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   Chapter 27 CHAPTER XXV

Lorimer of the Northwest By Harold Bindloss Characters: 18507

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


ORMOND'S LAST JOURNEY

"Launch her down handy. Bring the sick man along!" called some one outside; and when we carried Ormond out I saw the others running a big Siwash canoe down over the shingle, and the dark pines rising spires of solid blackness against the coming day. It was bitterly cold, and white mist hung about them, while huge masses of rock rose through the smoke of the river, whose clamor filled all the hollow. None of us quite liked the task before us, for man's vigor is never at its highest in the chilly dawn; but I remembered Ormond's eagerness to continue the journey. So we laid him gently on our blankets in the waist, and thrust out the long and beautifully modeled craft, which was of the type that the coastwise Siwash use when hunting the fur seals. I knelt grasping the forward paddle until Hector, who held the steering blade, said: "If ye'll follow my bidding I'll land ye safe across. Together! Lift her all!"

The light shell surged forward to the sturdy stroke, for several of those behind me were masters of the paddle, and as I plied my blade I felt with a thrill that it was good to fight the might of the river in such a company. Snowy wreaths boiled high about the shearing prow, I could hear the others catch their breath with a hiss, and once more after a heavy thud the cedar floor seemed to raise itself beneath me and leap to the impulse, while, with a hardening of every muscle, I swept the leaf-shaped blade outward ready for the 281 dip. There was spray in my eyes, and bearing down on us through it a boulder, with dim trunks opening and closing beyond; then I saw only the bird's head on the prow, for some one cried behind that my stroke was slow, and by the rush of foam and the shock of thudding blow I knew that the others' blades were whirling like flails.

The rock loomed nearer, the river piled against its battered feet, and I hazarded a glance over my shoulder, which showed me a row of set faces turned toward the bow, with stout arms and the flats of redwood blades swung out before them, until with a swing of shoulders the heads went down, and a white wave burst apart before the stern. Looking forward the next instant I saw that the rock lay right athwart our way; but the others had blind confidence in our pilot.

"Back ye on the up-stream; drive her yere hardest, down!" he called.

Then the current strove to wrest my dipped blade away, as with the paddles on one side held fast by sinewy wrists the craft turned as on a pivot, and lurching on the backwash whirled past the stone, after which the cry was: "Drive her all!" and we shot away on the eddy with our faces turned slantwise up-stream. This was well, for close below the whole weight of the current hurled itself in fury upon a ragged barrier, and I understood that Hector had calculated our impetus to a quarter fathom. There was a fight to reach the landing, and with any other than the crew behind me the river might have won; but four of the lean hard men had fought many such battles, and though the trunks raced up-stream we closed with the shore until the shock of the bows on shingle flung me backward.

Our next proceeding was to portage a smaller craft several hundred yards up the river, for Hector to make the return passage, and then, as we thanked him for the food 282 and the small comforts for Ormond that he forced on us, the old man said:

"Ye're very welcome, an' I'm not wanting yere dollars. Will I take payment for a bit of dried venison, when the Almighty freely gives me all the good fish in the river an' the deer in the woods? Go, an' haste ye; yon man is needing the aid of science."

Then he turned away, and watched us from the shingle as we took up Ormond's litter, and the last that we ever saw of him was a tall lonely figure which vanished into the gray smoke of the river as we plodded up the climbing trail. Still, even now, that lonely figure rises up before me.

"Old Hector tells strange things when the fit takes him. Used to speak our language-it's curious, he talks like some of them emigrants from the old country now," a man beside me said. "But you can stake your last dollar he isn't mad. No, sir, it's quaint he is. I've had my voyageur training in the frozen country under the H. B. C, but when it's dead knowledge of a rapid he'll beat me easy. Some day the river will get him, and then we'll miss him bad."

In due time we reached a shingle-roofed settlement, where a man who had some local reputation for skill in healing horses examined our companion.

"He's pretty well played out," he said. "Ship him straight down to Vancouver in a sleeping-car, and don't you let any of them bush-doctors get their claws on him. I know when a job's too big for me, and this is one. You'll fetch up in time for the Pacific mail if you start now in a wagon."

"What did that fellow say?" asked Ormond, and when I judiciously modified the horse-doctor's verdict he smiled understandingly.

"That's a wise man," he said, "and I can guess what he told you. Lorimer, I know I'm sinking fast, and if you 283 leave me here I'll die before you can send a doctor up. Probably I'll also die in Vancouver, but every man is justified in making a fight for his life-and there's another reason why I should get there first."

We hired a light wagon, for a passable trail led to the railroad, and perhaps because time was scanty, or the jolting of the wagon was more trying than the swing of the litter, our patient grew worse, and I was thankful at last to see him safe in a berth of the sleeper on the Pacific express. I had grown almost as impatient as Ormond, and I recollect nothing of the journey except that when the lights of Port Moody glittered across the forest-shrouded inlet he said: "Lorimer, I've a stupid prejudice against a hospital. Please take me to Wilson's instead. He lives alone, and I did him several services-you can tell him that it will not be for long."

So when we reached the station Harry volunteered to find the best doctor in the timber city-for hewn stone had only begun to replace sawn lumber then-and arrange for transit to Wilson's house; because he said that it was my particular duty to tell Colonel Carrington and Grace. An hour passed before I traced them, and then I found them at a function given to celebrate the starting of some new public enterprise, and it was with hesitation that, followed by Calvert, I entered the vestibule of the brilliantly lighted hall. We gave a message to a bland Chinese attendant, and waited until returning he beckoned us through a crimson curtain, which swung to behind, and I found myself standing bewildered under a blaze of light in a ball-room.

There was a crash of music, a swishing of colored dresses, and then, as the orchestra ceased, we stood before the astonished assembly just as we had left the bush, in tattered fur wrappings and torn deerskin, with the stains of leagues of travel on our leggings, while I recollect that a creeper-spike 284 on my heel made holes in the polished marquetry. All eyes were turned toward us.

"This is considerably more than I bargained for," growled Calvert. "I feel guiltily like the man who brought the news to Edinburgh after Flodden. What did you play this confounded trick upon us for, John?"

"John savvy Miss Callington," said the unblushing Mongolian; and Calvert added savagely:

"Then hide us somewhere, and tell her, before I twist your heathen neck for you."

I noticed Martin Lorimer moving toward me; but before he reached us Grace came up, a dazzling vision of beauty.

"I am thankful to see you back safe, Ralph, and hear you have news for me," she said. "Lawrence Calvert, the same applies to you."

It was bravely done, for few women would have cared to link themselves publicly with such a gaunt and tattered scarecrow as I undoubtedly was then; but Grace was born with high courage and a manner which made all she did appear right. When Calvert said that he would send for Colonel Carrington, she calmly placed her hand within my arm, and added:

"We will find quietness yonder in the empty supper-room. You have made me anxious."

Then, doubtless to the wonder of many citizens' daughters and wives, we passed together, a sufficiently striking couple, across the hall; and when at length we escaped the curious eyes, Grace held me back at arm's length.

"You look thin and haggard, Ralph," she said. "Something has happened. Now begin, and tell me clearly all about it."

I did not know how to commence, and I proceeded awkwardly to temporize, though I really meant what I said.

"It was the fault of that stupid Chinaman, Grace, and I 285 am sorry. It was so courageous of you to come to me before them all."

She looked at me with a curious mingling of pride and humor. "Am I, then, so little as to fear a few inquisitive women? And do you fancy that I loved you for your prepossessing exterior? Now, sir, before you offend me further, at once begin."

I placed a lounge for her, and leaned over it as I said, "It is about Geoffrey. We went up prospecting, and found his party in difficulties. Geoffrey is-"

"Not dead!" she said with a shudder, clutching the arms of the chair. And I laid my hand s

oothingly on one of hers as I answered:

"No, but he is hurt, and he is longing to see you. He is in Vancouver now. Listen, I will tell you about it."

"Poor Geoffrey!" she said when I had finished, while a tear glistened on her long lashes. "Geoffrey, my old playmate! I can hardly believe it. Ralph, there are very few like him. He is in all things a true-hearted gentleman. He stood between us; but how many others would have played their part so chivalrously when he had the power through my father to force me to his will. And-may I be forgiven for it-more than once I had hard thoughts of him. And now he is dying! Take me at once to see him."

Shortly afterward a voice reached us through an open door. It was Calvert's, saying, "I want you to understand, sir, that if we had not struck Lorimer's camp we should have starved to death. I saw the accident from a distance, and again it's my firm opinion that he ran the utmost risk to extricate Ormond. If the latter were my own brother I should consider myself indebted to him for life."

"I am glad to hear it," answered an unseen person, whom it was easy to recognize as the footsteps drew nearer. "Still, one must take precautions; and, as I observed, in the circumstances 286 some people might have suspicions. I may say that, indirectly, Lorimer knew that he would profit by my partner's death."

I started, and would have risen, burning with wrath, but Grace's clasp held me fast. The next moment her father and Calvert entered the room. The former glanced toward us in cold surprise; and then, in a hard, ringing tone, Grace said:

"There is still, I hope, a little charity left in the world. The reference is hardly becoming. There are others beside Mr. Lorimer who would benefit, directly, by Geoffrey Ormond's death."

I would have spoken, but she prevented me; and her father stood for a moment speechless with astonishment. Grace was a dutiful daughter, and, though he must have tried her patience hardly now and then, I fancied that this was the first time she had ever openly defied him; while I saw that the shaft had gone home. Colonel Carrington was not, however, to be shaken into any exhibition of feeling, for he turned to me with his usual chilliness:

"I congratulate you on your lucky escape," he said. "Calvert has told me. If you are quite ready, Grace, and will get on your wrappings, we will drive over and visit the sick man immediately."

So, seeing that my presence was by no means desired, I saluted the Colonel with stiffness, and hurried on foot in the direction of Wilson's house. He was a bachelor, it appeared, who dealt in mining gear, and during their business intercourse had made friends with Ormond. Now he was absent inland, but his housekeeper had placed the pretty wooden dwelling at our patient's disposal. What passed between the latter and Colonel Carrington I do not know, but when Grace met me on the stairway as I entered she said: 287

"He told us how much you had done for him, and made my father believe it even against his will."

Presently the surgeon came down.

"I can do little for him," he said. "There are internal injuries-I needn't describe them-which practically leave no hope of recovery. You can't get a trained woman nurse for love or money, and it rests between yourselves and a Chinaman. I fancy that he would prefer you. I don't know how he stood the journey."

"We did our best, and he was very patient," I said. And the surgeon answered:

"I have no doubt you did, and it speaks well for your comrade's fortitude. You need not blame yourselves, however, for from the first he could not have got better."

"I'll take first watch," said Harry, when, after giving us full instructions, the surgeon departed. "Miss Carrington has already insisted on helping. I've sampled Wilson's wardrobe, but his things would split up if you tried to get into them. Go out and borrow or buy some anywhere. You can't expect to meet Miss Carrington in that most fantastic disarray. I've taken quarters at the Burrard House, and it's not your turn until to-morrow. The Colonel has graciously signified his approval of our arrangements."

When my watch commenced the next day Ormond seemed pleased to see me, and Grace, who was spreading southern flowers in the room, withdrew. Then Calvert and Colonel Carrington came in with a lawyer, and I raised Ormond so that he could see them. Outside, and not far below the window, bright sunlight beat down upon the sparkling inlet, and across it the mountains rose in a giant wall. Ormond glanced at them and sighed. Then he said with slow distinctness:

"Put it down in your own fashion. This is the gist of it: I, Geoffrey Ormond, being now at least perfectly 288 sound in mind, bequeath my gray horse at Day Spring, all my guns and rifles, with my silver harness and two pedigree hunters at Carrington, to Ralph Lorimer, in token of friendship and gratitude for a courageous attempt at my rescue when by accident I fell from a rock. I especially desire this inserted, Mr. Solicitor. You quite understand what I am saying, Colonel Carrington?"

There was a significant smile in his eyes as they met mine, and something rose in my throat threatening to choke me when he added aside: "You will accept these things as a memento of our last march, I hope? With this exception, I bequeath my property in stocks and lands of all and every kind-I do not enumerate, or appoint other executor-to Colonel Carrington of Carrington Manor, the balance remaining after his death to revert to his daughter Grace. Set it all out in due form, and give me the paper to sign."

Remembering what Grace once told me I fancied that an expression of unutterable relief smoothed out the wrinkles of anxiety on the legatee's brow, but I may have been mistaken in this. There was a curious look in Ormond's face, and I understood the depth of his loyalty to Grace. It struck me with a shock that Ormond, in spite of his apparent carelessness, realized how far matters had drifted, and hoped to spare her the painful discovery. Then he lay back struggling for breath, when, after the will was signed, at a signal from the doctor the others withdrew. Perhaps an hour passed while I kept watch alone before he spoke again, saying very faintly:

"It's strange, Lorimer, that circumstances should constitute you my protector. It's not the usual ending of a very old story. A rich man and a poor man loved the same woman, and-this is where the strangeness happens, perhaps because of all women she was most worthy to be loved-she 289 looked kindly upon the poorer man. The other had all that fortune could give him save what he most desired, and being older he waited patiently, trusting her heart would turn toward him, and when at last he learned the truth he had not courage to give her up, but waited still, hoping, he hardly knew for what, against hope. Then circumstances held them closer together in a bond that even for her sake he dare not break, until at last the knot was cut. Lorimer, we fought it out fairly, you and I. Now you have won, and I am dying. I only ask you to be good to her."

I turned my head aside, for I could say nothing appropriate, and he added:

"I should like you to keep those rifles, and when some day Grace receives the reversion she will find it but little. We made some heavy losses in joint ventures, her father and I-you will tell her to remember that. I think now all is settled. God bless her!"

He slept or lay quite still for some time, and once more, knowing what I knew, I wondered at the greatness of his nature, for it was evident that, realizing that his love was hopeless, he had stood by her father only to serve her. Then he said feebly:

"Lift me a little, Lorimer, so that I can see the moonrise on the snow. Before another nightfall I shall have followed your partner on the unknown trail."

I raised him on the pillows, and then sat by the window, from which-because the lamp that tired his eyes had been turned very low-I could see the shimmer of stars on the dark breast of the inlet, which was wrapped in shadow, and a broad band of silver radiance grow wider across the heights of snow, until Grace came in softly with more blossoms from sunny Mexico.

Ormond saw her, and he had probably forgotten me, for there was a great longing in his voice as he said huskily: 290 "Will you kiss me, Grace, for the first and last time since we were innocent children?"

She bent over him a compassionate figure, etherealized by the pale light that touched her through the eastern window, and I went out and waited on the stairway until, after the surgeon went in, she passed me, sobbing, and stilled an expression of sympathy with a lifted hand. That was the last I saw of Geoffrey Ormond in this life, for when next I looked at him he lay very white and still with the seal of death upon him, and I knew that a very clean and chivalrous soul had gone to its resting-place. I touched his cold forehead reverently, and then turned away, mourning him, heaven knows, sincerely, and feeling thankful that when tempted sorely I had kept my promise that day in the bush as I remembered his words, "We have fought it out fairly."

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