The Little Widow Of Jansen by Gilbert Parker

Story type: Literature

Her advent to Jansen was propitious. Smallpox in its most virulent form had broken out in the French-Canadian portion of the town, and, coming with some professional nurses from the East, herself an amateur, to attend the sufferers, she worked with such skill and devotion that the official thanks of the Corporation were offered her, together with a tiny gold watch, the gift of grateful citizens. But she still remained on at Jansen, saying always, however, that she was “going East in the spring.”

Five years had passed, and still she had not gone East, but remained perched in the rooms she had first taken, over the Imperial Bank, while the town grew up swiftly round her. And even when the young bank manager married, and wished to take over the rooms, she sent him to the right-about from his own premises in her gay, masterful way. The young manager behaved well in the circumstances, because he had asked her to marry him, and she had dismissed him with a warning against challenging his own happiness–that was the way she had put it. Perhaps he was galled the less because others had striven for the same prize, and had been thrust back, with an almost tender misgiving as to their sense of self-preservation and sanity. Some of them were eligible enough, and all were of some position in the West. Yet she smiled them firmly away, to the wonder of Jansen, and to its satisfaction, for was it not a tribute to all that she would distinguish no particular unit by her permanent favor? But for one so sprightly and almost frivolous in manner at times, the self-denial seemed incongruous. She was unconventional enough to sit on the sidewalk with a half-dozen children round her blowing bubbles, or to romp in any garden, or in the street, playing Puss-in-the-ring; yet this only made her more popular. Jansen’s admiration was at its highest, however, when she rode in the annual steeplechase with the best horsemen of the province. She had the gift of doing as well as of being.

“‘Tis the light heart she has, and slippin’ in and out of things like a hummin’-bird, no easier to ketch and no longer to stay,” said Finden, the rich Irish landbroker, suggestively to Father Bourassa, the huge French-Canadian priest who had worked with her through all the dark weeks of the smallpox epidemic, and who knew what lay beneath the outer gayety. She had been buoyant of spirit beside the beds of the sick, and her words were full of raillery and humor, yet there was ever a gentle note behind all; and the priest had seen her eyes shining with tears as she bent over some stricken sufferer bound upon an interminable journey.

“Bedad! as bright a little spark as ever struck off the steel,” added Finden to the priest, with a sidelong, inquisitive look, “but a heart no bigger than a marrowfat pea–selfishness, all self. Keepin’ herself for herself when there’s many a good man needin’ her. Mother o’ Moses, how many! From Terry O’Ryan, brother of a peer, at Latouche, to Bernard Bapty, son of a millionaire, at Vancouver, there’s a string o’ them. All pride and self; and as fair a lot they’ve been as ever entered for the Marriage Cup. Now isn’t that so, father?”

Finden’s brogue did not come from a plebeian origin. It was part of his commercial equipment, an asset of his boyhood spent among the peasants on the family estate in Galway.

Father Bourassa fanned himself with the black broadbrim hat he wore, and looked benignly but quizzically on the wiry, sharp-faced Irishman.

“You t’ink her heart is leetla. But perhaps it is your mind is not so big enough to see–hien?” The priest laughed noiselessly, showing white teeth. “Was it so selfish in Madame to refuse the name of Finden–n’est-ce pas?

Finden flushed, then burst into a laugh. “I’d almost forgotten I was one of them–the first almost. Blessed be he that expects nothing, for he’ll get it sure. It was my duty, and I did it. Was she to feel that Jansen did not price her high? Bedad, father, I rose betimes and did it, before anny man should say he set me the lead. Before the carpet in the parlor was down, and with the bare boards soundin’ to my words, I offered her the name of Finden.”

“And so–the first of the long line! Bien, it is an honor.” The priest paused a moment, looked at Finden with a curious reflective look, and then said, “And so you t’ink there is no one; that she will say yes not at all–no?”

They were sitting on Father Bourassa’s verandah, on the outskirts of the town, above the great river, along which had travelled millions of bygone people, fighting, roaming, hunting, trapping; and they could hear it rushing past, see the swirling eddies, the impetuous currents, the occasional rafts moving majestically down the stream. They were facing the wild North, while civilization was hacking and hewing and ploughing its way to newer and newer cities, in an empire ever spreading to the Pole.

Finden’s glance loitered on this scene before he replied. At length, screwing up one eye, and with a suggestive smile, he answered: “Sure, it’s all a matter of time, to the selfishest woman. ‘Tis not the same with women as with men; you see, they don’t get younger–that’s a point. But”–he gave a meaning glance at the priest–“but perhaps she’s not going to wait for that, after all. And there he rides, a fine figure of a man, too, if I have to say it!”

“M’sieu’ Varley?” the priest responded, and watched a galloping horseman to whom Finden had pointed till he rounded a corner of a little wood.

“Varley, the great London surgeon, sure! Say, father, it’s a hundred to one she’d take him if–“

There was a curious look in Father Bourassa’s face, a cloud in his eyes. He sighed. “London, it is ver’ far away,” he remarked, obliquely.

“What’s to that? If she is with the right man, near or far is nothing.”

“So far–from home,” said the priest, reflectively, but his eyes furtively watched the other’s face.

“But home’s where man and wife are.”

The priest now looked him straight in the eyes. “Then, as you say, she will not marry M’sieu’ Varley–hein?

The humor died out of Finden’s face. His eyes met the priest’s eyes steadily. “Did I say that? Then my tongue wasn’t making a fool of me, after all. How did you guess I knew–everything, father?”

“A priest knows many t’ings–so.”

There was a moment of gloom, then the Irishman brightened. He came straight to the heart of the mystery around which they had been manoeuvring. “Have you seen her husband–Meydon–this year? It isn’t his usual time to come yet.”

Father Bourassa’s eyes drew those of his friend into the light of a new understanding and revelation. They understood and trusted each other.

Helas! He is there in the hospital,” he answered, and nodded toward a building not far away, which had been part of an old Hudson Bay Company’s fort. It had been hastily adapted as a hospital for the smallpox victims.

“Oh, it’s Meydon, is it, that bad case I heard of to-day?”

The priest nodded again and pointed. “Voila, Madame Meydon, she is coming. She has seen him–her hoosban’.”

Finden’s eyes followed the gesture. The little widow of Jansen was coming from the hospital, walking slowly toward the river.

“As purty a woman, too–as purty and as straight bewhiles. What is the matter with him–with Meydon?” Finden asked, after a moment.

“An accident in the woods–so. He arrive, it is las’ night, from Great Slave Lake.”

Finden sighed. “Ten years ago he was a man to look at twice–before he did It and got away. Now his own mother wouldn’t know him–bad ‘cess to him! I knew him from the cradle almost. I spotted him here by a knife-cut I gave him in the hand when we were lads together. A divil of a timper always both of us had, but the good-nature was with me, and I didn’t drink and gamble and carry a pistol. It’s ten years since he did the killing, down in Quebec, and I don’t suppose the police will get him now. He’s been counted dead. I recognized him here the night after I asked her how she liked the name of Finden. She doesn’t know that I ever knew him. And he didn’t recognize me–twenty-five years since we met before! It would be better if he went under the sod. Is he pretty sick, father?”

“He will die unless the surgeon’s knife it cure him before twenty-four hours, and–“

“And Doctor Brydon is sick, and Doctor Hadley away at Winnipeg, and this is two hundred miles from nowhere! It looks as if the police’ll never get him, eh?”

“You have not tell any one–never?”

Finden laughed. “Though I’m not a priest, I can lock myself up as tight as anny. There’s no tongue that’s so tied, when tying’s needed, as the one that babbles most bewhiles. Babbling covers a lot of secrets.”

“So you t’ink it better Meydon should die, as Hadley is away and Brydon is sick–hein?

“Oh, I think–“

Finden stopped short, for a horse’s hoofs sounded on the turf beside the house, and presently Varley, the great London surgeon, rounded the corner and stopped his horse in front of the veranda.

He lifted his hat to the priest. “I hear there’s a bad case at the hospital,” he said.

“It is ver’ dangerous,” answered Father Bourassa; “but, voila, come in! There is something cool to drink. Ah, yes, he is ver’ bad, that man from the Great Slave Lake.”

Inside the house, with the cooling drinks, Varley pressed his questions, and presently, much interested, told at some length of singular cases which had passed through his hands–one a man with his neck broken, who had lived for six months afterward.

“Broken as a man’s neck is broken by hanging–dislocation, really–the disjointing of the medulla oblongata, if you don’t mind technicalities,” he said. “But I kept him living just the same. Time enough for him to repent in and get ready to go. A most interesting case. He was a criminal, too, and wanted to die; but you have to keep life going if you can, to the last inch of resistance.”

The priest looked thoughtfully out of the window; Finden’s eyes were screwed up in a questioning way, but neither made any response to Varley’s remarks. There was a long minute’s silence. They were all three roused by hearing a light footstep on the veranda.

Father Bourassa put down his glass and hastened into the hallway. Finden caught a glimpse of a woman’s figure, and, without a word, passed abruptly from the dining-room, where they were, into the priest’s study, leaving Varley alone. Varley turned to look after him, stared, and shrugged his shoulders.

“The manners of the West,” he said, good-humoredly, and turned again to the hallway, from whence came the sound of the priest’s voice. Presently there was another voice–a woman’s. He flushed slightly and involuntarily straightened himself.

“Valerie,” he murmured.

An instant afterward she entered the room with the priest. She was dressed in a severely simple suit of gray, which set off to advantage her slim, graceful figure. There seemed no reason why she should have been called the little widow of Jansen, for she was not small, but she was very finely and delicately made, and the name had been but an expression of Jansen’s paternal feeling for her. She had always had a good deal of fresh color, but to-day she seemed pale, though her eyes had a strange disturbing light. It was not that they brightened on seeing this man before her; they had been brighter, burningly bright, when she left the hospital, where, since it had been built, she had been the one visitor of authority–Jansen had given her that honor. She had a gift of smiling, and she smiled now, but it came from grace of mind rather than from humor. As Finden had said, “She was forever acting, and never doin’ any harm by it.”

Certainly she was doing no harm by it now; nevertheless, it was acting. Could it be otherwise, with what was behind her life–a husband who had ruined her youth, had committed homicide, had escaped capture, but who had not subsequently died, as the world believed he had done, so circumstantial was the evidence. He was not man enough to make the accepted belief in his death a fact. What could she do but act, since the day she got a letter from the Far North, which took her out to Jansen, nominally to nurse those stricken with smallpox under Father Bourassa’s care, actually to be where her wretched husband could come to her once a year, as he had asked with an impossible selfishness?

Each year she had seen him for an hour or less, giving him money, speaking to him over a gulf so wide that it seemed sometimes as though her voice could not be heard across it; each year opening a grave to look at the embalmed face of one who had long since died in shame, which only brought back the cruellest of all memories, that which one would give one’s best years to forget. With a fortitude beyond description she had faced it, gently, quietly, but firmly faced it–firmly, because she had to be firm in keeping him within those bounds the invasion of which would have killed her. And after the first struggle with his unchangeable brutality it had been easier: for into his degenerate brain there had come a faint understanding of the real situation and of her. He had kept his side of the gulf, but gloating on this touch between the old luxurious, indulgent life, with its refined vices, and this present coarse, hard life, where pleasures were few and gross. The free Northern life of toil and hardship had not refined him. He greedily hung over this treasure, which was not for his spending, yet was his own–as though in a bank he had hoards of money which he might not withdraw.

So the years had gone on, with their recurrent dreaded anniversaries, carrying misery almost too great to be borne by this woman mated to the loathed phantom of a sad, dead life; and when this black day of each year was over, for a few days afterwards she went nowhere, was seen by none. Yet, when she did appear again, it was with her old laughing manner, her cheerful and teasing words, her quick response to the emotions of others.

So it had gone till Varley had come to follow the open-air life for four months, after a heavy illness due to blood-poisoning got in his surgical work in London. She had been able to live her life without too great a struggle till he came. Other men had flattered her vanity, had given her a sense of power, had made her understand her possibilities, but nothing more–nothing of what Varley brought with him. And before three months had gone, she knew that no man had ever interested her as Varley had done. Ten years before, she would not have appreciated or understood him, this intellectual, clean-shaven, rigidly abstemious man, whose pleasures belonged to the fishing-rod and the gun and the horse, and who had come to be so great a friend of him who had been her best friend–Father Bourassa. Father Bourassa had come to know the truth–not from her, for she had ever been a Protestant, but from her husband, who, Catholic by birth and a renegade from all religion, had had a moment of spurious emotion, when he went and confessed to Father Bourassa and got absolution, pleading for the priest’s care of his wife. Afterward Father Bourassa made up his mind that the confession had a purpose behind it other than repentance, and he deeply resented the use to which he thought he was being put–a kind of spy upon the beautiful woman whom Jansen loved, and who, in spite of any outward flippancy, was above reproach.

In vital things the instinct becomes abnormally acute, and, one day, when the priest looked at her commiseratingly, she had divined what moved him. However it was, she drove him into a corner with a question to which he dare not answer yes, but to which he might not answer no, and did not; and she realized that he knew the truth, and she was the better for his knowing, though her secret was no longer a secret. She was not aware that Finden also knew. Then Varley came, bringing a new joy and interest in her life, and a new suffering also, for she realized that if she were free, and Varley asked her to marry him, she would consent.

But when he did ask her, she said no with a pang that cut her heart in two. He had stayed his four months, and it was now six months, and he was going at last–to-morrow. He had stayed to give her time to learn to say yes, and to take her back with him to London; and she knew that he would speak again to-day, and that she must say no again; but she had kept him from saying the words till now. And the man who had ruined her life and had poisoned her true spirit was come back broken and battered. He was hanging between life and death; and now–for he was going to-morrow–Varley would speak again.

The half-hour she had just spent in the hospital with Meydon had tried her cruelly. She had left the building in a vortex of conflicting emotions, with the call of duty and of honor ringing through a thousand other voices of temptation and desire, the inner pleadings for a little happiness while yet she was young. After she married Meydon, there had only been a few short weeks of joy before her black disillusion came, and she had realized how bitter must be her martyrdom.

When she left the hospital, she seemed moving in a dream, as one intoxicated by some elixir might move unheeding among event and accident and vexing life and roaring multitudes. And all the while the river flowing through the endless prairies, high-banked, ennobled by living woods, lipped with green, kept surging in her ears, inviting her, alluring her–alluring her with a force too deep and powerful for weak human nature to bear for long. It would ease her pain, it said; it would still the tumult and the storm; it would solve her problem, it would give her peace. But as she moved along the river-bank among the trees, she met the little niece of the priest, who lived in his house, singing, as though she was born but to sing, a song which Finden had written and Father Bourassa had set to music. Did not the distant West know Father Bourassa’s gift, and did not Protestants attend Mass to hear him play the organ afterward? The fresh, clear voice of the child rang through the trees, stealing the stricken heart away from the lure of the river:

“Will you come back home, where the young larks are singin’?
The door is open wide, and the bells of Lynn are ringin’;
There’s a little lake I know,
And a boat you used to row
To the shore beyond that’s quiet–will you come back home?

“Will you come back, darlin’? Never heed the pain and blightin’,
Never trouble that you’re wounded, that you bear the scars of fightin’;
Here’s the luck o’ Heaven to you,
Here’s the hand of love will brew you
The cup of peace–ah, darlin’, will you come back home?”

She stood listening for a few moments, and, under the spell of the fresh, young voice, the homely, heart-searching words, and the intimate sweetness of the woods, the despairing apathy lifted slowly away. She started forward again with a new understanding, her footsteps quickened. She would go to Father Bourassa. He would understand. She would tell him all. He would help her to do what now she knew she must do, ask Leonard Varley to save her husband’s life–Leonard Varley to save her husband’s life!

When she stepped upon the veranda of the priest’s house, she did not know that Varley was inside. She had no time to think. She was ushered into the room where he was, with the confusing fact of his presence fresh upon her. She had had but a word or two with the priest, but enough for him to know what she meant to do, and that it must be done at once.

Varley advanced to meet her. She shuddered inwardly to think what a difference there was between the fallen creature she had left behind in the hospital and this tall, dark, self-contained man, whose name was familiar in the surgeries of Europe, who had climbed from being the son of a clockmaker to his present distinguished place.

“Have you come for absolution, also?” he asked, with a smile; “or is it to get a bill of excommunication against your only enemy–there couldn’t be more than one?”

Cheerful as his words were, he was shrewdly observing her, for her paleness and the strange light in her eyes gave him a sense of anxiety. He wondered what trouble was on her.

“Excommunication?” he repeated.

The unintended truth went home. She winced, even as she responded with that quaint note in her voice which gave humor to her speech. “Yes, excommunication,” she replied; “but why an enemy? Do we not need to excommunicate our friends sometimes?”

“That is a hard saying,” he answered, soberly.

Tears sprang to her eyes, but she mastered herself, and brought the crisis abruptly.

“I want you to save a man’s life,” she said, with her eyes looking straight into his. “Will you do it?”

His face grew grave and eager. “I want you to save a man’s happiness,” he answered. “Will you do it?”

“That man yonder will die unless your skill saves him,” she urged.

“This man here will go away unhappy and alone, unless your heart befriends him,” he replied, coming closer to her. “At sunrise to-morrow he goes.” He tried to take her hand.

“Oh, please, please,” she pleaded, with a quick, protesting gesture. “Sunrise is far off, but the man’s fate is near, and you must save him. You only can do so, for Doctor Hadley is away, and Doctor Brydon is sick, and in any case Doctor Brydon dare not attempt the operation alone. It is too critical and difficult, he says.”

“So I have heard,” he answered, with a new note in his voice, his professional instinct roused in spite of himself. “Who is this man? What interests you in him?”

“To how many unknown people have you given your skill for nothing–your skill and all your experience to utter strangers, no matter how low or poor! Is it not so? Well, I cannot give to strangers what you have given to so many, but I can help in my own way.”

“You want me to see the man at once?”

“If you will.”

“What is his name? I know of his accident and the circumstances.”

She hesitated for an instant, then said, “He is called Draper–a trapper and a woodsman.”

“But I was going away to-morrow at sunrise. All my arrangements are made,” he urged, his eyes holding hers, his passion swimming in his eyes again.

“But you will not see a man die, if you can save him?” she pleaded, unable now to meet his look, its mastery and its depth.

Her heart had almost leaped with joy at the suggestion that he could not stay; but as suddenly self-reproach and shame filled her mind, and she had challenged him so. But yet, what right had she to sacrifice this man she loved to the perverted criminal who had spoiled her youth and taken away from her every dear illusion of her life and heart? By every right of justice and humanity she was no more the wife of Henry Meydon than if she had never seen him. He had forfeited every claim upon her, dragged in the mire her unspotted life–unspotted, for in all temptation, in her defenceless position, she had kept the whole commandment; she had, while at the mercy of her own temperament, fought her way through all, with a weeping heart and laughing lips. Had she not longed for a little home with a great love, and a strong, true man? Ah, it had been lonely, bitterly lonely! Yet she had remained true to the scoundrel, from whom she could not free herself without putting him in the grasp of the law to atone for his crime. She was punished for his crimes; she was denied the exercise of her womanhood in order to shield him. Still she remembered that once she had loved him, those years ago, when he first won her heart from those so much better than he, who loved her so much more honestly; and this memory had helped her in a way. She had tried to be true to it, that dead, lost thing, of which this man who came once a year to see her, and now, lying with his life at stake in the hospital, was the repellent ghost.

“Ah, you will not see him die?” she urged.

“It seems to move you greatly what happens to this man,” he said, his determined dark eyes searching hers, for she baffled him. If she could feel so much for a “casual,” why not a little more feeling for him? Suddenly, as he drew her eyes to him again, there came the conviction that they were full of feeling for him. They were sending a message, an appealing, passionate message, which told him more than he had ever heard from her or seen in her face before. Yes, she was his! Without a word spoken she had told him so. What, then, held her back? But women were a race by themselves, and he knew that he must wait till she chose to have him know what she had unintentionally conveyed but now.

“Yes, I am moved,” she continued, slowly. “Who can tell what this man might do with his life if it is saved! Don’t you think of that? It isn’t the importance of a life that’s at stake; it’s the importance of living; and we do not live alone, do we?”

His mind was made up. “I will not, cannot promise anything till I have seen him. But I will go and see him, and I’ll send you word later what I can do or not do. Will that satisfy you? If I cannot do it, I will come to say good-bye.”

Her face was set with suppressed feeling. She held out her hand to him impulsively, and was about to speak, but suddenly caught the hand away again from his thrilling grasp and, turning hurriedly, left the room. In the hall she met Father Bourassa.

“Go with him to the hospital,” she whispered, and disappeared through the doorway.

Immediately after she had gone, a man came driving hard to bring Father Bourassa to visit a dying Catholic in the prairie, and it was Finden who accompanied Varley to the hospital, waited for him till his examination of the “casual” was concluded, and met him outside.

“Can it be done?” he asked of Varley. “I’ll take word to Father Bourassa.”

“It can be done–it will be done,” answered Varley, absently. “I do not understand the man. He has been in a different sphere of life. He tried to hide it, but the speech–occasionally! I wonder.”

“You wonder if he’s worth saving?”

Varley shrugged his shoulders impatiently. “No; that’s not what I meant.”

Finden smiled to himself. “Is it a difficult case?” he asked.

“Critical and delicate; but it has been my specialty.”

“One of the local doctors couldn’t do it, I suppose?”

“They would be foolish to try.”

“And you are going away at sunrise to-morrow?”

“Who told you that?” Varley’s voice was abrupt, impatient.

“I heard you say so–everybody knows it…. That’s a bad man yonder, Varley.” He jerked his thumb toward the hospital. “A terrible bad man, he’s been. A gentleman once, and fell down–fell down hard. He’s done more harm than most men. He’s broken a woman’s heart and spoiled her life, and, if he lives, there’s no chance for her, none at all. He killed a man, and the law wants him; and she can’t free herself without ruining him; and she can’t marry the man she loves because of that villain yonder, crying for his life to be saved. By Josh and by Joan, but it’s a shame, a dirty shame, it is!”

Suddenly Varley turned and gripped his arm with fingers of steel.

“His name–his real name?”

“His name’s Meydon–and a dirty shame it is, Varley.”

Varley was white. He had been leading his horse and talking to Finden. He mounted quickly now, and was about to ride away, but stopped short again. “Who knows–who knows the truth?” he asked.

“Father Bourassa and me–no others,” he answered. “I knew Meydon thirty years ago.”

There was a moment’s hesitation, then Varley said, hoarsely, “Tell me–tell me all.”

When all was told, he turned his horse toward the wide waste of the prairie, and galloped away. Finden watched him till he was lost to view beyond the bluff.

“Now, a man like that, you can’t guess what he’ll do,” he said, reflectively. “He’s a high-stepper, and there’s no telling what foolishness will get hold of him. It’d be safer if he got lost on the prairie for twenty-four hours. He said that Meydon’s only got twenty-four hours, if the trick isn’t done! Well–“

He took a penny from his pocket. “I’ll toss for it. Heads he does it, and tails he doesn’t.”

He tossed. It came down heads. “Well, there’s one more fool in the world than I thought,” he said, philosophically, as though he had settled the question; as though the man riding away into the prairie with a dark problem to be solved had told the penny what he meant to do.

* * * * *

Mrs. Meydon, Father Bourassa, and Finden stood in the little waiting-room of the hospital at Jansen, one at each window, and watched the wild thunderstorm which had broken over the prairie. The white heliographs of the elements flashed their warnings across the black sky, and the roaring artillery of the thunder came after, making the circle of prairie and tree and stream a theatre of anger and conflict. The streets of Jansen were washed with flood, and the green and gold things of garden and field and harvest crumbled beneath the sheets of rain.

The faces at the window of the little room of the hospital, however, were but half-conscious of the storm; it seemed only an accompaniment of their thoughts, to typify the elements of tragedy surrounding them.

For Varley there had been but one thing to do. A life might be saved, and it was his duty to save it. He had ridden back from the prairie as the sun was setting the night before, and had made all arrangements at the hospital, giving orders that Meydon should have no food whatever till the operation was performed the next afternoon, and nothing to drink except a little brandy-and-water.

The operation was performed successfully, and Varley had issued from the operating-room with the look of a man who had gone through an ordeal which had taxed his nerve to the utmost, to find Valerie Meydon waiting, with a piteous, dazed look in her eyes. But this look passed when she heard him say, “All right!”

The words brought a sense of relief, for if he had failed, it would have seemed almost unbearable in the circumstances–the cup of trembling must be drunk to the dregs.

Few words had passed between them, and he had gone, while she remained behind with Father Bourassa, till the patient should wake from the sleep into which he had fallen when Varley left.

But within two hours they sent for Varley again, for Meydon was in evident danger. Varley had come, and had now been with the patient for some time.

At last the door opened and Varley came in quickly. He beckoned to Mrs. Meydon and to Father Bourassa. “He wishes to speak with you,” he said to her. “There is little time.”

Her eyes scarcely saw him, as she left the room and passed to where Meydon lay nerveless, but with wide-open eyes, waiting for her. The eyes closed, however, before she reached the bed. Presently they opened again, but the lids remained fixed. He did not hear what she said.

* * * * *

In the little waiting-room, Finden said to Varley, “What happened?”

“Food was absolutely forbidden, but he got it from another patient early this morning while the nurse was out for a moment. It has killed him.”

“‘Twas the least he could do, but no credit’s due him. It was to be. I’m not envying Father Bourassa nor her there with him.”

Varley made no reply. He was watching the receding storm with eyes which told nothing.

Finden spoke once more, but Varley did not hear him. Presently the door opened and Father Bourassa entered. He made a gesture of the hand to signify that all was over.

Outside, the sun was breaking through the clouds upon the Western prairie, and there floated through the evening air the sound of a child’s voice singing beneath the trees that fringed the river:

“Will you come back, darlin’? Never heed the pain and blightin’,
Never trouble that you’re wounded, that you bear the scars of fightin’;
Here’s the luck o’ Heaven to you,
Here’s the hand of love will brew you
The cup of peace–ah, darlin’, will you come back home?”