“Thus said Alfred:
If thou hast a woe, tell it not to the weakling,
Tell it to thy saddle-bow, and ride singing forth.”
Proverbs of Alfred.
Leithen had been too busy all day to concern himself with the thoughts which hung heavily at the back of his mind. In the morning he had visited his bankers to look into his money affairs. These were satisfactory enough: for years he had been earning a large income and spending little of it; his investments were mostly in trustee stocks; he found that he possessed, at a safe computation, a considerable fortune, while his Cotswold estate would find a ready sale. Next came his solicitors, for he was too wise a man to make the mistake of many barristers and tinker with his own will. He gave instructions for bringing the old one up to date. There were a few legacies by way of mementoes to old friends, a considerable gift to his college, donations to certain charities, and the residue to his nephew Charles, his only near relation.
He forced himself to lunch at one of his clubs, in a corner where no one came near him, though Archie Roylance waved a greeting across the dining-room. Then he spent a couple of hours with his clerk in his Temple chambers, looking through the last of his briefs. There were not a great many, since, for some months, he had been steadily refusing work. The batch of cases for opinion he could soon clear off, and one big case in the Lords he must argue next week, for it involved a point of law in which he had always taken a special interest. The briefs for the following term would be returned. The clerk, who had been with him for thirty years, was getting on in life and would be glad to retire on an ample pension. Still, it was a painful parting.
“It’s a big loss to the Bar, Sir Edward, sir,” old Mellon said, “and it’s pretty well the end of things for me. You have been a kind master to me, sir, and I’m proud to have served you. I hope you are going to have many happy years yet.”
But there had been a look of pain in the old man’s eyes which told Leithen that he had guessed what he dared not hint at.
He had tea at the House of Commons with the Chief Whip, a youngish man named Ritson, who in the War had been a subaltern in his own battalion. Ritson listened to him with a wrinkled brow and troubled eyes.
“Have you told your local people?” he asked.
“I’ll write to them tomorrow. I thought I ought to tell you first. There’s no fear of losing the seat. My majority has never been less than six thousand, and there’s an excellent candidate ready in young Walmer.”
“We shall miss you terribly, you know. There’s no one to take your place.”
Leithen smiled. “I haven’t been pulling my weight lately.”
“Perhaps not. But I’m thinking of what’s coming. If there’s an election, we’re going to win all right, and we’ll want you badly in the new Government. It needn’t be a law office. You can have your pick of half a dozen jobs. Only yesterday the Chief was speaking to me about you.” And he repeated a conversation he had had with the man who would be the next Prime Minister.
“You’re all very kind. But I don’t think I want anything. I’ve done enough, as Napoleon said, ‘pour chauffer la gloire.’”
“Is it your health?” Ritson asked.
“Well, I need a rest. I’ve been pretty busy all my days and I’m tired.”
The Chief Whip hesitated.
“Things are pretty insecure in the world just now. There may be a crisis any day. Don’t you think you ought —”
“I’ve thought of that. But if I stayed on I could do nothing to help. That isn’t a pleasant conclusion to come to, but it’s the truth.”
Ritson stood at the door of his room and watched his departing guest going down the corridor to the Central Lobby. He turned to a junior colleague who had joined him —
“I wonder what the devil’s the matter! There’s been a change in him in the last few months. But he doesn’t look a sick man. He was always a bad colour, of course, but Lamancha says he is the hardest fellow he ever knew on the hill.”
The other shook a wise head. “You never can tell. He had a roughish time in the War and the damage often takes years to come out. I think he’s right to slack off, for he must have a gruelling life at the Bar. My father tried to get him the other day as leader in a big case, and he wasn’t to be had for love or money. Simply snowed under with work!”
Leithen walked from the House towards his rooms in Down Street. He was still keeping his thoughts shut down, but in spite of himself the familiar streets awakened memories. How often he had tramped them in the far-off days when he was a pupil in chambers and the world was an oyster waiting to be opened. It was a different London then, quieter, cosier, dirtier perhaps, but sweeter smelling. On a summer evening such as this the scents would have been a compound of wood paving, horse-dung, flowers, and fresh paint, not the deadly monotony of petrol. The old land-marks, too, were disappearing. In St. James’s Street only Mr. Lock’s modest shop-window and the eighteenth-century façade of Boodle’s recalled the London of his youth. He remembered posting up this street with a high heart after he had won his first important case in court . . . and the Saturday afternoon’s strolls in it when he had changed his black regimentals for tweeds or flannels . . . and the snowy winter day when a tiny coffin on a gun-carriage marked the end of Victoria’s reign . . . and the shiny August morning in 1914 when he had been on his way to enlist with a mind half-anxious and half-exulting. He had travelled a good deal in his time, but most of his life had been spent in this square mile of west London. He did not regret the changes; he only noted them. His inner world was crumbling so fast that he had lost any craving for permanence in the externals of life.
In Piccadilly he felt his knees trembling and called a taxi. In Down Street he took the lift to his rooms, though for thirty years he had made a ritual of climbing the stairs.
The flat was full of powdery sunlight. He sank into a chair at the window to get his breath, and regarded the comfortable, shabby sitting-room. Now that he seemed to be looking at it with new eyes he noted details which familiarity had long obscured. The pictures were school and college groups, one or two mountain photographs, and, over the mantelpiece, Raeburn’s portrait of his grandfather. He was very little of a connoisseur, though at Borrowby he had three Vandykes which suited its Jacobean solemnity. There were books everywhere; they overflowed into the dining-room and his bedroom and the little hall. He reflected that what with these, and the law library in his chambers and his considerable collection at Borrowby, he must have at least twenty thousand volumes. He had been happy here, happy and busy, and for a moment — for a moment only — he felt a bitter pang of regret.
But he was still keeping his thoughts at a distance, for the time had not come to face them. Memories took the vacant place. He remembered how often he had left these rooms with a holiday zest, and how he had always returned to them with delight, for this, and not Borrowby, was his true home. How many snug winter nights had he known here, cheerful with books and firelight; and autumn twilights when he was beginning to get into the stride of his work after the long vacation; and spring mornings when the horns of elfland were blowing even in Down Street. He lay back in his chair, shut his eyes and let his memory wander. There was no harm in that, for the grim self-communion he had still to face would have no room for memories. He almost dozed.
The entry of his man, Cruddock, aroused him.
“Lord Clanroyden called you up, sir. He is in Town for the night and suggests that you might dine with him. He said the Turf Club at eight. I was to let him know, sir.”
“Tell him to come here instead. You can produce some kind of a dinner?” Leithen rather welcomed the prospect. Sandy Clanroyden would absorb his attention for an hour or two and postpone for a little the settlement with himself which his soul dreaded.
He had a bath and changed. He had been feeling listless and depressed, but not ill, and the cold shower gave him a momentary sense of vigour and almost an appetite for food. He caught a glimpse of himself naked in the long mirror, and was shocked anew by his leanness. He had given up weighing himself, but it looked as if he had lost pounds in the past month.
Sandy arrived on the stroke of eight. Leithen, as he greeted him, reflected that he was the only one of his closer friends whom he could have borne to meet. Archie Roylance’s high spirits would have been intolerable, and Lamancha’s air of mastery over life, and Dick Hannay’s serene contentment.
He did not miss the sharp glance of his guest when he entered the room. Could some rumours have got abroad? It was clear that Sandy was setting himself to play a part, for his manner had not its usual ease. He was not talking at random, but picking his topics.
A proof was that he did not ask Leithen about his holiday plans, which, near the close of the law term, would have been a natural subject. He seemed to feel that his host’s affairs might be delicate ground, and that it was his business to distract his mind from some unhappy preoccupation. So he talked about himself and his recent doings. He had just been to Cambridge to talk to the Explorers’ Club, and had come back with strong views about modern youth.
“I’m not happy about the young entry. Oh! I don’t mean all of it. There’s plenty of lads that remind me of my own old lot. But some of the best seem to have become a bit too much introverted — isn’t that the filthy word? What’s to be done about the Owlish Young, Ned?”
“I don’t see much of youth nowadays,” said Leithen. “I seem to live among fogies. I’m one myself.”
“Rot! You are far and away the youngest of us.”
Again Leithen caught a swift glance at his face, as if Sandy would have liked to ask him something, but forbore.
“Those boys make me anxious. It’s right that they should be serious with the world slipping into chaos, but they need not be owlish. They are so darned solemn about their new little creeds in religion and politics, forgetting that they are as old as the hills. There isn’t a ha’porth of humour in the bunch, which means, of course, that there isn’t any perspective. If it comes to a show-down I’m afraid they will be pretty feeble folk. People with half their brains and a little sense of humour will make rings round them.”
Leithen must have shown his unconcern about the future of the world by his expression, for Sandy searched for other topics. Spring at Laverlaw had been diviner than ever. Had Leithen heard the curlews this year? No? Didn’t he usually make a pilgrimage somewhere to hear them? For northerners they, and not the cuckoo, were the heralds of spring. . . . His wife was at Laverlaw, but was coming to London next day. Yes, she was well, but —
Again Leithen saw in the other’s face a look of interrogation. He wanted to ask him something, tell him something, but did not feel the moment propitious.
“Her uncle has just turned up here. Apparently there’s a bit of family trouble to be settled. You know him, don’t you? Blenkiron — John Scantlebury Blenkiron?”
Leithen nodded. “A little. I was his counsel in the Continental Nickel case some years ago. He’s an old friend of yours and Hannay’s, isn’t he?”
“About the best Dick and I have in the world. Would you like to see him again? I rather think he would like to see you.”
Leithen yawned and said his plans for the immediate future were uncertain.
Just before ten Sandy took his leave, warned by his host’s obvious fatigue. He left the impression that he had come to dinner to say something which he had thought had better be left unsaid, and Leithen, when he looked at his face in his dressing-table mirror, knew the reason. It was the face of a very sick man.
That night he had meant, before going to sleep, to have it out with himself. But he found that a weary body had made his brain incapable of coherent thought, so he tumbled into bed.
The reckoning came six hours later, when his bedroom was brightening with the fore-glow of a June dawn. He awoke, as he usually did nowadays, sweating and short of breath. He got up and laved his face with cold water. When he lay down again he knew that the moment had arrived.
Recent events had been confused in a cloud of misery, and he had to disengage the details. . . . There was no one moment to which he could point when his health had begun to fail. Two years before he had had a very hard summer at the Bar, complicated by the chairmanship of a Royal Commission, and a trip to Norway for the August sea trout had been disastrous. He had returned still a little fatigued. He no longer got up in the morning with a certain uplift of spirit, work seemed duller and more laborious, food less appetising, sleep more imperative but less refreshing.
During that winter he had had a bout of influenza for the first time in his life. After it he had dragged his wing for a month or two, but had seemed to pick up in the spring when he had had a trip to Provence with the Clanroydens. But the hot summer had given him a set-back, and when he went shooting with Lamancha in the autumn he found to his dismay that he had become short of breath and that the hills were too steep for him. Also he was clearly losing weight. So on his return to London he sought out Acton Croke and had himself examined. The great doctor had been ominously grave. Our fathers, he said, had talked unscientifically about the “grand climacteric,” which came in the early sixties, but there was such a thing as a climacteric which might come any time in middle life, when the physical powers adjusted themselves to the approach of age. That crisis Leithen was now enduring, and he must go very carefully and remember that the dose of gas he got in the War had probably not exhausted its effect. Croke put him on a diet, prescribed a certain routine of rest and exercise, and made him drastically cut down his engagements. He insisted also on seeing him once a fortnight.
A winter followed for Leithen of steadily declining health. His breath troubled him and a painful sinking in the chest. He rose languidly, struggled through the day, and went to bed exhausted. Every moment he was conscious of his body and its increasing frailty. Croke sent him to a nursing home during the Christmas vacation, and for a few weeks he seemed to be better. But the coming of spring, instead of giving him new vigour, drained his strength. He began to suffer from night sweats which left him very feeble in the morning. His meals became a farce. He drove himself to take exercise, but now a walk round the Park exhausted one who only a few years back could walk down any Highland gillie. Croke’s face looked graver with each visit.
Then the day before yesterday had come the crisis. He went by appointment to Croke — and demanded a final verdict. The great doctor gave it: gravely, anxiously, tenderly, as to an old friend, but without equivocation. He was dying, slowly dying.
Leithen’s mind refused to bite on the details of his own case with its usual professional precision. He was not interested in these details. He simply accepted the judgment of the expert. He was suffering from advanced tuberculosis, a retarded consequence of his gas poisoning. Croke, knowing his patient’s habit of mind, had given him a full diagnosis, but Leithen had scarcely listened to his exposition of the chronic fibrous affection and broncho-pulmonary lesions. The fact was enough for him.
“How long have I to live?” he asked, and was told a year, perhaps a little longer.
“Shall I go off suddenly, or what?” The answer was that there would be a progressive loss of strength until the heart failed.
“You can give me no hope?”
Croke shook his head.
“I dare not. The lesions MIGHT heal, the fibrous patch MIGHT disappear, but it would be a miracle according to present knowledge. I must add, of course, that our present knowledge may not be final truth.”
“But I must take it as such, I agree. Miracles don’t happen.”
Leithen left Harley Street almost cheerfully. There was a grim satisfaction in knowing the worst. He was so utterly weary that after coffee and a sandwich in his rooms he went straight to bed.
Soon he must think things out, but not at once. He must first make some necessary arrangements about his affairs which would keep him from brooding. That should be the task of the morrow. It all reminded him of his habit as a company commander in the trenches when an attack was imminent: he had busied himself with getting every detail exact, so that his mind had no time for foreboding. . . .
As he lay watching his window brighten with the morning he wondered why he was taking things so calmly. It was not courage — he did not consider himself a brave man, though he had never greatly feared death. At the best he had achieved in life a thin stoicism, a shallow fortitude. Insensibility, perhaps, was the best word. He remembered Dr. Johnson’s reply to Boswell’s “That, sir, was great fortitude of mind.”—“No, sir, stark insensibility.”
At any rate he would not sink to self-pity. He had been brought up in a Calvinistic household and the atmosphere still clung to him, though in the ordinary way he was not a religious man. For example, he had always had an acute sense of sin, which had made him something of a Puritan in his way of life. He had believed firmly in God, a Being of ineffable purity and power, and consequently had had no undue reverence for man. He had always felt his own insignificance and imperfections and was not inclined to cavil at fate. On the contrary, he considered that fortune had been ludicrously kind to him. He had had fifty-eight years of health and wealth. He had survived the War, when the best of his contemporaries had fallen in swathes. He had been amazingly successful in his profession and had enjoyed every moment of his work. Honours had fallen to him out of all proportion to his merits. He had had a thousand pleasures — books, travel, the best of sport, the best of friends.
His friends — that had been his chief blessing. As he thought of their warm companionship he could not check a sudden wave of regret. THAT would be hard to leave. He had sworn Acton Croke to secrecy, and he meant to keep his condition hidden even from his closest intimates — from Hannay and Clanroyden and Lamancha and Palliser–Yeates and Archie Roylance. He could not endure to think of their anxious eyes. He would see less of them than before, of course, but he would continue to meet them on the old terms. Yes — but how? He was giving up Parliament and the Bar — London, too. What story was he to tell? A craving for rest and leisure? Well, he must indulge that craving at a distance, or otherwise his friends would discover the reason.
But where? . . . Borrowby? Impossible, for it was associated too closely with his years of vigour. He had rejoiced in reshaping that ancient shell into a house for a green old age; he remembered with what care he had planned his library and his garden; Borrowby would be intolerable as a brief refuge for a dying man. . . . Scotland? — somewhere in the Lowland hills or on the sounding beaches of the west coast? But he had been too happy there. All the romance of childhood and forward-looking youth was bound up with those places and it would be agony to revisit them.
His memory sprawled over places he had seen in his much-travelled life. There was a certain Greek island where he had once lived dangerously; there were valleys on the Italian side of the Alps, and a saeter in the Jotunheim to which his fancy had often returned. But in his survey he found that the charm had gone from them; they were for the living, not the dying. Only one spot had still some appeal. In his early youth, when money had not been plentiful, he had had an autumn shooting trip in northern Quebec because it was cheap. He had come down on foot over the height of land, with a single Montagnais guide back-packing their kit, and one golden October afternoon he had stumbled on a place which he had never forgotten. It was a green saddle of land, a meadow of wild hay among the pines. South from it a stream ran to the St. Lawrence; from an adjacent well another trickle flowed north on the Arctic watershed. It had seemed a haven of pastoral peace in a shaggy land, and he recalled how loth he had been to leave it. He had often thought about it, often determined to go back and look for it. Now, as he pictured it in its green security, it seemed the kind of sanctuary in which to die. He remembered its name. The spring was called Clairefontaine, and it gave its name both to the south-flowing stream and to a little farm below in the valley.
Supposing he found the proper shelter, how was he to spend his closing months? As an invalid, slowly growing feebler, always expectant of death? That was starkly impossible. He wanted peace to make his soul, but not lethargy either of mind or body. The body! — that was the rub. It was failing him, that body which had once been a mettled horse quickly responding to bridle or spur. Now he must be aware every hour of its ignoble frailty. . . . He stretched out his arms, flexing the muscles as he used to do when he was well, and was conscious that there was no pith in them.
His thoughts clung to this physical shell of his. He had been proud of it, not like an athlete who guards a treasure, but like a master proud of an adequate servant. It had added much to the pleasures of life. . . . But he realised that in his career it had mattered very little to him, for his work had been done with his mind. Labouring men had their physical strength as their only asset, and when the body failed them their work was done. They knew from harsh experience the limits of their strength, what exhaustion meant, and strife against pain and disablement. They had to endure all their days what he had endured to a small degree in the trenches. . . . Had he not missed something, and, missing it, had failed somehow in one of the duties of man?
This queer thought kept returning to him with the force of a revelation. His mood was the opposite of self-pity, a feeling that his life had been too cosseted and fur-lined. Only now that his body was failing did he realise how little he had used it. . . . Among the oddly assorted beliefs which made up his religious equipment, one was conditional immortality. The soul was only immortal if there was such a thing as a soul, and a further existence had to be earned in this one. He had used most of the talents God had given him, but not all. He had never, except in the War, staked his body in the struggle, and yet that was the stake of most of humanity. Was it still possible to meet that test of manhood with a failing body?.. . If only the War were still going on!
His mind, which had been dragging apathetically along, suddenly awoke into vigour. By God! there was one thing that would not happen. He would not sit down and twiddle his thumbs and await death. His ship, since it was doomed, should go down in action with every flag flying. Lately he had been re-reading Vanity Fair and he remembered the famous passage where Thackeray moralises on the trappings of the conventional death-bed, the soft-footed nurses, the hushed voices of the household, the alcove on the staircase in which to rest the coffin. The picture affected him with a physical nausea. That, by God! should never be his fate. He would die standing, as Vespasian said an emperor should. . . .
The day had broadened into full sunlight. The white paint and the flowered wallpaper of his bedroom glowed with the morning freshness, and from the street outside came pleasant morning sounds like the jingle of milk-cans and the whistling of errand-boys. His mind seemed to have been stabbed awake out of a flat stoicism into a dim but masterful purpose.
He got up and dressed, and his cold bath gave him a ghost of an appetite for breakfast.
His intention was to go down to his chambers later in the morning and get to work on the batch of cases for opinion. As always after a meal, he felt languid and weak, but his mind was no longer comatose. Already it was beginning to move steadily, though hopelessly, towards some kind of plan. As he sat huddled in a chair at the open window Cruddock announced that a Mr. Blenkiron was on the telephone and would like an appointment.
This was the American that Sandy Clanroyden had spoken of. Leithen remembered him clearly as his client in a big case. He remembered, too, much that he had heard about him from Sandy and Dick Hannay. One special thing, too — Blenkiron had been a sick man in the War and yet had put up a remarkable show. He had liked him, and, though he felt himself now cut off from human companionship, he could hardly refuse an interview, for Sandy’s sake. The man had probably some lawsuit in hand, and if so it would not take long to refuse.
“If convenient, sir, the gentleman could come along now,” said Cruddock.
Leithen nodded and took up the newspaper.
Blenkiron had aged. Eight years ago Leithen recalled him as a big man with a heavy shaven face, a clear skin, and calm ruminant grey eyes. A healthy creature in hard condition, he could have given a good account of himself with his hands as well as his head. Now he was leaner and more grizzled, and there were pouches under his eyes. Leithen remembered Sandy’s doings in South America; Blenkiron had been in that show, and he had heard about his being a sort of industrial dictator in Olifa, or whatever the place was called.
The grey eyes were regarding him contemplatively but keenly. He wondered what they made of his shrunken body.
“It’s mighty fine to see you again, Sir Edward. And all the boys, too. I’ve been stuck so tight in my job down south that I’ve gotten out of touch with my friends. I’m giving myself a holiday to look them up and to see my little niece. I think you know Babs.”
“I know her well. A very great woman. I had forgotten she was your niece. How does the old gang strike you?”
“Lasting well, sir. A bit older and maybe a bit wiser and settling down into good citizens. They tell me that Sir Archibald Roylance is making quite a name for himself in your Parliament, and that Lord Clanroyden cuts a deal of ice with your Government. Dick Hannay, I judge, is getting hayseed into his hair. How about yourself?”
“Fair,” Leithen said. “I’m going out of business now. I’ve worked hard enough to be entitled to climb out of the rut.”
“That’s fine!” Blenkiron’s face showed a quickened interest. “I haven’t forgotten what you did for me when I was up against the Delacroix bunch. There’s no man on the globe I’d sooner have with me in a nasty place than you. You’ve a mighty quick brain and a mighty sound judgment and you’re not afraid to take a chance.”
“You’re very kind,” said Leithen a little wearily. “Well, that’s all done with now. I am going out of harness.”
“A man like you can’t ever get out of harness. If you lay down one job you take up another.”
Blenkiron’s eyes, appraising now rather than meditative, scanned the other’s face. He leaned forward in his chair and sank his voice.
“I came round this morning to say something to you, Sir Edward — something very special. Babs has a sister, Felicity — I guess you don’t know her, but she’s something of a person on our side of the water. Two years younger than Babs, and married to a man you’ve maybe heard of, Francis Galliard, one of old Simon Ravelston’s partners. Young Galliard’s gotten a great name in the city of New York, and Felicity and he looked like being a happy pair. But just lately things haven’t been going too well with Felicity.”
In common politeness Leithen forced a show of attention, but Blenkiron had noted his dull eyes.
“I won’t trouble you with the story now,” he went on, “for it’s long and a bit ravelled, but the gist of it is that Francis Galliard has disappeared over the horizon. Just leaked out of the landscape without a word to Felicity or anybody else. No! There is no suggestion of kidnapping or any dirty work — the trouble is in Francis’s own mind. He is a Canuck — a Frenchman from Quebec — and I expect his mind works different from yours and mine. Now, he has got to be found and brought back — first of all to Felicity, and second, to his business, and third, to the United States. He’s too valuable a man to lose, and in our present state of precarious balance we just can’t afford it.”
Blenkiron stopped as if he expected some kind of reply. Leithen said nothing, but his thoughts had jumped suddenly to the upland meadow of Clairefontaine of which he had been thinking that morning. Odd that that remote memory should have been suddenly dug out of the lumber-room of the past!
“We want help in the job,” Blenkiron continued, “and it’s not going to be easy to find it. We want a man who can piece together the bits that make up the jigsaw puzzle, though we haven’t got much in the way of evidence. We want a man who can read himself into Francis’s mind and understand the thoughts he might have been thinking, and, most of all, we want a man who can put his conclusions into action. Finding Francis may mean a good deal of bodily wear and tear and taking some risks.”
“I see.” Leithen spoke at last. “You want a combination of detective, psychologist, and sportsman.”
“Yep.” Blenkiron beamed. “You’ve hit it. And there’s just the one man I know that fills the bill. I’ve had a talk with Lord Clanroyden and he agrees. If you had been going on at the Bar we would have offered you the biggest fee that any brief ever carried, for there’s money to burn in this business — though I don’t reckon the fee would have weighed much with you. But you tell me you are shaking loose. Well, here’s a job for your leisure and, if I judge you right, it’s the sort of job you won’t turn down without a thought or two.”
Leithen raised his sick eyes to the eager face before him, a face whose abounding vitality sharpened the sense of his own weakness.
“You’ve come a little late,” he said slowly. “I’m going to tell you something which Lord Clanroyden and the others don’t know, and will never know — which nobody knows except myself and my doctor — and I want you to promise to keep it secret.. .. I’m a dying man. I’ve only about a year to live.”
He was not certain what he expected, but he was certain it would be something which would wind up this business for good. He had longed to have one confidant, only one, and Blenkiron was safe enough. The sound of his voice speaking these grim words somehow chilled him, and he awaited dismally the conventional sympathy. After that Blenkiron would depart and he would see him no more.
But Blenkiron did not behave conventionally. He flushed deeply and sprang to his feet, upsetting his chair.
“My God!” he cried. “If I ain’t the blightedest, God-darned blundering fool! I might have guessed by your looks you were a sick man, and now I’ve hurt you in the raw with my cursed egotistical worries. . . . I’m off, Sir Edward. Forget you ever saw me. God forgive me, for I won’t soon forgive myself.”
“Don’t go,” said Leithen. “Sit down and talk to me. You may be the very man I want.”
His hostess noticed his slow appraising look round the table, which took each of the guests in turn.
“You were here last in ‘29,” she said. “Do you think we have changed?”
Leithen turned his eyes to the tall woman at his left hand. Mrs. Simon Ravelston had a beautiful figure, ill-chosen clothes, and the weather-beaten face of an English master of fox-hounds. She was magnificently in place on horseback, or sailing a boat, or running with her beagles, but no indoor setting could fit her. Sprung from ancient New England stock, she showed her breeding in a wonderful detachment from the hubbub of life. At her own table she would drift into moods of reverie and stare into vacancy, oblivious of the conversation, and then when she woke up would turn such kind eyes upon her puzzled interlocutor that all offences were forgiven. When her husband had been Ambassador at the Court of St. James’s she had been widely popular, a magnet for the most sophisticated young men; but of this she had been wholly unconscious. She was deeply interested in life and very little interested in herself.
Leithen answered, “Yes, I think you all look a little more fine-drawn and harder trained. The men, that is. The women could never change.”
Mrs. Ravelston laughed. “I hope that you’re right. Before the depression we were getting rather gross. The old Uncle Sam that we took as our national figure was lean like a Red Indian, but in late years our ordinary type had become round-faced, and puffy, and pallid, like a Latin John Bull. Now we are recovering Uncle Sam, though we have shaved him and polished him up.” Her eyes ran round the table and stopped at a youngish man with strong rugged features and shaggy eyebrows who was listening with a smile to the talk of a very pretty girl.
“George Lethaby, for example. Thank goodness he is a career diplomat and can show himself about the world. I should like people to take him as a typical American.” She lowered her voice, for she was speaking now of her left-hand neighbour, “Or Bronson, here. You know him, don’t you? Bronson Jane.”
Leithen glanced beyond his hostess to where a man just passing into middle life was peering at an illegible menu card. This was the bright particular star of the younger America, and he regarded him with more than curiosity, for he counted upon him for help. On paper Bronson Jane was almost too good to be true. He had been a noted sportsman and was still a fine polo player; his name was a household word in Europe for his work in international finance; he was the Admirable Crichton of his day and it was rumoured that in the same week he had been offered the Secretaryship of State, the Presidency of an ancient University, and the control of a great industrial corporation. He had chosen the third, but seemed to have a foot also in every other world. He had a plain sagacious face, a friendly mouth, and deep-set eyes, luminous and masterful.
Leithen glanced round the table again. The dining-room of the Ravelston house was a homely place; it had no tapestries or panelling, and its pictures were family portraits of small artistic merit. In each corner there were marble busts of departed Ravelstons. It was like the rest of the house, and, like their country homes in the Catskills and on the Blue Ridge, a dwelling which bore the mark of successive generations who had all been acutely conscious of the past. Leithen felt that he might have been in a poor man’s dwelling, but for the magnificence of the table flowers and silver and the gold soup plates which had once belonged to a King of France. He let his gaze rest on each of the men.
“Yes,” he told his hostess, “you are getting the kind of face I like.”
“But not the right colour perhaps,” she laughed. “Is that worry or too much iced water, I wonder?” She broke off suddenly, remembering her neighbour’s grey visage.
“Tell me who the people are,” he said, to cover her embarrassment. “I have met Mr. Jane and Mr. Lethaby and Mr. Ravelston.”
“I want you to know my Simon better,” she said. “I know why you have come here — Mr. Blenkiron told me. Nobody knows about it except in the family. The story is that Mr. Galliard has gone to Peru to look into some pitchblende propositions. Simon is terribly distressed and he feels so helpless. You see, we only came back to America from England four months ago, and we have kind of lost touch.”
Simon Ravelston was a big man with a head like Jove, and a noble silvered beard. He was president of one of the chief private banking houses in the world, which under his great-grandfather had financed the first railways beyond the Appalachians, under his grandfather had salved the wreckage of the Civil War, and under his father had steadied America’s wild gallop to wealth. He had a dozen partners, most of whom understood the technique of finance far better than himself, but on all major questions he spoke the last word, for he had the great general’s gift of reducing complexities to a simple syllogism. In an over-worked world he seemed always to have ample leisure, for he insisted on making time to think. When others of his calling were spending twelve hectic hours daily in their offices, Simon would calmly go fishing. No man ever saw him rattled or hustled, and this Olympian detachment gave him a prestige in two continents against which he himself used to protest vigorously.
“They think I’m wise only because I don’t talk when I’ve nothing to say,” he used to tell his friends. “Any fool these days can get a reputation if he keeps his mouth shut.”
He was happy because his mind was filled with happy interests; he had no itching ambitions, he did his jobs as they came along with a sincere delight in doing them well, and a no less sincere delight in seeing the end of them. He was the extreme opposite of the man whose nerves demand a constant busyness because, like a bicyclist, he will fall down if he stays still.
Leithen’s gaze passed to a young man who had Simon’s shape of head but was built on a smaller and more elegant scale. His hostess followed his eyes.
“That’s our boy, Eric, and that’s his wife, Delia, across the table. Pretty, isn’t she? She has the southern complexion, the real thing, which isn’t indigestion from too much hot bread at breakfast. What’s he doing? He’s on the John Hopkins staff and is making a big name for himself in lung surgery. Ever since a little boy he’s been set on doctoring and nothing would change him. He had a pretty good training — Harvard — two years at Oxford — a year in Paris — a long spell in a Montreal hospital. That’s a new thing about our boys, Sir Edward. They’re not so set nowadays on big business. They want to do things and make things, and they consider that there are better tools than dollars. George Lethaby is an example. He’s a poor man and always will be, for a diplomat can’t be a money-maker. But he’s a happier man than Harold Downes, though he doesn’t look it.”
Mr. Lethaby’s rugged face happened at the moment to be twisted into an expression of pain out of sympathy with some tale of the woman to whom he was talking, while his vis-à-vis, Mr. Downes, was laughing merrily at a remark of his neighbour.
“Harold has a hard life,” said Mrs. Ravelston. “He’s head of the Fremont Banking Corporation and a St. Sebastian for everyone to shoot arrows at. Any more to be catalogued? Why, yes, there are the two biggest exhibits of all.”
She directed Leithen’s eyes to two men separated by a handsome old woman whose hair was dressed in the fashion of forty years ago.
“You see the man on the far side of Ella Purchass, the plump little man with the eagle beak who looks like he’s enjoying his food. What would you set him down as?”
“Banker? Newspaper proprietor?”
“Wrong. That’s Walter Derwent. You’ve heard of him? His father left him all kinds of wealth, but Walter wasted no time in getting out of oil into icebergs. He has flown and mushed and tramped over most of the Arctic, and there are heaps of mountains and wild beasts named after him. And you’d never think he’d moved farther than Long Island. Now place the man on this side of Ella.”
Leithen saw a typical English hunting man — lean brown face with the skin stretched tight over the cheek-bones, pale, deep-set eyes, a small clipped moustache, shoulders a little stooped from being much on horse-back.
“Virginian squire,” he hazarded. “Warrenton at a guess.”
“Wrong,” she laughed. “He wouldn’t be happy at Warrenton, and I’m certain he wouldn’t be happy on a horse. His line is deep learning. He’s about our foremost pundit — professor at Yale — dug up cities in Asia Minor — edited Greek books. Writes very nice little stories, too. That’s Clifford Savory.”
Leithen looked with interest at the pleasant vital face. He knew all about Clifford Savory. There were few men alive who were his equals in classical scholarship, and he had published one or two novels, delicate historical reconstructions, which were masterpieces in their way.
His gaze circled round the table again, noting the friendliness of the men’s eyes, the atmosphere of breeding and simplicity and stability. He turned to his hostess —
“You’ve got together a wonderful party for me,” he said. “I feel what I always feel when I come here — that you are the friendliest people on earth. But I believe, too, that you are harder to get to know than our awkward, difficult, tongue-tied folk at home. To get to know really well, I mean — inside your plate-armour of general benevolence.”
Mrs. Ravelston laughed. “There may be something in that. It’s a new idea to me.”
“I think you are sure of yourselves, too. There is no one at this table who hasn’t steady nerves and a vast deal of common sense. You call it poise, don’t you?”
“Maybe, but this is a picked party, remember.”
“Because of its poise?”
“No. Because every man here is a friend of Francis Galliard.”
“Friend? Do you mean acquaintance or intimate?”
The lady pursed her lips.
“I’m not sure. I think you are right and that we are not an easy people to be intimate with unless we have been brought up with the same background. Francis, too, is scarcely cut out for intimacy. Did you ever meet him?”
“No. I heard his name for the first time a few weeks ago. Which of you knows him best? Mr. Ravelston?”
“Certainly not Simon, though he’s his business partner. Francis has a good many sides, and most people know only one of them. Bronson could tell you most about his work. He likes my Eric, but hasn’t seen much of him in recent years. I know he used to go duck-shooting in Minnesota with George Lethaby, and he’s a trustee of Walter Derwent’s Polar Institute. I fancy Clifford Savory is nearer to him than most people. And yet . . . I don’t know. Maybe nobody has got to know the real Francis. He has that frank, forthcoming manner which conceals a man, and he’s mighty busy too, too busy for intimacies. I used to see him once or twice a week, but I couldn’t tell you anything about him that everybody doesn’t know. It won’t be easy, Sir Edward, to get a proper notion of him from second-hand evidence. Felicity’s your best chance. You haven’t met Felicity yet?”
“I’m leaving her to the last. What’s she like? I know her sister well.”
“She’s a whole lot different from Babs. I can tell you she’s quite a person.”
Leithen felt that if his hostess had belonged to a different social grade she would have called her a “lovely woman.” Her meaning was clear. Mrs. Galliard was someone who mattered.
He was beginning to feel very weary, and, knowing that he must ration his strength, he made his excuses and did not join the women after dinner. But he spent a few minutes in the library, to which the men retired for coffee and cigars. He had one word with Clifford Savory.
“I heard you five years ago at the Bar Association,” Savory said. “You spoke on John Marshall. I hope you’re going to give me an evening on this visit.”
Bronson Jane accompanied him to the door.
“You’re taking it easy, I understand, Sir Edward, and going slow with dinners. What about the Florian tomorrow at half-past five? In these hot days that’s a good time for a talk.”
The library of the Florian Club looked out on the East River, where the bustle of traffic was now dying down and the turbid waters catching the mellow light of the summer evening. It might have been a room in an old English country house with its Chippendale chairs and bookcases, and the eighteenth-century mezzo-tints on the walls. The two men sat by the open window, and the wafts of cool evening air gave Leithen for the first time that day a little physical comfort.
“You want me to tell you about Francis Galliard?” Bronson Jane’s wholesome face showed no signs of fatigue, though he had been having a gruelling day.
“I’ll tell you all I can, but I warn you that it’s not much. I suppose I’m as close to him as most people, but I can’t say I knew him well. No one does — except perhaps his wife. But I can give you the general lay-out. First of all, he is a French–Canadian. Do you know anything about French Canada?”
“I once knew a little — a long time ago.”
“Well, they are a remarkable race there. They ought to have made a rather bigger show in the world than they have. Here’s a fine European stock planted out in a new country and toughened by two centuries of hardship and war. They keep their close family life and their religion intact and don’t give a cent for what we call progress. Yet all the time they have a pretty serious fight with nature, so there is nothing soft in them. You would say that boys would come out of those farms of theirs with a real kick in them, for they have always been a race of pioneers. But so far Laurier is their only great man. You’d have thought that now and then they would have produced somebody big in the business line, like the Scots. You have young Highlanders, haven’t you, coming out of the same primitive world, who become business magnates? We have had some of them in this country.”
“Yes. That is not uncommon in Scotland.”
“Well, Francis is the only specimen I’ve struck from French Canada. He came out of a farm in the Laurentians, somewhere back of the Glaubsteins’ new pulp town at Chateau–Gaillard. I believe the Gaillards go right back to the Crusades. They came to Canada with Champlain, and were the seigneurs of Chateau–Gaillard, a tract of country as big as Rhode Island. By and by they came down in the world until now they only possess a little bit of a farm at the end of nowhere.”
“What took him out of the farm? The French don’t part easily from the land.”
“God knows. Ambition? Poverty? He never told me. I don’t just know how he was raised, for he never speaks of his early days. The village school, I suppose, and then some kind of college, for his first notion was to be a priest. He had a pretty good education of an old-fashioned kind. Then something stirred in him and he set off south like the fairy-tale Younger Son, with his pack on his back and his lunch in his pocket. He must have been about nineteen then.”
Leithen’s interest quickened. “Go on,” he said, as Bronson paused. “How did he make good?”
“I’m darned if I know. There’s a fine story there, but I can’t get it out of him. He joined a French paper in Boston, and went on to another in Louisiana, and finished up in Chicago on a financial journal. I fancy that several times he must have pretty nearly starved. Then somehow he got into the bond Business and discovered that he had a genius for one kind of finance. He was with Connolly in Detroit for a time, and after that with the Pontiac Trust here, and then Ravelstons started out to discover new blood and got hold of him. At thirty-five he was a junior partner, and since then he has never looked back. To-day he’s forty-three, and there aren’t five men in the United States whose repute stands higher. Not bad for a farm boy, I’ll say.”
“Does he keep in touch with his people?”
“Not he. That door is closed and bolted. He has never been back to Canada. He’s a naturalised American citizen. He won’t speak French unless he’s forced to, and then it’s nothing to boast of. He writes his name ‘Galliard,’ not Gaillard. He has let himself become absorbed in our atmosphere.”
“Well — that’s just the point. He has adopted the externals of our life, but I don’t know how much he’s changed inside. When he married Felicity Dasent five years ago I thought we had got him for keeps. You don’t know Mrs. Galliard?”
Leithen shook his head. He had been asked this question now a dozen times since he landed.
“No?” Well, I won’t waste time trying to describe her, for you’ll soon be able to judge for yourself; but I should call her a possessive personality, and she certainly annexed Francis. Oh, yes, he was desperately in love and only too willing to do what she told him. He’s a good-looking fellow, but he hadn’t bothered much about his appearance, so she groomed him up and made him the best-dressed man in New York. They’ve got a fine apartment in Park Avenue and her dinners have become social events. The Dasents are a horsey family and I doubt if Francis had ever mounted a horse until his marriage, but presently she had him out regularly with the Westbrook. He bought a country place in New Jersey and is going to start in to breed ‘chasers. Altogether she gives him a pretty full life.”
“No, not yet. A pity, for a child would have anchored Francis. I expect he has family in his blood like all his race.”
“He never appeared to be restless, did he?” Leithen asked.
“Not that I noticed. He seemed perfectly content. He used to work too hard and wear himself out, and every now and then have to go off for a rest. That’s the tom-fool habit we all have here. You see, he hadn’t any special tastes outside his business to make him keen about leisure. Felicity changed all that. She isn’t anything of the social climber, or ambitious for herself, but she’s mighty ambitious for her man. She brought him into all kinds of new circles, and he shines in them, too, for he has excellent brains — every kind of brains. All the gifts which made him a power in business she developed for other purposes. He was always a marvel in a business deal, for he could read other men’s minds, and he would have made a swell diplomatist. Well, she turned that gift to social uses, with the result that every type mixes well at their parties. You’ll hear as good talk at their table as you’ll get anywhere on the civilised globe. He can do everything that a Frenchman can do, or an Englishman or an American. She has made him ten times more useful to Ravelstons than before, for she has made him a kind of national figure. The Administration has taken to consulting him, and he’s one of the people that foreigners coming over here have got to see. I fancy she has politics at the back of her mind — last winter, I know, they were a good deal in Washington.”
Bronson lit a fresh cigar.
“All set fair, you’d say, for the big success of our day. And then suddenly one fine morning he slips out of the world like the man in Browning’s poem, and God knows what’s become of him.”
“You know him reasonably well? Is he happy?”
Bronson laughed. “That’s a question I couldn’t answer about my own brother. I doubt if I could answer it about myself. He is gay — that is the French blood, maybe. I doubt if he has ever had time to consider whether he is happy or not, he lives such a bustling life. There can’t be much of the introvert in Francis.”
A man had entered the room and was engaged in turning over the magazines on one of the tables.
“Here’s Savory,” Bronson whispered. “Let’s have him join us. He’s a rather particular friend of Francis.” He raised his voice. “Hullo, Clifford! Come and have a drink. Sir Edward wants to see you.”
Clifford Savory, looking more like a country squire than ever in his well-cut grey flannels, deposited his long figure in an armchair and sipped the whisky-and-soda which the club servant brought him.
“We were talking about Galliard,” Bronson said. “Sir Edward has heard a lot about him and is keen to meet him. It’s just too bad that he should be out of town at present. It seems that Francis has got a reputation across the water. What was it you wanted to ask, Sir Edward? How much of his quality comes from his French blood?”
Savory joined his finger-tips and regarded them meditatively.
“That’s hard to say. I don’t know enough of the French in Canada, for they’re different from the French in Europe. But I grant you that Galliard’s power is exotic — not the ordinary gifts that God has given us Americans. He can argue a case brilliantly with the most close-textured reasoning; but there are others who can do that. His real strength lies in his flair, which can’t be put down in black and white. He has an extra sense which makes him conscious of things which are still in the atmosphere — a sort of instinct of what people are going to think quite a bit ahead, not only in America, but in England and Europe. His mind is equipped with no end of sensitive antennæ. When he trusts that instinct he is never wrong, but now and then, of course, he is over-ridden by prosaic folk. If people had listened to him in ‘29 we should be better off now.”
“That’s probably due to his race,” said Leithen. “Whenever you get a borderland where Latin and Northman meet, you get this uncanny sensitiveness.”
“Yes,” said Savory, “and yet in other things his race doesn’t show up at all. Attachment to family and birthplace, for instance. Francis has forgotten all about his antecedents. He cares as little about his origin as Melchizedek. He is as rootless as the last-arrived Polish immigrant. He has pulled up his roots in Canada, and I do not think he is getting them down here — too restless for that.”
“Restless?” Leithen queried.
“Well, I mean mobile — always on the move. He is restless in another way, too. I doubt if he is satisfied by what he does, or particularly happy. A man can scarcely be if he lives in a perpetual flux.”
A figure was taking shape at the back of Leithen’s mind, a figure without material mould, but an outline of character. He was beginning to realise something of the man he had come to seek. The following afternoon, when he stood in the hall of the Galliards’ apartment in Park Avenue, he had the chance of filling in the physical details, for he was looking at a portrait of the man.
It was one of the young Van Rouyn’s most celebrated achievements, painted two years earlier. It showed a man in riding breeches and a buff leather coat sitting on a low wall above a flower garden. His hair was a little ruffled by the wind, and one hand was repelling the advances of a terrier. Altogether an attractive detail of what should have been a “conversation piece.” Leithen looked at the picture with the liveliest interest. Galliard was very different from the conception he had formed of him. He had thought of him as a Latin type, slim and very dark, and it appeared that he was more of a Norman, with well-developed shoulders like a football player. It was a pleasant face, the brown eyes were alight with life, and the mouth was both sensitive and firm. Perhaps the jaw was a little too fine drawn, and the air of bonhomie too elaborate to be quite natural. Still, it was a face a man would instinctively trust, the face of a good comrade, and there could be no question about its supreme competence. In every line there was energy and quick decision.
Leithen gazed at it for some time, trying to find what he had expected.
“Do you think it a good likeness?” he asked the woman at his side.
“It’s Francis at his best and happiest,” she answered.
Felicity Galliard was a fair edition of her sister Barbara. She was not quite so tall or quite so slim, and with all her grace she conveyed an impression, not only of physical health, but of physical power. There was a charming athleticism about her; she had none of Barbara’s airy fragility. Her eyes were like her sister’s, a cool grey with sudden lights in them which changed their colour. She was like a bird, always poised to fly, no easy swoop or flutter, but, if need be, a long stern flight against weather and wind.
She led Leithen into the drawing-room. Her house was very different from the Ravelstons’, where a variety of oddments represented the tastes of many generations. It was a “period” piece, the walls panelled in a light, almost colourless wood, the scanty furniture carefully chosen, an Aubusson carpet, and hangings and chintzes of grey and old rose and silver. A Nattier over the fireplace made a centre for the exquisite harmony. It was a room without tradition or even individuality, as if its possessors had deliberately sought out something which should be non-committal, an environment which should neither reflect nor influence them.
“You never met Francis?” she asked as she made tea. “We have been twice to Europe since we married, but only once in England, and then only for a few days. They were business trips, and he didn’t have a moment to himself.”
Her manner was beautifully composed, with no hint of tragedy, but in her eyes Leithen read an anxiety so profound that it was beyond outward manifestation. This woman was living day and night with fear. The sight of her, and of the picture in the hall, moved him strangely. He felt that between the Galliards and the friendly eupeptic people he had been meeting there was a difference, not of degree, but of kind. There was a quality here, undependable, uncertain, dangerous perhaps, but rare and unmistakable. There had been no domestic jar — of that he was convinced. But something had happened to one of them to shatter a happy partnership. If he could discover that something he would have a clue for his quest.
“I have never met your husband,” he said, “but I’ve heard a great deal about him, and I think I’m beginning to understand him. That picture in the hall helps, and you help. I know your sister and your uncle, and now that I’m an idle man I’ve promised to do what I can. If I’m to be of any use, Mrs. Galliard, I’m afraid I must ask you some questions. I know you’ll answer them frankly. Tell me first what happened when he went away.”
“It was the fourth day of May, a perfect spring day. I went down to Westchester to see an old friend. I said good-bye to Francis after breakfast, and he went to the office. I came back about five o’clock and found a note from him on my writing-table. Here it is.”
She produced from an escritoire a half-sheet of paper. Leithen read —
Dearest, I am sick — very sick in mind. I am going away. When I am cured I will come back to you. All my love.
“He packed a bag himself — the butler knew nothing about it. He took money with him — at least there was a large sum drawn from his account. No, he didn’t wind up things at the office. He left some big questions undecided, and his partners have had no end of trouble. He didn’t say a word to any of them, or to anybody else that I know of. He left no clue as to where he was going. Oh, of course, we could have put on detectives and found out something, but we dare not do that. Every newspaper in the land would have started a hue and cry, and there would have been a storm of gossip. As it is, nobody knows about him except his partners, and one or two friends, and Uncle Blenkiron, and Babs and you. You see he may come back any day quite well again, and I would never forgive myself if I had been neurotic and let him down.”
Leithen thought that neurotic was the last word he would have chosen to describe this wise and resolute woman.
“What was he like just before he left? Was there any change in his manner? Had he anything to worry him?”
“Nothing to worry him in business. Things were going rather specially well. And, anyhow, Francis never let himself be worried by affairs. He prided himself on taking things lightly — he was always what the old folk used to call debonair. But — yes, there were little changes in him, I think. All winter he had been almost too good and gentle and yielding. He did everything I asked him without questioning, and that was not always his way. . . . Oh! and he did one funny thing. We used to go down to Florida for a fortnight after Christmas — we had a regular foursome for golf, and he liked to bask in the sun. This year he didn’t seem to care about it, and I didn’t press him, for I’m rather bored with golf, so we stayed at home. There was a good deal of snow at Combermere — that’s our New Jersey home — and Francis got himself somewhere a pair of snow-shoes and used to go for long walks alone. When he came back he would sit by the hour in the library, not dozing, but thinking. I thought it was a good way of resting and never disturbed him.”
“You never asked what he was thinking about?”
“No. He thought a good deal, you see. He always made leisure to think. My only worry was about his absurd modesty. He was sure of himself, but not nearly so sure as I was, and recently when people praised him and I repeated the praise he used to be almost cross. He wrote a memorandum for the Treasury about some tax scheme, and Mr. Beverley said that it was a work of genius. When I told him that, I remember he lay back in his chair and said quite bitterly, ‘Quel chien de génie!’ He never used a French phrase except when he was tired or upset. I remember the look on his face — it was as if I had really pained him. But I could find nothing to be seriously anxious about. He was perfectly fit and well.”
“Did he see much of anybody in particular in the last weeks?”
“I don’t think so. We always went about together, you know. He liked to talk to Mr. Jane and Mr. Savory, and they often dined with us. I think young Eric Ravelston came once or twice to the house — Walter Derwent, too, I think. But he saw far more of me than of anybody else.”
Her face suddenly stiffened with pain.
“Oh, Sir Edward, you don’t think that he’s dead — that he went away to die?”
“I don’t. I haven’t any fear of that. Any conclusion of mine would be worthless at the present stage, but my impression is that Mr. Galliard’s trouble has nothing to do with his health. You and he have made a wonderful life together. Are you certain that he quite fitted into it?”
She opened her eyes.
“He was a huge success in it.”
“I know. But did the success give him pleasure?”
“I’m sure it did. At least for most of the time.”
“Yes, but remember that it was a strange world to him. He hadn’t been brought up in it. He may have been homesick for something different.”
“But he loved me!” she cried.
“He loved you. And therefore he will come back to you. But it may be to a different world.”
New scenes, new faces, the interests of a new problem had given Leithen a few days of deceptive vitality. Then the reaction came, and for a long summer’s day he sat on the veranda of his hotel bedroom in body a limp wreck, but with a very active mind. He tried to piece together what he had heard of Galliard, but could reach no conclusion. A highly strung, sensitive being, with Heaven knew what strains in his ancestry, had been absorbed into a new world in which he had been brilliantly successful. And then something had snapped, or some atavistic impulse had emerged from the deeps, something strong enough to break the tie of a happy marriage. The thing was sheer mystery. He had abandoned his old world and had never shown the slightest hankering after it. What had caused this sudden satiety with success?
Bronson Jane and Savory thought that the trouble was physical, a delicate machine overwrought and overloaded. The difficulty was that his health had always been perfect, and there was no medical adviser who could report on the condition of his nerves. His friends thought that he was probably lying hidden in some quiet sunny place, nursing himself back to vigour, with the secretiveness of a man to whom a physical breakdown was so unfamiliar that it seemed a portent, almost a crime.
But Savory had been enlightening. Scholarly, critical, fastidious, he had spoken of Galliard, the ordinary successful financier with no special cultural background, with an accent almost of worship.
“This country of ours,” he told Leithen, “is up against the biggest problem in her history. It is not a single question like slavery or state rights, or the control of monopolies, or any of the straightforward things that have made a crisis before. It is a conglomeration of problems, most of which we cannot define. We have no geographical frontier left, but we’ve an eternal frontier in our minds. Our old American society is really in dissolution. All of us have got to find a new way of life. You’re lucky in England, for you’ve been at the job for a long time and you make your revolutions so slowly and so quietly that you don’t notice them — or anybody else. Here we have to make ours against time, while we keep shouting about them at the top of our voices. Everybody and everything here has to have a new deal, and the different deals have to be fitted together like a jig-saw puzzle, or there will be an infernal confusion. We’re a great people, but we’re only by fits and starts a nation. You’re fortunate in your British Empire. You may have too few folk, and these few scattered over big spaces, but they’re all organically connected, like the separate apples on a tree. Our huge population is more like a collection of pebbles in a box. It’s only the containing walls of the box that keep them together.”
So much for Savory’s diagnosis.
“Francis is just the kind of fellow we need,” he went on. “He sees what’s coming. He’s the most intellectually honest creature God ever made. He has a mind which not only cuts like a scalpel, but is rich and resourceful — both critical and creative. He hasn’t any prejudices to speak of. He’s a fascinating human being and rouses no antagonisms. It looks like he has dragged his anchor at present. But if we could get him properly moored again he’s going to be a power for good in this country. We’ve got to get him back, Sir Edward — the old Francis.”
The old Francis? Leithen had queried.
“Well, with the old genius. But with an extra anchor down. I’ve never been quite happy about the strength of his moorings.”
Walter Derwent at first had nothing to tell him. Francis Galliard had not been interested in travel in far places. He was treasurer of his Polar Institute, but that was out of personal friendship. Francis had not much keenness in field sports either, though his wife had made him take up fox-hunting. He never went fishing, and in recent years he had not shot much, though he sometimes went after duck to Minnesota and the Virginia shore. He was not much of a bird-shot, but he was deadly with the rifle on the one occasion when Derwent had been with him after deer. . . .
Derwent screwed up his pleasant rosy face till, with his eagle beak, he looked like a benevolent vulture. And then suddenly he let drop a piece of information which made Leithen sit up.
“But he did ask me — I remember — if I could recommend him a really first-class guide, a fellow that understood woodcraft and knew the Northern woods. Maybe he was asking on behalf of someone else, for he couldn’t have much use himself for a guide.”
“When was that?” Leithen asked sharply.
“Some time after Christmas. Early February, I reckon. Yes, it was just after our Adventurers’ Club dinner.”
“Did you recommend one?”
“Yes. A fellow called Lew Frizel, a ‘breed, but of a very special kind. His mother was a Cree Indian and his father one of the old-time Hudson’s Bay factors. I’ve had Lew with me on half a dozen trips. I discovered him on a trap-line in northern Manitoba.”
“Where is he now?”
“That’s what I can’t tell you. He seems to have gone over the horizon. I wanted him for a trip up the Liard this fall, but I can get no answer from any of his addresses. He has a brother Johnny who is about as good, but he’s not available, for he has a job with the Canadian Government in one of its parks — Waskesieu, up Prince Albert way.”
Leithen paid a visit to the Canadian Consulate, and after a talk with the Consul, who was an old friend, the telegraph was set in motion. Johnny Frizel, sure enough, had a job as a game warden at Waskesieu.
Another inquiry produced a slender clue. Leithen spent a morning at the Ravelston office and had a long talk with Galliard’s private secretary, an intelligent young Yale man. From the office diary he investigated the subjects which had engaged Galliard’s attention during his last weeks in New York. They were mostly the routine things on which the firm was then engaged, varied by a few special matters on which he was doing Government work. But one point caught Leithen’s eye. Galliard had called for the papers about the Glaubstein pulp mill at Chateau–Gaillard and had even taken them home with him.
“Was there anything urgent about them?” he asked.
The secretary said no. The matter was dead as far as Ravelstons were concerned. They had had a lot to do with financing the original proposition, but long ago they had had their profit and were quit of it.
Leithen’s last talk was with young Eric Ravelston. During the days in New York he had felt at times his weakness acutely, but he had not been conscious of any actual loss of strength. He wanted to be assured that he had still a modest reservoir to draw upon. The specialist examined him carefully and then looked at him with the same solemn eyes as Acton Croke.
“You know your condition, of course?” he asked.
“I do. A few weeks ago I was told that I had about a year to live. Do you agree?”
“It’s not possible to fix a time schedule. You may have a year — or a little less — or a little more. If you went to a sanatorium and lived very carefully you might have longer.”
“I don’t propose to lead a careful life. I’ve only a certain time and a certain amount of dwindling strength. I’m going to use them up on a hard job.”
“Well, in that case you may fluff out very soon, or you may go on for a year or more, for the mind has something to say in these questions.”
“There’s no hope of recovery?”
“I’m afraid there’s none — that is to say, in the light of our present knowledge. But, of course, we’re not infallible.”
“Not even if I turn myself into a complete invalid?”
“Not even then.”
“Good. That’s all I wanted to know. Now I’ve one other question. I’m going to look for Francis Galliard. You know him, but you never treated him, did you?”
Eric Ravelston shook his head.
“He didn’t want any treatment. He was as healthy as a hound.”
Something in the young man’s tone struck Leithen.
“You mean in body. Had you any doubt about other things — his mind, for instance?”
The other did not at first reply.
“I have no right to say this,” he spoke at last. “And, anyhow, it isn’t my proper subject. But for some time I have been anxious about Francis. Little things, you know. Only a doctor would notice them. I thought that there was something pathological about his marvellous vitality. Once I had Garford, the neurologist, staying with me and the Galliards came to dinner. Garford could not keep his eyes off Francis. After they had gone he told me that he would bet a thousand dollars that he crumpled up within a year. . . . So if there’s a time limit for you, Sir Edward, there’s maybe a time limit also for Francis.”
Leithen disembarked on a hot morning from the Quebec steamer which served the north shore of the St. Lawrence. Chateau–Gaillard was like any other pulp-town — a new pier with mighty derricks, the tall white cylinders of the pulp mill, a big brick office, and a cluster of clapboard shacks which badly needed painting. The place at the moment had a stagnant air, for the old cutting limits had been exhausted and the supply of pulp-wood from the new area was still being organised. A stream came in beyond the pier, and the background was steep scrub-clad hills cleft by a wedge-like valley beyond which there rose distant blue lines of mountain.
For the first mile or two the road up the valley was a hard, metalled highway. Leithen had not often felt feebler in body or more active in mind. Thoreau had been a favourite author of his youth, and he had picked up a copy in New York and had read it on the boat. Two passages stuck in his memory. One was from Walden —
“If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimiter, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throat and feel the cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business.”
The other was only a sentence —
“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it.”
How valuable was that thing for which he was bartering all that remained to him of life? At first Blenkiron’s story had been no more than a peg on which to hang a private determination, an excuse, partly to himself and partly to the world, for a defiant finish to his career. The task fulfilled the conditions he wanted — activity for the mind and a final activity for the body. Francis Galliard was a disembodied ghost, a mere premise in an argument.
But now — Felicity had taken shape as a human being. There was an extraordinary appeal in her mute gallantry, her silent, self-contained fortitude. Barbara Clanroyden could not under any circumstances be pathetic; her airy grace was immune from the attacks of fate; she might bend, but she would never break. But her sister offered an exposed front to fortune. She was too hungry for life, too avid of experience, too venturesome, and more, she had set herself the task of moulding her husband to her ambitions. No woman, least of all his wife, would attempt to mould Sandy Clanroyden. . . . And the gods had given her tough material — not a docile piece of American manhood, but something exotic and unpredictable, something for which she had acquired a desperate affection, but of which she had only a dim understanding.
As for Francis, that shadow too was taking form. Leithen now had a picture of him in his mind, but it was not that of the portrait in the hall of the Park Avenue apartment. Oddly enough, it was of an older man, with a rough yellow beard. His eyes were different too, wilder, less assured, less benevolent. He told himself that he had reconstructed the physical appearance to match his conception of the character. For he had arrived at a provisional assessment of the man. . . . The chains of race and tradition are ill to undo, and Galliard, in his brilliant advance to success, had loosened, not broken them. Something had happened to tighten them again. The pull of an older world had jerked him out of his niche. But how? And whither?
The valley above the township was an ugly sight. The hillsides had been lumbered out and only scrub was left, and the shutes where the logs had been brought down were already tawny with young brushwood. In the bottom was a dam, which had stretched well up the slopes, for the lower scrub was bleached and muddied with water. But the sluices had been opened and the dam had shrunk to a few hundred yards in width, leaving the near hillsides a hideous waste of slime, the colour of a slag-heap. The place was like the environs of a town in the English Black Country.
Suddenly he was haunted by a recollection, a shadow at the back of his mind. The outline of the hills was familiar. Looking back, he realised that he had seen before the bluff which cut the view of the St. Lawrence into a wedge of blue water. He had forgotten the details of that journey thirty years ago when he had tramped down from the mountains; but it must have been in this neighbourhood. There was a navvy on some job by the roadside, and he stopped the car and spoke to him.
The man shook his head. “I’m a newcomer here. There’s a guy up there — a Frenchie — maybe he’d tell you.”
Johnny Frizel went up the track in the bush to where a countryman was cutting stakes. He came back and reported.
“He says that before the dam was made there was a fine little river down there. The Clairefontaine was the name of it.”
Leithen’s memory woke into vivid life. This valley had been his road down country long ago. He remembered its loveliness when Chateau–Gaillard had been innocent of pulp mills and no more than a hamlet of painted houses and a white church. There had been a strip of green meadow-land by the waterside grazed by old-fashioned French cattle, and the stream had swept through it in deep pools and glittering shallows, while above it pine and birch had climbed in virgin magnificence to the crests. Now all the loveliness had been butchered to enable some shoddy newspaper to debauch the public soul. He had only seen the place once long ago at the close of a blue autumn day, but the desecration beat on his mind like a blow. What had become of the little Clairefontaine farm at the river head, and that delicate place on the height of land which had of late been haunting him? . . . He felt a curious nervousness and it brought on a fit of coughing.
At the end of the dam the road climbed the left side of the valley through patches of spruce and a burnt-out area of blackened stumps. A ridge separated it from the stream, and when it turned again to the water’s edge the character of the valley had changed. The Clairefontaine rumbled in a deep gorge, and as the aged Ford wheezed its way up the dusty roads Chateau–Gaillard and its ugliness were shut off and Leithen found himself in a sanctuary of the hills. He could not link up the place with his memory of thirty years ago when he had descended it on foot in the gold and scarlet of autumn. Then it had been a pathway to the outer world; now it was the entry into a secret and strange land. There was no colour in the scene, except the hard blue of the sky. The hot noon had closed down like a lid on an oppressive dull green waste which offered no welcome.
His mind was full of Francis Galliard. Once this had been the seigneur of his family, running back from the tide water some scores of miles into the wilderness. He felt the man here more vividly than ever before, but he could not affiliate him with the landscape, except that he also was a mystery. . . .
Why had his wife and his friends in New York been so oddly supine in looking for him? They had waited and left it for a stranger to take on the job. Fear of publicity, of course, in that over-public world. But was that the only reason? Was there not also fear of Galliard? He was not of their world, and they admired and loved him, but uncomprehendingly. Even Felicity. What did they fear? That they might wreck a subtle mechanism by a too heavy hand? They were all sensitive people and highly intelligent, and they would have not walked so delicately without a cause. Only now, when he was entering the cradle of Galliard’s race, did he realise how intricate was the task to which he had set himself. And one to be performed against time. He remembered the young Ravelston’s words. There was a time limit for Francis Galliard, as there was one for Edward Leithen.
The valley mounted by steps, each one marked by the thunder of a cataract in the gorge. Presently they rose above the woods, and came out on a stretch of open upland where the stream flowed among patches of crops and meadows of hay. Now his memory was clearer, for he remembered this place in exact detail. There was the farm of Clairefontaine, with its shingled, penthouse roof, its white-painted front, its tall weather-beaten barn, its jumble of decrepit outhouses. There was the little church of the parish, the usual white box, with a tin-coated spire now shining like silver in the sun, and beside it a hump-backed presbytery. And there was something beyond of which the memory was even sharper. For the valley seemed to come to an end, the wooded ranges closed in on it, but there was a crack through which the stream must flow from some distant upland. He knew what lay beyond that nick which was like the back-sight of a rifle.
“We won’t stop here,” he told Johnny, who handled the Ford like an artist. “Go on as far as the road will take us.”
It did not take them far. They bumped among stumps and roots over what was now a mere cart track, but at the beginning of the cleft the track died away into a woodland trail. They got out, and Leithen led the way up the Clairefontaine. There was something tonic in the air which gave him a temporary vigour, and he was surprised that he could climb the steep path without too great discomfort. When they rested on a mossy rock by the stream he found that he ate his sandwiches with some appetite. But after that it was heavy going, for there was the inevitable waterfall to surmount, and, weary and panting, he came out into the ultimate meadow of the Clairefontaine, which was fixed so clearly in his recollection.
It was a cup in the hills, floored not with wild hay, but with short, crisp pasture like an English down. From its sides descended the rivulets which made the Clairefontaine, and in the heart of it was a pool fringed with flags, so clear that through its six-foot depth the little stir in the sand could be seen where the water bubbled up from below. The place was so green and gracious that all sense of the wilds was lost, and it seemed like a garden in a long-settled land, a garden made centuries ago by the very good and the very wise.
But it was a watch-tower as well as a sanctuary. Looking south, the hills opened to show Le Fleuve, the great river of Canada, like a pool of colourless light. North were higher mountains, which seemed to draw together with a purpose, huddling to shepherd the streams towards a new goal. They were sending the waters, not to the familiar St. Lawrence, but to untrodden Arctic wastes. That was the magic of the place. It was a frontier between the desert and the sown. To Leithen it was something more. He felt again the spell which had captured him here in his distant youth. It was the borderline between the prosaic world, where things went by rule and rote and were all fitted to the human scale, and the world as God first made it out of chaos, which had no care for humanity.
He stretched himself full length on the turf, his eyes feasting on the mystery of the northern hills. Almost he had a sense of physical well-being, for his breath was less troublesome. Then Johnny Frizel came into the picture, placidly smoking an old black pipe. He fitted in well, and Leithen began to reflect on his companion, who had docilely, at the order of his superiors, flown over half Canada to join him.
Johnny was a small man, about five feet six, with broad shoulders and sturdy, bandy legs. He wore an old pair of khaki breeches and a lumberman’s laced boots, but the rest of his garb was conventional, for he had put on his best clothes, not knowing what his duties might be. He had a round bullet head covered with black hair cut very short, and his ears stuck out like the handles of a pitcher. His Indian mother showed in his even brown colouring, and his father in his mild, meditative blue eyes. So far Leithen had scarcely realised him, except to admire his speech, which was a wonderful blend of the dialect of the outlands, the slang of America, and literary idioms, for Johnny was a great reader — all spoken in the voice of a Scots shepherd, and with a broad Scots accent. When the War broke out Johnny had been in the Labrador and his brother Lew on the lower Mackenzie, and both, as soon as they got the news, had made a bee-line for France and the front. They had been notable snipers in the Canadian Corps, as the notches on the butts of their service rifles witnessed.
“You have been lent to me, Johnny,” Leithen said. “Seconded for special service, as we used to say in the army. I had better tell you our job.” Briefly he sketched the story of Francis Galliard.
“This is the place where he was brought up,” he said. “My notion is that he’s in Canada now. I think he is with your brother — at any rate, I know that he was making enquiries about him in the early spring. You haven’t heard from your brother lately?”
“Not since Christmas. Lew never troubles to put me wise about his doings. He may be anywhere on God’s earth.”
“We want to find out if we can, from old Gaillard at the farm and the priest, if the young Galliard has been here. Or your brother. If my guess is right they won’t be very willing to speak, but with luck they may give themselves away. If the young Galliard has been here it gives us a bit of a clue. They are a hospitable lot, so I propose that we quarter ourselves on them for the night to have the chance of a talk. You can put up at the farm, and I dare say I can get a shake-down at the presbytery.”
Johnny nodded approval. His blue eyes dwelt searchingly on Leithen’s thin face, from which the flush of bodily exercise had gone, leaving a grey pallor.
They retraced their steps when the sun had sunk behind the hills and the evening glow was beginning, soft as the bloom on a peach. The Ford was turned, and rumbled down the valley until it was parked in the presbytery yard. The priest, Father Paradis, came out to greet them, a tall, lean old man much bent in the shoulders, who, like all the Quebec clergy, wore the cassock. He had been gardening, and his lumberjack’s boots were coated with soil.
To Leithen’s relief Father Paradis spoke the French of France, for, though Canadian born, he had been trained in a seminary at Beauvais.
“But of a surety,” he cried. “You shall sleep here, monsieur, and share my supper. I have a guest room, though it is as small as the Prophet’s Chamber of the Scriptures.”
He would have Johnny stay also.
“No doubt Augustin can lodge Monsieur Frizel, but I fear he will have rough quarters.”
Leithen’s kit was left at the presbytery and he and Johnny walked to the farm to pay their respects to the squire of Clairefontaine. He had ascertained that this Augustin Gaillard, to whom the farm had descended, was an uncle of Francis. The priest had given him a rapid sketch of the family history. The mother had died in bearing Francis; the father a year after Francis had left for the States. There had been an elder brother, Paul, who two years ago had disappeared into the north, leaving his uncle from Chateau–Gaillard in his place. There were also two sisters who were Grey Nuns serving somewhere in the west — the priest did not know where.
Augustin Gaillard was a man of perhaps sixty years, with a wisp of grey beard and a moist, wandering eye. Everything about him bespoke the drunkard. His loud-patterned shirt had a ragged collar and sleeves, his waistcoat was discoloured with the dribbling of food, his trousers had holes at the knees, and his bare feet were shod with bottes-sauvages. There was nothing in his features to suggest the good breeding which Leithen had noted in the picture of Francis. The house, which was more spacious than the ordinary farm, was in a condition of extreme dirt and disorder. Somewhere in the background Leithen had a glimpse of an ancient crone, who was doubtless the housekeeper.
But Augustin had the fine manners of his race. He placed his dwelling and all that was in it at their disposal. He pressed Leithen to remove himself from the presbytery.
“The good father,” he said, “has but a poor table. He will give you nothing to drink but cold water.”
Leaving Johnny deep in converse in the habitant patois, Leithen went back in the dusk to the presbytery. He was feeling acutely the frailty of his body, as he was apt to do at nightfall. Had he chosen a different course he would be going back to delicate invalid food, to a soft chair and a cool bed; now he must make shift with coarse fare and the hard pallet of the guest room. He wondered for a moment if he had not been every kind of fool.
But no sick-nurse could have been more attentive than Father Paradis. He had killed and cooked a chicken with his own hands. For supper there was soup and the fowl, and coffee made by one who had learned the art in France. The little room was lit by a paraffin lamp, the smell of which brought back to Leithen far-away days in a Scots shooting box. The old man saw his guest’s weakness, and after the meal he put a pillow in his chair and made him rest his legs on a stool.
“I see you are not in good health, monsieur,” he said. “Do you travel to restore yourself? The air of these hills is well reputed.”
“Partly. And partly in hope of finding a friend. I am an Englishman, as you see, and am a stranger in Canada, though I have visited it once before. On that occasion I came to hunt, but my hunting days are over.”
Father Paradis screwed up his old eyes.
“At home you were perhaps a professor?”
“I have been a lawyer — and also a Member of our Parliament. But my working days are past, and I would make my soul.”
“You are wise. You are then in retreat? You are not, I think, of the Faith?”
Leithen smiled. “I have my faith to find, and perhaps I have little time in which to find it.”
“There is little time for any of us,” said the old man. He looked at Leithen with eyes long experienced in life, and shook his head sadly.
“I spoke of a friend,” said Leithen. “Have you had many visitors this summer?”
“Few come here nowadays. A pedlar or two, and a drover in the fall for the farm cattle. There is no logging, for our woods are bare. People used to come up from Chateau–Gaillard on holiday, but Chateau–Gaillard is for the moment stagnant. Except for you and Monsieur Frizel it is weeks since I have seen a stranger.”
“Had you no visitor from New York — perhaps in May? A man of the name of Francis Galliard?”
Leithen, from long practice in cross-examination, was accustomed to read faces. He saw the priest’s eyes suddenly go blank, as if a shutter had been drawn over them, and his mouth tighten.
“No man of that name has visited us,” he said.
“Perhaps he did not give that name. The man I mean is still young,” and he described the figure as he had seen it in the New York portrait. “He is a kinsman, I think, of the folk at the farm.”
Father Paradis shook his head.
“No, there has been no Francis Galliard here.”
But there was that in the old man’s eyes which informed Leithen that he was not telling all he knew, and also that no cross-examination would elicit more. His face had the stony secrecy of the confessional.
“Well, I must look elsewhere,” Leithen said cheerfully. “Tell me of the people at the farm. I understand they are one of the oldest families in Canada.”
Father Paradis’s face lightened.
“Most ancient, but now, alas! pitifully decayed. The father was a good man, and a true son of the Church, but his farm failed, for he had little worldly wisdom. As for Augustin, he is, as you see, a drunkard. The son Paul was a gallant young man, but he was not happy on this soil. He was a wanderer, as his race was in the old days.”
“Wasn’t there a second son?”
“Yes, but he left us long ago. He forsook his home and his faith. Let us not speak of him, for he is forgotten.”
“Tell me about Paul.”
“You must know, monsieur, that once the Gaillards were a stirring race. They fought with Frontenac against the Iroquois, and very fiercely against the English. Then, when peace came, they exercised their hardihood in distant ventures. Many of the house travelled far into the west and the north, and few of them returned. There was one, Aristide, who searched for the lost British sailor Frankolin — how do you call him? — and won fame. And only the other day there was Paul’s uncle — also an Aristide — who found a new road to the Arctic shores and discovered a great river. Its name should be the Gaillard, but they tell me that the maps have the Indian word, the Ghost.”
Leithen, who had a passion for studying maps, remembered the river which flowed from north of the Thelon in the least-known corner of Canada.
“Is that where Paul went?” he asked.
“That is what we think. He was restless ever after his father died. He would go off for months to guide parties of hunters — even down to the Labrador, and in his dreams he had always his uncle Aristide; he was assured he was still alive and that if he went to the Ghost River he would find him. So one day he summons the other uncle, the worthless one, and bids him take over the farm of Clairefontaine.”
“You have heard nothing of him since?”
“Not a word has come. Why should it? He has no care for Clairefontaine. . . . Now, monsieur, it is imperative that you go to bed, for you are very weary. I will conduct you to the Prophet’s Chamber.”
Leithen was in the habit of falling asleep at once — it was now his one bodily comfort — but this night he lay long awake. He thought that he had read himself into the soul of Francis Galliard, a summary and provisional reading, but enough to give him a starting point. He was convinced beyond doubt that he had come to Clairefontaine in the spring. He could not mistake the slight hesitation in the speech of Father Paradis, the tremor of the eyelids, the twitch of the mouth before it set — he had seen these things too often in the courts to be wrong. The priest had not lied, but he had equivocated, and had he been pressed would have taken refuge in obstinate silence. Francis had been here and had enjoined secrecy on the priest and no doubt on old Augustin. He was on a private errand and wanted to shut out the world.
He could picture the sequence of events. The man, out of tune with his environment, had fallen into the clutches of the past. He had come to Chateau–Gaillard and seen the ravaged valley — ravaged by himself and his associates — and thereby a bitter penitence had been awakened. His purpose now was to make his peace with the past — with his family, his birth-place and his religion. No doubt he had confessed himself to the priest. Perhaps he had gone, as Leithen had gone, to the secret meadow at the river head, and, looking to the north, had had boyish memories and ambitions awakened. It was his business — so Leithen read his thoughts — to make restitution, to appease his offended household gods. He must shake off the bonds of an alien civilisation, and, like his uncle and his brother and a hundred Gaillards of old, worship at the altars of the northern wilds.
Leithen fell asleep with so clear a picture in his mind that he might have been reading in black and white Francis’s confession.
“We go back to Quebec,” he told Johnny next morning. “But first I want to go up the stream again.”
The mountain meadow haunted his imagination. There, the afternoon before, he had had the first hour of bodily comfort he had known for months. The place, too, inspired him. It seemed to stiffen his purpose and to quicken his fancy.
Once again he lay on the warm turf beside the spring looking beyond the near forested hills to the blue dimness of the far mountains. It was that halcyon moment of the late Canadian summer when there are no flies, and even the midday is cool and scented, and the first hints of bright colour are stealing into the woods.
“I didn’t get a great deal out of the old man,” said Johnny. “He kept me up till three in the morning listenin’ to his stuff. He was soused when he began, and well pickled before he left off, but he was never lit up — the liquor isn’t brewed that could light up that old carcase. I guess he’s got a grouse against the whole world. But I found out one thing. Brother Lew has been here this year.”
Leithen sat up. “How do you know?”
“Why, he asked me if I was any relation to another man of my name — a fellow with half a thumb on his left hand and a scar above his right eyebrow. That’s Lew to the life, for he got a bit chawed up at Vimy. When I asked more about the chap he felt he had said too much and shut up like a clam. But that means that Lew has been here all right, and that Augustin saw him, for to my certain knowledge Lew was never before east of Quebec, and yon old perisher has never stirred out of this valley. So I guess that Lew and your pal were here, for Lew wouldn’t have come on his own.”
Leithen reflected for a moment.
“Was Lew ever at the Ghost River?” he asked. “I mean the river half-way between Coronation Gulf and the top of Hudson’s Bay.”
“Never heard of it. Nope. I’m pretty sure brother Lew was never within a thousand miles of it. It ain’t his bailliewick.”
“Well, I fancy he’s there now. . . . You and I are setting out for the Ghost River.”
Leithen spent two weary days in Montreal, mostly at the telephone, a business which in London he had always left to Cruddock or his clerk. He knew that the Northland was one vast whispering gallery, and that it was easier to track a man there than in the settled countries, so he hoped to get news by setting the machine of the R.C.M.P. to work. There was telephoning and telegraphing far and wide, but no result. No such travellers as Galliard and Lew Frizel had as yet been reported north of the railways. One thing he did ascertain. The two men had not flown to the Ghost River. That was the evidence of the Air Force and the private aeroplane companies. Leithen decided that this was what he had expected. If Galliard was on a mission of penitence he would travel as his uncle Aristide and his brother Paul had travelled — by canoe and trail. If he had started early in May he should just about have reached the Arctic shores.
The next task was to get a machine for himself. He hired an aeroplane from Air–Canada, a Baird–Sverisk of a recent pattern, and was lucky enough to get one of the best of the northern flyers, Job Teviot, for his pilot, and one Murchison as his mechanic. The contract was for a month, but with provision for an indefinite extension. All this meant bringing in his bankers, and cabling home, and the influence of Ravelstons had to be sought to complete the business. The barometer at Montreal stood above 100 degrees, and there were times before he and Johnny took off when he thought that his next move would be to a hospital.
He felt stronger when they reached Winnipeg, and next day, flying over the network of the Manitoba lakes, he found that he drew breath more easily. He had flown little before, and the air at first made him feel very sleepy. This passed, and, since there was no demand for activity, his mind turned in on itself. He felt like some disembodied creature, for already he seemed to have shed all ordinary interests. Aforetime on his travels and his holidays he had been acutely interested in what he saw and heard, and part of his success at the Bar had been due to the wide range of knowledge thus acquired. But now he had no thoughts except for the job on hand. He had meant deliberately to concentrate on it, in order to shut out fruitless meditations on his own case; but he found that this concentration had come about automatically. He simply was not concerned about other things. In New York he had listened to well-informed talk about politics and business and books, and it had woke no response in his mind. Here in Canada he did not care a jot about the present or future of a great British Dominion. The Canadian papers he glanced at were full of the perilous situation in Europe — any week there might be war. The news meant nothing to him, though a little while ago it would have sent him home by the next boat. The world had narrowed itself to Francis Galliard and the frail human creature that was following him.
By and by it was the latter that crowded in on his thoughts. Since he had nothing to do except watch a slowly moving landscape and the cloud shadows on lake and forest, he began to reflect on the atom, Edward Leithen, now hurrying above the world. The memory of Felicity kept returning — the sudden anguish in her eyes, her cry “I love him! I love him!” and he realised how lonely his life had been. No woman had ever felt like that about him; he had never felt like that about any woman. Was it loss or gain? Gain, he told himself, for he implicated no one in his calamity. But had he not led a starved life? A misfit like Galliard had succeeded in gaining something which he, with all his social adaptability, had missed. He found himself in a mood almost of regret. He had made a niche for himself in the world, but it had been a chilly niche. With a start he awoke to the fact that he was very near the edge of self-pity, a thing forbidden.
In a blue windless twilight they descended for the night at a new mining centre on the Dog–Rib River. Johnny pitched a tent and cooked supper, while the pilot and the mechanic found quarters with other pilots who ran the daily air service to the south. There was a plague of black flies and mosquitoes, but Leithen was too tired to be troubled by them, and he had eight hours of heavy, unrefreshing sleep.
When he stood outside the tent next morning, looking over a shining lake and a turbulent river, he had a moment of sharp regret. How often he had stood like this on a lake shore — in Scotland, in Norway, in Canada long ago — and watched the world heave itself out of night into dawn! Like this — but how unlike! Then he had been exhilarated with the prospect of a day’s sport, tingling from his cold plunge, ravenous as a hawk for breakfast, the blood brisk in his veins and every muscle in trim. Now he could face only a finger of bacon and a half-cup of tea, and he was weary before the day had begun.
“There’s plenty here knows Lew,” Johnny reported. “They haven’t come this way. If they’re at the Ghost River, my guess is that they’ve gone by the Planchette and The Old Man Falls.”
They crossed Great Slave Lake and all morning flew over those plains miscalled the Barrens, which, seen from above, are a delicate lace-work of lakes and streams criss-crossed by ridges of bald rock and banks of gravel, and with now and then in a hollow a patch of forest. They made camp early at the bend of a river, which Johnny called the Little Fish, for Murchison had some work to do on the engine. While Leithen rested by the fire Job went fishing and brought back three brace of Arctic char. He announced that there was another camp round the next bend — a white man in a canoe with two Crees — a sight in that lonely place as unexpected as the great auk. Somewhat refreshed by his supper, Leithen in the long-lighted evening walked upstream to see his neighbour.
He found a middle-aged American cleaning a brace of ptarmigan which he had shot, and doing it most expertly. He was a tall man, in breeches, puttees, and a faded yellow shirt, and Leithen took him for an ordinary trapper or prospector until he heard him speak. “I saw you land,” the stranger said. “I was coming round presently to pass the time of day. Apart from my own outfit you are the first man I’ve seen for a month.”
He prepared a bed of hot ashes, and with the help of rifle rods set the birds to roast. Then he straightened himself, filled a pipe, and had a look at Leithen.
“I’m an American,” he said. “New York.”
Leithen nodded. He had already detected the unmistakable metropolitan pitch of the voice.
“You’re English? Haven’t I seen you before? I used to be a good deal in London. . . . Hold on a minute. I’ve got it. I’ve heard you speak in the British Parliament. That would be in-” And he mentioned a year.
“Very likely,” said Leithen. “I was in Parliament then. I was Attorney–General.”
“You don’t say. Well, we’re birds of the same flock. I’m a corporation lawyer. My name’s Taverner. Yours — wait a minute — is Leven.”
“Leithen,” the other corrected.
“Odd we should meet here in about the wildest spot in North America. It’s easy enough to come by air, like you, but Matthew and Mark and I have taken two blessed months canoeing and portaging from railhead, and it will take us about the same time to get back.”
“Can corporation lawyers like you take four months’ holiday?”
Mr. Taverner’s serious face relaxed in a smile. “Not usually. But I had to quit or smash. No, I wasn’t sick. I was just tired of the dam’ racket. I had to get away from the noise. The United States is getting to be a mighty noisy country.”
The cry of a loon broke the stillness, otherwise there was no sound but the gurgle of the river and the grunting of one of the Indians as he cleaned a gun.
“You get silence here,” said Leithen.
“I don’t mean physical noise so much. The bustle in New York doesn’t worry me more than a little. I mean noise in our minds. You can’t get peace to think nowadays.” He broke off. “You here for the same cause?”
“Partly,” said Leithen. “But principally to meet a friend.”
“I hope you’ll hit him off. It’s a biggish country for an assignation. But you don’t need an excuse for cutting loose and coming here. I pretend I come to fish and hunt, but I only fish and shoot for the pot. I’m no sort of sportsman. I’m just a poor devil that’s been born in the wrong century. There’s quite a lot of folk like me. You’d be surprised how many of us slip off here now and then to get a little quiet. I don’t mean the hearty, husky sort of fellow who goes into the woods in a fancy mackinaw and spends his time there drinking whisky and playing poker. I mean quiet citizens like myself, who’ve simply got to breathe fresh air and get the din out of their ears. Canada is becoming to some of us like a mediæval monastery to which we can retreat when things get past bearing.”
Taverner, having been without white society for so long, seemed to enjoy unburdening himself.
“I’m saying nothing against my country. I know it’s the greatest on earth. But my God! I hate the mood it has fallen into. It seems to me there isn’t one section of society that hasn’t got some kind of jitters — big business, little business, politicians, the newspaper men, even the college professors. We can’t talk except too loud. We’re bitten by the exhibitionist bug. We’re all boosters and high-powered salesmen and propagandists, and yet we don’t know what we want to propagand, for we haven’t got any kind of common creed. All we ask is that a thing should be colourful and confident and noisy. Our national industry is really the movies. We’re one big movie show. And just as in the movies we worship languishing Wops and little blonde girls out of the gutter, so we pick the same bogus deities in other walks of life. You remember Emerson speaks about some nations as having guano in their destiny. Well, I sometimes think that we have got celluloid in ours.”
There was that in Leithen’s face which made Taverner pause and laugh.
“Forgive my rigmarole,” he said. “It’s a relief to get one’s peeves off the chest, and I reckon I’m safe with you. You see, I come of New England stock, and I don’t fit in too well with these times.”
“Do you know a man called Galliard?” Leithen asked. “Francis Galliard — a partner in Ravelstons?”
“A little. He’s a friend of Bronson Jane, and Bronson’s my cousin. Funny you should mention him, for if I had to choose a fellow that fitted in perfectly to the modern machine, I should pick Galliard. He enjoys all that riles me. He’s French, and that maybe explains it. I’ve too much of the Puritan in my blood. You came through New York, I suppose. Did you see Galliard? How is he? I’ve always had a liking for him.”
“No. He was out of town.”
Leithen got up to go. The long after-glow in the west was fading, and the heavens were taking on the shadowy violet which is all the northern summer darkness.
“When do you plan to end your trip?” Taverner asked as he shook hands.
“I don’t know. I’ve no plans. I’ve been ill, as you see, and it will depend on my health.”
“This will set you up, never fear. I was a sick man three years ago and I came back from Great Bear Lake champing like a prize-fighter. But take my advice and don’t put off your return too late. It don’t do to be trapped up here in winter. The North can be a darn cruel place.”
Late next afternoon they reached the Ghost River delta, striking in upon it at an angle from the southwest. The clear skies had gone, and the “ceiling” was not more than a thousand feet. Low hills rimmed the eastern side, but they were cloaked in a light fog, and the delta seemed to have no limits, but to be an immeasurable abscess of decay. Leithen had never imagined such an abomination of desolation. It was utterly silent, and the only colours were sickly greens and drabs. At first sight he thought he was looking down on a bit of provincial Surrey, broad tarmac roads lined with asphalt footpaths, and behind the trim hedges smooth suburban lawns. It took a little time to realise that the highways were channels of thick mud, and the lawns bottomless quagmires. He was now well inside the Circle, and had expected from the Arctic something cold, hard, and bleak, but also clean and tonic. Instead he found a horrid lushness — an infinity of mire and coarse vegetation, and a superfluity of obscene insect life. The place was one huge muskeg. It was like the no-man’s-land between the trenches in the War — a colossal no-man’s-land created in some campaign of demons, pitted and pocked with shell-holes from some infernal artillery.
They skirted the delta and came down at its western horn on the edge of the sea. Here there was no mist, and he could look far into the North over still waters eerily lit by the thin evening sunlight. It was like no ocean he had ever seen, for it seemed to be without form or reason. The tide licked the shore without purpose. It was simply water filling a void, a treacherous, deathly waste, pale like a snake’s belly, a thing beyond humanity and beyond time. Delta and sea looked as if here the Demiurge had let His creative vigour slacken and ebb into nothingness. He had wearied of the world which He had made and left this end of it to ancient Chaos.
Next morning the scene had changed, and to his surprise he felt a lightening of both mind and body. Sky and sea were colourless, mere bowls of light. There seemed to be no tides, only a gentle ripple on the grey sand. Very far out there were blue gleams which he took to be ice. The sun was warm, but the body of the air was cold, and it had in it a tonic quality which seemed to make his breathing easier. He remembered hearing that there were no germs in the Arctic, that the place was one great sanatorium, but that did not concern one whose trouble was organic decay. Still, he was grateful for a momentary comfort, and he found that he wanted to stretch his legs. He walked to the highest point of land at the end of a little promontory.
It was a place like a Hebridean cape. The peaty soil was matted with berries, though a foot or two beneath was eternal ice. The breeding season was over and the migration not begun, so there was no bird life on the shore; the wild fowl were all in the swamps of the delta. The dead-level of land and sea made the arc of sky seem immense, the “intense inane” of Shelley’s poem. The slight recovery of bodily vigour quickened his imagination. This was a world not built on the human scale, a world made without thought of mankind, a world colourless and formless, but also timeless; a kind of eternity. It would be a good place to die in, he thought, for already the clinging ties of life were loosened and death would mean little since life had ceased.
To his surprise he saw a small schooner anchored at the edge of a sandbank, a startling thing in that empty place. Johnny had joined him, and they went down to inspect it. An Eskimo family was on board, merry, upstanding people from far-distant Gordans Land. The skipper was one Andersen, the son of a Danish whaling captain and an Eskimo mother, and he spoke good English. He had been to Herschell Island to lay in stores, and was now on his way home after a difficult passage through the ice of the Western Arctic. The schooner was as clean as a new pin, and the instruments as well kept as on a man-o’-war. It had come in for fresh water, and Job was able to get from it a few tins of gasolene, for it was a long hop to the next fuelling stage. The visit to the Andersens altered Leithen’s mood. Here was a snug life being lived in what had seemed a place of death. It switched his interest back to his task.
Presently he found what he had come to seek. On the way to the tent they came on an Eskimo cemetery. Once there had been a settlement here which years ago had been abandoned. There were half a dozen Eskimo graves, with skulls and bones showing through chinks in the piles of stone, and in one there was a complete skeleton stretched as if on a pyre. There was something more. At a little distance in a sheltered hollow were two crosses of driftwood. One was bent and weathered, with the inscription, done with a hot iron, almost obliterated, but it was possible to read. . . . TID. GAIL . . . D. There was a date too blurred to decipher. The other cross was new and it had not suffered the storms of more than a couple of winters. On it one could read clearly PAUL LOUIS GAILLARD and a date eighteen months back.
To Leithen there was an intolerable pathos about the two crosses. They told so much, and yet they told nothing. How had Aristide died? Had Paul found him alive? How had Paul died? Who had put up the memorials? There was a grim drama here at which he could not even guess. But the one question that mattered to him was, had Francis seen these crosses?
Johnny, who had been peering at the later monument, answered that question.
“Brother Lew has been here,” he said.
He pointed to a little St. Andrew’s cross freshly carved with a knife just below Paul’s name. Its ends were funnily splayed out.
“That’s Lew’s mark,” he said. “You might say it’s a family mark. Long ago, when Dad was working for the Bay, there was a breed of Indians along the Liard, some sort of Slaveys, that had got into their heads that they were kind of Scots, and every St. Andrew’s Day they would bring Dad a present of a big St. Andrew’s Cross, very nicely carved, which he stuck above the door like a horse-shoe. So we all got into the way of using that cross as our trade mark, especially Lew, who’s mighty particular. I’ve seen him carve it on a slab to stick above a dog’s grave, and when he writes a letter he puts it in somewhere. So whenever you see it you can reckon Lew’s ahead of you.”
“They can’t be long gone,” said Leithen.
“I’ve been figuring that out, and I guess they might have gone a week ago — maybe ten days. Lew’s pretty handy with a canoe. What puzzles me is where they’ve gone and how. There’s no place hereaways to get supplies, and it’s a good month’s journey to the nearest post. Maybe they shot caribou and smoked ’em. I tell you what, if your pal’s got money to burn, what about him hiring a plane to meet ’em here and pick ’em up? If that’s their game it won’t be easy to hit their trail. There’s only one thing I’m pretty sure of, and that is they didn’t go home. If we fossick about we’ll maybe find out more.”
Johnny’s forecast was right, for that afternoon they heard a shot a mile off, and, going out to inquire, found an Eskimo hunter. At the sight of them the man fled, and Johnny had some trouble rounding him up. When halted he stood like a sullen child, a true son of the Elder Ice, for he had a tattooed face and a bone stuck through his upper lip. Probably he had never seen a white man before. He had been hunting caribou before they migrated south from the shore, and had a pile of skins and high-smelling meat to show for his labours. He stubbornly refused to accompany them back to the tent, so Leithen left him with Johnny, who could make some shape at the speech of the central Arctic.
When Johnny came back Andersen and the schooner had sailed, and Ghost River had returned to its ancient solitude.
“Lew’s been here right enough,” he said. “He and his boss and a couple of Indians came in two canoes eleven days back — at least I reckoned eleven days as well as I could from yon Eskimo’s talk. Two days later a plane arrived for them. The Eskimo has never seen a horse or an automobile, but he knows all about aeroplanes. They handed over the canoes and what was left of the stores to the Indians and shaped a course pretty well due west. They’ve gotten the start of us by a week or maybe more.”
That night after supper Johnny spoke for the first time at some length.
“I’ve been trying to figure this out,” he said, “and here’s what I make of it. Mr. Galliard comes here and sees the graves of his brother and uncle. So far so good. From what you tell me that’s not going to content him. He wants to do something of his own on the same line by way of squarin’ his conscience. What’s he likely to do? Now, let’s see just where brother Lew comes in. I must put you wise about Lew.”
Johnny removed his pipe from his mouth.
“He’s a wee bit mad,” he said solemnly. “He’s a great man; the cutest hunter and trapper and guide between Alaska and Mexico, and the finest shot on this continent. But he’s also mad — batty — loony — anything you like that’s out of the usual. It’s a special kind of madness, for in most things you won’t find a sounder guy. Him and me was buck privates in the War until they made a sharpshooter of him, and you wouldn’t hit a better-behaved soldier than old Lew. I was a good deal in trouble, but Lew never. He has just the one crazy spot in him, and it reminds me of them Gaillards you talk about. It’s a kind of craziness you’re apt to find in us Northerners. There’s a bit of country he wants to explore, and the thought of it comes between him and his sleep and his grub. Say, did you ever hear of the Sick Heart River?”
Leithen shook his head.
“You would if you’d been raised in the North. It’s a fancy place that old-timers dream about. Where is it? Well, that’s not easy to say. You’ve heard maybe of the South Nahanni that comes in the north bank of the Liard about a hundred miles west of Fort Simpson? Dad had a post up the Liard and I was born there, and when I was a kid there was a great talk about the South Nahanni. There’s a mighty big waterfall on it, so you can’t make it a canoe trip. Some said the valley was full of gold, and some said that it was as hot as hell owing to warm springs, and everybody acknowledged that there was more game there to the square mile than in the whole of America. It had a bad name, too, for at least a dozen folk went in and never came out. Some said that was because of bad Indians, but that was punk, for there ain’t no Indians in the valley. Our Indians said it was the home of devils, which sounds more reasonable.”
Johnny stopped to relight his pipe, and for a few minutes smoked meditatively.
“Do you get to Sick Heart by the South Nahanni?” Leithen asked.
“No, you don’t. Lew’s been all over the South Nahanni, and barring the biggest grizzlies on earth and no end of sheep and goat and elk and caribou, he found nothing. Except the Sick Heart. He saw it from the top of a mountain, and it sort of laid a charm on him. He said that first of all you had snow mountains bigger than any he had ever seen, and then ice-fields like prairies, and then forests of tall trees, the same as you get on the coast. And then in the valley bottom, grass meadows and an elegant river. A Hare Indian that was with him gave him the name — the Sick Heart, called after an old-time chief that got homesick for the place and pined away. Lew had a try at getting into it and found it no good — there was precipices thousands of feet that end. But he come away with the Sick Heart firm in his mind, and he ain’t going to forget it.”
“Which watershed is it on?” Leithen asked.
“That’s what no man knows. Not on the South Nahanni’s. And you can’t get into it from the Yukon side, by the Pelly or the Peel or the Ross or Macmillan — Lew tried ’em all. So it looks as if it didn’t flow that way. The last time I heard him talk about it he was kind of thinking that the best route was up from the Mackenzie, the way the Hare Indians go for their mountain hunting. There’s a river there called the Big Hare. He thought that might be the road.”
“Do you think he’s gone there now?”
“I don’t think, but I suspicion. See here, mister. Lew’s a strong character and mighty set on what he wants. He’s also a bit mad, and mad folks have persuasive ways with them. He finds this Galliard man keen to get into the wilds, and the natural thing is that he persuades him to go to his particular wilds, which he hasn’t had out of his mind for ten years.”
“I think you’re probably right,” said Leithen. “We will make a cast by way of the Sick Heart. What’s the jumping-off ground?”
“Fort Bannerman on the Mackenzie,” said Johnny. “Right, we’ll start tomorrow morning. We can send back the planes from there and collect an outfit. We’ll want canoes and a couple of Hares as guides.”
And then he fell silent and stared into the fire. Now and then he took a covert glance at Leithen. At last he spoke a little shyly.
“You’re a sick man, I reckon. I can’t help noticin’ it, though you don’t make much fuss about it. If Lew’s on the Sick Heart and we follow him there it’ll be a rough passage, and likely we’ll have to go into camp for the winter. I’m wondering can you stand it? There ain’t no medical comforts in the Mackenzie mountains.”
Leithen smiled. “It doesn’t matter whether I stand it or not. You’re right. I’m a sick man. Indeed, I’m a dying man. The doctors in England did not give me more than a year to live, and that was weeks ago. But I want to find Galliard and send him home, and after that it doesn’t matter what happens to me.”
“Is Galliard your best pal?”
“I scarcely know him. But I have taken on the job to please a friend, and I must make a success of it. I want to die on my feet, if you see what I mean.”
“I get you. I’m mighty sorry, but I get you. . . . Once I had a retriever bitch, the best hunting dog I ever knew, and her and me had some great times on the hills. She could track a beast all day, and minded a blizzard no more than a spring shower. Well, she got something mortally wrong with her innards, and was dying all right. One morning I missed her from her bed beside the stove, and an Indian told me he’d seen her dragging herself up through the woods in the snow. I followed her trail and found her dead just above the tree line, the place she’d been happiest in when she was well. She wanted to die on her feet. I reckon that’s the best way for men and hounds.”
For three days Leithen was in abject misery. They had no receiver in their plane and therefore no means of getting weather reports, and when they took off the next morning the only change was an increased chill in the air. By midday they had run into fog, and, since in that area Job was uncertain of his compass, they went north again to the Arctic coast, and followed it to the Coppermine. Here it began to blow from the north, and in a series of rainstorms they passed the Dismal Lakes and came to the shore of the Great Bear Lake. Job had intended to pass the night at the Mines, but there was no going further that evening in the mist and drizzle.
Next day they struggled to the Mines with just enough gasolene. Leithen looked so ill that the kindly manager would have put him to bed, but he insisted on restarting in the afternoon. They had a difficult take-off from the yeasty lake — Job insisted on their getting into their life-jackets, for he said the betting was that in three minutes they would be in the water. The lake was safely crossed, but Job failed to hit off the outlet of the Great Bear River, and with the low “ceiling” he feared to try a compass course to the Mackenzie because of the Franklin mountains. It was midnight before they struck the outlet and they had another wretched bivouac in the rain.
After that things went better. The weather returned to bright sun, clear skies, and a gentle wind from the north-east. Presently they were above the Mackenzie and far in the west they saw the jumble of dark ridges which were the foothills of the Mackenzie mountains. In the afternoon the hills came closer to the river, and on the left bank appeared a cluster of little white shacks with the red flag of the Hudson’s Bay flying from a post.
“Fort Bannerman,” said Johnny, as they circled down. “That’s the Big Hare, and somewhere at the back of it is the Sick Heart. Mighty rough country.”
The inhabitants of the fort were grouped at the mud bank where they went ashore — the Hudson’s Bay postmaster, two Oblate Brothers, a fur trader, a trapper in for supplies, and several Indians. The trapper waved a hand to Johnny —
“Hullo, boy!” he said. “How goes it? Lew’s been here. He lit out for the mountains ten days ago.”
Last updated Thursday, July 16, 2015 at 13:15