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The Lure of the North

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Chapter I—Thirlwell Makes His Choice

Dinner was nearly over at the big red hotel that stands high above the city of Quebec, and Thirlwell, sitting at one of the tables, abstractedly glanced about. The spacious room was filled with skilfully tempered light that glimmered on colored glasses and sparkled on silver; pillars and cornices were decorated with artistic taste. A murmur of careless talk rose from the groups of fashionably dressed women and prosperous men, and he heard a girl's soft laugh.

All this struck a note of refined luxury that was strange to Thirlwell, who had spent some years in the wilds, where the small, frost-bitten pines roll across the rocks and muskegs of North Ontario. One lived hard up there, enduring arctic cold, and the heat of the short summer, when bloodthirsty mosquitoes swarm; and ran daunting risks on the lonely prospecting trail. Now it looked as if chance had offered him an easier lot; he could apparently choose between the privations of the wilderness and civilized comfort, but while he grappled with a certain longing he knew this was not so. He had adopted the pioneers' Spartan code; one must stand by one's bargain, and do the thing one had undertaken.

For a few moments he was silent, lost in rather gloomy thought, with a frown on his brown face, and Mrs. Allott, his English relative, studied him across the table. On the whole, Jim Thirlwell had improved in Canada, and she thought he would be welcomed if he returned to England. She had been his mother's friend, and during the week or two they had now spent together, had decided that if he proved amenable she would help him to make a career. Indeed, it was largely on Thirlwell's account she had accompanied her husband on his American tour.

Jim had certain advantages. He was not clever, but his remarks were sometimes smarter than he knew. Then he had a quiet voice and manner that impressed one, even when one differed from him, as one often did. He was not handsome, and his face was rather thin, but his features were well-defined, and she liked his firm mouth and steady look. His figure was good and marked by a touch of athletic grace. Then she was, on the whole, satisfied with the way he chose and wore his clothes. His mother had held a leading place in the exclusive society of a quiet cathedral town, until her husband lost his small fortune. Mrs. Allott understood that something might have been saved had Tom Thirlwell been less scrupulous; but Tom had unconventional views about money, and Jim was like his father in many ways. Mrs. Allott, having done her best to enlighten him, hoped he would now see where his advantage lay.

"You are not very talkative, Jim," she said.

Thirlwell looked up with an apologetic smile, but his eyes rested on the girl by Mrs. Allott's side. Evelyn Grant was young and attractive, but there was something tame about her beauty that harmonized with her character. Thirlwell had not always recognized this; indeed, when they were younger, he had indulged a romantic tenderness for the girl....