Ned Trent hesitated.
“Go, I say!” snarled the Factor. “You can do nothing here.” He followed the young man to the door, which he closed with his own hand, and then turned back to the couch on which his daughter lay. In the middle of the floor his foot clicked on some small object. Mechanically lie picked it up.
It proved to be a little silver match-safe of the sort universally used in the Far North. Evidently the Free Trader had nipped it from his pocket with his handkerchief, The Factor was about to thrust it into his own pocket, when his eye caught lettering roughly carved across one side. Still mechanically, he examined it more closely, The lettering was that of a man’s name. The man’s name was Graehme Stewart.
Without thinking of what he did, he dropped the object on the small table, and returned anxiously to the girl’s side, cursing the tardiness of the Indian woman. But in a moment Wishkobun returned.
“Will she recover?” asked the Factor, distracted at the woman’s deliberate examination.
The latter smiled her indulgent, slow smile. “But surely,” she assured him in her own tongue, “it is no more than if she cut her finger. In a few breaths she will recover. Now I will go to the house of the Cockburn for a morsel of the sweet wood [camphor] which she must smell.” She looked her inquiry for permission.
“Sagaamig—go,” assented Albret.
Relieved in mind, he dropped into a chair. His eye caught the little silver match-safe, He picked it up and fell to staring at the rudely carved letters.
He found that he was alone with his daughter—and the thoughts aroused by the dozen letters of a man’s name.
All his life long he had been a hard man. His commands had been autocratic; his anger formidable; his punishments severe, and sometimes cruel. The quality of mercy was with him tenuous and weak. He knew this, and if he did not exactly glory in it, he was at least indifferent to its effect on his reputation with others. But always he had been just. The victims of his displeasure might complain that his retributive measures were harsh, that his forgiveness could not be evoked by even the most extenuating of circumstances, but not that his anger had ever been baseless or the punishment undeserved. Thus he had held always his own self-respect, and from his self-respect had proceeded his iron and effective rule.
So in the case of the young man with whom now his thoughts were occupied. Twice he had warned him from the country without the punishment which the third attempt rendered imperative. The events succeeding his arrival at Conjuror’s House warmed the Factor’s anger to the heat of almost preposterous retribution perhaps—for after all a man’s life is worth something, even in the wilds—but it was actually retribution, and not merely a ruthless proof of power. It might be justice as only the Factor saw it, but it was still essentially justice—in the broader sense that to each act had followed a definite consequence. Although another might have condemned his conduct as unnecessarily harsh, Galen Albret’s conscience was satisfied and at rest.