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   Chapter 3 CHAPTER II

Lorimer of the Northwest By Harold Bindloss Characters: 15311

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


It was raining hard when I climbed into the dog-cart and rattled away into the darkness, while somewhat to my surprise Robert the Devil, or Devilish Bob, as those who had the care of him called the bay horse, played no antics on the outward journey, which was safely accomplished. So leaving him at the venerable "Swan," I hurried through the miry streets toward the church. They were thronged with pale-faced men and women who had sweated out their vigor in the glare of red furnace, dye-shop, and humming mill, but there was no lack of enthusiasm. I do not think there are any cities in the world with the same public spirit and pride in local customs that one may find in the grimy towns of Lancashire. The enthusiasm is, however, part of their inhabitants' nature, and has nothing to do with the dismal surroundings.

A haze of smoke had mingled with the rain; yellow gas jets blinked through it, though it would not be dark for an hour or so yet; and the grim, smoke-blackened houses seemed trickling with water. Still every one laughed and chattered with good-humored expectancy, even the many who had no umbrellas. It was hard work to reach the church, though I opined that all the multitude did not intend to venture within, and when once I saw my uncle with a wand in his hand I carefully avoided him. Martin Lorimer was a power and well liked in that town, but I had not driven ten miles to assist him. Then I waited 17 among the jostling crowd in a fever of impatience, wondering whether Miss Carrington had yet gone in, until at last I saw the Colonel marching through the throng, which-and knowing the temperament of our people I wondered at it-made way for him. There were others of the party behind, and my heart leaped at the sight of Grace. She was walking beside Captain Ormond, who smiled down at her.

Then, just as the Colonel passed within, a burst of cheering broke out, and in the mad scramble for the entrance Grace, who turned a moment to recover the cloak she dropped, was separated from her companion. He was driven forward in the thickest part of the stream of excited human beings, and fortune had signally favored me. Squeezing through from behind a pillar I reached her side, and grew hot with pride when she slipped her arm through mine, and we were borne forward irresistibly by the surging crowd. Once I saw Ormond vainly trying to make his way back in search of his companion, and I stood so that he could not see her. Half-way down the aisle we met an official who recognized me as a nephew of Martin Lorimer. "I'll find you and the lady seats in the chancel. It will be the only good place left," he said.

I did not care where we went, as long as Grace went with me, and when he ensconced us under an oaken canopy among the ancient carved stalls I longed that the service might last a century, while Grace's quiet "Thank you, I am so interested," filled me with ecstasy.

The church was interesting. There are many cathedrals that could not compare with it; and it was very old. The damp haze had entered the building, and obscuring half the clearstory it enhanced its stateliness, for the great carved pillars and arches led the wandering eye aloft and lost it in a mystery, while far up at the western end above the organ a gilded Gloria caught a stray shaft of light 18 and blazed out of the gloom. I saw Grace's eyes rest on it, and then I followed them down across the sea of faces, along the quaint escutcheons, and over two marble tombs, until she fixed them on her father, who with his party sat in a high-backed pew. The crash of music outside ceased, and with a steady tramp of feet, file by file, men in scarlet uniform moved up the aisle; while before them, led by the sword and gilded mace, came a little homely man, who seemed burdened by his glittering chain, and most uncomfortable. As I knew, he commenced his business career with ten pounds' capital, and could hardly speak plain English, while now his goods were known in every bazaar from Cairo to Singapore. This knowledge fostered a vague but daring hope within me.

I remember little of the service beyond Grace's voice ringing high and clear in the "Magnificat," while for perhaps the first time I caught a glimmer of its full significance, and her face, clean-cut against the shadow where a fretted pinnacle allowed one shaft of light to pass it, looking, I thought, like that of a haloed saint. The rest was all a blurred impression of rolling music, half-seen faces, and gay uniforms, until a tall old man of commanding personality stood high aloft in the carved pulpit, and proclaimed a doctrine that seemed strangely out of place in the busy town. Honest labor brought its own reward in the joy of diligent toil, he said, and the prize of fame or money was a much slighter thing. I could not quite understand this then, for there were many in that district whose daily toil wore body and soul away, so that none of them might hope to live out half of man's allotted span, while a prize for which I would have given my life sat close beside me, and twice that evening the calm proud eyes had smiled gratefully into mine.

Still, there was one drawback. As chance would have it, Minnie Lee, who operated the typewriter in the mill 19 offices, sat just opposite, and would cast mischievous glances toward me. We were good friends in a way, for during two years I had talked to her on business matters every day, and sometimes also indulged in innocent badinage. She was fair-haired and delicately pretty, and was said to be aware of it; but now of all times I did not want those playful smiles directed toward me. However, I hoped that Grace did not see them; and not knowing what else to do, for I could not frown at her, I sought refuge in what proved to be a bewildering chapter of genealogy, until the building trembled as the vast assembly joined in the closing hymn. Long afterward, out on the lone prairie when the stars shone down through the bitter frost, I could hear in fancy Grace's voice rising beside me through the great waves of sound. Then I would remember the song of the speckled thrush singing at sunset after a showery April day through the shadow of a copse.

We reached the street safely, though in that press there was no hope of finding Colonel Carrington, even if I wished it, which I certainly did not, so after some demur and the discussing of other expedients, Grace accepted my offer to drive her home. "I am afraid it can't be helped," she said, I thought with quite unnecessary cruelty.

The dog-cart was ready, and Robert the Devil went well. The long streets rolled behind us, and were lost in the rain; then with a rhythmic drumming of hoofs and a constant splashing from under the whirring wheels, we swept out into the blackness of a treeless plain. I knew the road and did not take the shortest one; and it was rapture to draw the rugs and apron round Grace's waist, and feel the soft furs she wore brushing against me. The ten miles passed in what seemed to be scarcely as many minutes, and the rush through the damp air-for the rain had ceased at last-raised my companion's spirits, and she 20 chatted merrily; then, just as we reached the crest of a steep dip into the Starcross valley, the Devil must take fright at a colored railway light that he had often seen before.

I knew we were in for a struggle, and got both hands on the reins; but two men would hardly have held him. The next moment, with a mad rattle of wheels and red sparks flashing under the battering hoofs, we went flying into the long dark hollow, while I think I prayed that the Devil might

keep his footing on the loose stones of a very bad road. One lurch flung Grace against the guard-rail, the next against my shoulder, and I remember feeling when the little hand fastened on my arm, that I would gladly have done battle with ten wild horses were she also not in jeopardy. Fresh drizzle lashed our faces, the wind screamed past, the wheels seemed to leave the ground alternately, and a light rushed up toward us from below, while with my teeth hard set I wondered what would happen when we reached the sharp bend at the bottom.

I got the Devil around it somehow, and then breathed easier, for the steep slope of Starcross Brow rose close ahead, and I knew no horse was ever foaled which could run away up that. So, trusting to one hand, I slipped my arm round Grace's waist, and, thrilled at the touch of her damp hair on my neck, "I'll hold you safe; we are near the end, and the danger will soon be past," I said.

It turned out so, for though Robert the Devil charged the hill gallantly, Starcross Brow proved too much for him, and, with a sigh of relief, Grace drew herself away. "I must thank you, Mr. Lorimer. You drive well," she said.

Then I thought that if she had been like Minnie, or even cousin Alice, I might have ventured to replace the protecting arm, but there was something about Grace Carrington that made one treat her, as it were, with reverence. When we drew up in front of Starcross House a carriage 21 with flashing lamps stood in the drive; I had seen those lights coming down the opposite side of the valley. After Grace had thanked me with a quiet friendliness as I helped her down, a group turned to meet us at the door. The first was a tall, thin-faced man of commanding presence with a long gray moustache, and he stared hard at me with a haughtiness that I fancied was tinctured with contempt, while Captain Ormond stood behind him, smiling languidly and lifted a warning finger unobserved to Grace. There was something forbidding about Colonel Carrington, and to the last few men liked him. I remember Harry Lorraine once comparing him to Coriolanus-"Steeped in pride to the backbone," said Harry, "but it's a clean pride, and there's a good deal of backbone about him."

"I am glad to see you safe, Grace," he commenced. "We were rather anxious about you. But where have you been, and how did we pass you?"

I never saw Grace either confused or taken by surprise, and when she explained quietly her father looked down at me from the top step as he said, "I thank you, sir, but I did not catch the name. May I ask who it is to whom we are so much indebted? Neither do I quite understand yet how we got here before you."

There was nothing in the words, but the glance and tone conveyed the idea that he regretted the debt, while the whimsical look on Ormond's face aided in stirring me, for we had democratic notions in that part of Lancashire.

"Ralph Lorimer, assistant cashier in the Orb Mill," I said. "It was a slight service, and I did not consider the shortest way best;" while before the Colonel could answer I raised my hat to Grace, and, taking Robert the Devil's head, turned him sharply around. Still, as I climbed into the dog-cart I saw that the burly master of Starcross House was chuckling at something, and I drove away feeling 22 strangely satisfied with myself, until I began to wonder whether after all to walk twice off the field defiantly before the enemy was not another form of cowardice. Alice met me on the threshold-for she heard the wheels-with a query as to why the Satanic Robert was in such a state; but for several reasons I did not fully enlighten her.

My uncle did not return that night, and I left for town the next morning. In the afternoon I sought an interview with him in his private office. It was with some trepidation that I entered, because Martin Lorimer was frank of speech and quick in temper, and I knew he was then busy with the details of a scheme that might double the output of his mill. He thrust the papers away and leaned forward on his desk, a characteristic specimen of his race, square in jaw and shoulder, with keenness and power stamped on his wrinkled face.

"Well, Ralph, what is it now?" he asked. "Johnson of Starcross has been telling me some tale about your running away with an heiress and giving his answer to Colonel Carrington. I'm not altogether sorry. I do not like that man. There is also a reason why he doesn't like me."

"It has nothing to do with that, sir," I answered awkwardly. "You know I have never asked questions about the family money; and you have been very kind to me. But the fact is I can't stand the mill, and I'm thinking of asking for whatever remains of my share and going out to Canada."

Martin Lorimer smote the desk suddenly with his fist, and there was angry bewilderment in his eyes.

"Hast gone mad altogether, lad?" he asked.

I met his gaze steadily. "No," I answered. "I can't help longing for a life in the open air; and there is room in Canada for poor people like me."

Then, thrusting his square jaw forward, he said: "Thy father left four hundred pounds in all. It is now five, under 23 my stewardship. Shall I ask the cashier to make out a statement? Thy father had whims and fancies, or it would have been four thousand. Tom Lorimer could never see which side of his bread was buttered. He was born a fool, like thee."

Flinging back my head I rose facing him. But he thundered, "Stop! You ought to know my meaning. He was an open-handed gentleman, and my well-loved brother. If you take your share of the five hundred, what is going to educate your brother Reggie and your sister Aline? I presume you know the fees they charge at both those schools? And did you ever ask whether I had plans for thee?"

I was silent a moment. For the first time it struck me with sudden shame that Martin Lorimer had already most generously done his best to start his brother's orphans well in life. Then I answered slowly:

"I beg your pardon. I recognize your goodness; but I know I should never be successful in the mill. I'm sorry, but that is only the simple truth. Let Reggie and Aline keep all, except enough for a third-class passage to Winnipeg. This is not a rash whim. It has taken me three years to make up my mind."

"Then there's an end of the matter," said Martin Lorimer. "Stubbornness is in the family, and you are your father's son. An archangel would hardly have moved poor Tom! Well, lad, you shall not go penniless, nor third-class, if it's only for the credit of the name; and you can't go until spring. I thank thee for telling me; but I'm busy, and we'll talk again. Hast told thy cousin Alice about it?"

His eyes had lost their angry flash before I went out, and something in his change of tone revealed the hard bargain-maker's inner self.

Minnie Lee smiled over the typewriter as I passed her room, and I went in to tell her about it. I felt I must talk 24 to some one; and, if not gifted with much sense, she was a sympathetic girl. She listened with a pretty air of dismay, and said petulantly, "So I shall lose my only friend in this dreary mill! Don't they pay high wages for my work in Montreal and Winnipeg? Well, if you hear of a situation you can send straight back for me."

Then a door slammed, and I saw a frown on my uncle's face as, perhaps attracted by the sound of voices, he glanced into the room on passing. Still, it was some time afterward before I learned that he had heard the last words; and, remembering them eventually when recalled by events, Minnie's careless speech proved an unfortunate one for both of us.

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