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- Northern Lights, Volume 3. - 4/10 -
safety, but in the hope that one day the choice bits of land he was shepherding here and there would take a leap up in value; and his judgment had been right. His prosperity had all come since George went away with Cassy Mavor. His anger at George had been the more acute, because the thing happened at a time when his affairs were on the edge of a precipice. He had won through it, but only by the merest shave, and it had all left him with a bad spot in his heart, in spite of his "having religion." Whenever he remembered George, he instinctively thought of those black days when a Land and Cattle Syndicate was crowding him over the edge into the chasm of failure, and came so near doing it. A few thousand dollars less to put up here and there, and he would have been ruined; his blood became hotter whenever he thought of it. He had had to fight the worst of it through alone, for George, who had been useful as a kind of buyer and seller, who was ever all things to all men, and ready with quip and jest, and not a little uncertain as to truth--to which the old man shut his eyes when there was a "deal" on--had, in the end, been of no use at all, and had seemed to go to pieces just when he was most needed. His father had put it all down to Cassy Mavor, who had unsettled things since she had come to Lumley's, and being a man of very few ideas, he cherished those he had with an exaggerated care. Prosperity had not softened him; it had given him an arrogance unduly emphasised by a reputation for rigid virtue and honesty. The indirect attack which Andrew now made on George's memory roused him to anger, as much because it seemed to challenge his own judgment as cast a slight on the name of the boy whom he had cast off, yet who had a firmer hold on his heart than any human being ever had. It had only been pride which had prevented him from making it up with George before it was too late; but, all the more, he was set against the woman who "kicked up her heels for a living"; and, all the more, he resented Black Andy, who, in his own grim way, had managed to remain a partner with him in their present prosperity, and had done so little for it.
"George helped to make what you've got, Andy," he said darkly now. "The West missed George. The West said, 'There was a good man ruined by a woman.' The West'd never think anything or anybody missed you, 'cept yourself. When you went North, it never missed you; when you come back, its jaw fell. You wasn't fit to black George's boots."
Black Andy's mouth took on a bitter sort of smile, and his eyes drooped furtively, as he struck the damper of the stove heavily with his foot, then he replied slowly:
"Well, that's all right; but if I wasn't fit to black his boots, it ain't my fault. I git my nature honest, as he did. We wasn't any cross- breeds, I s'pose. We got the strain direct, and we was all right on her side." He jerked his head towards Aunt Kate, whose face was growing pale. She interposed now.
"Can't you leave the dead alone?" she asked in a voice ringing a little. "Can't you let them rest? Ain't it enough to quarrel about the living? Cassy'll be here soon," she added, peering out of the window, "and if I was you, I'd try and not make her sorry she ever married a Baragar. It ain't a feeling that'd make a sick woman live long."
Aunt Kate did not strike often, but when she did, she struck hard. Abel Baragar staggered a little under this blow, for, at the moment, it seemed to him that he saw his dead wife's face looking at him from the chair where her sister now sat. Down in his ill-furnished heart, where there had been little which was companionable, there was a shadowed corner. Sophy Baragar had been such a true-hearted, brave-souled woman, and he had been so impatient and exacting with her, till the beautiful face, which had been reproduced in George, had lost its colour and its fire, had become careworn and sweet with that sweetness which goes early out of the world. In all her days the vanished wife had never hinted at as much as Aunt Kate suggested now, and Abel Baragar shut his eyes against the thing which he was seeing. He was not all hard, after all.
Aunt Kate turned to Black Andy now.
"Mebbe Cassy ain't for long," she said. "Mebbe she's come out for what she came out for before. It seems to me it's that, or she wouldn't have come; because she's young yet, and she's fond of her boy, and she'd not want to bury herself alive out here with us. Mebbe her lungs is bad again."
"Then she's sure to get another husband out here," said the old man, recovering himself. "She got one before easy, on the same ticket." With something of malice he looked over at Black Andy.
"If she can sing and dance as she done nine years ago, I shouldn't wonder," answered Black Andy smoothly. These two men knew each other; they had said hard things to each other for many a year, yet they lived on together unshaken by each other's moods and bitternesses.
"I'm getting old,--I'm seventy-nine,--and I ain't for long," urged Aunt Kate, looking Abel in the eyes. "Some day soon I'll be stepping out and away. Then things'll go to sixes and sevens, as they did after Sophy died. Some one ought to be here that's got a right to be here, not a hired woman."
Suddenly the old man raged out.
"Her--off the stage, to look after this! Her, that's kicked up her heels for a living! It's--no, she's no good. She's common. She's come, and she can go. I ain't having sweepings from the streets living here as if they had rights."
Aunt Kate set her lips.
"Sweepings! You've got to take that back, Abel. It's not Christian. You've got to take that back."
"He'll take it back all right before we've done, I guess," remarked Black Andy. "He'll take a lot back."
"Truth's truth, and I'll stand by it, and--"
The old man stopped, for there came to them now, clearly, the sound of sleigh bells. They all stood still for an instant, silent and attentive, then Aunt Kate moved towards the door.
"Cassy's come," she said. "Cassy and George's boy've come."
Another instant and the door was opened on the beautiful, white, sparkling world, and the low sleigh, with its great warm buffalo robes, in which the small figures of a woman and a child were almost lost, stopped at the door. Two whimsical but tired eyes looked over a rim of fur at the old woman in the doorway, then Cassy's voice rang out.
"Hello, that's Aunt Kate, I know! Well, here we are, and here's my boy. Jump, George!"
A moment later, and the gaunt old woman folded both mother and son in her arms and drew them into the room. The door was shut, and they all faced each other.
The old man and Black Andy did not move, but stood staring at the trim figure in black, with the plain face, large mouth, and tousled red hair, and the dreamy-eyed, handsome little boy beside her.
Black Andy stood behind the stove, looking over at the new-comers with quizzical, almost furtive eyes, and his father remained for a moment with mouth open, gazing at his dead son's wife and child, as though not quite comprehending the scene. The sight of the boy had brought back, in some strange, embarrassing way, a vision of thirty years before, when George was a little boy in buckskin pants and jacket, and was beginning to ride the prairie with him. This boy was like George, yet not like him. The face was George's, the sensuous, luxurious mouth; but the eyes were not those of a Baragar, nor yet those of Aunt Kate's family; and they were not wholly like the mother's. They were full and brimming, while hers were small and whimsical; yet they had her quick, humourous flashes and her quaintness.
"Have I changed so much? Have you forgotten me?" Cassy asked, looking the old man in the eyes. "You look as strong as a bull." She held out her hand to him and laughed.
"Hope I see you well," said Abel Baragar mechanically, as he took the hand and shook it awkwardly.
"Oh, I'm all right," answered the nonchalant little woman, undoing her jacket. "Shake hands with your grandfather, George. That's right--don't talk too much," she added, with a half-nervous little laugh, as the old man, with a kind of fixed smile, and the child shook hands in silence.
Presently she saw Black Andy behind the stove. "Well, Andy, have you been here ever since?" she asked, and, as he came forward, she suddenly caught him by both arms, stood on tiptoe, and kissed him. "Last time I saw you, you were behind the stove at Lumley's. Nothing's ever too warm for you," she added. "You'd be shivering on the Equator. You were always hugging the stove at Lumley's."
"Things was pretty warm there, too, Cassy," he said, with a sidelong look at his father.
She saw the look, her face flashed with sudden temper, then her eyes fell on her boy, now lost in the arms of Aunt Kate, and she curbed herself.
"There were plenty of things doing at Lumley's in those days," she said brusquely. "We were all young and fresh then," she added, and then something seemed to catch her voice, and she coughed a little--a hard, dry, feverish cough. "Are the Lumleys all right? Are they still there, at the Forks?" she asked, after the little paroxysm of coughing.
"Cleaned out--all scattered. We own the Lumleys' place now," replied Black Andy, with another sidelong glance at his father, who, as he put some more wood on the fire and opened the damper of the stove wider, grimly watched and listened.
"Jim, and Lance, and Jerry, and Abner?" she asked almost abstractedly.
"Jim's dead-shot by a U. S. marshal by mistake for a smuggler," answered Black Andy suggestively. "Lance is up on the Yukon, busted; Jerry is one of our, hands on the place; and Abner is in jail."
"Abner-in jail!" she exclaimed in a dazed way. "What did he do? Abner always seemed so straight."
"Oh, he sloped with a thousand dollars of the railway people's money. They caught him, and he got seven years."
"He was married, wasn't he?" she asked in a low voice. "Yes, to Phenie Tyson. There's no children, so she's all right, and divorce is cheap over in the States, where she is now."
"Phenie Tyson didn't marry Abner because he was a saint, but because he was a man, I suppose," she replied gravely. "And the old folks?"
"Both dead. What Abner done sent the old man to his grave. But Abner's mother died a year before."
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