Mr. Bradford was a tall, strongly built man of forty-five, with light-brown hair and mustache, and features that betrayed much care and responsibility. Upon him as treasurer had fallen a great share of the burden of bringing a large manufacturing establishment through two years of financial depression, and his admirable constitution had weakened under the strain. But now a twinkle came into his gray eyes as he said , "My dear, I hardly think Will is suffering. At least he wasn't a month ago."
"Why, how do you know?" asked Mrs. Bradford. "Has he written at last?"
For answer Mr. Bradford drew from the depths of an inside pocket a number of letters, from which he selected one whose envelope was torn and travel-stained. It bore a Canadian and an American postage stamp, as if the sender had been uncertain in which country it would be mailed, and wished to prepare it against either contingency.
At sight of the foreign stamp Ralph,—or "Roly ," as he had been known ever since a certain playmate had called him "Roly-poly" because of his plumpness,—aged fifteen, was awake in an instant. Up to that moment his energies had been entirely absorbed in the laudable business of dulling a very keen appetite, but it quickly became evident that his instincts as a stamp collector were even keener. He had paused in the act of raising a bit of bread to his mouth, and made such a comical figure with his lips expectantly wide apart that his younger sister Helen, a little maid of nine, was betrayed into a sudden and violent fit of laughter, in which, in spite of the superior dignity of eighteen years, their brother David was compelled to join.
"Yes," said Mr. Bradford, "I received a letter from Will this afternoon. Suppose I read it aloud." Absolute quiet being magically restored, he proceeded as follows:—
Rainy Hollow, Chilkat Pass, Jan. 9, 1898 .
Dear Brother Charles,—I am storm-bound at this place, and waiting for an opportunity to cross the summit, so what better can I do than write the letter so long deferred?