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   Chapter 20 CHAPTER XVIII

Lorimer of the Northwest By Harold Bindloss Characters: 25508

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


THE OPENING OF THE LINE

During the weeks that followed I saw neither Grace nor Colonel Carrington-though the latter fact did not cause me unnecessary grief, and we heard much about his doings. From what the independent miners who strolled into our camp at intervals told us, the Day Spring shaft had proved a costly venture, and had so far failed to lay bare any traces of payable milling ore. Still, the redoubtable Colonel continued with his usual tenacity, and was now driving an adit into the range side to strike the quartz reef at another level.

"There's a blamed sight more gold going into them diggings than they'll ever get out, and the man who is running them will make a big hole in somebody's bank account," said one informant meditatively. "However, there's no use wasting time trying to give him advice. I strolled round one morning promiscuous, and sat down in his office. 'See here, Colonel, you're ploughing a bad patch,' I says, 'and having a knowledge of good ones I might tell you something if I prowled through your workings.'"

"What did he say?" asked Harry, smiling at me. And the narrator expectorated disgustedly as he answered:

"Just turned round and stared-kind of combine between a ramrod and an icicle. 'Who the perdition are you?' he said-or he looked it, anyway. So, seeing him above a friendly warning, I lit out, feeling sheep-faced; and I've bluffed some hard men in my time. Since then I've 196 been rooting round, and I'm concluding there is good ore in that mountain, if he could strike it."

"Do you know the sheep-faced feeling, Ralph?" asked Harry mischievously. And probably my frown betrayed me, because I knew it well, though there was some consolation in the thought that this reckless wanderer of the ranges knew it also.

In any case, I had small leisure just then to trouble about the affairs of Colonel Carrington. My duty to my partners and the men who worked for us was sufficiently onerous, for we had almost daily to grapple with some fresh natural difficulty. Twice a snow-slide awakened majestic thunders among the hills at night and piled the wreckage of the forests high upon the track. Massy boulders charged down the slopes and smashed the half-finished snow-shed framing into splinters; but, rod by rod, the line stretched on, and the surveyor's good-will increased toward us. So the short weeks passed, until at last the metals led into the mining town, and its inhabitants made preparations to provide a fitting reception for the first train, the arrival of which would mark a turning-point in the wooden city's history. I can remember each incident of that day perfectly, because it also marked the change from ebb to flood in the tide of our own affairs. We sat up late the previous night calculating the amount to our debit, which proved sufficiently discouraging, and endeavoring to value on the credit side work we had done in excess of contract; but this, Harry said, was reckoning without our host, as represented by the surveyor, who, when we approached him on the subject, displayed a becoming reticence.

It was a glorious afternoon when we stood waiting beside the track, attired for once in comparatively decent garments. Harry and I had spent several hours in ingenious repairs, one result of which was that certain seams would project 197 above the surface in spite of our efforts to restrain them. Beneath us the foaming river made wild music in its hidden gorge, and the roar of a fall drifted up with the scent of cedars across the climbing pines, while above the hill-slopes led the gaze upward into the empyrean. But there is no need for description; we were in the mountains of British Columbia, and it was summertime.

Near at hand many banners fluttered over the timber city, and discordant strains announced the last rehearsal of the miner's band, while a throng of stalwart men laughed and jested as they gazed expectantly up the line. They had cause for satisfaction. All had waited long and patiently, paying treble value for what they used or ate, and struggling with indifferent implements to uncover the secret treasure of the ranges. Now their enterprise would not be handicapped by the lack of either plant or capital, for the promise given had been redeemed, and with the advent of the locomotive they looked for the commencement of a great prosperity.

My face, however, was somber, for Harry made some jesting comparison between it and that of a mourner at a funeral. We, too, had done our share in the building of the road, but, as far as we could see, it had signally failed to bring us prosperity.

"You can console yourself with the feeling that it's good to be a public benefactor, even if you don't get any money," said Harry cheerfully. "Did it ever strike you, Ralph, that the people who subscribe for statues make a bad choice of their models? Instead of the frock-coated director they should set up the man with the shovel-Ralph Lorimer, rampant, clad in flour bags, and heaving aloft the big axe, for instance, with the appropriate motto round the pedestal under him, 'Virtue is its own reward.' No, I'm in charge of the pulpit this afternoon, Lee." 198

What the shoemaker intended to say did not appear, for he smilingly abandoned the opportunity for improving the occasion. He had put on flesh and vigor, and now, instead of regarding him as a flippant worldling, which was formerly his plainly expressed opinion, he even looked up in a curious way toward my partner, and once informed me that there was a gradely true soul in him under his nonsense. The spell of the mountains and the company of broad-minded cheerful toilers had between them done a good deal for Lee. Then up on the hillside a strip of bunting fluttered from the summit of a blighted pine, the cry "She's coming!" rolled from man to man, and there was a thunderous crash as some one fired a heavy blasting charge. A plume of white vapor rose at the end of the valley, and twinkling metal flashed athwart the pines, while a roar of voices broke out and my own heart beats faster in the succeeding stillness. Enthusiasm is contagious, and a feeling of elation grew upon me. Nearer and nearer came the cars, and when they lurched clattering up the last grade the snorting of the huge locomotive and the whir of flying wheels made very sweet music to those who heard them.

Then as, with the red, quartered ensign fluttering above the head-lamp and each end platform crowded, the train passed the last construction camp, a swarm of blue-shirted toilers cast their hats into the air, and the scream of the brakes was drowned in a mighty cheer, while I found myself cheering vehemently among the rest. The blasts ceased at the funnel, and as the slackening couplings clashed while the cars rolled slowly through the eddying dust I started in amaze, for there were two faces at the unglazed windows of the decorated observation car which I knew well, but had never expected to see there. Martin Lorimer waved his hand toward me as the train stopped, my cousin Alice stood 199 beside him smiling a greeting, and with shame I remembered how long it was since I had sent news to her.

"Have you seen a ghost?" asked Harry. "You are a regular Don Juan. Who is that dainty damsel you are honoring with such marked attention, to the neglect of your lawful business. Don't you see the surveyor is beckoning you?"

This was true, for, standing among a group of elderly men who I supposed were railway magnates or guests of importance, the surveyor, to my astonishment, called me by name.

"I have been looking for you all along the track," he said. "Must present you to these gentlemen. We have been discussing your work."

Several of the party shook hands with me frankly, while the names the surveyor mentioned were already well-known in Winnipeg and Montreal, and have since become famous throughout the Dominion. One with gray hair and an indefinable stamp of authority touched my shoulder with a friendly gesture. "I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Lorimer before," he said. "We have some business together, and expect you to join us in the opening ceremony. Meantime, you will excuse me-Jardine, I'm thankful it is your turn. There is evidently a deputation coming."

Preceded by tossing banners, and a band which made up in vigor what it lacked in harmony, a procession approached the train, and its leader commenced reading something awkwardly from a written paper in time to an undercurrent of semi-ironical encouragement. I saw some of the visitors' eyes twinkle at his sentiments, but for the most part they listened with becoming gravity; and when a man with gold eyeglasses had suitably replied, there was a wild scuffle for even a foothold on the train. One musician smote another, 200 who strove to oust him from a platform, with his cornet, which promptly doubled in; the big drum rolled down a declivity with its owner hurling back wild language in frantic chase of it; then the locomotive snorted, and, with the bell clanging, it hauled the first train into the wooden town amid the acclamations of the populace. After this I had an opportunity for greeting my uncle, and we looked at each other with mutual curiosity. Martin Lorimer seemed thinner and older. His hair was freely sprinkled with white now, but his eyes were as keen as ever, and I could read approval in them. Then as Alice came toward us from an adjoining car he laughed boisterously.

"What do you think of your cousin, lass?" he said. "He left us an obstinate stripling, and this country has hammered him into a man. Thou art a credit to the land that bred thee, lad. Ralph, I wronged thee sorely, like the blundering fool I am, and first of all I ask thy forgiveness."

Martin Lorimer could speak excellent modern English when he liked, and usually did so, but, and in this he resembled others of his kind, in times of excitement he used the older form which is still the tongue of Lancashire. I made some haphazard answer, but it seemed appropriate, for Alice smiled upon us as we shook hands heartily. When I turned toward her a feeling of pity came upon me-she looked so wan and frail. Still her eyes were bright with good-will, and her voice seemed to tremble a little as she said, "I am so glad to see you and your uncle good friends again. He was very stupid, and I told him so."

"You did, lass," said Martin Lorimer, "many a time, and we had words upon it. We're a thick-headed people, Ralph, except for our womenkind, and if we're slow to think evil we're slow to change. The Lord forgive me for pig-headed folly."

"May I show you this wonderful township?" interrupted 201 one of the railroad magnates approaching with a bow. "Mr. Ralph Lorimer, I am desired to invite you to the celebration dinner. It's the chief's especial wish that you should be present," and he drew Alice away, leaving my uncle and myself alone.

"We'll go and see the city, too," said the former. "Already the air of your mountains makes me young again. Never heard how I cheated the doctors, eh?-they badly wanted to bury me, but I'll tell you all about it another time. Now I feel like a school lad out for a holiday."

He seemed in excellent spirits, and with me the bright sunshine, the uproarious rejoicings of the crowd, and the events of the past half-hour combined to banish all depression, while many an acquaintance smiled as he glanced at the grizzled man in tourist tweeds who chatted gaily and gazed about him with wondering eyes.

"You breed fine men over here," he said. "Never saw a finer set anywhere. Bless me! look at that one striding toward us with the air of a general; stamp of blood about him; where did he get it? And yet by the look of him that fellow could do a hard day's work with any British navvy."

"He can," I answered smiling, "and he was taught at a British university. Now he hews logs for a living, and sometimes works for me. Let me introduce you to my uncle from Lancashire, Martin Lorimer-Lance Chisholm."

"Very glad to meet you, sir," said the latter. "I promised to look in on Morgan in the saloon; will you join us?"

When we elbowed our way through the noisy room toward the bar Chisholm proffered the usual refreshment, and with a comprehensive wave of his hand bade the tender, "Set them up!"

Martin Lorimer stared bewilderedly at the row of glasses deftly flung in front of him, and there was a roar of laughter 202 when, glancing at me appealingly, he said, "It's a hospitable country; but, bless us, Ralph! are we expected to drink all of this? And I'm a churchwarden!"

A bearded giant in blue jean smote him on the shoulder. "You've got the right grit in you, stranger," he said. "Start right in, an

d do the best you can," while the old man joined in the merriment when I explained that the invitation included all in the vicinity who cared to accept it. I left him with Harry and Johnston presently because one of the guests brought word that Alice desired to see me, and I found her on the veranda of the best house the citizens could place at the strangers' disposal. There were ladies among them. I drew two chairs into a corner where a flowering creeper screened half the trellis, and from where we sat a wonderful vista rolled away before us. Alice had changed but little, save that she seemed even more delicate. I had changed much, and now as we chatted with a resumption of ancient friendliness I wondered how it was that her innate goodness and wisdom had never impressed me more in the old days. Few would have called her handsome at first sight, but she was dowered with qualities that were greater than beauty.

"You will wonder what brought us here," she said at length, "and your uncle forgot to tell you. Ever after that-unfortunate mistake-he talked constantly about our headstrong lad, but when he lay dangerously ill for weeks together I was unable to write you. The doctors had little hope most of the time, and one said he recovered chiefly because he had made his mind up he would not die, and when they forbade all thought of business and recommended travel he made me buy the latest map of Canada, and we are now staying at the new mountain chalet. My own health has not improved latterly, and that helped to decide him. We left the main line on the prairie and went south in search of you, and when we could only discover that you had gone to 203 British Columbia I am sorry to say that my father expressed his disappointment very forcibly-but you know his way. Then while we stayed at the chalet we read about the opening of the new line, and he grew excited at a mention of your name. 'We'll go right down and see that opening, lass,' he said. 'I've a letter to one of the railroad leaders, and I'll make him invite us;' and so we came. When my father sets his heart on anything he generally obtains it. Now we will talk about Canada."

The flowering creeper partly hid us, but it left openings between, framing the prospect of glittering peak and forest-filled valley with green tracery, while warm sunlight beat through. So, in contrast to the past, I found it comforting to lounge away the time there with a fair companion, while glancing down the glistening metals I told how we had built the line. Alice was a good listener, and the tale may have had its interest, while-and this is not wholly due to vanity-no man talks better than when he speaks to a sympathizing woman of the work that he is proud of. It was no disloyalty to Grace, but when once or twice she laid her thin hand on my arm I liked to have it there, and see the smile creep into her eyes when I told of Lee's doings. So the minutes fled, until at last a shadow fell upon us, and I saw Grace pass close by with her father. For an instant her eyes met mine, then I felt that they rested on my companion, whose head was turned toward me confidentially and away from Grace, and I fumed inwardly, for she spoke to the Colonel and passed on without a greeting.

"That is surely Miss Carrington," said Alice looking up later with a faintly perceptible trace of resentment. "Why did she not speak to either of us?"

It was a troublesome question, because I could not well explain what my exact relations were with Grace, nor how her father's presence might perhaps restrain her, so that I 204 was glad when Martin Lorimer suddenly joined us. It seemed fated that circumstances should array themselves against me. The rest of the afternoon was spent in hilarious merriment, and, though as a rule the inhabitants of that region are a peaceful folk, a few among them celebrated the occasion by breaking windows with pistol shots and similar vagaries. Still, even those who owned the glass took it in good part; and, as darkness fell, considerably more of the populace than it was ever intended to hold squeezed themselves into the wooden building which served as city hall, while the rest sat in the dust outside it, and cheered for no particular reason at regular intervals.

The best banquet the district could furnish was served in the hall, and I sat opposite the surveyor near the head of one table, with my uncle and Alice close by, and Grace and Colonel Carrington not far away. Cedar sprays and branches of balsam draped the pillars, the red folds of the beaver ensign hung above our heads, and as usual the assembly was democratic in character. Men in broadcloth and in blue jean sat side by side-rail-layer, speculator, and politician crowded on one another, with stalwart axe-men, some of whom were better taught than either, and perhaps a few city absconders, to keep them company; but there was only good-fellowship between them. The enthusiasm increased with each orator's efforts, until the surveyor made in his own brusque fashion, which was marked by true Western absence of bashfulness, the speech of the evening. Some one who had once served the English press sent a report to a Victoria journal, of which I have a copy, but no print could reproduce the essence of the man's vigorous personality which vibrated through it.

"What built up the Western Dominion, called leagues of wheat from the prairie, and opened the gate of the mountains-opened it wide to all, with a welcome to the Pacific 205 Slope paradise?" he said. "The conundrum's easy-just the railroad. Good markets and mills, say the city men, but where do the markets come in if you can't get at them? What is it that's binding London over the breadth of Canada with China and Japan-only the level steel road. You said, 'We've gold and silver and timber, but we're wanting bread, machines, and men.' We said, 'We'll send the locomotives; it will bring you them;' and this railroad keeps its promise-keeps it every time. So we cut down the forest, and we blew up the mighty rocks, we drove a smooth pathway through the heart of the ranges-and now its your part to fill the freight cars to the bursting.

"We'll bring you good men in legions; we'll take out your high-grade ore, but you'll remember that the building of this railroad wasn't all luxury. Some of those who laid the ties sleep soundly beside them, some lost their money, and now when you have thanked the leaders in Ottawa, Montreal, and Victoria, there are others to whom your thanks are due-the men who stayed right there with their contracts in spite of fire and snow, staking dollar after dollar on a terribly risky game. There were considerable of them, but most of you know this one-I'm sharing my laurels with him-" and as a thunder of applause which followed the halt he made died away he turned toward me. "Stand right up, Contractor Lorimer-they're shouting for you."

There was further clamor, but I scarcely heard it, and I longed that the floor of the hall might open beneath me. Still, there was clearly no escape, and I stood up under the lamplight, noticing, as one often notices trifles at such times, how like a navvy's my right hand was as it trembled a little on the white tablecloth. A sea of faces were turned toward me expectantly, and I pitied their owners' disappointment, but I saw only four persons plainly-my uncle, and Alice, who flashed an encouraging glance at me, Colonel 206 Carrington looking up with a semi-ironical smile, and Grace. I could not tell what her expression meant.

I should sooner have faced a forest fire than that assembly, but at least my remarks were brief, and I felt on firmer ground when memories of the rock-barred track and the lonely camps rose up before me, and there was a shout at the lame conclusion, "We gave our bond and we tried to keep it, as the rest did too. We were poor men, all of us, and we are poor men still; but every one owes something to the land that gives him bread. So we tried to pay back a little, and perhaps we failed; but at least the road is made, and we look forward hoping that a full tide of prosperity will flow into this country along the rails we laid."

The applause swelled and deepened when Harry Lorraine stood up, silver-tongued, graceful, smiling, and called forth roars of laughter by his happy wit; and when he had finished Martin Lorimer, who was red in the face, stretched his arm across the table toward me, and held up a goblet, saying: "For the honor of the old country! Well done, both of you!"

"The fun is nearly over. We can talk business," said the gray-haired man from Winnipeg, on my right side. "I may say that we are satisfied with the way you have served us, and, though a bargain is a bargain, we don't wish to take an unfair advantage of any one; so the surveyor will meet you over the extras. He is waiting with the schedule, and by his advice we're open to let you this contract for hewn lumber supplies. Here's a rough memo; the quantity is large, and that is our idea of a reasonable figure."

I glanced at the paper with open pleasure, but the other checked me as I began to speak.

"Glad you will take it! It's a commercial transaction, and not a matter of thanks," he said. "Settle details with the surveyor." 207

I spent some time with the latter, who smiled dryly as he said, "Not quite cleaned out yet? Well, it's seldom wise to be too previous, and you can't well come to grief over the new deal. Wanted again, confound them! Sail in and prosper, Lorimer."

He left a payment order which somewhat surprised me, and when I stood under the stars wondering whether all that had happened was not too good to be true, Harry came up in search of me. I grabbed him by the shoulder and shook the paper before him.

"Our friend has acted more than fairly," I said. "We can pay off all debts, and I have just concluded a big new, profitable deal!"

"That will keep," said Harry, laughing; "another matter won't. They're going to haul out the visitors' picnic straight away, and they show good judgment. A sleeper on the main line will form a much more peaceful resting-place than this elated hamlet to-night. Your uncle wants to see you, and Miss Carrington is waiting beside the cars."

I found Alice and Martin Lorimer beside the track, the latter fuming impatiently, while the locomotive bell summoned the passengers; and as I joined them Grace walked into the group before she recognized us. Alice was the first to speak, and I saw the two faces plainly under the lighted car windows, as she said:

"I am glad to meet you again, Miss Carrington, and am sorry I missed you this afternoon. I was too busy giving my cousin good advice-it's a privilege I have enjoyed from childhood-to recognize you at first."

Grace's expression changed, and I thanked Alice in my heart for what I believe few women would have done. Then there was a shriek of the whistle, and a bustle about the train; and as Grace moved toward the car she said softly in passing: 208

"It was a fitting consummation. Better times are coming, Ralph, and I am proud of you."

"Am I never to speak to thee, lad?" said Martin. "There's nothing would please me better than to wait and see the fun out; but Alice, she won't hear of it. Come to see us, and stay a month if you can. Anyway, come to-morrow or the day after. I have lots to tell thee. Oh, hang them! they're starting. Alice, wouldn't that lady take charge of thee while I stay back?"

"Get into the car, father," said the girl, with a laugh. "You mustn't forget you're the people's warden. Good-bye, Ralph, until we see you at the chalet."

"All aboard!" called a loud voice; the couplings tightened; and I waved my hat as, followed by a last cheer, the train rolled away.

"Is it true that all has been settled satisfactorily?" asked Harry, presently, and when I answered, he added: "Then we're going back to finish the evening. Johnston's to honor the company with stump speeches and all kinds of banjo eccentricities. You are getting too sober and serious, Ralph; come along."

I refused laughingly, and spent at least an hour walking up and down through the cool dimness that hung over the track to dissipate the excitement of a day of varied emotions. Then I went back to our shanty and slept soundly, until about daybreak I was partly wakened by the feasters returning with discordant songs, though I promptly went to sleep again. I never heard exactly what happened in the wooden town that night, but there was wreckage in its streets the next morning, and when I opened my eyes the first thing I saw was our partner Johnston slumbering peacefully with his head among the fragments of his shattered banjo.

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