“I’ll go and see if he’s awake, Mrs. Ginnell. Don’t you trouble to come. Any other lodgers?”
“No, sir. There was a bunch of ’em left this morning—got work on the Crow’s Nest.”
Anderson made his way to the little “shack,” Ginnell’s house of the first year, now used as a kind of general receptacle for tools, rubbish and stores.
He looked in. On a heap of straw in the corner lay a huddled figure, a kind of human rag. Anderson paused a moment, then entered, hung the lamp he had brought with him on a peg, and closed the door behind him.
He stood looking down at the sleeper, who was in the restless stage before waking. McEwen threw himself from side to side, muttered, and stretched.
Slowly a deep colour flooded Anderson’s cheeks and brow; his hands hanging beside him clenched; he checked a groan that was also a shudder. The abjectness of the figure, the terrible identification proceeding in his mind, the memories it evoked, were rending and blinding him. The winter morning on the snow-strewn prairie, the smell of smoke blown towards him on the wind, the flames of the burning house, the horror of the search among the ruins, his father’s confession, and his own rage and despair—deep in the tissues of life these images were stamped. The anguish of them ran once more through his being.
How had he been deceived? And what was to be done? He sat down on a heap of rubbish beside the straw, looking at his father. He had last seen him as a man of fifty, vigorous, red-haired, coarsely handsome, though already undermined by drink. The man lying on the straw was approaching seventy, and might have been much older. His matted hair was nearly white, face blotched and cavernous; and the relaxation of sleep emphasised the mean cunning of the mouth. His clothing was torn and filthy, the hands repulsive.
Anderson could only bear a few minutes of this spectacle. A natural shame intervened. He bent over his father and called him.
A sudden shock passed through the sleeper. He started up, and Anderson saw his hand dart for something lying beside him, no doubt a revolver.
But Anderson grasped the arm.
“Don’t be afraid; you’re quite safe.”
McEwen, still bewildered by sleep and drink, tried to shake off the grasp, to see who it was standing over him. Anderson released him, and moved so that the lamplight fell upon himself.
Slowly McEwen’s faculties came together, began to work. The lamplight showed him his son George—the fair-haired, broad-shouldered fellow he had been tracking all these days—and he understood.
He straightened himself, with an attempt at dignity.
“So it’s you, George? You might have given me notice.”
“Where have you been all these years?” said Anderson, indistinctly. “And why did you let me believe you dead?”