It must have been an hour past midnight
when we broke from the forest into the clearing, and
as we strode across toward the stockade we noted with
relief that all was still and peaceful. Malcolm
Cameron greeted us at the gate, and we passed on to
receive a hearty welcome at the house. With the
exception of Pemecan, our comrades were all awake,
sprawled about a blazing tire, and at sight of the
meat we carried they set up a great shout.
“Hush! you will rouse Miss Hatherton!”
said I, for I saw that she had retired.
However, I doubt if she had slept
a wink; and no sooner was there a lull in the conversation
than she called from the little room adjoining, in
a hesitating voice:
“Have you returned, Denzil?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“I am back, safe and sound, and with a fat deer
for breakfast. But go to sleep at once; it is
“I will,” Flora answered. “Good-night,
“Good-night,” I responded,
and then my face grew hot as I saw Captain Rudstone
regarding me with half-veiled amusement.
“You are a lucky chap, Carew,”
he said; “but you have well earned your happiness.”
I never quite knew how to take the
captain’s words, so I merely nodded in reply.
We were all sleepy, and without delay we completed
the preparations for the night. Two men were
chosen for sentry duty at the gate Luke
Hutter and Baptiste, and the latter at once relieved
Cameron and sent him in. Carteret and I had a
look about the inclosure, and then, after putting
a great beam on the fire, we rolled ourselves in our
blankets and laid down beside our companions.
I must have fallen asleep as soon
as my eyes closed, for I remembered nothing until
I was roused by a hand on my shoulder. Luke Hutter
was standing over me, and from head to foot he was
thickly coated with snow. The gray light of dawn
glimmered behind the frosted windows, and I heard
a hoarse whistling noise. The fire was blazing
cheerily, for Baptiste had replenished it when he
came off duty. Several of the men were stirring;
the others were sound asleep.
“A bad day to travel, Mr. Carew,” said
“What do you mean?” I asked.
For answer he led me to the door,
and as he opened it a fine cloud of snow whirled into
the room. I cried out with astonishment, for one
of those rapid changes of weather so common in northern
latitudes had taken place during the night. A
storm of wind and snow, much like a blizzard, was
raging violently. The cold was intense, and it
was impossible to see more than a yard or two in front
of one’s face.
“It began several hours ago,”
said Hutter, “and it is good to last until night.
If we set out for Fort Charter we shall lose our way,
sir, and perhaps become exhausted and freeze to death.”
I agreed with Hutter, and after some
reflection I hit upon a plan that afforded me no little
pleasure. My companions were by this time awake
and up, and I called their attention to the storm.
As to the danger and impossibility of proceeding on
our journey, they were all of one mind.
“We need a rest,” said
I, “and here is a chance to take it, with a bit
of recreation and enjoyment thrown in. There is
not the slightest risk of an attack by Indians.
We can spare a day, and we have snug quarters and
enough to eat. The storm will doubtless abate
by to-morrow morning, and then we will push on.
What do you say, men?”
They assented readily, even with enthusiasm,
and I saw that they entered fully into the spirit
which had prompted me to make the proposal.
“I’m thinking it will
be like old times,” said Cameron. “It
was a happy life at Fort Royal, on the whole, sir.
There’s one thing we’ll be lacking for
the day’s pleasure a stiff glass of
grog all round.”
“We’ll manage to get along
without it,” I replied. “And now let’s
finish up the work; there is plenty to do.”
First of all we made a kettleful of
warm water by melting snow, and I handed a pannikin
of it in to Flora, whom I had heard stirring for some
time. She bade me a sweet good-morning, and showed
me a glimpse of her pretty face round the corner of
the door. Then some of us began to prepare breakfast we
had found an ample supply of dish ware in the fort and
others demolished a part of the stockade and brought
the timbers in for fuel. Captain Rudstone and
I busied ourselves by making the crevices of the door
and windows secure against wind and sifting snow.
For once we dispensed with sentry duty, thinking it
to be unnecessary.
As breakfast was ready to be served,
Flora tripped out of her little room looking radiantly
beautiful. When she learned that we were to stop
at the fort that day her eyes glowed with pleasure,
and what I read in them set my heart beating fast.
Seated about the fire on benches and rickety stools,
we attacked the delicious slices of venison, the steaming
coffee, and the crisp cakes of cornmeal. Then,
the dishes washed and the room tidied a bit, we heaped
the fire high and settled ourselves for a long morning.
Outside the wind howled and the whirling snow darkened
the air; inside was warmth and cheer and comfort.
Looking back to that day over the
gulf of years, I can recall few occasions of keener
enjoyment. The security and comfort were in such
strong contrast to what we had lately suffered, that
we abandoned ourselves wholly to the pleasure of the
passing moment. We forgot the tragedies and sufferings
that lay behind us, and gave no thought to what the
uncertain future might hold in store. For me the
horizon was unclouded. Flora was by my side,
and I looked forward to soon calling her my wife.
Luckily, we had plenty of tobacco,
and wreaths of fragrant smoke curled from blackened
pipes. Baptiste and Carteret sang the dialect
songs of the wilderness; Duncan Forbes amused us with
what he called a Highland fling, and Pemecan, to the
accompaniment of outlandish chanting, danced an Indian
war-dance. Captain Rudstone and Christopher Burley,
who were rarely anything but quiet and reserved, showed
us sides of their characters that we had not suspected
before; they clapped their hands and joined in the
laughter and merriment. And in Flora’s unfeigned
happiness and light spirits I took my greatest enjoyment.
“Comrade, it’s your turn,”
said Forbes, addressing old Malcolm Cameron.
“Maybe you’ll be giving us your imitation
of the skirl of the bagpipes.”
“Man, it’s too dry work,”
Cameron replied. “If I had a wee drop of
liquor But it’s no use asking for
“By the way, Carew,” said
Captain Rudstone, “as I was overhauling that
heap of rubbish in the cellar this morning, I pulled
out a small cask. Could it contain anything drinkable?”
I was on my feet like a shot.
“Come; we’ll see!” I cried.
“Lead the way!”
I followed the captain to the cellar
and we found the cask. I quickly broached it,
and to my delight it, contained what I had scarcely
ventured to hope for a fine old port wine.
“Where did it come from?” asked the captain,
smacking his lips.
“My father used to have it sent
to him from England,” I replied, “and
this cask must have been mislaid and covered up.”
“Your father?” muttered
the captain: and he gave me one of those strange
looks that had so mystified me in the past.
“Yes, he was a judge of wine,
I believe,” I answered. “Come, we’ll
go up. Cameron can wet his whistle now, and we’ll
all be the better for a little sound port.”
When we returned to our companions
with the cask, and told them what it held, they gave
us an eager and noisy welcome. We rummaged about
until we found a sufficient number of cracked glasses
and cups, and then we filled them with the fragrant,
“Miss Hatherton shall drink
first,” said I, as I sat down beside her and
handed her a glass.
My own I held up with a little nod,
and she partly understood me. Such a roguish
look twinkled in her eyes that I carried out my purpose.
“Attention!” I cried,
standing up. “A toast, comrades! to my promised
With an earnestness that I liked,
the men drank, one and all, and Flora smiled very
prettily through her confusion and blushes.
“Ah, she’s a bonnie lady,”
old Malcolm Cameron said bluntly.
“And with the spirit of a man,” added
I acknowledged these compliments with
a bow as I sat down. Most of the drinking vessels
were emptied and passed to Carteret to be filled.
That done, at a sign from me he carried the cask to
a closet at the other side of the room. Some
of the men were bibulously inclined, and for Flora’s
sake I had to be cautious.
Of a sudden Captain Rudstone rose,
his handsome, stern face almost transformed by an
expression of genial good will.
“Mr. Carew,” he began,
“on such an occasion as this I feel that I must
say a word. Indeed you have won a prize.
’Tis an old proverb that a man married is a
man marred, but in you I see an exception. Were
I a few years younger I should have ventured to enter
the lists against you. I have knocked about the
world, and I can pay Miss Hatherton no higher compliment
than to say that she is equally fitted to be queen
of a London drawing room or mistress of a factor’s
humble house. But enough. I wish you every
prosperity and happiness, and a long career in the
service of the company.”
The captain was evidently sincere,
and I had never liked him so well as now, though I
must confess that I felt a spark of jealousy when Flora
made him a smiling courtesy.
He was no sooner down in his seat
than Christopher Burley stood up. The law clerk’s
face was flushed, and his eyes had an unwonted sparkle.
He had drunk but two glasses of port, yet he was a
different man to look at.
“Mr. Carew and Miss Hatherton,
my compliments,” he said. “I shall
think of this convivial gathering when I am back in
London in that crowded, bustling heart
of the world, and I hope some day to have the pleasure
of seeing you there of seeing all of you,
my friends. I will take you to my favorite haunt,
the Cheshire Cheese, in Fleet Street, where the great
and learned Dr. Johnson was wont to foregather.
But I have much to do before I can return to England.
The task that brought me to this barbarous country this
land of snow and ice is of a most peculiar
and difficult nature. I will take the present
opportunity to inquire ”
“Enough!” suddenly interrupted
Captain Rudstone in a harsh voice. “Your
tongue is rambling sir. I am doing you a service
by requesting you to sit down.”
“Sir, do you mean to insinuate ”
began Christopher Burley.
But at that instant voices were heard
outside and the door was thrown open.