a wearing mystery it all is!”

“But, Mother, Grandfather was poor, everyone says so!” gasped Pam,
worried by the look on her mother’s face, and by all the unpleasant
possibilities called up by Mrs. Walsh’s words.

“I dare say everyone thought so, and he would do what he could to keep
them in their belief. But I do not think he was poor; he was always too
fond of money not to have saved when he had the chance. He could live on
next to nothing here, and if he only made a little money, that little he
could save.”

“Mother, come and have supper, and leave off worrying about this,” said
Pam hurriedly, for she could not bear to see how careworn her mother
suddenly looked.

“I suppose that is about the only thing to be done, though it is very
hard not to worry,” said Mrs. Walsh. She followed Pam across the big
sitting-room, littered just now with the luggage of the travellers, and
out to the kitchen, where a comfortable meal was spread.

It was the middle of the day, for Mrs. Walsh and her children had come
up-river by the night boat. Pam and Jack declared that it gave them a
most fearfully dissipated feeling to be sitting down to a meal in the
middle of a day that was not Sunday. But weeding and hoeing were off for
this one day, which was very much of a festival, and Pam had performed
miracles of hard work since dawn in getting the house ready for the
travellers. Nathan Gittins had driven his team to Hunt’s Crossing,
taking Jack with him, to meet the arrivals, but he had too much tact to
come in when they reached Ripple, and had driven off in a great hurry,
pleading urgent business.

The boys were in raptures over the place, and Muriel was tearing round
like a little wild thing. To them the new life would be like one long
holiday, and Greg declared that he did not mind how hard he had to work
provided he did not have to wait at table again.

“You may have to do worse than that. You may have to cook your own
supper or go without,” laughed Pam.

“As if I should mind that!” snorted Greg. “I used to loathe waiting on
the boarders, and seeing the disgusting greed with which they swallowed
their food, and their eagerness to get their money’s worth. If you want
to know what a person is really like, watch him feed, I say.”

“A good idea,” put in Jack hastily, for he had seen a cloud gather on
his mother’s face, and he was not going to have her worried with the
nonsense of the young ones if he could help it. “A very good idea
indeed, Mr. Gregory Walsh, and by the elegant way in which you are at
this moment eating flapjacks and molasses, I should be inclined to say
that you are a bit of a bounder, and not very well acquainted with the
usages of polite society.”

The others burst into peals of laughter at the expense of Greg, and the
face of Mrs. Walsh smoothed as if by magic. It was only Jack and Pam who
understood how any allusion to the hardships of the boarding-house life
hurt her, and they spared her when they could.

“There were some friends of Mr. Gay’s on the boat we came in,” said Mrs.
Walsh, as she lingered sitting at the table with Pam and Jack when the
others had rushed away again. “They were in the first class, of course,
and we were in the second, but they used to come to pay us visits nearly
every day. They are going west to British Columbia for the summer, and
young Mr. Gay—he is a nephew of the Mr. Gay who was so kind to
Jack—asked if he could come here for shooting in the autumn. He and his
friend want a moose if they can get one. They will bring a man with
them, and they would rather not stay at Ripple, which they declare would
be too civilized. I told them if nothing else offered we would build
them a shack right out in the forest. They are going to pay me well for
coming.”

“It is a shockingly busy time for shack-building,” said Pam. “They would
want an extra special kind, too, because they are not used to roughing
it, but we shall certainly have to do what we can, because old Mr. Gay
was so good to Jack.”

“Why not rig up that old house in the tote road?” suggested Jack.
“Nathan told me that is a wonderful place for moose, and as for other
game, why, they might almost lie in bed and shoot the stuff that passes
the house.”

“Oh, they could not go there, it is such a shocking ruin, and it is
haunted too!” cried Pam with a shiver, whereupon Jack burst out
laughing. But Mrs. Walsh wanted to know what place they were talking of.

“There is a little house, very dilapidated, standing on some ground
which borders the old tote road. Grandfather bought the land some few
years ago, so Luke Dobson told me,” explained Pam.

“I remember the place now,” said Mrs. Walsh. “The man who lived there
was an Indian, or else he had an Indian wife, I don’t remember which.
But, Pam, don’t you see that this bears out what I have said, that your
grandfather was not poor, or he would not have been able to buy land?”

“It was only twenty acres, and he might have taken a mortgage for the
bigger part of the price,” replied Pam.

Mrs. Walsh shook her head. She began to talk of other things soon after,
but all the time she was puzzling out the matter of her father’s
disappearance.

Pam and Jack had to work all the harder in the days that followed to
make up for the holiday they had allowed themselves to welcome their
mother and the younger children. But life was so much easier that the
hard work scarcely counted in comparison. It was beautiful to throw down
their hoes at noon, and come walking indoors to find a well-cooked meal
spread ready for them to eat. It was even more delightful still to have
no supper to cook at the end of a long and fagging day. Then Mrs. Walsh
bought a horse and a wagon, for she said that it would never do for
Muriel to have so many miles to walk to attend school. Oh, life was
easier all round; only there was the one cloud that did not lift, and
Pam could not be happy because of that still unexplained mystery of her
grandfather’s disappearance.

Don Grierson came and went. He was so fortunate as to win the esteem of
Mrs. Walsh, while the younger children adored him. But Pam was resolute
in her determination to permit no engagement between him and herself
while they still lived under the shadow of what might be a disgrace.

The weeks slipped by so quickly that August came and went, and September
came in, with flaming autumn splendours, before anyone at Ripple seemed
to realize that summer was on the wane. Then came a letter from Mr. Gay,
asking if a shooting-lodge could be ready for him in a couple of weeks,
as he wanted to have as much time as possible in New Brunswick before
returning to England, where he was due in early November at the latest.

“Whatever shall we do?” cried Pam in dismay. “Jack, do you think we
could have a logging bee, and get a framehouse run up and ready in two
weeks? It will never do to disappoint these people. Besides, think how
glad we shall be to have the money.”

“I should have the bee to put that house in repair that we have already
got,” said Jack. He turned to Don Grierson, who had brought the mail
over from The Corner, and asked him if he did not think Pam was silly to
object to the place being used.

Don was not disposed to think anything Pam might do was foolish, and he
said so with a straightforward simplicity which brought the hot blushes
to Pam’s cheeks, and set the others laughing.

“I propose that we go and see this place straight away,” said Mrs.
Walsh. “I have been meaning to go over there every week since I came,
but there is always so much to be done, and there never seems to be an
opportunity for outside things.”

“I can drive you over at this minute if you like,” suggested Don; “it
will save you having to hitch your own horse to your wagon, and time is
everything these days.”

“That is what I say,” answered Jack. “We will all three go if you can
take us; the kids can run the house until we get back. Put a hat on,
Mother, and come along. The ride will do you good; it is so hot this
morning, and you did not go out all yesterday.”

Mrs. Walsh had a few objections to make, but these were speedily
overruled. She was anxious to please Mr. Gay, and, of course, if the
building would do it would be silly to put up another, especially as
labour was so hard to come by.

The nearest trail to the old tote road was too narrow for a wagon, and
Don had to take them by a broader trail, which was more than three miles
farther. But for him it was a holiday pure and simple, as Pam sat on the
front seat beside him, Jack and Mrs. Walsh being on the seat behind. Pam
was brighter, too; more as she used to be before the burden of the old
man’s mysterious disappearance had become so hard to bear. All the time
it was supposed that he had left his home through fear of being arrested
for the wounding of Sam Buckle, it had been a bearable trouble because
it was easy to understand; but since the confession of Mose Paget had
cleared the character of Wrack Peveril from even the shadow of a stain,
Pam had been tortured by the wonder as to whether in her ignorance and
inefficiency she might have left undone something that might have
cleared the mystery.

There had been a frost on the previous night, and already the maples
were flaming in scarlet and gold. Pam thought of her first coming to
Ripple, and how the gorgeousness of the forest had impressed her. That
was nearly a year ago, and all that time she had lived on the edge of a
tragedy, not knowing what a day might reveal—hoping, fearing, and
wondering, yet never able to get any light on the mystery.

Mrs. Walsh was telling Jack of some of the adventures of her youth, when
they had gone berrying in this part of the forest, and they were both
laughing over the story, which gave Don a chance to talk to Pam in a low
tone. He was telling her that now her mother had come to Ripple, there
was surely no need for her to feel the burden of responsibility was hers
alone, and so she might just as well let him announce the fact of their
betrothal. But Pam was obdurate still. It was as if she had inherited
the spirit of the old man, and having once made up her mind, nothing
could turn her. How much she suffered in making Don suffer, no one but
herself could realize. She was white and spent with the effort, and the
joy of the morning had turned to weariness by the time the horse reached
the old tote road, and quickened its pace because the going was
smoother.

“What a place!” cried Mrs. Walsh, when Don drew rein in front of the
deserted house. “But the roof looks sound, and with four walls and a
roof the other part should be easy enough.”

“It looks as if we ought to have brought a hatchet to chop our way in,”
said Jack, as he surveyed the tall weeds and trailing brambles which had
grown across the entrance door.

“I think we’ll manage to get in somehow,” replied Don. He drew his horse
into the shade of a tall maple, and, jumping from the wagon, tied the
animal to the tree, so that it should not take the homeward trail until
he was ready. Then he helped Pam and her mother to climb down from the
wagon, and, when they were on the ground, helped Jack to stamp down the
weeds and the brambles to make a path to the door.

“Hullo! The handle is tied up with a yellow rag; it looks as if it was
in quarantine,” called out Jack, as he pulled away a mass of wild bryony
which had spread all across the door.

“That rag is a bit of Mose Paget’s handkerchief,” explained Pam. “He
tied the door with it on the day when we found the lynxes here. I saw it
again on the day when I was round here searching for the cow, and I
thought it must have been pretty good stuff to have stood so long.”

“It was like Mose to be obliged to tear his handkerchief; any other man
would have had a bit of string in his pocket,” commented Don.

“Now, I thought it was a sign of civilization in him that he possessed a
handkerchief at all,” put in Pam, who was always stirred to the defence
of Mose because of the rescue of the dog on that day when the creature
found the lynxes.

“I don’t admire his taste in handkerchiefs. There is a thought too much
yellow in it for my fancy,” said Jack, who had unfastened the rag, and
now held it up for their inspection.

They all laughed, but the merriment died to a sudden silence when they
opened the door and stood on the threshold. With a quick, involuntary
movement Jack’s hand went to his hat, then dropped again, and he cast a
furtive glance round, hoping the others had not noticed what he had been
doing. A broken window had ventilated the room, which had a musty smell
in spite of that. There were the remains of a wooden bed-frame in the
far corner, a broken stove was in another corner, and in the centre a
table of such solid manufacture that it had been left there because it
was too unwieldy to move.

“Is there only one room? What a nuisance!” cried Mrs. Walsh, who had
wrinkled her nose in distaste, for the odour of the lynxes still clung
to the place.

“One room and a cellar,” said Don, who had been kicking at the rubbish
on the floor, and had thus disclosed a trap-door on the farther side of
the room, where the big table cast a shadow.

“A cellar under this place?” exclaimed Pam in amazement. “I should not
have thought the house big enough to have a cellar.”

“The place being so small would make it all the more necessary to have a
store where the frost could not reach,” said Don. “You see, the folks
who lived here must have had some room to store their potatoes and other
roots, and it is the cheapest way of doing things to have it under the
place where you live.”

“Cheap and nasty, I should say, if they all smell like this! You are
surely not going down?” cried Pam, as Don struggled to lift the
trap-door.

“Yes, I am, for one must know the condition of the cellar, and find out
whether the beams of the floor above are sound, before determining if
the house is in good enough repair to be lived in,” said Don, as he
wrestled fiercely with the trap-door.

“Is it screwed down?” asked Pam in surprise, for Don was putting out all
his strength, and yet failing to raise the trap-door.

“There are no screw-holes that I can see,” he answered. “It feels more
as if it were fastened from below, only, of course, that is out of the
question. But it is coming up somehow, for I am not going to be beaten
over a thing like this. Will you hand me that iron bar—the one leaning
by the stove? Thanks; now stand clear. Ah!”

Don gave such a mighty heave that with a ripping, tearing sound the
trap-door came in halves, and he crashed backwards on the floor. Though
he looked ridiculous enough, no one laughed, and Jack, peering down into
the dark cavity, cried out in the blankest surprise:

“I don’t wonder you could not get the door up. It is bolted down. Now,
how could that bolt have been shot?”

How, indeed? Don gathered himself up, and stooping low over the broken
trap-door proceeded to examine it carefully. There was an iron bolt on
the under side, and this was shot fully home, the handle of the bolt
being turned to prevent it being shaken back.

“It is certainly queer,” muttered Don, and Pam felt a cold shiver steal
all over her.

“I am going down with you,” said Jack, as Don unbolted the bit of the
trap-door that had not broken away, and prepared to trust his weight on
the ladder that showed dimly from below.

“Better let me get landed at the bottom first. We don’t know the
strength of the ladder, you see; and it is not worth while to invite
disaster,” said Don. He set foot on the ladder with extreme caution, and
clinging with both hands to the framework of the trap-door, stamped and
banged at the ladder to test its firmness. “It feels sound enough, and
is more solid than usual, so here goes!”

The silence above was so tense that the noise of the horse munching
grass on the other side of the tote road came to the others plainly
enough as they stood watching Don disappear in the darkness of the
cellar.

“I am down!” he announced a minute later; and Jack had stepped on to the
ladder, disappearing also, before Don had time to fumble in his pockets
for a match-box to get a light.

Pam was stooping over the opening. She saw the flash of the match, then
heard a frightened cry from Jack, and a startled word from Don.

“What is it?” she cried. She was shaking all over as if she had an ague,
cold chills were creeping up her back, and yet she could feel the
perspiration trickling slowly down her face.

“What have you found?” demanded Mrs. Walsh, thrusting Pam aside in her
excitement, and coming to kneel by the yawning hole in the floor.

There was a long moment of silence, then Don’s voice spoke from below.

“A dead man is here, sitting in a chair beside a safe. Mrs. Walsh, I
think it must be your father. Will you come down?”

“Grandfather down there?” cried Pam, and her voice was shrill with sheer
astonishment.



                              CHAPTER XXIV


                                The End

“Hush!” panted Mrs. Walsh, and Pam was immediately ashamed of having
made such a noise.

“Will you come, Mrs. Walsh?” asked the voice of Don again from below.
But Mrs. Walsh trembled so badly that Pam pulled her back from the top
of the ladder.

“Stay here, Mother, I will go. Strike another match, will you, Don? That
is right, I can see now!” Pam went steadily down as she spoke. She had
screwed her courage to the ordeal because of the manifest unfitness of
her mother. Down, down, down she went, until she stood on the floor of
the cellar, felt her arm grasped by Don, and heard the loud breathing of
Jack.

“Where?” she breathed, and felt a sudden rush of courage because Don
gripped her hand so hard.

“There!” As he spoke, Don struck another match, and by its light Pam saw
a small iron safe standing on a sort of table, and in a deep,
hide-covered chair beside it, a huddled something that looked like a
heap of clothes surmounted by an old hat. In the dim light she could
make out a gun leaning against the chair, but at that moment the match
went out, and Don’s voice sounded in her ear:

“Go up now,” he commanded, “you can’t do any good here.”

Pam climbed up the ladder dazed and wondering. She heard the sobs of her
mother, and wondered at it. Then she suddenly felt so faint and queer
that she was glad to stumble across to the door, and put her head out to
the sunshine, where the horse still munched in contentment, and the blue
butterflies hovered over the white cups of the bindweed, as if there
were no such thing as death in the world.

Jack came up from the cellar, still breathing heavily as if he had been
running. He was immediately followed by Don, who started to turn the
table upside down over the broken trap-door.

“Why are you doing that?” asked Pam.

Don carefully let the table drop over the broken door before he spoke,
and then he said gravely:

“From what I could see by the light of the matches, the old man must
have been in the habit of keeping his valuables there. I expect he
thought it was safer than Ripple, and I daresay he was right, though how
he got that safe there alone is more than I can imagine. We don’t want
anyone going down there until Father and the police have made their
examination. If anyone came along when we have gone, he might go down
there in all innocence of what there is to find. So it seemed best to
cover the hole. Now I will drive you and your mother back to Ripple,
then Jack and I will go and fetch the police.”

“We can walk by the narrow trail, and that will save time for you,” said
Pam; but Don would not hear of it, and he drove them back to Ripple.
Scarcely a word was spoken by any of them. What Mrs. Walsh was thinking
of was the last time she had seen her father, before she ran away to get
married. The thoughts of the three who had been in the cellar were busy
with the huddled heap of garments resting in the old hide-covered chair.

It was Reggie Furness who had last seen the old man alive, and he
identified the remains by the hat and the coat, which had a green patch
on one shoulder. The cause of death was not clear, but was supposed to
be heart trouble. Wrack Peveril had more than once complained to his
neighbours of pain in his side, which might easily have been disease of
the heart. Someone suggested that he had shot himself either by accident
or intention, but this theory was at once set aside by the fact of the
gun being found loaded in every chamber. It was Pam who testified to the
fact of the old man having been there at any rate ever since the first
snow of the previous fall, as the yellow rag which Mose Paget had tied
on the door had never been removed until the day when Don discovered the
cellar. This was proof enough that Cassidy O’Brien was either mistaken
in stating that he had seen the old man working at the lumber camp, or
else he had made the story up to suit his own ends.

From the evidence before them it was fairly easy to understand that the
old man, warned by Reggie of the coming of the surprise party, had gone
across the forest to his hiding-place in the cellar, intending that his
unwanted visitors should not find him at home. He had probably forgotten
that his granddaughter was expected that day. Death must have come to
him in a very kindly guise, for there was nothing in the position of the
body to show that he had suffered. Indeed, the peace of repose lay upon
the huddled remains, and on the table by the safe there was an end of
candle not burned out, and a box of matches was found in one of the
pockets.

All the long apprehension and the fierce anxiety were now over. The
lifting of the burden was so great that at first Pam could not realize
that there was no longer anything to dread. It was Don who emphasized
the fact for her, when he came to see her the week after the funeral,
and insisted, in the most masterful fashion possible, that their
engagement should be announced.

“There is noth to wait for now, and I have been patient long enough,” he
said, standing drawn up to his full height, and looking down at Pam, who
was resting in a rocking-chair.

“I don’t think that you have been patient at all,” she said, with a low
laugh, and her eyes sparkled with fun as they used to do before the
burden of her care dulled their light somewhat.

“Opinions differ,” he said calmly, and then he sat down on a little
wooden stool by her chair, and told her that old, old story, which,
however it may be varied by circumstances in the telling, always amounts
to the same thing in the end. He must have told it well too, for Pam had
no more excuses to bring against Don’s desire for an engagement between
them.

It was not until later, when the contents of the safe were examined,
that it was found Wrack Peveril had been quite a wealthy man. He had
made no will, and so Mrs. Walsh inherited all he had to leave. Her
future would be assured now, and there would be no poverty to fear in
her old age; but it might all have been very different, and her
interests must have suffered greatly, had it not been for the enterprise
and courage of Pam in acting as Pioneer.



                           TRANSCRIBER NOTES

Obvious printer errors have been corrected including missing periods,
apostrophes and closing quotations necessary to the dialogue.

The use of hyphenated words has been retained as written. Where two
spellings of the same word appear, the spelling with the highest
frequency was adopted.

[The end of _A Canadian Farm Mystery_, by Bessie Marchant.]





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