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- Northern Lights, Volume 3. - 6/10 -
Three hours later the problem was solved in the big sitting-room where Cassy had first been received with her boy. Aunt Kate sat with her feet on a hassock, rocking gently and watching and listening. Black Andy was behind the great stove with his chair tilted back, carving the bowl of a pipe; the old man sat rigid by the table, looking straight before him and smacking his lips now and then as he was won't to do at meeting; while Cassy, with her chin in her hands and elbows on her knees, gazed into the fire and waited for the storm to break.
Her little flashes of humour at dinner had not brightened things, and she had had an insane desire to turn cart-wheels round the room, so implacable and highly strained was the attitude of the master of the house, so unctuous was the grace and the thanksgiving before and after the meal. Abel Baragar had stored up his anger and his righteous antipathy for years, and this was the first chance he had had of visiting his displeasure on the woman who had "ruined" George, and who had now come to get "rights," which he was determined she should not have. He had steeled himself against seeing any good in her whatever. Self-will, self-pride, and self-righteousness were big in him, and so the supper had ended in silence, and with a little attack of coughing on the part of Cassy, which made her angry at herself. Then the boy had been put to bed, and she had come back to await the expected outburst. She could feel it in the air, and while her blood tingled in a desire to fight this tyrant to the bitter end, she thought of her boy and his future, and she calmed the tumult in her veins.
She did not have to wait very long. The querulous voice of the old man broke the silence.
"When be you goin' back East? What time did you fix for goin'?" he asked.
She raised her head and looked at him squarely. "I didn't fix any time for going East again," she replied. "I came out West this time to stay."
"I thought you was on the stage," was the rejoinder.
"I've left the stage. My voice went when I got a bad cold again, and I couldn't stand the draughts of the theatre, and so I couldn't dance, either. I'm finished with the stage. I've come out here for good and all.
"Where did you think of livin' out here?"
"I'd like to have gone to Lumley's, but that's not possible, is it? Anyway, I couldn't afford it now. So I thought I'd stay here, if there was room for me."
"You want to board here?"
"I didn't put it to myself that way. I thought perhaps you'd be glad to have me. I'm handy. I can cook, I can sew, and I'm quite cheerful and kind. Then there's George--little George. I thought you'd like to have your grandson here with you."
"I've lived without him--or his father--for eight years, an' I could bear it a while yet, mebbe."
There was a half-choking sound from the old woman in the rocking-chair, but she did not speak, though her knitting dropped into her lap.
"But if you knew us better, perhaps you'd like us better," rejoined Cassy gently. "We're both pretty easy to get on with, and we see the bright side of things. He has a wonderful disposition, has George."
"I ain't goin' to like you any better," said the old man, getting to his feet. "I ain't goin' to give you any rights here. I've thought it out, and my mind's made up. You can't come it over me. You ruined my boy's life and sent him to his grave. He'd have lived to be an old man out here; but you spoiled him. You trapped him into marrying you, with your kicking and your comic songs, and your tricks of the stage, and you parted us--parted him and me for ever."
"That was your fault. George wanted to make it up."
"With you!" The old man's voice rose shrilly, the bitterness and passion of years was shooting high in the narrow confines of his mind. The geyser of his prejudice and antipathy was furiously alive. "To come back with you that ruined him and broke up my family, and made my life like bitter aloes! No! And if I wouldn't have him with you, do you think I'll have you without him? By the God of Israel, no!"
Black Andy was now standing up behind the stove intently watching, his face grim and sombre; Aunt Kate sat with both hands gripping the arms of the rocker.
Cassy got slowly to her feet. "I've been as straight a woman as your mother or your wife ever was," she said, "and all the world knows it. I'm poor--and I might have been rich. I was true to myself before I married George, and I was true to George after, and all I earned he shared; and I've got little left. The mining stock I bought with what I saved went smash, and I'm poor as I was when I started to work for myself. I can work awhile yet, but I wanted to see if I could fit in out here, and get well again, and have my boy fixed in the house of his grandfather. That's the way I'm placed, and that's how I came. But give a dog a bad name--ah, you shame your dead boy in thinking bad of me! I didn't ruin him. I didn't kill him. He never came to any bad through me. I helped him; he was happy. Why, I--" She stopped suddenly, putting a hand to her mouth. "Go on, say what you want to say, and let's understand once for all," she added with a sudden sharpness.
Abel Baragar drew himself up. "Well, I say this. I'll give you three thousand dollars, and you can go somewhere else to live. I'll keep the boy here. That's what I've fixed in my mind to do. You can go, and the boy stays. I ain't goin' to live with you that spoiled George's life."
The eyes of the woman dilated, she trembled with a sudden rush of anger, then stood still, staring in front of her without a word. Black Andy stepped from behind the stove.
"You are going to stay here, Cassy," he said; "here where you have rights as good as any, and better than any, if it comes to that." He turned to his father. "You thought a lot of George," he added. "He was the apple of your eye. He had a soft tongue, and most people liked him; but George was foolish--I've known it all these years. George was pretty foolish. He gambled, he bet at races, he speculated--wild. You didn't know it. He took ten thousand dollars of your money, got from the Wonegosh farm he sold for you. He--"
Cassy Mavor started forwards with a cry, but Black Andy waved her down.
"No, I'm going to tell it. George lost your ten thousand dollars, dad, gambling, racing, speculating. He told her--Cassy-two days after they was married, and she took the money she earned on the stage, and give it to him to pay you back on the quiet through the bank. You never knew, but that's the kind of boy your son George was, and that's the kind of wife he had. George told me all about it when I was East six years ago."
He came over to Cassy and stood beside her. "I'm standing by George's wife," he said, taking her hand, while she shut her eyes in her misery-- had she not hid her husband's wrong-doing all these years? "I'm standing by her. If it hadn't been for that ten thousand dollars she paid back for George, you'd have been swamped when the Syndicate got after you, and we wouldn't have had Lumley's place, nor this, nor anything. I guess she's got rights here, dad, as good as any."
The old man sank slowly into a chair. "George--George stole from me-- stole money from me!" he whispered. His face was white. His pride and vainglory were broken. He was a haggard, shaken figure. His self- righteousness was levelled in the dust.
With sudden impulse, Cassy stole over to him, and took his hand and held it tight.
"Don't! Don't feel so bad!" she said. "He was weak and wild then. But he was all right afterwards. He was happy with me."
"I've owed Cassy this for a good many years, dad," said Black Andy, "and it had to be paid. She's got better stuff in her than any Baragar."
An hour later, the old man said to Cassy at the door of her room: "You got to stay here and git well. It's yours, the same as the rest of us --what's here."
Then he went downstairs and sat with Aunt Kate by the fire.
"I guess she's a good woman," he said at last. "I didn't use her right."
"You've been lucky with your women-folk," Aunt Kate answered quietly.
"Yes, I've been lucky," he answered. "I dunno if I deserve it. Mebbe not. Do you think she'll git well?"
"It's a healing air out here," Aunt Kate answered, and listened to the wood of the house snapping in the sharp frost.
That the day was beautiful, that the harvest of the West had been a great one, that the salmon-fishing had been larger than ever before, that gold had been found in the Yukon, made no difference to Jacques Grassette, for he was in the condemned cell of Bindon Jail, living out those days which pass so swiftly between the verdict of the jury and the last slow walk with the Sheriff.
He sat with his back to the stone wall, his hands on his knees, looking straight before him. All that met his physical gaze was another stone wall, but with his mind's eye he was looking beyond it into spaces far away. His mind was seeing a little house with dormer windows, and a steep roof on which the snow could not lodge in winter-time; with a narrow stoop in front where one could rest of an evening, the day's work done; the stone-and-earth oven near by in the open, where the bread for a family of twenty was baked; the wooden plough tipped against the fence, to wait the "fall" cultivation; the big iron cooler in which the sap from the maple trees was boiled, in the days when the snow thawed and spring opened the heart of the wood; the flash of the sickle and the scythe hard by; the fields of the little narrow farm running back from the St. Lawrence like a riband; and, out on the wide stream, the great rafts with their riverine population floating down to Michelin's mill-yards.
For hours he had sat like this, unmoving, his gnarled red hands clamping each leg as though to hold him steady while he gazed; and he saw himself as a little lad, barefooted, doing chores, running after the shaggy,
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