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   Chapter 1 A Bountiful Harvest 375

Lorimer of the Northwest By Harold Bindloss Characters: 8321

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


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LORIMER OF THE NORTHWEST

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PROLOGUE

Fairmead, Western Canada.

It is a still, hot day in autumn, and there is a droning of mosquitoes where I sit by an open window, glancing alternately out across the Assiniboian prairie and somewhat blankly at the bundle of paper before me, ready to begin this story. Its telling will not be an easy matter, but one finds idle hours pass heavily after a life such as mine has been, and since the bronco blundering into a badger-hole fell and broke my leg the surgeon who rode forty miles to set it said that if I was to work at harvest I must not move before-and the harvest is already near. So I nibble the pen and look around the long match-boarded hall, waiting for the inspiration which is strangely slow in coming, while my wife, who was Grace Carrington, smiles over her sewing and suggests that it is high time to begin.

There are many guns on the wall glistening like sardines with oil rubbed well in, and among them the old Winchester which once saved us from starvation in British Columbia. There are also long rows of painted butterflies and moths whose colors pleased Grace's fancy when I caught them in the sloos. Sometimes I wonder whether she really likes that kind of decoration, or merely pinned them to the wall because I caught them for her. Then, and this is my own fancy, the bit of the horse which once saved her life hangs in a place of its own under the heads of the antelopes and the forward half of a crane with which a Winnipeg taxidermist has travestied nature. There are also a few oil paintings and, of course, some furniture, but I 2 am not learned in such matters, and know only that it cost me many dollars when I brought it from Toronto on one of Grace's birthdays, and I have never regretted the investment.

No, there is nothing here that merits much comment, though Fairmead is one of the finest homesteads between the Saskatchewan and the Souris. Then as I gaze with half-closed eyes through the open window the memories awaken and crowd, as it were, upon one another. Far out on the rim of the prairie lies a silvery haze, through which the vault of azure melts into the dusty whiteness of the grasses. Then, level on level, with each slowly swelling rise growing sharper under that crystalline atmosphere the prairie rolls in, broken here by a willow copse and there by a straggling birch bluff, while a belt of cool neutral shadow marks the course of a deep-sunk ravine. At first sight it is all one glaring sweep of white and gray, but on looking closer with understanding eyes one sees the yellow and sage-green of tall reeds in a sloo, the glowing lights of sun-bleached buffalo bones, and a mingling of many colors where there is wild peppermint or flowers among the grass. Then, broad across the foreground, growing tall and green in a few moister places, and in others changing to ochre and coppery red, there ripples, acre after acre, a great sea of grain whose extent is beyond the comprehension of the insular Briton.

That, at least, with its feathery oat tassels and stately heads of wheat, is a picture well worth looking upon, for there are few places in the world where one may see furrows of equal length. It was won hardly, by much privation, and in the sweat of the brow, as well as by the favor of Providence, as Grace would say, and she is right in most things, except when she attempts to instruct me in stock feeding, for we hold on the prairie that it is not fair 3 to place all the burden on Providence. Therefore the settlers who succeed cut down rations and work double tides to help themselves in time of adversity.

Yes, though better men have done more and failed, we worked hard enough for it, Harry Lorraine and I, stinting ourselves often to feed the stock and deal justly with the soil, until at last the ill-fortune turned and the kindly earth repaid us a hundred fold for our trust in it.

Grace partly approves of the foregoing, for she laid by her sewing to read the loose sheets beside me, bending down until her hair, which is bronze-gold with the sun in it, just touched my own. It may be that my eyes are prej

udiced, but I have never seen a woman who might compare with her. Neither has her comeliness faded. Instead, it has grown even more refined and stately, for Grace had always a queenly way, since the day when I first met her, the fairest maid-I think so now, though it is long ago-that ever trod the bleak moorlands of eastern Lancashire.

Beyond the wheat and straggling birches I can see the shingled roofs of Harry's dwelling. We have long been partners-all the Winnipeg dealers know the firm of Lorimer & Lorraine, and how they send their wheat in by special freight train. Then there is a stretch of raw breaking, and the tinkle of the binders rises out of a hidden hollow, as tireless arms of wood and steel pile up the sheaves of Jasper's crop-Jasper takes a special pride in forestalling us. The dun smoke of a smudge-fire shows that Harry is in prairie fashion protecting our stock, and I see it drifting eastward across the dusty plain, with the cattle seeking shelter from the mosquitoes under it.

The management of a farm like Fairmead is a serious task, even when there are two to do it, and Grace says there are weighty responsibilities attached. How many toilers in crowded Europe benefit by the cheap flour we send them 4 I do not know, though last year we kept the Winnipeg millers busy; but when, in conjunction with a certain society, we opened new lands and homes for the homeless poor-it was Grace's pet project-all those who occupied them were not thankful. Some also stole their neighbors' chickens, and the said neighbors abused us. Others seemed more inclined to live on one another than to wrest a living from the soil, while once Macdonald of the Northwest Police lodged a solemn protest, "We'll hold ye baith responsible for the depredations o' the wastrels who're disturbing the harmony o' this peaceful prairie."

Still, Harry and I were once poor enough ourselves, and with Grace's help we have done our best to weed out the worthless-Harry attends to this-and encourage the rest. Very many bushels of seed-wheat has Grace given them, and here as elsewhere there are considerably more good than bad, while already a certain society takes to itself the credit of the flourishing Fairmead colony. Harry, however, says that undeserved prosperity has made me an optimist. But the reader will wonder how I, Ralph Lorimer, who landed in Canada with one hundred pounds' capital, became owner of Fairmead and married Grace, only daughter and heiress of Colonel Carrington. Well, that is a long story, and looking back at the beginning of it instead of at the sunlit prairie I see a grimy smoke-blackened land where gaunt chimneys stand in rows, and behind it the bare moors of Lancashire. Then again the memories change like the glasses of a kaleidoscope, and I sigh as I remember comrades who helped us in our necessity and who now, forgotten by all save a few, sleep among the snow-bound ranges, under the bitter alkali dust, and deep in the smoking ca?ons through which we carried the new steel highway.

Failures, probably their friends called them at home, but in this their friends were wrong. With light jest, or grim 5 silent endurance, they played out the lost game to the bitter end, and laid the foundations of a great country's prosperity, while if fate or fortune has favors for but the few, those who receive them should remember with becoming humility what otherwise they might have been. So the past comes back, struggle, disappointment, and slow success, at last, until it is a relief when Harry Lorraine strides laughing in and Grace fills for him a great polished horn of cider.

"Here's success to your story! Tell them simply how we live and work, and some of us, the best, have died in this land," he says. Then he raises the horn high toward the rafters and I know his meaning. It is a way the forerunners of civilization-axe-man, paddle-man, and railroad shoveler-had, and he did it in memory of one who lies far off among the northern snows. Taking up the weary pen as he and Grace go out together I prepare to follow his counsel, telling the story simply and as it happened from the beginning.

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