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"It is empty, Dintera," said Ugfraud, opening the lid. "What shall we say to the king?"
"And Mother Galda won't let us play in the market any more,' said Dintera. "I guess we lost them in the wood," and she would have wept had not the people of the court filed into the audience hall.
Pages came first, bearing lighted torches. Great ladies rustled their silks and guided trains of crimson velvet. Stockinged gentlemen, carrying plumed hats, followed. Dintera and Ugfraud did not see the entrance and ascent of the king and queen to the throne, for the children were kneeling, with heads bowed. A page was commanded to lead them before the throne. With their heads still lowered in reverence, they proceeded forward.
Ugfraud, who was about to kneel again and kiss the king's hand, looked up for a moment. His heart rose stubbornly to his throat and he trembled. Dintera, who was in the process of a curtsey, by the same impulse to look up, saw the Queen, her ear-bobs burning in the light of the torches. Dintera began to cry. The casket slipped from Ugfraud's hands and fell to the floor. One of the carved faces broke off at the corner of the lid. The casket was empty.
The rest of the story tells that King Grimmald forgave them. He proffered gifts and sent them with one of the pages to their father's shop.
And when Dintera was become a woman, Ugfraud, carrying on the trade of his father, who was dead, took her to wife. Fat Mother Galda, who had lost her sight, used to sit by the fire in the tiled kitchen, and tell the story, on winter nights, to the children of Dintera and Ugfraud. She always ended her tale, voiced in a shrill monotone, something like this:
"And soon after King Grimmald had his young queen beheaded, and married a lady of the court, who sent the ear-bobs to your grandfather to be made into ruby rings for her fingers."
UP yonder, somewhere north of Toronto, or north by west of
Toronto, lies Deep Water Lake. It is a wonderful body of water; high rocky hills surround it, the white and jack pine abound on the slopes, and all during the day a gentle breeze ruffles its blue surface. Sometimes a tempest lashes the water into white-capped waves, startling in size and death to any canoe, but that is not often. I think of it now as I love to think of it, in the hour of the setting sun. Red as fire is the sun, generally, and as it declines behind the towering pine sentinels, so dies the wind till there is barely a breath to stir the reeds in the little bay. A path of dancing red waves leads to the sun, till finally the sun is gone, the lake becomes still and the silent figures on the hill crests melt into the dusk. That is in summer.
There is not much civilization up there. The Hudson Bay Post stands on the south side of the sheltered island and around the company store cluster some few two- or three-room shacksfor they were no more than shacks—and these represent the permanent colony. In summer there are more; tourists, campers, and other people drawn by the beauty of the lake. Then, too, much business is transacted at the store, the school for the little half-breeds runs for two months, and many tents stand on the green shores. But by November the last of these have come down; there are no more tourists. Ice is over the lake and rivers, and the little post settles down to its long winter dreariness of trapping, sleeping, and trading with passing Indians. Yet it is pretty in winter.
It was toward this post we were heading one afternoon about the middle of December. We were carrying mail for the Bay Company, getting it over the long stretch from the post on Diamond to the Deep Water station. A recent fall of snow had covered the ground, some sixteen or twenty inches, and the going was rather hard. There were Spencer Knott, a friend of mine from the States; Frank LaGrace, a breed, yet one of the truest
men I ever hope to have the honor of knowing, and myself, all three in the Company's employ for the winter. It was Frank's regular run, from Diamond to Deep Water, and Spence and I were changing stations.
The wind blew brisk and chill-it was about four in the afternoon—and we were all looking forward to a good mess of beans, bread and tea in the little cabin by Sharp Rocks. That cabin had been built long before by some wandering trapper, but was now used as a regular stopping place for mail carriers. Notwithstanding the exertion of keeping up with the four-dog team which seemed anxious to call it a day, it was still cold.
"Looks like weather," I said to Frank, as we went along together behind the sled.
He looked at the sky and grunted. Then, casting a glance at the next point, he said:
"Only 'bout two more mile. We get there all right. Come on, you huskies !"
As we pulled up in front of the shack the sun was beginning to set, cold and dull. There was a sort of murkiness in the air not usual in the country and there seemed to be an uneasy swaying and moaning in the branches overhead, though we could feel no wind down below. We took the mail bag and the rest of our cargo inside, started the fire in the small stove and proceeded to make ourselves comfortable for the night.
We were not more than half way through our supper when the storm struck us. There was a sort of whoop up the course of Sharp Rocks rapids, on the banks of which the cabin was, then a rush, and we could hear the trees bending and creaking under the wind. Snow flakes were driven past; at first a few, then the air was full of them. There was a curious shriek outside that made me think of "banshees." Probably two trees rubbing together. The cabin trembled ever so slightly, and the wind whistled at the corners and around the stove-pipe.
What little conversation had been going on suddenly stopped, and we finished the meal in silence. Spencer offered me a cigarette and took one himself. Frank lit his pipe, and continued to stare at the open door of the stove. His old black mackinaw jacket was open, the collar thrown back and humping at the back of his neck. His straight black hair was tumbled and tousled
from being under the cap so long, and from time to time he brushed it uneasily away from his forehead. He sat hunched up, his feet perched on the rung of a battered chair, head forward. Now he picked one finger nail with another, and again he chewed the end of a match. Yet he continued to gaze unblinkingly at the fire. Spence puffed his cigarette and said nothing, and I continued to watch the snow fly past the black window. We were a silent and solemn trio; whether tired from the day's work or depressed by the storm, I cannot say. Certain it is, there was a long silence. Frank seemed to get more and more nervous. From time to time his fingers twitched, and then he would hold one hand with the other.
I finally rose and walked to the window. The wind was roaring with increasing vehemence, and seemed actually to take hold of the cabin. The intensity of the darkness was but heightened by the flying flakes outside. I returned to my seat.
Suddenly, above the dull roar of the wind in the branches and the constant rattle of the frozen flakes on the window, came a most dismal, piercing wail.
Spence's chair came down on four legs with a bang, and I nearly dropped my cigarette from surprise. We both looked at Frank. His hands were twitching more than ever, and there was a funny look about his eyes.
"You look like you'd seen a ghost, Frank," said Spence. "Buck up!"
Frank's hands became still and he straightened up in his chair and leaned back so that the collar of his coat pushed his hair the wrong way. He never took his eyes off the fire.
"Ghosts," he said slowly. "What you know about ghosts? Listen, I tell you somet'ing-maybe you not laugh then."
He looked from one to the other of us quickly and then his gaze wandered about the room. He cut some tobacco from his plug and crumpled it in his palm. Carefully lighting his pipe, he resumed his hunched up attitude, his elbows on his knees.
"You remember my brother Mat?" he said, addressing the fire. "No? You did not even know I have brother, eh? No-well, no matter. I have-I had a brother. Mat, they called himhe was wan damn fine fellow, Mat."
"Why is that—” I began.
"Listen―you please not talk. I tell you everyt'ing, ey?" He spat carefully through the open stove door.
"Mat was good boy, all right. Good trapper, too-he get much fur sometimes-good winters-bad winters he get a lot too-good trapper, Mat. He have a girl once-nice girl, tooshe like Mat, and Mat-well, he-" Frank paused, at a loss for words.
"Well," he resumed, "anyway, there was 'nother man in Kuttewa liked the girl, too. He was ver' jealous, unnerstan', also he not so good trapper as Mat. Not much good anyhow. Dam' loafer! No 'count.
"Well, wan time, Mat goes out; say he'll be back in a week, maybe two. Goin' trapping. Takes his pack and off he go. 'Bout a week he's not come back, but that's all right. He still have 'nother week.
"Then this other man, Ba'tiste Jocko, he go out, opposite way from Mat. Go south. Two, t'ree week go by, and still Mat no come in. I go out and alook, but find nothing. Bimeby, Ba'tiste, he come in. Have fine load of furs, and swagger around, make too dam' much show. He say he have plenty more where they come from. Then he take to hangin' 'round Maria—that's Mat's girl. Not very welcome, but he come 'round just the
"Finally Maria come to me. She's very mad at Ba'tiste, she's wish Mat was back. She say can I help her. She say she tell Ba'tiste she tell Mat about him and he jus' laugh.
"Wan night he get pretty drunk and go 'round to Maria's cabin." Frank's eyes grew harder, and his fingers tightened around the bowl of his pipe. An extra heavy gust shook the cabin. He hunched his coat a little farther up on his neck and went on.
"She say, 'Go way-Mat's come back soon.' He laugh an' sneer. Jus' say, 'Oh, no, I guess Mat won't be back.' She say, 'What you mean?' But he jus' laugh again and try and kiss her. I hear all this next morning.
"Ba'tiste leave that morning and I take my him. He go up Deep Water and I follow him.
train and follow Bimeby he stop Bimeby he pull
for lunch, but I stop behind. Then he go on. up beside a heap of snow with branches and rocks piled on it.