“That’s what they call it. He was a trapper, and a famous one, but before my time; an’ that was his headquarters—a sort o’ cabin, pretty stout, just by the head in the sixth fall, or maybe ’tis the seventh— I forget. He lived up there without wife or family—” Mr. Strongtharm would have launched into further particulars about the dead trapper, whose skill and strange habits had passed into a legend in the valley. But Ruth wished to hear more of the cabin.
“It’s standin’, no doubt, to this day. Vanders was a Dutchman, an’ Dutchmen build strong by nature. The man who built this yer house was a Dutchman, an’ look at the piles of it—an the ribs you may ha’ noticed. Ay, the lodge will be there yet; but you’ll never find it, not unless I takes ye. That fourth fall is a teaser.”
Ruth saddled her mare, and rode off in the direction of the gap, thoughtfully. Mr. Strongtharm had given her a new notion. . . .
It was close upon nightfall when she returned. She was muddy, but cheerful; and she hummed a song to herself in her chamber as she slid off her mired garments and attired herself for supper.
That song was her nesting song. Away Boston-wards, her lover, too, was building in his magnificent fashion; but Ruth had found a secret place, such as birds love, and shyly, stealthily as a mating bird, she set about planning and furnishing. It is woman’s instinct. . . . Every day, as soon as breakfast was done, she saddled and rode towards the Gap, and always with a parcel or two dangling from the saddle-bow or strapped upon Madcap’s back.
For the first time in her life she had money to handle; money furnished by Sir Oliver to be spent at her own disposal on the honeymoon. It seemed to her a prodigious sum, but she was none the less economical with it. I fear that sometimes she opened the bags and gloated over the coins as over a hoard. She was neither miser nor spendthrift; but unlike many girls brought up in poverty, she brought good husbandry to good fortune.
Yet “shopping”—to enter a store and choose among the goods for sale, having money to pay, but weighing quality and price—was undeniably pleasant. Twice or thrice, bethinking her of some trifle overlooked at Port Nassau, she enjoyed visiting the village store—it boasted but one—and dallying with a purchase.
She was riding back from one of these visits—it had been (if the Muse will smile and condescend) to buy a packet of hairpins—when, half-way up the village street, she spied a horseman approaching. An instant later she recognised Mr. Trask.
There was really nothing strange in her meeting him here. Mr. Trask owned a herd of bullocks, and had ridden over from Port Nassau to bargain for their winter fodder. He had not aged a day. His horse was a tall grey, large-jointed, and ugly.
Ruth wore a veil, but it was wreathed just now above the brim of her hat. Her first impulse was to draw it over her face, and her hand went up; but she desisted in pride, and rode by her old enemy with a calm face.