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   Chapter 32 CHAPTER XXXI

Lorimer of the Northwest By Harold Bindloss Characters: 19930

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The day of the meeting was never forgotten at Carrington, and distorted rumors of what had happened there traveled far across the prairie. One Mennonite settler compared it to the downfall of King Herod, but among Carrington's own people there were none who referred to the events of that evening without reluctance and regret.

It was a glorious afternoon when I set out, and the prairie was fresh and green after a gentle rain that promised an early sprouting of the seed, but as I neared the Manor the faces of those I met were anxious and somber. They looked like men who after mature consideration had undertaken an unpleasant duty, and I could not help a fancy that some of them wished themselves well out of it. Saddled horses, buggies, and wagons stood in front of the house, and further mounted figures were approaching across the prairie, but the men who had already arrived seemed more inclined to wait for them than to enter the building, until its owner stood in the doorway. He looked at them with a little grim smile.

"It is not the first time you have been here, and this difference appears a little unusual," he said. "Won't you come in?"

I went in with the others, and was not pleased when Lyle placed me beside himself in a prominent position. Indeed, after a desultory conversation during which no one seemed quite at ease it was a relief to hear the last arrivals 351 dismount and then to take our places at the long table upon which Lyle had deposited plans of the settlement. He with a few others of what was evidently the executive committee sat near me, and the rest stretched back toward the doorway. As we waited a few moments in a state of tense expectation the details of the scene impressed themselves on my memory.

There were heads and skins, as well as Eastern weapons-trophies the Colonel had brought home from several of England's smaller wars-on the cedar wainscot. The prairie was flooded with sunlight outside, and an invigorating breeze that flowed in through the open windows brought with it the smell of the grass and stirred the heavy curtains. Carrington sat at the head of the table in a great oak chair which Grace once told me had come from a house that was famous in English history. There was an escutcheon which some of the settlers derided on the paneling above it, and the sunlight beating in through a window fell on him. He sat very erect, a lean, commanding figure with expressionless face and drooping white moustache, close to the great English pattern hearth which in winter assisted the much more useful stove, while both his manner and the surroundings suggested some scene in the feudal ages rather than an incident on the newly-opened prairie.

"You asked me to meet you, and, as far as I can see, every man in Carrington is here," he said. "Raymond Lyle, you called this meeting. We are waiting for what you have to say."

Lyle was not an orator, but he was filled with his subject, and the men listened to him that day. First he supplied them with details respecting the projected creamery, and then straightening himself a little he turned his quiet, honest eyes upon his host.

"We desire to have your approval, sir, but we clearly recognize the necessity for more attention to the commercial 352 side of the question if there is to be a lasting future for Carrington," he said. "We are proud of the colony, and we are all sportsmen, I think, but it seems to us that it is not wise to make it a mere playground and keep out all but people of our own station. On the contrary it would be better to welcome any well-educated Englishman and make it easier for him to earn a living here. In fact, we want an open-door policy, and a means of providing for the future of our children. It can be provided only by industrial enterprise, which is why I advocate the building of the creamery."

For the first time a cynical smile flickered across Carrington's face.

"Are you speaking for yourself, or for the rest?" he asked.

"For myself certainly," said Lyle. "How far the rest agree with me will be seen if we appeal to them as an assembly with power to decide, which, unless we are forced to it, I think most of us should sooner avoid."

"Then," remarked Carrington dryly, "in your case, at least, I quite fail to see any duty toward posterity. You have always lived among us as a bachelor, Lyle. I suspect your other arguments would appear equally foolish on examination. Will somebody else set out the precise advantages we may expect to derive from this creamery. I wish to see how far the crazy notion has laid hold of you."

Lyle flushed. Some of the younger men laughed, and it is possible that had their leader shown any sign of faltering, the Colonel's sarcastic disapproval would even then have induced them to abandon the scheme. Most of the men of Carrington had, however, made up their minds, and several in succession explained in deferent but determined fashion why they considered it necessary to support Lyle. Carrington, I fancied, found it somewhat difficult to hide his astonishment. 353

"We are going down to the root of the matter," said the last of them. "We wish to earn money, and not merely to spend it on half-hearted farming; and every desirable settler who takes up Carrington land increases the value of our possessions, and what is more important, our means of progress. We want more bridges, graded roads through the coulées, a stockyard on the railroad, and some day a branch line; and with all deference to you, we mean to get them. If this is impossible under present conditions, those conditions must be changed."

There was a murmur of approval, but watching Colonel Carrington I knew that the man had said too much. In reply to a sharp question as to who was to undertake the building operations my name was mentioned.

"Lorimer of Fairmead! I might have known it!" gasped the Colonel.

Then there was silence as he gazed down the long rows of faces before answering.

"I have listened with painful surprise," he said. "You wish to hear my views, and you shall have them, but first I want to read the agreement made by each one of you when you first settled in Carrington."

He did so, and some of the men looked uncomfortable, for the land-settlement scheme practically made him supreme authority over all matters which the law of Canada did not affect. It also made it clear that he had borne the largest share of the cost of inaugurating the colony. He broke off, and it was a few moments before he went on again.

"I founded this colony, and-I feel compelled to mention it-delivered some of you from difficulties, and brought you here. I have spent my time and money freely for the good of the Carrington district, and I have made it what it is, a place where an English gentleman can live economically if he will work a little, enjoying abundant sport and 354 the society of his equals. That was my one object, and I have accomplished it, but further I will not go. Green Mountain is the finest cover for game on the prairie, and while I live no man shall cut timber, make roads, or put up a factory there. Neither will I in any way countenance the opening up of Carrington-my Carrington-to industrial exploitation for the influx of all and sundry. I will have no railroad nor any kind of factory within our limits if I can prevent it, and seeing in it the thin end of the wedge I must ask you to abandon the creamery scheme."

He broke off abruptly, and then turned to Lyle again.

"Have you lost your senses, Raymond. Would you make this clean, green land like Lancashire or parts of Pennsylvania?"

One could see by the faces of the others that this shot had told. There was no great liking for commerce in any of those who heard him. They were sportsmen first of all, and they loved the open. Even had the thing been probable none of them would have wished to see Carrington defiled by the smoke of mills and factories. It seemed to me that the Colonel might have bent them to his will had he made some trifling concession or been willing to discuss the matter quietly. Most of them, I felt, would gladly have met him half-way. Still that was never a habit of Colonel Carrington's. He was an autocrat all through, and when he desired anything done he simply commanded it. In a moment or two Lyle answered him.

"No sir," he said. "At least, not exactly, though Lancashire clothes half the people in the world with her cotton, and the roads that have opened up this continent are laid with Pennsylvania steel. Still, as we haven't iron or coal here there's very little probability of our doing what you seem afraid of with Carrington. We believe that the enterprise will prove a general benefit. We merely want good 355 wagon roads, a creamery, and a few other similar things, and we respectfully ask you not to veto them."

"I can't meet you," said Carrington. "As I said, my suggestion is that this preposterous scheme be abandoned forthwith."

There was for a few moments a silence which seemed intensified by the soft rustle of the curtains as the breeze from the prairie flowed into the room. Then one of the men who had spoken in favor of the creamery rose and looked hard at Lyle who made a little sign.

"Then as a matter of form and to take a vote I second that," he said.

The others were very still, but I saw Carrington gaze at the speaker almost incredulously. Though, as one of them told me afterward, a vote had once before been asked for, it had only established their leader's authority more firmly, and I think this was the first time that any determined opposition had been offered to his will.

"You mean to take a vote?" he asked.

"Yes sir," said another man, and there was a little murmur of concurrence. "I'm afraid there is no other course left open to us."

Again the Colonel stared at them incredulously, and it seemed to me that there was something

almost pathetic about the old man's position. Grim and overbearing as he was, he stood alone, and for the first time I think he to some extent realized it. Still, it was evident that he could not bring himself to believe that they would go so far as to overrule his plainly expressed decision.

"Then," he said, "you must proceed to take it. As stipulated in the charter it must be by ballot."

A man who had not spoken yet, stood up. "To save time I move as an amendment that a committee be appointed to confer with Mr. Lorimer, who is here for the purpose, as to 356 the construction of the creamery and to prepare a workable scheme which will if possible be submitted to this meeting."

It was seconded, and Lyle moved down the long table with a handful of little papers. It was clear that the supporters of the scheme had everything ready, and for the first time a shadow of doubt seemed to creep into Carrington's eyes.

"You are all supplied?" he said at length. "Then we will, as usual, take the amendment first."

One or two of them borrowed a pencil from a neighbor, but it seemed very significant to me that most had one ready, and though I had no part in what was being done, I felt the tension when a man moved down the table collecting the little folded papers on a tray. Then the Colonel signed for him and another man to open them, and I think every eye was fixed on the two men who stood by the window tossing the papers upon a growing pile. There was only one pile, though three little slips were laid suggestively by themselves. Then in the midst of a very impressive silence through which the footsteps broke with a startling distinctness the two men moved toward the head of the table. The rest leaned forward watching their ruler who sat very still and grim in face. I fancied that though he was anxious he could not realize what awaited him.

"They have all voted?" he asked.

"Yes sir," said one of the men in a voice that sounded somewhat strained, and Carrington looked at him sharply.

"The result?" he asked.

"The amendment is carried, sir. There are only three dissentients."

No one spoke, but I think a thrill ran through everybody in the room, and I know the blood rose to my face. Still, I fancy their own sensations troubled very few of my companions for every eye was fixed on their leader, as the 357 stiffness seemed suddenly to melt out of him. He gasped, and for a moment or two seemed to be struggling to recover himself.

Though I had not expected this I felt sorry for him. All but three of his followers had turned against him, and it was evident after what had been said that their decision implied the subversion of his authority. To a man of his temperament it must have been inexpressibly galling. Then he painfully straightened himself. He had in all probability never been beaten yet, and he had once, so his sister afterward told me, tamed a native levy of irregular cavalry and commanded them for two years in spite of the fact that a number of the dusky troopers had sworn to murder him on opportunity.

"You cannot have the Green Mountain site, and I'll stop this thing yet," he said.

The listeners' faces were a study. Indignation, regret, suppressed sympathy and a determination to maintain their rights, were stamped on them.

They were Englishman born with a due respect for constituted authority who had loyally obeyed a leader of their own class, but they had also the average Englishman's respect for the liberty of the individual, and there were signs of approval when Lyle spoke again.

"We have every respect for you, Colonel Carrington, and the course we have been compelled to take is a painful one, but I think there was no avoiding it," he said. "In regard to the charter, we have kept it faithfully even when you rather overstrained its meaning. Now we can no longer allow it to bar all progress, and we have resolved, if in agreement with one clause it can as I think be done, to entirely remodel it by a unanimous assembly. If not we will sell our holdings and move out in a body onto Government land." 358

Lyle had faced the crisis. There was nothing left but open defiance, and he did not shrink from it. When he broke off, Carrington, who had listened with the veins swelling on his forehead, rose suddenly. It was evident that he had allowed his passion to master him.

"Will you all turn against me, you dividend-hunting traitors?" he thundered. "You whom I brought here, and spent the best of my life for, squandering my daughter's patrimony on this colony until she too sets her will against me. Then listen to me. You shall do none of the things you say. By heaven, you shall not. There shall never be a factory in my settlement. In spite of you-I say-you shall not-do-one-of them!"

His voice broke, and his jaw dropped. The hand he had swung up fell to his side, and I heard a faint cry as he sank limply into his chair. He lay there with his head on the carved back gazing at his rebellious followers with glassy eyes.

I do not know who was the first to move, but in a moment I was standing near his side, and while a confused bustle commenced behind us I saw Lyle slip an arm beneath his neck.

"Bring water, somebody! Ask Miss Carrington for brandy-don't tell her what it's for," he said. "Hurry, he's either in a fit or choking."

A man brought the spirits, and Lyle mopped Carrington's forehead with a wetted handkerchief, which was probably of no great benefit, while when with the assistance of somebody I managed to open his clenched teeth and pour a little brandy down his throat a faint sign of returning sense crept into his eyes. He looked at us in a puzzled manner, saying in short gasps, "Lorimer and Lyle! You shall not-I tell you!"

I believe this was the last time he ever recognized us. 359 When his face grew expressionless, Lyle who laid him back again, turned to me.

"Did you notice that he moved as though he had no power in his left side?" he said. "Foster and Broomfield, come here and help me. Armadale, you go and tell Miss Carrington tactfully."

We left consternation behind us when after the return of the unwilling Armadale we carried the Colonel into his great bedroom where he lay breathing stertorously while Foster remained to assist his sister. Then the murmurs broke out as I returned, and each man looked at his neighbor in dismay, until there was once more stillness when dressed in some clinging white fabric Grace stood with a stern, cold face in the doorway.

"You have spoken sufficient for one day," she said, and some of those who heard her afterward observed how like her voice was to her father's. "Enough to kill my father between you. May I ask you, now that you can do no more, to leave this house in quietness."

The climax had filled them with consternation. They had acted in all honesty, and I cannot think they were to blame, but the riders of Carrington, stalwart, courageous men, slunk out like beaten dogs under the gaze of the girl. When they had gone, she beckoned me.

"Ride hard to the railroad, and don't return without a doctor from Winnipeg. I wish to hear no excuses or explanations. Every moment is precious-go!"

I went, much as did the others, and found Lyle who looked very shamefaced fumbling with his saddle cinch outside.

"It's an unfortunate business, but of course we never expected such a sending-heaven forbid!" he said. "Well, if the wires will do it we'll bring out the best doctor they've got in Winnipeg. With all respect to them I 360 shouldn't like to be Foster left behind to face those two women. Go home, and abuse me for making an unprecedented mess of it if you like, the rest of you!"

It was a hard ride to the railroad, for we did not spare the beasts, and when the instrument clicked out a message that the doctor was ready but could not start before the next day's train Lyle wired back, "Come now in a special. We guarantee expense."

Then he turned to me. "I think we were justified in what we said; but he was our chief, and a good one for a long time. Now I'd give up the whole scheme to set the thing straight again."

In due time we brought a skillful surgeon to Carrington Manor, and waited very anxiously until he descended in search of us.

"It is by no means a common case," he said. "Mental aberration and partial paralysis. Miss Carrington refers me to you for the possible cause of it. I gather that Colonel Carrington was a headstrong man who could brook no opposition to his will and was subjected to great excitement at a meeting you held."

"Yes," replied Lyle. "Without going into unnecessary details, he strenuously resisted a project we had decided on, and the defeat of his wishes apparently came as a shock. He was speaking vehemently and collapsed in the middle of it."

"What one might have anticipated," said the doctor. "I scarcely think the result will be fatal, but Colonel Carrington will never be the same man again. It is quite likely that he will not recover the use of his mental faculties, though it is rather premature to speak definitely yet, and I should not unduly alarm the two ladies." Then, perhaps noticing the genuine distress in Lyle's face, he added, "I don't think you need attribute too much to the incident you mentioned. It was only the last straw, so to speak, for I 361 fancy the patient had been under a severe mental strain for a long time, and from what his sister tells me he was predisposed to attack, while some other cause would probably have precipitated the crisis."

I sent word asking whether Grace would see me, and receiving an answer that she would see no one I rode moodily back to Fairmead. As Lyle had said, we were sorry, and should have given much to undo what had been done, but it was too late, and I felt that Colonel Carrington who could never have accepted a public defeat had, unyielding to the last, made a characteristic ending.

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