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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter III - Wasby’s Home

I LEARNED that Wasby’s coming had not been welcome. This, I found, was not owing to the aversion of the Scottish settlers for an intruder who could not claim the Land o’ Cakes as his birthplace. They did not like his repulsive appearance and manner. Besides, it was known that while on shipboard, when crossing the Atlantic to Quebec, Wasby was detected in the theft of a valuable necklace from a little girl who had wandered into that part of the vessel where the emigrants were quartered. He escaped punishment by pleading the direst poverty, and pointing out the injury that prosecution would entail upon his wife and children. He had then removed to a somewhat isolated piece of land upon which the former proprietor had erected a small log house, and cleared a few acres.

The first thing for me to do was of course to find out whether or not the boy with Wasby was indeed my sister’s son. If he were, I intended to arrest the man at once for abduction. But I would have to go to Tuffy’s Corners beyond Washy’s clearing, for a constable, there being no magistrate on the Ninth Concession, the centre of the Scotch Settlement, where were located the stone kirk, the schoolhouse, the tollgate, and the blacksmith’s shop.

Early the next morning, after a walk of a couple of miles through "the bush," as the forest was invariably called, I reached the clearing. As I emerged from the wall of trees, and while I was yet at least thirty yards from the shanty, I heard Wasby’s raucous voice shouting in rage: "Yeh won’t, eh! Yeh’ll do as I tell yeh, or by the gods I’ll break every bone in yer body, that I will! Don’t lie to me about Colin blast his eyes, I’ve a notion to knock out his brains!"

There was a movement in the shanty as if Wasby were making for the object of his wrath, and I heard a voice say in tones which pierced my very soul: "For God’s sake, Jerry, don’t kill the lad! Don’t you see how helpless and innocent he is? Kill me instead. I don’t want to live, anyway."

The woman’s reply seemed to inflame his rage yet further. I heard a rush, a scuffle, and piercing screams of terror.

In the tenth of a second I had decided that the best and quickest thing to do was to make Wasby aware of the presence of a stranger. I broke out into a loud song, and between the sounds I could hear the voice in the shanty cease and a hurried bustling follow. In another minute I was at the door knocking. Wasby called out, "Come in," and I entered.

The shanty consisted of but one room and an attic. The children had fled into the corner behind the ladder leading upstairs. Mrs. Wasby, a picture of wretchedness, was seated on a bench near the fireplace, her pale blue eyes faded and colourless, and her thin body but poorly covered with the frail garments which it appeared the enraged man had already almost torn from her body in the scuffle which I had interrupted.

Although of no apparent importance at this stage of the story, it is well to record that I noticed, standing in the corner near the fireplace, a number of long stakes, sharpened carefully at one end. They had evidently been placed there to dry, and had been standing for some time, as they were beginning to show traces of grime and dust.

Wasby had assumed an air of stolidity, and after a gruff "Mornin’," he proceeded to light his black, short stemmed clay pipe with a live coal which he picked up from the fireplace, placing it in the bowl and pulling away vigorously until his face was enveloped in clouds of pungent smoke. Short, thick-set, and rather corpulent, his physique seemed fitted for the work of a settler, but his head and face showed a nature that was ignorant, brutal, and even bestial, and his countenance was seamed with the record of violent emotions.

Being obliged to offer some excuse for entering the shanty, I said: "I am on my way to Tuffy’s Corners, and I called to ask which Concession would be the best to take. I was told that the roads were very bad on the Twelfth Concession, and I don’t want to stick to the town line, as it would take me a long distance out of my way. I thought you would know if the corduroy road on the Tenth Concession was fit to travel on, because if it is, it would save me a long roundabout in getting to the Corners."

"'F I was you, I’d folly the town-line," said Wasby. "It’ll take yeh some longer, but ye’ll get there quicker’n if yeh went over the cordery road. I’m told it is in bad shape sence the rains," and he rubbed a rough hand over his bristly, stubby beard, and ejected a mouthful of tobacco juice, which by sheer force he drove to the other end of the apartment and sent spattering against the wall. "Keeps the missus busy a-cleanin’ up after me, it do," said Wasby, with a sinister grin.

As we continued our inconsequent talk about the roads, the children, realising that all immediate prospect of danger had passed, and that in the presence of a stranger there was comparative safety, gradually dispersed from the corner behind the ladder.

Poor little Colin! As I recognised him and looked at his thin, soiled face, I thought of Eleanor. I patted him kindly on the head, and he repaid me with a glance so sweet that it seemed as if Eleanor herself were gazing through his eyes. To avoid suspicion I spoke kindly to the other children also, talking meanwhile to Wasby about such commonplaces as I could think of.

I did not take my leave until I felt that the storm in the enraged man’s breast had subsided, and that the woman and children were safe for the present. I crossed the field of stumps to the west of the shanty, in order to mislead Wasby, but as soon as I was out of sight I made a detour and struck the corduroy road, as I had originally intended. Little did I think, as I went, that a terrible tragedy was to occur in that miserable room within a few hours. Had I suspected for an instant that Colin was so close to fearful danger, I would at once have attempted his rescue.

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