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- Mrs. Falchion, Volume 2. - 5/25 -
"Pardon me, if I cannot answer your question. Your life was saved, and that is all we have to consider, except to be grateful to Providence. The duties of my office have nothing to do with possibilities."
She was evidently torturing him, and I longed to say a word that would torture her. She continued: "And the flesh-pots--you have not answered about them: do you not long for them--occasionally?"
"They are of a period," he answered, "too distant for regret."
"And yet," she replied softly, "I fancied sometimes in London last year, that you had not outgrown that antique time--those lotos-days."
He made no reply at once, and in the pause Justine and I passed out to the verandah.
"How long does Mrs. Falchion intend remaining here, Miss Caron?" I said.
Her reply was hesitating: "I do not quite know; but I think some time. She likes the place; it seems to amuse her."
"And you--does it amuse you?"
"It does not matter about me. I am madame's servant; but, indeed, it does not amuse me particularly."
"Do you like the place?"
The reply was somewhat hurried, and she glanced at me a little nervously. "Oh yes," she said, "I like the place, but--"
Here Roscoe appeared at the door and said, "Mrs. Falchion wishes to see Viking and Mr. Devlin's mills, Marmion. She will go with us."
In a little time we were on our way to Viking. I walked with Mrs. Falchion, and Roscoe with Justine. I was aware of a new element in Mrs. Falchion's manner. She seemed less powerfully attractive to me than in the old days, yet she certainly was more beautiful. It was hard to trace the new characteristic. But at last I thought I saw it in a decrease of that cold composure, that impassiveness, so fascinating in the past. In its place had come an allusive, restless something, to be found in words of troublesome vagueness, in variable moods, in an increased sensitiveness of mind and an undercurrent of emotional bitterness--she was emotional at last! She puzzled me greatly, for I saw two spirits in her: one pitiless as of old; the other human, anxious, not unlovely.
At length we became silent, and walked so side by side for a time. Then, with that old delightful egotism and selfishness--delightful in its very daring--she said: "Well, amuse me!"
"And is it still the end of your existence," I rejoined--"to be amused?"
"What is there else to do?" she replied with raillery.
"Much. To amuse others, for instance; to regard human beings as something more than automata."
"Has Mr. Roscoe made you a preaching curate? I helped Amshar at the Tanks."
"One does not forget that. Yet you pushed Amshar with your foot."
"Did you expect me to kiss the black coward? Then, I nursed Mr. Roscoe in his illness."
"And before that?"
"And before that I was born into the world, and grew to years of knowledge, and learned what fools we mortals be, and--and there--is that Mr. Devlin's big sawmill?"
We had suddenly emerged on a shelf of the mountainside, and were looking down into the Long Cloud Valley. It was a noble sight. Far to the north were foothills covered with the glorious Norfolk pine, rising in steppes till they seemed to touch white plateaus of snow, which again billowed to glacier fields whose austere bosoms man's hand had never touched; and these suddenly lifted up huge, unapproachable shoulders, crowned with majestic peaks that took in their teeth the sun, the storm, and the whirlwinds of the north, never changing countenance from day to year and from year to age.
Facing this long line of glory, running irregularly on towards that sea where Franklin and M'Clintock led their gay adventurers,--the bold ships,--was another shore, not so high or superior, but tall and sombre and warm, through whose endless coverts of pine there crept and idled the generous Chinook winds--the soothing breath of the friendly Pacific. Between these shores the Long Cloud River ran; now boisterous, now soft, now wallowing away through long channels, washing gorges always dark as though shaded by winter, and valleys always green as favoured by summer. Creeping along a lofty narrow path upon that farther shore was a mule train, bearing packs which would not be opened till, through the great passes of the mountain, they were spilled upon the floors of fort and post on the east side of the Rockies.
Not far from where the mule train crept along was a great hole in the mountain-side, as though antique giants of the hills had tunnelled through to make themselves a home or to find the eternal secret of the mountains. Near to this vast dark cavity was a hut--a mere playhouse, it seemed, so small was it, viewed from where we stood. From the edge of a cliff just in front of this hut, there swung a long cable, which reached almost to the base of the shore beneath us; and, even as we looked, we saw what seemed a tiny bucket go swinging slowly down that strange hypotenuse. We watched it till we saw it get to the end of its journey in the valley beneath, not far from the great mill to which we were bound.
"How mysterious!" said Mrs. Falchion. "What does it mean? I never saw anything like that before. What a wonderful thing!"
Roscoe explained. "Up there in that hut," he said, "there lives a man called Phil Boldrick. He is a unique fellow, with a strange history. He has been miner, sailor, woodsman, river-driver, trapper, salmon-fisher; --expert at the duties of each of these, persistent at none. He has a taste for the ingenious and the unusual. For a time he worked in Mr. Devlin's mill. It was too tame for him. He conceived the idea of supplying the valley with certain necessaries, by intercepting the mule trains as they passed across the hills, and getting them down to Viking by means of that cable. The valley laughed at him; men said it was impossible. He went to Mr. Devlin, and Mr. Devlin came to me. I have, as you know, some knowledge of machinery and engineering. I thought the thing feasible but expensive, and told Mr. Devlin so. However, the ingenuity of the thing pleased Mr. Devlin, and, with that singular enterprise which in other directions has made him a rich man, he determined on its completion. Between us we managed it. Boldrick carries on his aerial railway with considerable success, as you see."
"A singular man," said Mrs. Falchion. "I should like to see him. Come, sit down here and tell me all you know about him, will you not?"
Roscoe assented. I arranged a seat for us, and we all sat.
Roscoe was about to begin, when Mrs. Falchion said, "Wait a minute. Let us take in this scene first."
We were silent. After a moment I turned to Mrs. Falchion, and said: "It is beautiful, is it not?"
She drew in a long breath, her eyes lighted up, and she said, with a strange abandon of gaiety: "Yes, it is delightful to live."
It seemed so, in spite of the forebodings of my friend and my own uneasiness concerning him, Ruth Devlin, and Mrs. Falchion. The place was all peace: a very monotony of toil and pleasure. The heat drained through the valley back and forth in visible palpitations upon the roofs of the houses, the mills, and the vast piles of lumber: all these seemed breathing. It looked a busy Arcady. From beneath us life vibrated with the regularity of a pulse: distance gave a kind of delighted ease to toil. Event appeared asleep.
But when I look back now, after some years, at the experiences of that day, I am astonished by the running fire of events, which, unfortunately, were not all joy.
As I write I can hear that keen wild singing of the saw come to us distantly, with a pleasant, weird elation. The big mill hung above the river, its sides all open, humming with labour, as I had seen it many a time during my visit to Roscoe. The sun beat in upon it, making a broad piazza of light about its sides. Beyond it were pleasant shadows, through which men passed and repassed at their work. Life was busy all about it. Yet the picture was bold, open, and strong. Great iron hands reached down into the water, clamped a massive log or huge timber, lightly drew it up the slide from the water, where, guided by the hand- spikes of the men, it was laid upon its cradle and carried slowly to the devouring teeth of the saws: there to be sliced through rib and bone in moist sandwiched layers, oozing the sweet sap of its fibre; and carried out again into the open to be drained to dry bones under the exhaust- pipes of the sun: piles upon piles; houses with wide chinks through which the winds wandered, looking for tenants and finding none.
To the north were booms of logs, swilling in the current, waiting for their devourer. Here and there were groups of river-drivers and their foremen, prying twisted heaps of logs from the rocks or the shore into the water. Other groups of river-drivers were scattered upon the banks, lifting their huge red canoes high up on the platforms, the spring's and summer's work of river-driving done; while others lounged upon the grass, or wandered lazily through the village, sporting with the Chinamen, or chaffing the Indian idling in the sun--a garish figure stoically watching the inroads of civilisation. The town itself was squat but amiable: small houses and large huts; the only place of note and dignity, the new town hall, which was greatly overshadowed by the big mill, and even by the two smaller ones flanking it north and south.
But Viking was full of men who had breathed the strong life of the hills, had stolen from Nature some of her brawny strength, and set themselves up before her as though a man were as great as a mountain and as good a thing to see. It was of such a man that Galt Roscoe was to tell us. His own words I will not give, but will speak of Phil Boldrick as I remember him and as Roscoe described him to us.
Of all the men in the valley, none was so striking as Phil Boldrick. Of all faces his was the most singular; of all characters his the most unique; of all men he was the most unlucky, save in one thing--the regard of his fellows. Others might lay up treasures, not he; others lose money at gambling, not he--he never had much to lose. But yet he did all things magniloquently. The wave of his hand was expansive, his stride was swaying and decisive, his over-ruling, fraternal faculty was always in full swing. Viking was his adopted child; so much so that a gentleman river-driver called it Philippi; and by that name it sometimes went, and continues still so among those who knew it in the old days.
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