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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honor Of The Big Snows - Chapter 19. The New Agent And His Son
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The Honor Of The Big Snows - Chapter 19. The New Agent And His Son Post by :ow24160 Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :955

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The Honor Of The Big Snows - Chapter 19. The New Agent And His Son


They did not lunch on the trail, but drove into the post in time for dinner. Jean de Gravois and Croisset came forth from the store to meet them.

"You have company, my dear!" cried Jean to Melisse. "Two gentlemen fresh from London on the last boat, and one of them younger and handsomer than your own Jan Thoreau. They are waiting for you in the cabin, where mon pere is getting them dinner, and telling them how beautifully you would have made the coffee if you were there."

"Two!" said Jan, as Melisse left them. "Who are they?"

"The new agent, M. Timothy Dixon, as red as the plague, and fatter than a spawning fish! And his son, who has come along for fun, he says; and I believe he will get what he's after if he remains here very long, Jan Thoreau, for he looked a little too boldly at my Iowaka when she came into the store just now!"

"Mon Dieu!" laughed Jan, as Gravois took in the four quarters of the earth with a terrible gesture. "Can you blame him, Jean? I tell you that I look at Iowaka whenever I get the chance!"

"Is she not worth it?" cried Jean in rapture. "You are welcome to every look that you can get, Jan Thoreau. But the foreigner--I will skin him alive and spit him with devil-thorn if he so much as peeps at her out of the wrong way of his eye!"

Croisset spoke.

"There was once a foreigner who came. You remember?"

"I remember," said Jan.

He looked to the white cross which marked Mukee's grave in the edge of the forest, where the shadow of the big spruce fell across it at the end of summer evenings.

"And--he--died," said Jean de Gravois, his dark hands clenched. "God forgive me, but I hate these red-necked men from across the sea."

Croisset shrugged his shoulders.

"Breeders of two-legged carrion-eaters!" he exclaimed fiercely. "La charogne! There are two at Nelson House, and two on the Wholdaia, and one--"

A sharp cry fell from Jan's lips. When Croisset whirled toward him, he stood among his dogs, as white as death, his black eyes blazing as if just beyond him he saw something which filled him with terror.

As the man turned, startled by the look, Jean sprang to his side.

"Saints preserve us, but that was an ugly twist of the hand!" he cried shrilly. "Next time, turn your sledge by the rib instead of the nose, when your dogs are still in the traces!" Under his breath he whispered, as he made pretense of looking at Jan's hand: "Le diable, do you want to tell HIM?" Jan tried to laugh as Croisset came to see what had happened.

"Will you care for the dogs, Henri?" asked Jean. "It's only a trifling sprain of the wrist, which Iowaka can cure with one dose of her liniment."

As they walked away, Jan's face still as pallid as the gray snow under their feet, Gravois added: "You're a fool, Jan Thoreau. There's a crowd at your cabin, and you'll have dinner with me."

"La charogne!" muttered Jan. "Les betes de charogne!"

Jean gripped him by the arm.

"I tell you that it means nothing--nothing!" he said, repeating his words of the previous day in the cabin. "You are a man. You must fight it down, and forget. No one knows but you and me."

"You will never tell what you read in the papers?" cried Jan quickly. "You swear it?"

"By the blessed Virgin, I swear it!"

"Then," said Jan softly, "Melisse will never know!"

"Never," said Jean. His dark face flashed joyously as Iowaka's sweet voice came to them, singing a Cree lullaby in the little home. "Some day Melisse will be singing that same way over there; and it will be for you, Jan Thoreau, as my Iowaka is now singing for me!"

An hour later Jan went slowly across the open to Cummins' cabin. As he paused for an instant at the door he heard a laugh that was strange to him, and when he opened it to enter he stood perplexed and undecided. Melisse had risen from the table at the sound of his approach, and his eyes quickly passed from her flushed face to the young man who was sitting opposite her. He caught a nervous tremble in her voice when she said:

"Mr. Dixon, this is my brother, Jan."

The stranger jumped to his feet and held out a hand.

"I'm glad to know you, Cummins."

"Thoreau," corrected Jan quietly, as he took the extended hand. "Jan Thoreau."

"Oh, I beg your pardon. I thought--" He turned inquiringly to Melisse. The flush deepened in her cheeks as she began to gather up the dishes.

"We are of no relation," continued Jan, something impelling him to speak the words with cool precision. "Only we have lived under the same roof since she was a baby, and so we have come to be like brother and sister."

"Miss Melisse has been telling me about your wonderful run this morning," exclaimed the young Englishman, his face reddening slightly as he detected the girl's embarrassment. "I wish I had seen it!"

"There will be plenty of it very soon," replied Jan, caught by the frankness of the other's manner. "Our runners will be going out among the trappers within a fortnight."

"And will they take me?"

"You may go with me, if you can run. I leave the day after to-morrow."

"Thanks," said Dixon, moving toward the door.

Melisse did not lift her head as he went out. Faintly she said:

"I've kept your dinner for you, Jan. Why didn't you come sooner?"

"I had dinner with Gravois," he replied. "Jean said that you would hardly be prepared for five, Melisse, so I accepted his invitation."

He took down from the wall a fur sledge-coat, in which Melisse had mended a rent a day or two before, and, throwing it over his arm, turned to leave.


He faced her slowly, knowing that in spite of himself there was a strangeness in his manner which she would not understand.

"Why are you going away the day after to-morrow--two weeks before the others? You didn't tell me."

"I'm going a hundred miles into the South," he answered.

"Over the Nelson House trail?"


"Oh!" Her lips curled slightly as she looked at him. Then she laughed, and a bright spot leaped into either cheek. "I understand, brother," she said softly. "Pardon me for questioning you so. I had forgotten that the MacVeigh girl lives on the Nelson trail. Iowaka says that she is as sweet as a wild flower. I wish you would have her come up and visit us some time, Jan."

Jan's face went red, then white, but Melisse saw only the first effect of her random shot, and was briskly gathering up the dishes.

"I turn off into the Cree Lake country before I reach MacVeighs'." he was on the point of saying; but the words hung upon his lips, and he remained silent.

A few minutes later he was talking with Jean de Gravois. The little Frenchman's face was ominously dark, and he puffed furiously upon his pipe when Jan told him why he was leaving at once for the South.

"Running away!" he repeated for the tenth time in French, his thin lips curling in a sneer. "I am sorry that I gave you my oath, Jan Thoreau, else I would go myself and tell Melisse what I read in the papers. Pish! Why can't you forget?"

"I may--some day," said Jan. "That is why I am going into the South two weeks early, and I shall be gone until after the big roast. If I remain here another week, I shall tell Melisse, and then--"

He shrugged his shoulders despairingly.

"And then--what?"

"I should go away for ever."

Jean snapped his fingers with a low laugh.

"Then remain another week, Jan Thoreau, and if it turns out as you say, I swear I will abandon my two Iowakas and little Jean to the wolves!"

"I am going the day after to-morrow."

The next morning Iowaka complained to Melisse that Gravois was as surly as a bear.

"A wonderful change has come over him," she said. "He does nothing but shrug his shoulders and say 'Le diable!' and 'The fool!' Last night I could hardly sleep because of his growling. I wonder what bad spirit has come into my Jean?"

Melisse was wondering the same of Jan. She saw little of him during the day. At noon, Dixon told her that he had made up his mind not to accompany Thoreau on the trip south.

The following morning, before she was up, Jan had gone. She was deeply hurt. Never before had he left on one of his long trips without spending his last moments with her. She had purposely told her father to entertain the agent and his son at the store that evening, so that Jan might have an opportunity of bidding her good-by alone.

Outside of her thoughts of Jan, the days and evenings that followed were pleasant ones for her. The new agent was as jolly as he was fat, and took an immense liking to Melisse. Young Dixon was good-looking and brimming with life, and spent a great deal of his time in her company. For hours at a time she listened to his stories of the wonderful world across the sea. As MacDonald had described that life to Jan at Fort Churchill, so he told of it to Melisse, filling her with visions of great cities, painting picture after picture, until her imagination was riot with the beauty and the marvel of it all, and she listened, with flaming cheeks and glowing eyes.

One day, a week after Jan had gone, he told her about the women in the world which had come to be a fairy-land to Melisse.

"They are all beautiful over there?" she asked wonderingly, when he had finished.

"Many of them are beautiful, but none so beautiful as you, Melisse," he replied, leaning near to her, his eyes shining. "Do you know that you are beautiful?"

His words frightened her so much that she bowed her head to hide the signs of it in her face. Jan had often spoken those same words--a thousand times he had told her that she was beautiful--but there bad never been this fluttering of her heart before.

There were few things which Iowaka and she did not hold in secret between them, and a day or two later Melisse told her friend what Dixon had said. For the first time Iowaka abused the confidence placed in her, and told Jean.

"Le diable!" gritted Jean, his face blackening.

He said no more until night, when the children were asleep. Then he drew Iowaka close beside him on a bench near the stove, and asked carelessly:

"Mon ange, if one makes an oath to the blessed Virgin, and breaks it, what happens?"

He evaded the startled look in his wife's big black eyes.

"It means that one will be for ever damned unless he confesses to a priest soon after, doesn't it ma cherie? And if there is no priest nearer than four hundred miles, it is a dangerous thing to do, is it not? But--" He did not wait for an answer. "If one might have the oath broken, and not do it himself, what then?"

"I don't know," said Iowaka simply, staring at him in amazed questioning.

"Nor do I," said Jean, lighting his pipe. "But there is enough of the devil in Jean de Gravois to make him break a thousand oaths if it was for you, my Iowaka!"

Her eyes glowed upon him softly.

"A maiden's soul leaves her body when she becomes the wife of the man she loves," she whispered tenderly in Cree, resting her dark head on Jean's shoulder. "That is what my people believe, Jean; and if I have given my soul to you, why should I not break oath for you?"

"For me alone, Iowaka?"

"For you alone."

"And not for a friend?"

"For no one else in the world, Jean. You are the only one to whom the god of my people bids me make all sacrifice."

"But you do not believe in that god, Iowaka!"

"Sometimes it is better to believe in the god of my people than in yours," she replied gently. "I believed in him fifteen years ago at Churchill. Do you wish me to take back what I gave to you then?"

With a low cry of happiness Jean crushed his face against her soft cheek.

"Believe in him always, my Iowaka, and Jean de Gravois will cut the throat of any missioner who says you will not go to Paradise! But-- this other. You are sure that you would break oath for none but me?"

"And the children. They are a part of you, Jean."

A fierce snarling and barking of dogs brought Gravois to the door. They could hear Croisset's raucous voice and the loud cracking of his big whip.

"I'll be back soon," said Jean, closing the door after him; but instead of approaching Croisset and the fighting dogs he went in the direction of Cummins' cabin. "Devil take an oath!" he growled under his breath. "Neither one God nor the other will let me break it, and Iowaka least of all!" He gritted his teeth as young Dixon's laugh sounded loudly in the cabin. "Two fools!" he went on communing with himself. "Cummins--Jan Thoreau--both fools!"

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