No one who has not seen birch trees in their undisturbed native haunts can know how purely white, unmarred by stain or tear, their trunks can be. Trenholme looked in among them. They grew thickly. White—white—it seemed in the gathering gloom that each was whiter than the other; and Trenholme, remembering that his only knowledge of the figure he sought was that it was wrapped in white, recognised the uselessness, the absurdity even, of hoping to find it here, of all places.
Then he went back to the road and started for Turrifs Settlement.
The settlement called “Turrifs” was not a village; it was only a locality, in which there were a good many houses within the radius of a few square miles.
When Alec Trenholme started off the third time to reproach the recreant driver of the ox-cart, he had no intention of again dealing with him directly. He bent his steps to the largest house in the neighbourhood, the house of the family called Turrifs; whose present head, being the second of his generation on the same farm, held a position of loosely acknowledged pre-eminence. Turrif was a Frenchman, who had had one Scotch forefather through whom his name had come. This, indeed, was the case with many of his neighbours.
Trenholme had had various negotiations with this Turrif and his neighbours, but he had only once been to the house he was now seeking and in the darkness, which had fallen completely during his three-mile walk, he was a little puzzled to find it quickly. Its wooden and weather-greyed walls glimmered but faintly in the night; it was only by following the line of log fences through the flat treeless fields that he found himself at last full in the feeble rays of the candle-light that peeped from its largest window. Trenholme knocked.
Turrif himself opened the door. He was a man of middle age, thick-set but thin, with that curious grey shade on a healthy skin that so often pertains to Frenchmen. For a moment his shrewd but mild countenance peered into the darkness; then, holding wide the door and making welcome motion with his hand, he bade Trenholme enter.
Trenholme could not speak French, but he knew that Turrif could understand enough English to comprehend his errand if he told it slowly and distinctly. Slowly and distinctly, therefore, he recounted all that had befallen him since Saul arrived at the station; but such telling of such a story could not be without some embarrassment, caused by the growing perception, on the part of both men, of its extraordinary nature.
“Eh—h!” said the Frenchman during the telling. It was a prolonged syllable, denoting meditative astonishment, and it brought another listener, for the wife came and stood by her husband, who interpreted the story to her, and shortly a girl of thirteen also drew near and stood listening to her father’s interpretation. Trenholme began to wonder whether the elder listeners were placing any confidence in his word; but the doubt was probably in his mind only, for an honest man does not estimate the subtle force of his own honesty.