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   Chapter 30 CHAPTER XXVIII

Lorimer of the Northwest By Harold Bindloss Characters: 17393

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


THE RECALL OF ADAM LEE

When I returned to Fairmead I wrote two letters. One was to Minnie's employer, who kept a flourishing implement store further down the line, to which he had lately added a somewhat primitive hotel, in whose management I understood Minnie assisted. He was an enterprising, good-natured Manitoban, and everybody spoke well of his wife, so, having had dealings with him, I requested an interview.

In the other I told Harry all that had passed, asking him to transmit as much as he thought proper to Lee, and then awaited developments. The first result was a note from storekeeper Moran saying that as he was looking up orders for implements he would call on me, which he did presently, and proceeded to discuss the matter with frankness.

"My wife has taken a fancy to Mrs. Fletcher," he said. "We just call her Minnie because there's no particular reason to handicap her with her husband's name. She's a mighty smart honest woman, and we knew that story about you was a lie from the beginning-did our best to keep it from her, but I think she knew. We were startled some when she lit out with the sleigh, but she came back half-dead, and we asked no questions until she told us. She's been sick and fretful since, but I guess there's nothing you can do. When we can't keep a sick woman who has done good work for us a while we'll give up the business. She'll be pert again directly."

"You are a very kind man," said Aline, glancing at him critically. 317

"Thank you, miss," Moran answered. "You just make your mind easy about Mrs. Fletcher; and now, Lorimer, we'll talk business. You'll want a new binder if you're putting in much of a crop, and I've got the latest machines coming in from Toronto."

Aline burst into a hearty laugh, in which I joined her, for the speech was characteristic of the native prairie inhabitants' character. Frugal, but open-handed, hard to beat at a bargain, they are equally swift to seize upon all chances that lead to business and do the stranger an unostentatious kindness, though they have no false delicacy in forthwith establishing commercial relations with the man they benefit.

"Don't see any joke!" said Moran. "You want a binder. I've seen the old one, and I've got lots to sell. Of course we'll look after Mrs. Fletcher, but that's no reason I should miss a deal."

The result was that I ordered an expensive binder which I had hoped to do without, and presently Moran departed with the order in his pocket.

"I think he was very sensible," said Aline, "and you know you said the old machine would hardly have lasted."

Harry answered promptly, and said he expected I should see Lee very soon. He had been restless ever since he heard of Fletcher's blacksliding, and had, among other things, embarked upon two unpopular crusades. He even seemed disappointed, Harry added, because there was so little drunkenness and loose living for him to grapple with.

"That is so like a man," said Aline when she read the letter. "Where is your boasted consistency? He ought to be thankful. But you have missed the postscript about Uncle Martin. This is what Harry says: 'I met him in long boots one day when I went up to see Calvert, trailing a survey chain not far from the Day Spring mine, and when 318 I asked him what he was doing it for, and whether snow-slush was good for lumbago, he smiled and answered in the silver tongue of your native country something I failed to comprehend. For a respectable cotton-spinner, as I told him, he has developed curious ways.'

"You will see by-and-by, and so will that arrogant Colonel," said Aline. "He has offended him bitterly, and I shouldn't like to be an enemy of Uncle Martin's."

There was an interlude of quietness, and then, when at last the winter showed signs of relaxing its iron grip, and the snow grew soft at noon, events commenced to follow fast upon one another. Jasper drove up from the railroad one afternoon bringing Lee with him, and then departed with, I thought, undue precipitancy, leaving myself and the old man alone, for I had increased the accommodation at Fairmead, and Aline discreetly withdrew. He had of course read the papers, though not until some time after the trial, and was good enough to say he never doubted my innocence. Still, I had to repeat all the unpleasant details, until at last Aline returned to prepare supper.

Then he sighed as he said: "It's a bad business, but I feared from the start this would be the end of it. And now I'm going to tell thee something. I've served thee and thy partner as well as I could, and I've saved some money doing it. It's a gradely life up yonder, in spite of the snow and cold-ay, I would ask no better than to end my days there, but it's over easy and peaceful in a world that's brimming with misery, and I've been feeling like Jonah when he fled with his message."

Aline smiled at me over her shoulder, and I stared at him in amaze, saying, "I never found it either particularly easy or peaceful. I don't quite understand you."

"No," said Lee, changing in a moment to his old pedantic style I had almost forgotten. "Thou hast not 319 the message; it's thy work to till the soil, and I had thought to bide in this good land helping thee until my time came. But a voice kept on saying, 'Go back to them hopeless poor and drunkards thou left in Lancashire.' I would not listen. The devil whispered I was worn out and done, but when I talked with Harry, he, not having understanding, said: 'You're looking younger every day. If I heard those kind of things I should say it was liver.'"

Aline no longer smiled, but sat watching him and listening gravely, and I began to catch a glimmer of his meaning.

"The folks at chapel had not forgotten me," continued Lee, "and they were in trouble. There was another man took up the work I left, but he went off with t' brass they'd gathered for a new gallery, and they wrote they'd see I got back the old shop if I come home again. And because I was weak and fearful o' the grinding struggle over there, I did not go. They wrote another letter, but still I bided, until I read this paper."

He spread out a soiled English journal, and, running a crooked finger across it, read out the headings, with extracts, at some of which, remembering Aline's presence, I frowned. It was only a plain record of what happens in the crowded cities of the older land-a murder, two suicides, and the inevitable destitution and drunkenness, but he looked up with kindling eyes.

"I could not shut my ears. The call was, 'come an' help us,' an' I'm going. Going back out of the sunshine into the slums o' Lancashire."

This, I reflected, was the man who had once attempted my life-ignorant, intolerant, and filled with prejudice, but at least faithful to the light within him; and I knew that even if he failed signally, the aim he set before himself was a great one. No suitable answer, however, suggested 320 itself, and I was thankful when Aline said, "It is a very fine thing to do. But what about your daughter?"

"Her place was by her husband," said Lee; "but her husband left her. Minnie is going back with me. Your brother will take me to see her to-morrow."

I did so, at the risk of overtaxing the horses by a trying journey through softening snow; but I sent a telegram to Minnie, and when we left the cars she was there to meet us, looking weak and ill, with shadows in the hollows round her eyes.

"It was very good of you to come, father," she said. "I was an undutiful daughter, and I suffered for it. Now I have broken the law, and the police troopers could take me to prison. But I am tired of it all, father, and if you will have me I am going home with you."

"Thou'rt my own lass," said Lee; and I found something required my presence elsewhere, for Minnie was shaken by emotion as she clung to him. And yet this tearful woman had outwitted the tireless wardens of the prairie, and, in spite of the law's vigilance and deadly cold, smuggled her faithless husband safe across the border.

We stayed at Moran's Hotel that night, and Mrs. Moran acted with unusual good-nature, in the circumstances, for she not only suffered Minnie to leave her at the commencement of the busy season, but bestowed many small presents upon her, and it was with difficulty that I avoided giving her husband an order for sufficient implements to till the whole of the Fairmead district.

"Now that you're here you had better make sure of a bargain while you have a chance," he said. "Say, as a matter of friendship I'll put them in at five per cent. under your best offer from Winnipeg."

Though I wished them both good fortune, satisf

action 321 was largely mingled with my regret when the next day I stood in the little station looking after the train which bore Lee and his daughter back to his self-imposed task in smoky Stoney Clough. Neither of them ever crossed my path again; but still Harry and I discuss the old man's doings, and Aline says that there was a trace of the hero hidden under his most unheroic exterior.

Not long after this Calvert called on us, and spent two days at Fairmead before he went east again. He explained his visit as follows: "The Day Spring will have to get on as best it can without my services. The fact is, I can't stand its owner any longer. I was never very fond of him-no one is, but I liked poor Ormond, and stayed for his sake. So, informing the Colonel that he could henceforward run the mine himself, I pulled out hoping to get a railroad appointment in Winnipeg. By the way, there is trouble brewing between him and your uncle."

Aline nodded toward me meaningly, and Calvert continued:

"Our tunnel leads out beside one boundary of the Day Spring claim. I must explain that of late we found signs that, in spite of a fault, the best of the reef stretched under adjoining soil, and it was only owing to disagreements with his men, and my refusal, that the Colonel neglected to jump the record of a poor fellow who couldn't put in the legal improvements. He had intended to do so; while I believe the miner, who fell sick, told your uncle. This will make clear a good deal; you should remember it. Well, to work our adit we had to make an ore and dirt dump on adjacent land; and we'd hardly started it than two men began felling timber right across our skidway, until, speaking as if he commanded the universe, the Colonel ordered them off. They didn't go, however; and I really thought he would have a fit when one of them said with a grin, 322 'Light out of this, and be quick. Don't you know you're trespassing?'

"Colonel Carrington turned his back on them, and bade us run out the trolley along the wooden way; and I did so, against my judgment, for one of the men looked ugly, and my master wasn't exactly a favorite. The other fellow was busy with the axe, and when he gave me a warning to get out I proceeded to act upon it-which was fortunate, for a big hemlock came down on the trolley, and all that was left of it wasn't worth picking up. Colonel Carrington doesn't usually give himself away, but he swore vividly, and I went with him the next day into the timber city. It's getting a big place already. He stalked into the land agent's office with a patronizing air, and then said with his usual frigidity:

"'Who owns the timber lots about the Day Spring? I'm going to buy them.'

"'You can't do it,' said the agent. 'My client won't sell, and wants to give you warning that he doesn't like trespassing.'

"'That means he wants a big price,' said the Colonel, looking at the map. 'What's his figure?'

"And the agent grinned as he answered, 'For the piece you require for the ore-dump, ten thousand dollars.'

"'He is mad,' said the Colonel, 'perfectly stark mad. Tell him I shall dump my refuse on it, if I have to finance somebody to locate a mineral claim. What is the name of this lunatic?'

"'Martin Lorimer,' said the agent. 'The crown in that case gives you the minerals; but before you put a pick into the ground you must meet all demands for compensation-and they'll be mighty heavy ones. My client is also prepared to collect them by the best legal assistance that money can buy, and I guess you've given him a useful hint.' 323

"My respected chief just walked out; but I think he was troubled at the name," said Calvert. "And after that there was some fresh difficulty every week, while his temper, which was never a good one, got perfectly awful, until I came away. He'll go off in a fit of apoplexy or paralytic seizure when his passion breaks loose some day."

Calvert furnished other particulars before he resumed his eastward journey, leaving me with much to ponder. An actively worked mine is a public benefit, and its owners usually have free access and privilege upon the adjacent soil; but I knew that in such matters as cutting timber, water, and ore and refuse heaps a hostile neighbor could harass them considerably. "Uncle Martin is going to enjoy himself," said Aline, when I told her so.

It was some weeks later when Harry and his assistants came home, bringing with him a heavy bank draft and a wallet stuffed with dollar bills. He looked more handsome and winning than ever when he greeted Aline, and-though it needed some experience of her ways to come to this conclusion-I could tell that she regarded him with approval. He had finished the railroad work, and when he had furnished full details about it, he showed that he had thoughtfully considered other matters, for he said:

"Ralph, I guessed you would be busy altering Fairmead on opportunity, and now that your sister has turned it into a palace I should always be afraid of spoiling something; so I have arranged by mail to camp with Hudson, of the next preemption. His place is scarcely a mile away. Miss Lorimer, you don't realize the joys of living as a bachelor, or you would freely forgive me."

"I think I do," said Aline. "Half-cooked food on plates that have not been washed for weeks and weeks, and a house like a pig-stye. Have I not seen my brother 324 reveling in them? Mr. Harry Lorraine, from what Ralph has told me, there is no one I should more gladly welcome to Fairmead than its part-owner, and I am surprised that he should prefer the pig-stye. Still, in reference to the latter, is there not a warning about blindly casting?"

"There is," laughed Harry. "I crave mercy. In token of submission I will help you to wash those dishes now." And, being perfectly satisfied to be for once relieved of the duty, I lounged in the ox-hide chair watching them through the blue tobacco smoke, and noting what a well-matched couple they were. An hour had sufficed to make them good friends; and I was quite aware that Harry had entered into the arrangement merely for our own sake, Hudson, as everybody knew, being neither an over-cleanly nor companionable person.

When the last plate had been duly polished and placed in the rack that Aline had insisted on my making, Harry spread out a bundle of papers.

"Now we will settle down to discuss the spring campaign, if your sister will excuse us," he said.

"Aline is already longing to show me how to run a farm. Go on, and beware how you lay any weak points open to her criticism," I answered.

"In the first place, there is the inevitable decision to make between two courses," said Harry; "the little-venture-little-win method or the running of heavy risks for a heavy prize. Personally I favor the latter, which we have adopted before, and, which I think you have already decided on."

"I have," I said.

"Then we will take it as settled that we put every possible acre under crop this spring, hiring assistance largely, 325 which, based on your own figures, should leave us this balance. It's a pity to work poor Ormond's splendid beasts at the plough, but of course you wouldn't like to sell them, and they must earn their keep. The next question is the disposal of the balance."

"I would not sell them for any price," I said. "My idea is to invest all the balance-except enough to purchase seed and feed us during winter if the crop fails-in cattle, buying a new mower, and hiring again to cut hay. It's locked-up money, but the profit should provide a handsome interest, and there's talk of a new creamery at Carrington, which promises a good market for milk. This brings us back to the old familiar position. We shall be prosperous men if all goes well, with just enough to pay our debts if it doesn't."

"I look for the former," said Harry. "But with your permission we'll deduct this much for a building fund-half to be employed at the discretion of either. You will want to further extend this dwelling, and I may buy Hudson's place under mortgage. It would be well-sunk money, for at the worst we could get it back if we sold the property. You agree? Then the whole affair is settled, and it only remains for Miss Lorimer to wish us prosperity."

"You are a very considerate partner, Mr. Lorraine, and if I were a wheat-grower I should be proud to trust you. May all and every success attend your efforts. Now put up those papers, and tell me about British Columbia."

It was very late when Harry walked back to Hudson's, while I did not sleep all night, thinking over the tremendous difference that success or failure would make to myself and Grace.

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