“Why, of course,” returned Holcomb. “They think a heap of your being here—besides, there are not two better-hearted men in these whole woods than Freme and the old man.”
Again the gray eyes gazed down into the torrent.
“What I want to say to you is this: I want you to let me know what you think would be right at the end of our stay, and I’ll see that they get it.”
Holcomb straightened and looked up with surprise.
“But they’re not here, Mr. Thayor, for money; neither of them would accept a cent from you.”
“What! Why, that isn’t right, Billy. You mean to say that Holt and Skinner have come up here and fixed up this shanty to hunt with us for nothing!” stammered the financier. “I won’t have it.”
“Yes,” answered Holcomb, his voice softening, “it’s just as I’m telling you. That’s the kind of men the Clown and Hite are. You’d only insult them if you tried to pay them. There are a lot of things the old man has done in his life that he has never taken a cent for; and as for the Clown, I’ve seen him many a time doing odd jobs for some poor fellow that couldn’t help himself. I’ve seen him, too, after a hard month’s chopping in the lumber woods working for Pat Morrison, come into Pat’s hotel and pay the whole of his month’s wages out in treat to a lot of lumber jacks he’d meet maybe Saturday night, and knew maybe he’d never see again by Monday morning.”
“And yet you tell me they are both poor.”
“Poor isn’t the word for it. Why, I’ve seen Freme when he’s been broke so he didn’t have the price of a glass of beer at Pat’s, build a dog house for some of the children, or help the hired girl by stacking a pile of wood handy for her.”
It was a new doctrine for the banker—one he had never been accustomed to; and yet when he thought it over, and recalled the look in the old trapper’s face and the hearty humour and independence of the Clown, he felt instantly that Holcomb was right. Something else must be done for them—but not money. For some moments he sat gazing into the weird stillness, then he asked in one of his restful tones:
“Billy—who owns this place?”
“You mean the shanty?”
“I mean as far as we can see.”
“Well,” answered Holcomb, “as far as we can see is a good ways. Morrison owns part of it—that is from the South Branch down to the State Road, and—let’s see—after that there’s a couple of lots belonging to some parties in Albany; then, as soon as you get across above the big falls it is all state land clear to Bear Brook—yes, clear to the old military road, in fact.”
“Are there any ponds?” asked Thayer.
“Yes—four,” replied Holcomb. “Lily Pond, and little Moose and Still Water and—”
“I see,” interrupted Thayor.
“Why do you ask?” inquired Holcomb, wondering at the drift of Thayor’s inquiry.
“Oh, nothing. That is, nothing now. How many acres do you think it all covers?”