The Uncollected Short Stories of Duncan Campbell Scott

By Duncan Campbell Scott, edited by Tracy Ware



Ends Rough Hewn



    In the year 18— there was a village in Canada, which for the purposes of this story may be known as Sedgeford. It has gradually grown to a town, put off many of the quaintnesses which it possessed in its village days, and taken on not a few of the crudities which come with enlarged boundaries. But it has hardly altered in picturesqueness, and even at the risk of revealing an identity which might well be concealed, as in the elements of this fiction, truth is largely mixed, this beauty of situation may be a little dwelt upon.
    From a clear lake the shore rises steeply, and above the silver ripple stands the town, fronting the rising sun. Many of the houses are of brick, more ruddy than is usual with that material in Canada, and, with the dark pines for a background, the place borrows a tone of richness; as if the picture had been painted by an old master—as if the pigments he had used were his deepest and warmest. The light seems to dwell considerately there, not in sombreness, but with a temperate strength. In winter the place gives good cheer to travelers crossing the frozen lake in the north-west wind; either by day, with the glow of welcome in the houses, each giving the sign of a hearth in the tossed plume of smoke, or by night, with the lights above the snow, from a distance clustered like a single diamond shaking with light, or, nearer, separating into stars of different magnitudes outlining a new terrene constellation.
    Once in the streets, a feeling of comfort surprises the traveler; he knows that there he might die in contentment, and his discernment, for the nonce disarmed, leads him to believe that there every man has a plenty and is free of care. It is not true; but the fancy, springing to life in the congenial atmosphere of the place, has root in an ideal of the human heart from which we have drifted far.
    In the year already written down, there lived in Sedgeford a family named Pangman, whose head was a great man in the village. He possessed the largest general store in the place, and was also the postmaster, he issued [Page 105] the marriage licenses and was full of those small important offices which gather about one in his position.
    He was a man whom everyone respected and there were daily prophecies for his success in life. Many people believed he could do what he would: that if politics attracted him he would lead his party, that if business held him he would be rich and powerful. Already he had been remarkably successful, and he was in, so called, comfortable circumstances.
    His wife was a woman of fine character and her activity in charitable works gave her husband an additional claim on the goodwill of the community. She had such native tact and wisdom that she was likely to grace any position in which she might be placed.
    Four children had been born to them, and at the time when the occurrence happened which so seriously affected the tranquility of their existence, they were respectively eighteen, sixteen, ten and four years of age. The eldest was a girl, called Christine, the next a boy, Charles. The two youngest children, a boy and girl, have no active part in this history; their names need not be mentioned.
    The Sedgeford post-office was one of some importance, as the township was thickly settled and the farmers generally preferred having their mail matter sent to the office at the market-town. One department of the Government had an agency at Sedgeford which transacted a large volume of business. Twice a year a money packet was received addressed to the agent whose duty it was to make certain cash payments to the Indian wards of the Government. This packet contained usually about $12,000.00; it was invariably registered, and arrived at Sedgeford during the months of April and November.
    In April of the year 18— the packet was overdue; the middle of the month came and went and nothing was heard of it. The Agent inquired of the postmaster and the postmaster inquired of the agent, but the interchange of questions did not bring the delinquent packet. At last Mr. Pangman said: “You had better let them know.” Accordingly, the agent reported the non-arrival of the money. Days went by, but he received no answer to his letter and at last he telegraphed. An answer came promptly. The packet had been registered to his address on the 5th of April, and a letter of instruction had accompanied it under separate cover. He had received neither. The information threw the two officials into a state of alarm. The agent at once advised his department, and in due time the post-office inspector for the district arrived at Sedgeford. The letter, properly registered, had passed the hands of the mail clerks on the route and had been billed to the Sedgeford office. It did not take the skilled officials long to place the responsibility [Page 106] where it rested, with Mr. Pangman. He was nonplussed. He was deeply concerned. Charles must know something about it; he had helped him with the mail constantly, being his sworn assistant. Charles was sent for; it was early in the morning; he was not at home. He had left the previous evening to row across the bay of the lake, saying he would likely stay all night with a friend. The day wore on but he did not come back. A messenger returned from his friend’s with the word that he had not visited them. The inspector, who was an adept at looking suspicious, became an index finger of accusation. By nightfall he had concluded to act without pretending any longer to take Mr. Pangman’s hopeful view of the case. Charles’ boat was missing, he argued; until that was found without his son he would not harbor a single suspicion. The next morning two lads brought it; they had found it beached in a shallow cove. A note to his mother was pinned to the gunwale. Simply a few words.

“Dear Mother: Forgive me, don’t think hardly of me. I had to go, and it will be better for all of you. Give Christie a kiss. Charlie.”

    When she read that note her greatest trial came to her, a lightning stroke. But she turned to comfort her husband. He lost control of himself; he wrung his hands as if he had burnt them, and wept like a child. He seemed completely overcome by his son’s crime. Ruin stared him in the face; to pay such a sum he would have to sell or mortgage every tittle he owned in Sedgeford—and he must, he would repay the amount at once.
    But here his friends stepped in. It was powerfully represented to Government that he should be given an opportunity, a man of his integrity— that he should not be dealt with harshly. Perhaps his son would return; a little time might well be consumed in the interests of justice. But nothing was heard of the unfortunate young man, and in a year’s time Mr. Pangman repaid the money with interest as he wished no one to suffer for the sin of his misguided boy. He was an able financier and he raised every cent of the money and continued his business as before.
    He prospered, but this cloud shadowed the family life. The feeling of trouble dwelt with them constantly, there was a gap at the table which stood for a failure in life. The younger children were too inexperienced to understand, but Christine mourned for her brother and could not be comforted. She had always been a very delicate child—for ten years she had been confined to the house, and for long periods to her bed, by a malady which baffled the doctors. Her brother had been her best friend and comforter, he had sat with her by day, watched with her at night, and made her [Page 107] life more than tolerable. She was inconsolable. She kept the note he had written in a locket over her heart.
    Years went by and Mr. Pangman prospered so exceedingly that he sold his business at Sedgeford and removed to Toronto, a city which was growing in wealth and importance. He made excellent investments and the home of the Pangmans was a luxurious one. Beyond everything, Christine became much better; she regained her strength, could walk and drive, and, although her nervous organization was still extremely sensitive, she was, by comparison with her former state, restored to health. Mrs. Pangman found larger opportunities in the city to engage in her deep-hearted charities; her husband, who had changed since their supreme sorrow, seconded her in everything. Their church funds were aided munificently, and many were the private sufferings which were either entirely removed or softened by their grace.
    Very few in the city of their adoption, knew the story of their trial, of the robbery and flight, but in their home life the lost son had not been forgotten. His name was never mentioned, but Mr. Pangman supplicated for him at the family altar night and morning euphuistically: “May he who wanders afar, we know not whether alive or dead, be brought to a knowledge of Thy truth, and, if it be not Thy will that he shall again join with us at this altar, let our family be united in Heaven.” But to Christine he was still alive, his image was ever present with her, she had thought so vividly of him that he was a power in her life, and her new strength and the widened range of her activities did not wean her from this fancy. She always remembered that he had thought of her last: her heart had grown round the words, “Give Christie a kiss.” It is to such simple, childish expressions that the most tragic affections often cling.
    One morning early in May of the year 18—Christine was engaged in some small domestic task in the dining-room. She had been so long cheated of all such feminine employment that she took delight in them. Standing by the sideboard with a silver cup in her hand, she was aware of some indistinct object to her left, between her and the window. She did not glance at it, but it seemed to be there, where nothing stood. She kept her eyes fixed on the cup and slowly recognized that what she saw was a plain deal table very much notched as if whittled by a knife, and covered with blotches of ink. Upon it was a heap of something, unformed; a yellow light as if falling from a lamp lay upon the whole. The picture slowly faded away.
    That is very strange, she thought. Her first impression was to run and tell her mother, but just as she reached the door she remembered that her [Page 108] mother was out. Then she recollected that she had somewhere read that other people had had similar experiences. She resolved to keep the matter to herself, lest by communicating the occurrence she might break the spell and remove the possibility of receiving a similar visitation. At this resolve she turned faint with excitement and had to recline for some time before she could move.
    Weeks passed, and July had come with its heat and its beginning of a dying summer. Christine had been away from the city in the mountains. She had not been the observer during this time of anything which she could trace to an actuality. Mr. Pangman having been recalled to the city on urgent business, had brought her for a companion. They had driven out in the morning through the park and Mr. Pangman had directed the coachman to stop before the new building for the Provincial Parliament. He had left the carriage and had gone within the walls, which had risen ten or twelve feet, with the purpose of seeing one of the contractors. Christine was left alone.
    It was extremely warm. The carriage stood near one of the corners of masonry but there was no shade. Her eyes followed the lines in the purplish stone. Then without warning she became aware of the beginning of a picture between herself and the background of the wall. It was the same deal table as before; she saw it more clearly. The mass which she had before found undistinguishable, she now saw was a heap of letters and papers. There was one parcel sealed, much larger than anything else on the table, except a leather satchel. The same yellow light flooded everything. Behind this scene she could plainly discern the purplish wall of the new building. As before, it soon faded away. It seemed to her she had seen a colored print in a book, the lines were of that sharp distinctness; but there was something familiar in the picture, as if the book were a book of memory.
    As she was trying to recollect, her father came out of the works. As soon as she saw him she recognized that the leather satchel that she had seen was the image of one which had years ago belonged to him, when they lived at Sedgeford. He ran towards her with trepidation; she was pale and faint. The heat bore the blame of her condition and as fast as the horses could carry them they sped away to their cool house.
    Mr. Pangman wished to send for his wife, fearing that Christine might be seriously ill, but she would not hear of it. In a day or two she was quite herself, and they carried out their plans of returning to the mountains. September found them again in the city. During this interval Christine had not had a recurrence of the vision, but she had succeeded in fixing the impression that it was her father’s old satchel which she had seen. When she was [Page 109] a very little girl, she had frequently been within the Sedgeford post-office, which was merely a division of her father’s shop, and she had, with partial success, called upon her memory to furnish details of the arrangements which would correspond with her vision. What she had twice seen would be repeated, she had faith; and, moreover, she began to think of the occurrences devoutly, as if they had some significance above the common level of her experience.
    It was early in the morning when she saw it again. She awoke in the silence which she felt in her room after the departure of a pair of swallows which every year inhabited the eave above her window, whose purling notes were the first sounds she heard. The sun was nearly up, and her room was faintly lighted. Between her bed and the window she saw the now familiar picture, but there were several new elements in it. Above the table she could see a looking-glass in a black frame; a figure stood before it— her father. So distinct was the impression as she remembered him in the old days at Sedgeford, that she started up with a cry, and the fabric of her vision slipped away like summer lightning.
    That day she did not feel able to rise, a feeling of dejection, which was a stranger to her, kept a weight on her heart. She thought much about her old suffering, much about her brother Charlie, and, for the first time in years, she opened the locket and read the words he had pencilled and the message for herself. Could it be that the strange hallucination, which had come to her now three times, was in any way connected with him? Would she have to wait weeks before knowing?
    She had not long to wait. One evening in October she was in her room; it was not late, but the house was quiet. She stood before her glass, her luxuriant hair flooding her shoulders, falling to her waist over the loose wrapper that she wore. In a moment she saw the picture in her mirror. She did not stir. This time there was movement. Her father’s figure was actually tearing the wrapper off a packet. His back was turned to her, but she could see him thrusting something into the satchel. Suddenly, her attention was drawn to the looking-glass above the table. There she saw her brother Charlie’s face, pale, serious, attentive. Her father seemed to raise his head and see it also, but in a moment it moved away, the vision faltered, and she was confronting her blank mirror.
    Christine threw herself upon her bed and gave herself to the tragic thoughts which seized upon her like lions. Her mind flew back to that old, melancholy time at Sedgeford, and she felt anew the pang which had struck through her when she had been told of her brother’s flight. Suddenly she sprang to her feet. An idea which had just entered her brain appalled [Page 110] her. It had root in that gesture of her father’s figure, and the sad, significant face of her brother in the glass. She had had for all these years a strenuous faith in his innocence; a faith with nothing tangible to support it, living like a delicate, air-fed plant, sustained upon invisible nourishment. Now that she seemed to possess a sort of evidence, no matter how subtle, how occult, she would have the truth. She knew her father was alone in his library. Her mother and sister were out, her brother was away. She went rapidly down the stairs.
    Mr. Pangman was stretched upon a sofa with his fingers in the leaves of a book which he had not been reading. The day had been remarkably successful; by a shrewd manipulation of stocks, he had cleared a very large sum, but he had not been thinking of that. Whenever he was alone with his soul, there was only one subject for his thoughts. Anyone would have pitied the rich, powerful, respected man, could he have seen his gashed heart, and known how much of his life was consumed by a vain longing for his lost boy. He was absorbed in such hopeless reflection as Christine approached his door. His face followed his broken thoughts, and looked deep sorrow, and even despair.
    Christine frightened him with her wan, spirit face, her streaming hair. She seemed to float, rather than move; in truth, she did not feel her limbs. She spoke at once, while he was raising himself on the sofa, with a look of apprehension, and her name on his lips. His face, with its mask of despair, shocked her, and she noticed with involuntary surprise how white his hair was, and how deep and anxious were the lines on his brow. But, while the thought was flashed upon her, she had spoken.
    “Father, was there a table in the Sedgeford office with a looking-glass above it?”
    “Yes, Christine. Why do you ask?” He started, but it did not seem to him an unnatural question.
    “I have had a strange idea. Father, did Charlie take that money?”
    “Yes, dear; poor boy! What has made you think of it to-night?”
    “And you knew nothing about it?”
    His face fell strangely pallid, his voice almost vanished.
    “No—no—why? he took the money. I paid back every cent—every cent.”
    “And you did not see his face in the glass?”
    “I—in the glass—Christine—do not stare like that.” He could not control his twitching arm.
    “In the glass—I mean when you put the money into the satchel.” [Page 111]
    He fell as if a stone from a sling had entered his brain between the eyes. But he did not faint; he put up his hands as if to keep back a rush of memories.
    “Christine!” he cried, not in his own voice, “it was his fault.”
    “His fault—that poor boy—who led him on? You plotted—he was to take the blame. I see it—you have kept him away. Give him back to me. Give me my brother.” Her eye was on fire.
    “No, no, Christine. You don’t understand; he misunderstood; he thought I was going to keep the money, but I only wanted it for a while. He went away; he may have thought I would be blamed, but he needn’t have gone.”
    She stood, dazed by her tumultuous thoughts; she had, for a moment, fancied her brother partly guilty, now she saw him innocent.
    “You saw his face in the glass. You knew that he knew. You did not speak to him. You let him go,”—these words in a low voice, as if thinking out loud. Her father stood before her, judged.
    “He took the disgrace for you because—why?—he thought you had everything at stake, that your ruin would kill us all—now I know, don’t speak—he did not say a word to anyone—he let us think what we would— he thought he was saving us.”
    “Christine, how could I know?” She looked beyond him stonily.
    “What did you do with that money?”
    “I turned it over.”
    “Turned it over?”
    “Yes, I speculated with it. In a year I had doubled it. I paid it back; they lent me money on the place at Sedgeford at three per cent., but I was getting ten per cent. for all the money I could find. Everyone liked me and trusted me.”
    “And you were acting a lie! Father! Father! And this prosperity is built on the heart of my brother—his ruined life!”
    He tried to calm her, but he was so broken in every nerve that he shook like a sapling in a great wind.
    “Listen, Christine; how could I help that—I have spent a fortune in trying to find him. Think of what I have given to the church; to-night I was preparing to give a new organ.”
    “No! no!” she cried, “do not speak to me. I must think.” She threw herself on her knees and hid her face against the lounge. A moment later she was on her feet. [Page 112]
    “Father,” she said calmly, “we must renounce all this, you must tell everyone. We must go away. You must save your soul. You must tell mother. We must not wear a mask any longer.”
    He felt fire rise from his heart and flood his brain. He could not see. He caught at the air.
    “Christine,” he groaned, “not me! Just think how I am respected; everyone would lose faith—no, no, I can’t, I have been rich too long. It would kill your mother—just think—to make a confession.”
    “Father, listen to me, you must do this yourself, no one else can do it for you, it is the only thing left to do. I do not demand it—everything good and just in heaven demands it. It must be done, and you must do it.”
    She left him. He fell back on the sofa. There was no further need for concealment from himself; he was plunged into despair. The horrid life he had led stood beside him like a character in a play. He knew the part was hateful, but he loved the character he had made. “I cannot, cannot, cannot,” he cried out in spirit, with a growing intensity. Christine would not ask him to do that. It was only Christine he had to deal with. He felt clammy; he brushed cold water off his face, how had it come there? How could Christine have found out? Perhaps Charlie had come back—nonsense, he had almost direct proof that he was dead—and what need was there then to confess. He battled up and down the lurid field of his experience. He went to his room locked himself in, and began again. Dawn found him tossing on his bed. He did not know how all these years of cowardice had weakened him. When he rose he could not stand.
    Christine met him at his door. “You will tell mother first,” she said. Lead-colored, weary lids were over her eyes.
    “Never,” he groaned, “never, I cannot tell anyone; think for a moment of what I stand for.” He was unable to exorcise his demon and Christine seemed to feel it.
    “I am in the right,” she said; “by noon you must do it.” Then she mentioned the Rev. Mr. Birchlake’s name. “If you cannot tell mother, tell Mr. Birchlake; go at once.”
    He felt so little control that he left the house. He wandered on the streets. He wandered far. For long periods he forgot himself. He did not know where he was. Suddenly he found himself without his hat. Persons he did not know were staring at him. He found a shop and bought a new hat. It was half after twelve when he came to his office. Christine was there. He spoke wild angry words. Would she never leave him alone. She went away without a word. He spent all the afternoon looking at his desk. He would not see anyone. He could not tell of what he was thinking. [Page 113]
    Suddenly he felt that it was late; it was growing dark. He drove home in a cab. He feared to meet Christine. He found a letter on his writing table. He read it, and for some time did not comprehend.

“Dear Father: —I have decided to leave this house and never enter it again until I know you have confessed. When I see an advertisement, worded as follows, in the Buffalo papers, I will give mother my address and she will write to me: ‘Christie. There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them as we will.’ Do not try to find me, it is useless. Christine.”

    He fell back in his chair. No! no! he could not stand this. What explanation could he give of Christine’s absence? This would kill his wife. No, rather than do that he would call on Mr. Birchlake. He went out at once. He had not far to go, but he seemed unconscious of the way. A wave rose in his breast and tossed to his brain and rolled back again: to confess and not to confess; to save Christine or to let her go; he would get her back before anyone knew. No, she had gone, and she could stay. The wave rolled and tossed. He found himself in Mr. Birchlake’s study. He must do something now. The wave commenced to beat him wearily and blind him; it was full of light. He felt Mr. Birchlake’s step. The whole deep ocean was upon him. He did not see his pastor’s extended arm. His hands were like two bats fluttering over his head. His nerveless jaw fell to chattering. He tried to speak. He was going to say, “I am a guilty soul.” But he cried out in a loud, ungoverned voice, “Christine! Christine! There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them as we will.” And these (unexplained, until Christine’s note was found) were the only words that moved his lips until they were forever covered with silence.
    Strange! sometimes our resolves come too late; sometimes when we would drink the cup of expiation, the bright power which has so long, so patiently held it to our lips snatches it away, and hides his face darkly. [Page 114]