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PAGE 2

A Lover of Music
by [?]

Enveloped in this dazzling, pungent atmosphere, half blinded and bewildered by it, buffeted and yet supported by the onrushing torrent of air, a man on snow-shoes, with a light pack on his shoulders, emerged from the shelter of the Three Sisters’ Islands, and staggered straight on, down the lake. He passed the headland of the bay where Moody’s tavern is ensconced, and probably would have drifted on beyond it, to the marsh at the lower end of the lake, but for the yellow glare of the ball-room windows and the sound of music and dancing which came out to him suddenly through a lull in the wind.

He turned to the right, climbed over the low wall of broken ice- blocks that bordered the lake, and pushed up the gentle slope to the open passageway by which the two parts of the rambling house were joined together. Crossing the porch with the last remnant of his strength, he lifted his hand to knock, and fell heavily against the side door.

The noise, heard through the confusion within, awakened curiosity and conjecture.

Just as when a letter comes to a forest cabin, it is turned over and over, and many guesses are made as to the handwriting and the authorship before it occurs to any one to open it and see who sent it, so was this rude knocking at the gate the occasion of argument among the rustic revellers as to what it might portend. Some thought it was the arrival of the belated band. Others supposed the sound betokened a descent of the Corey clan from the Upper Lake, or a change of heart on the part of old Dan Dunning, who had refused to attend the ball because they would not allow him to call out the figures. The guesses were various; but no one thought of the possible arrival of a stranger at such an hour on such a night, until Serena suggested that it would he a good plan to open the door. Then the unbidden guest was discovered lying benumbed along the threshold.

There was no want of knowledge as to what should be done with a half-frozen man, and no lack of ready hands to do it. They carried him not to the warm stove, but into the semi-arctic region of the parlour. They rubbed his face and his hands vigorously with snow. They gave him a drink of hot tea flavoured with whiskey–or perhaps it was a drink of whiskey with a little hot tea in it–and then, as his senses began to return to him, they rolled him in a blanket and left him on a sofa to thaw out gradually, while they went on with the dance.

Naturally, he was the favourite subject of conversation for the next hour.

“Who is he, anyhow? I never seen ‘im before. Where’d he come from?” asked the girls.

“I dunno,” said Bill Moody; “he didn’t say much. Talk seemed all froze up. Frenchy, ‘cordin’ to what he did say. Guess he must a come from Canady, workin’ on a lumber job up Raquette River way. Got bounced out o’ the camp, p’raps. All them Frenchies is queer.”

This summary of national character appeared to command general assent.

“Yaas,” said Hose Ransom, “did ye take note how he hung on to that pack o’ his’n all the time? Wouldn’t let go on it. Wonder what ‘t wuz? Seemed kinder holler ‘n light, fer all ‘twuz so big an’ wropped up in lots o’ coverin’s.”

“What’s the use of wonderin’?” said one of the younger boys; “find out later on. Now’s the time fer dancin’. Whoop ‘er up!”

So the sound of revelry swept on again in full flood. The men and maids went careering up and down the room. Serena’s willing fingers laboured patiently over the yellow keys of the reluctant melodion. But the ancient instrument was weakening under the strain; the bellows creaked; the notes grew more and more asthmatic.

“Hold the Fort” was the tune, “Money Musk” was the dance; and it was a preposterously bad fit. The figure was tangled up like a fishing- line after trolling all day without a swivel. The dancers were doing their best, determined to be happy, as cheerful as possible, but all out of time. The organ was whirring and gasping and groaning for breath.