There had been the examination of baggage at the frontier and the tiresome change to a rear car in the early morning, and most of us were heavy-eyed, but she looked as fresh and charming as ever in her new waist of black lace and the serge skirt which she had bought the day before. It seemed impossible to realize that I was really seated opposite her in the dining car, talking amid the punctuating chatter of a party of red-cheeked French-Canadian school children who had come on the train at Sherbrooke, bound for their home on the occasion of the approaching Christmas holidays.
“You see, Jacqueline,” I explained, “it will look strange our travelling together, unless some close relationship is supposed to exist between us. I might subject you to embarrassment—so I shall call you my sister, Miss Hewlett, and you will call me your brother Paul.” And I handed her my visiting card, because she had never heard my surname before.
“I shall be glad to think of you as my brother Paul,” she answered, looking at the card. She held it in her right hand, and it was not until the middle of the meal that the left hand came into view.
Then I discovered that she had taken off her wedding ring.
I wondered what thought impelled her to do this, whether it was coquetry or the same instinct which seemed to interpret the situation at all times perfectly, though it never welled up into her consciousness.
We sped northward all that morning, stopping at many little wayside stations, and as we rushed along beside the ice-bound St. Francis the air ever grew colder, and the land, deep in snow, and the tall pines, white with frost, looked like a picture on a Christmas card.
At last the St. Lawrence appeared, covered with drifting floes; the Isle of Orleans, with the Falls of Montmorency behind it; the ascending heights which slope up to the Chateau Frontenac, the fort-crowned citadel, the long parapet, bristling with guns.
Then, after the ferry had transferred us from Levis we stood in Lower Quebec.
We had hardly gone on board the ferryboat when an incident occurred that greatly disturbed me. A slightly built, well-dressed man, with a small, upturned mustache and a face of notable pallor, passed and repassed us several times, staring and smiling with cool effrontery at both of us.
He wore a lambskin cap and a fur overcoat, and I could not help associating him with the dead man, or avoiding the belief that he had travelled north with us, and that Leroux had been to see him off at the station.
I was a good deal troubled by this, but before I had decided to address the fellow we landed, and a sleigh swept us up the hill toward the chateau to the tune of jingling bells. It was a strange wintry scene—the low sleighs, their drivers wrapped in furs and capped in bearskin, the hooded nuns in the streets, the priests, soldiers, and ancient houses. The air was keen and dry.