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   Chapter 33 CHAPTER XXXII

Lorimer of the Northwest By Harold Bindloss Characters: 22737

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


A month slipped by, and though I rode over often to the Manor it was seldom that I had speech with Grace, and never saw her father. The attack had left him with intellect clouded and limbs nearly powerless on one side, while he would hardly permit either his sister or daughter, who were the only persons he apparently recognized, to leave his sight. It was also with some trepidation that I awaited the first interview with Grace, but this vanished when she came in showing signs of an anxious vigil but only pleasure at my presence.

"I am sorry that I spoke so to you, Ralph, that awful day," she said. "For hours together I have thought over all that happened, and though it was hard to overcome a feeling of resentment against the others, and even you at first, I tried to judge them fairly; and, if it is not disloyal to say so, I think they were right. Some day, when there will be many things to settle, I hope to tell them so; but I cannot do it yet."

She would say nothing in the meantime as to her own plans, beyond that before she could consider herself there was much to be arranged that concerned her father and the Manor, and with this I had to be content. Lyle also showed his regret in a practical fashion by visiting the Manor constantly and supervising the farming, though I knew his own holding suffered in consequence, and by his advice young Foster had been appointed bailiff at a salary. 363 Meanwhile, Harry and I were busy almost night and day, for when the sowing was finished I brought out carpenters and set them to work extending Fairmead, while with our own hands we hewed wind-felled timber where we could find it in the bluffs ready for them and the creamery. It was often necessary to ride long leagues for birches stout enough, and we frequently slept on the bare earth or in the wagon beside our work.

To please a friend in Winnipeg I had accepted the services of a destitute British mechanic, who, when he arrived at Fairmead, with his fare advanced at our expense, demanded the highest wages paid in Canada, and then expressed grave doubts as to whether he could conscientiously undertake the more laborious parts of the framing, because he was a cabinet joiner, and this, so he said, was carpenter's work. We had met others of the kind before, who had made their employers' lives a burden in the old country, but they were the exception, after all.

"You can please yourself," said Harry. "I'm a landowner and ploughman; but if I hadn't my hands full already I'd tackle anything, from making bricks to framing bridges, for the wages you're getting. However, to please you, we'll call the operation joinery."

We had further trouble with this individual, who continually lamented he had ever come to a country wherein there was no beer, and derided his Ontario comrade for doing too much. The longer a job lasted the better for those employed on it and the rest of the profession, he said: to which, as we heard later, the Ontario man replied: "If the job lasts too long in this country they pretty well fire you out of it."

At last, returning one morning wet with dew from a damp bed on a bluff, where we had slept after toiling late the night before, we decided to dispense with his services. 364

"Good heavens, man! if you get on at that rate it will take you two years to finish," I said, when I found him tranquilly notching the ends of some beams with mallet and chisel. "How long do you spend over one? And didn't I tell you to use the axe?"

"Half a day to make a good job! There's no man in Canada can teach me what tools to use," he said; and, being stiff all over, I turned to Harry.

"There's a fair edge on that axe. You might show him," I suggested.

Harry, who was in a hurry, flung off his jacket, badly tearing it; and for a while the heavy blade made flashes in the sunlight, while the white chips leaped up in showers, until, flinging down the axe, he pulled out his watch.

"Ten minutes exactly-you can dress it another five," he said. "Now are you willing to do it in that way? No? I didn't suppose you would be. Well, we won't detain you. Give him his fare to Winnipeg and some breakfast, Ralph-it will pay you."

I found Ormond's horses useful; for between timber-cutting, marking down growing hay, rides to purchase cattle, and visits to the Manor, we often covered fifty miles a day, with hard work besides; while, when we brought out Ontario bushmen, Fairmead and the creamery lumber piles increased rapidly in size, and our bank balance diminished as rapidly. Once, too, when I came home so weary that I could scarcely get out of the saddle, I found a black-edged letter awaiting me, and dropped heavily into a chair after opening it.

"I hope there's no bad news," said Aline; "it has an American stamp. Who can it be?"

"Cousin Alice! You might read it-the sun and the grass dust have almost blinded me."

Martin Lorimer had written the letter from a little 365 town in Southern California, and Aline read: "I am in sore distress, Ralph. Your poor cousin died here yesterday of an old sickness she had long greatly suffered from. She was my only child-all that was left me; and I'm going back to England a very lonely man. I'll ask you in a post or two to meet me."

"I am very sorry, and yet it may have been a release," said Aline. "Hers was a very hard lot to bear, but she was always cheerful. Poor Uncle Martin! Of course you will go to meet him."

I did so later when, as a special favor, a mounted man brought me a telegram from Elktail, and Martin Lorimer gripped my fingers hard when I boarded the east-bound train at that station.

"I knew thee would come, Ralph, and I was longing for a face that I knew," he said. "Ay, to the last my poor girl remembered thee. I'm going home to England-stayed here too long; and Canada seems empty without her. Only time to catch the liner, or I'd have come to Fairmead, and I've much to tell thee on the road to Winnipeg."

He looked sadly shaken, but glad to meet any kinsman in his trouble, and, asking few questions, I listened quietly while, ensconced in a corner of a first-class car, he relieved his soul with talk. He told me much that surprised me, but which is not connected with this story, until I started when he said: "Now I may tell thee that it was Alice sent that money. She did it main cleverly,-her own savings, poor girl; I'm glad I never stinted her in the matter of money. 'You can tell him when I'm gone, father; it pleased me well to know I had helped to make him happy,' she said. Then again, almost at the end, she whispered: 'Tell Ralph I wish him a long life, and the best this world can give him and Miss Carrington.'"

Martin Lorimer coughed vigorously before he continued: 366 "I never heard a word about that loan until I guessed from thy tale at the chalet that my girl, never suspecting it, had countered my plans. Well, well, it was all as it had to be; but if she had never helped thee maybe another Lorimer would be waiting instead of a stranger to carry on the Orb Mill when I've done with it."

We were nearing the Red River, and the roofs of Winnipeg lifted themselves higher above the prairie, when he said, for Martin Lorimer, almost timidly, "Remembering our talk at the chalet, canst change thy mind, lad, or is it too late?"

"It is too late, Uncle Martin," I answered with reluctance, for I longed to do something to comfort him. "As I told you, even if I were ready there are others to consider now."

He sighed before he answered sadly: "Ay, thou'lt take thy own road; it's born in thee. Then follow it steadfastly, and God bless thee. Some day I'll come back to Fairmead, but I must have time to get over this blow."

Ten minutes later we parted, and it was some hours after the Atlantic express pulled out of Winnipeg before I recovered my serenity. I could not forget the kindness of my dead cousin, who, in spite of sickness and physical suffering, had so cleverly aided me in my time of need.

The next event of moment happened when Foster brought me a message from Grace requesting my presence at the Manor on the following day. Most of the men of Carrington were also expected, Foster said. I reached the Manor at the appointed time, and made the latter portion of the journey in company with several of the colonists, and it was with mingled curiosity and reluctance that we gathered in the great hall.

Except that the air was warmer and there were flowers and feathery grasses in the tall vases, it looked much the same 367 as it did on our last eventful visit, though there was now no grim figure in the carved oak chair. No one knew why we had been summoned except Lyle and myself, and I did not know wholly. So there was a buzz of curious whispers, until Lyle flung back the doors, and Grace, followed by Miss Carrington, appeared in the opening. They were dressed alike in some neutral-tinted fabric, and with one accord the riders of Carrington rose to their feet, and stood fast and motionless until with a queenly gesture Grace seated herself in the oaken chair. Grace was younger than myself by two full years, but there was no trace of diffidence about her as she looked down out of steady eyes at the men who, as it were, did homage before her. Then deep silence followed as she said with a perfect distinctness:

"It was fitting after what has happened that I should send for you. My father founded this colony, and still nominally holds the greater portion of the land in it. As you know, he has been stricken-and has lost his reason; and accordingly the management of the estate devolves upon Miss Carrington and myself-principally, under his last will, on myself. It is a heavy responsibility for two women, to do the best, not only for Carrington Manor, but for the Carrington colony, until it shall please the Almighty to restore its founder-or grant him release. While the Manor lands remain intact and the agreement binding, all that affects our welfare affects that of the whole settlement."

Grace paused, and a man rose upright at the further end of the hall.

"We came here with a feeling of contrition, yet not wholly ashamed," he said. "On behalf of all I offer the new mistress of Carrington our deepest sympathy and an assurance of good-will," and again there was a deep murmur of chivalrous respect from the sun and wind-bronzed men. 368

Grace's gaze was not so steady and her voice was lower as she answered, "I thank you. It is a barren heritage, weighted down by debt, but with the help of my kinsman Lyle we shall do our utmost to improve it. Still, it was not that that I wanted to tell you. How we last parted you know," and some of those I noticed showed a darker color in their cheeks, as though it were an unpleasant memory. "Since then I have tried to consider rightly all that led up to it, and I ask you to forgive me."

"It was our own blind precipitancy. I am afraid you spoke the truth," a voice said; but raising her hand for silence Grace went on:

"As I said, this estate entails a heavy responsibility, and I have been considering what I should do concerning the creamery. My father acted as seemed right according to his judgment, and I do not know all his reasons, but now that the decision devolves upon me I am impelled to act according to my own.

No two people see the same thing under the same aspect, and-this is no disrespect to him-I dare not do otherwise. I think the creamery will enhance the settlement's prosperity, and though I cannot grant the Green Mountain site, in which you must bear with me, you may take the next best, the Willow Grove, with its timber and water, at an appraised value, to be represented by stock in the creamery. This is all I have to tell you, and until I resign this position to Miss Carrington I trust to enjoy your friendship and good-will. You will, I hope, decide, before you go when to start the work."

"There is still a ruler of Carrington; we haven't a Salic law. We are all your servants, madam," a big man said, and when some one cried, "To the Princess of Carrington," the rafters rang to the thunderous cheer, while once more I wondered that Grace should ever have listened to me. Whether it was born in her, an hereditary 369 dowry, or was the result of her father's influence and company, I do not know, but Grace, who could at other times be only womanly, spoke to the riders of Carrington with the air of a sovereign. And yet it appeared perfectly seemly that she should do so, for whether mirthful, commanding, or pitiful, Grace was in all things natural. Neither is this prejudice in her favor on my part, for it is well known on the Assiniboian prairie. Still, even after work had commenced on the creamery and the finances of the Manor were adjusted temporarily, Grace would give me no definite promise as to when she would leave it for Fairmead. As yet her first duty was toward the helpless old man and the charge he had left her, she said.

By one of the striking coincidences that it is hard to believe are accidents, it happened that as we mounted outside the Manor a buggy came around one corner of the house, and with a feeling akin to consternation we turned to regard its occupant. A hired man held the reins, but beside him, wrapped in a fur coat although the day was warm, sat Colonel Carrington, a shivering, huddled object propped against the backboard. It was the first time we had seen him, and the sight troubled us, for the few weeks had made great changes in the ruler of Carrington.

"I'm afraid I'm breaking orders," the driver explained. "Miss Grace said wait until you all had gone, but he would come, and I hadn't the heart to refuse him. He's not understanding much these days, but we take him out for an hour or two, when he's able for it, in the sun."

Colonel Carrington regarded us as if we were strangers, as with a pitiful courtesy some raised their hats to him. He attempted with one hand to strike a match and dropped it, and after Lyle ignited another and held it to his cigar he nodded cordially. "I thank you, sir," he said with an entire absence of recognition. "I am not quite 370 as strong as I used to be. Could you tell me how far it is to Lone Hollow? I seem to have forgotten the way, and the snow is soft and heavy."

It was a relief to all of us when the buggy drove off, and the assembly broke up with a sudden chill upon its enthusiasm.

One evening later I was walking home past Hudson's dwelling when I noticed a curious cloud of dust hanging over the house, and strange sounds proceeding from it. They suggested that somebody was vigorously brushing it, which was certainly unusual. Now Hudson, though he held a quarter-section of Government land, had really no legal claim to it, because he had neither broken sufficient virgin sod nor put the necessary acreage under cultivation. He freely admitted that he was prejudiced against hard work, and, when in need of a few dollars to purchase actual necessities that he could not borrow, he would drive away with his wagon and peddle German oleographs and patent medicines to the less-educated settlers, returning after several weeks' absence to settle down again to a period of loafing.

Aline and her friend Lilian Kenyon, as well as the latter's brother were with me.

"What on earth can they be doing inside there, and what a noise they are making," said Miss Kenyon.

"It shows that my good counsel has not all fallen on stony soil," Aline answered laughingly. "Harry-that is Mr. Lorraine-is apparently seriously engaged in spring cleaning. I have been giving him lessons lately on the virtues of cleanliness."

Understanding the process, I grinned at this, and fancied, though I could not be certain, that Aline's fair companion envied her the opportunity for giving Harry lessons on anything. When the next cloud of dust rolled out of the window an irate voice came with it: 371

"I'm the biggest slouch on the prairie, eh; I'll pretty well show you nobody takes liberties with me. I'm almighty sick of this fooling already; there goes your confounded bucket, and the rest of the blamed caboodle after it."

Lilian Kenyon started when a bucket fell clattering at her feet, a brush came hurtling toward us, and amid wild language a grimy figure appeared at the window, dropping chairs and other furniture wholesale out of it, while her brother, who strove to conceal his merriment, observed:

"Say, hadn't you two better come on with me? It's getting late already, and Hudson is not as particular as he ought to be when he's angry."

"I agree with you," said Aline in a tone of severity. "He is a very disgraceful man, and by no means a fit companion for Harry. Ralph, I am sorry there are occasions when both of you indulge in unwarranted expressions. Don't you think such conduct unbecoming in an elder brother, or any respectable landowner, Lily?"

I laughed and Miss Kenyon looked indignant when I answered: "Then go along; you don't understand our trials, or you wouldn't condemn us. It can only be natural depravity that leads Harry to persist in living with such a companion when half the girls on the prairie are willing to provide him with a better one."

They had hardly left me when, disheveled and dusty, Hudson strode forth in wrathful disgust.

"It's almighty hard when a man can't live peacefully in his own home without your confounded partner brushing all over it," he muttered, "I guess it's your sister's doing-I knew there would be trouble when she came in, stepping like a gopher on wet ploughing, with her skirts held up. Anyway, I'm blamed well sick of Canada, and them Government land fellows are coming right down on me, so I'm just going to drop the whole thing and skip. I'm going 372 to sell the place for an old song, or burn it, and light out for Dakota."

I frowned, for this was the first time I had heard of Aline's visit, and it struck me that although I suffered from her craze for neatness at Fairmead she was overstepping the bounds in attempting to reform Hudson's homestead too; but Harry evidently overheard him, for he came out.

"Try to talk sensible for once, Hudson," he said. "See here, I don't want to take advantage of your beastly temper, but if you are really bent on selling the place, and not vaporing as usual, I'm open to make you an offer."

"I've been willing to sell it for two years," Hudson answered with a grin. "Haven't done half my legal breaking, and don't mean to, so it's not mine to sell, and would have to remain registered to me until the improvements were completed. Then, you see, I could come back, and jump you."

"I don't think you could," said Harry. "You might hurt yourself trying it. How much do you call a fair thing for the holding as it stands, bearing in mind our risk in buying what is only the good-will with the owner absent?"

They haggled over the terms for a while, and then Harry turned to me.

"We can do it at a stretch, Ralph, by paying him so much after the crop's sold for the next two years. Of course, it's a big handful, but there's lots of sloo hay that would feed winter stock, and I want the house badly. Indeed, if I don't get it I'm going to build one. Don't you think we could take the risk?"

I thought hard for a few minutes. We were speculating boldly, and already had undertaken rather more than we could manage; but the offer was tempting, and, noting Harry's eagerness, I agreed.

"Yes; we will chance it," I said, "on his own terms of 373 yearly payments, although heaven only knows how we're going to finance it if the crop dies off. Hudson, I'll give you a small check to-morrow if you are satisfied, but it's fair to tell you that if you stayed and completed the improvements you would get more for it when you held the patent."

"That's all right," said Hudson. "I guess I'll take the check. You may have the building and the hundred and sixty blanked acres, scarcely ten of them broken. It's easier peddling pictures than farming, any day, and no one else would buy it in the circumstances. It's not even mine without the patent, and if I die in the meantime you'll get nothing."

"We'll get the crop and the cattle feed; you don't suppose we've bought it to look at; and if you died the pay would stop," said Harry dryly, and turned toward me when Hudson, moving away contented, sat down to enjoy a peaceful smoke.

"That settles it, Ralph," he said. "The deal ought to show a good result, and I wanted the house. Now that I have got it, it's time for me to ask you a question which would have to be answered presently in any case. I was waiting to see how things would go, out of fairness to her, but as we have bound ourselves hard and fast to Fairmead for several years at least, I'm going to ask you a great thing. Will you give me Aline?"

"Will she have you?" I said smiling.

"That's just what I don't know," Harry answered rather dismally. "Sometimes I hope so, and sometimes I've a cold fear that she won't. But now that I've told you, I'll ask her this very evening. You'll wish me Godspeed, won't you?"

I looked at him with sympathy, for I knew the feeling, and I had some experience of Aline's moods. Then I laid 374 my hand on his shoulder, "We have been as brothers for a long time, Harry, and it would be only good news if you strengthen the tie. If Aline has the wisdom I give her credit for, she won't say no, and there's no one in the Dominion I should sooner trust her to."

"Then I'll make the plunge," said Harry. "Ralph, I'm very grateful for your good-will. Hudson, where did you fling that confounded bucket? Get up and straighten yourself, and go after Miss Kenyon. Take her anywhere away from Miss Lorimer, and, if you feel like it, make love to her. You're not bad-looking when you wash yourself, and I think she has a fancy for you."

"Not much!" said Hudson grinning as he refilled his pipe. "I've had one experience in that line, and I don't want another. No, sir, henceforward I leave women alone."

Harry went back to the house to shed his working attire, and I strode on toward Fairmead, leaving Hudson sitting among his furniture and kitchen utensils on the darkening prairie, smoking tranquilly. The stars shone out when Harry and Aline came in together. Harry looked exultant, Aline unusually subdued, and me first thing she did was, to my astonishment, to kiss me.

"Aline has promised to marry me before the winter," said Harry.

Wishing them every happiness I went out and left them. I was occupied two hours over some badly needed repairs to the granary, and then for a long time I stood under the stars thinking of Grace.

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