“I am glad of that, M’seur.”
Jean was unwrapping the buckskin, fold after fold of it, until at last there was revealed a roll of paper, soiled and yellow along the edges.
“These pages are taken from the day-book at the post where the woman lived,” he explained softly, smoothing them under his hands. “Each day the Factor of a post keeps a reckoning of incidents as they pass, as I have heard that sea captains do on shipboard. It has been a company law for hundreds of years. We have kept these pages to ourselves, M’seur. They tell of what happened at our post sixteen years ago this winter.”
As he spoke the half-breed came to Howland’s side, smoothing the first page on the table in front of him, his slim forefinger pointing to the first few lines.
“They came on this day,” he said, his breath close to the engineer’s ear. “These are their names, M’seur—the names of the two who destroyed the paradise that our Blessed Lady gave to us many years ago.”
In an instant Howland had read the lines. His blood seemed to dry in his veins and his heart to stand still. For these were the words he read: “On this day there came to our post, from the Churchill way, John Howland and his son.”
With a sharp cry he sprang to his feet, overturning the stool, facing Croisset, his hands clenched, his body bent as if about to spring. Jean stood calmly, his white teeth agleam. Then, slowly, he stretched out a hand.
“M’seur John Howland, will you read what happened to the father and mother of the little Meleese sixteen years ago? Will you read, and understand why your life was sought on the Great North Trail, why you were placed on a case of dynamite in the Wekusko coyote, and why, with the coming of this morning’s dawn—at six—”
He paused, shivering. Howland seemed not to notice the tremendous effort Croisset was making to control himself. With the dazed speechlessness of one recovering from a sudden blow he turned to the table and bent over the papers that the Frenchman had laid out before him. Five minutes later he raised his head. His face was as white as chalk. Deep lines had settled about his mouth. As a sick man might, he lifted his hand and passed it over his face and through his hair. But his eyes were afire. Involuntarily Jean’s body gathered itself as if to meet attack.
“I have read it,” he said huskily, as though the speaking of the words caused him a great effort. “I understand now. My name is John Howland. And my father’s name was John Howland. I understand.”
There was silence, in which the eyes of the two men met.
“I understand,” repeated the engineer, advancing a step. “And you, Jean Croisset—do you believe that I am that John Howland—the John Howland—the son who—”
He stopped, waiting for Jean to comprehend, to speak.